Canadian author visits Nicolson family roots

Hamefarer and author Jim Stimson is visiting Shetland from Canada for the first time and has made a pilgrimage to the site of the former homes of his forebears, the Nicolsons.

Book will be a wake-up call

An Act of Surrender by James C. Stimson with Nancy E Lee. Published by Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4251-8988-4.

Although it might seem that a book about addiction and recovery is for the specialist reader, An Act of Surrender is actually fascinating and worthwhile reading for everyone.

The book is the result of the knowledge gleaned by Jim Stimson through his years of addiction to drink (with a few drugs thrown in) and his many more years of recovery, and is both moving and educational.

Addiction, he argues, is an illness like any other – one which wreaks havoc not only in the lives of the addict but of those around them. The illness is genetic – Stimson tells of growing up with an alcoholic father and the sadness of having, despite his best efforts, an addicted son – and although there is no “cure”, it can be treated.

The book will be a wake-up call to those who do not realise their drinking (or using) is causing problems to anyone except themselves. And it will offer valuable insights to those living with an addict (of alcohol or drugs) as to how they should handle the problem.

Because, says Stimson, anything that causes a problem (to others) is a problem. People around an addict may not realise that is what they are dealing with as there are different patterns of addiction. The drinker or user may go on benders but otherwise abstain. Or they may control their drinking or using so as never to be seen under the influence in public. However, the “loved ones” around them are affected.

These loved ones, Stimson says, often blame themselves, but that is not realistic. Addicts, he maintains, are selfish and self-centred. They are also emotionally immature people who like to regard themselves as “rebels”, and delude themselves that they could stop drinking or using at any time. And of course they could, if they wanted to, but they are not convinced they are addicts anyway.

Stimson says: “Addiction is like an elevator that keeps going up and down. It stops at different floors from time to time when something happens and the addicts can get off.”

Stimson got off at the age of 25 and is now 37 years into recovery, which involves complete abstinence.

A trained social worker who has spent the last 35 years working in the addictions field, including in the workplace, Stimson was formerly director of the employee and family assistance programme of Canada’s then largest forest products company.

For more information on Stimson’s work visit

Rosalind Griffiths

His great grandparents Christina and William Nicolson and family lived in Aithsness, later moving to Upper Setter, Clousta, then to Twatt. Four of their sons, including Jim’s grandfather Malcolm, emi–grated to Canada, along with their cousin Andrew Tait.

Malcolm arrived in Manitoba in 1905 and worked on a dairy farm where he met his future wife Jean. In 1919 their daughter Jean, Jim’s mother, was born. Jim himself was born in June 1946, and now lives in Vancouver, working in the area of addiction. [His recently published book about addiction, An Act of Surrender, in which he recommends the 12-step approach, is available at the Shetland Times Bookshop.] Jim’s great uncle Jimmy, one of the brothers who emigrated, had had a difficult birth in the 1880s. Dr Bowie, who lived across the voe, was sent for and rowed over to assist with the delivery. The baby was named James Cameron Bowie after the doctor – the names James Cameron have also been given to Jim.

During the excitement of the birth, nine-year-old Mary jumped up and down and hit her head on a beam. Dr Bowie went to her aid – and married her years later. She became Mary Bowie of Parkhall.

Jim has now fulfilled his wish of visiting the remains of the family homes (one of which will soon be cleared to build a new house) and of seeing the family graves.

He said: “If I hadn’t come back at this time I could never have captured what it looked like. It was extremely emotional. There was a sense of completion to come back; it is the only place we can reach back to the history of our ancestors.”


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