Book Review: Etched in My Memory by xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins

Etched in My Memory – xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins (Creator’s Touch Press, 2017)

I really enjoyed this book. The stories are full of personality and interesting anecdotes and the unique place in which I am fortunate enough to live really comes alive through the author’s histories.

xwu’p’a’lich, or Barbara Higgins, is an Indigenous woman, born in Egmont, BC in 1933. Today Egmont is a 40 minute ferry ride followed by approximately an hour and a half drive from Vancouver. It’s still a tiny fishing village at the end of the road. It’s about an hour away from where I currently live and it’s famous for a unique natural phenomenon called the Skookumchuck Narrows. It’s a beautiful spot and I can only imagine how much more beautiful, natural, and remote it was when the author was growing up.

xwu’p’a’lich was a little girl full of kick and personality in the stories she tells of herself. The second oldest girl in a big family, she was thorough tomboy, wanting little more than to be outdoors and to fish. Her father was a professional fisherman and her mother stayed home with the children, keeping the household running. xwu’p’a’lich tells stories of daring adventures, hunting octopus, and often breaking the rules or making her mother crazy. She tells of a large and close-knit family living, by and large, off the land that has supported their ancestors for years untold. Her maternal grandfather was Chief Dan Paull of the shíshálh Nation (This is the people group indigenous to the Sechelt area and the Sunshine Coast.) xwu’p’a’lich memories of the Salish people gathering in Egmont when she was a little girl are amazing to hear – the food, the song, the celebration. I’m not sure anything like that has taken place in a long time. It felt like a gift to have a sneak peek into this area’s history and a glimpse at a history that long predates any European settlers.

xwu’p’a’lich goes on to marry and have three children of her own. She completes her high school education and eventually becomes an instructor at Camosun college in Victoria, BC before moving North to teach in remote towns and schools. She continues to be independent and funny and determined and to love the chance to fish and be on the water.

There are occasional glimmers of the difficulties faced by many Indigenous families and communities. As a child, her family didn’t want her to spend too much time in Sechelt because they didn’t want the government or the Catholic Church to learn of her or her siblings’ existence. Their remote location in Egmont kept them safe. xwu’p’a’lich talks about how her own mother grew up in a residential school and so for the rest of her life struggles to show affection to her own children. There is some slight reference to the systemic struggles of racism and alcohol abuse faced by many Indigenous people in Canada. But mostly this is a book of personal stories, a window into a way of life that is quickly being lost. At the same time, while many of these stories feel like they must take place in the distant path, the author is alive and living in Sechelt today. This is not ancient history but the ongoing story of the shíshálh Nation.

The book is self-published and it does show in some of the editing and formatting but I really didn’t find it detracted much from the stories themselves. xwu’p’a’lich own voice comes through strongly, as if she was right beside me, telling me the stories herself. I highly recommend this book for any Sunshine Coast local or anyone wanting to know more about the Salish peoples and their history.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Etched in My Memory by xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins”

    1. I think I first read about it in the local paper and I bought it at our local bookstore. Peter has been trying to incorporate more Aboriginal history into his classroom so I initially bought it for him and then he liked it so much he told me I should read it too!

  1. This book sounds great! I wouldn’t be surprised if it found an official publisher, we need to be hearing more stories likes this and I think Canadian publishers are trying their best to do this, especially now.

    On a side note, my family is looking into renting an Air B n B on the coast this summer, and we’re currently looking at a place in Ladysmith-have you been there? The pictures look amazing and i’m so excited!

    1. You’re right, I’m actually surprised it hasn’t been picked up by one of our local publishers already.

      I’ve only really driven through Ladysmith but that whole area is beautiful. I’ve camped in the Cowichan Valley before and I lived in Victoria for 7 years (about an hour’s drive from Ladysmith) so if you want any recommendations that way, let me know! Sounds like a fun trip!

  2. Sounds fascinating! It’s good that so many older people are recording their memories in one way or another now, so that we can get real insight into how they lived and spoke and thought – history books never bring things to life in quite the way personal recollections can.

    1. Yes, it’s so good to have these memories. My grandparents all passed away before I was an adult and I often wish I could have heard more of their stories. This book in particular really seems like a link between generations for the Indigenous peoples of our region. So many of those stories and ways of life have been lost so it’s wonderful when the elders are able to write their memories down.

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