Sylvia Olsen was born and brought up in Victoria, BC. At seventeen she married and moved to Tsartlip First Nation. For more than thirty years she lived and worked and raised her four children in the Tsartlip community. Sylvia is a historian specializing in Native/white relations in Canada. As a writer, she often finds herself exploring the in-between places where Native and non-Native people meet.
Sylvia is also an award-winning author of over twelve children’s and adult books including Working with Wool, a history of the Cowichan Sweater, which won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing in 2010. She lives on the Saanich Peninsula, near Victoria, British Columbia.
Interested in hosting an author visit at your school? Download Sylvia Olsen’s brochure for more information.
Titles by the Author
SYLVIA OLSEN spent fifteen years buying and selling Cowichan sweaters from a shop behind her home on the Tsartlip Indian Reserve near Victoria, British Columbia. She learned a great Buy from Storedeal about the Coast Salish and their famous sweaters, and she also listened to the knitters’ stories of life, love, dreams, and disappointments. Drawing on this wealth of experience, and with her own stories to tell, Olsen has written a collection of essays about knitting, design, community, family, and the creation of narratives from both wool and words. Complemented by seven of Olsen’s original knitting patterns, Knitting Stories is inspiring, thought-provoking, and entertaining.
Author and knitter Sylvia Olsen recounts one of Vancouver Island’s most compelling stories: the history of the development and use of textiles by First Nations in the Pacific Northwest and the transition from traditional blanket-making to the Cowichan-sweater industry of the 20th century. Olsen employs her vivid narrative voice, and her own experiences working with First Nations women in the Cowichan-sweater industry, to describe the remarkable history of the Cowichan textile workers and their 21st century successors, the women behind the Cowichan sweater today. Richly illustrated with photographs, Working with Wool is a dramatic account of struggle and survival and a moving chronicle of enduring cultural strength.
Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School
with Rita Morris and Ann Sam
No Time to Say Goodbye is a fictional account of five children sent to aboriginal boarding school, based on the recollections of a number of Tsartlip First Nations people. These unforgettable children are taken by government agents from Tsartlip Day School to live at Kuper Island Residential School. The five are isolated on the small island and life becomes regimented by the strict school routine. They experience the pain of homesickness and confusion while trying to adjust to a world completely different from their own. Their lives are no longer organized by fishing, hunting and family, but by bells, line-ups and chores. In spite of the harsh realities of the residential school, the children find adventure in escape, challenge in competition, and camaraderie with their fellow students.
Also available in a Kindle Edition.
with Ron Martin
Illustrated by Kasia Charko
Following on the heels of the much-lauded Yetsa’s Sweater, versatile author Sylvia Olsen again brings her storytelling gifts to picture book readers. Which Way Should I Go? is a moving story, based on the memories and the direction of Olsen’s friend Ron Martin, that handles a tender subject with a light and deft touch.
All families, and especially those who have lost a loved one, will enjoy storytime with this beautiful, touching book.
Illustrated by Joan Larson
On a fresh spring day, young Yetsa, her mother and her grandmother gather to prepare the sheep fleeces piled in Grandma’s yard. As they clean, wash and dry the fleece, laughter and hard work connect the three generations. Through Yetsa’s sensual experience of each task, the reader joins this family in an old but vibrant tradition: the creation of Cowichan sweaters. Each sweater is unique, and its design tells a story. In Yetsa’s Sweater, that story is one of love, welcome and pride in a job well done.