voices from the sound by margaret Horsfield

Voices from the Sound

Margaret Horsfield launches her new book in Tofino

the letter 'M'

Margaret Horsfield's new book Voices from the Sound will be available later this autumn. This is her second book about Vancouver Island's west coast. Previously, in her award-winning Cougar Annie's Garden, Margaret told the story of a remote bush garden at Boat Basin, inside Hesquiat Harbour.

In Voices from the Sound, she once again opens a window on our past, offering a colourful and lively sense of time and place, and introducing characters who are impossible to forget.
Excuse this writing as my only table is a gold pan," a prospector declares. "Send two cats, mice in flour," snaps a storekeeper. "There is a lull in the war in Tofino," a settler remarks cryptically. And a sick schoolboy at Christie School on Meares Island sadly comments, "I am sorry to say I am spitting blood for three days..."

Storekeepers and sealers, prospectors and priests, schoolchildren, settlers and First Nations people--in the early decades of the twentieth century, their lives intersected in the small world and vast distances of Clayoquot Sound. Now, this diverse crowd of characters can be heard once again in chatty and revealing detail, in Voices from the Sound.

Their 'voices' emerge in long-forgotten letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs, telling their own stories. Some individuals, like Frederick Thornberg, storekeeper at Ahousat at the end of the twentieth century, wrote letters constantly. Others, like native schoolchildren at Christie School, wrote only a small handful of letters, but those few are powerful, often heart-wrenching. Still others left only the faintest traces behind in surviving documents: perhaps an overdue account at Walter Dawley's store at Clayoquot on Stubbs Island; perhaps a century-old shopping list.

Voices from the Sound is based largely on first-hand documents that were written by people who lived in and around Clayoquot Sound in the early twentieth century. Searching out these documents, dusting them off, deciphering the often difficult handwriting has kept me busy for nearly seven years. It has been an all-consuming project.

When I discovered the Walter Dawley collection at the BC Archives, I realised that I faced a serious and exciting challenge. Dawley kept all his inbound correspondence from his Clayoquot store and hotel for over thirty years. More than 15,000 letters survive, not to mention financial records, inventories and telegrams. Bit by bit, I plodded my way through all of this material.

More footslogging research awaited me at a monastery in Oregon. A wide-ranging collection of west coast documents and photographs is housed there, including a version of Father Charles Moser's diary that I had not seen before. Father Charles was a missionary on Vancouver Island for thirty years, continually on the move between Opitsat, Hesquiat and Christie School. His diary covers the same period as the Dawley papers, and includes many of the same characters.

As time passed, more and more original documents came my way, due to the generosity of people sharing family information and letters with me. Ken Gibson of Tofino kindly put additional sources and photographs my way.

Having read so many letters, diary entries and unpublished memoirs, for a while I felt nearly deafened by all of the voices that, at least in my imagination, I felt I could hear, loud and clear. John Chesterman's tone of testy irritation with his wife bothered me; Fred Tibbs's good natured rambling lifted my spirits; Walter Dawley's aggressive debt-collecting grated on my nerves, and the tight-lipped misery of Father Charles was sometimes overwhelming.

Dozens of personalities make themselves heard in Voices from the Sound. Only a few of these people are well-known in the annals of west coast history; many were obscure figures even in their own day. They are all long gone now, but in the documents they left behind, even though the papers are often incomplete and only bits of their stories emerge, they seem vibrantly alive. Gossipy or sad, bitter or hopeful, they all had stories of the west coast to tell, immediate and personal stories, without which no history ever seems real.

Voices from the Sound covers the years 1899 to 1929. This was a period of rapid social and economic change, an era that saw the end of the once dominant fur seal trade, the coming of scheduled steamships and the development of commercial whaling, logging and fishing. Zealous missionaries established Christie School on Meares Island and exerted radical influence in the lives of native people, often with tragic conseqences. Clayoquot on Stubbs Island was the dominant community in the area, but gradually the upstart settlement called Tofino became pre-eminent.

Meeting people from this era and this area, through their letters and diaries, is an extraordinary experience. In Voices from the Sound, I hope to share that experience, to open out, at least to some extent, our understanding of our own history by hearing from people who lived it.

Next month in Tofino Time, Margaret Horsfield will introduce some favourite characters from her book.

Voices from the Sound is published by Salal Books. Email salalbooks@voicesfromthesound.com for more details.
Visit the website for the book: www.voicesfromthesound.com.
The date of the Tofino book launch of Voices from the Sound will be in the next Tofino Time.

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Margaret Horsfield introducies her new book 'Voices from the Sound', filled with stories of life in Clayoquot Sound in the early 20th century.

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tofino time october 2008

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