Near where I live on Vancouver Island in Canada, there is a First Nations legend which has been told many times. But its message of goodwill is still applicable in today's world. It goes like this.
One Christmas Eve soon after the establishment of Fort Victoria in the 1840s, a large bird appeared in the western sky. It swooped down over a native Indian village on the outskirts of the old Fort, roughly where the Parliament Buildings stand today in the inner harbor. The great black bird headed straight for a small baby sleeping in its papoose basket, picked up the infant in its beak and soared off into the sky.
The baby's mother was grief-stricken and frantically called for help among her tribe members as she ran to and fro in a distraught state. She soon managed to rally assistance, not only from her own tribe but from others who saw her despair. Fur traders, Hudson's Bay Company men and nearby settlers all rallied to help her. A large party of people then set off in the direction the bird had taken, continuing the search far into the night, carrying flaming torches to light their way. Men of all colors and creeds banded together to walk through the dense forest surrounding the Fort in order to help the woman find her child.
Early on Christmas morning, the missing child was discovered. He had been placed on the summit of a small hill a few miles from the Fort and had been covered in leaves to keep him warm. He smiled up at his mother as though trying to reassure her that he was quite unharmed, despite his adventure.
It was said that from that night on the small hill became known as Christmas Hill and this is confirmed by mention of it on some of the very earliest surveyors' maps of the area. Unfortunately the legend was forgotten over time and even the name of the hill was changed to "Lake Hill."
In 1937, however, a family built a house on the summit of the hill and decided to resurrect the legend by calling their home "Christmas Hill."
The hill is fifty feet lower than nearby Mount Tolmie and less than half the height of Mount Douglas to the north. From the summit you can look down on Swan Lake to the south and on Lost Lake in the opposite direction. Despite being so close to the city, this rocky little hill soon became an area of rural beauty and a nature lover's haven for botanists and bird lovers.
If legends are to be believed though, it was another bird, raven-like in appearance, that had once stolen a child away from its mother and then carried it with gentle care to place it where it would easily be found. But what was the purpose of this act?
Perhaps it had simply been to teach mankind the importance of working together in times of need towards an ultimate goal, regardless of color, creed or race.
It was an important message delivered those many years ago in the mythical form of a legend, but a message that is still important today. In times of trouble, sometimes against all odds, the incredible power of the human spirit for caring, always manages to come to the fore - if we all stand together.
At this time of miracles, I wish all my book readers and blog followers a very happy Christmas and may the New Year be kind to each and every one of you.
What is it about gold that has fascinated man throughout time?
Mark Twain once said, “Genius, like gold and precious stones, is chiefly prized because of its rarity.” He might well have been right.
But the lure of gold is as contagious as any other fever, even though only a few have ever struck it rich. Most have only experienced hardship and heartbreak.
Around the world, the largest gold strikes have been in Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Russia, and the United States. The one in Australia in New South Wales began in 1851 and continued for the next 50 years.
Hard to believe but gold rushes were happening as far back as the days of the Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt. By the 18th and 19th century, they helped spur immigration, leading to permanent settlement of new regions.
On the North American continent, gold fever ran rampant after James W. Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator, found gold on Sutter’s Creek on January 24, 1848. This discovery set off the California Gold Rush. But invariably any gold rush has a relatively short life span, and when it begins to draw to a close, prospectors seek more adventure and gold prospects elsewhere.
Once the California Gold Rush petered out and an economic depression set in, many people began to head north, having heard of gold strikes in what was then New Caledonia (now British Canada) in Canada. In 1858, steamers full of miners eager to “strike it rich” headed north to Victoria, a small English village of less than 500 people. Overnight, the “village” transformed into a tent city of over 30,000 people, among them 4,000 Chinese.
The miners headed to the Fraser River where the first major gold find was at Hill’s Bar, south of Fort Yale. Some made small fortunes while others merely suffered from mosquito bites! The Fraser Valley was notorious for them.
The next major gold rush in British Columbia was in the Cariboo in 1861, which lasted until 1867. Between 1859 and 1869 there were also many minor gold rushes in places such as Similkameen, Peace River, Shuswap and Omineca, but the next major gold rush happened between 1896 and 1899 in the Klondike, labelled one of the last “great gold rushes” in Canada.
Here are some fun facts about gold mining and the eternal lure of the yellow metal:
Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he also said, “If everyone else is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”
The hero in my forthcoming historical saga Providence soon finds this to be true. The ones who made a fortune in gold rushes were usually the ones, like him, who let others chase the golden rainbow while they were simply content to sell them the tools, supplies and transport to get to the goldfields!
If you had lived in those times, would you have ventured to the goldfields? Were those who did incredibly brave or incredibly foolish?
Let me know what you think in a comment below.
On January 5, 1907, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London, England.
At the time, King Edward VII was reported to have said, “After my mother [Queen Victoria], she was the most remarkable woman in the kingdom.”
The baroness was born Angela Georgina Burdett, daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, who was the daughter of wealthy banker Thomas Coutts, founder of Coutts & Company.
In 1837, at the age of 23, Angela inherited her grandfather’s fortune of nearly two million pounds. She could easily have spent the rest of her life living in luxury, enjoying the pleasures and extravagances of the very rich. Instead, she chose to devote her life to helping others and spreading her fortune where it was needed the most.
Having befriended many notable people, such as Louisa Twining, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Dickens, and learning of the plight of orphans and the very poor in London, Angela used much of her wealth to help those causes.
She also became a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing churches and church schools around the word—in Africa, in Australia and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Her contributions to Victoria included donating money to help build Angela College on Burdett Street, a prestigious Anglican school for young women. Both the building and the street honor this woman today, even though, like Queen Victoria, she never visited the city.
In addition she donated money for the church bells in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, for cotton gins in Nigeria, and for drinking fountains for dogs in large cities. She assisted Turkish peasants and refugees of the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, organized housing schemes for the working class as well as giving money for the Ragged Schools Union, soup kitchens, and the Temperance Society in London. She also helped place hundreds of destitute boys on training ships for the navy and merchant service.
Speaking of ships, at Angela's instigation, vessels were sent out to British Columbia (the most notable in 1862 being the Tynemouth, known as the Bride Ship), which carried 60 women to the colony, where there was a great shortage of women at that time.
In 1871, Queen Victoria bestowed a peerage on Angela with the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate, and the following year, she became the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London. She also received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1874.
Although she had many suitors throughout her life, she refused all offers of marriage until she was 67 years old, when she shocked society by marrying her secretary, a young man of 30, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett, who was also a member of Parliament. In an unprecedented move, he changed his name to Burdett-Coutts after the marriage.
By the time Angela Burdett-Coutts died in December 1906 at the age of 92, she had given well over three million pounds to needy causes around the world.
The benevolent baroness makes a brief appearance in my forthcoming novel, Providence, as a motivator for my main character to set out from England for the new world on the SS Tynemouth.
For most married women in the 19th century, being pregnant was a frequent occurrence. They believed it was their duty to produce many children, so consequently, Victorian families were very large. Without benefit of any kind of birth control, babies “just came”—year after year.
In addition to being in a constant state of expectancy, childbirth itself was both painful and dangerous. Pain relief was minimal—maybe some opium or laudanum—but according to their religious beliefs, it was assumed that women were supposed to suffer in child birth.
Babies were always born at home. The mother was helped by family or female friends and sometimes an inexperienced midwife. Midwifery did not come into its own until much later. Doctors were only called at the last moment when it was feared the mother might die. If instruments were used for delivery, they were not sterilized.
Doctors were seldom trained in obstetrics. They didn't wash their hands—an obvious cause of infection, so when babies were not in the correct position and had to be turned either by hand or instrument, the mother experienced not only excessive pain but also bleeding and infection.
Infection and heavy bleeding were in fact the main causes of death for both mother and baby. Hardly any wonder that women approached childbirth (often described as “a woman’s time of trial”) with great fear. Nonetheless, it was deemed to be a normal course of events, and little thought was given to birth control until much later.
