GOUGH, Barry M. (1938- )

Author Tags: Early B.C., Essentials 2010, Forts and Fur, Maritime


Barry Gough, B.C.’s most integral maritime historian, wrote the first book ever published by UBC Press, The Royal Navy and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1810–1914 (1971). Now UBC Press publishes more than 50 new books annually and has a backlist of 700 titles. Along the way, Gough has become “the foremost expositor of B.C. nautical history.”

As a former high school teacher who was born in Victoria in 1938, Gough gradually climbed the academic history ladder, becoming founding director of Canadian Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, then a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, fellow of Kings College, London, and life member of the Association for Canadian Studies and of the Champlain Society. He has been archives fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and a member of the board of academic advisors of the Churchill Center, Washington, DC. He has won the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia’s Medal and the Clio Award of the Canadian Historical Association. And so on.

But it is the books that count. Fifteen of them so far, including Fortune’s a River (2007), a cumulative work that integrates Gough’s knowledge of the Spanish, Russian, French, American and British influences on the development of the Pacific coast of North America “with particular emphasis on Canadian traders’ influences on and responses to the Lewis and Clark expedition.”

At 400-plus pages, Fortune’s a River is not for beginners. It needs to be digested slowly, so only time will tell if it becomes the primary overview for pre-Confederation history for the Pacific Northwest, standing alongside Robin Inglis’ wide-ranging who’s who, Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America (2008). The art of concision is seldom rewarded, or even mentioned, so few readers will appreciate that Inglis’ 428-page labour of love, is as artful as it is indispensable for anyone with an abiding interest in B.C. maritime history.

Fortune's A River was followed by Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams (Harbour 2012). SEE REVIEW BELOW

Soldier, fur trader, explorer, adventurer. Peter Pond’s life has long been shrouded in mystery even though he mapped much of northwestern Canada and mentored explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Pond’s first expedition into the wilds of the northwestern territories gained him a fortune in furs and directions to a portage and river system that ultimately carried traders farther west than they had ever travelled.In The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer Who Opened the Northwest (Douglas and McIntyre $34.95) Barry Gough casts a light Pond's life and times by examining memoirs, newspaper clippings, letters and journals to help reconstruct Pond’s past.

Other Barry Gough titles include Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579–1809 (1980), Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846–1890 (1984) and Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1997).


BORN: Victoria, B.C.

DATE: September 17, 1938

EDUCATION: B.A. (University of British Columbia); M.A. (University of Montana); Ph.D. (University of London, 1991)

Once described as "a foremost expositor of B.C. nautical history," former high school teacher Barry Gough studied with Gerald Graham, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, Kings College, University of London and was hired by Western Washington University in 1968. He headed its Canadian Studies Program and was Associate Director of the Northwest Archives Center. In 1972 he went to Wilfrid Laurier University to teach history. He became founding director of Canadian Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University and was promoted to Full Professor 1978 and University Research Professor in 1994. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Fellow of Kings College London, and Life Member of the Association of Canadian Studies and of the Champlain Society. He is an Archives Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge and a member of the board of academic advisors of The Churchill Center, Washington DC. He has won the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia's Medal and the Clio Award of the Canadian Historical Society. Having retired from his eminent career in Ontario, Barry Gough has returned to live in British Columbia and produce more books.

Fortune's A River [see review below] was shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize in 2008. It is a cumulative work that integrates Gough's knowledge of the Spanish, Russian, French, American and British influences on the development of the Pacific coast of North America "with particular emphasis on Canadian traders' influences on and responses to the Lewis and Clark expedition."

Soldier, fur trader, explorer, adventurer. Peter Pond’s life has long been shrouded in mystery even though he mapped much of northwestern Canada and mentored explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Pond’s first expedition into the wilds of the northwestern territories gained him a fortune in furs and directions to a portage and river system that ultimately carried traders farther west than they had ever travelled.In The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer Who Opened the Northwest (Douglas and McIntyre $34.95) Barry Gough casts a light Pond's life and times by examining memoirs, newspaper clippings, letters and journals to help reconstruct Pond’s past.

From Classroom to Battlefield: Victoria High School and the First World War (Heritage House $19.95) coincides with the 100th anniversary of Victoria High School, the oldest public high school in Western Canada. Designed in 1911 by architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury, the school opened its doors in 1914 onto a new era, one vastly different from the gentle Edwardian one that preceded it. Barry Gough, a 1956 school alumni, retraces the lives of 20 former students who fought in the trenches and on the battlefields of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens and other frontlines. In a poignant book about war, memory, and sacrifice, Gough weaves a thread of hopes and dreams into the realities of poison gas, trench warfare and pain, while examining the legacies the conflict left on the home front.

In a dual biography, Churchill and Fisher (Lorimer 2017), Barry Gough examines the relationship and rivalry of the two men at the height of the First World War, a book arising from Jacky Fisher's papers.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Clifford Sifton. Volume One: The Young Napoleon, 1861-1900
Fortune's a River: The Collision of Empires in Northwest America
From Classroom to Battlefield: Victoria High School and the First World War
Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-90
Juan de Fuca's Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams
The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade, and Discoveries to 1812
The Royal Navy and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1810-1914
Searching for a Seaport: with the 1870s CPR Explorer Surveyors on the Coast of British Columbia
The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer who Opened the Northwest


Churchill and Fisher (Lorimer 2017) 9781459411364 $39.95

From Classroom to Battlefield: Victoria High School and the First World War (Heritage House 2014) $19.95 978-1-772030-05-1

The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer Who Opened the Northwest (Douglas and McIntyre 2014) $34.95 978-1-77162-039-0

Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams (Harbour, 2012) $32.95 978-1-55017-573-8

Fortune’s a River: The Collision of Empires in the Pacific Northwest (Harbour 2007). $36.95

Through Water, Ice and Fire: Schooner Nancy of the War of 1812 (Dundurn, 2006).

Britain, Canada and the North Pacific. 2004.

Fighting Sail on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay: The War of 1812 and its Aftermath. 2002.

HMCS Haida: Battle Ensign Flying. (Vanwell Publishing, 2001).

Gough, Barry M. First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie. (University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).

The Falkland Islands/Malvinas: the contest for empire in the south Atlantic. (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Athlone Press, 1992).

Gough, Barry M., ed. The Journal of Alexander Henry the Younger. (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1988, 1992).

Gough, Barry M., ed. The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade and Discoveries to 1812. (UBC Press, 1992).

Gunboat Frontier: British Martime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846- 1890. (UBC Press, 1984).

Gough, Barry M., ed. The Hudson's Bay Company in British Columbia: Forts Langley, Kamloops, Victoria and Simpson. Rodney Wiens...[et al.] (History Dept., Simon Fraser University, 1983).

Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1909 (UBC Press, 1980)

To the Arctic and Pacific with Beechey. (London: Hakluyt Society, 1973).

The Royal Navy on the Northwest Coast. (UBC Press, 1971). Reprinted, revised, as Britannia’s Navy on the West Coast of North America, 1812-1914 (Victoria: Heritage House, 2016) $29.99 / 9781772031102 / See review below

[BCBW 2017]

Fortune’s a River: The Collision of Empires in the Pacific Northwest (Harbour $36.95)

Barry Gough’s Fortune’s a River: The Collision of Empires in the Pacific Northwest (Harbour $36.95) could have been titled The Vast Quarter or The Last Quarter.

He examines the infiltration of Americans and Europeans into the last unmapped area of the North American continent. It’s all fascinating stuff, in bits and pieces—from Russians in Alaska, to migrants from Missouri, to the Spanish in California—but Gough’s avoidance of storytelling can be downright odd for anyone familiar with his range of choices.

Whereas most historians nowadays would have succumbed to the pressure of including gobs of First Nations material, and most would have veered sideways to regurgitate juicy details of Captain Cook’s murder in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) or John Jewitt’s sensational captivity as ‘the white slave of the Nootka,’ Gough prefers to open his panorama by elevating the stature of the little-known but remarkable world traveler John Ledyard (the ‘American Marco Polo’) who became the first American to set foot in B.C. territory, arriving with Cook in 1778.

A few chapters later, Gough similarly elevates the significance of American mariner John Kendrick, a robust character who purchased pieces of property in the late 18th century and became the province’s first land speculator. “Kendrick’s hunger for land knew no bounds,” writes Gough.

After Kendrick was also killed in Hawaii, he was overshadowed by the achievements of his sailing partner, Robert Gray, the first American captain to enter the mouth of the Columbia River and to circumnavigate the globe.

An old-school professor with long paragraphs and pro-British leanings, Gough allocates less than a page to the expedition of Juan Pérez, the first explorer known to have reached B.C. waters in 1774, and even less coverage of the highly civilized Malaspina, who aimed to serve as the equivalent of Captain Cook for Spain.

David Thompson, who literally covered far more ground that anyone, might have received even more emphasis in such a geographically ambitious work, but Gough seems to favour the influence of Alexander Mackenzie, about whom he has written a biography.

Simon Fraser, essentially a Mackenzie-wannabe, is appropriately allocated to second fiddle.

As if it’s against his nature to entertain, Gough opts not to give details of one of the few romantic tales he might have legitimately told.

When the widowed Baron Rezanov sailed to San Francisco Bay in 1806, desperate to obtain some badly-needed food supplies for his fellow Russians who were nearly starving in Alaska, he fell in love with the Spanish commandant’s beautiful daughter Doña Concepción.

Trading between Spain and Russia was illegal at the time, but the sudden betrothal between Rezanov and the teenage Spaniard enabled the Spanish governor to fudge the rules, ostensibly allowing trade between relatives. Unfortunately a papal dispensation was required to enable the Greek Orthodox baron to marry a Roman Catholic, so the lovers were forced to postpone their nuptials after a six-week courtship.

It’s a true story worthy of an opera, but Gough limits it to a few sentences. We learn, “shortly thereafter Rezanov died from an illness that led to a fatal fall from his horse at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. Doña Concepción, it is said, did not learn about this for forty years after. So ended the first attempt to bring Russia and Spain into closer cooperation on the Pacific coast of North America.”

Gough refrains from turning this episode into Entertainment Tonight. His subject is, after all, the collision of empires, not bodies.

Neither does he care to speculate as to how the history of the Pacific Coast might have evolved had Rezanov not fallen from his horse.

Watching Barry Gough play hopscotch with history is highly agreeable if you already know the broad outlines of the game; that way one can take pleasure in the details.

We learn, for instance, that when Alexander Mackenzie met David Thompson, he told the mapmaker that he (Thompson) had “performed more in ten months than he expected could have been done in two years.”

And hands up anyone who knew that José Narváez was the first Spaniard to encounter Russians in person on the West Coast?

Cumulatively, Fortune’s a River is a grand performance by a maestro who can only be criticized by the likes of a Salieri who once dissed Mozart for having too many notes.

In the process, readers gain a much-needed appreciation of the formative role played by Thomas Jefferson—an admirer of John Ledyard, and the mastermind behind the Lewis & Clark expedition—in determining the fate of the Pacific Coast.

There’s also the odd pleasure of encountering a crusty professor, like the kind portrayed by the late John Housemann in movies, who can assert, with complete confidence:

“We can now see that it was the British, surprisingly, not the Russians, who had prevented the northern consolidation and expansion of the Spanish empire in this quarter…

“By excluding the Spanish from Nootka Sound and Neah Bay, the British inadvertently handed the United States a remarkable gift.”

At 400-plus pages, Fortune’s a River is not for beginners. It needs to be digested slowly, so only time will tell if it becomes the primary overview for pre-Confederation history for the Pacific Northwest.

Having written the first book to be published by UBC Press in the early 1970s, Gough has returned from three decades of teaching in eastern Canada to publish Fortune’s a River with a B.C. company. It’s a homecoming, of sorts, one that might go under-appreciated because he errs on the side of content in an age of piffle.

Barry Gough was founding director of Canadian Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He now lives in Victoria where he is not a blogger, and he doesn’t have a website.


[BCBW 2007] "history"

Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams
Review (2013)

kd lang’s overwrought version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was all very well. And it was great to have local, spoken word poet Shane Koyczan recite his paean to how nice we are as Canadians at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics. But imagine the bewilderment of the world—as well as 99.9% of British Columbians—if Olympic organizers had commissioned the province’s foremost maritime historian, Barry Gough, to conceive the opening ceremonies and tell the story of how modern British Columbian society began...

A public address system narrator would begin with, “Once upon a time, in a café in Venice, in April, in 1596….”

It was there and then, in a place not yet called Italy, that the English correspondence of merchant Michael Lok first attributes the earliest visit to the shores of what we now call B.C. by a European mariner, as Barry Gough has neatly outlined in the opening chapter for his 15th book, Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams (Harbour $32.95).

That ancient mariner is now commonly known as Juan de Fuca.

The first European mariner to have reached B.C. waters, according to written eyewitness accounts, was the Spaniard Juan Peréz in 1774, some four years before Captain James Cook famously set foot at Nootka Sound in 1778, accompanied by British crewman that included George Vancouver and William Bligh. But, as Barry Gough now makes clear, there is ample evidence to assert that the first “European discoverer” of B.C. was actually a Greek explorer named Apostolos Valerianos, sailing for Spain under the name of Juan de Fuca.

In Juan de Fuca’s Strait, Gough carefully relates how Juan de Fuca was an old man when he met an English dealer in fine fabrics, Michael Lok, in Venice, in 1596. Lok, who also spoke French, Spanish, Italian and Latin, was acutely aware that major seafaring nations were hoping to discover a “northwest passage” to the riches of the Orient.

Lok was therefore fascinated by Juan de Fuca’s account of a voyage made “up the backside” of North America, in 1592. The transplanted Greek, from the island of Kefalonia—the largest of the Ionian Islands along the Adriatic Coast, a place “held in fee” by the city state of Venice, acquired in 1500—provided Lok with a detailed verbal summary of a voyage as far north as the 48th parallel, at which point he entered a waterway (that now bears his name) that he called the Strait of Nova Spain.
Lok, as an English consul, excitedly sent this news to England. The Greek/Spanish mariner was offering his services to the Queen of England for 100 pounds to help England discover the Northwest Passage. Specifically, Juan de Fuca agreed to serve as a pilot if England provided a ship of forty tons. A pilot in a Spanish vessel, as Gough explains, corresponded to a first mate on English and American ships, second in command.

But Juan de Fuca also wanted the English to provide compensation for goods stolen from him by Captain Cavendish in 1587 when, on a return voyage from the Philippines and China on the 700-ton Manila galleon Santa Anna, Juan de Fuca was overtaken by Cavendish who stole his cargo valued at some 60,000 ducats, near Cabo San Lucas, where Juan de Fuca was put ashore with food and handguns.

Unfortunately for the English, Juan de Fuca’s request for restitution could not be resolved quickly. Juan de Fuca returned to Kefalonia but continued to communicate with Lok, using his native Greek. When Lok wrote to Juan de Fuca in Kefalonia in 1602 and no reply was received, the Englishman presumed, perhaps correctly, that Juan de Fuca must have died.

The written evidence that Juan de Fuca was the first European to discover the strait between Vancouver Island and Washington State that bears his name is provided in a remarkable compilation of travel literature called Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes Contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells by Englishmen and others in 1625.

Maritime historian Samuel Purchas based his entry about Juan de Fuca on letters written by Michael Lok, who had written to the Lord Treasurer, to Sir Walter Raleigh and to Master Richard Hakluyt, asking them to send 100 pounds to bring Juan de Fuca to England.

As recorded by Samuel Purchas, the Viceroy of Mexico had sent Juan de Fuca “with a small Caravela and a Pinnace, armed with Mariners only” along the coast of New Spain and California in 1592. He sailed “until he came to the Latitude of 47 degrees and there finding that the land trended North and North-East, with a broad Inlet of Sea, between 47 and 48 degrees of Latitude, he entered there into, sayling therein more than twentie days, and found that land trending still sometime North-West and North, and also East and South-Westward, and very much broader sea than was at the said entrance, and that he passed by divers Illands in that Sayling. And that at the entrance of this said Strait, there is on the North-West coast thereof, a great Hedland or Iland, with an exceedingly high Pinacle, or spired Rocke, like a piller thereupon. Also he said, that he went on the land in divers places, and that he saw some people of Land, clad in Beasts’ skins; and that the Land is very fruitful and rich of Gold, Silver, Pearle, and other things, like Nova Spania. And also he said, that being entered thus farre into the said Strait, and being come into the North Sea already, and finding the Sea wide enough everywhere and to be about thirtie or fortie leagues wide in the mouth of the Straits, where he entered he thought he had now well discharged his office and done the things he was sent to do.”

It is important to note that Juan de Fuca claimed the entranceway to the great inlet between 47º and 48º was marked by “an exceedingly high pinnacle or spired rock, like a pillar, thereupon.”

The coastal historian Captain John T. Walbran later corroborated this report in his British Columbia Coast Names. He wrote, “This is substantially correct; the island is Tatooche, and the spired rock, now known as De Fuca’s pillar, 150 feet high, stands in solitary grandeur, a little off shore, about two miles southwards of Tatooche Island.”

