Two women who grew up in Upper Clearwater, Clara Ritcey and Ellen Ferguson, have produced a second edition of their book, Pioneer Women of Wells Gray Park and the Upper Clearwater Valley.
Originally written and donated as a fundraiser for the Friends Of Wells Gray Park, the book has been out of print for a number of years. In response to repeated requests, Ritcey and Ferguson decided to made some additions (more photos and stories) and reprint the book themselves.
The women who, alongside with their pioneering spouses, helped to settle this beautiful and wild part of the world are often forgotten or overlooked in the written histories. This small book is an effort to capture some of their stories and to help the reader understand what pioneering life was like in the early days of Wells Gray Park and the Upper Clearwater Valley.
All these women had much in common although they came from a variety of backgrounds. They followed their men into the wilderness and created islands of civilization in that wilderness.
Many helped to build the houses that were their homes. They mended and recycled, they knit socks and made quilts to keep their families warm, they sewed curtains from flour sacking, put bouquets of wild flowers in canning jars to grace their tables, they made birthday cakes and served Christmas dinners, they shared coffee and food with all visiting neighbors and passing strangers.
They grew flowers for their souls and a huge vegetable garden for their bodies. They canned, pickled, and stored the harvest in a root house. They went into the bush to pick wild berries for jam, and to can as fruit for the long, barren winter months.
They kept a cow or two for milk, and for cream to make into butter. They raised chickens for eggs and meat. Many of these women could shoot as well as their men and often killed and dressed out game for their family’s meat supply. They would then can many dozens of quart sealers of meat for the summer months.
As if this was not enough, there were the never-ending home chores: wood to chop and carry in to the hungry stoves, water to carry from the creek for cleaning homes and people, cooking, washing clothes and dishes. For many women there was the added task of being teacher for the children’s school lessons.
And then there was the doctoring. If you can imagine being isolated in the wilderness with no possibility of getting to medical help, and having a sick or injured child, then you can understand the terror that gripped the heart of these pioneer women. If the situation was really desperate, perhaps there was someone who could ride a horse to a neighbour, who may know know that you did. If not, just having another person there to share in the worry was a help. How very fortunate we were that so many managed to come through those years unscathed.
Life for the pioneer was not all hard work and worry. They knew how to have fun and they did that very well indeed: community pot luck suppers in the hall, dances that went on all night, picnics and ball games in Louis Rupell’s field, card games, dinners with friends, visiting back and forth – all made a nice change of pace and renewed the spirits of these truly blessed people.
To purchase a copy of Pioneer Women of Wells Gray Park and the Upper Clearwater Valley, or if you would like to know if a family member is included in the book, please contact Ellen Ferguson at 250-674-3627. The books are $10 each, and can be mailed (in Canada) for $3, or to the USA for $6.