“I think I was born with a pen in my hand,” says prolific writer Valerie Green, who recently published Above Stairs and Mysterious British Columbia, two books about life in her home province. Above Stairs, a history, gives the reader a taste of social life in Upper Class Victoria from 1843-1918, while Mysterious British Columbia is a collection of myths, murders, mysteries and legends that continue to baffle local residents today.
Educated in England, with a background in journalism, English literature and history, Valerie began writing historical pieces and publishing while she was still in school.
In 1968, when Valerie came to Canada her writing continued. She wrote for The Islander, now the Times Colonist, and for almost two decades, her “Pages from the Past” weekly column appeared in the Saanich News. Today, her monthly column “Conversations from the Past” is published in the Seaside Times.
Current member of the Saanich Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee and former member of the Saanich Heritage and Saanich Legacy Foundations, Valerie says her interest in history goes back as far as she can remember. “It is my driving passion in life.” As a child, Valerie once lived in a 17th century farmhouse. “Growing up in England, where everything is old, I guess must have started it,” she says.
To Valerie, looking for information about the past is like being a detective who keeps digging for information. In Above Stairs, she investigates the lives of eight pioneer families of Europe’s Upper Class, who contributed to forming the social elite of Fort Victoria when it was first established in the mid-nineteenth century. Families of the Douglases, the Pembertons, the Skinners, the Creases, the O’Reillys, the Trutches, the Rithets and the Barnards, recognized today only by a few street names, were among the higher class citizens who lived above stairs and who formed the customs and traditions in the modest colony, shaping the capital as it was for 75 years.
In England, the term “below stairs” was coined to describe those employed as servants who worked mostly in cellars and basements of the grand mansions owned by the wealthy elite, says Valerie in her book. Conversely, the owners of the grand mansions were said to be living “above stairs.”
Like a fly on the wall, Valerie observes the above stairs life of Sir James Douglas, the first governor of British Columbia, his family and his stringent rules governing the colony. She tells of the Pembertons surveying the wilderness and carving out the beginning of a city while the Skinners farmed the land and became the first landed gentry. The Rithets introduced commercialism and entrepreneurship to the social scene, while the Creases instituted and upheld the law of the land. One of the first families to set the high social standards in Early Victoria, a time when appearance to most of the upper class was of utmost importance, was the O’Reilly family. How one appeared in public or how one presented oneself to the outside world was the driving force behind most of the social activities of that era.
Change began with the Trutches, who played a major role in the transition from royal governors to lieutenant-governors and near the end of the period, with the clouds of war on the horizon, the Barnards heralded the end of the older order and the beginning of a new era with different social standards at Government House.
The glamorous, complicated social lives, fancy balls, rituals, wealth and elegance of Victoria’s social elite prior to 1918 come to life in Above Stairs. “I often wish I could have lived a hundred years ago,” says Valerie. “Obviously, I was born in the wrong century.”
Mysterious British Columbia, Valerie’s recently published book is about mysteries that continue to baffle British Columbians. Mysteries like the dozens of unexplained sightings that have occurred in the Houston-Smithers-Terrace region (B.C. UFO Triangle) in recent years and stories about the Ogopogo continue to puzzle residents. Sightings of the Ogopogo date back to the 1870s. Could a monster really dwell in Okanagan Lake?
Charismatic Doukhobor leader Peter Verigin was killed in a massive train explosion between Castlegar and Grand Forks in 1924. Was his death a tragic accident, or a sinister murder plot? And what about Tanas Johnny, who thought he saw the devil and died of fright? Did he really see the devil?
Playing only metres away from his parents in Victoria in 1991, four-year-old Michael Dunahee vanished without a trace. Will we ever know what happened to him?
Lindsay Buziak, a young real estate agent from Victoria, was brutally murdered in 2008 after being lured to a home by two people posing as potential clients. Will her killers one day be brought to justice?
Valerie probes these and other unsolved mysteries in Mysterious British Columbia. Currently, working on her 17th book, Vanished! - The Michael Dunahee Story, Valerie says she will probably never stop writing.
Above Stairs and Mysterious British Columbia can be purchased at most book stores including Senior Living Magazines Online Bookstore
FEBRUARY 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND