We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.

Review

Beckoned by the Sea: Women at Work on the Cascadia Coast

By Sylvia Taylor

March 14, 2019

Review By Annie Booth

The sea draws many, to many destinies.  Even those of us who are landlocked remain drawn due to history, biology or too much reading. This book offers the stories of 24 women (25 including the author, who also shares her story), who have found a life and a calling along the Pacific coast from Alaska down to northern California, although the majority call BC home. Categorized under five headings, Harvesters, Travellers, Creators, History-Keepers, Teachers, and Protectors, the book offers fascinating glimpses into why these women came to work on/with the ocean and to passionately defend it against ecological damage.

The book is of interest for a number of reasons.  Even in this decade, it is rare to find the stories of working women presented both in a collection and with genuine care and consideration.  The vignettes are clearly drawn from extensive interviews and a substantial component of each is in the woman’s own words.  Taylor provides context and observation for each life history within a larger context.

The second point of interest is in the multiplicity of ways modern humans make a living around the sea, from fishing, to protection work, from merchant marine to marine mammal trainer or even as a mermaid, the sea brings many livings to those who are willing. Some of the women followed family careers as fishers, boat owners, or lighthouse keepers. A few supported their husbands, The Waiting Ones, keeping house and hold until their husbands returned.  Some are entwined with the sea through their Indigenous cultures as well as their work, others as part of the tradition of Japanese immigrants who came to Canada to be fishers. And others found their way from landlocked childhoods to careers in the sea that called them, as biologists, artists, writers and restauranteurs. The diversity of possible livings is both instructive and fascinating for the different experiences and insights they bring.

The entries are somewhat rambling and disjointed, as is natural in an extensive interview.  While academics might find this a bit troubling, it does preserve the “voice” of each woman in recounting their own lives.  As most of the women are located in British Columbia, the vignettes offer useful oral histories in the life of the coast. Taylor includes a select bibliography with multimedia and online resources linked to the women to allow further reflection upon their experiences.  If there is anything lacking, I might have looked for greater diversity – women of colour have contributed significantly, but only a handful of their life stories are present.

The book is useful as a source of oral histories of women living around and off the sea off the Cascadian coast, particularly in British Columbia. If also offers a nice set of readings for undergraduate courses in Gender Studies or Environmental Studies, especially at lower levels.

Publication Information

Beckoned by the Sea: Women at Work on the Cascadia Coast
Sylvia Taylor
Victoria: Heritage House Publishing Co., 2017. 288 pp. $19.95 paper.