Stories from the Cougar Lady

Book Review

Everyone who has lived near Sechelt for any length of time has a Bergie story. One fellow will tell you how Bergie (or Bergliot Asta Solberg, her full name) taught his son to hunt; relates how Bergie, sometimes with her sister Minnie, would beg a ride from an unwilling driver in order to run their errands in Sechelt.

Bergie was a colourful figure about town — she usually dressed in work clothes, wore a cowboy hat and was mostly unkempt, living as she did roughly in a cabin up the inlet. It wasn’t difficult to believe that this woman had made her living by hunting, trapping and the dangerous logging job of whistlepunk. She could bring down a bear or a cougar, she could fish, keep goats and row long distances.     

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In the long awaited account of the life of the legendary trapper of Sechelt Inlet, The Cougar Lady (Caitlin Press), author Rosella Leslie has compiled many of these lively stories from locals into a compelling read.

Leslie has a facility with research and is co-author (with Betty Keller) of a Sunshine Coast history book, Bright Seas, Pioneer Spirits. She mines numerous historical records to bring the reader an account of the Solberg family’s arrival in Canada from their home in Norway and their subsequent homesteading up Sechelt Inlet.

She recounts the story of the stern father Herman who worked the land, the isolated mother Olga, the more retiring sister Minnie and the tough Bergie.

Throughout the book Leslie reveals her own respect for the strength and determination of this Coast pioneer.

“I really admired Bergie,” Leslie said. “Though her hands were swollen with arthritis [later in life], she would be out in a boat in all kinds of weather, lift a bale of hay for her goats, put it on her back and load it into the boat by herself.”

Leslie rarely intrudes her own experiences with Bergie into the book, but the author knew her subject well. Leslie lived for 11 years up the inlet, working at a lodge. She first met Bergie when the woman showed up at the lodge one day, toting her gun, and asking for John Alvarez, Leslie’s husband, to drive her to the dump where she wanted to shoot a bear.

Minnie Solberg’s life also figures in the book. Though the two sisters often fought with one another and did not live together, Bergie was protective of her sister. When Minnie died in 2001 at the age of 79, some of the life went out of Bergie.  

Not everyone admired the sisters and Leslie describes some of the disputes that broke out between the brusque Bergie and local business owners, the conservation officer and the police.

Still, it was an extraordinary collection of mourners who gathered at Bergliot’s funeral in 2002 and, not surprisingly, each one had a story to tell.

Leslie will be holding a book launch for The Cougar Lady next Saturday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre (5714 Medusa St., Sechelt). Admission is free and book sales will be handled by Talewind Books. She is also presenting on Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Gibsons Public Library. At that one, she’ll be doing a reading as well as a seminar on writing historical fiction and non-fiction. Admission is free.

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