Sylvia Olsen

Sylvia OlsenSylvia Olsen was born and brought up in Victoria, BC. At seventeen she married and moved to Tsartlip First Nation. For more than thirty years she lived and worked and raised her four children in the Tsartlip community. Sylvia is a historian specializing in Native/white relations in Canada. As a writer, she often finds herself exploring the in-between places where Native and non-Native people meet.

Sylvia is also an award-winning author of over twelve children’s and adult books including Working with Wool, a history of the Cowichan Sweater, which won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing in 2010. She lives on the Saanich Peninsula, near Victoria, British Columbia.

Interested in hosting an author visit at your school? Download Sylvia Olsen's brochure for more information.

Titles by the Author

Knitting Stories

SYLVIA OLSEN spent fifteen years buying and selling Cowichan sweaters from a shop behind her home on the Tsartlip Indian Reserve near Victoria, British Columbia. She learned a great Buy from Storedeal about the Coast Salish and their famous sweaters, and she also listened to the knitters’ stories of life, love, dreams, and disappointments. Drawing on this wealth of experience, and with her own stories to tell, Olsen has written a collection of essays about knitting, design, community, family, and the creation of narratives from both wool and words. Complemented by seven of Olsen’s original knitting patterns, Knitting Stories is inspiring, thought-provoking, and entertaining.

Working with Wool

Buy from StoreAuthor and knitter Sylvia Olsen recounts one of Vancouver Island's most compelling stories: the history of the development and use of textiles by First Nations in the Pacific Northwest and the transition from traditional blanket-making to the Cowichan-sweater industry of the 20th century. Olsen employs her vivid narrative voice, and her own experiences working with First Nations women in the Cowichan-sweater industry, to describe the remarkable history of the Cowichan textile workers and their 21st century successors, the women behind the Cowichan sweater today. Richly illustrated with photographs, Working with Wool is a dramatic account of struggle and survival and a moving chronicle of enduring cultural strength.

Counting on Hope

Buy from StoreHope and her family travel from England to their new home on an island off the coast of British Columbia in the 1860s. Hope thinks that she has arrived in paradise. She is right … until whiskey traders arrive.

Letia and her family are Lamalcha people who winter on Kuper Island and move to Wallace Island in the summer. The problem is that Letia's summer camp is on the island that the Crown has deeded to Hope's family. When the two girls meet, against the wishes of their mothers, their stories intersect.

The Girl with a Baby

Buy from StoreYou are the same girl that came to school last year. They are the same kids. But nothing was the same and I knew it. I had become the girl with a baby. Jane has always been the good Williams. Her brothers might be high school dropouts and late-night rowdy partiers, but never Jane. Jane never drinks, smokes dope or misses a single day of school. She's in the drama club . . . smart and hot . . . one of the popular ones.

Or she used to be. Now she's one of those: the teenage mothers packing diaper bags with their knapsacks, wheeling strollers into the high school daycare, tired and grumpy. Jane's only 14, younger than most of them, and she can feel the stares in the school halls. She can hear the whispers on her whitebread street, too: too bad, gone the way of her brothers, guess those Indians are all the same.


Just Ask Us

Buy from Store

A Conversation with First Nations Teenage Moms

Teen moms are nothing new. For as long as anyone can remember, families, communities, and governments have been grappling with the poverty and lack of life opportunities faced by these parents and their children.

Just Ask Us takes a comprehensive, first-hand look at First Nations teen mothers, offering ways to counteract the intractable cycle of poverty and turn reserve communities into places of hope for the next generation. Olsen explores issues of teenage sexuality and relationships, birth control, abortion, and violence. She examines aboriginal and non-aboriginal cultural attitudes and practices and how they affect the lives of young moms and their children. Her book weaves the threads of these young mothers' lives together with colours of desperation, enthusiasm, impossibility, and hope.


No Time to Say Goodbye

Buy from StoreChildren’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School
with Rita Morris and Ann Sam

No Time to Say Goodbye is a fictional account of five children sent to aboriginal boarding school, based on the recollections of a number of Tsartlip First Nations people. These unforgettable children are taken by government agents from Tsartlip Day School to live at Kuper Island Residential School. The five are isolated on the small island and life becomes regimented by the strict school routine. They experience the pain of homesickness and confusion while trying to adjust to a world completely different from their own. Their lives are no longer organized by fishing, hunting and family, but by bells, line-ups and chores. In spite of the harsh realities of the residential school, the children find adventure in escape, challenge in competition, and camaraderie with their fellow students. Also available in a Kindle Edition.


Sebastian Sasquatch

Buy from Store"Only very special human children want to play with sasquatches…"

Sebastian Sasquatch loves his home in Puddle Valley. It has everything a young sasquatch needs: trees to swing from, a creek to fish in, meadows for running and jumping. Well, almost everything. In all of Puddle Valley, there isn’t another sasquatch child for Sebastian to play with. There is the Puddle Valley Campground and Adventure Park, though. It’s full of children. They come with their families, and spend the summer running, jumping, swimming and swinging. But not one of them even notices Sebastian, much less wants to play with him. Why? Bringing Sylvia Olsen’s characteristic direct, engaging language together once again with Kasia Charko’s warm, lively art, this is a lighthearted tale about the simple yet mysterious qualities it takes to be a friend.


Which Way Should I Go?

Buy from Storewith Ron Martin
Illustrated by Kasia Charko

Following on the heels of the much-lauded Yetsa's Sweater, versatile author Sylvia Olsen again brings her storytelling gifts to picture book readers. Which Way Should I Go? is a moving story, based on the memories and the direction of Olsen's friend Ron Martin, that handles a tender subject with a light and deft touch.

All families, and especially those who have lost a loved one, will enjoy storytime with this beautiful, touching book.



White Girl

Buy from StoreI never thought about being white. I didn't have to. I was transparent--no colour at all. I hung out, was a good enough student and no one paid any special attention to me at all. Then I became a white girl.

Until she was fourteen, Josie was pretty ordinary. Then her Mom meets Martin, "a real ponytail Indian," and before long, Josie finds herself living on a reserve outside town, with a new stepfather, a new stepbrother, and a new name--"Blondie." In town, white was the ambient noise, the no-colour background. On the reserve, she's White, and most seem to see her only for her blond hair and blue eyes.


Yetsa's Sweater

Buy from StoreIllustrated by Joan Larson

On a fresh spring day, young Yetsa, her mother and her grandmother gather to prepare the sheep fleeces piled in Grandma's yard. As they clean, wash and dry the fleece, laughter and hard work connect the three generations. Through Yetsa's sensual experience of each task, the reader joins this family in an old but vibrant tradition: the creation of Cowichan sweaters. Each sweater is unique, and its design tells a story. In Yetsa's Sweater, that story is one of love, welcome and pride in a job well done.


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