“Living here the best way they can”: Archibald Macdonald’s Interactions With Indigenous Neighbours

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Jacob Oosterhoff is a fourth year geography major with a concentration in resources, economy, and the environment. He studies history on the side in order to better understand contemporary society. A rural upbringing in Chilliwack still occasionally results in wide eyes as he adjusts to urban life in the Vancouver region. His interests range from philosophy to GIS application, and he loves his guitar very much.

On July 15, 1828 Archibald McDonald wrote the following words in his journal: “Shortly after leaving camp this morning, we passed a number of Indian families, living here the best way they can…”[1] McDonald wrote this while beginning his travels from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Northwest, accompanied by over twenty men including the Hudson Bay Company’s Governor, George Simpson. The writings of McDonald are full of similar passing references to the indigenous people he encountered. Although we must be cautious when doing so, we can use these writings to gain a better understanding of the relationship that he had with the people that he chose to call “Indians.”

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Glencoe, Scotland – where Archibald McDonald was born. Photographed in 1962. This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald’s letters from the Columbia, 1822-44, ed. Jean Murray Cole (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2001), 5.

McDonald was born in 1790 in Glencoe, in the Scottish Highlands. Typical of the sons of the tacksmen class, McDonald sought employment in the British Empire. After first taking a position in the service of Lord Selkirk from 1812, McDonald joined the HBC in 1820 as a clerk. Making his way to the Pacific Northwest in 1821, McDonald was one of the first HBC employees to cross over the Rocky Mountains. He succeeded another Highlander, James McMillan, to become the Chief Factor at Fort Langley in 1828. It was here that a large portion of his journal writings were recorded, including descriptions of his interactions with indigenous people in the area. Except for some recent work which integrates Indigenous oral history into the written record, much of the early information we have about the relationships between Indigenous people and Scots in the early years of settlement of what is now British Columbia is through the writings of ‘great men’ like Archibald McDonald.[2]

Owing to the nature of the fur trade, McDonald would have been in contact with Indigenous peoples frequently, including marrying “according to the custom of the country” Princess Raven, daughter of a Chinook Chief in 1823 and Jane Klyne, a Métis woman from the Red River settlement, in 1825; yet his encounters with them were only generally mentioned in passing. For example, when writing a report in February of 1830 to Governor Simpson, Archibald declares that the great number of Indians in the surrounding region would be quite dangerous if not for their lack of solidarity.[3] This acknowledgement reveals that McDonald was aware to a certain extent that a struggle for power was taking place in the area. McDonald never explicitly describes a struggle for geopolitical control and most of his references to his indigenous neighbours are descriptions of trade and labor. On multiple occasions, he refers to “trusty” Indians when he was in need of their services, for example, in carrying letters to different forts.[4]

original.8504

Daguerreotype portrait of Archibald McDonald (1790-1853), Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Co. Source: Library and Archives Canada/MIKAN 3191585

The most negative descriptions of indigenous people took place following encounters where McDonald felt that he had been wronged. During violent encounters, he describes them as “bloodthirsty villains,”[5] and when important letters were delayed, he describes them as “unreliable.”[6] When he felt threatened by a passing tribe, McDonald described them as “wretched Indians.”[7] He also writes in his journal that he becomes uncomfortable when tribes camped too close to Fort Langley, because of their inherent proclivity towards “pilfering” and “unpleasant harshness.”[8] Like most European writers of the time, McDonald vaguely communicates ideas of racial superiority; but, for the most part, he is simply dismissive of the activities of the tribes in the area.

Largely, his concern was for trade, and indigenous people were simply useful members of the local economy. Within this context, McDonald’s views were quite innocuous; outside of the walls of Fort Langley his ideas of racial superiority were rather inconsequential since the Europeans, at the time, were at a disadvantage in terms of military might (the writings of McDonald acknowledge this).[9] It would not be until many years later that the ideas of racial superiority held by McDonald and others like him would result in grave consequences for indigenous people.

This is only a brief example of the vast amount of writings on the interaction of Scottish settlers with indigenous people which Archibald McDonald recorded. There is much that can be learned about the views of powerful men regarding their indigenous neighbours. However, it is important to keep in mind that men like McDonald were carefully regulating their words for the sake of their readers (often their employers). In other words, clear biases are revealed in both the positive and negative ways in which indigenous people are described within fur trade journals. More importantly, the views of ‘great men’ are not necessarily reflective of the ideas of the lower class Scottish workers in a place like Fort Langley. Those people may have held similar views to McDonald, but their views also might have been very different. Studying the writings of fur traders like McDonald is only a starting point. Only when historians integrate the oral history of the Indigenous people who encountered these early Scottish sojourners and settlers will we gain a fuller understanding of the history of early contact in British Columbia.

–Jacob Oosterhoff


Sources

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

McDonald, Archibald, “C: McDonald’s Report to the Governor and Council, 25 February 1830,” in The Fort Langley journals, 1827-30, ed. Wayne P. Suttles and Morag Maclachlan, 218-227. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998.

McDonald, Archibald, “Fort Langley, 1829-33,” in This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald’s letters from the Columbia, 1822-44, ed. Jean Murray Cole, 61-102. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2001.

McDonald, Archibald, “Journal Kept by Archibald McDonald, February-July 1830,” in The Fort Langley journals, 1827-30, ed. Wayne P. Suttles and Morag Maclachlan, 142-153. Vancouver: UBC Press 1998.

McDonald, Archibald. Peace River [microform] : a canoe voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific by the late Sir George Simpson (governor, Hon. Hudson’s Bay Company), in 1828 : journal of the late chief factor, Archibald McDonald (Hon. Hudson’s Bay Company), who accompanied him. Ottawa: J. Durie, 1872.

Notes

[1] Archibald McDonald, Peace River [microform] : a canoe voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific by the late Sir George Simpson (governor, Hon. Hudson’s Bay Company), in 1828 : journal of the late chief factor, Archibald McDonald (Hon. Hudson’s Bay Company), who accompanied him. (Ottawa: J. Durie, 1872), 2.

[2] See for example: Keith Thor Carlson, “Reflections on Indigenous History and Memory: Reconstructing and Reconsidering Contact,” in Myth and Memory: Stories of Indigenous-European Contact, ed. John Sutton Lutz (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007), 46–68 and Wendy C. Wickwire, “‘To See Ourselves as the Other’s Other’: Nlaka’pamux Contact Narratives,” Canadian Historical Review, LXXV, 1 (March 1994): 1-20.

[3] Archibald McDonald, “C: McDonald’s Report to the Governor and Council, 25 February 1830,” in The Fort Langley journals, 1827-30, ed. Wayne P. Suttles and Morag Maclachlan (Vancouver: UBC Press 1998), 219.

[4] Archibald McDonald, “Fort Langley, 1829-33,” in This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald’s letters from the Columbia, 1822-44, ed. Jean Murray Cole (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2001), 62.

[5] Ibid, 66.

[6] McDonald, “Fort Langley, 1829-33,” 74.

[7] Archibald McDonald, “Journal Kept by Archibald McDonald, February-July 1830,” in The Fort Langley journals, 1827-30, ed. Wayne P. Suttles and Morag Maclachlan (Vancouver: UBC Press 1998), 100.

[8] McDonald, “Journal Kept by Archibald McDonald, February-July 1830,” 99. Author’s emphasis.

[9] Archibald McDonald, “C: McDonald’s Report to the Governor and Council, 25 February 1830,” in The Fort Langley journals, 1827-30, ed. Wayne P. Suttles and Morag Maclachlan (Vancouver: UBC Press 1998), 219.

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A Pioneer in Education: British Columbia’s Agnes Deans Cameron

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Catherine Hogg is currently in her fourth year at Simon Fraser University, completing a joint-major in English and History. Born and raised in British Columbia, Catherine developed a keen interest in Canadian History in her senior years of high school, with a specific focus on her home province. While BC History is only one of a myriad of histories that have captured her interest, she hopes to continue exploring past narratives that unfolded on land she will always consider to be her home.

Agnes Deans Cameron was born in 1863 to Scottish parents in Victoria, British Columbia. Between her birth and her tragic death in 1912, Cameron led a whirlwind of a life. She excelled in school early on, completing the provincial teacher’s examinations at only 16 years old while still a student at Victoria High School. She began teaching thereafter, moving between schools on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, eventually becoming British Columbia’s first female principal at South Park School, in James Bay, Victoria, in 1894. Cameron was an opinionated and strong-willed woman and used her rising influence to argue publicly to support women’s suffrage and for a more liberal education curriculum for BC’s children. For example, she became infamous for posting the notice: “Irate parents will be received after 3:00pm” on the classroom door at the Hastings Mill School in Vancouver.[1] Finding herself in no less than three public scandals that put her teaching ability into question, Cameron was ultimately suspended from teaching.

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Portrait of Agnes Deans Cameron, ca. 1885 – Photo Courtesy of BC Archives – Item G-03578

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Cameron with students, ca. 1895 – Photo Courtesy of BC Archives – Item B-03487

However, Cameron left the BC education system undeterred. As she said in her own words, “[l]ike most over-sea girls, [I] was brought up to do something and to earn [my] own living.”[2] After helping pave the way for women entering into the then highly patriarchal world of education, she began an illustrious career in journalism. Always shrewd, Cameron noted that this career turn “offere[d] . . . a wider educational field than teaching,” although she admitted that her old life as a school teacher was “deeply interesting work.”[3] Nonetheless, she moved forward. She relocated to Chicago, as the city afforded her a convenient halfway point between her publishers in New York and the Canadian railway in Edmonton. It was here, while writing about Canada’s Wheat Belt for various American journals, that she conceived of the idea of a voyage that she deemed “the greatest trek the world has known.”[4] She decided that she would travel from Chicago to the Arctic Ocean to explore the lands that so fascinated her, as well as to encourage immigration to Canada, a cause she felt passionately about.

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“We Tell the Tale of a Whale.” Image of Agnes Deans Cameron [left] and her niece Jessie Cameron Brown [right], ca. 1908. Photo from Agnes Deans Cameron’s The New North.

Cameron partnered with the Hudson’s Bay Company, who she credits for the success of her journey, as they provided all the facilities she needed. She decided to bring her niece, Jessie Cameron Brown, as her companion and secretary. In the spring of 1908, with Cameron’s typewriter and Kodak camera in tow, they departed. They were the first white women to travel to the Arctic. Their 10,000 mile trek is described in great detail in Cameron’s best-selling book, The New North, which was first published in America in 1910 before being released in Canada. Her chronicles are fully illustrated with her own travel pictures, resulting in an invaluable historical resource.

Cameron’s book is, unsurprisingly, highly pedagogical. She recounts her tale through the lens of a teacher lecturing her students, although she is not shy in critiquing the education system. Though Cameron never questions her own racist views on “the Indians,” she rightfully implores that the (presumed to be white and middle-class) reader recognize that the “text-books [they have] been weaned on” are falsely depicting the Inuit peoples. In the section of her book entitled “Arctic Red River and its Eskimo,” Cameron succinctly begins the chapter by writing that the stereotypical “Eskimo” they expected to meet upon arrival was not to be found. She devotes the entire chapter to praising the Inuit peoples, and does so by derisively dragging down other Indigenous groups, highlighting her complex attitude towards Indigenous people. She claims that “[a]n Indian is always trying to impress you with his importance,” whereas the “Eskimo is a man who commands your respect the moment you look at him.”[5]

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Photo taken by Agnes Deans Cameron ca. 1908. Photo Courtesy of BC Archives – Item I-67668 – A view at the mouth of the Mackenzie River showing an Eskimo man with his topek, or hut; kyack, or small boat, and his oomiak, or his big boat.

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Photo Courtesy of UVic Archives’ Historical Photograph Collection – Item 168.0709 – Agnes Deans Cameron with B.C. Native Peoples. Ca. 1908.

The contradictory chapter concludes on an interesting note; after her glowing praise of the Inuit families she visited at the Arctic Red River, she reminds the reader that the “intrusion of the whites has changed the whole horizon [t]here,” and that their arrival is less “the coming of civilization” and more “the coming of commerce.”[6] She then moves on to specifically praise, quite unexpectedly, the educational lives of Inuit children. As a schoolteacher herself, and an austere one at that, it is noteworthy to read her claims that “the Eskimo children,” despite no access to Western concepts of education, “were better behaved, more independent, gentler, and in the literal sense of the word, more truly “educated” than many [white] children are.”[7] Cameron’s – arguably patronizing – view shows that she could never quite distance herself from her past as teacher, and could not help but posit the Inuit peoples proposed superiority in terms of education and learning.

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“The Missionary Hymnal for the Indians.” Image of a Cree translation of a Christian hymn, ca. 1908. Photo from Agnes Deans Cameron’s The New North.

After Cameron’s travels to the Arctic, she spent the rest of her life writing, traveling, and lecturing to sold-out auditoriums in Canada, the United States, and the UK. She avidly promoted Canada as a superb destination for immigrants, and in doing so became a part of Canada’s own growing national identity. A year after returning from her travels, she lectured to a full house in her hometown of Victoria on September 28, 1909. The event was reported on the following day in the Victoria Daily Colonist with high praise and admiration for the speaker, writing that Cameron was referred to by the evening’s presider as “a resident of Victoria . . . of whom the city should be proud.”[8] On October 12, 1911 the same paper noted her recent return to the city, and congratulated her on the “sterling work she ha[d] done in making Canada as it really is known to the world at large.”[9] Cameron was praised and revered for her academic research and lectures, and specifically commended for her contributions in helping create a Canadian identity. Her outspokenness and opinionated manner became an asset in her new career field, instead of the impediment it once was.

