Saturday, October 13, 2018

Women Actually Hiked the Chilkoot Trail to the Klondike Gold Rush

I had been to the Yukon twice and hiked the Chilkoot Trail in 1997, the hundredth anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, so I knew some history of the area before I started my research for my novel Romancing the Klondike. But I didn’t know anything about the north prior to gold being discovered on Rabbit Creek. When I began my reading I learned that there were good sized towns such as Circle City in Alaska and Fortymile in the Northwest Territories (the Yukon Territory was not formed until 1898) with theatres, libraries, schools, stores, and medical doctors. One little known fact, though, was that while most of the residents in the north before the gold rush era were men, there were also many women who lived there with their prospector husbands or who came as nurses, teachers, cooks, dance hall girls, and ladies of the evening.

       One such woman was Ethel Berry who made the trek from California as a newlywed with her husband, Clarence, in 1896. When they heard about gold being found on Rabbit Creek (later named Bonanza Creek) Clarence staked a claim on Eldorado Creek, a tributary, and the couple set up camp in a 12X16 foot long cabin. There was only a dirt floor and a window that was covered with a flour sack. The winter was cold and Ethel spent her time keeping the wood stove going and cooking and cleaning. Clarence’s claim proved to be one of the richest claims in the Klondike and when they returned to Seattle with two hundred thousand dollar’s worth of gold in the summer of 1897, Ethel was dubbed the Bride of the Klondike by the newspapers. In 1898, they crossed over the Chilkoot Pass with thousands of hopeful millionaires and went back to their claim again.

       Another woman who struck it rich in the Klondike was Belinda Mulrooney. She was raised in Pennsylvania and left home at twenty-one. She worked in Chicago and then San Francisco before heading to Juneau, Alaska, in 1896. When she heard about the gold strike in the Klondike she decided to go there. She bought the necessities she would need but she also thought ahead and purchased silk underwear, bolts of cotton cloth, and hot water bottles. These she carried with her over the Chilkoot Pass in the winter of 1896.

       When the ice melted on the Lindeman and Bennett lakes and Yukon River she floated down the river to the new town of Dawson City, reaching in it June of 1987. According to Belinda Mulrooney herself, when she finally reached Dawson and the gold fields after many months of hardship, she tossed a 25-cent piece, her very last coin, into the Yukon River for luck. She was 26 years old and full of confidence. And rightly so for she sold her silk underwear, bolts of cloth, and hot water bottles for six times what she had paid for them.

       With this success, Belinda turned her attention to the prospectors in gold fields. She set up a lunch counter to feed the single men and then added a bunkhouse for those who didn’t have a cabin to stay in. Eventually she built the two story Grand Forks Hotel and Restaurant, with multiple bunk beds on the second floor, at the junction of the Eldorado and Bonanza creeks. The hotel also acted as a trading post, a gold storage, and sometimes as a church. In the back were kennels for the husky dogs used to pull the sleds which were the main transportation in the winter.

       Being the smart woman that she was, Belinda had the floor swept every evening and those sweepings run through a sluice box. This earned her as much as $100 a day from the gold dust that fell from miner’s pockets and clothing. And she began to delve into the gold claims themselves, owning or co-owning fiving mining claims by the end of 1897.

       Belinda turned her entrepreneurial skills to Dawson and bought a lot on the corner of Princess Street and First Avenue. She sold Grand Forks for $24,000 and used her profits to construct the three-story high Fair View Hotel which opened to enthusiastic and impressive reviews on July 27, 1898. This was the most impressive building in Dawson and held thirty guest rooms and a restaurant.

       Impressed by her strong business sense, a local bank asked Belinda to pull the Gold Run Mining Company out of the red. She had the company in the black in 18 months.

       Belinda married and divorced and eventually moved to eastern Washington State and built herself a castle. She and her siblings lived there until her fortune ran out and she began to rent out the castle. She died in Seattle in 1967 at the age of 95.

        These are just two examples of the many women who lived in the north, who took part in the Klondike gold rush, and who are not included in most of the books written.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

If I Could Go Back In Time

If I could go back in time, where would I go? I was born and raised in Canada where our non-native history goes back almost 400 years if you look at what is now the province of Quebec or 1000 years if you count the Vikings having a settlement in what is now the province of Newfoundland.

