Author Tags: Haida Gwaii
Born in Vancouver in 1951, David Ellis has been a commercial fisherman on the Pacific Coast where he became acquainted with First Nations elders Luke Swan of Ahousat and Solomon Wilson of Skidegate, recording their knowledge of Aboriginal use of intertidal zones. As the son of Bill Ellis, he has continued his father's business of privately selling maritime and First Nations titles, particularly to Aboriginal organizations and collectors. David Ellis co-authored Teachings of the Tides: Uses of Marine Inverterbrates by the Manhousat People (Nanaimo: Theytus, 1976; Victoria: Sono Nis, 1981) with Luke Francis Swan, born in 1893. He also co-authored The Knowledge and Use of Marine Invertebrates by the Skidegate Haida People of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Skidegate: Queen Charlotte Islands Museum Society, Monograph No. 1, 1981) with Solomon Wilson.
[BCBW 2005] "Biology" "QCI"
The roving bookseller
from BCBW 2014
David Ellis has expanded his father's unique operation as a travelling salesman who practices "precision bookselling in First Nations communities.
Ellis's father was pioneer B.C. bookseller Bill Ellis who served on the Native Arts and Crafts Committee to Ottawa, alongside Jim Houston and Bill Reid, that was instrumental in opening up the world market for Inuit and Northwest Coast First Nations art. He also broke new ground in the book trade as a mobile purveyor of First Nations [FN] titles.
“Dad sold his books from his home on Haida Gwaii,” says David Ellis, “but he also sold on carefully planned road and boat trips to mainly FN communities. He noted to me that the era of bookstores was coming to a close as high rents and real estate prices had led to the need for a new business model—a travelling bookstore—something he had done already for twenty years, in B.C. and Alaska, with books and prints.”
After a stint in the fishing industry, returning to UBC to get a degree in Natural Resource Management, and another as a fisheries consultant to First Nations and others (fishermen and environmental groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation), David Ellis inherited his father’s independent bookselling business in 2003.
When David Ellis took over his father’s trade, he expanded the service area to all of BC, half of Alberta and the Yukon and NWT, and for the first eight years he focussed his business on bringing First Nations books to schools. In recent years, as literacy has increased in the First Nations communities, he has increasingly moved towards First Nations sales.
“Eighty per cent of my visits are now direct to FNs,” he says. “So, for example, when I go on a trip now to visit the Shuswap people in the interior of B.C., I will have a full selection that now includes almost all of the books by or about them, ethnography, linguistics and archaeology, as well as other issues they are concerned about, such as pipelines and historic references to past salmon abundance. In fact, I even hiked the pipeline and did some research of my own. These trips take a lot of research and pre-buying and when I am on the road I often travel in the evenings, sometimes 100 km to the next community.”
First Nation in each valley has a different local history, so Ellis brings the exact books germane to each area. “It’s kind of like hitting the moon with a rocket,” he says. “I call it precision bookselling.”
David Ellis now has about 60,000 books for and about more than one hundred First Nations, expanding his father’s original inventory from the 20,000 he inherited. He works on about a three-year rotation, over a vast western area—from Haida to Dene to Blackfoot to Kootenay—but his job has become much easier with the advent of more paved roads.
“This work is exciting and fun!” he exclaims. “A few weeks ago I was eating dried pounded caribou meat/belly fat with the Tlicho, formerly “Dogrib” people, near Yellowknife. In the spring, when I visited the Nuuchnulth people on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, I was eating boiled chiton with them, a special seafood unknown outside the native community.”
In the winter, when he can’t go on trips, he supplies university and library archives, often selling self-published local histories that he comes across during his summer trips. He also sells antiquarian books. For example, Ellis recently came into possession of a rare title by pioneer artist Paul Kane.
Often considered the founding father of Canadian art, Paul Kane was the first professional Canadian artist to skillfully depict the Pacific Northwest. Among his subjects was Chief Sepayss, aka Chief of the Waters, who was the father or grandfather of Chilliwack Chief William Sepass (aka K’HHalserten, meaning “Golden Snake”) of Skowkale, near Sardis in the Fraser Valley. William Sepass, it might be noted, became the earliest-born (but not the first) Aboriginal author in British Columbia.
Nearly one hundred of Kane’s sketches have survived from his three months spent on and around the southern tip of Vancouver Island. In 1847, Kane painted Fort Victoria and individual Aboriginals from different tribes who were visiting that fort. As the result of his unprecedented work along the Western Slope, Paul Kane became the first Canadian painter to have a best-selling book. His Wanderings of an Artist, published in 1859, was soon translated into French, Danish and German.
