A Tale of Two Simon Frasers: The Invented and Contested Scottish Tradition of SFU

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Georgia Twiss is in her final semester of her undergraduate (honours) History degree 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 well as performances of gender, culture, and imperialism in British Columbia. The basis of this research blog was a poster presentation for Georgia’s History honours seminar class in Spring 2018.

On September 9th 1965, Simon Fraser, 15th Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat, took to the stage in Convocation Mall to give a speech commemorating the opening ceremonies of Simon Fraser University. He began his speech with a quote taken from Shakespeare proclaiming, “I didn’t come here to talk.”[1] His choice of words rang true. He was not there to talk, but to embody an invented tradition of Scottishness, promoted by the university’s President, Patrick McTaggart-Cowan, and predicated upon SFU’s association to the Clan Fraser of Lovat. While today most people assume the university’s name and Scottishness honour Simon Fraser, the nineteenth-century imperial explorer and fur trader, McTaggart-Cowan’s invented tradition intentionally excluded him in favour of Lord Lovat. As the head of the Clan, this Simon Fraser symbolized a prestigious sense of historical continuity and heritage that was lacking in the locally-branded “Instant University.”[2] It was through this invented tradition that the early university endorsed and enforced an image of SFU as overtly Scottish. An image which, despite contestation, has prevailed through the years, but in truth has little to do with Simon Fraser the Explorer at all.

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[Figure 1] Lord Lovat bestowing the Clan Fraser Claymore (Not the mace as the caption of the photo suggests) to SFU at the university’s opening ceremonies, September 9th 1965.

The naming of SFU was a fluke by way of an acronymic oversight. The original name, ‘Fraser University’, was chosen to reflect the region from where its student body would largely derive. However, upon the realization that the school would be colloquially referred to as “F.U,” the prefix “Simon” was added, with no direct statement as to whom it was meant to honour.[3] This addition transformed the intended toponymic name to one that allowed for the forging of a relationship between the university and the Clan Fraser of Lovat, whose Chief at the time was named Simon Fraser. The relationship between SFU and the Clan began when Patrick McTaggart-Cowan, a Scottish immigrant to Canada himself, requested the use of the Clan’s motto and crest for the university’s insignia.[4] It was this relationship that underpinned McTaggart-Cowan’s invention of a Scottish tradition at SFU.

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[Figure 2] “Coat of Arms.” Simon Fraser University.

lord-fraser-of-lovat

[Figure 3] FRASER, Lord Fraser of Lovat Quarterly, 1st and 4th, Azure, three fraises (cinquefoils), Argent (for Fraser); 2nd and 3d, Argent, three antique crowns, Gules (for the Lordship of Lovat).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Invented tradition” is a concept brought forth by historians Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger, and defined as, “a set of practices…of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.”[5] The invented tradition of SFU, through the appropriation of Clan Fraser of Lovat heritage, projects an image of historical Scottishness. The Clan’s imagery are found in SFU’s official tartan, coat of arms, and motto as well, as in the use of the ceremonial claymore and mace at formal ceremonies and events.

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[Figure 4] “Patrick McTaggart-Cowan (left), flanked by B.C. Premier W. A. C. Bennett and SFU Chancellor Gordan Shrum, delivers SFU’s opening address on Sept. 9, 1965”

The exclusion of Simon Fraser the Explorer within the construction of McTaggart-Cowan’s invented tradition in favor of Lord Lovat is clearly illustrated in the university’s opening ceremonies. While Lord Lovat was grandly standing upon the stage in Convocation Mall, Donald Fraser of Fargo, North Dakota, and great-great-grandson of Simon Fraser the Explorer, was also in attendance. Unlike Lord Lovat he received no honours, his presence was not promoted and he paid for his own way to the event.[6] While Lord Lovat embodied the invented tradition of Scottishness McTaggart-Cowan craved, the presence of Donald Fraser had no appeal. A man from North Dakota did not evoke the same esteem or romance as a war-hero and Clan chief from the Highlands of Scotland. It was Lord Lovat who personified McTaggart-Cowan’s image of Scottishness, not a long-dead imperial explorer or his American descendant.