The first English mariner to recognize Juan de Fuca’s strait was Captain Charles Barkley on the Imperial Eagle in 1787—almost two centuries after Juan de Fuca’s voyage. He consequently named Juan de Fuca Strait because it lay above the 47th parallel, where Lok’s report of Juan de Fuca’s exploration had designated it to be.

Frances Barkley’s diary of her husband’s 1787 voyage recorded the following perceptions: “The entrance appeared to be about four leagues in width, and remained about that width as far as the eye can see. Capt. Barkley at once recognized it as the long lost strait of Juan de Fuca, which Captain Cook had so emphatically stated did not exist.”

In 1847, American historian Robert Greenhow published a history of Oregon and California in which he supplied a summary of Juan de Fuca’s life based upon the English and Spanish translations of the correspondence between de Fuca and Lok. In 1854, another American historian named Alexander S. Taylor took up the narrative by asking the American consul in the Ionian Islands, A.S. York, to gather any and all material concerning Juan de Fuca and his family.

York provided information gleaned from The Lives of Glorious Men of Cephalonia written and published in Venice in October 1843 by Rev. Anthimos Mazarakis, a Kefalonian. The book had been translated into Italian by Tomazeo. Taylor published two articles in the September and October 1859 issues of Hutchings’ California Magazine that recounted what he had gleaned about Juan de Fuca’s life.

According to Taylor’s research, the ancestors of John Phokas (Fucas) fled Constantinople in 1453 and found refuge in the Ionian Islands. One brother named Andronikos Phokas remained as the head of Phokas family. Another brother Emmanuel Phokas was born in Constantinople in 1435 and departed in 1470 for Kefalonia. Juan de Fuca was one of four sons born to Emmanuel Phokas, also known as Phokas Valerianos to distinguish him from the Phokas family in Argostoli. Emmanuel Phokas settled in a valley in southwestern Kefalonia, at Elios. In that valley was situated the village of Valeriano, now vanished. Most of the island's buildings were destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1950s. A statue of Juan de Fuca has since been erected. The neighboring island of Ithaki is the legendary home of Odysseus; Kefalonia boasts Apostolos Valerianos (Juan de Fuca).

Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams represents a synthesis of forty years of research by Barry Gough into maritime exploration of the West Coast. After capably recounting this tale of the ancient mariner, Gough proceeds to illuminate the voyages of mariners in his wake, such as James Cook, Manuel Quimper, José María Narváez, George Vancouver, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra and Dionisio Alcalá Galiano. 978-1-55017-573-8-6

Shortlisted for CAA Award
Press Release (2013)

Barry Gough’s book Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams (Harbour Publishing, $32.95) has been shortlisted for the Lela Common Award for Canadian History as part of the 2013 Canadian Authors Association Literary Awards.

In Juan de Fuca’s Strait: Voyages in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams, Barry Gough expertly connects the story of Michael Lok and Juan de Fuca to personalities like Francis Drake, his imitator Thomas Cavendish, the cosmologist and mystic Dr. John Dee, the familiar James Cook and George Vancouver, privateer turned gold-seeker Martin Frobisher, and even that famed patron of seaborne trade and incipient empire, Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess. Gough shares their stories of intrigue and deception, the falsification of evidence and the burying of secrets. Some of these characters pursued a nobler calling of science and surveying, while others showed their ambitious spirit, planting flag-markers and carving an empire in the region’s last unclaimed plots. With the help of detailed black and white maps and illustrations, Juan de Fuca’s Strait follows their pursuit of discovery.

Dr. Barry Gough is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Fellow of King’s College London and a Life member of the Association of Canadian Studies, and has been awarded a Doctor of Letters for distinguished contributions to Imperial and Commonwealth history. He is the author of many critically acclaimed books including Fortune’s a River (Harbour Publishing, 2007), which won the John Lyman Book Award for best Canadian naval and maritime history and was shortlisted for the Nereus Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize. Gough has been called the “foremost expositor of BC nautical history” and has been writing about the history of the Pacific Coast for almost four decades. He lives in Victoria, BC.

The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer who Opened the Northwest
Review (2015)

from Keven Drews
The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer who Opened the Northwest by Barry Gough (D&M $34.95)

The late 18th-and early 19th-century explorer and fur trader Peter Pond fought for the British in the Seven Years War, won a duel, was implicated in two murders but evaded prosecution.