Agnes Deans Cameron was only 48 when she died tragically in Victoria in May of 1912 at the hands of a sudden bout of pneumonia after an operation. One can only imagine what more she may have achieved if her life had it not been cut short. It is clear from her writings and lectures, however, that she stayed true her roots in both the world of education and her home in British Columbia.

–Catherine Hogg

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Signed Portrait of Agnes Deans Cameron, ca. 1910. Photo Courtesy of BC Archives – Item G-04056


Sources

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

“Amusements: Miss Cameron.” Victoria Daily Colonist, December 10, 1911. Accessed November 9, 2017. http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist53681uvic#page/n15/mode/1up

Cameron, Agnes Deans. The New North. The Project Gutenberg, 2004. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12874/12874-h/12874-h.htm#img0054

“Chapter One: 1872 – 1890.” VSB Archives & Heritage. June 3, 2015. Accessed November 9, 2017. http://blogs.vsb.bc.ca/heritage/2015/06/03/chapter-one-1872-1889/

“Miss A. D. Cameron Lectures Before Full House at Victoria Theater.” Victoria Daily Colonist, September 29, 1909. Accessed November 9, 2017. https://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist19090929uvic/19090929#page/n1/mode/2up

“My Trek to the Arctic: A Chat With Miss Agnes Deans Cameron in M.A.P.” Victoria Daily Colonist, January 27, 1910. Accessed November 9, 2017. http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist19100227uvic/19100227#page/n29/mode/1up

Notes

[1] “Chapter One: 1872 – 1890,” VSB Archives & Heritage, http://blogs.vsb.bc.ca/heritage/2015/06/03/chapter-one-1872-1889/ This was the first school built in what is now Vancouver.

[2] “My Trek to the Arctic: A Chat With Miss Agnes Deans Cameron in M.A.P,” Victoria Daily Colonist, January 27, 1910.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Agnes Deans Cameron, A New North (The Project Gutenberg, 2004).

[6] Cameron, A New North.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Miss A. D. Cameron Lectures Before Full House at Victoria Theater.” Victoria Daily Colonist, September 29, 1909.

[9] “Amusements: Miss Cameron.” Victoria Daily Colonist, December 10, 1911.

 

“No Better Place in Which to Live”: John Booth — Landscape Gardener, Poet, Immigrant

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Introducing our first place winner for the 78th Fraser Highlanders Association of Vancouver prize for Scottish-Canadian History, Lydia Tang! Lydia is a student in her final year of study at Simon Fraser University, majoring in History with a minor in Political Science. Having lived in Vancouver all her life, she has always had a personal interest in the history of the Lower Mainland and BC. Through the opportunities provided by SFU through the co-op program and her school courses, Lydia has learned much on local history, and hopes to contribute to the study of BC through this post and future work.

Congratulations Lydia for a job well done!

John Booth lived in many places before New Westminster, but none captured his heart as much as the Royal City. A lifelong gardener and landscaper who quite literally left his mark on cities across British Columbia, John also wrote poetry, considering himself an “amateur poet” who just “writes as the spirit moves me.”[1] He expressed his love for his home through his poetry, with this civic fondness encapsulated in his affection for the dogwood flower.

Tang 1

John Booth attending a garden in Albert Crescent Park, New Westminster, with the Pattullo Bridge in the background, circa 1950s.

John was born in Marykirk, Scotland, on November 28, 1872 to Elspeth Leith and William Booth. He was born at the private estate of Inglismaldie Castle, where his mother was the business head and his father the head gardener. John attended school in Marykirk before going to a private estate near Montrose to complete a gardener’s apprenticeship, following in his father’s footsteps. Upon completion, he gardened at Moxhull Hall near Birmingham, England. While there, he received a letter from William, informing him that Elspeth was dying. John returned to work at Inglismaldie until her death in 1895.

Inglismaldie was often unoccupied due to its transient owner, Lord Algernon Keith-Falconer, 9th Earl of Kintore and Governor of South Australia (1889-1895), so it was rented out as a fishing and shooting lodge during the summer to wealthy tourists. In 1895, an English family from Alveston rented the estate, bringing with them the Quick family as staff in their employ. John got to know the family well, and married Rosina Quick in 1896. John and Rosina then traveled to Wantage, England where he worked as head gardener and Rosina gave birth to the first of their children.

The_castellated_and_domestic_architecture_of_Scotland,_from_the_twelfth_to_the_eighteenth_century_(1887)_(14782153405)

Drawing of Inglismaldie Castle – wikimedia commons

John and Rosina’s lives changed when Rosina’s father died suddenly. Rosina’s brothers and sister pleaded for the Booths to come to Canada, where they were farming in Manitoba. In 1900, John and Rosina decided to emigrate to Canada, living with Rosina’s sister before eventually taking up their own homestead nearby. After he left Scotland, John never saw or heard from his four siblings and father again.

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Rosina and John Booth, circa 1960.

Upon selling the homestead in Manitoba, the family moved to British Columbia to live in the towns of Wattsburg and Three Valley Gap along the CPR line as John worked on contract, living in Vancouver by 1907 and moving to Pitt Meadows in 1910. Eventually the family found a more permanent home in New Westminster, where John worked as head gardener at Woodlands Psychiatric Hospital for 20 years. As an employee of the BC Civil Service, he also worked at other Provincial mental hospitals.[2] Struggling with the monotony of that work, John resigned and worked in semi-retirement, building a garden rockery on Columbia St. in 1935, where patients from Woodlands worked as labourers. In 1938, John landscaped the areas around the Pattullo Bridge and Peace Arch Park for some time until he began working with the City of New Westminster in 1950. For four years, he landscaped the grounds of the Irving House Historic Centre, the Pioneer House, the No. 1 Fire Hall, and Vincent Massey Junior High School. He finally retired in 1954, with the grounds of the New Westminster City Hall as his last landscaping project. In retirement, John dedicated his time to civic and provincial events, continuing to help with annual May Day decorations and writing poetry.

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Copyright certificate for “My Home Town”, 1955.

In 1955, John wrote his most famous poem, “My Home Town”, praising New Westminster and the dogwood trees of the area. During this time, the Native Sons and Daughters of BC were campaigning for the designation of the dogwood as the province’s floral emblem. John strongly supported this, believing that the dogwood was appropriate because “anyone can grow them, rich and poor alike.”[3] “Strange thing about the dogwood,” John said in an interview, “is that the poorer the soil, the better it likes it.”[4] He hoped that his poem would encourage the BC government to adopt the flower as a provincial symbol.

