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Sunday, June 22, 2014

"The Chief Factor's Daughter" by Vanessa Winn

June 22, 2014

Think of it, Margaret… Dark skin, a country upbringing--
you would be a curiosity on a visit, but beyond that, 
you would never be accepted.
-- from The Chief Factor's Daughter 
by Vanessa Winn, Touchwood Editions, c. 2009

As Margaret Work fears herself rapidly approaching spinsterhood, her hopes for marriage and full acceptance into society begin to fade. Her Irish-Metis heritage is a source of insecurity she cannot overcome, despite a respectable social standing established by John Work, the family patriarch, as Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company outpost in Fort Victoria. 

"A courtship with her, she was painfully aware, would be a one-way passage for Mr. _____.  To marry her would also mean marrying the colony. She was born to the country, and to take her back to the Old World would be nearly unthinkable."

Even in her admirers, Margaret detects a disconcerting tendency to scrutinize her features and suspects they are trying to trace her bloodline in her face. It would be enough to make any chin-held-high heroine shy away from society, but Margaret surprises her company time and again with speech and manners that "endeavour to be worthy of the society she seeks."

Whether that society is worthy of her, author Vanessa Winn does not judge, but gives her characters plenty to keep them busy while they sort out the friendships, betrothals and marriages that will shape their lives to come. Along with riding parties, picnics and politics, there are moccasins to mend, fish to trade, taxidermy skills to practice...even a Pig War to settle.

Winn's is a convincing voice from a bygone era. In bringing colour and life to the very real families of colonial Victoria, she stays closely on the side of history. It takes all kinds to build a city, and Winn's research reveals the frivolous, the wanderers, the politicians and profligates, the sickly, the adventurous, the practical and persevering that built the Fort into what was to become a provincial capital of world renown.

Deftly done.