“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.

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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.

 

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“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]

 

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(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.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a Name? The Evolution of Joan Peebles

This week’s blog comes to us from Kendra Lennie. Kendra is a Vancouverite and cannot remember a time when she was not fascinated with the past, from obsessing about medieval Britain to prehistoric fossils and dinosaurs. Kendra was exposed to Scottish culture at a young age through her grandparents who emigrated from Scotland to Vancouver in the 50s. She is currently finishing a bachelors of science (in evolutionary biology and ecology) with a minor in history at Simon Fraser University.
This blog was the result of research undertaken for History 448 ‘Scots in North America’.

Angusta Peebles Jr. was a woman of many names. Born to Scottish immigrants, Angusta and Peter Peebles on January 8, 1899 in New Westminster, she was known to her close friends as ‘Brownie’. She graduated from the provincial normal school in Vancouver BC, and at the age of 15 was offered her first scholarship when her vocal ability was recognized at a church carol service. Recognition of her talent did not end there. In 1923 she won the Hudson’s Bay Company’s gold medal at the first British Columbia Music Festival, and from there her career took off.  Throughout her life Brownie made many decisions that not only appeared for the benefit of her career but also expose her as a modern woman. She never appeared to let fame go to her head, and always maintained a connection with her local community and Scottish heritage.

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“Brownie Peebles as a young woman,” item IHP14335-013.

Once it became apparent that Brownie was destined for success she decided to take a stage name. The story goes that her stage name Joan was inspired by the medieval heroine Joan of Arc, a highly intelligent and independent woman. Brownie spent time studying in Chicago as recipient of the Florence Hinkle Voice Scholarship. During her schooling in Chicago she maintained a constant correspondence with her father, receiving letters from him almost daily throughout the summer of 1923.  After Chicago she was awarded another Scholarship, this time from the Eastman school of Music in New York.  While at Eastman she met a young vocalist from Pennsylvania named Norman Oberg. The two married, but this in no way impeded Brownie’s career. She graduated from the Eastman School of music in 1927, a mezzo-contralto capable of operatic performances as well as singing independently in concert.

 

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Carmen costume with New York Metropolitan Opera “Double Portrait of Brownie Peebles,” item IHP14335-022.

Between 1927 and 1929 Brownie performed throughout Canada and the United States, both operatically and in smaller concerts. On July 16, 1929 the first concert was held in Norton Hall in Chautauqua, New York, and Brownie was there. She continued to sing at Norton Hall for 15 seasons. Throughout her career she worked with symphony orchestras and opera companies in New Westminster, Boston, New York, Toronto, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Brownie maintained the connection to her Scottish heritage in her song choices for her independent concerts, many of which included Scottish and Hebridean folk music. She also participated for three seasons in the Banff and Lake Louise Scottish Music festivals. She was renowned for her portrayal of the lead role in Carmen, and Brownie was reputedly the first woman to play her as a clever intellectual woman rather than a feeble-minded gypsy girl. Before retiring Brownie made recordings for the Radio Corporation of America of the music in Carmen, but in no way did this signify the end of her involvement in the musical community.

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“Brownie Peebles carrying a basket,” item IHP14335-009

At the outbreak of the second world war Norman Oberg was called back to work in a factory in Pennsylvania, and in 1942 Brownie retired from opera and joined him. Norman rose to be a manager for the steel corporation he worked for, and he and Brownie remained in Pennsylvania until his death. Not content to be idle in her retirement, Brownie taught piano and vocal lessons in Pennsylvania for over 30 years. As well as teaching young people with talent, Brownie recognized the benefits of speech therapy and helped children and youth with speech impediments such as muscular dystrophy. While in Pennsylvania she maintained correspondence with her sister Jane Murie, who, upon her death, left the vast majority of her wealth and estate to Brownie. Many of the letters mention how dear a sister Brownie was and how entertaining Jane Murie found her letters. Brownie appeared to be a kind and witty individual who helped people find their voices both figuratively and literally.

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“Brownie Peebles dressed as a fairy,” item IHP14335-036.

During her life Brownie came into contact with some of the most distinguished individuals of the time both in music and in general. One newspaper article recounts a story of Miss Peebles singing for her friend Mrs Thomas Edison at her bird, tree, and garden club. Brownie’s humor comes through as she adds details about another visit to the Edison household involving her sitting on the arm of the chair while singing directly into the ears of “the great Edison” himself due to his deafness.

