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Nanaimo author highlights history-making Vancouver Island women in first book

Haley Healey presents ‘On Their Own Terms: True Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island’
This month Nanaimo author Haley Healey releases her first book, ‘On Their Own Terms: True Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island.’ (Photo courtesy Kristin Wenberg)

In her literary debut, Nanaimo author Haley Healey is shining a light on some historically significant yet overlooked Vancouver Island women.

“Often in the past it was men who were featured in the history books, so I wanted to feature diverse women who were maybe not featured in history books and history talks as much,” she said.

On May 19 Healey, a member of the Nanaimo Historical Society, releases On Their Own Terms: True Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island. She was moved to write the book after a visit to the isolated Clayoquot Sound property of the sharpshooting frontierswoman known as Cougar Annie.

“I toured Cougar Annie’s garden and was super inspired by this woman who carved a garden out of a rainforest and started a mail-order nursery from her property … and then realized there were probably other women like her,” Healey said.

Healey spent two years seeking out women who were “pushing boundaries of their time, not being afraid to live life the way they wanted to, having goals and reaching them, being really independent and carving their own way in life.” She even conducted interviews with descendants and acquaintances to get a sense of what those characters were like in-person.

On Their Own Terms features 17 Island women from the 19th and 20th centuries. A couple of Healey’s favourites include innovative Victoria photographer Hannah Maynard, whose work has been shown at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, and Dorothy Blackmore of Port Alberni, the first Canadian woman to hold a ship captain’s licence.

On May 24 Healey will be holding a virtual book launch over Facebook where she will discuss On Their Own Terms, read a few passages, do a giveaway and answer questions. She said it’s exciting to finally have her book in her hands.

“It just really felt like it just made all of the hours that I’ve spent writing it worthwhile and pay off,” she said. “All of the hours that I had sometimes wanted to be spending doing something else but I made myself write or I made myself research.”

Healey said it isn’t hard to find interesting women who made their mark on Vancouver Island and later this year she’ll be releasing a sequel, Flourishing and Free: More True Stories of Trailblazing Women of Vancouver Island, featuring some of those women she missed the first time around. Healey is also now at work on her first fiction book.

“It was really unexpected,” she said of her newfound vocation. “I just wanted to write about Cougar Annie and a few other women and then it’s just kind of grown from there.”

On Their Own Terms is available online and by phone from Windowseat Books at 250-754-6800.

WHAT’S ON … On Their Own Terms book launch May 24 at 1 p.m. on Facebook.

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