It was also believed that women were “unclean” after childbirth, so they were given the sacrament at the communion rail but only after post-childbirth bleeding had ended and women had been “churched.” The 1789 Book of Common Prayer celebrates women who survived childbirth in The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women.”
From the 1870s onward, a transition in fertility control was finally happening. With still no significant birth control in place, families were simply modifying their sexual activity, but by 1900, the size of families had certainly decreased to around four children, approximately half the number 20 or 30 years before. Numbers continued to fall in the first few decades of the 20th century.
In addition, pain relief in childbirth began to increase slowly toward the end of the century. Queen Victoria herself pioneered the use of chloroform for her eighth confinement in 1854, though its use was still opposed by many doctors.
Eventually a belief grew that many women’s lives could be saved if babies were delivered under more stringent medical conditions in hospitals, but this did not fully happen until the 1940s when it became more common for babies to be born in hospitals rather than at home.
Here are some additional facts about childbirth throughout the years:
In today’s world, women have many more childbirth options, including deliveries at hospitals or at home, and second vaginal births after a C-section, gentle "C-section,” and epidural births.
Thank goodness childbirth has come a long way since the 19th century!
Ladies, do you have a delivery experience that was out of the ordinary? Let me know in a comment below.
It’s been a while since I last posted a blog, so I thought I would start 2019 off right.
The New Year has been observed as a holiday celebration for over 4,000 years, since ancient times in Babylon.
At that time, however, a new year began after the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. It seemed more logical to begin a new year in spring, which is generally thought of as the season of rebirth.
January 1, on the other hand, has no particular significance other than the fact that in 153 BC the Romans decided that a new year should begin on that date. But the date wasn't firmly established until around 46 BC, when Caesar ordered the observance of the Julian calendar, which would then be coordinated with the sun.
So now around the world, we celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31 with parties, festivities, and the playing of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight. But did you know that December 31 is also important for many other reasons?
Here are just a few:
For all you trivia buffs out there, here are a couple of famous people who were born on New Year’s Eve:
Those Babylonian New Year celebrations apparently lasted for eleven days, with each day having its own particular role to play in the festivities.
Today, our New Year’s Eve celebrations—known as Hogmanay in Scotland, Evacuation Day in Lebanon (1946), Grand Purification day in Japan, and the day when the Grand Imperial Ball is held in Austria—all pale in comparison with those celebrations held in Babylon.
The significance of a baby to herald in the new year began in ancient Greece around 600 BC. The baby signified the annual rebirth of their god Dionysus, god of wine and the spirit of fertility. The image of a baby was continued by the Romans but was denounced by early Christians as a pagan practice. The tradition was brought to North America by the Germans who had used this image since the 14th century.
And if you're looking for good luck in the New Year, the shape of a ring is considered to bring good luck (symbolizing coming full circle and completing the year), and in that context, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Eve will bring good fortune for the coming year! I particularly like that idea.
Cabbage is another good luck vegetable consumed by many cultures on New Year’s Day. Cabbage leaves are supposedly a sign of prosperity, and rice eaten on New Year’s Day is also considered by some to be lucky.
Whatever your beliefs or traditions might be, I wish each and every one of you a very happy and healthy New Year. And make sure that one of your resolutions for 2019 is to read more books!
Welcome back for more little-known information about Gone with the Wind, one of the most popular film adaptations.
It is hard to imagine that more than 30 million copies of Margaret Mitchell’s book have been sold around the world. The publisher offered Mitchell a $500 advance and a 10% royalty in 1936, which was pretty good at that time.
Although the movie was widely anticipated following the success of the book, there was still much opposition along the way.
For example, the Daughters of the Confederacy campaigned against Vivien Leigh playing the part of Scarlett O’Hara because she was British. But when they were told that the role might go to Katherine Hepburn, they stopped protesting, declaring “better an Englishwoman than a Yankee!”
The fact that the movie had three directors also caused many incidents on set. Vivien Leigh apparently brought a copy of the book to the set every day to irritate the second director, Fleming, because not only did she disagree with George Cukor being replaced by him, but she also thought the book was far superior to Fleming’s interpretation. When Selznick finally became the third and last director, Leigh recalled that he “shouted at me to throw the damned thing away.”
One scene called for Clark Gable (as Rhett) to resort to tears, but he refused to cry, claiming it would “ruin his image.” He even threatened to walk off the set.
Fleming decided to shoot two versions, one with Gable crying and one with his back turned away in heavy sorrow. He then managed to convince Gable that the weeping version was better as it would endear him to his audience.
Burning of Atlanta
And then of course there was the famous “burning of Atlanta” scene, the filming of which was so sensitive to many Southerners.
This scene was the first one to be shot even before Vivien Leigh had been cast as Scarlett O’Hara. It was the most expensive scene ever shot at that time at a cost of $25,000 and was a big risk for the studio to undertake. If something had gone wrong, the whole film might never have been made.
The studio chose to burn the old set of King Kong for the burning of Atlanta, and local residents thought it was so real that they called the fire brigade.
At that time in movie history, the Atlanta-burning scene was the most epic visual depiction ever shot. It managed to show the absolute terror of being trapped in a city while desperately trying to escape. It was accompanied by the brilliant Max Steiner musical score and marked a turning point in the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett, when he appears suddenly and whisks her to safety on a road exiting the city but then abruptly leaves her to make her own way. This turns her emotions upside down as she resents him while not wanting to be parted from him.
More Gone with the Wind Facts
Three other things about this iconic book-to-movie saga intrigue me:
So, even if you “don’t give a damn” about whether books or movies are better, remember one more thing about this saga. The famous line at the end of Gone With The Wind spoken by Rhett as he leaves—“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”—came about with its own amount of controversy.
Producer Selznick had pleaded for months to keep the word “damn” in the film and past the Hays Code. It was an integral part of the story and summed up Rhett’s feelings about Scarlett and everything he had endured. “My dear, I don’t care,” would NOT have had the same impact. Even the dictionary definition of the word “damn” only records it as “a vulgarism.” Eventually Selznick won his point and the famous line remained.
Interesting how times have changed!
Enjoy this 1961 theatrical re-release trailer for Gone with the Wind, which marked the 100th anniversary of the Civil War in 1861.
Do you prefer to read the book before you see the movie? Or do you like to see the movie first?
Often we are disappointed and even critical, asking ourselves if the movie did justice to a brilliant piece or writing. Or did the screen adaptation improve the words of the author? Or perhaps you liked the book and the movie equally?
There have, however, been many excellent books made into movies. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, for instance, as both books and movies have been equally well received and idolized by many! But that doesn’t happen very often.
My all-time favorite book/movie is “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell.
In my opinion, both the book and the movie are excellent, considering the fact that the book was written in 1936 and the movie was made in 1939 without benefit of the modern screen techniques of today. It soon became the most successful film in box-office history and the highest-earning film made up to that point, a record it held for the next quarter of a century.
Some facts about the book and movie you may not know:
Not everyone liked Gone with the Wind. Many reviews were uncomplimentary, including Ralph Thompson of the New York Times: “The book would have been infinitely better if it had been edited down to 500 pages . . . Every reader will agree that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject.”
Unfortunately, Margaret Mitchell's life was cut short. Ten years after the release of the film, on August 11, 1949, she was fatally struck by a car as she and her husband crossed the street after leaving a movie house. She was only 48 and had never written another book.
The movie set a record with its many awards, receiving 10 at the 1939 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best supporting actress (Hattie MacDaniel), who set a record by becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award.
Production for the movie had been difficult from the start.
But the story certainly does not end there. There is, of course, the famous “burning of Atlanta” scene to talk about. That alone, and so much more about the actors and the movie, deserves another blog: next week!
What's your favorite scene in Gone with the Wind?
With all the craziness going on in the world today, both tragic and unbelievable, I thought I would take a break away from the serious side of life and work on a simpler, slightly amusing blog, while enjoying these strange "dog days of summer."