 

Tang 4

“My Home Town” by John Booth, 1955.

“My Home Town” begins:

“There is a valley, ‘way out West,

Where grand old Fraser flows,

And there’s a city on a hill

Where white flowered Dogwood grows.

That’s my home town, that’s home sweet home,

The only place for me.

There’s where the Fraser wends its way

In silence, to the sea.”[5]

 

Tang 5

(L-R) Kathleen Dashwood Pearson (also known as Mrs. Ernest G. Pearson), John Booth, and Ethel Louise Homer, 1956

John was hesitant to show anyone the piece at first as he considered himself a hobbyist poet, but upon reading it, Kathleen Dashwood Pearson, appointed head of Post No. 4 of the Native Daughters, worked to put the words to song. Kathleen found local music teacher and composer Ethel Louise Homer. Kathleen, Ethel, and John and worked together to publish and copyright the song “My Home Town” in 1955.

After a copy was sent to Premier W.A.C. Bennett by the Native Daughters of BC, the Premier’s office replied in a 1956 letter with Bennett’s “sincere appreciation”—he was “particularly pleased to note that the dogwood, which is to be adopted … as the floral emblem of our wonderful Province, is not only mentioned in the song, but is very conspicuous in the cover design.”[6] In a letter to friends, John wrote, “After 42 years residence in New Westminster, I am convinced there is no better place in which to live. For that reason, I have been inspired to wax poetic in praise of little old New Westminster, and nature’s matchless gift to us of the glorious white flowered Dogwood.”[7] The dogwood was adopted as BC’s flower in 1956.

Cornus_nuttallii_08549

Pacific Dogwood Flower by Walter Siegmund – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1724799

In later life, John remained an active member of the community, being described at the age of 92 to be as “chipper as a man half his age”.[8] In his words, John said that it is “hanging on to the spirit of our pioneers that does the trick”, though “you’re as good as dead when you ignore the present.”[9] His wife Rosina passed away in 1962, and after living in New Westminster for 55 years, in BC for 61, and Canada for 68, John died on August 13, 1968 of old age in Saint Mary’s Hospital. He was survived by his 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren.

–Lydia Tang


Sources:

All images New Westminster Archives, “My Home Town” copyright campaign and John Booth fonds.

City of New Westminster. Community Heritage Commission. Minutes of Proceedings. 22 September 2016.

John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

“My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

Notes

[1] Forrest, Al. “Music Composed for Booth’s ‘My Home Town’ Poem Classic.”  John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[2] City of New Westminster. Community Heritage Commission. Minutes of Proceedings. 22 September 2016.

[3] Forrest, Al. “Music Composed for Booth’s ‘My Home Town’ Poem Classic.”  John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[6] R. B. Worley to Kathleen J. Watson, 6 February 1956. “My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[7] John Booth to Mr. and Mrs. Young, 14 March 1955. “My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[8] “Pioneer celebrates birthday.” John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[9] Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

“Gung Haggis Fat Choy”: The Evolution of Burns Suppers in Vancouver

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In honour of this being the month of Robbie Burns celebrations around the globe, we are pleased to introduce our second place winner in the 78th Fraser Highlanders prize for Scottish-Canadian history, Georgia Twiss! The competition was open to students of Dr. Katie McCullough’s BC history class in the Fall of 2017. Georgia is also the recent winner of the George Paris Award for Scottish History. This marks the first in a series of blogs written by students who chose to participate in the competition.

Georgia Twiss is a current Honours student in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the impact of the British Empire on the urban development of Glasgow, and the legacy of imperialism within Glaswegian heritage. As a descendant of Scottish immigrants to Canada she has attended Burns Suppers in both Canada and Scotland, and looks forward to attending a “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” celebration in the future.

By the mid-1890s in British Columbia, the celebration of Burns Suppers were widely held amongst the Scottish population of the province. In 1894, The Daily Telegram noted the celebration of ‘Bobby Burns’ by the Bobby Burns Club of Nanaimo in an invitation ball held at the Institute Hall.[1] In 1898, The Kaslo Morning News also noted the celebration of a Burns supper by local Scots in New Denver.[2] By 1903 the celebration of Burns in British Columbia was prominent enough for The Nakusp Ledge to declare, ‘As long as the Scotchman lives there will be Bobby Burns Suppers.’[3] When exactly the first Burns supper took place in Vancouver is unknown, but it can be presumed to be somewhere around this era.

Why celebrate Burns Supper’s in British Columbia? As a cultural icon, Burns embodies Scottish-ness. Therefore, the celebration of his life took on a dual meaning. It honoured the life and work of Burns, while also acting as a nostalgic link to home. In celebrating Burns, the Scots across the British Empire gathered in their new communities and commemorated their heritage through song, dance, food and poetry. The former British Prime Minister James Ramsay Macdonald summed up the important of Burns to the Scots in his assertion that, ‘In Burns there was that magic that made every Scotsman alive; that made him thrill with the consciousness of his nationality; and made him strong and powerful to do his duty in the world.’[4]

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“Crowds at the unveiling of the Burns Statue in Stanley Park, 1928.” Reid, A. Fraser. [Untitled]. Photograph. Vancouver, BC. 1928. From Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns. Accessed November 2, 2017. http://www.electricscotland.com/burns/vancouver_burns.pdf

Vancouver, unlike Nanaimo, did not have an official Burns Club until 1924. The establishment of the club arose from members of the city’s St Andrew’s and Caledonian Society, founded in 1886, who desired a space where “Burnsians” could celebrate and debate the work of ‘the immortal bard of Caledonia.’[5] The first meeting of the “Burns Fellowship” took place on February 20th 1924, led by Mr P. McAuslin Carrick.[6] This first meeting had an attendance of seventeen people, but by 1928 the club membership had risen to 175.[7] The popularity of the club resulted in the successful bid for an erection of a statue of Burns in Stanley Park. The five-thousand-dollar statue was unveiled on August 25th 1928, with Vancouver councilman Henry E. Almond proudly proclaiming, ‘I am satisfied this day will go down in Canadian history.’[8] The event was followed by the celebration of a Burns Supper.

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“The Burns Fellowship.” Steffens-Colmer. [Untitled]. Photograph. Vancouver, BC, 1924. From Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns. Accessed November 2, 2017. http://www.electricscotland.com/burns/vancouver_burns.pdf

Seventy-years after the unveiling of the statue of Burns in Stanley Park, Todd Wong held his own Burns Supper. Like the original meeting of the Burns Club, Wong’s dinner was attended by a small group of friends. Yet, unlike the traditional Scottish version of the event, Wong used his Burns Supper to honour the multi-culturalism of British Columbia. In representation of the two dominant immigrant cultures in British Columbia, he called the event “Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.”

