From a Cariboo pioneering family, Jean Speare, born in 1921 as Jean Emma Barlow, was raised on a ranch at Kersley, south of Quesnel. She later interviewed one of her longtime Shuswap neighbours, Mary Augusta Tappage, born in Soda Creek in February of 1888, and provided the text for The Days of Augusta, an intimate portrait of Tappage, also known as Augusta Evans. It is first book in B.C. that was solely devoted to a First Nations woman as its subject.

August Tappage was the daughter of a Shushwap chief and a halfbreed who came west from the prairies following the defeat of Louis Riel. The text is accompanied by photos from Robert Keziere.

The Days of Augusta (1973) predated the following books that provide biographical portraits of individual First Nations women in B.C.:

--During My Time: Florence Edenshaw Davidson, A Haida Woman (1982)
--Carrier woman Mary John's memoir, Stoney Creek Woman (1989), co-written with Prince George social worker Bridget Moran
--Mourning Dove: A Salishan Autobiography (1990), recalling the ground-breaking literary achievements of American-born Okanagan writer Mourning Dove
--Shirley Sterling's memoir of her experiences in the Kamloops Residential School, My Name is Seepeetza (1992)
--the first autobiographical portrayal of a Kwakwaka'wakw matriarch, Paddling to Where I Stand (2004), recalling the life and times of storyteller Agnes Alfred
--Chiwid (1995), by Cariboo journalist Sage Birchwater, in which he profiles the Tsilhqot'in woman who lived outdoors for most of her adult life.
--Lee Maracle, of Salish and Cree ancestry, produced a synthesis of autobiography and fiction, Bobbi Lee, Indian Rebel (1975), followed by I Am Woman (1988) which recounts Maracle's struggle to "climb the mountain of racism.";
--Pauline Johnson ("Tekahionwake";) only resided in Vancouver for four years and is the subject of Betty Keller's biography Pauline (1982)
--Having grown up hearing stories about her mother's great aunt, Mourning Dove, Jeannette Armstrong spearheaded the En'owkin Centre in Penticton for First Nations writers. Her second novel, Her Whispering in Shadows, in 2000, can be read as a companion novel to her first, Slash (1983). It follows the life and times of Penny, an Okanagan artist and single mother who has contracted cancer after her exposure to pesticides while working as a fruit picker in the Okanagan Valley.
--Paddling to Where I Stand (2004) recalls the life of storyteller Agnes Alfred, co-written and translated by Daisy Sewid-Smith and Martine J. Reid, as the first autobiographical portrayal of a Kwakwaka'wakw matriarch
--Standing Up with Ga'axsta'las: Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church, and Custom (UBC Press, 2012) was co-written by Leslie A. Robertson and the Kwagu'l Gixsam Clan
-- Chief Bev Sellars' award-winnimg autobiography is They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School (Talonbooks 2013).
--Monique Gray Smith, a mixed-heritage woman of Cree, Lakota and Scottish ancestry, released a memoir as fiction, Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience (Sono Nis $19.95).

Jean Speare has also written a local history, Bowron Chain of Lakes: Place Names and People (Quesnel: High Plateau Publishing, 1983) and a children's book about a First Nations boy in the Chilcotin, A Candle for Christmas, in which a boy waits for his parents who have promised to return from the cattle range in time for Christmas. Tomas dreams of a miraculous candle that can light up the snow-covered hills to help them find their way. Her self-published collection of charming stories, White Loon, are mostly drawn from real experiences.

When Speare and her husband lived in the UK for two years upon his retirement, she wrote travel articles that were published by The Province newspaper and a Seattle newspaper. For twelve years she produced The Friends of Barkerville newsletter. Her husband, Bill Speare, was Social Credit MLA for the Cariboo for ten years. When W.A.C. Bennett was seeking a centennial project for the province persuant to 1958, Bill Speare suggested making Barkerville into a Provincial Park, giving rise to the preservation and recreation of Barkerville as an historic townsite.

"I also worked on the Quesnel Advertiser with Fred Lindsay as the editor -- I think one could say he was the male counterpart of Lillooet's Ma Murray -- and also worked on the Williams Lake Tribune for Clive Stangoe, both which were really enjoyable times where I am sure I learned 'the basics'!" Speare also benefited from a B.C. Forest Service project to research former gold rush trails for hikers. Along the way she worked for some twenty years as a medical librarian for hospitals in Quesnel, Williams Lake and White Rock.


Speare, Jean E. The Days of Augusta (J.J. Douglas, 1973, 1977).

Speare, Jean E. Bowron Chain of Lakes: Place Names and People (Quesnel: High Plateau Publishing, 1983).

Speare, Jean E. A Candle for Christmas (Groundwood / Meadow Mouse 1986, 1991, 1996). Illustrated by Ann Blades

White Loon... and other stories (Quesnel: Self-published, 2010)

[BCBW 2015] "Local History" "Cariboo" "First Nations" "Place Names"