Nellie L. McClung’s first novel, Sowing Seeds in Danny, was published by The Ryerson Press in 1908. This was followed by The Second Chance, 1910, The Black Creek Stopping-House, 1912, Purple Springs, 1921, and Painted Fires, 1925.
Sowing Seeds in Danny is the story of The Watson family, Irish immigrants newly transplanted from Ontario and settled in Manitoba. Pearlie Watson is an imaginative, clever little girl, twelve years old, who is the mainstay of the family. Her story continues in The Second Chance and concludes in Purple Springs.
“To the Pioneer Women of the West, who made life tolerable, and even comfortable, for the others of us; who fed the hungry, advised the erring, nursed the sick, cheered the dying, comforted the sorrowing, and performed the last rites for the dead;
The beloved Pioneer Women, old before their time with hard work, privations, and doing without things, yet in whose hearts there was always burning the hope of better things to come;
The godly Pioneer Women, who kept alive the conscience of the neighbourhood and preserved for us the best traditions of the race;
To these noble Pioneer Women of the early days, some of whom see no more, for they have entered into their inheritance, this book is respectfully dedicated by their humble admirer.”
This is the dedication to the 1912 edition of The Black Creek Stopping-House and Their Stories by Nellie McClung.
The Black Creek Stopping House was a refuge for new immigrants, weary farmers and travellers on the Prairies. In this book, McClung pays tribute to hard work and the hard life of making a homestead in the West.
The Second Chance, 1910, is a “further account of Pearlie Watson. And she is the same comical, honest, motherly, warm-hearted, unexpected, effective, and altogether delightful little Irish girl that made one’s heart grow warm and brought smiles to one’s face every few minutes. Her experiences as she grows into womanhood, and the way in which she makes the numerous Watsons transform that run-down farm, “The Second Chance”, are worth your while – and we know if you read this book you’ll want to pass it on.”
Purple Springs, 1921, is the third and concluding book in the story of Pearl Watson, the young Irish immigrant whose life out West in the early 1900s is delightfully told by McClung and in many respects mirrors her own life story on the Prairies.
In Painted Fires, 1925, Nellie McClung “carries the reader into wider areas of human experience, introduces more and more characters, strikes a higher note than Mrs. McClung had hitherto reached as a fiction writer. Painted Fires is a moving tale of the Canadian West, with its polyglot population, its opportunities for the incomer from other lands, its amazing development and quick transformations.
Mrs. McClung knows her West and she knows human nature. This strong captivating tale of hers will make its appeal to a multitude of delighted readers.”
Nellie McClung, 1873-1951, was a novelist, women’s rights activist, teacher, social worker, politician and member of the politically active Famous 5. She was a member of the Dominion War Council in 1918 and the only woman representative at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1938. Nellie McClung was the first woman on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Board of Governors and was also active in the Canadian Authors Association founded in 1921 and responsible for initiating the Governor General’s Awards in 1938. Nellie McClung was elected to the Alberta legislature as a Liberal MLA for Edmonton and served one term from 1921-1926.
As a member of the Famous 5 or the Valiant 5, Nellie McClung, along with Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby and Louise Crummy McKinney, petitioned the government in 1928 to answer the question of whether the word “Persons” in the BNA Act of 1867 included women. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it did not, and therefore, women could not be appointed to the Senate of Canada. The British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council overturned that ruling in October, 1929. While none of the Famous 5 were ever appointed Senators, the Canadian Senate, in October 2009, voted to make the Famous 5 “Honourary Senators”, 80 years later, almost to the day. Statues acknowledging the efforts of the Famous 5 are displayed in both Calgary and Ottawa.