Early Voices – Portraits of Canada by Women Writers 1639-1914 is a new book by Mary Alice Downie and Barbara Robertson with Elizabeth Jane Errington.
I thoroughly enjoyed Early Voices which compiles the writings of twenty-nine women, known and unknown, who lived in Canada between the 17th century and the early 20th century.
Some of the women writers were wealthy. Some were poor. Some wrote professionally. Others kept journals. Together, they richly portray Canada’s geography and early culture. I couldn’t believe the number of comparisons I came across in the book to my present-day travels across Canada – places I’ve been and places where I still want to go.
Grand Falls, New Brunswick for one. I have a strong family connection to it, but I never gave much thought to its “falls” until I read Juliana Horatio Ewing’s description in Early Voices. A popular children’s book author in the mid 1800s, Juliana described them as “the next thing to Niagara”.
Lady Dufferin, wife of the Governor General of Canada (circa 1872) wrote that Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City “promises to become one of the loveliest walks in the world”. Her husband, Lord Dufferin, is credited with saving the walls of Quebec City and designing Dufferin Terrace. We strolled the terrace on the eve of Quebec’s 400th anniversary and thought it was magical.
Ann Langton described paddling Upper Sturgeon Lake in Ontario in July 1838 to visit the Dunford family. The Dunfords had just finished building their lakeside home and Ann wrote about the lake view. I admired the same view when we stayed at Dunford House. The magnificent square timbered estate is now part of the Eganridge Inn & Spa.
Mary Schäffer Warren (1861-1890) was the first woman to explore the Canadian Rockies. Besides writing, Mary painted and photographed her mountain experiences. Her watercolors of alpine wildflowers are worth seeing. They hang in the Whyte Museum in Banff, Alberta. Mary’s former Banff home is now the Tarry-A-While B&B. We stayed here when we were last in Banff and blogged about our stay. Billy Warren, Mary Warren Schäffer’s husband and mountain guide built the log cabin. It must have been a labour of love. The workmanship is extraordinary.
Early Voices is published by Dundurn Press and available online and in bookstores across Canada.