As an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University in 1993, Wong was first introduced to the idea of the Burn’s supper. Wong recalls of his first Burns Supper, ‘I thought it was this weird ethnic tradition. They gave me a kilt to wear, the Fraser hunting tartan. And I was carrying the claymore. We walked around the cafeteria. There was a lonely piper. And the haggis tasted really weird.’[9] The experience stuck in Wong’s head in 1998 upon the realization that Robbie Burns Day and Chinese New Year happened to fall only two days apart he decided to combine the two events.

From the small supper held in his kitchen for a group of friends, Wong’s event has become the largest attended Burns Supper in Vancouver.[10] Around five-hundred people gather each year and take-part in the festivities. These include amongst other things, rap performances of Burns’ poetry and haggis won-ton. When asked if the movement away from the customary Burns Supper’s format caused any backlash amongst traditionalists Wong responded, ‘On the contrary. People say it’s more Canadian when you’re mixing things up.’[11]

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“Todd Wong and Mayor Gregor Robertson at a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner.” Tam, Patrick. Photograph. Vancouver, BC, 2014. Accessed on November 2, 2017. https://www.straight.com/food/809356/gung-haggis-fat-choy-rings-year-sheep

The celebration of “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” illustrates British Columbia’s multicultural experience in action. The ability of two cultures, who have a problematic historical relationship, to fuse together into a shared celebration is remarkable. Importantly, the event does not wash away the realities of the Chinese Head Tax or the mistreatment of Chinese workers in the construction of the Railroad. Rather, it presents a meeting point where resemblances between the two cultures are exposed. The shared love of New Year (Hogmanay to the Scots) and the importance of song and poetry within cultural celebrations are examples of similarities. In 2011, the event extended its celebration of multi-culturalism in British Columbia to include Indigenous traditions alongside those of the Chinese and Scottish. This special dinner was called “Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner.”[12]

From the “Bobby Burns Suppers” of the 1890s to “Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner,” the evolution of Burns suppers in Vancouver illustrates the growing acceptance of cultural diversity in the province. In a time where the current political climate is ripe with xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric events like this become increasingly significant. If Robbie Burns embodies what it means to be Scottish, then “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” embodies what it means to be a British Columbian.

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“Robbie Burns Statue in Stanley Park.” Lindsay, Jack. Vancouver, BC, 1940-48. Vancouver City Archives. Accessed on November 2, 2017. http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/robbie-burns-statue-in-stanley-park

When the Burns Club set out to erect a statue of Burns they ensured that its placement would allow the poet to look onto the city.[13] Once a year, from where he stands, Burns’ statue witnesses people of all different ethnic backgrounds come together and link hands to symbolize the unity of culture in British Columbia and the shared experience of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

Georgia Twiss


Sources

[1] “Wellington Items,” The Daily Telegram (Nanaimo, BC) January 24, 1894.

[2] “Local Brevities,” The Kaslo Morning News (Kaslo, BC) January 21, 1903.

[3] “Bobby Burns Supper,” The Nakusp Ledge (New Denver, BC) January 29, 1903.

[4] James Ramsay Macdonald quoted in: Vancouver Burns Fellowship, Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns (Vancouver, 1928) p. 28.

[5] Ibid., p. 7.

[6] Ibid., p. 8.

[7] Ibid., p. 11.

[8] Ibid., 41.

[9] Todd Wong quoted in: Sarah Hampson’s, “Haggis Wontons? Robbie Burns Night meets Chinese New Year,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ont.), January 16, 2012.

[10]Hampson, “Haggis Wontons?”

[11] Todd Wong quoted in: “Haggis Wontons?”.

[12] Hampson, “Haggis Wontons?”.

[13] Vancouver Burns Fellowship, Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns, p. 22.

 

Experiences of an SFU Grad Student: Why Study Scottish history?

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Grant Alexander Gillies is an MA student in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Grant is the current recipient of the David & Mary Macaree Graduate Fellowship.

When I tell people that I am writing a thesis on the history of “Scotland’s first nuclear station” they often respond with a variation to one simple question: why? Why, in a land of whisky and golf, Jacobite rebels, and Celtic folklore, would you want to study the history of nuclear Scotland? The answer to this question is complex.  Believe it or not, not all graduate students enter their various institutions and programs of study with a clear project or thesis in view. With this post, I hope to not only answer the question, ‘why?’, but speak to some of my own experiences as a graduate student studying Scottish history at Simon Fraser University, which have led to the evolution and development of my project.

While writing a thesis on the history of the Chapelcross nuclear power station was not the prime directive for my undertaking a Master’s degree at SFU, the choice to study Scottish history was.  My original plan was to write a thesis which aimed to explore systems of agricultural production and the cash nexus used under agrarian capitalism in the last quarter of the 18th to the mid- 19th century in Scotland. This very vague thread led me to a moment in Scottish history known as the Highland Clearances, a phase of intense land restructuring that occurred from ca. 1770-1850s, in which a significant number of tenants in the Highlands and Islands were evicted from their homes to make way for increased livestock rearing.  With a time, place, event, and a general theme narrowed down, I felt optimistic about a tenable project to complete for my MA.

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The Ewart Public Library, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies

However, as many Scottish history buffs already know, the clearances are a well studied period in Scottish history. Admittedly, my encounter with the secondary literature on the topic squashed my initial ambition to undertake it as a topic for my own MA thesis. Instead, I conferred with my supervisors over the decision to take on a project that would be more investigative, thereby reigniting that flame of passion, or at least that sense of discovery I wanted from an MA thesis.

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The Decommissioned Chapelcross Works nuclear power station, Annan, Scotland. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies.

The decision to change my research to the history of Scotland’s first nuclear power station was ultimately inspired by one book: Kate Brown’s, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, And the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, an investigative, transnational, historical study which examined workers’ experiences and managing practices in the Handford plutonium plant near Richland, Washington, and the Maiak plant next to Ozersk in the USSR.   Brown argues that in order to entice workers and their families to agree to the risks and sacrifices involved in plutonium production, American and Soviet nuclear leaders created something new: ‘plutopia’, or amply subsidized communities with visions of middle class prosperity.[1]

I wanted to know more about how these American inspired nuclear villages, that as Brown explains, were strictly monitored and segregated into nuclear and non-nuclear zones in which plant managers were free to run up budgets, embezzle, conceal accidents, and pollute. Taking Brown’s work as a model for my own work, I set out to investigate the history of a Scottish nuclear town.

