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Review: "Legends of Vancouver" by Pauline Johnson

Legends of Vancouver may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

Legends of Vancouver was originally published around 1910 as a series of newspaper articles based on stories related by Pauline Johnson's friend, Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish people. It is the first collection of native legends retold by a native artist and has become a classic of Canadian literature.

Johnson was born on the Six Nations Indian Reserve to a Mohawk father and an English mother. Being of both native and "white" cultures, Johnson has an interesting insight to the native legends she retells. She serves as an appropriate guide to the sometimes obscure meanings that the stories are trying to convey. As all of the legends originated long before European colonization, it would be difficult to understand the way of life and accompanying values of the native peoples in the stories without assistance. For example, in "The Lure of Stanley Park" Johnson tells us that the natives of the Vancouver area held trees in high esteem. "[God] turns kindly people, the humane, sympathetic, charitable, loving people into trees, so that after death they may go on forever benefiting all mankind." With this in mind, this little tale becomes a meaningful allegory of good and evil and the power of a benevolent heart.

Johnson's point of view also brings insight to "Deep Waters", her retelling of a Squamish deluge legend. Particularly with this retelling, it is clear how she gives these legends the life and meaning that the ancient creators intended. She begins briefly with an Iroquois deluge legend. The Squamish legend then, by contrast, achieves a profound significance in its portrayal of life and death and the value of both. While the whole collection of legends is worth a read, "Deep Waters" stands out from the rest as the most beautiful and moving and worthy of passing on.


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