Sylvia Olsen was born and brought up in Victoria, BC. At 17 she married and moved to Tsartlip First Nation. For more than 30 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.
SYLVIA OLSEN spent 15 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 deal 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.
Illustrated by Kasia Charko
Sebastian Sasquatch loves his home in Puddle Valley. It has everything a young sasquatch needs: trees to swing from, a creek to fish in, meadows for running and jumping. Well, almost everything. In all of Puddle Valley, there isn’t another sasquatch child for Sebastian to play with. There is the Puddle Valley Campground and Adventure Park, though. It’s full of children. They come with their families and spend the summer running, jumping, swimming and swinging. But not one of them even notices Sebastian, much less wants to play with him. Why?
I never thought about being white. I didn’t have to. I was transparent–no colour at all. I hung out, was a good enough student and no one paid any special attention to me at all. Then I became a white girl. Until she was fourteen, Josie was pretty ordinary. Then her Mom meets Martin, “a real ponytail Indian,” and before long, Josie finds herself living on a reserve outside town, with a new stepfather, a new stepbrother, and a new name–“Blondie.” In town, white was the ambient noise, the no-colour background. On the reserve, she’s White, and most seem to see her only for her blond hair and blue eyes. Her mother’s no help. She never leaves the house, gripped by her fear of the “wild Indians” beyond Martin’s doorstep. But Josie can’t afford to hide out forever. She has to go to school, and she has to get herself a life, one way or another. So bit by bit, she finds a way through the minefields. She makes a friend, Rose, with whom she tries to bridge the chasms between out and in, white and Indian, town and reserve. She finds a family in Martin, Luke, and Grandma. And bit by bit, the place itself, the reserve–the run-down houses, the way the people live in them and around them, the forest and the sea–finds its way into her, like nothing else ever has, or ever will.
When Hope and her family move from England to an island off the coast of British Columbia in the 1860s, Hope thinks she has arrived in paradise. She is right … until troublemaking whiskey traders arrive bearing stories of marauding Indians.
Letia and her family are Lamalcha people. Their traditional summer camp is on the island that the Crown has deeded to Hope’s family. Most of her people are willing to share the island … but what about Letia’s mother’s ominous dreams?
Writing from each girl’s unique perspective, award-winning author Sylvia Olsen captures the wonder and joy with which Hope and Letia become secret friends, and the tragic events that separate them. Ultimately a story of hope, this sensitive portrayal of innocence lost and wisdom hard won follows Hope and Letia off their island paradise and into the complex realities of colliding cultures.