Jean Barman. Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. 304.

Nation-building is a familiar and important theme in Canadian historiography. While historians generally attribute its achievement to men, Jean Barman's Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen rightfully argues that although women played a more subtle role, they were equally important in creating a nation. Her dual biographies of the McQueen sisters span the period 1860-1941, when British Columbia transformed itself from a frontier into a modern province and linked itself to Canada. Building a nation was more than a series of political events. It began at the local level and necessarily involved ordinary men's and women's contributions to the social and cultural structure. Both sisters would come to the Nicola Lake valley as sojourning teachers in the 1880s, and in their individual ways they were representative of many newcomer women who were settling in the province. Among these frontier settlers, colonialism with all its predetermined attitudes about family, religion, race, education, and gender remained as powerful a force as their desire for freedom. These issues become the broad themes of Barman's study of how the McQueen sisters, and women generally, helped to remake British Columbia.

Although the book follows a chronological framework, it breaks away from a straight narrative of their lives. The reader is taken not only on the life journeys of the two sisters but also a tour of the southern part of the province during this important developmental stage. We learn that it is not adventure or the frontier spirit which necessitates their move from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, to the Nicola Valley but the material need to support their family. Within the book, Barman records Jessie's subsequent moves to Campbell Creek, Salmon Arm, Rossland, and Salt Spring Island, and Annie's moves to Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Trail, Crow's Nest Landing, Tobacco Plains, and Victoria. Generally, these types of accounts depicting the pitfalls and successes of teaching careers and pioneer life can wear thin and lose the reader's attention, but, fortunately, Barman rescues her book by developing the sisters' personalities and by emphasizing the major analytical themes as each chapter progresses.

Barman's previous publications such as Children, Teachers, and Schools in the History of British Columbia (1995, 2003), First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds (1995), and The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia (1991, 1996), provide her with a solid foundation for discussions of the sisters' place within the province's educational and general history. She lets the sisters reveal themselves through their letters to each other and to family members. The more free-spirited and daring Annie enlivens the book with references to flirtations with her "dudes" (eligible men in the Nicola region) (p. 67), and her criticisms of other settlers. When mineral speculators started moving into Tobacco Plains, she complained that "we have been having such a lot of millionaires lately around the place, as thick as hairs on a dog's back, to speak vulgarly" (p. 175). The more introspective Jessie, who was controlled by daughterhood's obligations of financially supporting her family in Pictou, could also step out of character. In a "pique," she wrote to her mother, "Please don't bother telling me what you do with anything I send. All I want is to know that you don't let yourselves be in want of anything for your comfort" (p. 111). When combined with other primary sources from archives throughout the province the letters provide insights into their work, the communities they lived in, and their personal relations with family, other settlers, and aboriginal people. More importantly, the correspondence, according to Barman, "is revealing of the practices of domesticity and colonialism, of how they were affected and then reinforced, mentored, and surveilled through the written word" (p. 8). Here the author gives the lives of the McQueen sisters a greater meaning by incorporating secondary works that develop the themes of nation-building from below, colonialism, education, race, and gender. Gerald Friesen, Eric Hobsbawm, Annie McClintock, Catherine Hall, Adele Perry, and others provide the theoretical support for developing her discussions. In this manner, the book builds on and fits in with other recent research edited by C.A. Cavanaugh and R.R.Warne, Telling Tales: Essays in Western Women's History (2000).

By combining colonial and gender historiography, Barman is able to make a convincing argument for the importance of women's roles in nation-building. Colonialism predetermined their values and agreement with the superiority of the British way of life. It also predisposed them to the prevailing racism of the period. Like many newcomers, they critically accepted aboriginal culture and were willing to learn Chinook, but expressed the common negative views about First Nations people. For Jessie, this engrained attitude created difficult and complex challenges when she encountered half-breed children in her classrooms. Barman is at her best in sensitively revealing the McQueens’ reactions to hybridity. She discloses the implied inferiority of half-breed pupils within Jessie's descriptions of her students. In one case, Jessie noted a particular student wasn't "quite as much of a Siwash as she looks!" (p. 123). At the same time, Barman demonstrates how Jessie struggled to maintain her responsibility as a teacher and treated them equitably. Greater criticism is directed at Annie, who was more openly opposed to hybridity, especially her neighbours at Tobacco Plains, the hybrid Phillipps family. And when it came to her children, "she simply could not countenance them being schooled alongside hybrids" (p. 173).

Gender boundaries made their positions more complex as women were restricted politically but were given an important role in shaping the nation. "Theirs was the domestic realm" (p. 6). In "small but incremental fashion," Barman argues, they domesticated the frontier, turned it toward settlement, and "nudged the province as a whole closer toward the rest of Canada" (p. 7). Their Scottish background with its Presbyterian commitment to literacy and rigid moral standards moulded their values and like others within the sect they believed they were on a mission to shape Canada.

As teachers, and in their everyday lives, Barman suggests, the McQueens inculcated in their students, friends, and neighbours the familiar values brought with them from Nova Scotia – family, home, religion, education, hard work, and sobriety. They consolidated English values in each of the communities they resided – from Merritt to Tobacco Plains. "However remote the locale, organized religion continued to function as a prime means of domestication" (pp. 164-65). And the "message from the pulpit was reinforced in school by a corps of teachers imbued with the same religious and social outlook" (p. 104). In and out of the classroom, Jessie shaped the community by her behaviour. Activities such as sports or, in Jessie's case, walking, "modelled a form of behaviour more to do with settled society than the frontier" (p. 125). Here Barman uses Hobsbawm's "invented traditions" to demonstrate how this activity was comparable to organized sports encouraging a "sense of community conducive to nationhood" (p. 124). While Hobsbawm serves as a good theoretical base for developing this theme, further comparisons and a longer explanation of his thesis would make Barman's argument more convincing. Annie was also doing "the work of domestication" (p. 155) on the frontier and later in Victoria. In the 1890s she encouraged proper behaviour at Salmon Arm – hard work, sociability, assistance to neighbours, religious observance, and support of education. Two decades later, Annie used her many connections in women's groups – the Local Council of Women, IODE, Women's Canadian Club, and the Women's Institute – to domesticate and "remake British Columbia to the advantage of women with views similar to her own" (p. 217). In particular, her 1919 appointment as director of the Homes Branch of the Soldiers' Settlement Board provided her with opportunities to create courses intended to shape newcomer women to follow "her view of Canada as a nation" (p. 219).

Barman's book is an important contribution to research on how the frontier created a special place for newcomer women. Gender inequality was not only a numerical fact, it was a social convention accepted by both sexes. The frontier provided limited freedoms – Annie learned to shoot and ride astride, to homestead; Jessie built her own home in Rossland – but they could not break free of the restrictions placed on them by social attitudes and gender. Despite these social constraints, the lives of the McQueen sisters and other newcomer women were not without agency. They created their own self-identities. But Barman concludes that they remained trapped in the cultural milieu of colonialism and became agents for the domestication of the frontier. In this manner, they had a separate and distinctive role in nation-building and "melded British Columbia into Canada" (p. 243).

Andrew Yarmie
University College of the Cariboo