Gilean Douglas, 1900-1993


Gilean Douglas was born on Feb. 1, 1900, into a wealthy & socially prominent Toronto family. Her childhood was one of privilege, but when she was orphaned at the age of 16 she began to turn away from her inherited lifestyle and the expectations of the class she was born to. She marred in 1922, and her husband assumed her last name. They set off on an adventurous automobile trip through the States , which Douglas recorded in a journal and photographs. In 1924 Douglas' health collapsed from the effects of an overactive thyroid, a condition that plagued her for much of her life. After seven months in hospital she separated from her first husband and returned to Toronto in 1925.This was her home base for the next 15 years. The rest of the 1920s and the 1930s held two more marriages, much travel, and continuing work as a photo-journalist, with work published under several different pseudonyms .

Douglas began to build a reputation as a poet during this time:
The year 1939 marked a turning point in Gilean Douglas' life. She moved from the east to the west coast ; from the city to the country. For the next seven years, her home base was a small cabin in an isolated mountain valley. Although she continued to travel and work as a journalist, her life centered around the cabin and the surrounding environment. Much of her later work is built upon the themes of silence and solitude, which form the foundation for her identity as a person and as a writer.

The writings recording Douglas' life in the mountains were published under the pseudonym Grant Madison because of disbelief that a woman could have lived the life described. "Grant Madison " developed a devoted following of fans, and Douglas carried on several long correspondences in his name. (She also used this name for some of her feminist articles .) River For My Sidewalk and Silence Is My Homeland document this period of her life .

In 1947 Douglas' cabin was destroyed by fire and two years later she moved to a 138 acre waterfront property on Cortes Island with her fourth husband. Her marriage ended in 1953 but she remained there for the rest of her long life. Her home at Channel Rock was isolated, with no road access and no electricity. She had a large garden, and supplemented her writing income by selling produce and plants .

Starting in the 1960s, Douglas' writing centred increasingly on her life at Channel Rock . She wrote a regular column, "Nature Rambles", for the Victoria Times Colonist from 1961 to 1992, the year before her death. The Protected Place is based on these columns .

During her years on Cortes, Douglas was active in community affairs . She held local, district, provincial and national office in the Women's Institute, edited a book on its history, and was awarded a Life Membership in 1989. She belonged to the Women's Auxiliary of the Anglican Church and gave the address on the World Day of Prayer for 22 years . Douglas was a member of the first Cortes Advisory Planning Commission and represented Cortes on the Regional Board from 1968 until 1977 .She played an important role in framing the regulatory bylaws designed to guide the development brought about by increased population growth . She was also a Weather Observer for Environment Canada for 33 years.

Gilean Douglas died on Cortes Island on October 31st, 1993 .


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This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

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