Author explores women’s role in Canada’s history

Victoria resident Merna Forster authors her second historical book

The first Canadian woman to make a feature film

Her first bestselling non-fiction book says it all – 100 Canadian Heroines, Famous and Forgotten Faces.

The just-released sequel, 100 more Canadian Heroines, by Oak Bay professional historian Merna Forster, also looks to become a bestseller.

These weren’t just ordinary women – weren’t, because all but three have died – but women whose roles in building the nation’s business and culture are no different than the roles men played.

However, recorded history has been unkind to women, with history books having all but ignored them, she said.

“Not enough women have been commemorated in Canadian history,” she complains.

And she’s not alone.

That’s why Kim Campbell, Canada’s first woman Prime Minister (a fact not remembered by many Canadians), wrote a glowing foreword in Forster’s first book, and Canadian female astronaut Julie Payette did the same in the 100 more sequel.

And there are several hundred great women in Forster’s research files for yet another sequel she is thinking about writing.

Some might say Forster is intent on bringing gender balance to the way Canadian political, business, sports, and science history is treated.

Perhaps the best way to explain what Forster (a former senior federal Parks Canada bureaucrat who is the executive director of the University of Victoria’s Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project) is in the astronaut Payette’s forward, which begins:

“Can you imagine running a 100-metre dash, starting 20 metres behind the other competitors, and remaining convinced that you can win the gold medal? Picture yourself climbing Mount Everest in a skirt, chances of making it to the summit and back safely and as good as anybody else?

“And how do you maintain steadfast belief that you can finish at the top of your pilot-training class even though the standard issue flight gear does not fit and you need a telephone book behind your back just to reach the rudder pedals?

“These are the kinds of images that come to mind reading the stories of the exceptional women Merna Forster introduces. …

“Defying probabilities and presumptions, the women featured here have managed to follow their passions and fulfill their ambitions, even if it meant shaking up the prevailing social order.”

Forster, born in the Alberta oil town of Black Diamond and the married mother of two teenagers who moved to Oak Bay seven years ago, says, “I always wanted to be a writer.”

Her basic writing rule: “make sure I tell a compelling story.”

She says she put as much diversity as possible into her books, selecting women from across the country covering many time periods, ethnic origins, and a wide variety of endeavors “so a person picking up the book could relate.”

The bilingual Forster, who has a masters degree in history from Laval University in Quebec, said her book of brief biographies covers “fascinating” women ranging from those with a lifetime of achievement to others with just one enormously important accomplishment.

“I wanted to understand what made them tick and how they worked,” she said.

Being a bestselling Canadian author doesn’t mean much in terms of royalties.

The money just barely covers the cost of the images she uses in her book, like the photo of Anna Swan, the eight-foot-tall Canadian who survived her disability. Purchasing the one-time right to use her image cost $150.

Among the famous and forgotten women in her book are ladies like hockey star Hilda Ranscombe, Captain Kool, Dr. Irma LeVasseur, the original Degrassi kids, Mohawk feminist Mary Two-Axe Early and the woman dubbed “the atomic mosquito.”

You can visit her website at www.heroines.ca.

reporter@vicnews.com

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