I was recently reminded of something that happened to me not long ago and it concerns dogs and cats.
I was at a meeting in the home of a friend who owns a cat. There were 14 people in the room. Thirteen of them were cat lovers. Enter one silky black cat. It surveyed the scene in typically superior feline manner and headed straight for the one person in the room who dislikes cats. Me!
Settling itself complacently on my lap despite my initial protest, I then pretended I was enjoying the attention. Inwardly I was trying to tell it—nothing personal, fella, but I’m a dog person! Always have been.
I admit that cats are definitely intelligent creatures. How else would every last one of them in the neighborhood know when there is a freshly dug border in our yard ready for planting? With an instinctive built-in radar system they all head straight for it. They then proceed to open an account and leave a deposit!
Another thing about cats is that they don’t seem to need people. Mostly they live out their nine lives as independent beings, oblivious to us humans other than for a need to be stroked, fed or to act as their obedient slave. I feel they are always judging us and more often than not we are found to be lacking.
Dogs, on the other hand, love you unconditionally. You are their pal for life. I know I am biased, but most dogs we have owned confirm this belief.
When I was a child we owned a German shepherd who was so intelligent she always knew when a visitor to the house had outstayed his or her welcome. She would stand up, stretch, walk over to the visitor and yawn very loudly. It always did the trick!
More recently we owned a dog that was part French poodle and part English Terrier known as a Terripoo. Because of his mixed heritage he was cursed with an adorable split personality. The poodle in him liked to be bathed, perfumed, fed treats, cuddled and thoroughly spoiled. His terrier blood enjoyed digging holes, chewing and eating rags and going for long walks with the wind in his nostrils and his ears blowing behind him. We named him Jake (a mixture of French Jacques and English Jack.)
Territory is always important to a dog. Jake knew exactly where he was or was not allowed to go. In our kitchen, breakfast nook, hallway and family room he was King, but he was never allowed in the front room or upstairs. The temptation for him was great, but his four tiny blonde paws never strayed across the imaginary lines. He respected our decision. We respected his control.
I could continue to extol the virtues of the dog although I have to admit that the last dog we owned, Rupert, was a little different from the rest. He was a breed apart. He was part poodle but mostly Shih-Tzu. He was lovable and cute but very stubborn and thought his Chinese background allowed him to lie on a cushion all day and guard the “palace” as his ancestors had once done.
I am sure I have already alienated myself from every cat lover I know and for that I apologize. And somewhere out there is a cat who knows I have written this piece and is lying in wait for me. He wants revenge and he means business.
So I will continue to enjoy these “dog days of summer,” an expression which dates back to ancient times when people in different parts of the world began drawing images of the sky by connecting the dots of stars now called constellations.
Among the images they drew were dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) and the brightest of the stars was Canis Major (a big dog named Sirius) which rises and sets with the sun in late July. This star adds heat causing sultry weather to follow, sometimes well into September, hence the name the “dog days of summer.”
And I think I will continue to “go to the dogs.”
But I’d love to hear from both dog and cat owners with your opinions. I have thick skin, so please let me know if you agree or disagree. I can take it!
Due to a shortage of females in British Columbia, Canada, in the 1860s four ships were sent out from England to Victoria carrying, among other things, a cargo of young women.
The four ships (the Tynemouth, Robert Lowe, Marcella, and Alpha) became known as “the bride ships” and arrived as a result of the Columbia's Emigration Society’s initiative to send women to help populate the colonies with British citizens.
The most well-known of these ships was the S.S. Tynemouth, which arrived in September of 1862, a year of great change in Victoria. Included in her cargo were 60 women aged between 14 and 20 who traveled to the new world in unimaginable, horrific conditions in steerage.
Throughout the mining camps, there was a surplus of men anxious for female companionship! The hope was that these women would marry and settle north of the 49th parallel. But their journey to the west coast was horrendous.
Only half of the 60 young women aboard the Tynemouth have been officially traced. After all, these were the frontier days of British Columbia and few records of their whereabouts were kept.
