Set in 1891 in Lac St. Anne, Alberta, Canada, Pilgrimage is the story of four people trying to find love and happiness in a cold land troubled by violence and cultural conflict. Mahkesîs is a young Métis woman, pregnant following a rape by the Hudson Bay Company store manager. Moira is an Irish immigrant servant of his wife; Moira is also attacked by this man. Georgina, the manager’s Anglo-Irish wife, has a checkered past, but now is longing for a child. Gabriel is Mahkesîs’s brother, who works on the Athabasca River and is also a musician. He is in love with Moira, and she with him.
At the time of the story, northwestern colonial Canada was a harsh land. Women had little freedom and few options, and racism could limit the future for anyone. The four protagonists all try to build their lives during one calendar year in this difficult environment, and at the end of that year, a woman’s body is left at the bottom of a well.
This is not a happy story, although there are bright spots here and there, and at least the possibility of happiness for one character. The book will probably resonate most with readers familiar with the history and culture of the area. Lac St. Anne was named for the patron saint of childbirth, and to this day, it is a pilgrimage destination for those seeking redemption.