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Sailing Through Summer with
The Curve of Time

by Kathy Sinclair

dduring my university summers, I counselled at a camp in B.C.'s Princess Louisa Inlet. This camp for teenagers was originally built in the 1940s as a resort for the rich and famous an escape for people like Bob Hope, John Wayne, and Hollywood's most elite.

It never flew. Californians didn't like the perpetual rain and it took too long to get there an eight-hour cruise from Vancouver . The place was abandoned, later sold.

All of which is to say that the rainy, mountainous B.C. coastline ain't for sissies.

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In 1927, a young married woman living on Vancouver Island was left a widow. Did she weep and wail, think of giving up, with five children pulling at her skirts? We'll never know. What we do know is that she spent winters home-schooling her children, and summers with them exploring B.C.'s coastline - Howe Sound, Sechelt Inlet, Skookumchuk Rapids, Jervis Inlet and Desolation Sound by boat.

Muriel Wylie Blanchet was born in Montreal in 1891. Her book, The Curve of Time, was first published in Scotland in 1961, the year of her death. It was hardly acknowledged in Canada.

the curve of time Almost 40 years later, The Curve of Time hovers perpetually on or near the list of 10 best-selling non-fiction books in B.C.

"This is neither a story nor a log," Blanchet writes. "It is just an account of many long summer months, during many years, when the children were young enough and old enough to take on camping holidays up the coast of British Columbia. Time did not exist; or if it did, it did not matter, and perhaps it was not always sunny."

Blanchet (or "Capi", as she was called by her children), Peter, Jan, John, Elizabeth and Pam come to life in 225 pages like the heroes of an adventure novel. As they sail through rugged landscape on their 25-foot craft, The Caprice, and come across bears, eagles, whales and seals. From the first story, we can see that Blanchet, though obviously a seasoned and practical outdoorswoman, has a strong belief in the power of intuition. Over the course of the book we also see this fascination with the mystical expressed in her strong interest in the Native villages they encounter on their travels.

So how did she do it? How did Muriel Wylie Blanchet manage to feed, clothe, and school her five kids, and take them boating each summer? As one reviewer has said, "If you're looking for tips on how she ran the day-to-day, you won't find them." The usual family matters illnesses, disagreements, and the getting-on-each-others'-nerves that only living in cramped quarters brings are definitely a part of the book. But these matters are dealt with lightly. (At one point Blanchet says of one of her sons, "John, for two or three years, was a complete ball and chain.")

Think of Blanchet as a kind of motherly, non-painting Emily Carr. Her great enthusiasm for the mountains, waterfalls, wildlife and oceans that become a part of her family's everyday life is what makes these stories so interesting. Interesting, too, is seeing this landscape through Blanchet's metaphysical eye through her keen understanding of the science and workings of the place combined with her appreciation for its beauty.

Kathy Sinclair is canadian content's B.C. correspondent.
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