The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill: An Ancestor’s Guide to Wellbeing

HARP Publishing The People’s Press

H-Healing A-rt R-econciling P-eoples

HARP The People’s Press released The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill by Laura Elliott in Christ Church Community Museum in Lakefield, Ontario on July 16, 2023. Catharine Parr Traill’s last home, Westove, is in Lakefield, and Laura Elliott and her family now live there. Christ Church, now a community museum, was the Anglican church that the Traill family attended.

In the spring of 2020, when the global pandemic forced Laura Elliott and her family to hunker down in Catharine’s home, Laura was inspired to write about Catharine’s life through the lens of wellbeing. She wondered what our generation can learn from her approach to life as we struggle with our own lives, facing different issues but the same fundamental fears and concerns.

Catharine’s last book Pearls and Pebbles published in 1894, subtitled Tales of an Old Naturalist, became a metaphor for the gems and challenges of wellbeing that Laura pulled from her readings of Catharine’s published work and prolific archive of letters. Laura like Catherine found that narrative writing was an important resource for wellbeing.

The cover art for Catharine’s book presents a fitting understory, quite possibly created by Catharine’s niece Agnes Fitzgibbon, who created the illustrations for Canadian Wildflowers published in 1868.

My hope is that some who read this book will experience the same sort of epiphany as CPT when she entrusted her child to sit in a separate canoe after seeing the loving nature of Michi Saagiig mothers.

– Maurice Switzer, Citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation and former communications director for the Anishinabek Nation

The back story to the cover art illustrating Maurice Switzer’s words of praise for The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill by Koren Smoke, Michi Saagig Anishinaabe Kwe, Visual Artist, tracks the collaboration between HARP authors Laura Elliott and Dorothy Lander, whose “decolonizing memoir” ReReading Catharine Parr Traill was published in 2022 and the supporting Indigenous knowledge of these two citizens of the Missisaugas.

In 2020, Laura Elliott in Lakefield, Ontario, and Dorothy Lander in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, two writers and educators representing different generations and different life experiences. were unbeknownst to them, independently delving deeply into the writings and biographies of Catharine Parr Traill. Both were responding to the interconnected forces of the pandemic, the climate emergency and the Every Child Matters movement that grew out of the discovery of the thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous children. In 2021, Michael Peterman, Trent University Emeritus Professor and author of Sisters of Two Worlds, met Dorothy while summering in Nova Scotia, and mentioned in passing that Laura Elliott lived in Westove, Catharine Parr Traill’s last house in Lakefield, and that she too was writing a book about Catherine. And so it was that Dorothy sought out Laura and they bonded over their common experience of a life jolt that demanded that they balance Catharine, the literary icon, pioneer powerhouse and floral godmother with her settler privilege and legacy of colonization. How to do this messy work and honour their commitment to truth and reconciliation? Dorothy first reached out to Maurice Switzer, citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation, to review her book, ReReading Catharine Parr Traill: Stranging the Familiar, and he subsequently wrote the Foreword. Koren Smoke created several illustrations of Indigenous knowledge and stewardship of the land that Catharine Parr Traill takes up in her 1852 adventure story Canadian Crusoes, such as cultural burns and native plant species.  Dorothy’s book was released on Sept. 30, 2022 at St. George’s Anglican Chapel on the shores of Rice Lake, the very church that the Traill family attended in the 1840s.

Dorothy’s book and especially Maurice Switzer’s tale of spending time with his boyhood friend at Westove in Lakefield, weaves its way into Laura’s writing as it was unfolding in these very surroundings in 2023.  They echo each other, Laura musing that Catharine would be a climate activist if she were alive today, Dorothy contemplating that Catharine would wear an Every Child Matters T-shirt on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

HARP offers these companion books as a discount package, to promote the model for settler allyship that Maurice Switzer encourages. Also the model for communal and societal wellbeing that threads through The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill.

The Dorothy Landers [and the Laura Elliotts] of this country are the real “allies” required by Indigenous peoples if Reconciliation is to succeed. As citizens in a country of which they want to be proud, they want to learn everything they can about its past — warts and all — so they can have a baseline against which to measure improvement over past practices. – Maurice Switzer

Praise for The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill

Elliott offers a unique and fascinating interpretation of the life and enduring lessons of Catharine Parr Traill. Through meticulous research and deeply personal contemplation, the experiences and beliefs of the 19th century Canadian literary icon illuminate 21st century research regarding happiness and well-being.

  • John Boyko, Author of The Devil’s Trick: How Canada Fought the Vietnam War

Laura Elliott’s The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill is a readworthy contribution to understanding relationships that have existed between Indigenous peoples and newcomers to their lands. My hope is that some who read this book will experience the same sort of epiphany as CPT when she entrusted her child to sit in a separate canoe after seeing the loving nature of Michi Saagiig mothers.

  • Maurice Switzer, Citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation and former communications director for the Anishinabek Nation

Laura Elliott takes us on a journey through the struggles and joys of Catharine Parr Traill, a 19th century botanist and writer, in order to paddle through multiple meanings and routes to well-being. This poignant research into pioneer life in ‘backwoods’ Ontario includes a critical exploration of encounters between indigenous peoples and settlers on the traditional lands of the Michi Saagiig. The author strives to foster dialogue about the past and present in the spirit of reconciliation, and seeks to offer lessons to a world emerging from pandemic isolation. Well-being, we learn, is both complex and relational; it thrives in the personal pursuit of self-care, balance, mindful expression of gratitude and appreciation of nature — and — in establishing respectful human connections within and across cultures.

  • Margaret MacNeill, Associate Professor Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and the Collaborative Specialization in Women’s Health: University of Toronto

The Ghost of Catharine Parr Traill provides a refreshing and engaging connection between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries–between the pioneering strengths of Catharine Parr Traill and contemporary wellness thinking.

  • Michael Peterman, Professor Emeritus at Trent University, Author of Sisters in Two Worlds