Alone in Silence

Alone in Silence: European Women in the Canadian North before World War II

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Alone in Silence
    Book Description:

    Kelcey details their struggles with the domestic realities of setting up a home or living in the hostile conditions imposed by the geography, as well as their need to adjust the way they worked. The rich sources left by Christian missionaries provide details of missionary women caught up in the zeal of their vocation but held within the confines of a paternal church. The letters and reports of the Grey Nuns who worked alongside the Oblate Fathers in the Mackenzie indicate the hardships imposed by their situation but also show how driven they were by their missionary purpose.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6929-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xxi)
  5. Map
    (pp. xxii-xxvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    Miss Florence Hirst, known to her friends as “Flossie,” was a seasoned Arctic veteran when she took up duties as house matron at the Anglican mission hospital at Pangnirtung on Baffin Island in 1935. Acquainted with as many male heroes of the north as anyone, she had served on the staff of the Shingle Point school between 1929 and 1933 and was not new to the Arctic and its ways when she wrote in her journal about an unfortunate episode at the hospital. An Inuk, she reported, had become violent. The local doctor and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (rcmp) had...

  7. CHAPTER ONE A Long While Between Dog Teams: Climate, Communications, and Isolation
    (pp. 15-33)

    Canada’s Northwest Territories stretch northward to the Pole across 1.3 million square miles of some of the most inhospitable geography on the planet. The nwt constitute 34 percent of the area of Canada. In 1988, there were estimated to be only 57,298 residents, or one person for each 22.7 square miles. In 1911, the population numbered 6,507, or one person for each 200 square miles. One Anglican Bishop of the Arctic described this vast and empty land as so remote that there was an “un-get-atibileness”¹ to the place. The letterhead of one of the Anglican missions underlined the isolation


  8. CHAPTER TWO Meatless, Wheatless, and Sweetless Days: The Domestic Arrangements of a Northern Home
    (pp. 34-56)

    For any woman living on European frontiers, “home” had a double meaning. The concept of home is important to understanding how the women retained their own customs and is crucial to appreciating the northern experience. Home embodied their roots and extended families – in the case of white European women in the north, this meant those who wereoutside. This was the home they had left behind and, for the most part, where they returned to (or perhaps more importantly, where they hoped to return). It was where they were personally grounded and where the customs they endeavoured to sustain were...

  9. CHAPTER THREE “Speaking of Me and Franklin”: Women Travellers in the Arctic
    (pp. 57-77)

    Victorian and Edwardian women who explored the north were members of a unique sisterhood, privileged because they could afford the journey to see parts of the world about which most could only dream. Women travellers published works describing their journeys into the jungles, mountains, and deserts of the world. They may have had the same purpose as their male counterparts, but what they saw and recorded was often different. On her journey north in 1908, Agnes Deans Cameron explained the difference in attitude, by suggesting that “a man who goes North to see rocks, sees little else; the bug hunter...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Travels With the “More Realistic” Sex in the 1920s and 1930s
    (pp. 78-96)

    When professional women travelled into the nwt during the 1920s and ’30s, they encountered the same institutions as their Victorian and Edwardian predecessors. Time had effected little change to the structures of male-dominated and male-defined administration in the north, and these men became even more firmly entrenched when challenged by women with some measure of personal confidence. Professional women were still few in number in Canada in the 1920s – their number too small to make an effective attack on the patriarchal structures of religion, business, or science. Individual women developed ways of coping with resistance, strengthening their personal resolve to...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE “Standing in the Gap:” Anglican Women and the Northern Mission
    (pp. 97-122)

    Christian missionaries deliberately sought to place themselves in close relation to the indigenous population so as to proselytize European culture along with the Christian Gospel. There was nothing subtle about the missionary message. Both Roman Catholic (RC) and Anglican missionaries in northern Canada were instruments of change if only because of their vocation. They were also children of their time: included with their message was the idea that aboriginal peoples could only survive contact by adopting Christianity and its concepts. In time, this became a fundamental postulate of all missionaries.

    The missionary’s concern with religious beliefs and the saving of...

  12. CHAPTER SIX “Faith Inspires, Distinguishes, and Explains It”: The Grey Nuns’ Mission in the North
    (pp. 123-137)

    Because of their long service in the north, the Sisters of Charity of Montreal have styled themselves asArctic Angels¹ – their service in the north marked by Christian faith and the heroism inherent intheirinterpretation of the experience. Heroism, a term often used in their literature, is characterized as personal and community sacrifice and privation – hardships concomitant with the arctic climate – and geographical isolation in the service of God. Early epistles from the Roman Catholic missions in the north speak frequently of the torments of hunger, or the fast of correspondence, even though the abnegation was self-inflicted because of...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN White Women Have Strange Ways: Connections and Distinctions between Cultures
    (pp. 138-161)

    During her first winter at Shingle Point, Addie Butler wrote to her sister about an Inuit wedding she had attended – although she noted that “you would never have known a wedding was about to be solemnized. The bridal couple was sitting amongst the rest of the congregation, not together, and there were no bridesmaids, no confetti, no fuss, no nothing.” Mrs Butler thought it remarkable that after the wedding, the married couple went their separate ways. It was 1933. Anglican missionaries had preached their message in the region for more than seventy years. But in the isolated mission church, the...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT “A Certain Amount of Unpleasantness”: One Woman’s Encounter with the Holy Trinity of the North
    (pp. 162-175)

    Occasionally, research will uncover documents which even though they raise a number of questions, explain a whole range of issues under one theme. Sometimes, small details culled from a number of sources can serendipitously find themselves in a common file, making complete sense of an otherwise incoherent situation. Lucky historians know that every once in awhile both situations will come together fortuitously to create a singular example for their research. Such is the case of Mary Lyman and her winter at Herschel Island.

    The pieces of the Mary Lyman puzzle were scattered across Canada at archives in Ottawa, Edmonton, Yellowknife,...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 176-178)

    The pieces of the Mary Lyman puzzle represent only one small part of the jigsaw I described in the introduction. I noted there how pieces were missing – and my resolve to assemble enough of the puzzle to illustrate how white European women in the Canadian north met the challenges posed by the climate and geography, and the southern institutions to which they were in some way attached or dependent upon. I pointed out, however, that drawing concrete conclusions proved to be an impossible task even though there were some notable findings.

    I outlined in the first chapter how the climate...

  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 179-180)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 181-206)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-220)
  19. Index
    (pp. 221-228)