Compiler: Jane Wilde
Publisher: Muskeg Press
ISBN: 978-0-9877614-2-2

“I had a sense of being part of something bigger than myself … my best (was) when I was close to nature” wrote Dorothy Garrett as she reflected on her move to the unspoiled beauty of the northwestern coast of British Columbia, Canada in the 1970’s. 

She wasn’t alone. 

Many young women were experiencing their independence, sought adventure, sexual freedom, a simpler lifestyle, a way to protest against the Vietnam War, and/or freedom from a difficult romance.  By circuitous and separate routes, they found their way from cities and towns across Canada, the United States and parts of Europe to the incredible ruggedness and beauty of Haidi Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands - or the nearby aboriginal community of the small island of Kitkatla - or to the area around Prince Rupert (aka The Town Without Pity).

In Gumboot Girls: Adventure, Love & Survival on British Columbia’s North Coast, thirty-four of these women share their mini-memoirs about life, clinging to “a mountain reality of small-town life on the north coast” (Janet Simpson) ... living with gale-force winds that brought a fascination of “the energy they brought to water and land”  (Joline Martin) … learning to live “without running water, power, flush toilets” (Dorothy Garrett) … catching and canning salmon, cultivating and harvesting gardens and “getting higher than kites on the local organic psilocybin mushrooms” (Agate Annie VerSteeg) … carding, dying and spinning the wool; picking and drying mint and roseships; saving onion skins and marigolds for dyeing; collecting shaggy mane and chanterelle mushrooms; canning salmon and deer meat, and dried seaweed. (Karen McKinster) … gathering abalone and scallops by candlelight and playing with the phosphorescence in the water (Su-San Brown) … grappling with “life lessons of the most fundamental kind” (Jane Kinegal) … living in “wild nightmarish weather, deadheads, icy docks, engines that only half worked, frozen fingers, fog and dead friends” (Nancy Fischer) …  learning about “identity, respect and the connection” with the land (Shelley Lobel) … acclimatizing to the “reality of rain and the value of community co-operation and the sea” - a reminder of humanity’s fragility (Chloe Beam) … topless wood chopping - “hey, the men could do it” (Anneke Van Vliet).

Gumboot Girls
vividly and poignantly recounts the stories of young women who became “full-fledged grown-ups” (Karen McKinster) and “learned to be liberated women” (Agate Annie VerSteeg) … where dressing “shloompy” was the dress code; CBC radio was vital lifeline, teacher, and cultural guide; dancing on pool tables and skinning rattlesnakes on the front steps of the Rock Creek Hotel were anything but uncommon; and the Erotic Poetry contest was intertwined with dealing with no-seeums, exhaustion, bitter cold, working in fish canneries and senses were “acutely tuned to the whole environment” (Wendy Brooks)

Whether they came from rural towns or were “born and bred for Bloomingdale’s and subways” ... each took “a few left turns” (Carol Kulesha) that eventually brought them to live on the northwestern coast of British Columbia where ecological awareness, political activism, deep and abiding friendships, and a spirit of adventure united these young women whose lives were never again the same.  

Ghislaine de Saint Venant’s memoir chapter entitled “Born in France, Made in Canada,” provides a template for each of the women in this never-to-be-forgotten memoir.  “Born in …, Made in Northwestern British Columbia” could and easily be the mantra of the thirty-four who undoubtedly would join with Ghislaine in saying thank you to Prince Rupert, Kitlatka, Haida Gwai for “you made me who I am.”

Gore Vidal wrote that a memoir is ‘how one remembers one's own life.’“Gumboot Girls” is not ‘just a memoir,’ it is a fascinating memoir.  Narrative in nature, reflective about the people and experiences that influenced thirty-four young women in the 1970‘s.  

Open the pages of this book - and you will meet women whose gifts of curiosity, courage, zest for life, physical strength, determination, tenacity and adventurous spirit can be woven into one word:  indomitable. 

Open the pages of this book - and you will discover yourself in a unique university course that weaves history, geography, philosophy, ecology, psychology and so much more.  

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