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“The Opening of Scotland’s First Nuclear Station,” The Annandale Observer, May 2, 1959. Ewart Public Library, Dumfries and Galloway.

With some quick research, I learned that in the late 20th Century there were 15 nuclear stations in operation in the United Kingdom, 4 of which were located in Scotland. The first in Scotland was the Chapelcross Works nuclear power station, which opened in 1959.  Located 3km north-east of Annan in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, Chapelcross’ primary purpose was to produce weapons grade plutonium for the UK nuclear programme, but it also generated electricity for the national grid.  Despite my minor set-back early in the program, this early discovery sparked an entirely new thesis project.

One of the most important parts of the research was to spend as much time in the street talking with people in the town about the station as I did in the judicial and national archives. Before I left for Scotland, I posted an advertisement in The Annandale Observer asking if people were willing to answer a few questions about their memories or experiences with Chapelcross.  Unfortunately, the response was not as I hoped, and I began my research primarily in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Ewart Public Library in Dumfries and Galloway.

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The National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2016. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies

However, my time spent in the archives proved imperative as I dug through over a thousand recently declassified government files pertaining to policies over the authorizations for the disposal of radioactive waste, and letters, correspondence, and meeting minutes between local liaison committees, the Scottish Office, and managers for the station.  Moreover, as locals seemed to be more interested in discussing local landmarks and Robbie Burns, who, as anyone whose visited Dumfries knows, spent his last years of his life writing in a house near the River Nith, I spent many days sifting through old newspapers on a micro-fiche reader that was less than forgiving to use.  It was an experience I think all historians in training can relate with in some way. What might seem as banal or boring work in the archives turned out to be one of the more exhilarating parts of the entire trip.

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Playing around in the Devils Porridge Museum, Eastriggs, Scotland. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies.

This is not to say that my time in the archives outweighed my persistence to get out into the street and speak to members of the community.  I spent many days biking to the station and snapping photos, siting in cafes and pubs asking people what, if anything, they remembered about the station, and visiting the local war museums such as The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs. It was there that I met Edwin Rutherford, a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool who also works for the museum, who is starting an oral history project for the Chapelcross station.  Unfortunately, his luck was as good as mine at the time, and I was forced to be more creative with strategies for finding sources.

Eventually my patience payed off as mid-way into my research trip I received word that the Dumfries and Galloway Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (D&G CND) were holding a demonstration in the Dumfries town centre.  Due to this wonderful stroke of luck, I was able to set up an interview with a man and his brother-in law, both of whose fathers worked at the station. While a few interviews with long time members of the D&G CND fell through, I was lucky to have the time I had to learn a bit more about people’s reactions to the station.

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Photo of the Dumfries and Galloway Campaign for Nuclear Armament Demonstration, Dumfries, Scotland. Photo Credit; Grant Gillies.

Of course, all this would not have been possible without the gracious support from the History Department at SFU, and the Centre for Scottish Studies at SFU and its various supporters.  Currently, I am drafting my thesis which I plan to defend by the end of the summer. What I’ve discovered is that there is not a single history to this station. The Scottish people that worked and lived alongside the station were not only pioneers of a new technology, developing safety standards and protocols for the industry, but also grassroots activists, raising awareness to some of the risks and moral dilemmas which came with the use of nuclear technology for military and commercial purposes.  While there is no single reason as to why I chose this topic, it is clear to me now that the story of the Chapelcross Works nuclear power station deserves its place within the annals of Scottish history, and I was more than happy to be a part of this process.

–Grant Gillies


Sources:

[1] Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, (Oxford University Press: 2013) pp. 3.

Henry Ogle Bell-Irving: ‘Dean of the West Coast Salmon Fishing Industry’, 1856-1931

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This week’s blog comes to us from Ray Eagle, FSA. Scot. Ray is the author of many articles on the topic of the Highlands and the military. He is also the author of In the Service of the Crown – the Story of Budge and Nancy Bell-Irving (Golden Dog Press, 1998). This blog is in honour of the Seaforth Highlanders Highland Homecoming, a celebration of the regiment’s return to the Seaforth Armory on September 24, 2016.

Henry Ogle Bell-Irving (1856-1931) and his siblings came from a wealthy, but later impoverished, family whose estate, Milkbank, was near Lockerbie in the Scottish Borders. A financial catastrophe bankrupted their father when a fire destroyed the warehouse on his West Indian plantation and with it his fortune.  In spite of his father’s financial catastrophe putting his family at risk, H.O. (as he became known) was able to establish himself in one of British Columbia’s early major industries, leading to him earning the title ‘Dean of the West Coast Salmon Industry.’

Soon after the fire, H.O’s father died and his young widow Williamina, mother of seven children, faced reduced finances. She took the family to Germany where the cost of living was cheaper, and H.O. eventually enrolled at Karlsruhe University where he received a degree in civil engineering.

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H.O. Bell Irving (courtesy the author)

H.O. arrived in Canada in 1882. Like many young men, in order to make his fortune he joined the Canadian Pacific Railway as a surveyor, progressing westward as it was built.  He was an accomplished water-colour artist and his paintings of the Canadian wilderness are housed in the British Columbia Provincial Archives in Victoria. They were painted under the most primitive conditions, but have survived well.

H.O. left the railway and reached Vancouver in October 1885 where, with his drive and energy, he saw enormous possibilities; at first working as an architect ,and later as a land developer in the growing province. In 1886 H.O. returned to Britain to marry Marie Isabel del Carmen Beattie (Bella), daughter of a wealthy Torquay, Devonshire family. She was not at first taken with a city she considered to be primitive, and it is to her credit that she stayed and became a tower of strength to her husband, despite increasing ill-health. H.O. began looking for more business opportunities and the following year he chartered the 879 ton sailing ship Titania to bring a mixed cargo from London to Vancouver.

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Courtesy BC Archives

In these years, the principal industries in British Columbia were fishing and forestry. Salmon runs were on every river from Oregon to Alaska and H.O. organized a return shipment of sockeye to Britain. He was certain that he could excite business people there to B.C.’s investment opportunities. On April 14, 1891 he issued a prospectus and by the end of the year he had raised £200,000 capital and formed the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company (A.B.C.), acquiring options on nine canneries; seven on the Fraser River, and two on the Skeena River. Ever the astute businessman, H.O. established the head office of the A.B.C. in London while he formed H. Bell-Irving and Co. Ltd. to become the selling agent on the west coast. Instead of taking a salary from the A.B.C., H.O. drew large commissions from international fish sales. The A.B.C., eventually became one of the largest salmon packing enterprises on the west coast, shipping salmon to Britain, France, China, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

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H.O. and Bella Bell-Irving about the time of their marriage (courtesy of the author)

In 1887 H.O. and Bella began to raise a family. In spite of a list of ailments, which included arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, and neuritis, she gave birth to ten children, four girls, and six boys. The first born boy was christened Henry, the third in as many generations and a family tradition for the first-born boy.

