HENSHAW, Julia (1869-1937)




Author Tags: 1900-1950, Essentials 2010, Fiction, Journalism, Outdoors, Women

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

British Columbia’s first female novelist was an extraordinary outdoorswoman, naturalist and high society figure who published her first novel, Hypnotized (1898), under the pen name of Julian Durham, adding one letter to her given name Julia and adopting the name of the town where she was born. Julia Henshaw also published newspaper columns under the pseudonym G’wan and worked as a literary and theatre critic for the Vancouver Province.

Born in Durham, England, in 1869, to a family that eventually included eight children, Julia Wilmotte Henderson was educated in France and Germany. It is not clear why or even when she came to Canada but in 1887 she married Montreal-based Charles Grant Henshaw, a well-connected investment broker and the progeny of United Empire Loyalists. Their only child - Doris - was born in Montreal in 1889. The young family arrived in the Vancouver area and set up house in New Westminster in 1890.

Julia Henshaw claimed that she and her husband reached the source of the Columbia River in 1896 and became the first couple to drive a motor car across the Rocky Mountains in 1914. Whether or not this is true, it is certain that Henshaw had an audacious spirit.

Henshaw wrote her first novel Hypnotized: Or the Experiment of Sir Hugh Galbraith; A Romance (1898). It was published from Ontario and dubbed by one critic as the “Canadian book of the year.” Possibly Henshaw’s status as a high society wife had something to do with the praise it received. Canadian literary critic Lawrence J. Burpee described the work as “a study of what may be called unconscious hypnotism,” but suggested Mrs. Henshaw could do better.

Henshaw’s follow-up novel, Why Not, Sweetheart? (1901), opens at the provincial asylum for the insane, overlooking the Fraser River. A Dr. Dufft of the Mind Ease Asylum mentions a hereditarily insane Englishman, Christopher Sabel, to a visiting sportsman named Jack Maclyn. The sportsman proceeds to fall in love with the roommate of a progressive and caustic journalist named Agnes Arbuckle. Her shy roommate named Naomi has a jealous guardian named Professor Cyr who declares himself to be Naomi’s fiancé. Eventually Sabel and the evil professor struggle and drown together in a river in the B.C. interior. Naomi is free to explain to Maclyn that she went to the altar with Sabel when she was 17 but he went insane during the ceremony, leaving her half-married to him. Agnes marries a politician; Maclyn marries Naomi. All’s well that ends well.

By the time her second novel was published, Henshaw was also working as the literary and theatre critic for the Vancouver Province newspaper and writing a column under the pseudonym G'wan. In her spare time she was a founding member of the Canadian Alpine Club, The Vancouver Music Club, and the Georgian Club (Vancouver's first women's social club). She was on the executive of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire and the Women's Canadian Club.

Henshaw cannot easily be dismissed as a mere dabbler in the arts. While visiting Field, B.C., Henshaw availed herself of the knowledge gathered by botanist Charles Schaffer and his wife Mary Schaffer Warren to publish Mountain Wildflowers of America in 1906, essentially co-opting the Schaffers’ work. Henshaw wrote two more books on wildflowers and took credit for the discovery of the pink lady’s slipper, or Cypripedium acuale. She has also been credited with co-founding the Georgian Club, the first women’s social club in Vancouver. She reputedly mapped the interior of Vancouver Island in 1910–1911 and accompanied the Swiss guide Edward Feuz to the summit of Asulkan Pass, at 7,716 feet, in 1910.

In 1914, when Charles Henshaw was a recruiting officer in Vancouver’s Victory Square, Julia Henshaw went overseas to work with an ambulance and food unit. For helping to evacuate several towns under enemy fire, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre with a gold star. The French government later presented her with an enormous painting of Napoleon.

Having lived on Robson Street in Vancouver’s West End, she moved to Caulfeild in West Vancouver where she died in 1937.

FULL ENTRY:

It appears the first female novelist of British Columbia was journalist, outdoorswoman and naturalist Julia Wilmotte Henshaw who published her long-forgotten first novel as Julian Durham (taking her pen name from the town in England where she was born). She also published newspaper columns under the pseudonym G’wan and worked as the first literary and theatre critic of the Vancouver Province newspaper.

Born as Julia Wilmotte Henderson in Durham, England, in 1869 to a family that eventually included eight children. Her father was an ardent naturalist and provided an education for his daughter in France and Germany. It is not clear why or even when she came to Canada but in 1887 Julia married Montreal-based Charles Grant Henshaw, a well-connected investment broker and the progeny of United Empire Loyalists. Their only child - Doris - was born in Montreal in 1889. The young couple and their infant daughter arrived in the Vancouver area in 1890 and set up house in New Westminster. She later said, "My first recollection of Vancouver is of a quaint little, wooden town."

Henshaw claimed to have reached the source of the Columbia River with her husband in 1896. They were also credited with driving the first motor car across the Rocky Mountains in 1914. Whether or not this is true, it is certain that Henshaw had an audacious spirit for a high society hostess who has been credited with founding the century-old Georgian Club, the first women's social club in Vancouver. She was also a founder of the Canadian Alpine and Vancouver Musical Clubs. In addition, Henshaw sat on the executive of the Canadian Women's Club and was honourary secretary of the first chapter of the IODE (the Coronation Chapter) for 30 years after its inaugural meeting in August of 1902.

While visiting Field, B.C., Henshaw availed herself of the knowledge gathered by botanist Charles Schaffer and his wife Mary Schaffer Warren to publish Mountain Wildflowers of America in 1906, essentially pre-empting the Schaffers, much to the lifelong disdain of her fellow writer Mary Schaffer Warren. Henshaw would publish two more books on wildflowers and take credit for the discovery of the pink lady’s slipper, or Cypripedium acuale. In 1908 she published an article in the The Wide World Magazine entitled ‘On the Roof of the Western World: The First Ascent of One of the Mighty Peaks in British Columbia.’

Henshaw mapped the interior of Vancouver Island in 1910 and 1911. She also wrote about her mountaineering expedition with Swiss guide Edward Feuz and a companion to the summit of Asulkan Pass at 7716 feet in 1910. When war came in 1914, Charles Henshaw was active as a recruiting officer in Vancouver’s Victory Square but Julia Henshaw went overseas to work with an ambulance and food unit. For helping to evacuate several towns under enemy fire, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre with a gold star. The French government later presented her with an enormous painting of Napoleon. Henshaw lectured on flora and fauna at the Alpine Congress in Monaco in 1920.

After her husband's death in 1928, Julia Henshaw began having health problems. She had a heart ailment and cataracts took most of her vision. She took a chance on experimental eye surgery in 1937 and fortunately she did regain much of her sight.

Having lived on Robson Street, she moved to Caulfeild in West Vancouver where she died at age 68 in 1937.

Her first potboiler, Hypnotized: Or the Experiment of Sir Hugh Galbraith: A Romance (1898), was published from Ontario and dubbed “Canadian book of the year.” Possibly Henshaw’s social status as a high society wife had something to do with the praise it received. “The story has probably not been surpassed by any yet written in Canada,” enthused one reviewer. But comprehensive Canadian literary critic Lawrence J. Burpee commented in 1899, during his omnibus review of all recent Canadian novels, “Mrs. Henshaw, of British Colombia, shares with Mr. Phillips-Woolley the honor of being the first novelist of the Pacific province. Her book, entitled Hypnotized, is a study of what may be called unconscious hypnotism. It deserves to be classed with the general run of novels of the mild psychological class; but Mrs. Henshaw can do better work, and doubtless will.”

Her second novel, Why Not, Sweetheart? (1901), uses the provincial asylum for the insane as the Mind Ease Asylum overlooking the Fraser River. In this bizarre tale, Dr. Dufft mentions the case of an hereditarily insane Englishman, Christopher Sabel, to a visiting sportsman named Jack Maclyn near the outset. The plot has all the credibility of a Shakespearean comedy. Maclyn falls in love with the roommate of a progressive and caustic journalist named Agnes Arbuckle. Her shy roommate named Naomi has a jealous guardian named Professor Cyr who declares himself to be Naomi's fiance. The madman Sabel and the evil professor struggle and drown together in a river in the B.C. interior. All’s well that ends well. Naomi is free to explain to Maclyn that she went to the altar with Sabel when she was 17 but he went insane during the ceremony, leaving her half-married to him. Agnes marries a politician named James Kingsearl and the Maclyn marries Naomi.

Henshaw also reportedly wrote a third novel called Is It Just? In any event, by the time her second novel had been published, Henshaw was working as the literary and theatre critic for the Vancouver Province newspaper and writing a column under the pseudonym G'wan. She also worked as the Sunday page editor for the Vancouver News-Advertiser and as an editorial columnist for the Vancouver Sun. [According to Vancouver historian Chuck Davis, the first woman to work as a general newspaper reporter in Vancouver was Lily Laverock who began working for the Vancouver World—owned by city mayor Louis D. Taylor—in 1910.]

Under her pen name Julian Durham, Henshaw also wrote the article, Vancouver: A 12 Year Old City in which she described the new metropolis as "The Liverpool of the West" where 30,000 people lived and worked in a "remarkably progressive seaport... of immense commercial and maritime importance and last, but not least, as things go now-a-days, a city that is the chief outfitting and the only necessary trans-shipping point between Eastern Canada and the Klondyke gold fields.

"In the year 1885, there was no Vancouver - nought save an impenetrable forest of pine trees reigned in all the calm majesty of undisturbed possession where now stone buildings and human beings thicker than the brambles of olden days and man's dogged determination, aided by steam and electricity has evolved out of the primeval forest the greatest Canadian business centre west of the Rocky Mountains."

She adds near the end: "White men and yellow Chinese, Negroes and swarthy Italians, Spaniard, Coreans (sic) and Japanese even intermingling with the new genus homo, the 'Klondyker,' jostle one another as they pass by and any day you may hear the Irish brogue or the canny speech of the Scot, combined with American wit, German expletives or French idioms, as you take your constitutional stroll down the length of Cordova Street.

"All these diverse types vastly interest and amuse a stranger, and invariably cause him to wonder how on earth such a mixture of temperaments, creeds and prejudices to say nothing of languages and customs has ever succeeded in building up so fine a commercial city."

[New information added from Vancouver Sun newspaper writer Daphne Bramham's story, Julia Henshaw: A unique woman of the war, published Saturday, September 6, 2014, The Vancouver Sun.

BOOKS:

Hypnotized: Or the Experiment of Sir Hugh Galbraith: A Romance (Ontario Publishing Company, 1898). By "Julian Durham."
Vancouver: A Twelve-year-Old City (1898).
The Queen City of British Columbia (1899). Non-fiction about Victoria.
Why Not, Sweetheart? (1901; Toronto: George N. Morang, 1902)
British Columbia Up-to-Date (?)
Mountain Wildflowers of Canada: A Simple and Popular Guide to the Names and Descriptions of the Flowers that Bloom Above the Clouds (Toronto: William Briggs, 1906; Boston Ginn & Co 1906).
Mountain Wildflowers of America (1906)
Wild Flowers of North American Mountains (New York: Robert M. McBride Co., 1915, 1917).

[BCBW 2014]