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.

 

 

 

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Reverend Alexander Dunn: Pioneer Preacher and Keeper of Settler History

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Stephenie “Effy” Orton graduated from SFU in the Fall of 2017 with a major in English and minor in History. Her love of analysis and writing led her to pursue English, but her love of culture and interest in what shaped people and communities, led her to the study of History.

In 1875, the Church of Scotland sent out four missionaries to re-establish the Church of Scotland in British Columbia. One of these men was Alexander Dunn. Dunn was born on March 30, 1843 to Peter Dunn and Jean Ritchie in Leochel Cushnie, Aberdeenshire. He received his education at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh[1] and on June 9, 1875, Dunn was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow and assigned to his first missionary posting in British Columbia. On August 31, 1875, Dunn arrived in Victoria. The following day at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Dunn was ordained as a minister, and with this, the Church of Scotland Presbytery of British Columbia was formed.[2]

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Fig. 1 Rev. Alexander Dunn and his wife, Annie (Kern) Dunn. Photo courtesy of Donald E. Waite.

Dunn’s first assignment was a massive undertaking. He was sent to the “Fraser Valley district,” a one hundred mile long and almost thirty mile wide area of heavy forest. The settlements under his charge were Upper Sumas, Matsqui, Mud Bay, South Arm (Ladner), North Arm (Richmond), Maple Ridge, Fort Langley, Langley Prairie, Aldergrove, Jones Landing, Mount Lehman, St. Mary’s Mission, and Johnson’s Landing.[3] Before Dunn’s arrival, the Fraser Valley area had been overseen by Rev. Robert Jamieson, the founder of the first Presbyterian church on the mainland, St. Andrew’s Church in New Westminster.[4] Unfortunately, the Rev. Jamieson had fallen ill and could no longer fulfill his duties in the area, so Dunn was sent as a replacement.

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Figure 2 St. Andrew’s Church, New Westminster, B.C. courtesy New Westminster Archives.

In his memoirs, Dunn recalls the feeling of isolation that came over him when he first arrived in the province. The “overwhelming stillness and solitude” of the dense forest struck him forcibly and drew a stark contrast to his busy, noisy and lively city home of Glasgow.[5] However, Dunn did not let the reality of his new life detract from his mission. Over the course of ten years, Dunn oversaw the erection of three churches in the Fraser Valley,[6] and played a central part placing the congregations in debtless positions.[7] However, it was not all smooth sailing for Dunn in the Fraser Valley. The dense forests, heavy rains, and poor road conditions (when there were roads) made Dunn’s constant traveling from settlement to settlement difficult and physically taxing. In 1882, the reverend went to Ontario and married Annie Kern. A year later, Dunn and his bride returned to the Fraser Valley and served the community for another three years.[8] After ten faithful years, the work and land that needed to be covered became too much for the minister, and in April 1886, the Rev. and Mrs. Dunn left the Fraser Valley mission field and went to Ontario for a few months of rest and recuperation.[9]

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Fig. 3 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Fort Langley, one of the three churches Rev. Dunn built in the Fraser Valley. Photo courtesy of Donald E. Waite.

During the Dunn’s time in Ontario, there was a shift in church leadership. The churches in the Fraser Valley that had been under the covering of the Church of Scotland had been absorbed into the Presbytery of British Columbia. In his memoirs, Dunn notes “[in] April I left British Columbia as a Minister of the Church of Scotland. In November I returned a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.”[10] Dunn was in favor of this transition because it made better geographical sense; communication and oversight were much easier to accomplish on a national scale and as the province and country grew, the Presbyterian Church of Canada became better established.[11]

Dunn’s next posting was in Alberni on Vancouver Island. The Alberni settlement was smaller in size and more suited to the abilities of the aging minister. Unfortunately, the settlement was struggling financially, and after two years neither the community nor Dunn could afford to have him and his wife stay. This fact, however, did not lessen the influence the minister had on the Alberni settlement. Over a short period of time, the settlers had come to revere the minister and his wife; their appreciation is evident through the community’s efforts to keep him for as long as they did. Throughout his stay, the Presbytery tried to relocate Dunn twice, and on both of these occasions the community petitioned against the transfer. When the day of departure did finally come, Dunn and his wife were fully aware of their value in the lives and hearts of the Alberni settlers.[12]

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Fig 4 view of Johnston Street, Alberni, B.C. Courtesy the Alberni District Historical Society and Community Archives.

