MACMILLAN, Norma




Author Tags: Fiction, First Nations

The Wickininish Inn at Long Beach and the Maquinna Hotel in Tofino are both named after “Indian chiefs.” The Olympic ceremonies in 2010 incorporated rhetoric supposedly written by Chief Dan George.

The literary process of integrating First Nations characters and culture into West Coast fiction has a long history, from B.A. McKelvie’s melodramatic Huldowget: A Story of the North Pacific Coast (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1926) and A.M. Stephen’s The Kingdom of the Sun (Dent, 1927)—an historical romance about a gentleman adventurer named Richard Anson who sailed aboard Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, only to be cast away amongst the Haida—to Hubert Evans’ landmark realism in The Mist on the River (Copp Clark, 1954) and Anne Cameron’s astonishing but controversial Daughters of Copper Woman (Press Gang, 1981).

In 1971, professional forester Ian Mahood of Nanoose Bay self-published an historical novel about the life and times of a Nootka / Nuu-chah-nuth chief Maquinna, The Land of Maquinna, along with a photographic study of Nootka Sound. Since 1971 a great deal more information about the Mowachaht hereditary chiefs has been made widely available (ie. scholars and Mowachaht generally concur there were two Maquinnas during the early period of contact in the late 1700s and early 1800s). Mahood’s respectful effort is admirable for its time.

The main characters of deceased author Norma Macmillan’s The Maquinna Line: A Family Saga (Touchwood $19.95) turn out to be anglophilic Caucasians in Victoria. Although two unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancies to First Nations women provide grounds for the title, cultural representation of the twentieth-century Mowachaht (spelled Moachat in the novel) sub-nation of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council is nearly non-existent. The plot culminates with an unexpected sexual encounter—followed by an even more sudden fatal car crash—to unequivocably link the blood line of a family proudly related to Winston Churchill to the blood line the Maquinnas.

Former Georgia Straight editor Charles Campbell has done a fine job editing and updating this work for contemporary tastes, but The Maquinna Line falls short of the stated goal to emulate Australia’s The Thorn Birds, America’s Roots or Britain’s The Forsyte Saga. The author’s life is more fascinating than her characters. Born in 1921, Macmillan was a Vancouver playwright who moved to Toronto with her actor-husband Thor Arngrim in the mid-1950s, became the voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost in 1963, and moved to Hollywood in 1965 she started her only novel. She returned to Vancouver in 1993, had her star added to Vancouver’s Starwalk, acted in a movie starring Katherine Hepburn and died in 2001. 978-1-926741-03-1

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Maquinna Line: A Family Saga


[BCBW 2010]