Jane Austen Comes to My Show in Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii is the sort of place where unusual things happen sooner or later. I made my third visit to the island right after the Sunshine Coast events, flying from Vancouver to the magnificently named Sandspit airport. The bus took us to the ferry, then on to Graham Island, and to Queen Charlotte City, where we were dropped off right at the door of the auto shop that was fixing the car we were to use. No problem. Within minutes we had taken the island’s main road north to Tlell, and settled in to Bridge Cottage, right beside the famous fishing river.

The plan was to spend our days trying to outwit salmon, with the help of cunningly tied fishing flies and barbless hooks. Every morning our friend Noel Wotten would appear at the door (at 8 a.m., then 7:30, then 7:00) and would lead us to places where we stood thigh-deep in water and cast our flies for fish. Our casting was highly satisfactory in every respect, except that of actually catching fish that we could retain. Coho, our desired targets, were leaping around us, but we caught only cutthroat-trout or sculpin. But Jane and I had mastered the key to fly fishing, which is the zen-like point that catching fish doesn’t really matter. That’s just an agreeable by-product of a wonderful time spent as part of the river, absorbing the sounds and sights. Twice a shadow on the water made me look up, to see a giant bald eagle flying low overhead, using the river as a highway through the tall cedar, and spruce, and hemlock trees that Emily Carr knew so well.

Thanks to smart work by some local friends, a show was arranged for me in Queen Charlotte City on Wednesday evening. We went with our friend Noel (who brought his mouth organ along for the drive back . . . “Four Strong Winds,” “Summer Wages,” and much else) and found the Legion Hall, which doubles as the Anglican Church. Presumably “Onward Christian Soldiers” is a popular hymn there.

The show drew 42 interested people. The best moment came when I was walking around, greeting people as they came in and found a seat. I shook hands with one lady in her 60s and introduced myself. “Hello,” she responded “I’m Jane Austen.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, thank you for co–” I said, then gaped at her. She confirmed that, yes, that was her name, and told me that an over-awed teenage girl once asked her to sign a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

It was a very literary evening. When my hosts presented me with a gift book with a title in the Haida language I asked for someone who could translate it and teach me how to pronounce it. They called over a nice man in the crowd called Angus Wilson.

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