In 1889, Dunn agreed to transfer back onto the mainland and minister to Mount Lehman and Whonnock. He acquired a piece of land from former HBC employee Robert Robertson and resided and ministered in Whonnock and the surrounding areas until his retirement in 1905.[13] Upon retirement, Dunn and his wife moved to New Westminster, and, in 1925, the beloved Reverend passed away.[14]

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Fig. 5 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church manse, the home of Rev. Alexander Dunn. Langley Centennial Museum Photo #0132

Although Dunn’s ecclesiastical work is noteworthy, it does not fully capture the historical value of this man’s life. In September 1913, Dunn was awarded with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree at Westminster Hall in Vancouver.[15] This award was given to acknowledge the minister’s “outstanding work over his thirty years of service in British Columbia.”[16] In the same year, his written work, Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers, was published. It must be mentioned that Dunn’s writing reveals the cultural and social biases of the day. There is little record of Indigenous and settler interactions throughout his work, the only references being an incident between a “half-cast” and a Fort Langley Reeve, and canoe trips.[17] There is also little information given regarding his wife and their marriage. Her name is not mentioned once in the entire work. However, much can be said about Dunn’s efforts in documenting the histories of many Scottish settlers in British Columbia. In a section entitled, “Memoirs of Pioneers: Brief Sketches,” Dunn recalls the lives of twenty nine individuals, twelve of which emigrated from Scotland or had Scottish heritage. These biographical sketches are speeches Dunn gave at the funeral of each individual. On many of these occasions, he was asked to provide accounts of prominent pioneers of the Fraser Valley. Dunn saved and featured many of these articles in his work, along with various letters, sermons, sermon notes, and obituaries. Not only did his writing recall the life and characters of these pioneers, but it also recorded and preserved accounts of what settler life actually looked like for individuals throughout the province.[18]

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Fig. 6 Front page of Rev. Dunn’s published memoirs. Image courtesy of the University of Calgary.

In his book Dunn noted that: “[f]or a number of years [he] had intended to write some account of the work of laying the foundations of Presbyterianism in British Columbia, and had been collecting and preserving material for that purpose.”[19] In other words, Dunn’s efforts converted his mission into a historical record, and this record has become a primary source in the study of the spread of Presbyterianism and Scottish settlement in the Fraser Valley from 1875 – 1905.

–Stephenie Orton

 

 


Bibliography:

Dunn, Alexander. Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers. Jackson Printing Co.: New Westminster, BC, 1919. PDF e-book. Accessed November 10, 2017.

“Object Description: 0132.” Langley Centennial Museum. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://collections.museum.tol.ca/LangleyCentennialMuseum/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p _AAAF=tab9.

Orr, Brian J. Bones of Empire. LULU Enterprises: Raleigh, NC, 2013. Book Preview. Accessed November 10, 2017.

“Rev. Alex. Dunn Receives Degree,” New Westminster News, (New Westminster, BC), Sept. 27, 1913, accessed November 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-news-sep-27-1913-p-4/.

“St. Andrew’s was First on Mainland.” Daily News (New Westminster, BC), Mar. 11, 1912. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-daily-news-mar-11-1912-p-1/.

“The Weekly Colonist: Presbyterian Churches.” Victoria Daily British Colonist (Victoria, BC), Apr. 3, 1885. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://newspaperarchive.com/victoria-daily-british-colonist-apr-03-1885-p-3/.

Waite, Donald E. The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E. Waite. Waite: Maple Ridge, BC, 2000). HTML e-book. Accessed November 10, 2017. http://www.fortlangley.ca/langley/langley.html.

Images:

Fig. 1 William John Larmon, Reverend and Mrs. Alexander Dunn. Source: Donald E. Waite, The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E, Waite. 2000, Digital image. Available from: The Langley Story Illustrated, http://www.fortlangley.ca/langley/dunn.html (accessed November 10, 2017).

Fig. 2 St. Andrew’s Church, New Westminster, BC. New Westminster Archives.

Fig. 3 Waite Air Photos Inc., St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Fort Langley. Source: Donald E. Waite, The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E, Waite. 2000, Digital image. Available from: The Langley Story Illustrated, http://www.fortlangley.ca/langley/standy.html (accessed November 10, 2017).

Fig 4 view of Johnston Street, Alberni, B.C. Courtesy the Alberni District Historical Society and Community Archives.

Fig. 5 Photograph of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church manse, the home of Rev. Alexander Dunn, April 1968, 0132, Langley Centennial Museum, Fort Langley, British Columbia, Canada, accessed November 10, 2017, https://collections.museum.tol.ca/LangleyCentennialMuseum/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p_AAAF=tab9.

Fig. 6 Dunn, Alexander. “Cover Page.” Print, 1919. University of Calgary. From: Alexander Dunn, Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers. Jackson Printing Co.: New Westminster, BC, 1919. HTML e-book. Accessed November 10, 2017. http://ourroots.ca/toc.aspx?id=1258&qryID=dceeaa7d-c0ff-4bcd-821c-2d6e9c4aec1 1.

