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In Her Own Footsteps

Flora Ross and her Struggle for Identity and Independence in the Colonial West
by D.J. Richardson

Flora Ross is best remembered for her pioneering work in British Columbia's healthcare field. But her coming-of-age story reflects the coming-of-age of the province, from her birth at the close of the fur trade era, to her teen-age years during the Fraser River gold-rush, to her marriage amidst the San Juan Island boundary dispute, to her divorce just as the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were united. 

Flora was the daughter of Charles Ross, a Scottish Chief Trader for the Hudson's Bay Company, and Isabella Mainville Ross, his Metis (Ojibwe and French-Canadian) wife. She

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came of age at a time when women remained the legal property of their husbands, divorce wasn't yet legal in the colony of her marriage, and careers weren't reasonable options for women. Yet, despite the misogyny and racism of her time, she set out to establish a career as a nurse. At the age of seventeen, she was courted under the gaze of American and British cannons, preparing for outright war over possession of San Juan Island. She married her suitor--the instigator of the military conflict--just as peace was negotiated. And when her husband turned abusive, she managed to secure a U.S. divorce that preserved her family farm and gave her custody of her son, despite the power that her father-in-law wielded in the courts of Washington Territory.

Flora's history coincides with the history of the two Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. The Hudson's Bay Company families of the colonial era--Douglas, Helmcken, Tolmie, Cridge, Work, McNeill--were her family's contemporaries, and several of these pioneers played instrumental roles in her life.

In Her Own Footsteps is the story of a young woman's struggle to overcome the attitudes of her time that judged her by her gender and racial background rather than her abilities and accomplishments, at a time when the colonies of the Pacific Northwest were transforming from a network of colonial trading posts to a young province with burgeoning new cities. It is written in novel form, but reflects more than three decades of research, and is intended to tell her story, and the stories of those in her life, as truthfully as surviving documents permit. In Her Own Footsteps is the first in a trilogy about the life of Flora Ross. Volume Two, Matron of the Asylum, is currently underway.

To read an excerpt from Chapter 1 of In Her Own Footsteps, click here:

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