1318 A spectrum of Island women
Flourishing and Free: More Stories of Trail-blazing Women of Vancouver Island
by Haley Healey
Victoria: Heritage House, 2021
$9.95 / 9781772033533
Reviewed by Valerie Green
Flourishing and Free is a sequel to author Haley Healey’s best-selling book On Their Own Terms: True Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island.
In her new book she adds sixteen more extraordinary women who blazed trails in a man’s world but often had their own many achievements overlooked.
Healey uses a quote by Michelle Obama in the introduction to her stories, a very true observation that reads:
No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles
The potential of its women and deprives
Itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.
During her research, Healey came to realize there were still so many more women whose stories should be told:
I wanted to know about these women — what they loved to do, what kept them up at night, and how they spent their days and …. had (they) been alive today, what would have held their interest enough to make them forget to check their phones?
She soon realized that any information about these pioneer women was scarce and what little she could find was often only in relation to their husbands’ achievements. Existing simply as an appendage on a man’s arm was frustrating, and their silence made Healey even more determined to dig further into their lives and tell these new stories in this second book.
The women she chose to write about vary in their interests and strengths. For example, Healey includes Mary Ann Croft, a light-keeper; Mary Ellen Smith, a passionate politician; Jennie Butchart, who created a beautiful garden from a limestone quarry; and two rebellious brothel keepers, Stella Carroll and Pansy May Stuttard, to name but a few. Healey has covered a wide spectrum of women in Flourishing and Free and all their stories are exceptional.
Occasionally, however, I found Healey’s writing a little repetitive. For instance while telling Mary Ann Croft’s story (p. 11) she talks about her marriage at age twenty to William Croft. “Little is known about their life together,” she writes, “but it’s thought that William died and that was when Mary Ann moved with her daughters to the Discovery Island lighthouse to help her aging father.” Then two paragraphs later, she repeats: “After her husband died, Mary Ann moved to Discovery Island with her two daughters….”
Aside from this minor issue, Healey’s storytelling is strong as she shares with her readers many intimate facts about these women that may not have been known before, even though the women’s names might have been familiar to some.
I particularly like the story of Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher, a painter and writer, who had a strong friendship with Emily Carr and claims to have known her better than anyone else. In her writings about her friend, she was determined to let people see the real Emily Carr. During Edythe’s own lifetime she had three careers herself: as painter and photographer, civil servant, and researcher and writer. But she devoted much of her life to portraying her mentor Emily Carr in a light worthy as the great artist and writer she was.
And then there is Josette Legacé Work, a Métis woman who “held much political and economic power on Vancouver Island.” For an Indigenous woman, this was unusual in itself.
The story of Sylvia Stark, a Salt Spring Island pioneer, is also told by Healey. Stark was an African-American woman who farmed, practiced midwifery, and took care of her children’s education. According to the author of this vignette about her, Sylvia Stark was a woman who also “loved nature, loved life. All nature was life to Sylvia.”
Veronica Milner’s story is a fascinating tale of a woman who created the fairytale garden known as Milner’s Gardens in Qualicum Beach. Milner, who died in 1998, was an exceptionally worldly and knowledgeable woman whose house has been visited by royalty through the years and is now open to the public and run by Vancouver Island University, to whom Veronica Milner gifted it in 1996, two years before her death.
Barbara Touchie, who was born on Meares Island, spoke only the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-chah-nulth language for the first five years of her life, but throughout her life as a “language champion” supported the cause of “language inclusion,” so that everyone could know the history and culture of her people. Read her story in Flourishing and Free and be amazed at her many achievements. Her “voice lives on as one of the voices heard on the First Nations Indigenous language app for the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-chah-nulth language,” notes Healey.
These are a mere sample of the stories in Healey’s book. To tell more would spoil the enjoyment of discovery for her readers of the behind-the-scenes lives of sixteen pioneer women.
An adequate Bibliography and references plus a complete and thorough Index complement this book.
Haley Healey works as a high school counsellor and enjoys history and exploring Vancouver Island. She lives in Nanaimo. Both her books have been published by Heritage House Publishers.
Valerie Green was born and educated in England where she studied journalism and law. Her passion was always writing from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. After working at the world-famous Foyles Books on Charing Cross Road, London, followed by a brief stint with M15 and legal firms, she moved to Canada in 1968 where she married and raised a family, while embarking on a long career as a freelance writer, columnist, and author of over twenty non-fiction historical and true-crime books. She is currently working on her debut novel Providence, which will be published soon by Hancock House as the first of The McBride Chronicles, an historical four-generational family saga bringing early BC history alive. Now semi-retired (although writers never really retire!) she enjoys taking short road trips around BC with her husband, watching their two beloved grandsons grow up and, of course, writing. Editor’s note: Valerie Green has recently reviewed books by Grant Hayter-Menzies, Michael Whatling, Jen Sookfong Lee, Kay Jordan, Leanne Baugh, Sara Cassidy, Catherine McKenzie, and Mary-Anne Neal.
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