Carrie MacKinnon was a personnel officer for a large Toronto insurance company.
Florence McNeil’s seventh book of poetry chronicles the journey of a group of settlers or “overlanders” who set out from Fort Garry, Manitoba, in 1862. Amongst their number was a woman who was five months pregnant, and her three children. McNeil has chosen a journal style in which the facts are real, but the dialogue mythical, to describe this anecdote of social history. Its poetic language tinges what must have been a fairly common experience with an aura — separate, distinct and wonderful — of the amazing accomplishment, courage, and determination of a woman and mother in this rugged world. The woman has a simple creed: “I go where he goes” — which meant across the Prairies and Rockies to the Cariboo. While the woman remains the focus and central narrator of the poem, McNeil also uses a trader, a hunter, a nun at St. Anne’s Mission, and the factor Colin Fraser at Fort Edmonton to provide a perspective on the woman’s journey. Finally, though, it is the woman herself who captivates the reader. The poet’s intrusion of unlikely, intellectual imagery emanating from a simple and likely uneducated mind serves to enhance rather than interfere with the reader’s growing knowledge of and respect for this unsung heroine. She was not perhaps interesting in herself, nor does she think herself so, but she has a clarity of vision and an indomitable drive that are truly inspirational.