In 2017, I travelled across Canada to the site of the Viking settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows on the tip of Newfoundland’s Great North Peninsula. There I toured through the encampment which consisted of replicas of the timber and sod buildings constructed by the Vikings who had sailed from Greenland. I talked with the costumed interpreters who were sitting around a fire inside one of the buildings cooking their meal. It felt surreal to be there, to know that my ancestors (I have recently found out that I have Viking heritage) lived there for a few years. This is the first known evidence of European settlement in the Americas. From the camp, I walked along the rugged cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and crossed a large bog on a boardwalk. Then I toured the museum, looking at the fascinating artifacts that were found during the excavation. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.


This year I spent 66 days in Europe and one of the places I visited was the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, just outside Copenhagen, Denmark. In the museum is a permanent exhibition of parts of five original Viking ships excavated nearby in 1962. A thousand years ago these ships were deliberately scuttled (filled with rocks and sunk) in a river to stop the enemy from invading the city by water. Over the decades since they were found, the pieces have been preserved and put together on a metal frame to show how the ships would have looked. Also at the site are replicas of the Viking ships and I became a Viking for an hour. A group of us sat on the seats and rowed the ship out of the harbour using the long oars. Once on the open water we hoisted the mast and set sail. After sailing for a while we headed back to the harbour. As we neared it I had the honour of pulling on the rope that lowered the mast and sail and we glided back to our dock.


So if I could go back in time I would like to be a Viking Shield-Maiden. Women of the time were not called Vikings because they normally did not take part in warfare. They were called Norsewomen. However, women fought in a battle in 971AD and Freydis Eiriksdottir, Leif Erikson’s half-sister is said to have grabbed a sword, and, bare-breasted, helped scare away an attacking army. These women were called Shield-Maidens.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Vacations I Have Had

As you read this post I will be on a bus tour from Rome to London, the second bus tour of my sixty-six day long visit to Europe. How did this vacation come about? Well, it started three years ago when my dragon boat team, Angels Abreast from Nanaimo, B.C., found out that the next Breast Cancer Survivor International Dragon Boat Festival was going to be held in Florence, Italy. Although we voted to attend the festival, eventually it was decided not to go as a team. Since I had already begun planning my trip, I put out feelers to other breast cancer survivor teams who wanted to attend but didn’t have enough paddlers to fill a boat. I was picked up by Sunshine Dragons Abreast, a team from the Sunshine Coast.
     My husband originally planned on going with me and we discussed other countries we wanted to see, but he had to back out because of his health. By this time I had decided that since I was already in Europe, I might as well visit as many countries as I could. I didn’t want to travel alone so I asked the members of Sunshine Dragons if anyone was interested in travelling with me. One woman, Ev, agreed. I also spoke with a fellow employee, Heather, and she and her sister, Beverly, hopped on board but couldn’t join us until the beginning of the Rome to London tour on July 9.
     The festival was from July 5 to 9 so I began looking at tours and cruises before and after those dates. Ev and I picked a 16 day Spain, Portugal, and Morocco bus tour beginning June 15. Then we decided to spend three days in Milan before going to Florence. At the end of the festival there we headed to Rome.
     After this bus tour through Italy, Switzerland, and France, and ending in London, Ev is leaving to do a tour of Denmark, while Heather, Beverly and I plan on spending eighteen days backpacking and riding trains to Brussels, Luxembourg, Cologne, and Amsterdam, and then fly to Copenhagen. We will meet Ev in that city to take an eleven day cruise of the Baltic Sea. One of the highlights of that will be a two day visit to St. Petersburg, Russia.
     I wish the planning had gone as smoothly as it sounds, but that is how attending a five day international breast cancer survivor dragon boat festival in Florence morphed into a sixty-six day visit to Europe. And this isn’t the first time that has happened to me.
     In 2007, an international festival was held in Coloundra, Queensland, Australia. Angels Abreast attended the five days festival. Afterwards, the team split up, some going to New Zealand, some touring the interior and some, my group, spent three weeks sightseeing along the eastern coast ending in Sydney to see the Opera House, climb the Harbour Bridge, and go out to the Great Barrier Reef. Then we spend a week in Fiji.
     I missed the festival in Peterborough, Ontario, but in 2014, the festival was held in Sarasota, Florida. Rather than fly there with the team, do a little touring and fly home, I decided I wanted to see some of the country between the Pacific Ocean, where I live, and the Atlantic Ocean. So my husband and I bought a motorhome and spent four weeks sightseeing on our way to Sarasota and five weeks sightseeing on our way home.
     I could go on about all the other trips I have taken, like the nine week my husband and I took in our motorhome across Canada in 2017 to celebrate our country’s 150th birthday, but that can wait for another post.
     My novel, Romancing the Klondike, is set in the Yukon, a place I have travelled to twice and hope to visit again in the next couple of years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Remembering Our Gold Claim

