Author Tags: 1850-1900, Early B.C., Literary Landmarks, Women
LITERARY LOCATION: “Sunnyside,” the original log cabin from Susan Allison’s homestead, restored by the Stewart family of Quails’ Gate Winery, 3303 Boucherie Road, West Kelowna. Built in 1873, Allison House is the oldest home site in the West Kelowna area, located on the Quails' Gate property.
One of the few pioneering accounts by a woman in British Columbia during the mid-19th century was written by Susan Allison who lived on the west side of Okanagan Lake, 30 miles north of Penticton, at "Sunnyside," and also at Princeton, B.C. with her rancher husband John Fall Allison, who located Allison Pass, now part of the Hope-Princeton Highway. She gave birth to 14 children, all of whom survived into adulthood, and she befriended many local aboriginal women, who, she wrote, "told me more than they told most white people."
George Woodcock once favourably described her memoir as the far western equivalent of Roughing It in the Bush, "though Susan Allison had greater qualities of philosophic endurance than Susanna Moodie and also a greater empathy not only with the wild land but also with the strange and sometimes alarming people she encountered."
John Allison was born in Leeds, England in 1849, the son of a surgeon. He came to the U.S. with his parents in 1837 and he participated in the California gold rush as a boy in 1949. He came to B.C. in 1858 with the gold rush. Governor Douglas urged Allison to prospect for gold in the Similkameen and Tulameen areas in 1860. In September of the same year Allison and others pre-empted land which later became the townsite of Princeton, but they failed to complete their titles. Allison staked gold, copper and coal claims and established the first cattle ranch. His first wife was Nora Yakumtikum, a First Nations woman who bore four children and also ran a pack train for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Allison later accumulated more land for farming and ranching, marrying Susan Louisa Moir in 1868. Their house at Allison Flats, east of Princeton, was the first "white" house in the Similkameen valley.
Susan Allison was born as Susan Louisa Moir in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1845 where her father owned a tea plantation. Upon her father's premature death, she and two other children accompanied their mother to England where her mother remarried to a Scotsman, who somewhat foolishly brought them to Fort Hope on the Fraser River when Susan was 14.
George Woodcock, in a review for B.C. BookWorld, further described her early days in B.C. "As Susan Moir, Susan Allison arrived at Fort Hope on the Fraser River with her mother and her spendthrift stepfather, Thomas Glennie, who was attracted by the thought of becoming a country squire in the rich land of the goldfields. Fortune did not flow as easily as Glennie had expected, and in 1864 he vanished, leaving his wife and children to make do as best they could with the help of genteel acquaintances in Victoria and the Fraser Valley."
It's not known if Susan Moir knew John Allison already had a First Nations wife and three children when she married him; but given her straightened circumstances, perhaps that was less important to her than escaping from poverty. From 1873 to 1881 they lived on the west bank of Okanagan Lake, where she gave birth to the first "white" children born in the area, until their ranch lost 1000 head of cattle in the winter of 1880-81. During this period their settlement was named Sunnyside, a name that disappeared after their departure. It resurfaced in a 1931 newspaper in The Province newspaper about Okanagan pioneers. Gradually the name resurfaced after the publication of Margaret Ormsby's book about Susan Allison.
The community to which the Allisons went after Sunnyside was originally called Vermilion Forks, named for the red, yellow and orange ochre that Indians used for face painting, but it was also widely known as Allison's or Allison Flats. The name change to Princeton was made in 1860 in honour Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, but he never visited the town.
When her husband died in 1897, Susan Allison tried running the family ranch, with some success. George Woodcock writes: "She was deeply interested in the Indian peoples of the region, and deeply concerned as she watched their decline during her decades in these valleys whose late nineteenth century remoteness is hard to envisage now that they are traversed by main highways. The fact that she was often involved in life at its most elemental — for fire and flood several times left her homeless in a virtual wilderness — did not diminish Susan Allison's interest in the artistic accomplishments she had learnt in her girlhood, and after [her husband] Allison died in 1897 she began to turn to writing, publishing a long poem on the Similkameen Indians and also a paper on them which was published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. But most of her work went into the Recollections... They are the only major account by a woman of pioneering life in British Columbia during the mid-nineteenth century."
Susan Allison moved to the coast in 1928. She died in Vancouver in 1937 at age 92.
