Valerie Green has gone on a journey to Victoria’s past – to a time, she writes, “when snobbery was rife, and when wealth, education, the right connections and an added touch of charm dictated one’s place in high society.”
But if her knowledge of the area and its pioneers were first-hand, she’d be sure of one thing.
She would have much rather lived “above stairs.”
Green, author and former Saanich News columnist, has revisited high society in Above Stairs: Social Life in Upper-Class Victoria 1843-1918.
“I just love history and I wanted to do an upstairs-downstairs version of life in Victoria,” said Green from her home library, where she writes in the company of her maltipoo cross, Rupert.
The work about the city’s upstairs scene was originally released in 1995 by Sono Nis Press.
Five years later Green wrote Upstarts and Outcasts: Victoria’s Not-So-Proper-Past, an homage to those serving the rich and living “below stairs.”
In light of reader demand, and backed by publisher TouchWood Editions, Green has updated and rereleased Above Stairs with new material, including additional photos and added introductions to each of the eight families profiled in the book.
Each chapter now begins with vignettes set in factual situations, but written creatively from Green’s interpretation of her research.
“It was a long, long process, but rewarding,” she said. “It’s interesting that there’s still interest in the book 15 years later.”
Many of the descendants of the featured families have passed away in recent years. Others, such as the Creases and the Pembertons, remain prominent in the Capital Region.
While Green’s interest in the past is not limited by any means, the history of the O’Reilly family and their home, Point Ellice House, is of particular interest to her.
“I was always intrigued by Kathleen O’Reilly because she never married and she was a beautiful woman with lots of boyfriends and lots of suitors, but she remained unmarried until she died in that house in her ‘70s.”
Green also delves into the history of the Rithets, including one-time mayor of Victoria Robert Rithet. He bred race horses on a parcel of land owned by his family. This area would later be named Broadmead in honour of one of Rithet’s star steeds.
Althoug many of her readers assume she has the answer to every historical question about Victoria, Green suggests that anyone interested in the past can learn about it at the archives.
“It is rather like being a detective, tracing things back,” she said. “When a piece falls into place it’s a good feeling. Like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Above Stairs is available at Bolen Books, Munro’s Books, Cadboro Bay Book Co. and Tanner’s Books.
This month, Green also releases Mysterious British Columbia: Myths, Murders, Mysteries and Legends, a look at some of the province’s most curious tales (including the elusive cadborosaurus), available now through Chapters-Indigo and coming soon to local book stores.
Green is penning Vanished! – The Michael Dunahee story, to be released in 2012.
The story of Dunahee’s 1991 abduction is being done with the full co-operation of the Dunahee family, police and Child Find B.C.