DOUGLAS, Gilean (1900-1993)




Author Tags: Essentials 2010, Outdoors, Women

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Gilean Douglas, author of River for My Sidewalk (1953), was a female Thoreau of Canada. A loner from a well-to-do family, she retreated to wilderness cabins and became an environmentalist before the word existed, leaving four marriages behind her.

Gilean Douglas, born in Toronto in 1900, was orphaned at age 16 and soon became a reporter. She travelled extensively prior to her arrival in B.C. in 1938 where she first lived in a cabin on the Coquihalla River. She then moved to an abandoned miner’s shack on the Teal River near Duncan, B.C. “It was the great moment of my life when I waded the Teal River,” she wrote, “with my packboard on my back and stood at last on my own ground. I can never describe the feeling that surged up inside me then. . . . I felt kinship in everything around me, and the long city years of noise and faces were just fading photographs.” Subsisting mainly on produce from her garden, Douglas began to write about her adventures but could not find acceptance as a woman writing about outdoor life. Adopting the male pseudonym Grant Madison did the trick—and she published River For My Sidewalk, her best-known book.

Gilean Douglas continued to use her male name until 1983 when she revealed herself in a Vancouver Sun interview. Douglas next moved to Cortes Island, near Campbell River. “I have spoken many times of “my land” and “my property,” but how foolish it would be of me to believe that I possessed something which cannot be possessed,” she once wrote. Along with seven poetry books, she produced two more meditative memoirs, Silence is My Homeland: Life on Teal River (1978) and The Protected Place (1979). The latter describes life on her 140-acre homestead on Cortes Island where she was employed as an Environment Canada weather observer and a Search and Rescue agent. Her cottage was situated at Channel Rock on Uganda Pass. For nine years she served as the Cortes representative on the Comox-Strathcona Regional Board. Gilean Douglas also contributed a nature column called “Nature Rambles” to the Victoria Daily Colonist (which became the Times Colonist in 1980) for 31 years, from 1961 to 1992, a longevity for a B.C. columnist that places in her in the company of Eric Nicol and Arthur Mayse. She died on Cortes Island in 1993.

Douglas was preceded into print by Pennsylania-born Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher, whose memoir of homesteading at Takla Landing, near Babine Lake, Driftwood Valley: A Woman Naturalist in the Northern Wilderness (1946), was reprinted 17 times in the 1940s and early 1950s. For other memoirs by women about the wilderness, see abcbookworld entries for Daisy Elizabeth Callison, Chris Czajkowski, Tor Forsberg, Deanna Kawatski, Monica Storrs and Sunny Wright.


FULL ENTRY:

Gilean Douglas was the female Thoreau of Canada. A loner from a well-to-do family, she retreated to wilderness cabins and became an environmentalist before the word existed, leaving four marriages behind her.

Gilean Douglas contributed a nature column called 'Nature Rambles' to the Victoria Daily Colonist (which became the Times Colonist in 1980) for 31 years, from 1961 to 1992--a longevity for a B.C. columnist that has only been surpassed by Eric Nicol at the Province. She also wrote a B.C. classic of outdoors literature, River for My Sidewalk, and contributed to dozens of magazines.

Born on February 1, 1900 in Toronto, Gilean Douglas was raised in a prosperous family and orphaned at age 16. A reporter in Toronto at age 19, she spent the ‘20s and ‘30s traveling in Europe and North America. She came to B.C. in 1938, first living in a cabin on the Coquihalla River, then moving to an abandoned miner's cabin on the Teal River near Duncan, B.C. "It was the great moment of my life when I waded the Teal River," she wrote, "with my packboard on my back and stood at last on my own ground. I can never describe the feeling that surged up inside me then... I felt kinship in everything around me, and the long city years of noise and faces were just fading photographs." Douglas lived primarily off the produce from her garden and began to write about her adventures, but could not find acceptance as a woman who wrote about the outdoors. Adopting the male pseudonym Grant Madison, she eventually published her first book of prose, River For My Sidewalk, in 1953. She continued to use the male name until 1983 when she revealed herself in a Vancouver Sun interview.

She next moved to Cortes Island, near Campbell River. "I have spoken many times of 'my land' and 'my property', but how foolish it would be of me to believe that I possessed something which cannot be possessed," she once wrote. She wrote seven poetry books and two more meditative memoirs, Silence is My Homeland and The Protected Place. The Protected Place is about her life on her 140-acre homestead on Cortes Island, where she was employed as an Environment Canada weather observer and a Search and Rescue agent. Her cottage was at Channel Rock on Uganda Pass. For nine years she served as the Cortes representative on the Comox-Strathcona Regional Board. She also edited Modern Pioneers, A History of British Columbia Women's Institutes.

Gilean Douglas married four times and overcame recurring health problems to leave a literary legacy that has led to numerous contemplative memoirs by other women about the B.C. wilderness, most notably Chris Czajkowski. Gilean Douglas died at age 93 on Cortes Island on October 31, 1993.

BOOKS:

Now the Green Word (Mill Valley, California: Wings Press, 1952) -- poetry
Poetic Plush (Dallas: The Story Book Press, 1953) -- poetry
River For My Sidewalk (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1953, Reprinted by Sono Nis, 1984). Originally published under pseudonym of Grant Madison. -- nature, non-fiction
The Pattern Set (Whaletown, B.C.: The author, printed Montreal: Quality Press, 1958) -- poetry
Modern Pioneers (Vancouver: Evergreen Press, 1959) -- editor; history of women's institutes
Seascape with Figures (Iowa City: Prairie Press, 1967) -- poetry
Now in This Night (Detroit: Harlo Press, 1973) -- poetry
Silence Is My Homeland: Life on Teal River (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, Don Mills, Ontario: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1978). -- nature, non-fiction.
The Protected Place (Sidney: Gray's, 1979) -- nature, non-fiction
Prodigal (Harbour Publishing, 1982) -- poetry
Kodachromes at Midday (Sono Nis, 1985) -- poetry.
Seascape with Figures: Poems Selected and New (Sono Nis, 1992) -- poetry

ABOUT GILEAN DOUGLAS:

Gilean Douglas: Writing Nature, Finding Home (Sono Nis, 1999) by Andrea Lebowitz and Gillian Morton

[BCBW 2010]