Not only was Brownie a local opera star, she gained fame and reputation throughout Canada and the United States for her singing and acting abilities. She was a woman who knew that women as a group were not feeble, and many who were viewed as feeble simply needed to learn to use their voice. In 1974 Joan (Angusta) “Brownie” Peebles moved back to her hometown of New Westminster. She Died at Royal Columbian Hospital in 1991 at the age of 92.

Kendra Lennie

Sources:

New Westminster Archives, Peebles family Fonds, IH 2007.151 C.2, “personal papers.”

All images New Westminster Archives, Peebles Family Fonds.

 

Developing a City: Scots Kinship in Nineteenth Century Victoria

This week’s blog post comes from Theresa Mackay. Theresa is a second generation Scottish-Canadian currently completing her Master of Letters in Scottish history through the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland. She is Associate Faculty at Royal Roads University, Executive Director of the BC Museums Association, and runs Larchgrove Marketing Group, a tourism consulting company for projects with Scotland in their soul.

Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the city now known as Victoria, British Columbia, saw permanent settlement of Scots as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Founded as a trading post and fort location for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1843, Scottish settlers were drawn to the location by promises of HBC employment and land ownership. Hailing from cities such as Inverness and Edinburgh, and departing from HBC recruitment centres such as the Orkneys and the Hebrides, Scots emigrated to Victoria; some for adventure and others in search of a better life.

By 1858, seven years after HBC Chief Factor and son of a Glasgow merchant, James Douglas, had established himself as the first Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, five hundred Scots and Europeans lived on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish First Nations. The main surge in emigrants to Victoria came that year with thousands of various ethnicities arriving to seek their fortunes, driven by rumours of gold on the mainland of the colony of British Columbia. In six weeks, 225 buildings were constructed in Victoria, including hotels, saloons and retailers, in order to service the transient gold-seekers stopping for supplies; the settlement’s population quickly ballooned and the landscape responded. [1]

Sir_James_Douglas

Sir James Douglas, the son of a Glasgow merchant.

Although one of the smaller ethnic groups, Scots in Victoria were a force in local politics, community leadership, and business. In addition to Governor Douglas and the preponderance of Scots-born HBC workers, many Scottish emigrants such as Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, Robert Rithet, and Roderick Finlayson held influential, high-profile positions. Victoria was on its way to becoming a city led by Scots and with this came the founding of Scottish associations, clubs, and societies for the purpose of assisting Scots immigrants and connecting with others from their culture, mainly through dinners, celebrations, and sporting events.

The St. Andrew’s Benevolent Society (SABS) was just such an association. It was founded in early 1860 and later that year it organized a St. Andrew’s dinner for 120 people at the Colonial Restaurant on the east side of Government Street. With many distinguished guests in attendance, including Governor Douglas as the SABS Honorary President, it was touted as the “largest public dinner ever given in the Colony.” The event went long into the night with more than 24 toasts, including one to “The Ladies” responded to by “Mr. Pendergast,” suggesting that women were not in attendance as honoured guests, or at least not invited to speak. [2]

Fort_Victoria_watercolour

Watercolour painting depicting Fort Victoria, 1860. Title: S.W. Bastion of the Fort with 12 Nine-Pound Guns No. 3 by Sarah Crease (1826-1922)

Three years later, the Caledonian Highland Society of Scotland was the model for the formation of the Caledonian Benevolent Association (CBA) and within six years their Annual Dinner celebrating Robert Burns was “the largest in the Colony” with “their banquets [being] noted for the harmony and good taste which invariably prevail.”[3]

In addition to the socialization of Scots through events, the purpose of both the SABS and the CBA was a charitable one aimed at supporting Scottish immigrants, suggesting that members desired a strong and healthy Scots community in Victoria. Similar mandates caused the two groups to merge in early 1870, forming the St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society (SACS). Later that year they held a St. Andrew’s dinner at the Oriental Restaurant on Yates Street. Tickets were three dollars each. [4]

CBA Burns Dinner

The Caledonian Benevolent Association began holding annual “Burns’ Anniversary” dinners in Victoria in 1864. Source: Daily Colonist newspaper 1865-01-21.