Sources:

[1] Brian J. Orr, Bones of Empire, (LULU Enterprises: Raleigh, NC, 2013), 237-238.

[2] Alexander Dunn, Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers (Jackson Printing Co.: New Westminster, BC, 1919), 68.

[3] Ibid, 84-85.

[4] “St. Andrew’s Was First on Mainland,” The Daily News, (New Westminster, BC), Mar. 11, 1912, accessed Nov. 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-daily-news-mar-11-1912-p-1/.

[5] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 4-5.

[6] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 68.

[7] “The Weekly Colonist: Presbyterian Churches,” Victoria Daily British Colonist, (Victoria, BC), April 3, 1885, accessed Nov. 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/victoria-daily-british-colonist-apr-03-1885-p-3/.

[8] “Object Description: 0132,” Langley Centennial Museum, accessed November 10, 2017. https://collections.museum.tol.ca/LangleyCentennialMuseum/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p_AAAF=tab9.

[9] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 83.

[10] Ibid, 84.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Experiences in Langley, 94-95.

[13] Donald E. Waite, The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E, Waite, (Waite: Maple Ridge, BC, 2000), 117.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Rev. Alex. Dunn Receives Degree,” New Westminster News, (New Westminster, BC), Sept. 27, 1913, accessed November 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-news-sep-27-1913-p-4/.

[16] Waite, The Langley Stories, 117.

[17] Ibid, 10.

[18] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 60.

[19] Ibid, 65.

Ol’ Bill: The Scottish-Canadian Writer Fighting For All

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Tessa Carolynn McGibbon graduated with an undergraduate degree in History from Simon Fraser University with a focus on Canadian History. Currently, she is in the post graduate program at Simon Fraser University to become an elementary school teacher. Tessa aims to teach children about Canadian history in an engaging, fun, and informative way.

William Bennett, most commonly known as “Ol’ Bill,” is little-known in the history of the labour movement in Canada, yet his contribution was a very important one. Born into a humble family in Greenock, Scotland on May 8, 1881, Ol’ Bill saw first-hand the struggles of working-class life in urban Scotland. A founding member of the Communist Party of Canada and the Labour-Progressive Party, Ol’ Bill’s passion for the rights of workers and their families began at a young age leading him to join the Kier Hardie-led Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Glasgow in 1897 when he was just sixteen years old. “Young Wullie” was quickly welcomed into the ILP fold not only because at the time he was working in a barbershop, where he had access to many potential labour movement recruits, but also by other young socialists who saw him as one of their own like the young engineer Adam Lieper, who liked that Ol’ Bill “[lives] in the same close (alley) as I do, and he’s been reading the Labour Leader for some time now.”[1] Reading the Labour Leader, a small weekly British socialist paper, was a perfect reason for Ol’ Bill to have gained membership into the ILP because this humble working-class boy’s future would see him become one of the most notable journalists in a revolutionary socialist movement thousands of kilometers away in Canada.

After working for many years in Scotland helping various workers, especially miners, to get concessions from their employers and the government through various writings and speeches, Ol’ Bill moved to Canada. Ol’ Bill, like many other labour supporters of his generation, were dissatisfied with the slow pace at which social reforms for workers and their families were taking place. The (now) Labour Party’s conflict with the government largely involved opposition to the Boer War (1899-1902), which revealed the ill-health of many of the army recruits, many of who came from Britain’s urban slums. Why, asked Ol’ Bill, should “money and labor…be squandered on fighting in a needless war in Africa, when it could be much better used at home cleaning up the Glasgow slums[?]”[2]

Ol’ Bill arrived at his new home in Vancouver in 1907. Like many new immigrants, Ol’ Bill struggled to find work, so he did what he knew best and opened a barber shop in the skid road district of Vancouver (today centred around Hastings and Main), spreading the ideas of socialism to whoever sat in his chair. By 1912, Ol’ Bill joined the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC) and began to write for the party’s paper The Western Clarion (launched in 1903). That same year, Ol’ Bill tried running in the provincial election as the Vancouver City candidate for SPC, but sadly did not win.

During most SPC rallies and public meetings in these years, Ol’ Bill acted as the chairmen, which involved speaking publicly, revealing his canny ability to make succinct and straight forward speeches, inspiring all of those who listened to him. In other words, Ol’ Bill was not one to ramble. For example, during his speech to the coal miners during the Vancouver Island miners’ lockout during 1912-13 he said:

Comrade chairman and fellow-workers: You all know what coal is, so I don’t have to go too deeply into that. Most of you here have to buy coal, so I don’t need to tell you much about that either. But…miners who dig the coal…are locked out…some call it a strike. What are you going to do about that?[3]

However, the First World War and the violent labour unrest of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, led Ol’ Bill to move away from the SPC. With other more radical thinkers, Ol’ Bill formed a new organization, the Workers’ Party of Canada in 1922, which became the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) in 1924. While working with the CPC, Ol’ Bill helped create the BC Workers’ News in 1935 (Pacific Tribune after 1946) which is where his well-known regular piece, “Short Jabs” began. Short Jabs was a concise column which he addressed various events, politics, and people through his humorous, blunt manner and was also found in other Party publications such as The People and The Advocate.

