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Caitlin Press Publisher Cynthia Wilson Passes Away

Posted: May 16, 2005

The BC Interior lost one of its great champions on Friday, May 13, 2005, with the sudden passing of book publisher Cynthia R. Wilson, owner and guiding spirit of Prince George-based Caitlin Press Inc.

Wilson grew up on the Sunshine Coast but moved to Prince George in the early 1970s. She became a passionate northerner who dedicated much of her life to placing the Interior on the literary map of Canada and warring against what she called “the Lower Mainland bias” in British Columbia’s literary and public life.

A long-time faculty member at the College of New Caledonia (CNC) in Prince George, she bought Vancouver-based Caitlin Press in 1991 and moved it to Prince George for the purpose of publishing books about the BC Interior. In fifteen years she published sixty-six books, giving voice both to established writers like Ken Belford, Vivien Lougheed and Barry McKinnon and to up-and-comers like Jacqueline Baldwin, Lily Chow and Margaret McKirdy. Jack Boudreau, whose rambunctious outdoor adventure tales have become northern bestsellers, is typical of the writers Wilson discovered lurking among the spruces.

Her brother Howard White, also a publisher, remembers her determined battle to win recognition for her northern writers at the Canada Council in Ottawa: “The boffins in Ottawa kept turning their noses up at these rough-hewn books about trapping and pioneering, but Cynthia wouldn’t let them get away with it. At one point I had to talk her out of suing the federal government. Eventually they agreed that this was authentic Canadian culture.”

One of the people she enlisted in her campaign for regional recognition was former MLA and cabinet minister Paul Ramsey, who once shared a college office with her.

“I remember her as a dedicated teacher and a great champion of northern writers,” he says. “Her passing leaves a huge hole.”

Poet Ken Belford, whose book Pathways into the Mountains was published by Wilson, says, “She did a lot of publishing out of Prince George, more than anyone else has...more than anyone else ever will.”

Wilson is survived by her father Franklin White; a sister, Marilyn Plant; two brothers, Howard and Donald White; one niece; five nephews; and her partner Donald Smith. A memorial gathering will be held at the Pender Harbour Music School on June 5 at 1pm. In lieu of flowers the family has requested donations for the Pender Harbour and District Health Centre Society, Box 308, Madeira Park, BC V0N 2H0.

Additionally, a memorial reading will be held at the Prince George Public Library on Wednesday, June 8 at 7pm. The presenters will include Joan Jarman, Patrick White, Barry McKinnon, Kathy Plett, Jacki Baldwin, Jack Boudreau, Ken Belford, Margaret Thompson, Richard Thompson and Suzanne LeBlanc. A scholarship fund is being created in Cynthia’s memory; please send donations to the Cynthia Wilson Scholarship Fund, c/o Sue McAllister, Controller, College of New Caledonia, 3330-22 Avenue, Prince George, BC V2N 1P8.