McTaggart-Cowan’s invented Scottishness was an attempt to formulate a shared identity for the incoming student body. This identity, centred around the prestige and history of the Clan Fraser of Lovat, would allow students to feel pride in their new university. McTaggart-Cowan’s plan however, backfired when met with reality. Rather than accepting this imposed Scottishness, SFU’s new students challenged the invented tradition in order to embrace the modern and progressive identity they saw in the divergent image of the “Instant University.”

fraser-of-lovat

[Figure 5] Clan Fraser of Lovat Clan Crest

In a series of “Letters to the Editor” from the university’s first newspaper, The Tartan, written in September 1965, various students contest SFU’s overt Scottishness. James Stuart Patterson writes, “Why must this university be an ethnic eyesore?” and later declares, in reference to McTaggart-Cowan, “the Scottish nut on the planning committee must be restrained.”[7] The most direct rejection of McTaggart-Cowan’s invented Scottishness comes from another student, John Cole, who argues, “We are Canadians, going to a Canadian university and to tag a Scottish label on us and our university is phoney.”[8] Evidence of Cole’s assertion is witnessed a few weeks later when The Tartan collapses and is replaced by a new paper The Peak. The new name, chosen by the students, illustrates that when given the choice they sought an image rooted in a localized identity, like that of Fraser University, rather than one steeped in the imagery and traditions of Scotland.[9]

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[Figure 5] “The SFU Pipe Band has bagged the title of world champions six times. Now it’s ready to take New York, after a stage show here at home.”

The rejection of SFU’s invented Scottish tradition continued following the collapse of The Tartan. In late October 1965, a student named Barbara Chomica wrote a passionate plea to The Peak calling for the paper to take on a hard-line and innovative approach. It was vital to her that The Peak did not become a conservative paper afraid of taking a stance on critical issues. In her concluding sentence Chomica proverbially noted, “The pen is mightier than the sword, even a claymore.”[10] Using the claymore as a placeholder for conservativeness is a clear dig at the enforced Scottishness of the university, as to her it represented an anachronistic identity she did not share. Chomica’s piece again illustrates the wide chasm between McTaggart-Cowan’s invented Scottish identity and the real, progressive, and modern identity students sought to forge in their new university.

The conflict between the two identities, apparent in the fall of 1965, was soon overtaken by more pressing issues such as enrollment fees and unionization. It would resurface again in 1968 when a student led movement to rename the school “Louis Riel University” was voted down.[11] Despite the disappearance of the figure of Lord Lovat from the university, McTaggart-Cowan’s invented Scottish tradition prevails. By exploring the construction of SFU’s Scottish image it becomes clear that the history of the university, from the beginning, has been a tale of two “Simon Frasers.” Not only the two competing figures of Simon Fraser of Lovat and Simon Fraser the Explorer, but the two divergent identities of instant and invented and the way they continue to shape the legacy and image of the university today.

-Georgia Twiss


Sources

[1] Quoted in: Hugh Johnston, Radical Campus (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2005), 113.

[2] Built in just 18 months, the local press nicknamed the then unnamed university the “Instant University” before it became Simon Fraser University.

[3] Ceremonies and Events Office Fonds, 1963-1969. F-91-1-0-0-1. SFU Archives, Burnaby, BC, Canada.

[4] Lord Lovat, 1965-1995. F-208-1-0-0-5. SFU Archives, Burnaby, BC, Canada.

[5] Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992),

[6] Johnston, Radical Campus, 113.

[7] The Tartan and SF View: Issues, 1965. F-17-6-2. SFU Archives. Burnaby, BC, Canada.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Peak: Issues, 1965-2016. F-17-6-3. SFU Archives. Burnaby, BC, Canada.

[10] The Peak (Burnaby, BC) October 20, 1965.

[11] McLeod, Brad. “Simon Fraser vs Louis Riel.” The Peak (Burnaby, BC) January 6, 2015.

Images

[Figure 1] “Lord Lovat and the SFU Mace.” Photograph. [Untitled.] Burnaby, BC, 1965. Accessed on November 13, 2018. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sfupamr/21097595415/in/photostream/

[Figure 2] “Coat of Arms.” Simon Fraser University. Burnaby, BC. Accessed November 13, 2018. https://www.sfu.ca/communicators-toolkit/tools/brand-tools/logos/coat-of-arms.html

[Figure 3] https://www.scotclans.com/scottish-clans/clan-fraser-of-lovat/fraser-of-lovat-coat-of-arms/ <accessed 14 November 2018>

[Figure 4] “Patrick McTaggart-Cowan (left), flanked by B.C. Premier W. A. C. Bennett and SFU Chancellor Gordan Shrum, delivers SFU’s opening address on Sept. 9, 1965” [Untitled.] Burnaby, BC, 1965. Accessed, November 13, 2018. https://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/stories/2016/founding-president-patrick-mctaggart-cowans-sfu-legacy.html

[Figure 5] Clan Fraser of Lovat Clan Cresthttps://www.scotclans.com/scottish-clans/clan-fraser-of-lovat/fraser-of-lovat-crest/ <accessed 14 November 2018>

[Figure 6] “The SFU Pipe Band has bagged the title of world champions six times. Now it’s ready to take New York, after a stage show here at home.” Meadahl, Marianne. [Untitled.] Photograph. Victoria, BC, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2018. https://the-peak.ca/2014/05/sfu-pipe-band-prepares-for-the-world-stage/

 

 

 

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The Scottish-Canadian Life of Jane Murie Peebles: A Loved and Loving Teacher

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Emily von Euw is an SFU undergraduate student majoring in history. They are of German, Dutch, Swiss and English descent. They are interested in histories of gender, power, technology and geopolitics. They enjoy reading, writing, very dark chocolate, spending time with friends, forest walks, documentaries, and listening to records. Emily lives on the unceded, Indigenous territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsweil-watuth nations.

(Jane Murie Peebles was the sister of the famous New Westminster-born actress and opera singer “Brownie Peebles” who was featured in another blog on this site. You can check it out here.)

Jane Murie Peebles was a Scottish-Canadian educator, artist, sister, daughter and wife, and friend to many in the Pacific Northwest and Europe alike. She was motivated in her work, inspired by her relationships and dedicated to her faith throughout her long life in British Columbia.

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Murie with her students in Sardis, Chilliwack, BC sometime in the 1920s [Figure 1]

Murie’s father was Peter Peebles, a Scot who moved to eastern Canada in 1882 and eventually migrated west and met and married Angusta Grant in New Westminster in 1886.[1] Peter was a writer for Vancouver’s Sunday Province in the 1920s and 30s, at least once writing about famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Peter collected articles on Burns, maintained a subscription to The Scotsman, and kept Scottish poetry; suggesting a deep pride in his heritage.[2] It was in this proud environment the Peebles family was raised. He and Angusta had five children, Murie was the eldest daughter and a namesake of Peter’s sister. Occasionally she would be referred to as Jane M., J. Murie, or J. M., but for the most part friends and relatives called her Murie, as did she herself.

Murie was born on November 26, 1887 in New Westminster.[3] In 1908 she became a certified member of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in New Westminster.[4] Presbyterianism – a more democratic, less hierarchical sect of Christianity – came to British Columbia largely thanks to Scottish settlers from Nova Scotia in the late 18th century onward.[5] Thus, Murie’s Presbyterian faith was intimately intertwined with her Scottish identity.

