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Factual fiction from B.C.'s colourful coast found in Maquinna 1788-1789

by Peter Rusland - Cowichan News Leader Pictorial

Cowichan author Chris Sherlock pawned his trusty ‘62 Stratocaster guitar to fund his book about the origins of B.C.

He believes his first novel, Maquinna 1788-1789 — launching a trilogy — strikes an educational chord about the terrible colonialtreatment of coastal Aboriginal folks during the search for sea-otter pelts and other stuff to trade with China.

“I want to let people know about this beautiful people we did our best to make disappear.”

His chronicles of historical fiction will be heard at two upcoming readings as Sherlock plans Maquinna part two (1789-90) by summer’s end.

Set against Europe’s jockeying for new-world resources, his work is populated by English, Spanish and Russian trading explorers, like John Meares, and Estavan Martinez, who plied our coast a decade after Capt. James Cook.

“You can’t make this stuff up. Truth is stranger than fiction, and really colourful.”

Sherlock also poked into pivotal roles Chinese labourers played aboard those early ships.

“In Macau, Meares got a Portuguese ship and captain, and hired Chinese labourers who were highly skilled craftsmen for a boys wages.

“Those 50 Chinese artisans were actually the first foreign settlers on the northwest coast of America.”

Europeans actually came to the old world, not the new world, where they met tough, smart leaders such as Maquinna and other chiefs — not the backward society they and later bigoted settlers tried to portray.

Sherlock, 58, pointed to the Nuu-Cha-Nulth’s amazing whaling skills as an example.

“They’d go three miles out for up to two weeks and catch a whale. I don’t think even Olympic athletes could match their feats,” Sherlock said.

And that success carried over to governance — Aboriginal royalty was built on serving their people.

“It was how much you can give to your people, not take away.”

Sherlock began his book three years ago using facts from various libraries, including “one of the best” at UVic.

“All the events are absolutely true. I just started writing an hour a day before and after work slugging it out. It actually started as a rock opera about 35 years ago with (jazz pianist) Miles Black.”

Maquinna opens “an abyss about the most colourful history we have.”

“Martinez is up there with Darth Vader and the Sheriff of Nothingham — while (Prime minister) Harper talks about us trading with the Chinese like he came up with idea,” Sherlock said.

Canada’s biggest challenge, he said, is dealing with the mess our country has made with our First Nations populations.

“Our greatest challenge also holds our greatest potential.”

Maquinna is graced with art by Rande Cook, part of the team that designed and built Duncan’s Quench totem-pole drinking fountain.

It sells for $27.50 at Volume One Bookstore. Also visit maquinnatrilogy.com.

Readings are Jan. 22, 5 to 7 p.m. at Duncan’s Old Firehouse Wine Bar (call ahead); and Feb. 7, 3 to 4 p.m. in the Cowichan Library.

Whatever Trevor

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