In 1911 Godwin and his wife leave the comforts of England to seek a more adventurous life in Canada. They settle in the small rural community of Whonnock where they buy heavily treed land overlooking the Fraser River and get help building a house on it. In time they get to know their neighbors: Bob England, the charming realtor who sells them overpriced land; Blanchard, who owns the overpriced grocery store which is the hub of local gossip; Mrs. Armstrong, who runs a brothel masquerading as a rooming house; Stein, a farmer and model citizen who is ostracized when war breaks out (1914) and in despair commits suicide; Mr. Mann, who owns a brick factory and cheats locals by selling them shares in an oil company which actually has no oil; Reverend Corley, a snobbish Anglican minister whose condescension is resented by the locals; teenager Mary, who reads the newspaper to her illiterate parents every evening; Old Dunn, an incisive self-taught Yorkshireman who has many probing conversations with Godwin about Canada; These are just some of the characters.

There is much to enjoy and admire in this work. Godwin writes lyrically about the landscape and especially about the forest. “Newcomer” (Godwin) was unsure what he was seeking when he left England. Specifying what he was escaping was easy enough – the stultifying rigidities of a class society – but what was he looking for and what did he find? In the wilderness, for the first time, he is able to think clearly about life. Here it is reduced to stark simplicity and that which is truly important becomes plain. (…) The Eternal Forest provides a rare glimpse into life in the Lower Fraser Valley immediately prior to the First World War. (Brian Elliott in B.C. Studies, summer of 1996)

This is the forest of Emily Carr’s paintings: rhythmic, animate, a world of secrets and mysteries. (…) This book is that rarest of historical sources: disturbingly relevant. (…) Reading The Eternal Forest today one is acutely conscious of contemporary battles over the coastal forest, and of natural regions across Canada. (Claire Campbell in National History, 2000)

What interests us most in this novel are the portraits of human beings struggling and sometimes by sheer willfulness succeeding against both the villainies of corrupt men and the ever-returning, ever encroaching power of the bush. (George Woodcock, Preface to The Eternal Forest, 1994)

The Eternal Forest can best be described as ‘The Great Fraser Valley Novel.’ It realistically depicts the erosion of rural, community-based life in the Valley by Vancouver-based Capitalism. (…) Rich in empathy and insights. (Vancouver and Its Writers, by Alan Twigg)

Should force British Columbians to adjust their thinking about the past. (B.C. Historical News)
I must confess that I was quite moved when reading this novel. It is a genuine report from the turn of the century and reflects then-contemporary ideals and prejudices. As such, it is of real importance to the history of B.C. (Dr. Sandra Djwa, Simon Fraser University)

Godwin captures the Fraser Valley so well when it rains: “The trees dripped with water that had not fallen as rain and the trampled undergrowth soaked the Newcomer as he worked: The humid earth squelched under his heavy boots: the branches of the trees wiped wet fingers across his face.” (John Cherrington, author of The Fraser Valley: a History)

More information:

Recent Reviews (1996-2000)


Sample Passages with Archival Photos

Free Read: Ch.1-3