In 1910 Murie began teaching at government-funded public school, a relatively new institution in the province.[6] At this time in Canada, teaching children was thought by many to be a career best suited for women. Due to pseudo-scientific beliefs about the inherent caring, nurturing nature of women; they were presumed to be the best educators for youth and – conveniently – could be paid less than their male counterparts. Most school teachers were in similar situations to Murie’s in these decades: single, young women, eager to work, but not often permitted to occupy higher-paying administrative positions or other jobs, and usually resigning when they married.[7]

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Murie Peebles’ students in Sardis, Chilliwack, BC (circa 1920s) [Figure 2]

In 1912 Murie bought property in New Westminster for $325[8] (just over $10,000 today) and received her deed of land by 1914.[9] In 1915 she attended art classes and kept several illustrations in a scrapbook[10]. They involved delicate sketches of leaves, shells, landscapes, butterflies and still lifes. She also drew a number of geometric patterns and symmetrical designs, as if meant for crocheting or stained glass. She seemed to favour rich greens, purples, and golds for colour. Murie’s younger sister, Angusta Brown (known as “Brownie”), went on to become a successful opera performer, and some family members wrote poetry which they would send to one another, so it appears a taste for artistic creativity ran in the family (albeit more casually for Murie than Brownie).

Sometime before July 1921, and perhaps after, Murie taught school in Sardis, BC (Chilliwack). She would return to visit even after her teaching years in Chilliwack, once when a small earthquake hit[11]. She taught at Herbert Spencer School in New Westminster in mid-January, 1921, and a BC school inspector noted her “skillful class methods… effective organization [and] special aptitude.”[12] Though apparently something happened soon after that resulted in Murie not being able to teach for at least a month. By mid-February she received a letter informing her that the Board of School Trustees “decided to give [her] an opportunity to return to duty” but if she did not return, it would be a sign of her resignation.[13] Whether this was due to an act of Murie’s, or merely teachers being reviewed or classes being cancelled due to weather or some other matter, is not clear. In any case, Murie eventually left Herbert Spencer to be married.

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Murie’s cooking class. Murie is at back, right. July 1914 [Figure 3]

Murie was well-liked by her students, their parents, and her colleagues. She kept a number of cards students mailed to her and one letter from a mother who thanked her for her positive influence and caring personality. Humbly, Murie did not even realize her impact and was more in awe of the mother – who had 12 children – than her own skills as an educator.[14] When Murie taught at Herbert Spencer School, a Haida man named Peter Kelly – apparently a “quite good looking” man who some students “fell hard for” – was studying to be a missionary minister for his community. Murie probably taught two of his children (Jimmie and Peter) and was inspired by his and his family’s ambition. Years later Murie was surprised and joyed to see Kelly on the local news being awarded a missionary river boat, something he had aspired to have since first knew each other. Then, thirty-seven years after she taught at Herbert Spencer, she was sent a photo clipping and article of Kelly in the Seattle Times, meeting Princess Margaret.[15] Murie thought of Kelly throughout the decades, and evidently his success brought her much happiness.

Herbert Spencer School

Herbert Spencer School. – [ca. 191-]. [Figure 4]

By 1921 (July 12th, to be exact) she had married William Walker Brown, a man from Abbotsford[16]. The wedding took place at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, which Murie had attended for at least 13 years. A theme in her life was having many friends and loved ones so it comes as no surprise that Murie’s “girl friends” decorated the church, Peter walked her down the aisle, Brownie sang opera, and a friend from Chilliwack, Milly Bell, was her bridesmaid.[17] Choosing to be a teacher to young people for many years, Murie surely had affection for children. Yet she and her husband never had any of their own. In 1925, it appears they were hoping to adopt a baby,[18] but sadly – and for reasons unclear – this hope was never fulfilled. One cannot help but wonder how this may have affected Murie and William.

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Jane Murie’s namesake and aunt (Peter Peebles sister) [Figure 5]

Murie’s family and friends lived across Canada; however, she stayed in touch with many via letters, photographs, clippings and postcards, and they visited one another when they had the time. Murie also kept in touch with friends in Europe, mostly England and Scotland. They were always pleased to receive her letters and with how quickly she replied, showing how much she cared for those around her. Murie and her younger brother, Allon, were close; they exchanged many personal letters and he thought of her “as a second mother.”[19]

Jane Murie Peebles (Brown) passed away sometime before April 30th, 1974[20], though the location and exact date are unknown. She was a hard-working teacher, a loving friend, sister and daughter, and a caring woman who seemed to consistently find joy in the people and places around her. She and her family hold with them the legacy of Scots to explore and celebrate life, dutiful labour, creativity, diversity and family: a legacy that continues in British Columbia to this day.

