Grace is a well educated young lady. Only thirteen, she has the passion for languages and education, adopted from both of her parents, her mother a teacher and her father, a former Methodist preacher and a strong pacifist with a passion for social justice. She was the oldest of her siblings and she took responsibilities for their care in an effort to help her mother who was now a grass widow, teaching during the day, marking papers and making lesson plans at night, while her father was off working the shipyards in Vancouver or on speaking tours across the country. The family lived in Gibsons’, or, as they called it, the ‘Landing’, along the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, just north of Vancouver. The year is 1918; the Great War is just over, but political strife and fear of the growing Labour Movement, an uneasy trend that had its roots in the new Russia, a country evolving after the deposition of its royal family. The rising power of the working class was linked to news from Russia and the growing influence world-wide of “The Bolsheviks, who now called themselves "Communists".”(20) Grace was familiar with the rumblings around her. She listened to the conversations amongst grown-ups and she shuddered with worry when her mother’s job and the family’s source of income was threatened. Meanwhile, Grace’s fear was more personal, closer to home. She feared for herself, her parents and her siblings.
Grace Woodsworth MacInnis (1905-1990) was a political force of realism in the mid to late twentieth century. But her story, Grace’s story, begins with her own foundations, her childhood experiences in 1918-1919, when her father was speaking for worker’s rights and the country was resisting any possible sign of the Bolsheviks threat. This is Grace’s childhood story, one that centres its focus on the theme of a secret vault, what it contained and why it was such an important secret.
“Grace and the Secret Vault” by Ruth Latta is a coming of age story, not just Grace’s coming of age, but also her country, Canada. Just emerging from a horrific war in Europe, one that in effect defined for all time the meaning of being Canadian, one that unified the country from one coast to the other, Canada was also just coming of age. A country set on British social values, it was also a country that feared changed, feared the effects of making its mark on the twentieth century.
The author paints a vivid portrait, not only of a young girl, but also a young country, both set on becoming the best they can be in a world that never has regained its stability. This is a powerful and important story about one of Canada’s great female leaders. A story well written with a passion for the main character and a sound knowledge of the times, the people and the places. A great read. Five stars.
Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford, award-winning author of “Gerlinda”.