However, Frederick Whymper, an artist, wood engraver and travel writer, traveled aboard the S.S. Tynemouth and kept a journal of the events that took place. Today a mountain on Vancouver Island is named for Whymper.
Many of the women aboard the Tynemouth did eventually marry and have families, and we have learned their names and future whereabouts from the passenger list.
For instance, Mary Macdonald, a musician, later married Peter Leech, a one-time gold miner and then Victoria’s city engineer; Jane Saunders married extremely well and helped turn her late husband James Nesbitt’s biscuit company into something of an empire; and Isabel Curtis married at fifteen and went to live in what is today the town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island.
On the other hand, some of the women ended up in the mining camps along the Fraser River and made a living as prostitutes. But some did work at other things and became midwives, governesses, and teachers, thereby bettering themselves and the lives they had left behind them in the old country.
The emigration of young women was taken over by the Salvation Army in the late 1800s and after that by the YWCA. The sponsoring of British women to the west coast of Canada did not, in fact, end until just before World War II.
Although many of the so-called “brides” did well for themselves, there remained something of a stigma attached to the women sent out aboard these ships. This may have been simply because their origins were often unknown, ranging from orphans and the working poor to prostitutes.
Peter Johnson’s book Voyages of Hope, tells the story of these bride ships. It is well worth a read.
In my soon-to-be-released novel Providence, I have placed my heroine among these women. I think you will enjoy her fictitious story as she journeyed to the new world in search of a better life.
During the Victorian era, England saw many technological and economic changes and improvements that caused a separate group of people, the middle class, to evolve alongside wealthy aristocrats.
Sadly, there were many who slipped through the cracks—particularly the children without a family. These orphans were often abandoned in society by mothers who could no longer care for them. Most ended up in orphanages.
Many authors at that time, such as Charles Dickens, portrayed these orphanages as overcrowded and unsanitary, and most orphans were dirty and malnourished. Corporeal punishment was excessive. Often the people overseeing these facilities took a major part of the stipends themselves and spent very little on the children.
The mortality rate was atrocious. According to Dickens in Oliver Twist,
But some of the orphans placed in orphanages considered themselves lucky compared to other abandoned children. They were at least provided with food, clothing, and shelter and some minimal education. On the other hand, children sent to workhouses, were not so lucky. Life there consisted mostly of hard grind and no educational opportunities.
The ultimate goal for orphans was to be adopted or for a parent to return for them, but this did not occur very often unless a close relative came forward to take them on. Any adoption that did happen was usually on a very informal basis.
After the age of 15, orphans were expected to earn their own living in the world. As their education had been minimal, the only work available to girls was usually “in service” to the gentry as scullery maids. Boys from country orphanages might alternatively be hired on as farm laborers or gardeners.
Many orphans ended up as criminals living on the streets after the age of 15, doing menial work or begging for money in order to survive. Girls turned to prostitution.
Fortunately, some orphanages at that time actually helped children.
Two particularly philanthropic souls, the Reverend Edward Cridge and his wife, Mary, set sail from England in 1854 aboard the Marquis of Bute to take up tenure at Fort Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia.
Among their many contributions in the new world, including the betterment of education in Victoria, was the Protestant Orphans' Home, founded in 1873 to help the growing number of orphans who previously had depended solely upon the kindness of strangers to take them into their own homes. The Protestant Orphans' Home was officially opened in November of 1873.
Today, the Cridge Centre in Victoria still stands and continues the original work of hope and support for all vulnerable people, offering a women's transition house as well as children and seniors' services and a young parent outreach program.
The protagonist in my upcoming novel, Providence, begins life in a country orphanage in England in the 1840s, where I have depicted, with some poetic license, what life must have been like for those children abandoned in such places.
In my book, I have painted a more optimistic picture of life for those abandoned children who did survive, and when you read it, I hope you'll admire my heroine as she strives to overcome her miserable fate—at all costs.
In today’s world, she would have been a “Me Too” woman, encouraging other women to believe they were capable of anything— if they put their minds to it.
Let me know what YOU think.