In my other life, I work for the Canada’s Early Women Writers (CEWW) project, headed by Dr. Carole Gerson at Simon Fraser University. The project aims to construct an online database of all Canadian women who published—in any genre, in any forum—before 1950. CEWW is one of the seed projects for the larger database project, the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), run out of the University of Alberta, and headed by Dr. Susan Brown.
Connecting my love of early Canadian literature with my love of children’s literature, I have been reading through the children’s texts written by some of our authors, with the intent of sharing them—if only superficially—with others. The first such text was The Bells on Finland Street, by Lyn Cook; this is the fourth.
A Fairy Garland of BC Flowers
This captivating little book was written by a teacher in the North Okanagan Valley. She came to Canada in 1912 to visit her cousin, as part of a round-the-world tour that began with visits to her sisters in Burma and India. While in Oyama, she fell in love with her cousin’s neighbour, Robert Allison. She had accepted a teaching position in Okanagan Centre, but when the couple married in December of 1913, she gave up her position (as was required of married women at the time) but stayed involved in education and other community services in the Kalamalka area. Dorothea remained involved in North Okanagan community affairs for the rest of her very long life; she died in 1981, at the age of 103.
The volume itself comprises 28 short poems: an introduction, the 26 letters of the alphabet, and a farewell. The cover, title page, and poems are decorated by delightful wood-cut prints, with a lithe little fairy flitting about the flowers. The copy I have in my hand is signed not by the author, but by the illustrator, Janet Macmillan, whose name when she signed it was Janet Macmillan Blench. The author thanks in her dedication a “Mrs. Helena Parham (Botanist, Vaseux Lake), who has taught us so much about the flowers of the Okanagan Valley.”
As an alphabet, the author tells us, it was difficult to find the right flower for each letter: some were hard to come up with, and for some letters there were too many options. I can well imagine, and modern readers will be surprised by some of the choices she has made: frittillary, kinnikinnick, pentstemon, urtica, and zygadena are not flowers I remember from my Okanagan childhood! The flowers she does include are all local wildflowers: no orchids or jasmine adorn these pages. The poetry is sometimes shaky in rhyme or meter, but at other times perfectly lovely. Description of the volume requires words that are sweet and diminutive: it is truly a “fairy book” of flowers, in tone and content, visually and poetically. If my children were younger, I would want a copy to keep, for it is a fine combination of art, simple poetry, and tribute to the valley I was born in.