3

The I.W.W., Industrial Workers of the World, on strike against the Canadian Northern Railway, Yale District. http://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/i-w-w-industrial-workers-of-world-on-strike-against-canadian-northern-railway-yale-district

Ol’ Bill’s influential 1936 booklet on the history of labour in BC, Builders of British Columbia, exposed the reality, as he saw it, of the struggles that labourers in the province had had to undertake since its foundation. He argued that men were being forced to work for the rich for little pay and horrible conditions, when the “founding families” of British Columbia gained all the profit and recognition as builders of the province.[4] Through his writing about issues such as, British Columbia lumber workers not having the right to unions, gave people agency to fight for their rights. For example, Ol’ Bill wrote:

The life of the logger, particularly, might be made to look idyllic in a storybook, but fact it was worse than chattel slavery. From dark to dark, 10, 12 and 14 hours of slavish, backbreaking soul-destroying labor; the vilest of food, discarded remnants of the slaughterhouses and the canneries; overloaded bunkhouses with vermin-infested, muzzle-loading, double-deck bunks, three decks in some cases, and for which the logger had to pack his own blankets; no sanitary conditions or wash-houses; swindled and robbed by employment sharks, grafting foremen and the steamboat companies. Such was the lot of the timber-beasts in B.C.’s banner industry.[5]

4

“Christina” a 35 ton climax of Abbot Timber Co. at the end of the rails; Michael Eert collection. http://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/christina-35-ton-climax-of-abbot-timber-co-at-end-of-rails-michael-eert-collection

Through Ol’ Bill’s written word he inspired people to fight for the change in treatment toward workers and encouraged people to battle for their right to join unions. This meant workers of all backgrounds including Indigenous people. Bennett argued that despite being hindered by the Indian Agents whose “principle business is to keep the Indians [sic] out of the trade union movement…[Indigenous people] have played a great part in the struggles of the industries in which they work.”[6] This struggle led, for example, to the Lumber Workers’ Industrial Union of Canada expanding exponentially, becoming one of the most powerful unions in Canada. Because of this, lumber workers achieved higher wages, eight-hour work days, and better overall treatment in the camps. This is the legacy of Ol’ Bill’s efforts.

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Bennett, William. Builders of British Columbia. 1936. Frontispiece.

Ol’ Bill passed away on the 31st of December 1949. Discovering Ol’ Bill’s contribution to the development of left-wing politics and labour rights in British Columbia is an important part of Canadian history. William “Ol’ Bill” Bennett’s dedication to all workers of any background demonstrates that the Canadian hero could be anyone starting with only a pair of scissors, a comb, and a pen.

-Tessa McGibbon

 

 

 

 


Notes

[1] Quoted in: Tom McEwen. He Wrote For Us: The story of Bill Bennett, Pioneer Socialist Journalist. (Vancouver: Tribune Publishing Company, 1951), 11.

[2] McEwen, 14. The opposition to the Boer War by Ol’ Bill and his colleagues led to students at the University of Glasgow raiding the Labour Leader and smashing the printing equipment.

[3] McEwen, 23.

[4] McEwen, 24.

[5] Quoted in McEwen, 27.

[6] William Bennett, Builders of British Columbia (1936), 108.

Sources

City of Vancouver Archives

Royal BC Museums Archives

Bennett, William. Builders of British Columbia. 1936.

Isitt, Benjamin. Militant Minority: British Columbia Workers and the Rise of a New Left, 1948-1972. Toronto” University of Toronto Press, 2011.

Leier, Mark. Rebel Life: The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, Labour Spy (Revised Edition). Vancouver: New Star Books, 2013.

McEwen, Tom. He Wrote For Us: The story of Bill Bennett, Pioneer Socialist Journalist. Vancouver: Tribune Publishing Company, 1951, http://collections.mun.ca/PDFs/radical/HeWroteForUs.pdf

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“Living here the best way they can”: Archibald McDonald’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.”

1

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.

“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]

Picture1

“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.

Picture2

“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]

Picture3

“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.

Picture4

“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.

ewart library

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.

Chapel cross Station

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.

Newspaper

“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.

NAS

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.

Devil's porrige

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.

Protest1

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.

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.”

ella-bingham

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.

lady-aberdeen-with-national-council

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.

lady-aberdeen-group

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.

tea-dance-2015

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

reel-of-51st-1997

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).