                                                     Our Gold Claim

 In the late 1930s my father, Oliver Donaldson, and his brothers, Gib and Albert, made their living by panning for gold on two gold claims on the Salmon River, now called the Salmo River, south of Nelson, British Columbia. In 1980, Dad, my Mom, my husband Mike, our five children, and I went on a holiday to the Salmo River and the site of the former claims. We found the bottom two rows of logs, all that was left of one of the cabins they had lived in and the second cabin, which was still standing, on the other side of the river.

       Under Dad’s direction we all panned the river. The children were quite excited at finding gold to take home. We toured the area seeing the route Dad and his brothers had taken into town to sell their gold and to buy some staples and where they had hunted for deer and picked apples to live on. After the trip, Mike and I had vowed that someday we would return.

       In the spring of 1992, Mike, and I found ourselves preparing for a death and a wedding in our family. At the beginning of that year, Mike’s oldest sister Sallian had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and one of our sons and his fiancĂ© had set a wedding date. For almost five months we visited Sallian, first at home and then in the hospital. I cannot describe the anger, sorrow, and frustration I felt as I watched what the disease was doing to her. She lost weight and the ability to look after herself. During her final month she was hardly more than a skeleton.

       For those same five months I experienced a mother’s delight and happiness as I helped with the marriage plans. I made the cake, watched my son pick out his tuxedo, found my dress, arranged for my hairdo, and planned a mixed shower of friends and family.

       Balancing my life while dealing with the opposing emotions was truly hard.

       Sallian died on May 25 at age 54. On June 27 over 300 people attended the wedding and partied well into the night.

       Like most people it took the death of someone close to me to make me realize how important really living is. I knew Mike and I had to do something adventurous with our lives, something out of the ordinary.

       That summer of 1992 we decided to leave life as we knew it in Spruce Grove, Alberta, and get a gold claim in southern British Columbia, preferably in the Nelson area. We sold our house and quit our jobs. For our new home we bought a used twenty-four foot holiday trailer. I phoned the Minerals Branch of the B.C. government. They sent us a map showing the separate gold claim regions of southern B.C. We picked out three regions, Salmo being one, and I called back requesting more detailed maps of the staked claims in those areas.

     On September 1, we began our journey west. Mike was pulling the holiday trailer with our half-ton truck, which had our all-terrain vehicle in the back. I was in our smaller four-wheel drive pulling a utility trailer with our prospecting equipment and other paraphernalia we thought we might need.

       It took two days of slow travel to reach the Selkirk Motel and Campsite on the side of the highway at Erie, about three kilometres west of the town of Salmo. We set up camp, hooking up to the water and power. We had until freeze-up to find a claim.

       Next morning we were up early and off to the Gold Commissioner’s Office in Nelson where Mike bought a Gold Miner’s Certificate and received two red metal tags, and a topographical map, and was given his recording form. We were hopeful as we headed back to the campsite.

       According to the maps the Salmo River was all staked so over the next two weeks we checked rivers and creeks in the area with little success. But the Salmo River kept calling us and we returned to Dad’s former claim and the remains of his old cabin. Just past it we stood on the bluff looking down on the river as we had done twelve years earlier with my parents and our children. The memories came flooding back: the walk to the river with each child carrying a pie plate to use as a gold pan, finding gold only to discover that we had nothing to put it in, one daughter coming up with the idea of sticking it to bandages, camping near the river.

       But we didn’t have time to linger. We were working against the weather. Mike went over our maps of the Salmo River again and this time noticed that there is a small portion on the curve of the river near the old cabin that was open. Because the claims on either side formed rectangles it was missed by both of them. We found the posts of those claims then hurried to Nelson to confirm that the piece was available. It was.

