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Shirlee Smith Matheson (1942-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1942, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; Ethnicity: "Canadian." Education: Athabasca University, B.A. (English), 1992.


office—Aero Space Museum, 4629 McCall Way NE, Calgary, Alberta T2E 8A5, Canada. Agent—Carolyn Swayze, WRPS Box 39588, White Rock, British Columbia V4A 9P3, Canada.


Writer and museum administrator. Aero Space Museum, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, administrator, 1997—. Lecturer on writing at schools and workshops in Calgary.

Honors Awards

Calgary Herald contest finalist; first prize for Alberta nonfiction, and British Columbia Book Prize finalist, both 1990, both for This Was Our Valley; Canadian Children's Book Centre choice, 1990, for Prairie Pictures,

Shirlee Smith Matheson

1993, for Flying Ghosts, 1994, for City Pictures, 1998, for The Gambler's Daughter, and 2000, for Keeper of the Mountains; Calgary Women's Writing Project short story competition winner, 1998; Canadian Award in Aviation, Organization of Women Pilots, 1999; Emerald Award for Environmental Excellence finalist, 2001; Distinguished Alumni Award, Athabasca University, 2002; honorary A.A., Northern Lights College of British Columbia.



(With Earl K. Pollon) This Was Our Valley, Deselig Enterprises (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1989, new edition, 2004.

Youngblook of the Peace: The Authorized Biography of Father Emile Jungbluth, OMI, Detselig Enterprises (Calgary, Canada), 1991.

A Western Welcome to the World: Calgary International Airport, Cherbo Pub. (Encino, CA), 1997.

Flying the Frontiers, 3 volumes, Detselig Enterprises (Calgary, Canada), 1999.


Prairie Pictures, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

City Pictures, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

Flying Ghosts, Stoddart (Toronto, Canada), 1993.

The Gambler's Daughter, Beach Holme Publishing (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1997.

Keeper of the Mountains, Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2000.

Fastback Beach, Orca Book Publishers (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 2003.

Work in Progress

Unsolved Mysteries of Aviation.


Shirlee Smith Matheson prides herself on having resided in all four of Canada's western provinces. Praised for creating both nonfiction titles and children's fiction that focuses on the history and traditions of the region she calls home, Matheson can claim a diverse roster of books to her credit, from the three-volume Flying the Frontiers, which collects stories and photographs chronicling the history of aviation in Canada, to middle-grade novels such as Flying Ghosts, Keeper of the Mountains, and Fastback Beach, which feature teen protagonists. In her highly praised nonfiction she draws readers into the lives of not only pilots, but also of the missionaries, explorers, prospectors, traders, and engineers that have helped to transform western Canada during the twentieth century. Together with Earl K. Pollon, she is also the author of This Was Our Valley, which reviews the history of the Peace River and the environmental threats that have arisen in northeastern British Columbia due to damming and other controversial uses of that waterway.

Matheson's first two novels for children focus on a girl whose family moves frequently. In Prairie Pictures Sherri finds herself spending the last part of the sixth grade in an Alberta town that seems to be in a time warp: Gardin is right out of the old west! Readers meet up again with Sherri and her family in City Pictures, as the now-high schooler is able to make the transition from rural Canada to the sophisticated big city of Calgary with a little help from new friend Samantha.

Teen boys figure as protagonists in several of Matheson's young-adult novels. Flying Ghosts and its sequel, The Gambler's Daughter, both focus on teens who live in aviator families. Keeper of the Mountains, Matheson's 2000 novel, draws readers to northern British Columbia as it focuses on an actual event: the 1934 sub-Arctic expedition of Charles Bedaux, who attempted to cover 800 miles of frozen, often inhospitable landscape on Citroën vehicles. In Matheson's book fifteen-year-old Chris Haldane accompanies Bedaux and his team, and the ill-conceived expedition turns into a personal journey for Chris.

A teen trying to turn his life around is forced to choose between his delinquent friends and an elderly couple who have befriended him in Matheson's 2003 novel.

Miles Derkach, a more modern teen, is introduced in Fastback Beach, a story about a boy whose probationary community service requirement teams him up with the elderly Mr. Barnier. Mr. Barnier shares Miles's interest in stockcar racing, and the older man enjoys showing his new helper the 1937 Ford coupe racing car he has restored. To help Mr. Barnier prepare the car for an upcoming rally, Miles begins to put his mechanics skills to the test and learns a great deal in the process. Unfortunately, he also unwittingly causes his new friend problems when he mentions the coupe to his two delinquent buddies; the night before the rally they steal Mr. Barnier's car for a joyride. When Miles becomes the prime suspect in the car's disappearance, he has to decide where his loyalties are: with his longtime buddies or with his new friends. Reviewing Fastback Beach for Canadian Materials, Deanna Einarson praised the author for doing "a superb job of illustrating the struggles teenagers go through when there is a conflict between what they believe is right and what their friends are doing." Citing the novel as valuable due to its ability to attract reluctant readers who are "mechanically inclined," Kliatt contributor Deborah Kaplan also commended Matheson for creating a "likable hero" and an entertaining and mildly suspenseful story.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Canadian Children's Literature, spring, 2001, review of Keeper of the Mountain, pp. 144-145.

Canadian Geographic, August-September, 1990, Kevin Van Tighem, review of This Was Our Valley, p. 84.

Canadian Literature, summer-autumn, 1999, Gernot R. Wieland, review of The Gambler's Daughter, p. 173.

Canadian Materials, July, 1989, review of Prairie Pictures, p. 176; March, 1990, review of This Was Our Valley, p. 89; September 19, 2003, Deanna Einarson, review of Fastback Beach.

Kliatt, January, 2004, Deborah Kaplan, review of Fastback Beach, p. 18.

Quill & Quire, January, 1994, review of Flying Ghosts, p. 38; June, 1994, review of City Pictures, pp. 48-49.

Resource Links, August, 1997, review of Prairie Pictures, p. 252; December, 2003, Wendy L. Hogan, review of Fastback Beach, p. 40.


Shirlee Smith Matheson Home Page, http://www.ssmatheson.ca/ (October 22, 2004).

Writers Union of Canada Web site, http://www.writersunion.ca/ (October 22, 2004), "Shirlee Smith Matheson."*

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