I can’t get enough of Pioneer stories. Maybe it’s because my lineage is wound around this narrative or maybe it seems romantic and fascinating because our world is so different a short century later.
So when Anne Hamre’s book Passages came across my desk I was intrigued. And when I saw the journey leads to the Fraser Valley in British Columbia (where I live) it was a no-brainer. Yes I’ll read this book.
I didn’t know what to expect other than the adventure of moving to a new land and overcoming obstacles. What I discovered? Not everyone who moved to North America or Australia from the United Kingdom was seen as a hero or even a brave adventurer. And there wasn’t a lot of information of what to expect—people made huge, life-changing decisions based on RUMOURS!
It makes sense when I think about it, I mean, there wasn’t exactly a dummies guide to emigration to the colonies back then. So why would anyone go boldly towards the great unknown? In Passages by Anne Hamre, Frank Evans wants to leave North Wales so he can start a dairy farm and is convinced there’s nothing affordable in Wales, England, or anywhere else nearby. Does he know this for a fact? No idea. It doesn’t seem like it, but I don’t know what land availability was like in the early 1900s. So he travels the world searching. Kind of. Actually he just seemed to be travelling but perhaps that’s because the story is told from his wife Anne’s perspective. And she was left at home waiting while he searched for suitable farmland. For years. Years!!!
Franks motivations aren’t disclosed other than he really, really wants a dairy farm and Anne was gracious enough to pretend his dreams were hers to. Or maybe she adopted them as her own because she loved Frank so much. I never believed she wanted the life she lived but she said she did, so who am I to judge?
Or maybe that’s the point. In those days of big risk/big reward you had to put it all on the line for the chance at a new life. I don’t know what was so wrong with North Wales that Frank and Anne were so desperate to get out but I hope they felt like it was worth their trouble.
Because there was so much trouble. Frank was obsessed with his dream of a dairy farm but it didn’t seem like he was willing to adjust his vision based on actual research—he just expected things to go like they would in Wales. And when things didn’t go according to plan he didn’t seem willing to be open to what other opportunities might arise. He was single-minded in pursuing his dairy farm. Anne was too, don’t get me wrong. But was it the best way to go as life kept twisting and turning? Again, who am I to say. But my gut wishes they made some different choices.
Passages by Anne Hamre tells the story of when Anne met Frank in 1897 till when Anne lost Frank in 1908. Based on her grandparent’s lives, it’s a story of vision, courage, overcoming obstacles, perseverance, and (of course) love.
The story is gripping (I cried in the end) but I was left wishing it wasn’t all about Frank. I never loved him, not even at the beginning, and I wished to learn more about what happened next for Anne. How did she face her (new) challenges? How did she make it all work? Does she ever get to be a teacher again? She was so passionate about it. And, my biggest question, does she ever get to see her family again? She seems like she was a tough old bird. I would have liked to meet her.
Set in the early years of the 20th Century, when travel was measured in increments of days and weeks rather than hours and minutes, this epic family saga transports readers across three continents—Europe, Australia, and North America. It chronicles not just the disparate climates and lifestyles encountered in such far-flung places and the long passages between them, but the lives that are changed by these travels. We follow Anne Roberts and Frank Evans from their first encounter on Anne’s family farm in North Wales, through the evolution of their friendship, romance, and eventual marriage. While Frank goes off in a multi-continent search for affordable land where he can support the young couple and fulfil his dream of starting a dairy, Anne defies society’s expectations and, acting upon her considerable drive, intelligence, and independence, becomes a school teacher. When the two finally relocate to Canada and marry, Anne demonstrates the same determination, will, and adaptability that allowed her to flourish during Frank’s long travels and many travails and commits all her energy to making their marriage and their future successful.
With Passages, Anne Hamre offers an intricately researched, authentically rendered portrait of both the hardships and the triumphs of the age. Readers will share in the longing felt while desperately waiting for letters bearing news of a distant lover and in the joy—and the uncertain dangers—of discovering friendship among strangers when travelling in faraway lands and across oceans. They will experience the piercing ache of loss near and afar, recognize the myriad sources of a spouse’s worry, feel the lifting of spirit that is found in community, and celebrate the enduring steadiness of a couple’s true love.