       It was possible to lay one claim over part of another but the first one had priority for that section enclosed in it. There wasn’t time to stake it that night so we had to wait until morning. We rose early, went out to the river and put one of Mike’s red tag on the post of the claim to the east of ours. Mike took a compass and orange flagging and we began to mark off the distance, tying the flagging to trees as we went. At the end of five hundred yards Mike cut a tree, leaving a stump about three feet high. He squared off the top and I nailed up our final tag with the information scratched by knife point onto it. The claim was five hundred yards by five hundred yards and was called the Donaldson.

       We hurried back to Nelson and handed in the recording form. We were ecstatic. Not only had we located an area on the same river as my father, but we actually had part of his old claim. We went to the river and found a clearing for us to set up camp the next spring. Mike took his gold pan and headed down to the water’s edge.

       I followed and sat on a large rock. As I watched the water flow sedately by, a deep sense of relaxation settled over me, the first I had felt since the beginning of the year. It helped me begin to deal with the fact that I had witnessed Death at work.

       Sallian was the first one in either of our immediate families to die. I had seen the tragedy of death strike my friends but didn’t understand how devastating it could be until it happened to me.

       We spent the winter in our trailer in Vancouver visiting with my sister, my aunt, and some cousins.

       Near the end of March we drove out of Vancouver eager to get back to our claim. We pulled our trailer in and set up a campsite was in the middle of tall pine, birch, spruce, and cedar. We could just barely see the mountain tops to the south. The mountains to the north were higher and made a lovely backdrop to the trees. In the morning I walked through the bush to the river. I sat on a large triangle-shaped rock and watched the water drift by. A partridge drummed in the distance. Birds sang in the trees. I took a deep breath of the cool, fresh air. It was a good place to be.

       It rained just about every day for the next couple of weeks. We sat under the trailer awning and listened to the drops hitting the canvas. Sometimes the awning sagged with the weight of the water and we had to empty it. Sometimes we let it overflow, creating a waterfall.

       Rain or shine it became my morning ritual to go to the river before breakfast. I loved to sit on my rock and stare at the water. Because of the rains and the snowmelt in the mountains the river level was rising each day. Soon I was watching logs and other debris rush past in the torrent. The water dipped over some boulders, and created a backwash when it hit others. The force of the water was mesmerizing.

       One rare sunny day we went for a walk down the road past our camp. I carried my camera. A short distance from camp we saw spring water seeping out of a hole under a large rock in the embankment beside the road. Mike reached in the hole to feel how big it was and found a bottle of wine. It had been opened at one time and then put in there to keep cool. Mike set it back.

       We followed the long, hilly road as it wound its way through trees and past cow pastures. On our way back we encountered a herd of deer. They did some scrambling to get into the bush while I did some scrambling to take pictures. They were faster than me. We reached the spring and Mike decided to set up a water system. He went for a pail and a hose. When he returned he put one end of the green hose into the hole and soon water began to trickle out of the other end. He let it run for a while to clean the hose then filled the pail. Mike carried the pail back to camp. We had fresh water for our camp.

       There was always activity around us. We heard rustling and cracking in the bush and it wasn’t unusual for a deer to trot through the clearing at any time of the day. Birds sang, a woodpecker occasionally tapped on a tree, partridge thumped, and trees scratched and rubbed against each another in the wind. All day and night there was the thundering of the boulders as the whirling river water rolled and bumped them against each other.

      As the days warmed the air became filled with the scents of pine and cedar, sweet wild flowers, and the intertwined fragrances of the bush. Colours sprang up, from pink roses, white dogwood and hazelnuts, and purple and yellow flowers, to the bright green of the ferns. Butterflies flitted throughout the clearing and there was the buzz of flies and mosquitoes and the drone of bees. The few rainy days were humid and the clouds never stayed long. Sometimes the moon at night lit up the clearing and we sat by the camp fire in the soft light.

       With the rains and spring run-off over, the river level began dropping. I sat on my favourite rock and watched the slower, shallower water flow by. The roar was gone. In the peace and tranquillity I was able to think about death. As best I could, I acknowledged that many of the people I loved would probably die before me, though I found it harder to actually accept the fact.

       Mike and I spent time digging dirt from around rocks in the water and working it in the pan. We found enough small flakes to keep us trying.