By the time Vancouver Island joined Mainland British Columbia in 1866 and the province joined Confederation in 1871, the resident population of Victoria – now the capital city – had swelled to 3,270 [5]. Colonial society was in full swing with residents, regardless of ethnicity, enjoying outings organized by the SACS, including the “annual gathering” at the Caledonian Grounds on Cook Street, with foot races, dancing competitions, and a “grand lottery” for ladies only. [6]

In 1889, the Sir William Wallace Society (SWWS) formed and added to the city’s social calendar, focusing on organizing parties and sports gatherings such as Hogmanay celebrations and Highland Games. Its original membership numbered more than fifty, suggesting that some SACS members may have belonged to more than one Scots association in the city. [7]

SWWS Halloween Dance

The Sir William Wallace Society organized parties such as the “Grand Halloween Concert and Dance” in 1891. Source: Daily Colonist newspaper 1891-10-28.

By 1891, with a population more than five times that of twenty years earlier, those born in England and China outnumbered those born in Scotland, and immigrants with Scottish-born mothers and/or fathers were significantly less than England-born.[8] These numbers suggest that those who identified as Scottish were a smaller ethnic group and as a result may have felt the need to exert their Scottishness through organized ethic associations in a way that made other cultures aware of their existence and their difference.

The SWWS responded in August of that year by joining forces with the BC Scottish Pipers’ Association to organize the “Grand Gathering and Games” with a variety of contests including “Best Dressed Highlander in Full Highland Costume.” [9] This and other public expressions of Scottish ethnicity combined with the prominence of Scots leadership in Victoria suggests that Scots felt vindicated in proudly displaying their culture.

Victoria_from_cathedral_tower,_BC,_1897

Victoria inner harbour in 1897 said to be taken from “cathedral tower,” likely the tower of Christ Church Cathedral.

As a “city led by Scots” with organized associations flourishing at the end of the nineteenth century and a full social calendar as a result, Scottish emigrants to Victoria created a proudly Scottish community. Whether in the hopes of a better life or the allure of a new frontier, Scottish settlers to Victoria never left their culture far behind.

Theresa Mackay

Sources

[1] Terry Reksten, More English than the English: A Very Social History of Victoria (Victoria, 1986), p. 64.

[2] Daily Colonist newspaper, 1860-12-05, p. 3.

[3] ibid., 1869-01-16, p. 3.

[4] Daily British Colonist newspaper 1870-12-01, p. 2.

[5] The 1871 census counted “White Race”, “Col’red Race” and “Chinese Race” only. Census of Canada 1665-1871 Vol IV (Ottawa, 1876), p. 376.

[6] Daily Colonist newspaper 1879-06-24, p. 2.

[7] ibid., 1889-04-25, p. 1.

[8] Country of birth: England 3,869; China 2,080; Scotland 1,166. Immigrants with Scottish-born mothers and/or fathers: 4,310. Immigrants with England-born mothers and/or fathers: 12,416. Census of Canada 1890-91 Vol 1 (Ottawa, 1893), p. 332.

[9] Daily Colonist newspaper 1891-08-09, p. 4. The Daily Colonist newspaper (also known as The British Colonist, The Daily British Colonist, and other variants), various editions from 1860 onwards.

 

Pleasure and Pain in the Okanagan Valley: the Adventures of Lord and Lady Aberdeen

We are thrilled that our inaugural post comes from Professor Marjory Harper, Chair in History at the University of Aberdeen and Honorary Professor at the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands. Professor Harper has written many books and articles on the history of Scottish migration around the globe, including migration to Canada. Her most recent publication, Scotland No More? The Scots who Left Scotland in the Twentieth Century (Edinburgh, 2012) was in 2013 awarded the Frank Watson Prize by the University of Guelph, and short-listed for the Saltire History Prize. This book includes interviews of Scottish settlers to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Her new book Migration and Mental Health: Past and Present (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, will be out early 2016.

Tucked away behind the imposing mansion house of Haddo, stately home of the Aberdeen family for centuries until it came under the care of the National Trust for Scotland, is the Canadian Hall, a visible legacy of the family’s troubled love affair with British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Haddo Hall

Haddo House, Aberdeenshire [image courtesy of the author]

The connection was forged in 1890, when Ishbel and John Gordon, Earl and Countess of Aberdeen, made their first trip to Canada. It continued through the 1890s, when for five years Lord Aberdeen was Governor General of Canada, and ended in 1920, when they finally severed their links with the Okanagan. The story centres initially around Ishbel’s determination to purchase a property in British Columbia which could be managed by her wayward brother, Coutts Marjoribanks. An archetypal remittance man, Coutts was at that time failing spectacularly in the management of his father’s ranch in North Dakota.

