Canada enjoys a reputation as a peaceable kingdom, yet upheaval, rebellion, dislocation, and dispossession accompanied the country’s progress from country to nation. I’m interested in the dark side of colonization and nation building, which my writing explores from various perspectives, including the life and times of Metis nuns at Red River and in the northern mission field; high-profile murder cases involving women; sexual violence in rural farming districts; and the contested meanings attached to Aboriginal suicide in the early contact and settlement periods.


Westward Bound: Sex, Violence, the Law and the Making of a Settler Society

Honourable Mention, 2011 CLSA Book Prize, Canadian Law and Society Association

Westward Bound debunks the myth of Canada’s peaceful West and the masculine conceptions of law and violence upon which it rests by shifting the focus from Mounties and whiskey traders to criminal cases involving women between 1886 and 1940. Erickson’s analysis of these cases shows that, rather than a desire to protect, official responses to the most intimate or violent acts betrayed an impulse to shore up the liberal order by maintaining boundaries between men and women, Native people and newcomers, and capital and labour. Victims and accused could only hope to harness entrenched ideas about masculinity, femininity, race, and class in their favour. This fascinating exploration of hegemony and resistance in key contact zones draws prairie Canada into larger debates about law, colonialism, and nation building.

An important and groundbreaking effort that re-centers attention on prairie history as a place where profound legal historical questions were examined and articulated … Erickson’s work has the potential to trigger a renaissance in prairie legal history.

— Jonathan Swainger, History, University of Northern British Columbia

Westward Bound is a work of remarkable scope and depth.

— Chris Herbert, BC Studies, read the review

UBC Press/Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, Fall 2011 | Order



Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West through Women’s History

Edited by Sarah Carter, Lesley Erickson, Patricia Roome, and Char Smith

The traditional mythology of the West is dominated by male images: the fur trader, the Mountie, the missionary, the miner, the cowboy, the politician, the Chief. This collection aims to re-examine the West through womens eyes. It draws together contributions from researchers, scholars, and academic and community activists, and seeks to create dialogue across geographic, cultural, and disciplinary boundaries. Ranging from scholarly essays to poetry, these pieces offer the reader a sample of some of today’s most innovative approaches to western Canadian women’s history; several of the themes that run throughout the volume have only recently been critically addressed. By rewriting the West from the perspective of women, the contributors complicate traditional narratives of the region’s past by contesting historical generalizations, thus transcending the myths and “frontier” legacies that emerged out of imperial and masculine priorities and perspectives.

University of Calgary Press, 2005 | Order


Articles and Book Chapters

“Repositioning the Missionary: Sara Riel, the Grey Nuns, and Aboriginal Women in Catholic Missions of the Northwest, 1848-83.” In Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands, edited by Patricia McCormack and Sarah Carter. Edmonton: AU Press, 2011.

“Constructed and Contested Truths: Aboriginal Suicide, Law, and Colonialism in the Canadian West(s), 1823-1927.” Canadian Historical Review 86 (December 2005): 595-618. Reprinted in Foundations: Readings in Pre-Confederation Canadian History, edited by Margaret Conrad and Alvin Finkel. Toronto: Pearson Canada, 2008.

“‘Bury Our Sorrows in the Sacred Heart’: Gender and the Métis Response to Colonialism – The Case of Sara and Louis Riel, 1848-1883.” In Unsettled Pasts: Reconceiving the West through Women’s History, edited by Sarah Carter, Lesley Erickson, Patricia Roome, and Char Smith. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005.

“Murdered Women and Mythic Villains: The Criminal Case and the Imaginary Criminal in the Canadian West, 1886–1930.” In People and Place: Historical Influences on Legal Culture, edited by Jonathan Swainger and Constance Backhouse, 95-119. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2003.

“‘A Very Garden of the Lord’? Hired Hands, Farm Women, and Sex Crime Prosecutions on the Prairies, 1914-1929.” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, new series 12 (Quebec 2001): 115-36.

“The Interplay of Ethnicity and Gender: Swedish Women in Southeastern Saskatchewan.” In “Other” Voices: Historical Essays on Saskatchewan Women, edited by David De Brou and Aileen Moffatt. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1995. Reprinted in Sisters or Strangers? Immigrant, Ethnic, and Racialized Women in Canadian History, edited by Marlene App and Franca Iacovetta, 172-90. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

“A Just System? The Criminal-Trial Process for Serious Felonies in Nineteenth-Century Ontario.” Great Unsolved Mysteries of Canadian History, Website: Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of the “Black Donnellys.” Co-authored with Jennifer Pettit.