A century of scribes with roots around the Salish Sea was celebrated by members of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society on Feb. 25. Dozens of attendees traveled snow-coated roads to commemorate the Coast’s literacy legacy at a program of public readings held at the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives in Gibsons.
“100 Writers in 100 Years on the Sunshine Coast” was organized in response to a proclamation by Town Councillor David Croal on behalf of Mayor Silas White, which declared the last week of February as Heritage Week in Gibsons.
Heritage Week, co-ordinated by the nonprofit organization Heritage BC, is also observed across the province each year.
“When the announcement from Heritage BC came out, I asked, what could we do?” said Cathalynn (Cindy) Labonte-Smith, president of the Writers and Editors Society. “Then I said: let’s look back in the archives and find out who we have as authors on the Sunshine Coast, and let’s look them up.”
The group’s initiative ultimately produced a list of more than 100 local writers — many of national and international prominence — whose careers span the 20th and 21st centuries.
“Some of these authors have really close ties to our communities,” said Matthew Lovegrove, curator and manager of the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives. The museum’s collections include a handliner rowboat built by acclaimed novelist Hubert Evans.
Lovegrove also commented on the necessary evolution of literary perspectives on Indigenous culture. “Muriel Wylie Blanchet [author of the 1961 book The Curve of Time] speaks about collecting First Nations artifacts in her travels,” he said. “It provides a really interesting point of contrast to the way museums these days are doing a fair bit of artifact repatriation to First Nations communities.”
Author Heather Conn, who earlier this year released a memoir titled No Letter in Your Pocket, delivered a biographical sketch of Blanchet.
“[After her husband’s death], Blanchet was left a single mom with five kids,” Conn recalled. “To support herself, she ended up renting out the house every summer and going off in this 25-foot boat with her five kids and a dog, all up and down the Coast. It was Hubert Evans who suggested to her: why don’t you write all these travels together as if it’s almost one continuous trip?”
Blanchet published The Curve of Time six months before her death. The book, from which Conn read excerpts, has remained in print for more than 60 years.
Mike Starr, a professional book reviewer, and author Jennie Tschoban (who released Tales & Lies My Baba Told Me in 2020) delivered a tribute to Hubert Evans. Evans settled in Roberts Creek in 1926. Starr read from Evans’s semi-autobiographical O Time in Your Flight, which was written by Evans in his eighties after loss of his eyesight.
Allie Bartlett, from the museum’s curatorial staff, shared a biography of novelist Bertrand Sinclair. The Scottish-born Sinclair settled in Pender Harbour in 1923, working as a commercial fisherman while producing novels and stories. The original manuscript of his unpublished novelette The Man Who Rode By Himself is preserved in the museum’s collections.
Betty Keller, who was originally scheduled to present on Sinclair, is the author of a biography released in 2000 titled Pender Harbour Cowboy: The Many Lives of Bertrand Sinclair.
The annotated list of Sunshine Coast authors is published at the website of the Writers and Editors Society (scwes.ca). Labonte-Smith announced that the organization will explore further initiatives to honour the Coast’s literary luminaries.