–Emily von Euw


Collection cited:

Peebles Family Fonds, IH 2007.151. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Notes:

[1] Certificate of marriage, Peter Peebles to Angusta Grant, December 25, 1886.

[2] Article clipping in scrapbook compiled by Peter Peebles.

[3] Certificate of birth, Jane Murie Peebles, November 26, 1887.

[4] Certificate of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Membership, February 1, 1908.

[5] “Historical Vignettes: Snapshots from Our History,” The Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives.

[6] Government document titled “British Columbia Education Department Inspection of Schools,” January 13, 1921.

[7] Jane Gaskell, “Women and Education,” February 7, 2006, The Canadian Encyclopedia.

[8] Textual document of property purchased, 1912.

[9] Textual document of deed of land, 1914.

[10] Various illustrations, 1915.

[11] Postcard from Jane Murie Peebles to Mrs. P. Peebles, Date unknown.

[12] “British Columbia Education Department Inspection of Schools.”

[13] Correspondence from Board of School Trustees to Jane Murie Peebles, February 15, 1921.

[14] Correspondence from student’s mother (Mrs. Teskiy?) to Jane Murie Peebles, January 27, year unknown.

[15] Correspondence from Jane Murie Peebles to Angusta Brown and Allon Peebles, date unknown.

[16] Marriage certificate between Jane Murie Peebles and William Walker Brown, July 12, 1921.

[17] Newspaper clipping titled “Pretty Wedding Solemnized At Royal City,” date unknown.

[18] Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles, September 19, 1925.

[19] Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles, May 20, 1926.

[20] Government record titled “Notice of hearing final report and petition for distribution,” April 30, 1974.

Bibliography:

British Columbia Board of School Trustees. Correspondence from Board of School Trustees to Jane Murie Peebles. February 15, 1921. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Certificate of birth. Jane Murie Peebles. November 26, 1887. New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Accessed at Royal BC Archives. Registration number: 1887-09-080386.

Certificate of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Membership. February 1, 1908. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Correspondence from student’s mother (Mrs. Teskiy?) to Jane Murie Peebles. January 27, year unknown. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Government document titled “British Columbia Education Department Inspection of Schools.” January 13, 1921. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Government record titled “Notice of hearing final report and petition for distribution.” April 30, 1974. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

“Historical Vignettes: Snapshots from Our History.” The Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives. http://presbyterianarchives.ca/2014/06/09/historical-vignettes-snapshots-from-our-history/.

Marriage certificate between Jane Murie Peebles and William Walker Brown. July 12, 1921. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Marriage certificate between Peter Peebles and Angusta Grant. December 25, 1886. New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Accessed online at Royal BC Archives. Registration number: 1886-09-114575.

Newspaper clipping titled “Pretty Wedding Solemnized At Royal City.” Date unknown. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Allon. Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles. May 20, 1926. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Allon. Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles. September 19, 1925. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Jane Murie. Correspondence from Jane Murie Peebles to Angusta Brown and Allon Peebles. Date unknown. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Jane Murie. Postcard from Jane Murie Peebles to Mrs. P. Peebles. Date unknown. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Jane Murie. Various illustrations. 1915. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Textual document of deed of land. 1914. IH 2007.151, Series B, Folder B.3. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Textual document of property purchased. 1912. IH 2007.151, Series B, Folder B.3. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Images:

Figure 1: Photograph. -096, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 2: Photograph. -098, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 3: Photograph. July 1914. -100, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 4: Postcard of Herbert Spencer School. ca. 191-?. IHP2161. Queensborough Photo Collection. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 5: Photograph. -109, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

 

 

 

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.