July 1995 -
Picture this – a beautiful night in July 1995. A business trip had taken me to Vancouver Island in British Columbia. By my third day, the meetings were over and I had three days of pure vacation left to explore Victoria and its surrounding island. After a quiet dinner on that first night of ‘R & R’ time, I just wanted to relax and read a book for pure pleasure…I was burned out on the ‘technical reading & writing’ that had dominated the trip thus far! Unfortunately, I realized I hadn’t packed a pleasure read...how did I mess that up! Well, I thought, on the positive side, that opened the immediate door to explore a bit of beautiful downtown Victoria in search of a good book. I left the hotel, folded paper map in hand (remember, this was 1995, pre-smartphone and Google maps), and slowly walked the streets to an impressive bookstore while taking in the sights and sounds of the Victoria waterfront on a gorgeous summer evening. When I got to the bookstore, I couldn’t decide what I was in the mood to read – classic, mystery, romance – I didn’t have a clue. So I browsed the stacks for almost an hour searching for just the right book to jump out at me. Alas, despite the extensive collection at this bookstore, I left empty-handed. Nothing felt right and I started my journey back to my room not knowing what to do or where else to go.
As I neared my hotel, I noticed there was a tourist type store just a couple of blocks away – the kind that sells a variety of souvenir items and various sundries for travelers. I sighed as I looked in, knowing I didn’t want or need a mug or t-shirt or, heaven forbid a kitchen trivet branded with “Victoria” on it! But it was already dark and getting late – I knew if I didn’t at least try this place I’d go back to my room bookless…a fate I did not want to contemplate.
So, I went in and saw a circular rack of romance novels up by the register. As I was looking them over my face must have betrayed my disappointment because the very nice saleswoman came over and asked if she could help me find something. I explained my dilemma, that I was looking for a good book to read for pleasure but nothing appealed to me.
“Did you see this book,” she pointed to another section that had more upscale items about Victoria and Vancouver Island and, among the pieces displayed, was a book by a local author about a prominent Victoria family. The Dunsmuir Saga was the name of the book, and Terry Reksten was the author.
I picked it up, browsed through its pages, started to read a bit, and knew this was the solution to my pleasure reading situation. I thanked the saleswoman profusely, paid for the book and went back to my room where I poured one of my favorite adult beverages and sank down to immerse myself in, what truly is, a fascinating story about the Dunsmuir family.
The Dunsmuirs were one of the most famous, wealthy, and powerful families in Victoria whose reach went even into the U.S. – down the coast to San Francisco and beyond. The book is organized into two parts with the first mainly about Robert and the second about his son James. It draws on extensive research to chronicle their story from Robert’s humble beginnings in Scotland in 1825 to his rise in great wealth and power in Victoria, to the end of this family dynasty with the death of James’ last child in 1966. In so doing, it contains rich detail not only into the business and political side of the Dunsmuir family but even into the lives and loves of the children and grandchildren.
Reksten expertly captures their stories and, at times, this book reads like a novel of the rich and famous not a non-fiction biography. Indeed, all of Robert’s children and grandchildren, a full three generations of Dunsmuirs, are depicted vividly and in such a way as to draw you into their lives to keep you reading. The book also contains photos that capture the times – the main characters and important situations – that are so wonderfully told through the stories that unfold in this book.
The author, Terry Reksten,
“was born in England, grew up in Vancouver and was educated at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Her previous books include Rattenbury, The Dunsmuir Saga, and The Illustrated History of British Columbia. In 1985 she was named an Honorary Citizen of the City of Victoria in recognition of her writing and her work in heritage preservation.
Upon her death, The Friends of the British Columbia Archives established the Terry Reksten Memorial Fund to honour her dedication to historical preservation and to support continued efforts to document and disseminate British Columbia’s heritage. (Douglas & McIntyre, 2013)”.
Since that night in 1995, I have re-read this book more than a few times and it still captures my attention and keeps me entertained. Although it was not what I started out to get, the Dunsmuir Saga was a great find none the less! One I almost didn’t discover… and, truth be told, my copy now qualifies as ‘dog-eared’ including some ‘adult beverage’ stains on the cover…hmmm.
Douglas & McIntyre. (2013). Author Page: Terry Reksten. Retrieved from Douglas & McIntyre: http://www.douglas-mcintyre.com/author/terry-reksten
Figure 1 By Brandon Godfrey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Brandon Godfrey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons