Orphans of Empire

Written by Grant Buday
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1858 Colonel Sir Richard Moody arrives in New Brighton—near what is now Vancouver—to assist the British Governor in establishing the British Columbia-USA border, and deter any land grab by American agents.

In 1865 Frisadie, an 18-year-old Kanaka housemaid with an entrepreneurial spirit, arrives in New Brighton from Hawaii with some inheritance money. She and Maxie Michaud, a Quebecer who’d walked to New Brighton from Winnipeg, fall in love. They purchase a hotel, renovating it and operating it successfully. However, Frisadie, while facing typical discrimination, encounters other disappointments.

In 1883 Henry Fannin, a taxidermist, also arrives in New Brighton. He catches the eye of the daughter of a roller-skating rink and hotel owner. Fannin doesn’t disclose a secret about her that he knows, but their relationship deteriorates when she learns of it. These three characters, and others, “orphans of the empire,” will forge the formation of the vibrant city of Vancouver.

Buday has penned this fascinating historical novel about the origins of Vancouver. In the acknowledgements, he confesses that while wanting to write about New Brighton, he found scant information on its inhabitants during the 1800s. He finds it a typically Canadian phenomenon. However, with this limited knowledge and ample imagination, Buday has admirably reconstructed New Brighton, the small European settlement on the south bank of Burrard Inlet. While presenting a vivid description of that region, exciting details are blended into the plot, such as the roller-skating park, which was the craze at that time. Also, the practices of embalming and taxidermy are discussed through the voices of the characters. Interestingly, Fannin uses the powers of the lodestones, allegedly to draw the spirits of dead persons and the love of his life as well. Interactions between British, American, Hawaiian, and Quebecer are mingled interestingly into the plot. Recommended.