Canadian Hall at Haddo [image courtesy of the author]

Canadian Hall at Haddo [image courtesy of the author]

Ishbel Gordon was a formidable personality. Born in London in 1857 and raised in a strongly political household, she is probably best remembered as a campaigner for women’s occupational, social and political rights at home and abroad. Not least among her achievements was the establishment of the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada in 1897, and for 43 years she was President of the International Council of Women.

Ishbel Gordon on her wedding day

Ishbel Gordon on her wedding day [image courtesy of Lord Aberdeen]

Coutts Marjoribanks

Coutts Marjoribanks [image courtesy of Lord Aberdeen]

The Aberdeen’s first trip to Canada was undertaken partly on doctor’s orders, to allow Ishbel, a Gladstonian Liberal, to recover from nervous exhaustion following the party’s split over the issue of Irish home rule. Towards the end of their three-month visit, they traveled west on the recently-opened CPR to its terminus at Vancouver, and thence by ferry to spend a day in Victoria. Ishbel’s impatience to reach the island was due to her long-anticipated rendezvous with the Scottish theologian Henry Drummond, a family friend who had probably been her lover since at least 1884.

Gusiachan, BC

Guisachan, Inverness-shire [image courtesy of the author]

Back on the mainland, the Aberdeens consulted with George Mackay, a Scottish engineer who had once built roads at Guisachan, Ishbel’s father’s Highland estate, before emigrating in 1887 and establishing real estate companies in Vancouver and the Okanagan. At Mackay’s urging, they bought a 480-acre ranch near Kelowna, which they renamed Guisachan. Coutts was duly installed as manager and – since Guisachan is Gaelic for ‘place of the firs’ – the driveway was lined with rows of Scottish fir seedlings (which rapidly died).

Guisiachan, BC

Guisachan, BC [image courtesy of Lord Aberdeen]

It was another year before the family visited their new property. Their timing was impeccable. Having chartered a special train to take them on the branch line from Sicamous Junction to Vernon, they arrived in time to see Guisachan take twelve prizes in the district’s inaugural agricultural show, before Coutts escorted them down the lake to the Kelowna property. Ishbel was captivated to find ‘mountains looking more like the Inverness-shire mountains of my youth than any others we had seen in Canada’, and she and Johnnie duly instructed Mackay to make another, much bigger purchase at the northern end of the valley [1]. This was the 14,000-acre Coldstream Ranch, the running of which was given to Coutts.

During their five years at Rideau Hall, the Aberdeens relished any opportunity to exchange the pomp and ceremony of office for the freedom and tranquility of the Okanagan. But they were equally determined that the properties should become economically viable through subdivision of the existing cattle ranges into fruit ranches, a development which they believed would benefit the local community as well as themselves. To that end, irrigation systems were installed, and a jam factory was established in Vernon, while small-scale investors who were enticed out from Scotland commemorated their homeland by naming their properties after familiar Aberdeenshire landmarks.

Jam factory

Jam factory [image courtesy of Lord Aberdeen]

Coldstream, BC

Coldstream, BC [image courtesy of Lord Aberdeen]

Perhaps the rapid demise of the Guisachan fir trees was an omen, for sadly, the Aberdeens’ dreams were never fulfilled. For more than a decade they contended with Coutts Marjoribanks’ persistent incompetence, the jam factory’s fraudulent manager, a costly infrastructure, low prices for produce, and all the problems associated with pioneering a new enterprise in an unfamiliar, arid environment.

Eventually, after repeated warnings from accountants and agricultural experts that mismanagement and excessive expenditure were bringing the ranches to the brink of bankruptcy, they sold Guisachan in 1903 and incorporated the Coldstream property, in which Johnnie remained a shareholder until 1921.

In one sense, the Okanagan experiences are encapsulated in Ishbel’s gloomy epitaph when the family finally relinquished their interest in Coldstream. The years came and went, and the golden age predicted always receded. “The results of our investment in BC have been very sad,” she wrote in 1921 [2]. Yet the pain was not without gain, at least for the valley into which they poured their capital and energy. For it was Lord Aberdeen’s visionary pioneering that launched the transformation of the Okanagan into the fruit and wine basket of western Canada, a status it retains to this day.

Marjory Harper, University of Aberdeen

Sources:

[1] Through Canada with a Kodak, by the Countess of Aberdeen (Edinburgh, 1893), new edition, with introduction by Marjory Harper (Toronto: UTP, 1994), p. 166.

[2] John Campbell Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen, ‘We Twa’: Reminiscences of Lord and Lady Aberdeen (London: Collins, 1925), pp. 90-1.