Susan Allison's recollections were published under the title of A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison (UBC Press, 1976), edited by Margaret Ormsby.
Later, Diane Sterne published a collection of selected works by Susan Louisa Allison (née Moir), dubbed Mother of the Similkameen, called In Her Words. Sterne's book was prepared in celebration of Princeton, B.C.’s 150th birthday. Her poetry and stories (some of which were written under the pen name of Stratton Moir) recount Indian legends told to her in the 1800’s when she ventured into the British Columbia interior with her new husband, John Fall Allison. With the assistance of members of her family and the Princeton Museum, this collection of lost writings has been preserved. Included are: “In-Cow-Mas-Ket” and “Quin-Is-Coe”.
Sixty years after its radio debut, a "true-life Canadian opera' inspired by Susan Allison's life, THE LAKE / N-HA-A-ITK, by Barbara Pentland and Dorothy Livesay, was accorded its world premiere on stage in 2014 by Astrolabe Musik Theatre and Turning Point Ensemble in collaboration with Westbank First Nation. Soprano Heather Pawsey sang the role of Susan Allison for three performances on the site of the Allisons' original 1873 Sunnyside ranch, West Kelowna’s Quails’ Gate Winery.
A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison (UBC Press, 1976).
In Her Words (2010). Available at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, Princeton Museum (Box 281, Princeton, B.C., Canada V0X 1W0. (250) 295-7588. Email inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org), or the Mozey-On-Inn (250-295-4355. Email inquiries to: email@example.com) for $20.00. 978-0-9866769-0-1. Copyright Princeton and District Museum and Archives
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Women" "Early B.C." "1850-1900"
A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia
As Susan Moir, Susan Allison arrived at Fort Hope on the Fraser River with her mother and her spendthrift stepfather, Thomas Glennie, who was attracted by the thought of becoming a country squire in the rich land of the goldfields. Fortune did not flow as easily as Glennie had expected, and in 1864 he vanished, leaving his wife and children to make do as best they could with the help of genteel acquaintances in Victoria and the Fraser Valley. In 1868 Susan Moir married John Fall Allison, after whom the Allison Pass is named. Allison was one of the pioneer farmers in the Similkameen Valley and in the Okanagan, and one of the founders of Princeton, and Susan shared the life of a rancher-trader that he pursued. She was deeply interested in the Indian peoples of the region, and deeply concerned as she watched their decline during her decades in these valleys whose late nineteenth century remoteness is hard to envisage now that they are traversed by main highways. The fact that she was often involved in life at its most elemental — for fire and flood several times left her homeless in a virtual wilderness — did not diminish Susan Allison's interest in the artistic accomplishments she had learnt in her girlhood, and after Allison died in 1897 she began to turn to writing, publishing a long poem on the Similkameen Indians and also a paper on them which was published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. But most of her work went into the Recollections which are here printed. They are the only major account by a woman of pioneering life in British Columbia during the mid-nineteenth century... Mrs. Allison's actual text is in fact quite short; together with a couple of her versions of Indian stories as an appendix, it runs to little more than 80 pages. The remainder of the 200 odd pages of A Pioneer Gentlewoman of British Columbia is taken up with Margaret Ormsby's long introduction and her elaborate notes identifying and telling the basic history of every individual and place named in the text. Some such apparatus was needed, since Susan Allison writes as if on the assumption that her readers would know everyone she mentions; Dr. Ormsby's work has been done so well that what we have is not merely the story of one woman, but a kind of shadow history of the extraordinarily beautiful region through which one travels from Hope across the ranges to the Similkameen Valley and on to the western shores of Okanagan Lake. -- George Woodcock
In Her Own Words
Prepared by Diane Sterne for Princeton, B.C.’s 150th birthday, In Her Words (Princeton Museum and Archives $20), collects the pioneer writing of Susan Louisa Allison (née Moir), the first white woman to settle in the Similkameen. Sometimes writing under the pen name of Stratton Moir, she recounts First Nations legends told to her in the 1800s when she ventured into the British Columbia interior with her new husband, John Fall Allison. She died in Vancouver in 1937 at 92. The Daily Province published a series of her articles that were later collected in a volume by historian Margaret Ormsby for A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia (UBC Press). 978-0-9866769-0-1
In Her Words is available at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, Princeton Museum (Box 281, Princeton, B.C., Canada V0X 1W0. (250) 295-7588. Email inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opera about Susan Allison
Press Release (2014)
THE LAKE / N-HA-A-ITK
A True-Life Canadian opera by Barbara Pentland and Dorothy Livesay
WORLD PREMIERE Production by Astrolabe Musik Theatre and Turning Point Ensemble in collaboration with Westbank First Nation
August 15 & 16 at 8:00 p.m.
