Women of the West Coast and the Joy of Self Publishing
by Marnie Andersen
I spent my early years
in the Vancouver area and, although my family moved to Alberta when
I was ten and I later married and we raised our family in St. Albert,
I never got the salt water out of my system, or, the sand out of my
shoes. Later, as I approached my fiftieth birthday, I began to feel
there was something more that I was meant to do in life.
In a few years our three daughters would be graduating from university
and on their own in their chosen careers. I began to explore, in
my mind, the options that might soon become available to me. The possibilities
were interesting. Would I however, have the courage to reach out
seize the opportunity when it presented itself? Indeed, would I recognize
the opportunity when it presented itself?
In the summer of 1985 I visited the west coast of Vancouver Island.
As a family we had been making summer pilgrimages to the Long Beach
area for many years but this time it was different; I was alone. I
was free to explore the area and mingle with the townspeople. I began
to hear stories, wonderful stories, about people born on, or transplanted
to, the rugged outer coast. I remember thinking “I hope someone
is collecting, and preserving these tales.”
Next, I set about collecting books about the outer coast, and, as
I read the stories, one thing became abundantly clear: while there
wonderful stories about the coast and its peoples, particularly the
pioneers, there was rarely any mention of the west coast woman.
Had she been imported – like Mandarin oranges – once the
men had tidied up the land, built the homestead, and tilled the soil?
Or had she, as I suspected, been there from the beginning; creating
homes and raising children under conditions that were truly daunting?
A few months later my father passed away and left me a small bequest.
I felt compelled to write his biography and detail his final years,
spent in the dark clouds of dementia. This account was published
in the Canadian Medical Association Journal The generous payment for
article was nice, but, more important, was the confidence it instilled
in me; the permission it gave me to think of myself as a writer.
In fact, it went completely to my head.
Within weeks, after consulting the family and obtaining their blessings
for the proposed journey, I resigned from my mind-dulling job.and
flew to Nanaimo, where I bought a respectably decrepit car, in a fitting
rust colour. (I had no desire to stand out in a west coast crowd.)
The next day I drove to Tofino, prepared to gather those tales of
colourful coastal characters into a book. Ignorance is bliss they
say. Indeed it is. I had not stopped to consider the facts, which,
had done so, would surely have doomed the project.
First of all, I couldn’t type. Nor had I ever interviewed anyone.
I was almost pathologically shy, and rather seriously hearing impaired.
However, I had always had an adventurous spirit (buried for years beneath
diapers, parent-teacher interviews, thousands of home baked cookies).
Well, you get the picture. What I did have, in abundance however, was
a deep and abiding love of the west coast and its people.
For the first month I cowered in my rustic cabin on the inlet, reading
the book I’d purchased in the Vancouver airport, titled “The
Art of Interviewing,” and learning how to operate my neat little
tape recorder. Luckily I’d purchased three bags of groceries
in Port Alberni. Finally I ventured out onto the streets (street actually)
of Tofino. I purchased a sou’wester, rubber boots, and a pen,
guaranteed to write under water. It was a “dark and rainy afternoon” and
in the gloom I couldn’t make out any colourful characters. So
much for the first chapter.
Time went on. I knew the family was waiting for word to meet me at
the Edmonton airport. “She’ll be home any day” they
told themselves. I could feel the vibrations of those voices during
the lonely nights, as the rain beat a tattoo on the roof of my cozy
A frame home.
I decided a devilishly hot place would freeze over before I would
slink home with my tape recorder dangling from my purse.
One morning I met an older man down on the Crab Dock. In the course
of our friendly conversation, he asked me who I was and, in a sudden
flash of delusional grandeur I shared with him the amazing news that
I was a writer, come to collect and record for posterity the stories
that made this area so unique. He, in turn, shared with me, the fact
that he was one of the area’s “colourful characters.” What
a stroke of luck for both! He was my first “interviewee” so
to speak and followed my rather erratic progress from that day forward
with great interest.
I set about meeting the women of the area and requesting permission
to write their life stories. Once the focus turned to women, my incredible
journey began. The stories were there; and freely given; once I managed
to overcome the women’s modesty and gained their trust. I visited
lighthouses and floathouses, native villages and .fishing boats, usually
during the winter months, when people weren’t as busy.
It took three years to do the research and another four years to
write the book. During that time my husband Tage, an artist, and teacher,
was creating the illustrations for each chapter, working from photos
I had taken. Finally the book was finished, and in 1993, after receiving
several rejections from mainstream publishers, I decided to self publish.
Once again, I was facing a challenge. I needn’t have worried,
because the colourful, assertive women portrayed in Women of the West
Coast ~ Then and Now appealed to the reading public, and over time,
became, statistically speaking, a Canadian Best Seller.
In early times Vancouver Island was western Canada’s frontier
and, from the Indian princess to the wives of the settlers, and, later,
the missionaries, miners and loggers, these feisty women all had a
hand in making the area what it is today.
As the years passed, a new generation migrated to this area of stunning
beauty and bountiful gifts of sustenance. Many were fleeing conscription
for a war they didn’t agree with. They were among the first to
challenge the policies of off shore multinational corporations, which
threatened a way of life and an environment that had sustained people
of the outer coast particularly the aboriginal communities, since time
immemorial. In the year 2000 the efforts resulted in Clayoquot Sound
being declared a unesco biosphere reserve.
For west coasters, the evolution from picturesque, but struggling,
Long Beach communities; dependant upon the uncertain harvesting of
natural resources, to world class tourist destinations, in a relatively
short time has been a huge leap of faith. Today, tourism is definitely
the engine that drives the outer coast economy.
Ten years after producing the original book, I decided to revisit
the women or their families to explore how the new prosperity has impacted
upon their lives and those they love. To blend the new reality, a
has been added to each chapter. In some cases these postscripts have
been written by the women themselves. This has served to increase
the authenticity of the stories.
Learn how the Ladies of the Lights cope with retirement to so-called
civilization, with its puzzling parameters. Pop into the Common Loaf
Bake Shop and scan the new menu while sipping Guatemalan coffee.
Welcome Maria, who has new reasons for living and embracing her proud
heritage as a First Nation woman. Share the excitement surrounding
Strawberry Island these days. Know Shari, the whale researcher, who
is living her dream, south of the border. Enjoy a visit to an area
of stunning beauty and meet some of its fascinating people.