Saturday, July 24, 2010

"I Heard the Owl Call My Name" by Margaret Craven

You'd think I'd have more time for reading during long winter nights, but it's during the summer when I read the most. Here's another Coastal BC suggestion.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven was written in 1967 and has become a classic piece of Canadian literature. The used book I purchased (from a 1975 reprinting) came from the now closed Max Cameron Secondary School in Powell River. It's book #12 from a classroom set and was checked out to only one student, L. Sieg. That's almost as interesting as the book itself.

The story takes place in a remote village up the river at the head of Kingcome Inlet. Located near the Inside Passage of Coastal BC, it was a land of First Nations peoples, loggers and fishermen. The period wasn't specified, but based on facts in the book it was probably set in the early 1950s. Up until then, Mission Boats brought religious and medical services to remote communities. Churches were also built in settlements to convert and assist their inhabitants. In some cases, the people sent were a good match, in others, a detriment. The characters in this story run the gamete from the long enduring Kwakiutl villagers, an uncaring teacher, the arrogant anthropologist, by-the-book RCMP officers, unscrupulous traders, to the patient young vicar.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name is the story of Mark Brian, a new vicar with the Anglican Church who was sent to far-off Kingcome Inlet. Unknown to Mark, he has a terminal illness that leaves him only a few years to live. His Bishop sends him to Kingcome Village to learn about life in a short time, and he does. The book is only 160 pages and can be easily read in a day. But I enjoyed taking longer to savour the content and think about some of the profound messages. And it's worth reading more than once like I did.

Here are some more Coastal BC suggestions:

A Kwakiutl Village and School
from 1967 by Harry F. Wolcott is the book version of his dissertation on the study of a Kwakiutl Indian village and its one-room school.

Heart of the Raincoast: a life story from 1998 by Alexandra Morton and Billy Proctor is about the life of legendary Billy Proctor who lived through the heyday years of Coastal BC.

Full Moon, Flood Tide from 2003 by Yvonne Maximchuk and Billy Proctor continues the story of Billy Proctor's life.

Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and
Kwakiutl Indians from 1997 by Michael Modzelewski who spent 18 months in the wilderness on Swanson Island with local Will Malloff.

Talking in Context: language and identity in Kwakwa_ka_'wakw society from 2005 is a case study of the use of the Kwak'wala language and cultural identity in two Coastal BC First Nation communities, Quatsino and Kingcome Inlet.

A Curve of Time from 1968 by M. Wylie Blanchet and Timothy Egan is the classic memoir of a woman and her children as they explore Coastal BC summer after summer in a 25' boat in the 20s and 30s.

I've only read A Curve of Time, but the others look interesting. -- Margy


  1. Ahhh, Margy, this is one of my all-time favourites. I'm so glad you've read it! I was very young, still in school, I think, when I read it first...I have read it many times since. And Billy Proctor from Heart of the Raincoast...I will never forget him!!

  2. One of my favourite books! I think we have found a house. I'll keep you posted!

  3. "I heard the owl call my name" was one of my favourites in school and just last summer I found a copy again and re-read it. I enjoyed it 100% more than when I was in high school! A beautiful story!

  4. We thought of you and Wayne when the plane crashed in Powell Lake. Were you and Wayne involved? I'm so glad everyone is alright!

  5. My all time favourite book read which I read every year and cry in exactly the same place every time! I buy up all copies I find when perusing used book stores and give them away. The other remarkable thing about this book is that it was Margaret Craven's first book which she wrote at 60!
    Also, my great grandfather and his brother homesteaded at the mouth of the Kingcombe River back in the 1870's. My great granddad became the Indian Agent at Alert Bay(well hated man) and his brother stayed on at Kingcombe. They left the homestead in the 80's or 90's and many of the Hallidays live in Powell River. My great granddad was William Mae Halliday!
    Another read about the area is"Two Wolves at the Dawn of Time" by Judith Williams about the pictographs at Petley Point which depict the last potlatch held and documents the conflict between the two Halliday brothers, one as a farmer selling cattle to the Kwakwaka'wakw for a potlatch and the other upholding the anti potlatch law which he helped to strengthen with the assistance of his boss Duncan Campell Scott, the head of the Dept of Indian Affairs until 1932.

  6. Thanks for the book reviews. I love books like this. One of my favorite Canadian stories is Mrs. Mike. It takes place a bit inland but is still exciting and gives a good picture of how life was back in 1910 Alberta.

  7. I remember when "I Heard the Owl Call my Name" was first published, but I haven't read it since then. I'll have to keep a lookout for a copy. I remember discussing it with my mother and my godmother. Mom travelled up and down the BC coast a lot when my grandfather worked in fish canneries, and my godmother was an early supporter of Raincoast Books, so I had a good grounding in the story of the BC coast and a love of books and writing. (I love your story about "Stick Tail" and his travels.)

  8. This is really a nice post. Obviously, you are putting a lot of hard work on your blog. I'm sure I'd come back here more often.


We welcome your comments and questions. - Wayne and Margy