       But soon our adventure was over and by summer’s end we were back in the real world. We never did find much gold but then, for me, it really wasn’t about the gold.
       I based one of my mystery novels, Gold Fever, on this experience. My historical novel, Romancing the Klondike, published by Books We Love, Ltd, is also based on the search for gold in the Yukon.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Keeping Your Readers in Your Historical Story

As a historical writer it is important to make sure that you use the words of the period you have set your book in. For example if your story is set in the 1500s you could use the word hugger-mugger when talking about a sneaky person who is acting in a secretive way and elflocks to describe messy hair. Jargoyles meant that a person was puzzled about something in the 1600s while in the 1700s a person who was out of sorts was grumpish. In the 1800s people would have felt curglaff when they jumped into cold water and a man going for a post dinner walk while smoking his pipe was lunting. In the early 1900s a person who was drunk was referred to as being fuzzled.

Of course, it is important when using those words that the writer somehow explains what they mean such as, if a man said he was going for an after lunch lunt, the person he was talking to could reply. “I don’t have my pipe and tobacco with me today.” I feel that writers who use terminology from a different era or words or phrases from a different language without clarification are trying to impress the reader with their vocabulary and intellect. Speaking as a reader, for me what they are really doing is making me angry and interrupting the flow of the story. I am jolted out of the lives of the characters and into my life as I try to process the meaning of what was written.

As a writer you want the reader to be so caught up in the story that they don’t want to put the book down, you don’t want them to throw the book across the room because they don’t understand what has been said or done.

Another important aspect of writing historical novels or even novels set in past decades is to make sure that you do have the characters using devices that hadn’t been invented yet.

The ball point pen came into use in the 1940’s so you can’t have someone signing papers with it in the 1920s. The Charleston dance was introduced in a movie in 1923 and caught on after that, so a story set before that time could not have party-goers dancing it. While the computer was invented during World War II, it didn’t come into commercial use until the 1950/60s and personal use until the 1970/80s. Don’t have a person make a phone call before March 7, 1876, which is when Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone and don’t have someone send a text on a mobile phone in the 1970s.

It is important to do your research when writing a novel set in the past, no matter what the year.

More historical words:

In the 1590s beef-witted described something as being brainless or stupid.

In the 1640s callipygian described a beautifully shaped butt.

In the 1650s sluberdegullion meant an unkempt, drooling person.

In the 1950s two people making out in the back seat of a car were doing the back seat bingo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

My Writing Companions

I first began my writing career with a short story about an injured hawk my son and I found beside the highway. We took him home to our acreage and named him Highway. We nursed him for a few days then set him free. He decided he liked us and moved into the bushes around our acreage.

       This story lead to the publication of historical and travel articles and finally seven travel books. To research these books over the years I travelled and camped throughout British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon and Alaska. My travelling companion was a cockapoo dog named Chevy. He inspected attractions with me, hikes trails with me, and waited patiently in my vehicle when I had to go into a building. We would be on the road for a month or more at a time taking pictures, learning history, and meeting people.

       At the end of each trip I’d be glad to get home and begin to unload my vehicle. Chevy would jump out and check the house and yard. I thought he was happy to be home also until I would go into my vehicle and find him lying in his place on the seat. I’d tell him we were home to stay and put him on the ground. I’d gather up more stuff to carry into the house and when I came out for my next load he was once again on the seat. I guess he wasn’t taking a chance that I would leave him. That little guy lived to be seventeen and was a great companion.

       I have had as many as five cats at a time over the years—I’m now down to three. When I am writing, one’s favourite spot is on my lap, another likes to sit on the desk between me and my computer screen, and the third one sits on the floor and talks to me trying to distract my thoughts. But I don’t mind. They are a joy to have.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

In the Name of Love
My husband and I lived on an acreage and my husband work in the country for an oil company. Therefore he didn’t make it into town to buy me a Valentine’s card. So early Valentine’s morning he went outside and packed some snow into a pile. He got a can of red spray paint and painted a heart with an arrow through it on the snow. He also printed Be My Valentine on it. I could see the pile of snow from the kitchen window for months as it was the last snow to melt in the spring.
My mother had moved from Alberta to B.C. to pick fruit and then got a job at a store in Vancouver. Mom’s parents, my grandparents sold their farm in Alberta and bought an acreage near Vancouver. My father was in World War II and was repatriated to Vancouver when it was over.
When dad left the army he got a job and began to look for a place to buy. My grandfather’s health was bad and so they decided to sell their acreage. One of mom’s friends was my dad’s sister and my dad found out about it through his sister. He bought my grandparents acreage and met my mother. They married seven months after meeting and were married for fifty-four years.
The way dad put it: He bought the acreage and got the daughter for free.