H.O. took a great interest in community affairs in the rapidly growing city of Vancouver. He became an Alderman, chairing the Board of Works, and was also President of the Vancouver Board of Trade. In November 1910, together with other expatriate Scots, H.O. helped to found the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

It was inevitable that a man with such energy would upset a few of his fellow citizens and this occurred with the Seaforth’s foundation. One of the founders, Pipe-Major Hector MacKenzie, was interviewed by Major J. Matthews, Vancouver’s first city archivist. Mackenzie told him: “At a meeting to discuss outfitting the regiment, Henry Bell-Irving – you know how important he thought himself – took it upon himself, much to the disgust of many, to steal the whole show and just rode right over  everybody. He was very domineering!”

Since then, the Bell-Irvings have played a vital role in the regiment. When WWI began in 1914 all six boys joined the armed forces. Henry, the eldest into the navy; Richard, Malcolm and Duncan earned their wings in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, while Roderick and Aeneas went into the army. Roderick, the only one who remained in a Highland regiment throughout the war, was killed in action in the last few weeks of hostilities. Malcolm and Duncan were both wounded in flying combat and later in flying accidents. Between them, Henry, Roderick, Malcolm, and Duncan won nine bravery decorations.

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H.O with his sons in WWI. L-R at the back: Malcolm, Aeneas, Roderick, Duncan. L-R at the front: Dick, H.O., Henry (courtesy of the author)

H.O. continued to mastermind his fishing company and it weathered many critical times, but it paid handsome dividends during most years. Despite increasing age H.O. was reluctant to give up the reins to his sons, preferring to make all decisions himself, which did not sit well with the more ambitious ones. It was a shock to many  when, at age 75, H.O. became ill with cancer and died in February 1931. He remained active
almost to the end and was skating in Switzerland just weeks before he died.

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H.O.’s grandson Brigadier the Hon. H.P. (Budge) Bell-Irving and his father Henry outside Buckingham Palace in WWII when Budge received a bar to his Distinguished Service Order (courtesy the author)

In WWII three of H.O.’s sons, Henry, Duncan, and Aeneas rejoined the armed forces, one in each of the three services. The most celebrated of the next generation was Brigadier the Hon. Henry Pybus (Budge) Bell-Irving. Budge commanded the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in Italy and Northern Europe, winning a D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) and bar before taking over a Brigade in the final months of the European Campaign. After the war, Budge established a real-estate company, followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as President of the Vancouver Board of Trade, and, from 1978 to 1983, served as B.C.’s 23rd Lieutenant-Governor. Budge’s son, Roderick, also commanded the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, the third Bell-Irving to command the regiment.

Ray Eagle

Sources:

The Vancouver City Archives

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Museum and Archives

The author would also like to thank the Bell-Irving family for providing access to all relevant papers and images.

Lowland Tycoon: Hugh Galbraith’s Story of Success in the West

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This week’s post comes from Alex Anderson. Alex is a second generation Scottish-Canadian currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with a major in History at Simon Fraser University. Growing up with a Scottish father and grandparents, he has always been interested in Scottish culture from a young age. Alex is deeply interested in how Scottish culture has impacted the development of British Columbia, and is looking forward to exploring their rich history in his remaining years at Simon Fraser University.

The rain soaked forests and valleys of British Columbia have been a popular destination for settlers since the demand for valuable furs drove traders west in significant numbers to the Pacific Ocean in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1857 the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush ushered in thousands of Americans hoping to make their fortunes, and the need to control the masses of foreign prospectors urged the creation of the colony of British Columbia in 1858 (the colony of Vancouver Island was created in 1849). The Scottish, a statistical minority in both Great Britain and Canada, dominated the economy and political scene in British Columbia to an unprecedented degree. Thousands settled across British Columbia following the Province’s creation, and the city of New Westminster, stands as a testament to the many thousands who made the journey west both across Canada and by ship. Founded with the purpose of creating a new capital for British Columbia, New Westminster was home to a large contingent of Scottish settlers and was only surpassed by Vancouver in population in the beginning of the twentieth century.

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Early view of New Westminster, 1862-1866, Item IHP0618, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

One Scottish family in particular has cast a long shadow over New Westminster since the 1890s. Born in West Kilbride, Ayrshire in 1832, Hugh Galbraith moved with his parents to New Brunswick during his early childhood.[1] Canada was a popular destination for Scots in this period. Its inexpensive land, growing industry, and the chance for a new start were too good to pass up for many back in Scotland. It is unknown at exactly what age his parents made the trip across the Atlantic, however it’s clear that he spent his formative years in New Brunswick learning to become a carpenter. He married Jane Lindsay in Beldune who gave birth to Margaret, James Lindsay, John Holmes, David Stuart, William Sutherland, Robert Chalmers, Charles, and Hubert over a 19 year period.[2] Aged 42, in 1884 Hugh took his wife and 8 children across the Northern Pacific Railroad to Portland, Oregon. This route would have been typical for the time, as the Canadian Pacific Railroad had yet to be completed. He then sailed to New Westminster and moved in to their new home, a small house on what is now called Eighth street.

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Galbraith Files, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

Galbraith began his career in New Westminster working as a factory hand with three of his sons at the Royal City Planing Mills. Skilled and ambitious, and after a period of 7 years Galbraith could afford to open his own carpentry business in 1891 which he named Galbraith and Sons. His company produced a variety of finished woods including cedar, spruce, and hemlock, as well as being suppliers of sash and door material.[1] Galbraith and Sons met with glowing reviews from clients, and his work was considered to be very high quality. Galbraith profited hugely and managed to open his own mill along with a factory on 10th street, firmly making himself the latest in a long line of successful Scottish industrialists.[2]

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Galbraith Files, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

Despite his modest working class background, Hugh Galbraith was able to become a preeminent force in the economy of New Westminster at the time, a tale of success which mirrors many other notable Scots in British Columbia, such as Governor James Douglas. Galbraith and Sons was by no means running on Hugh’s efforts alone, however. According to a news report, a directory listing from 1909 shows that Hugh, John, William, Charles, and James were all involved in the running of the business, with different family members active across the various sites which they collectively owned. [3] Close family ties proved to be an invaluable tool for the Galbraith family, a common occurrence among Scottish families involved in business. Members of the family were also active in the local lacrosse community.[4]

A fire would be the end of Galbraith and Sons, burning down their factory in 1932.[1] This was followed by a loss of another one of their factories in Queensborough, effectively ending the company.[2] Though the company has long since been defunct, an enduring testament to the Galbraith family’s legacy is found in the famous Galbraith Manor, situated at 131 Eighth Street in New Westminster. Galbraith Manor was built in 1892 shortly after the opening of the family business.[3] It was intended as a showpiece house that would display their company’s quality design techniques and wood finishing. It has been renovated since this time; however, the original furnishing and style is maintained by the city of New Westminster. Its impressive architecture is unique to its time, and it currently stands as a notable example of New Westminster’s many beautiful old homes.