These adventures alone would have been enough to merit a biography but Barry Gough tells a bigger story in The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer who Opened the Northwest (D&M $34.95).

Gough reveals how Pond “opened Canada’s and North America’s greatest fur preserve, the vast untamed Athabasca,” and even “lit the way,” for famed explorer Alexander Mackenzie, but Pond “holds no secure place in American history and no firm place in Canada’s either.”

Peter Pond was born in Milford, Connecticut in 1740, of Puritan heritage, the third of 11 children. He received a rudimentary education. Barely literate, he fought in the Seven Years War and was present for the fall of Montreal.
After travelling to the West Indies and marrying, he followed in his father’s footsteps and commenced trading for six years in present-day Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

At one point, Pond recorded he was abused “in a Shamefull manner.” Pond challenged the man to a duel. “We met the next morning eairley,” he writes, “and Discharged Pistels in which the Pore fellow was unfortennt.”

Pond moved to Saskatchewan in the 1770s and took control of an Athabasca River trading venture in 1778. He left for Grand Portage a year later with his furs and took one of 16 shares in the newly-founded North West Company. Not long after, Pond would be accused of murder.

The North West Company sent Jean-Etienne Waden to the Athabasca region to take over the fur trade that Pond had opened. He created a post at Lac la Ronge, about 250 kilometres north of present-day Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. We know Pond joined him there in 1781. Somebody shot Waden in early March of 1782 and he was buried the following morning, in frozen ground.

“An absence of details,” clouds the shooting, according to Gough, who believes Waden was shot by either his clerk, Toussaint Lesieur, or Pond. Word of the killing travelled east to Waden’s widow, Marie-Josephte who pressed charges against the two men. Historians disagree whether Pond ever stood trial.

When the North West Company was reorganized in 1783, Pond refused to take a share and returned for his third winter at the Athabasca Post. In 1784, he returned to Grand Portage and Montreal and began drawing maps of the northwest. One year later, he joined the prestigious Beaver Club and even presented his map and a memorandum to the U.S. Congress.

A former North West Company trader named John Ross was the second alleged murder victim of Pond. Ross had been dropped when the company re-organized in 1783. He joined another firm connected with Alexander Mackenzie: Gregory, MacLeod and Company. “His job was to draw off his rival’s traffic,” and “brazenly, he set up a post under Pond’s nose,” writes Gough.

Competition escalated to a point in 1786 and 1787 that a scuffle with Pond’s men broke out, and Ross was shot. News of the murder reached Grand Portage by the summer of 1787, and then travelled east to Montreal. So significant was Ross’ death, says Gough, that the North West Company and Gregory, MacLeod and Company united. The incident led to Pond’s withdrawal or forced retirement from the fur trade in 1790 at the age of 50.

Alexander Mackenzie once provided this description of Peter Pond:

“Pond stalked into the hall, a pack of dogs at his heels. The gray-haired giant had not shaved in weeks, his buckskins were stained, and he was badly in need of a bath.
But his natural dignity was overwhelming. He ate a large venison steak, a platter of bear-bacon, and a moose liver. He insisted his dogs be given fresh meat, too.”

History books tend to skip over the fact that it was Pond who disclosed to the world the general features of the river system that would one day bear Alexander Mackenzie’s name. As Gough puts it, it was Peter Pond who “sprang open the secrets” of the northwest.
“His greatest gift, however, was to the ungrateful and selfish Alexander Mackenzie. His findings fire the young Scot with the possibilities of discovery in the north and the lure of glory that led him to follow the course of the great river to its mouth in 1789 and overland to the Pacific in 1793.”
In 1789, Pond had presented his findings to the governor of Quebec, findings that became the subject of talks in London the next year. A map of his discoveries was first published in Gentleman’s Magazine, a London periodical.
Pond started writing a memoir in 1793 and he died in the town of his birth in 1807.

About two centuries later Barry Gough began the difficult task of piecing together Pond’s story when the editors of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography handed him a file and asked him to “take a fresh look at Pond.”

Harold Innis had written a “pioneering biography” called Peter Pond: Fur Trader and Adventurer in 1930 and Gough had access to Pond’s 36-sheet memoir but the trader’s early letters on Great Slave Lake had disappeared and the records of the North West Company and its rivals are “furtive and fragmentary.”

