Last year Haley Healey told the stories of 17 notable Island women in On Their Own Terms: True Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island, but there were many more that didn’t make the cut.
This past weekend the Nanaimo-based writer launched her follow-up volume, Flourishing and Free: More Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island, which includes another 16 women from across the Island.
“There were too many in On Their Own Terms so [publisher] Heritage House approached me and asked if I’d be willing to do a sequel,” Healey said. “And there were a few that I had actually missed that I had discovered and found out about after On Their Own Terms had been published, so it was perfect.”
Among the new subjects are a few with Nanaimo connections, including Sylvia Stark, a homesteader born into slavery in the United States; Edith Berkeley, a marine biologist with shrimp species named after her; Mary Ellen Smith, the first woman elected MLA in B.C. and the first female cabinet minister and speaker in the British Empire; and Veronica Milner, a British aristocrat who helped build Milner Gardens.
Healey said she learned about her subjects in books, archives and Nanaimo Heritage Society meetings, and in some cases the women she covered in the first book gave clues to who to include in the second. She said she sought out “trailblazers” doing “unusual or extraordinary things for their time.”
“I also tried to include women with diverse backgrounds…” she said. “I think especially women of colour have been really underrepresented in history, so that was another really important piece for me.”
She said two of her favourites are Barbara Touchie, who worked to preserve the Barkley dialect of the Nuu-chah-nulth language, and Minnie Paterson, who was married to the keeper of the Cape Beale Lighthouse near Bamfield and made headlines rescuing shipwrecked sailors.
Healey said researching these women has been inspiring and left her feeling more connected to Vancouver Island.
“That was an interesting result of all this research,” she said. “I’ve just found that I’ve been much more connected to places knowing some of the people who had spent so much time in these places on Vancouver Island.”
Flourishing and Free: More Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island is available in Nanaimo at Windowseat Books, 309C Wesley St., and online.