At Home Afloat: Women on the Waters of the Pacific Northwest


179 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-028-9
DDC 305.43





Reviewed by Lori A. Dunn

Lori A. Dunn is an ESL teacher, instructional designer, and freelance
writer in New Westminster, B.C.


In At Home Afloat, Nancy Pagh has analyzed tourist accounts, how-to
books from various decades, and other boating literature available on
British Columbia coast tourism to bring us an interdisciplinary look at
the history of women traveling on coastal waters.

Pagh’s analysis is broken down into four chapters. The first,
“Northwest Coast Marine Tourism: A Contextual History,” provides a
context for the social history of boating in British Columbia. Pagh
discusses the various types of tourists (not only British Columbians but
also Americans traveling up the coast to Alaska and British tourists
visiting the colony) and examines the changes brought about by the
introduction of gas engines and the availability, in the Victorian era,
of houseboats equipped with Japanese cooks.

The subsequent chapters offer a deeper analysis of the literature.
Chapter 2, “Space for the Mate: Superstition, Ritual, and a Woman’s
Place,” describes how women were “allowed” on the waterways as
tourists or, more often, in the role of “first mate” with their
sailing husbands. In Chapter 3, “Imaginary Indians: Feminine Discourse
and Colonialism Afloat,” Pagh looks at the writing of Victorian women
and their perceptions of Natives, finding both typical colonial
attitudes and more open-minded views. The final chapter, “‘Getting
Our Dresses Wet’: Women, Girls, and the Natural Environment,”
considers the ways in which “[women boaters] ascribe meaning to the
natural environment” in both earlier and later primary sources.

Throughout the text, the author’s feminist discourse examines what it
means to be “at home” on the water. The division of power on board
and, more specifically, the division of space and politics of place are
major themes. Pagh’s clear academic style and skilful use of quotes
from her primary sources make this informative book a pleasure to read.


Pagh, Nancy., “At Home Afloat: Women on the Waters of the Pacific Northwest,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,