From Denmark to the Cariboo: The Epic Journey of the Lindhard Sisters
Review By Jay Lalonde
June 22, 2023
BC Studies no. 218 Summer 2023 | p. 132-133
Towns in the goldfields of British Columbia are usually imagined as created and sustained by itinerant British and American miners, almost inevitably single and male, toiling to turn Indigenous lands and waters into glimmering sources of individual fortunes. Linda Peterat’s From Denmark to the Cariboo shows, however, that middle-class settler women were essential to these histories. In her readable and well-paced book, Peterat argues that middle-class settler women with families who lived on the late-nineteenth-century Pacific Coast demonstrated significant agency, which can be seen especially through their entrepreneurship, mobility, and ready use of financial and legal instruments.
The book tells the story of the three Lindhard sisters (Laura, Caroline, and Christine) who left the small town of Stege, Denmark in the 1870s to experience what they saw as new opportunities and adventure in the Cariboo, which was experiencing a goldmining boom and rapid expansion of white settlement. As such, it contributes to several fields, such as Nordic migration history, transnational history, women’s travel narratives, and the history of the Pacific Coast, and is in conversation with historians like Jean Barman, Sarah Carter, and Myra Rutherdale. It emphasizes the importance of migrant-settlers to the colonial settlement of BC (and the entire Pacific Coast). To tell a larger story of varied middle-class female agency through the lives of three women and the choices they made is a challenging task, but Peterat manages to capture both their shared commonalities and nuanced differences through dividing her book into three parts – one for each sister – and subdividing these into short chapters, each focusing on a particular episode or person in their lives. In this way, the vast geography of the book and the women’s many moves do not confuse the reader, and this structure also enables Peterat to dedicate separate chapters to their husbands and children without having them take over the story.
The sisters broadly represent the three main opportunities available to middle-class settler women. Laura thrives in the goldmining towns of Barkerville, Van Winkle, and Stanley, becoming a well-known entrepreneur on her own and in partnership with her first and second husbands. Unlike Laura, her sister Caroline left the “unsettled and evolving frontier of British Columbia” (181) for San Francisco, where she successfully invested in real estate and became part of the social elite. The third sister, Christine, seems to have refused the capitalist route to middle-class respectability and chosen celibacy and communal living in Koreshan Unity in Florida. While few sources are available about middle-class “quiet women” (2), Peterat meticulously constructs the book by casting a wide net and using the few available letters, newspaper mentions (usually having to extract the women’s histories from those of their husbands), and family sources – including many photographs – to great effect. The book is a testament to the multi-level mobility of middle-class women (international, intracolonial, and local; often seasonal; and by steamship, train, and stagecoach), as well as to the vital importance of mutual family support. While inheritance was critical for middle-class women – and “marriage was the most consequential entrepreneurial decision they would make” (218) – Peterat looks further, in order to retrieve their own significant entrepreneurship and paid and unpaid labour in an emerging colonial society.
Anyone interested in the intertwined histories of European migration and colonial settlement, along with scholars of BC history, Scandinavian-American history, and women’s history, will benefit from reading From Denmark to the Cariboo, as it does an excellent job of putting women back into the turn-of-the-century history of the Pacific Coast.
Peterat, Linda. From Denmark to the Cariboo: The Epic Journey of the Lindhard Sisters. Victoria, BC: Heritage House Publishing, 2022. 288pp. $26.95 paper.