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A Grand Adventure for Susan Allison

For the week of Monday, August 17, 2015

On August 18, 1860, Susan Louisa Moir Allison arrived at the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Hope, British Columbia. Allison was born on her father’s tea plantation in Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka. His death left the family nearly penniless and they moved to England before immigrating to Canada when Allison was 14 years old.

Susan Allison, 1922
© Image A-06557 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives
Without a secure income, Allison worked as a governess in Fort Hope and then established the first school in the area with her mother. Despite the hardships of frontier life, she reveled in the adventures it offered. In 1868, she married American-born rancher John Fall Allison and the couple moved to his ranch in B.C.’s Similkameen Valley. Upon arriving there, Susan Allison learned that her husband already had a family with a Similkameen First Nation woman named Nora, whom he “sent away” after his marriage to Susan. Somehow, Allison found a way to take this news in stride and together the couple raised 14 children.

Susan Allison’s memoirs provide the first accounts of a pioneer woman’s life in British Columbia. She made strong personal connections with the Similkameen First Nation, whose traditional lands she and her family inhabited. Allison was unusually sensitive towards the lives and customs of the Similkameen and became fluent in the Chinook language. Later in life she wrote ethnographies about the Similkameen that remain valuable early descriptions of their culture. She also recorded and translated Similkameen stories and legends and tried in her publications to help non-Aboriginal readers understand their rich cultural traditions. Today these records are also of great value to the Similkameen.

Valley of the Similkameen River, B.C., where Allison spent much of her life.
© Geological Survey of Canada / Library and Archives Canada / PA-039784

Susan Louisa Moir Allison was designated a National Historic Person in 2007. One of Allison’s places of residence, Fort Hope, British Columbia, was designated a National Historic Site in 1925.

To learn more about pioneer women in Canada visit Susanna Moodie: Pioneer and Writer, The "White Lady" of the West and Catherine Parr Traill's Life in the Backwoods of Canada in the This Week in History archives. For more about First Peoples in Canada, read Saving Gwaii Haanas: The Islands of Beauty, Misto-ha-a-Musqua: Last Chief of the Free Plains Cree  and Treaty no. 7 Signed at Blackfoot Crossing.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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