A couple of books have recently come out on two dynamic women in Vancouver’s history, Emily Patterson by Lisa Anne Smith and Julia Henshaw by Michael Kluckner.
I thought I’d shed a light on Emily Patterson because she, or a character based on her, will have a part in the novel I’m writing which is set in early Vancouver.
Emily Patterson was a nurse and midwife here from the early 1870s at a time there were incredibly few other white women. She earned a reputation for being fearless, kind, and dedicated to helping settler families and others on both sides of Burrard Inlet. She is most vividly remembered for an episode one night when she traversed Burrard Inlet in a small boat to help someone in Point Atkinson That act was later immortalized in a poem in which she earned the sobriquet, The Heroine of Moodyville (the settler name for what later became North Vancouver).
I’m not sure if I will portray Emily as herself in my story or if I will conjure up a character at least partially based on her. I would love to put her in as herself, but since there will be some issues in the story – possibly an abortion and likely some discussion about birth control – that might be contentious, I don’t want to put her in a position where she will take a stand or give advice or assistance unless I can find out for sure that she would have supported these things. A big challenge.
But I can use her life and experiences to give me a sense of how midwives worked here in the late 19th century, along with general early midwifery, abortion, and birth control history, and conjure up a character loosely based on Emily.
In any case, if you’re interested in Emily Patterson and the experience of an early white woman in this part of the world I recommend the book, Emily Patterson : the heroic life of a milltown nurse by Lisa Anne Smith.
The author will be speaking at the Vancouver Historical Society meeting this Thursday (May 24), 7:30 pm at the Vancouver museum – FREE.
Here’s a link for more info.