August 17 at 2:00 p.m.
Quails’ Gate Winery
3303 Boucherie Road, West Kelowna
60 years after its radio debut, THE LAKE “goes home” to its actual setting – British settlers Susan and John Allison’s 1873 Sunnyside ranch, now West Kelowna’s award-winning Quails’ Gate Winery.
Astrolabe Musik Theatre and Turning Point Ensemble, in collaboration with Westbank First Nation, proudly present the first-ever full staging of Barbara Pentland’s masterwork (libretto by Governor-General Award-winning poet Dorothy Livesay) in a fully integrated evening of historical Canadian opera and contemporary syilx First Nations culture.
Join us for an unforgettable evening of aural history based on the true-life story of pioneer Susan Allison’s sighting of the famous creature of the lake, with the proud heritage and vibrant contemporary culture of the syillx people, set in the vineyards overlooking pristine Lake Okanagan and a magnificent backdrop of mountains.
JOIN US PRE-SHOW!
Special Wine Reception, Dinner and Brunch Packages available
Turning Point Ensemble, under the expert direction of stage director James Fagan Tait and music director Owen Underhill, is joined by an incredible cast including soprano Heather Pawsey as Susan Allison, Westbank First Nation elder/singer Delphine Derickson, bass-baritone Angus Bell, tenor Brian Kwangmin Lee, mezzo-soprano Barbara Towell, dancer Corinne Derickson, Jordan Coble and other members of Westbank First Nation. Costume design is by Mara Gottler, with lighting design by Gerald King.
Allison House Re-opens
Press Release (2009)
Kelowna, BC, June 8, 2009- Historic Allison House at Quails’ Gate Winery re-opens with traditions of family warmth and impeccable hospitality, as a cozy home for local artisan’s works and picnic lunches.
“Allison House is rich in history,” commented Quails’ Gate CEO and Proprietor Tony Stewart. “Built in 1873, this small log cabin was home to the earliest European settlers in this area, John and Susan Allison who made it their home until 1881. Our family has kept their pioneering story alive for the last twenty years by sharing it with visitors to Quails’ Gate. Our hope is that Allison House will now serve as a showcase venue of the Okanagan, past and present.”
The Allisons, whose ranching life in Princeton, BC found them driving their herd to the Okanagan for winter grazing, settled onto what Susan Allison referred to as “Sunnyside”, on the western shores of Lake Okanagan at the base of Mount Boucherie. They built and lived in the Allison Homestead until 1881 at which time the property was sold to John Davidson. The property changed hands a few more times throughout the 1900s and in 1969 Richard Stewart (who purchased the adjoining lands in 1956) purchased the homestead.
On June 10, 2009, Allison House, which was formerly the Quails’ Gate wineshop from 1990 – 2006, will officially re-open as the new Allison House Market. “At Quails’ Gate we constantly strive for ways to enhance our guests experience.” said Angela McManus, Director of Marketing “We hope that visitors will enjoy browsing historic Allison House Market to discover the works of local artists, collect books on local history and touring and perhaps pick up a chilled bottle of wine and picnic lunch to enjoy under the shade of the towering Acacia trees which were planted by Susan Allison in the late 1800s.”
Local artists and artisan works currently on display at the Allison House Market include Annabel Stanley (vineyard weaving), Linda Lovisa (painting), Judy Pedersen (photography), Teri Paul (pottery) and the Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm. Allison House Market, which is also the starting point for Quails’ Gate’s daily tours, will be open daily from 10 am – 5 pm, June-October.
Quails’ Gate Estate Winery is nestled in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. Our 125-acre Estate
vineyard, located on the shores of Lake Okanagan, is owned and operated by the Stewart Family, pioneering horticulturists in the Okanagan for 100 years. We invite you to visit us daily, year round in the Wineshop and Old Vines Restaurant for a unique taste of the Okanagan. www.quailsgate.com