April 1, 2023. Ruth Marian Zavitz (nee Bycraft) of London and formerly of Coldstream, passed away at the age of 99.

During announcements one Meeting after Ruth’s passing, I learned a bit about her background and that she was an author. It turned out that we had one of her books in the Coldstream library, Flight to the Frontier. Since I enjoy history, I signed it out.

I found this 2014 article about the book from the Strathroy Age Dispatch about the book:

Many fiction fans have picked up a historical novel or two, maybe even come across a tome about the same general topic that local writer Ruth Zavitz, for many years, has waited to get published. What separates her work of fiction about the American Revolution of 1776? Well for one thing it doesn’t have anything to do with Mel Gibson nor does it particularly favour one side over another, British or American. The characters are impartial in this battle for sovereignty and instead, hold some significance in a picture of life at the time and the writer’s own Quaker background.

Zavitz, 91, has been waiting many years to share Flight to the Frontier, the story of a three-person Quaker family—a husband, wife, and their teenage daughter, Phoebe— as they trek to the Niagara Region while escaping persecution, a result of their refusal to choose a side in the revolution. Over years of writing the book has changed and gained layers before finally being published this year.

“It’s a family emigrating from the United States at the end of the American Revolution because of persecution, to the Niagara area. The parents, they were born in England and they left England and came to the Hudson River….their house and store burned and they came through to Niagara,” Zavitz, now a London resident, said of her book last week during a visit to her home community near Coldstream.


Of her book she said, “ They were Quakers, they were pacifists.” Zavitz chuckled, “so both sides were dumping on them.”

An amateur writer from a very young age, Zavitz continued her passion for stories through raising a family and several unrelated jobs. Previously, she also published a non-fiction work on decorative grasses.

Her latest book and research brings not only a story of drama and travel to the reader but also an account of life at the time. The historical setting made for rich material to work with, she said.

Zavitz was raised in a Quaker family and her ancestors, like many others, also migrated from the United States though later, around the 1790s. The novel looks at a piece of Canada’s history that Zavitz feels is rarely told.

“I got thinking that there weren’t any novels written about American emigrating to Niagara in the early days. There are novels about them going to the Maritimes and novels about them going to eastern Ontario but nothing to Niagara and that’s where Ontario started because Niagara on the Lake was the first capital of Upper Canada, it started right there.”

And so, a teenage girl and her family are escaping a violent conflict; the girl’s parents are pushing for a profitable but to the girl, rather repulsive marriage proposal; there’s adventure, danger, love lost and unrequited; and in spite of it all the story tells of realistic life on the frontier. How did Zavitz find her inspiration for facts and fiction? She tapped the top of her head.

“The ideas come out of here but the background information, there are some non-fiction books about the early parts of settlement in Ontario. Particularly I was interested in how they did things: the kinds of tools they had and what they ate, that sort of thing.”

While painting a real picture of what life at the time could have included, the story is filled in with a love triangle and hard travels among other aspects of a story that Zavitz describes with a smile.

“I enjoyed writing it all. I would just sit down one morning and [the story] just poured out of me. It just came, it wasn’t anything I had to construct,” she said. [1]

Cover of “Flight to the Frontier” by Ruth Zavitz

I really enjoyed Ruth’s book. I’ve long been curious about what the circumstances were like for Quakers during the war of independence. My Quaker ancestor Samuel Moore’s property in the Province of New Jersey was confiscated by the “rebels” and he and his family lived for years under the protection of the British in their camp in New York before moving to Nova Scotia.

Ruth’s prologue helped me better understand: “In the autumn of 1782 the American colonies were embroiled in a revolutionary war with Great Britain. Although no military battles had been fought in the little hamlet of Haventown on the Hudson River, most of the inhabitants took sides for, or again, the rebels. Only the Society of Friends, called Quakers, who were against violence, remained neutral and thus were persecuted by both sides.” Ruth’s story describes how the Careys’ property was taken by the British. Mr. Carey was a shopkeeper, and all his goods were gone. The family had to move out of their house while the British took over. Their food was taken. They suffered after the troops left by the local folks who said they had taken sides with the British. They hadn’t but they couldn’t counter the forces against them. They decided to move to Canada, and had a treacherous trip.

I am so glad that I read this book. It really helped me understand better the experience of Quaker families during this time in history. And, I found myself really looking forward to reading the book because the story was so well written. I heartily recommend this book if you are looking for a good read with an historical basis.

-Donna Moore

[1] Elena Maystruk, “Local writer, 91, brings story of Niagara, adventure and the American Revolution to readers,” Strathroy Age Dispatch, 5 September 2014.


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