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131 8th Street File, Building Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

The legacy left by pioneering early Scottish immigrants such as Hugh Galbraith can still be felt alive and well across British Columbia. Many Scottish social and cultural groups are still active, and Scots and their descendants continue to play a large role in politics. One thing is for certain, that the Scottish story in British Columbia has only just begun.

Alex Anderson

Bibliography

[1] Document, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[2] Ibid

[3] Article, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[1] Archie Miller, “Our Forgotten Past.” Royal City Record, April 5, 1986

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Newspaper Clipping, September 21st 1949, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[1] Article, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[2] Ibid

The Lady Aberdeen Scottish Country Dance Club: Dancing and Philanthropy

This week’s blog comes to us from local historian of Scottish Country Dancing in Vancouver, Rosemary Coupe. Rosemary is an active Scottish country dancer and the author of Scottish Country Dancing in Vancouver: A History (Printed by Minuteman Press, Burnaby 2016).

Another blog featuring Lady Aberdeen appeared last October by Professor Marjory Harper of the University of Aberdeen: ‘Pleasure and Pain in the Okanagan Valley: The Adventures of Lord and Lady Aberdeen.’

In both Scotland and Vancouver, energetic women led the early twentieth-century revival of Scottish country dancing [SCD]. Ysobel Stewart and Jean Milligan founded the Scottish Country Dance Society [SCDS] in 1923. Only seven years later, in 1930, Ella Bingham (a recent immigrant from Glasgow) brought this traditional form of social dance to Vancouver, and in fact to Canada. Ella organized public performances and started dance groups throughout the city, traveling throughout the city by electric streetcar to teach them. The first books published by Miss Milligan and Mrs. Stewart drew on the repertoire of nineteenth-century dancing masters in Scotland, and Mrs. Bingham introduced the dances systematically through demonstrations which she insisted should be “perfect.”

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Ella Bingham (Photo courtesy of Vancouver City Archives)

One of these Vancouver groups eventually became the longest-running SCD group in Canada. It stemmed from another of Mrs. Bingham’s passions: the Vancouver Council of Women, a confederation of women’s groups which discussed social and political issues. Mrs. Bingham served as president of the council in 1938-39, years during which the council, among other things, passed resolutions urging the establishment of vocational training schools, a cancer clinic, and a degree-granting school of home economics at UBC. Early in 1938, possibly at Mrs. Bingham’s instigation, the Recreation Committee of the Council of Women started its own SCD class. In May 1938, when the Vancouver Council organized the National Council of Women convention at the Hotel Vancouver, Mrs. Bingham seized the opportunity for publicity, arranging a dance demonstration at the reception. Attendees also listened to a broadcast message from Lady Aberdeen, who, as wife of the Governor-General, had founded the National Council of Women.

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Lady Aberdeen at Rideau Hall with members of the National Council of Women, 1890s

By 1939 the dance group had become so well established that it became independent of the council. It held its first Tea Dance at the Hotel Georgia on 22 April 1939. A few days later, the death of Lady Aberdeen was announced from Scotland, and so the newly-fledged dance group was named as a tribute from one energetic and practical social activist to another.

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Lady Aberdeen group with Mrs. Bingham (centre, dark skirt), and former Presidents Nellie [Forbes] McKenzie (to L of Mrs. Bingham) and Anne Brakenridge (extreme R)

The Lady Aberdeen Scottish Country Dance Club held classes continuously from 1938 to 2010. The group was at first intentionally all-female, and this may have helped SCD in Vancouver survive the dearth of men during World War II. Through the 1950s, the club held Tuesday classes at the Moose Hall on Howe Street. It also sponsored two annual events: a Christmas dance and an Armistice Day Tea Dance, an event which still continues every November 11.

1942 Tea Dance.jpg True to their name, group members followed a tradition of philanthropy. Following World War II, they supported veterans: the proceeds of their open party in 1956, for example, enabled them to donate a ninth wheel chair to Shaughnessy Hospital, and in 1957 their Tea Dance proceeds brought four table radios for the Hospital. Later, however, they supported a broader range of social causes, including “the Poppy Fund, the Salvation Army, rape relief and women’s shelters, cystic fibrosis, leukemia research, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation” (Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun 10 November 2010). Such causes reflected the mission of the Council of Women and the humanitarian concern of Lady Aberdeen herself.

By 1960, the club had 36 members. Mrs. Bingham was succeeded as president by Mrs. Anne Brakenridge, then in 1963 Mrs. Nellie Forbes (later McKenzie) followed. Nellie Forbes was a woman of great vivacity who continued to dance into her 90s; she also taught the Lady Aberdeen class and chaired the Provincial Executive Committee of the SCDS from 1957 to 1961. Her daughter Pat was also a dancer. In 1984, the club had 43 active members taught by Eileen Bennett, who was succeeded by her husband Ken.

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Lady Aberdeen Tea Dance, 11 November 2015 (Photo by Kerry McDevitt)

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Men’s Reel of the 51st Division, Lady Aberdeen Tea Dance, 11 November 1997

While the Lady Aberdeen Club ceased its classes in 2010, the annual Armistice Day Tea Dance tradition continues, with proceeds continuing to be donated to charity and sponsorship rotating among different Vancouver dance groups. The stress is on continuity: favourite dances reappear on programs from year to year. One frequent dance is Nellie McKenzie’s Jig, devised by Ken Bennett. The high point of every program is The Reel of the 51st Division with its formations bravely representing the Saltire. To commemorate its devising by Scottish prisoners of war in occupied France, it is danced by men only before the assembled crowd joins in.

The dancing starts at 1 pm every November 11 at the Scottish Cultural Centre, 8886 Hudson Street. All are welcome. Tickets are $10.

 Rosemary Coupe

Sources

Mellish, Doris. Vancouver’s Women 1894 to 1986: Based on a Brief History of the Vancouver Council of Women. Vancouver: Council of Women, 1986.

Provincial Executive Committee, Scottish Country Dance Society of BC. Minutes, 1954–64.

Vancouver Branch of the Scottish Country Dance Society of BC. Minutes, 1930–41.

Vancouver Council of Women Fonds. UBC Rare Books and Special Collections.

Vancouver Branch RSCDS. Archival scrapbooks.

Vancouver Branch RSCDS. Newsletter, 1965 to present (became The White Cockade in 1996).