Karen Autio wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth; she started writing with one.

A gift of a silver spoon as an heirloom from her grandmother led to talks about her Finnish heritage and recollections of how relatives died in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914. That gift and conversation inspired Autio to write her first novel, Second Watch (Sono Nis 2005), about 12-year-old Saara Môki, en route to Finland on the doomed steamship.

About two-thirds of that ocean liner's 1,477 passengers and crew died when the Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian ship in the Saint Lawrence River in 1914. In Autio's second novel, Saara's Passage (Sono Nis 2008), Saara, as one of the 465 survivors, returns to northwestern Ontario only to learn her beloved Aunt Marja must move to a sanatorium in Toronto for treatment of tuberculosis.

Autio's Finnish Canadian trilogy has been completed with Sabotage (Sono Nis 2013) based on an attempt to blow up a Nipigon River railway bridge near Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) during the First World War. As someone born in Thunder Bay, Autio had heard about the story but never believed until she undertook research for her novels and learned the 1915 incident was true.

In Sabotage, 13-year-old heroine Saara at first refuses to listen to her pesky younger John when he talks about spies in Canada. She has more important things to worry about, such as her German friend being hauled off to live in a Canadian internment camp.

But so much of Canada's grain for Allied soldiers in Europe was being routed via Port Arthur that ultimately Saara must accept her brother's fantasies are based on a real threat. Once more the Môki family is in jeopardy and her courage and wits will be put to the test.

One of the first publications from Vancouver-based Crwth Press, Growing up in Wild Horse Canyon (Crwth Press, 2018) is Karen Autio's story of a place where syilx/Okanagan people trapped wild horses. Living in Kelowna, Autio develped a fascination for the Wild Horse Canyon and she began researching the area, quickly getting hooked on what had happened there over the past two centuries. Weaving together First Nation history, European settler accounts and natural history, Autio’s storyline coalesced when she began imagining a ponderosa pine tree growing in the canyon for the past 200 years. Maps, old photos, and illustrations by Loraine Kemp complement the text.

Born in Thunder Bay, Karen Autio of Kelowna holds a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Waterloo. She worked as a software developer for several years before pursuing a career in children's literature.



Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon by Karen Autio, art by Loraine Kemp (Crwth Press $25.95) Ages 7-10

Review by Ken Mather

At the heart of Growing up in Wild Horse Canyon is the illustrated story of the life of a Ponderosa Pine from a seed in the year 1780 to its death in the Okanagan Park fire in 2003. As the tree grows, the story is told of the history of the Okanagan Valley and the Syilx people, who have seen profound changes to their culture during the same period of time.

The story uses Wild Horse Canyon, located on the east side of Okanagan Lake, as the location of its episodes, which include the arrival of the first fur traders in 1811, the fur brigades that traveled the valley in the first half of the 1800s, the B.C. gold rush era, the arrival of Father Pandosy in 1859, the arrival of settlers, the sternwheeler era, logging, the Kettle Valley railway construction, the round-up of wild horses to sell to the Russians in 1926, and the use of the Wild Horse Canyon area for training Chinese commandos in 1944.

Although only 25 pages long, the ongoing story provides an overview history of the Okanagan Valley with particular emphasis, respect and sensitivity toward the Syilx people.

Despite the book's considerable strengths and fine illustrations, a few historical inaccuracies mar the otherwise well-researched presentation. For example, Karen Autio asserts that the fur trade, "...radically altered the traditional practices of the Okanagan people."

While it is important not to diminish the impact of white intruders on the Syilx people, it must be emphasized that the most devastating effects came with the arrival of gold miners and settlers in the valley, not in the time of the fur trade.

I also question the assertion that "the gold rush era was devastating in the Okanagan Valley. It drastically altered rivers, creeks and fish populations which wreaked havoc on the Okanagan people's way of being."

This greatly exaggerates the impact of miners in the Okanagan Valley during the gold rush years. There were short-lived gold rushes to the Similkameen in 1859 and to Rock Creek in 1860, and a minor rush to Mission Creek near present-day Kelowna in 1860. But to state that these early gold mining incursions devastated rivers, creeks and fish populations of the Okanagan Valley is not accurate.

Finally, I would question the statement that "raising cattle and hogs became the main industry in the Okanagan Valley." To my knowledge, few hogs were raised in the Okanagan in the years before orchards began to replace cattle ranching.

Despite these questionable interpretations of history, the book is an excellent resource for students as well as adults who are interested in Okanagan history, particularly in the recent history of the Syilx people who had lived here for thousands of years before their culture was, indeed, eventually devastated by the colonists. 9781775331902

Ken Mather retired in 2013 after 42 years in heritage research. Manager of the Historic O'Keefe Ranch from 1984 until 2014, Ken is now curator emeritus of O'Keefe Ranch and was awarded the Joe Martin Memorial award for his contribution to B.C. Cowboy Heritage in 2015. His latest book is Ranch Tales: Stories from the Frontier (Heritage House $19.95).



Second Watch (Sono Nis Press, 2005)
Saara's Passage (Sono Nis Press, 2008) 978-155039-168-8
Sabotage (Sono Nis Press, 2013) $10.95 978-1-55039-208-1
Kah-Lan the Adventurous Sea Otter (Sono Nis, 2015) $9.95 978-1550392449
Growing up in Wild Horse Canyon (Crwth, 2018) $25.95 978-1-77533-190-2
Kah-LAN and the Stink-Ink (Crwth, 2020) $9.95 9781989724-07-1. Illustrations by Emma Pedersen

[BCBW 2021] "Finnish" "Kidlit"