The "PORTUGUESE CREEK" Novels & Stories
"Portuguese Creek" is the name of the creek that runs through many of the farms in these three novels as it does through similar farms in the actual world. Though the community is referred to by the characters as "Portuguese Creek," its official name in the novels is "Waterville."
The maps of Portuguese Creek imitate real roads on the Vancouver Island map but indicate where the fictional families lived in Broken Ground (1922), The Macken Charm (1956), Distance (1995), and some of the short stories.
BROKEN GROUND (published 1998)
Most of the action in this novel occurs while a group of First World War veterans and their families are establishing a "Returned Soldiers Settlement" on northern Vancouver Island amongst the giant stumps left behind by loggers. Central to the story are memories of trench warfare in France and a forest fire that sweeps down off the mountains into the community.
Matthew Pearson is a former teacher who has given up teaching to farm, unable to come to terms with the fate of the young soldiers he commanded in the trenches, and unwilling to face up to a secret he has brought home with him.
The Mackens are a large clan from Ontario. Nora is a young woman waiting for her runaway husband to return while spurning the attentions of Wyatt Taylor, the explosives expert who loves her. Her parents and several brothers are trapped when the forest fire completely surrounds their home.
Timo Aalto, who will be an old man in the novel Distance, is a member of one of the many Finnish families who settled here. He is a friend of Charlie MacIntosh, an eleven years old who witnesses his father's disastrous experience with explosives.
THE MACKEN CHARM (published 1995)
The large boisterous Macken family gathers on the site of a burnt family-owned hotel after the funeral of Glory, Uncle Toby's glamorous wife.
Uncle Toby is the youngest and the wildest of the older generation, married to a beautiful city girl who looks like Rita Hayworth but has never learned how to fit in to this country clan.
Rusty Macken has just graduated from high school and is about to leave for university, though he is ambivalent about leaving this family behind.
Rusty and his family (Eddie Macken and Frieda Barclay Macken) live in the house built by the Sullivans in Broken Ground.
Nora Macken has become the bossy and judgmental "matriarch" of the extended family.
Rusty's cousin Colin Macken, though still in his teens, is newly married and a father.
Rusty's best friend is Sonny Aalto, the only son of Timo, and later the protagonist in Distance.
DISTANCE (published 2003)
Date: 1995, the year of the second Quebec referendum
Sonny Aalto, a successful middle-aged businessman in Ottawa has kept his distance from Timo, the father who raised him. Timo Aalto, now in his eighties, still lives on his parents' farm back near the abandoned sawmill that reminded Matthew Pearson of the bombed cathedrals in France. After much resisting, Sonny returns home to deal with his ailing father, and together they set off to Australia in search of the wife and mother who deserted them, and to participate in a wild boar hunt on a central Queensland sheep station.
Nora Macken is in her 90s, a "family-proud" and judgmental resident of Extended Care in the local hospital.
Charlie MacIntosh, one of the narrators of Broken Ground, is a retired newspaper editor.
Rusty Macken is about to retire from the Forest Ministry in Victoria.
Colin Macken is a success at "selective logging" but a victim of a logging-environmentalist dispute.
Merville General Store and Post Office
Stump and Beach, Merville