Gray gives an entertaining account of two sisters, two emigrants to Canada in 1812, two English gentlewomen that had no idea of the hardships they were about to encounter in the backwoods of Ontario, where "delicate femininity was worse than useless when a wolf threatened the chicken coop, or when a cow's udder was swollen with milk". They were never quite in control of their destinies and often lived a hand-to-mouth existence with the bailiffs often knocking at the door. Gray's well researched and written book, brings into clear view the daily lives of these remarkable women with their 16 children , 69 grandchildren and their unremarkable husbands with their numerous farming and financial miscalculations ("money ran like sand through the fingers of the husbands.").
Gray sets the book within a social and historical context of the times (e.g. the particular forceful Belleville Orange Lodge and its very poor treatment of Dunbar Moodie, Susanna's husband). Gray vividly describes what it was like to be a pioneer in a vast forested country with cold, bitter winters: forging their first often crude home, vegetable garden and fields out of this wilderness and the times of homesickness, isolation, loneliness, poverty and hunger like they never experienced before. A typical morning included "stoves to stoke, chickens to feed, eggs to collect, babies to feed and dress, porridge to make, all the baking to be done- the bread, pies and cake required to feed not just growing families but also hired help for the fields, kitchen gardens needed weeding and watering from late April onward" and much much more.
And yet the two sisters, Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail (who lived to 82 and 97 respectively), became successful accomplished authors, their books still in print, in spite of the many rejections from potential publishers. As female authors at that time, this was a huge accomplishment especially considering the very real hardships of being a pioneer settler in 1835. Two lives very difficult for us even to imagine!
Details of the early years show that pioneers were unbelievably tough. However, their husbands are portrayed as completely inept and unsuited. Perhaps they were, but coming from a feminist author does create some doubt...
A great book that provides wonderful insight into the trials of life early in Canadian history along with the social and economic challenges.
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