Author Tags: Biography, Women
Susan Smith-Josephy is the author of Lillian Alling: The Journey Home (Caitlin Press 2011), a biography about the courageous and elusive Lillian Alling. Using a combination of personal documents, first-hand recollections, family tales and archival research, Smith-Josephy demystifies Alling's life and story.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Lillian Alling: The Journey Home
Lillian Alling: Walking Home
In 1926 or 1927, Lillian Alling, the subject of a Vancouver Opera production, began an epic journey on foot from New York to Siberia. She made it to B.C. and was jailed for her own safety in Oakalla Prison Farm in Burnaby because authorities feared she would die if she continued her trek through the winter. In the spring she walked north and was last spotted in Alaska. Quesnel historian Susan Smith-Josephy (SFU BA’88) has written a non-fiction account of Alling’s life called Lillian Alling: Walking Home (Caitlin Press 2011).
[by Christine Hearn, AQ Magazine, 2011)
Lillian Alling: The Journey Home by Susan Smith-Josephy
from Sage Birchwater
Lillian Alling: The Journey Home by Susan Smith-Josephy (Caitlin Press $24.95)
It took quesnel author, Susan Smith-Josephy, four years to research and write Lillian Alling: The Journey Home. This was a full year longer than the events described in the book of Polish Immigrant, Lillian Alling’s walk across North America from New York to Alaska in the 1920s in an attempt to re-turn to her roots.
Alling crossed the Canadian border at Niagara Falls on Christ-mas Eve, 1926. What made her epic trek peculiar is that her homeland was in Eastern Europe, yet she set off in the opposite direction, walk-ing westward and north. She even-tually reached the Bering Sea in August. 1929.
As Smith-Josephy points out, the beginning and ending of Alling’s life remain a mystery. She landed in New York City from Europe at an undisclosed date, and records docu-menting the end of her Journey arc vague. But once she reached British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska, on her trek across the continent, there is a pretty good paper trai1 in newspa-per articles, magazines, books and in the lore of the country.
“I love to do research,” says Smith-Josephy who first got inter-ested in Alling’s story when she came across an article about her in 2007.”So I started looking things up.”
Smith-Josephy says the more she researched the story, the more she found it engaging and the char-acter of Alling magnetic.
“Lillian Alling was intriguing, stubborn and single-minded, and I felt she deserved a book.”
Alling had little money, no iden-tification papers, and no transpor-tation when she set out on her 6,000-mile (9,650 km) trek across the continent, but she had plenty of determination. Over the three years that followed, she walked most of the way to Dawson City, Yukon, crossing North America though Canada, weathering the baking sun and freezing winter. She concluded her journey in a rowboat 1,250 miles down the Yukon River to the Bering Sea.
Less than a year after Alling set out, she was arrested at Hazelton in British Columbia in the fall of 1927 “for her own good” on a trumped up charge of vagrancy. She was sent to Oakalla Prison in Burnaby for a few weeks and wintered in Vancouver “so she wouldn’t freeze to death on the Telegraph Trail” with the en-croaching winter.
She resumed her journey the following spring (1928) after catching a boat to Stewart from Vancouver. From there she walked south to Smithers to register with the provincial police, before head-ing up the Telegraph Trail from Hazelton to Telegraph Creek, Atlin and eventually the Yukon.
In those days the Telegraph Trail had emergency cabins 10 miles apart between Hazelton and Telegraph Creek, and five of those cabins were manned by linemen who relayed messages and made necessary repairs to the telegraph line. The head telegrapher, Ruxton Cox, tapped out a message to the linemen to keep an eye out for Alling. When she arrived, each man tapped back a message to Cox say-ing she had come and gone safely. They also gave her food, shelter and encouragement. Sometimes they walked several miles along the trail to meet her and accompany her for part of her journey.
On August 24, 1928 Alling made it to Tagish, her first stop in the Yukon.
“In spite of her efforts to keep a low profile, Liliian Alling by now had become something of a celeb-rity across the north,” writes Smith--Josephy. “A lone woman walking to Siberia could not escape notice.”
She arrived in Whitehorse on Aug. 27, 1928 and finally made it to Dawson City on Oct. 7 where she spent the winter.
Smith-Josephy fills in the blank spaces of Alling’s journey by citing the memoirs of other trekkers who hiked the same trails around the same period. Winfield Woolf, who journeyed up the Telegraph Trail a year after Alling, described the challenging river crossings he was forced to make.
“I used Winfield Woolf’s articles to describe the terrain,” Smith--Josephy says. “I found Winfield’s son and he told me that his father lost his toes to frostbite and would take off his socks at family gather-ings and show people his stubs.”
In the spring of l929 Alling navi-gated the Yukon River from Dawson City alone in a rowboat. By August she got to Nome, Alaska on the Bering Sea. It was here that Smith--Josephy loses track of Alling on this last leg of her journey. There is some speculation she never made it.
She was walking to the small Alaskan village of Prince of Wales, the western-most point of Seward Peninsula where she planned to hire someone to take her the 55 miles across the Bering Strait to Siberia.
“I discovered there are just two possibilities: either she drowned in Alaskan waters or she made it safely across the Bering Strait to Siberia,” writes the author. Smith-Josephy prefers to think she made it.
“Lordy, I hope she did. There’s no record of any deaths. I believe she reached Siberia against all odds.” Lillian Alling: The Journey Home, published by Caitlin Press is Smith-Josephy’s first book.