It is Amsterdam, October of 1891 and Karel Boissevain, the son of a successful ship-owner, and is persuaded by his doctor to leave the Netherlands for the fresh air of Canada (he suffers from severe asthma) in order to recover his health. One of his sisters, Heleen, accompanies him on the journey. Not only does Karel leave behind almost his entirely family, but he must also leave behind his financé, Wil de Vos. It's a devastating decision, especially for Karel and Wil, which creates an intensely emotional period, full of uncertainty for all of them, that is expressed with great feeling and honesty in their letters.
Due to family connections, the greater Boissevain family was already well-known in the financial circles of Canada, and help came to Karel and Heleen in the form of William Cornelius Van Horne, then President of the CPR, who suggested that Karel (himself a former navy officer) could do with course of northwest air. So, having a boarded a luxury steam liner to Montreal, from there, Karel and Helena took the train to Alberta, where Karel was to work, as he had never before, with a CPR survey crew during a cold winter in Crowsnest Pass.
Heleen has her own stories to tell, writing about her stays in Calgary, Fort Macleod, Pincher Creek, peppered with stories of the (now) well-known pioneers and settlers of the area. She also serves as a go-between for the family and does her best to keep everyone, especially Wil, apprised of the adventures and disappointments, and especially her concern for her brother. Heleen's letters are also unique in that they show many of the women of this era, often wives of the pioneers and settlers we know so well.
Ultimately, the letters not only showcase this period of Canadian history, but are also a deeply moving love story.