The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel by Katherine Govier
It has been six years since we’ve had a novel from Katherine Govier. With the publication of The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel Katherine returns to her roots. Her new novel is set in Alberta, in the fictional town of Gateway, at the foot of the nearby Three Sisters Mountains. Do a little research to see pictures of Canmore, the Three Sisters Mountains, the nearby Mystic Hotsprings, the area between there and Banff, Kananaskis and Calgary so you can picture the terrain.
The novel begins in much the present time, in 2011, when three middle aged sisters, Ann, Nancy and Lynn are summoned home by their elderly parents, Walter and Iona, for a family council in Gateway, Alberta. Walter announces that he has purchased The Three Sisters Hotel, a local institution where once miners, guides and all sorts drank and consorted. It had once belonged to Iona’s family and Walter felt it was time to take it back and give it to his daughters – whether they want it or not.
We quickly fly back in time to 1911 where we meet Herbie Wishart, a guide to the new breed of tourist coming to explore the Rocky Mountains. Herbie is hired by Charles Hodgson, a wealthy man from Washington, who arrives with his “man” Maxwell, his son, Humphrey and daughter, Isabel. They set out into the mountains along with various horses and cowboys, and an oriental cook.
And they get it, the Hodgson family. “Isabel expelled everything stale and constricted and drew the sweet air right down into her lungs”. And her father, as he declares to Herbie, “We’re being stripped of our essentials”. Even in 1911, the Americans are coming north looking for adventure and a place where the natural world is wild and pure. They come from all over, contributing to the eclectic mix of pedigree in the town of Gateway and the surrounding area.
Then, the tragic mystery – the Hodgson expedition is lost. They disappear – all but Herbie Wishart – and a horse that later re-appears – and much later perhaps a couple of others from the group. What follows is a story of how that tragedy colours the lives of so many. Gwen, the younger sister, who was left in Washington, turns up in Gateway when she is a young woman – looking for her family or what might have become of them.
Tandem to this story is another taking place in Ottawa, where the government is making a move to establish a national park system. We meet Helen Wagg, a young spinster who works for the minister in charge of this department – she is both the brains and the brawn, her job is very much the reason for her existence. Of course neither of them have ever been to the Rocky Mountains but there they are, writing documents and tourist information for the people of Canada and beyond.
So, that’s all you’re going to get – you’ll have to read the book to find out who is who and what happened to the Hodgson family, what happens to Helen over her long life, and Herbie Wishart who may – or may not – hold the answer to the questions about the tragedy.