David Ellis is now selling the German edition of Paul Kane’s pre-gold rush account of coming over the Rockies and both observing and painting almost pre-contact First Nation life. “When I recently purchased a collection,” Ellis says, “in it was the original German first edition that I noted had some value on the internet. Attached to the copy was a photo of a tree blaze Kane had autographed and dated. So now I am trying a sort of ‘internet auction’ to contacts I have developed along Kane’s route over the Rockies to Victoria. I now have 100 email contacts along the route, a new way of selling, I hope, as I get a bit older!”
Every book he sells has a story with it. For instance, for the obscure Kane volume, he talked to people in Grande Cache, Alberta, whose Métis relatives had guided David Thompson over the Athabaska Pass in the Rockies on their new trail. This was the fur trade trail that Paul Kane took to reach Victoria.
Have Books, Will Travel
In 2015, at age 64, David Ellis noted he had 257 visits to First Nations in Western Canada (B.C., the Yukon, the NWT and Alberta) over a 24-year period, also noting that possibly only the explorer David Thompson might have visited more. As a travelling salesman for books, he has met hundreds of residential school survivors. One year he encountered six grizzlies. Here are just some of people he met during his travels.
?Aq'am Community Councillor Marty Williams
'Namgis First Nation Chief Councillor Debra Hanuse
Adams Lake Indian Band Chief Robin Billy
Aitchelitz First Nation Chief Angie Bailey
Alexis Creek First Nation Chief Percy Guichon
Barriere Lake First Nation Chief Casey Ratt
Bonaparte Indian Band Chief Ryan Day
Boothroyd Indian Band Chief Rick Campbell
Boston Bar Indian Band Chief Dolores O'Donaghey
Chawathil First Nation Chief Rhoda Perers
Cheam First Nation Chief Sidney Douglas
Coldwater Indian Band Chief Lee Spahan
Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour
Deh Gah Gotie First Nations Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge
Doig River First Nation Chief Norman Davis
Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Liz Logan
Gitsegukla First Nation Chief Clifford Sampare
Halfway River First Nation Chief Darlene Hunter
Hesquiaht Chief April Charleson
High Bar First Nation Chief Larry Fletcher
Katzie First Nation Chief Susan Miller and Council
Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation Resource Stewardship Director Douglas Neasloss
K'omoks First Nation Chief Rob Everson
Kwakiutl Band Council Chief Coreen Child
Kwiakah First Nation Chief Steven Dick
Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation Chief Bob Chamberlin
Kwikwetlem First Nation Councillor Ed Hall
Lhoosk'uz Dene Nation Chief Liliane Squinas
Lhtako Dene Nation Chief Terry Boucher
Liidlii Kue First Nation Sub-Chief Steven Jose
Lil'wat First Nation Chief Lucinda Phillips
Lower Kootenay Band Chief Jason Louie
Lower Nicola Indian Band Chief Aaron Sam
Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Keith Crow
Lytton First Nation Chief Janet Webster
Nadleh Whut'en First Nation Chief Martin Louie
Neskonlith Indian Band Chief Judy Wilson
Nicomen Indian Band Chief Donna Gallinger
Nooaitch Indian Band Chief Marcel Shackelly
Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis
Oregon Jack Creek Indian Band Grand Chief Bob Pasco
Osoyoos Indian Band Councillor Tony Baptiste
Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger
Prophet River First Nation Chief Lynette Tsakoza
Prophet River First Nation Chief Lynette Tsakoza
Saulteau First Nations Chief Nathan Parenteau
Shackan Indian Band Grand Chief Percy Joe
Shuswap Indian Band Head Councillor Barbara Cote
Shxw'ow'hamel First Nation Si:Yam Council Member Irene Smith
Simpcw First Nation Chief Rita Matthew
Siska Indian Band Chief Fred Sampson
Skawahlook First Nation Chief Maureen Chapman
Skeetchestn Indian Band Chief Ron Ignace
Skowkale First Nation Councillor Jeffrey Point
Skuppuh Indian Band Chief Doug McIntyre
Snuneymuxw First Nation Councillor Sandra Good
Splatsín First Nation Chief Wayne Christian
Spuzzum First Nation Chief James Hobart
Squiala First Nation Chief David Jimmie
Sts'ailes Band Chief Harvey Paul
Sucker Creek First Nation Chief Jim Badger
Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver
Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Shane Gottfriedson
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Councillor Terry Dorward
Tsartlip First Nation Chief Don Tom
Tsawaout First Nation Chief Harvey Underwood
Tseshaht First Nation Chief Hugh Braker
Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation Chief Francis Alec
Tsleil-Waututh Nation Councillor Jen Thomas
Tsleil-Waututh Nation Councillor Deanna George
Tzeachten First Nation Chief Glenda Campbell
Upper Nicola Band Chief Harvey McLeod
Upper Similkameen Indian Band Chief Charlotte Mitchell
West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson
Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie
Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band Chief Michael LeBourdais
Williams Lake Band Chief Anne Louie
Xaxli'p First Nations Chief Darrell Bob Sr.
Xeni Gwet'in First Nations Councillor Marilyn Baptiste