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

From Horseback to the House of Commons

By Kate Greenaway, Lorne Greenaway

Old Lives in the Chilcotin Backcountry

By John Schreiber

November 20, 2013

Review By Peter Russell

   Veterinarian, rancher, federal MP (1979-1988), senior civil servant (even, very briefly, professor), Lorne Greenaway has left an intriguing autobiography of life in the British Columbia Interior. He reveals not only a near-idyllic childhood in the Okanagan, but also evidence of his parents’ sustained support through a varied career. They contributed not only time and money, but even constructed a barn on Greenaway’s Vancouver property! As doctor and rancher, Greenaway portrays the Cariboo-Chilcotin cattle industry as multiracial, with Chinese cooks and irrigators and Native cowboys, and with some American connections, providing the reader with an interesting extension of the ongoing debate over the character of the western cattle business, American vs. Anglo-Canadian.

Greenaway was a sturdy upholder of the independent “cowboy way” vs. government regulation. “Practical jokes,” often carried to the point of anarchy, would have bordered on the criminal in a more litigious society. Sometimes it took driving a house off a (clay) cliff to realize how foolhardy some of those ways were.

His wife Phyl (Phyllis) had an equally diverse career. Trained as a nurse, as a rancher’s wife she developed and marketed British Columbia’s first commercial granola. As well as having four children and organizing endless moves, she became a certified stockbroker. Greenaway is frank enough to admit that his moving decisions were not always made with her.

Greenaway repeatedly alludes to the great storytellers of the Cariboo-Chilcotin. He also testifies to his own feelings of wonder around features such as the venerable Gang Ranch. What Greenaway mentions in passing in his life as a rancher and politician is the focus of John Schreiber’s Old Lives. This book is an addition to, and sometimes a commentary on, the rich local lore and histories of the Chilcotin and the BC Interior.

The thread uniting Schreiber’s repeated travels and meditations in the Chilcotin region, including mountain walks, is a desire to gain a sense of the spaces that evoke deep awe to him. One long-time resident remarked simply: “There are some places around this country where we pray” (159). An awareness of something cannot always be put simply into descriptive prose. “Two ways, two ways to see” (190), concludes Schreiber. Sense data and science cannot adequately express all we experience, he argues. We use words such as “myth,” “ineffable,” and “sacred” (the latter of which he considers overused). Citing a very long tradition, going back to Plato and beyond, Schreiber seeks to express mystery through myth. He draws on anthropology to grasp the nature of myth in Native cultures. Occasional signs of New Age syncretism appear, for example with references to Buddha. However, Schreiber is most revealing in exploring the relationship between the beliefs of aboriginal Christians and their contact with and understanding of the spiritual sides of their traditional culture. “They talk about the Creator,” notes Schreiber. “We figure it’s the same thing, just a different angle. We think they go off on some things . … Like the mountain talking to you” (115).

Though of different genres, these books add significantly to our knowledge and understanding of the early to mid-twentieth century Cariboo-Chilcotin.

From Horseback to the House of Commons
By Lorne Greenaway with Kate Greenaway
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2012. 288 pp. $24.05 paper

Old Lives in the Chilcotin Backcountry
By John Schreiber
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2011. 224 pp. $24.95 paper