Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill (2004)

Susanna and Catharine were brought up in a large estate in England. They married soldiers and both couples headed to Canada only to be disappointed. Catharine, a lover of nature, adapted better than Susanna, a society person.

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28 February 2012 | Tom Murray
| The Strickland sisters move from mansion to cabins.
Of the six Strickland sisters, five of them became prolific writers. Catharine wrote children's stories, memoirs and books about nature; Susanna wrote children's stories, memoirs, novels and poems and Agnes became the biographer of the Queens of England and was very popular at the court of Victoria. They were brought up in a large estate in Suffolk, England: an idyllic setting.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the returning soldiers were unemployed; this created a severe depression. Their family business collapsed and their father died. Susanna and Catharine both married returned soldiers, John Moodie and Thomas Traill respectively. John and Susanna had a classic romantic-love marriage; the Traills were less close. John was also a published writer and poet.

Because of the depression and the fact that returned soldiers would be granted large tracts of land in Canada, if they emigrated there. Both couples headed off to Canada, the Traills first and the Moodies after, only to be disappointed when they arrived. Catharine survived cholera, contracted in Montreal. Then they found that their land, near what is now Peterborough, Ontario, was virgin forest and their homes were cabins, instead of the cleared land and mansions that they were familiar with.

Catharine, who was a great lover of nature, adapted better than Susanna, who was very much a society person. Life became even harder for the sisters when their husbands, who were better soldiers than farmers, headed off to Toronto, then called York, to fight against the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 and to get much needed cash. Moodie remained a soldier for several years, in order to pay off debts. This was the lonely low point of Susanna's life. The good news was that John Moodie was given a job as the Sheriff of Hastings County. The movie then jumps to the the sisters' elder years, summarizes their accomplishments and ends.

Afterword: The Belleville part of their lives is just as interesting as the wilderness part. In 1840, the Moodies moved to Belleville, Ontario, where Susanna could be back in society. John Moodie is now remembered, in Belleville, as Dunbar Moodie, using a middle name.

In 1863, Dunbar lost his job as Sheriff, for health and political reasons. They then moved to a large, grey, stone home on the West Hill in Belleville; their old home was too expensive. The home is still referred to as the "Susanna Moodie cottage". If you want to see it, Google it; if I want to see it, I simply look out my kitchen window and there it is.

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