Much of his research focused on The English River Book, a surviving journal of the North West Company kept during Pond’s latter years in the Athabasca, and edited by Barry Duckworth, as well as maps that Pond drew.

It’s not a light read. Gough has declined the seduction of engaging in creative non-fiction to flush out the details, “save where I have speculated on Pond’s appearance.”

Pond is mentioned only a few times in chapter 3, “Wilderness Tangles: Robert Rogers, Jonathan Carver, and the Northwest Passage,” and a few more maps or illustrations could have eased the way for people who aren’t scholars. But these are minor points when considering Gough’s purpose.

Barry Gough accomplishes what he sets out to do, and he does it in a way that merits our curiosity and time.
It is reassuring to see that a serious work such as this one can be nominated for the Roderick Haig-Brown Prize for best book about B.C.


Keven Drews is a full-time journalist who is concurrently pursuing a Master’s degree in creative writing at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

Britannia’s Navy on the West Coast of North America, 1812-1914
Review (2017)

Reviewed by Howard Stewart


Fans will know that Barry Gough, British Columbia’s premier naval historian, is equally seadog and landlubber. His torrid pace in retirement has included major books on Juan de Fuca (2012), Peter Pond (2014), and Victoria High School in the Great War (2014).

Gough gets his sea legs back with Britannia’s Navy on the West Coast of North America, 1812-1914, an account of the role of the Royal Navy in the early history of British Columbia.

Reviewer Howard Stewart notes that while the Royal Navy ensured the survival of a colonial British presence at a time of bellicose “manifest destiny” from the south, the same navy also engaged from time to time in gunboat diplomacy with the Indigenous inhabitants of the B.C. coast. -- Ed.


This book is a revision, after forty-five years, of distinguished naval historian Barry Gough’s first major publication on naval history, The Royal Navy and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1810-1914: A Study of British Maritime Ascendancy (1971) -- the first book published by UBC Press.

Gough’s key message is that the Royal Navy repeatedly provided much of the skill and power the British Empire required to conquer, and then hold, its most distant of colonial outposts here on the northeast Pacific shore.

Illustrious representatives of empire like James Cook and George Vancouver and their crews had already come and seen the place; others followed them to trade. Much is made, in traditional B.C. histories, of the roles of the maritime sea otter trade and the spreading terrestrial domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company in establishing a British foothold in this distant portal.

Gough doesn’t deny these roles; he simply aims to restore some balance to our perspective by pointing out how Britain’s remarkable globe-spanning navy also helped ensure the survival of a sometimes tenuous British presence, not just in those early years but throughout the nineteenth century.

To this end, Gough recounts the repeated critical interventions of the Royal Navy that helped this tiny, isolated, and vulnerable Eurasian enclave come into existence and then stay there. In the process, he recounts fascinating tales of geopolitics unfolding around the Pacific and, increasingly, around the Salish Sea.

One of the many strengths of the book is the rich detail Gough shares about the remarkable technologies mastered by this navy, especially in the age of sail and before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. It was a time when skilled mariners who had “mastered the passage” could expect to spend almost two months just making the run from Rio de Janeiro to Valparaiso; the return voyage was a little faster thanks to the powerful westerlies forever sweeping across the wild southern Pacific. And that’s only the middle section of the five or six month odyssey from England, via the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), to the Royal Navy’s base at Esquimalt on Vancouver’s Island.

Gough rightly points out that “the history of British Columbia is the history of transportation” (p. 18). Canadian grandees, from John A. Macdonald to W.A.C. Bennett, would certainly agree with him. This author’s great contribution is to remind us of the naval dimension of this history of transportation: the decisive early role played by the Royal Navy’s mastery of navigation and its sheer power on the global oceans.

He also shows us the many influences of that navy’s evolving relationship with other “blue water” navies, most notably that of the US, but also of the Russian and Japanese empires; all were active, but some were far more threatening than others.

While the Japanese were increasingly reliable allies, the Russians were a constant threat on the northeast Pacific, and their risk was increased by their often cozy relations with the bulimic republican American empire spreading so rapidly across the middle of North America.

The danger posed by Moscow’s Pacific fleet was a distant but very real echo of the “Great Game” the two empires were locked in across Asia. It flared up in times of conflict such as the Crimean War in the 1850s, when British admirals fretted about possible aggression by the Russian navy against their Vancouver Island haven at Esquimalt, which they started using as a north Pacific station in 1848, and where a graving dock was built in 1887.

