Navigating the Past: Cathy Converse’s Following the Curve of Time

foxgloves-at-mckercher-14062016Converse, Cathy. Following the Curve of Time: The Legendary M. Wylie Blanchet. Victoria: Touch Wood Editions, 2008.

I was perhaps at something of a disadvantage when I began to read this book; I have not read M. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time, a memoir of the summer voyages up the coast of British Columbia that Blanchett made with her five children in the 1920s and 1930s.

These trips apparently form the basis for The Curve of Time. Converse’s book is a short biography of Blanchet, the greater part of which revisits those places Blanchet and the children knew as they sailed up the BC coast. Hence Converse’s title Following the Curve of Time. I found Converse’s book interesting but not gripping. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it moved too quickly, it’s prose journalistic rather than lyrical. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a sailor by any means, so it is unlikely that I am going to repeat any of Blanchet’s journeys. However, I do appreciate BC’s coastal landscape. After all, I have chosen to live on an island not far from where the Blanchets made their home nearly 100 years ago.  Nor was it because Blanchet herself seemed uninteresting. Far from it.

What I gathered from Converse about Blanchet was a picture of a highly self-sufficient woman, individual to the point of eccentricity, especially in old age, and, in a way, very At Anchor 2 10092015 - Version 2 – Version 3much a product of her own time even as she didn’t always conform to the more established patterns of behaviour for that time. particularly in her response to the First Nations cultures. I found myself comparing Blanchet with Emily Carr at this point. Converse admits her own difficulties in deciding what Blanchet’s attitudes were.

“It is hard to say if Capi was particularly sensitive to the nuances of coastal cultures: she certainly did her homework and was well read on some of the more visible traditions and cultural practices of the people she visited. She did not seem to be caught up in 1930s paternalism and stereotypical notions of ‘place,’ but she did talk of First Nations groups in img_0688the objective, as if they somehow existed outside of or were peripheral to her world view” (143).

Converse’s ultimate assessment of Blanchet appears to be that “Capi Blanchet remains an enigma, for she left only the books she wrote and the photographs she took as material from which her life story could be scripted” (185).

I think that what I found most interesting was Converse’s following Blanchet’s course up the coast and her observations of the changes that have and have not taken place since Blanchet and her children made their summer cruises. If you do not know BC, you may not find Converse’s book of any great interest. If you know the BC coast, then you will foxgloves-at-mckercher-14062016probably find the book has something to offer you.

I suspect that the really engaging work is Blanchet’s own. Certainly, the following article “A World Apart and Kindred: M. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time” by Maleea Acker ( Web, 30 December 2016) suggested that Blanchet’s own work would be well worth the visit.

The pictures below are of the waters around Southern Vancouver Island and particularly the Southern Gulf Islands. Capi Blanchet’s summer voyages took her much further north, but for any readers unfamiliar with BC’s coast, these images will give you an inkling of the kind of seascape Blanchet and so many years later Converse were navigating.




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