In the early 1830’s, sisters Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill immigrated with their husbands to Upper Canada. They left behind them a charming childhood and a genteel but impoverished English lifestyle. They had no idea what the wilds of Canada would hold but expected an easy life. When reality hit, Susanna was devastated by the squalor and hardship. Catharine, on the other hand, was enthralled by the new plants she saw and the joy of living in the wilderness.
Sisters in the Wilderness weaves the women’s lives together, contrasting their experiences and personalities while showing the harsh reality of pioneer life. This movie presents both nature photography and glimpses into everyday life, from childhood luxury to sailing to Upper Canada, and from sliding on the ice to opening packets from their sister Agnes in a crowded cabin. Opulent scenes from Agnes’s glittering London life as a writer highlight the difficulties facing her pioneer sisters who were struggling to feed and clothe their children.
Although Sisters in the Wilderness makes use of contemporary artwork to outline background events, the Moodie and Traill families’ lives were dramatized, producing a quality film full of beauty, pathos, humanity, and history. Not only does it show the history of Upper Canada as Susanna and Catharine experienced it, but it also depicts them as two literary history-makers, emphasizing their writing.
Through their writings, the sisters affected many. Roughing it in the Woods by Susanna Moodie was almost as popular in Canada as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, although their London sister Agnes was horrified by it. Catharine Parr Traill’s The Backwoods of Canada was also well-received, and her advice for new immigrants helped many pioneer families. Quotes from their many writings are sprinkled throughout the movie.
My children simply absorbed this film, enjoying and learning with great satisfaction. I loved it, too, for many reasons: the cinematography, the music, the vintage clothing, the pioneer lifestyles, and especially the portrayal of Catharine, optimistic even in situations harsher than those facing her gloomy sister. It was so inspiring to watch the two women persevere, to trace the effect of their attitudes on their joy, and to see how they were recognized, finally, for their literary labours.
We highly recommend Sisters in the Wilderness as a beautiful introduction to pioneer life for students and adults. It is a family-friendly DVD that recognizes heroism and strength in its subjects.
This DVD, based on a book with the same title, is available from Northwoods Press.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Sisters in the Wilderness from Northwoods Press in order to review it. As usual, I am not compensated for my reviews, and my opinions are my own.