This kind of global geopolitical worry in London contrasted with the frequent diffidence displayed by imperial governments when responding to more local tempests around the same time, such as those arising in the San Juan Islands, or even in B.C.’s flash-in-the-pan gold rush on the Fraser River.

Yet the need to resist repeated American urges to fulfill their “manifest destiny” was a compelling imperative through most of the century. The victory of federalist forces south of the border in 1865 unleashed a wave of mostly unjustified paranoia in British North America about Fenian terrorists aiming to destabilize and even conquer British colonies and possessions, including the two colonies north of the new US Territory of Washington.

The American purchase of Alaska, engineered by Secretary of State William Seward two years after the end of their civil war, was undoubtedly a more real threat. The Americans’ good relations with the Russian Empire bearing down from the north had been worrisome enough; now Seward boasted that his purchase of Alaska would render “the permanent political separation of British Columbia from Alaska and Washington territory impossible” (p. 265).

As the century reached its final years, Britannia’s navy increasingly came up against the realization that it would have to share its rule of the waves with others, particularly as the newly united German Empire began its own concerted effort to challenge British domination of the seas.

Out here on the far side of the world such challenges helped stimulate accommodation instead of competition with the rambunctious southern neighbours. The US was now steadily building up its own powerful naval presence on the Pacific in general, and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along Puget Sound in particular.

The growing disparity by the end of the century led Rear Admiral A.K. Bickford, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy in the Pacific, to complain of the urgent need to recognise the “dangerously weak state” of his forces. The reply from Britain’s First Lord of the Navy was not encouraging: “The very fact of the great superiority of the US Squadron in the Pacific should shew us how impossible it is for us in view of the requirements elsewhere to maintain a Squadron in the Pacific capable of coping with it. It is impossible for this country in view of the greater development of foreign navies to be a superior force everywhere” (p. 297).

Some readers will take issue with Gough’s chapter on the role of the Royal Navy in consolidating imperial control over this coast’s Indigenous people. While recognizing the legacy of distrust and pain left by First Nations mistreatment at the hands of Royal Navy gunboats and drunken sailors, the author sometimes seems to accept the imperial rhetoric of the time a little too uncritically.

The files that Gough has mined so ably in Britannia’s Navy were those of an imperial power with little or no concern about the long-term effects on local Indigenous populations of their standard techniques of imperial control. Razing the odd village was just something that had to be done to keep the Natives in check.

Gough’s is also somewhat too accepting of official British explanations about their strategies on the larger geopolitical stage. It’s one thing to point out that pragmatic imperial thinkers “never had a grand design in their expansionist tendencies… [and] had no theory of imperialism or of empire… [and wanted only] peace for the purpose of profit…,” but it’s another to suggest that “they fought for stable government… and stable places for their investments (p. 16).”

In fact, as the Opium Wars and many smaller interventions around the world demonstrated, the British Empire often sought to destabilize or simply eradicate competent governments that stood in the way of Imperial commercial and investment plans.

But these are tangential quibbles, from a twenty-first century perspective, about Gough’s main contribution: a masterfully researched naval history assembled, originally, in the second half of the twentieth century and drawing upon a rich trove of archival material from the nineteenth century.

And while Gough has not provided a twenty-first century sort of history sounding the views of many different types of actors, he has written a very entertaining one that brings alive the remarkable history of the Royal Navy on the northeast Pacific and charts its very substantial contributions to the survival of the tiny and improbable British outpost that emerged here over the nineteenth century.


Howard Macdonald Stewart is an historical geographer and non-practicing international consultant who writes from Denman Island where he has lived, off and on, for more than thirty years. He has worked in more than seventy countries since the 1970s and is now intensely allergic to airplanes. He reviewed many books for BC Studies and is now reviewing for The Ormsby Review. His 17,000-word story of a bicycle trip down the Danube with Cornelius Burke in 1973 was published as The Ormsby Review’s popular #21 (September 28, 2016). His forthcoming book on five parallel histories of the Strait of Georgia / North Salish Sea, based on his doctoral research in the Geography Department at UBC, is scheduled for publication by Harbour in 2017. An insider’s view of his four decades on the road, notionally titled Around the World on Someone Else’s Dime: Confessions of an International Worker, is also a work in progress.


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[BCBW 2017]