HILL, Beth

Author Tags: Anthropology, First Nations, Local History, Maritime

Beth Hill wrote at least three essential West Coast books on petroglyphs, Frances Barkley and the Sappers.

Beth Hill was born in Ridgeway, Ontario, in 1924 of United Empire Loyalist and Irish potato-famine stock. She worked as a librarian on the Alaska Highway, establishing a regional library out of Dawson Creek, where she met her husband Ray when he arrived to work as a teacher. They were married in 1950. They had two children and moved to Vancouver where Beth Hill drove the Vancouver Public Library's Bookmobile and helped create a similar service for Burnaby. After 25 years, they were drawn by a real estate ad to a nine-acre 'almost island' jutting into Ganges Harbour. There they lived at the water's edge, raising pigs and chickens, and growing vegetables. This property had a midden that triggered Hill's interest in archaeology. They sold most of the property and moved to England and Northern Ireland in order for her to obtain her Certificate in Prehistoric Archaeology from Cambridge. "Carl Jung teaches the profound lesson that you give up the good for something better," she said.

Back in B.C., Beth Hill investigated petroglyphs and received $2,000 for research. Ray Hill immediately used the money to buy a fishboat for further investigations, visiting Indian bands and asking to see any rock carvings. "We spent an entire three months on the fishboat eating mostly rice and fish," she told Deborah Pearce of the Times Colonist, "because we had very little money." She eventually published her first book, Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest. British Columbia has long been the 'hotbed' of petroglyphs or 'rock art', and research into rock art, in Canada. Tracing discoveries on Vancouver Island by anthropologist Franz Boas, Harlan I. Smith, an archaeologist with the National Museum, wrote many of the earliest accounts of petroglyph sites along the West Coast (1906-1936). James A. Teit also reported on pictographs of the interior B.C. (1896-1930). His work was extensively augmented by apiarist John Corner who published an illustrated survey in 1968. From 1936 to 1942, Francis J. Barrow documented south coastal sites. H. Thomas Cain published a pioneering volume called Petroglyphs of Central Washington from the University of Washington Press in 1950. Norwegian archaeologist Gutorm Gjessing, published two studies of B.C. rock art in 1952 and 1958 having undertaken a cross-Canada inventory in 1946-47. A little-known novelist named Edward Meade recorded petroglyphs from Washington State to Alaska in 1949, publishing his findings in 1971. Beth and Ray Hill expanded upon earlier sources to produce their illustrated study in 1974.

Their first coastal title led to Upcoast Summers, Beth Hill's edited version of the journals of Francis Barrow who had sailed in the summers from 1933 to 1941 in the 26-foot Toketie to provide the initial research to record Indian rock art. Francis and Amy Barrow's adventures with their two black spaniels are the most obvious literary twin to The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet.

Hill was a founder of Salt Spring Island Futures, an organizer of the Woodlands Association (dedicated to sustainable forestry and community forest ownership), and an active member of the Voice of Women, the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians, the World Federalists of Canada and the Skies Above Foundation. In 1990, she and her husband travelled by VW bus around Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, visiting museums and writing an unpublished book called 'Journey to Atlantis'. Learning she had cancer, she moved back to Salt Spring and helped her husband plan the solar house he had always wanted to live in. During a six-month remission period, she wrote about her personal life, death and consciousness in Moonrakers. That was the name of a file that she had kept to record spiritual experiences that weren't always explicable. She was working on the footnotes when she died in 1997 at age 73 on Salt Spring Island.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
ndian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest
Sappers: The Royal Engineers in British Columbia
Upcoast Summers


Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest (Hancock, 1974)

The Remarkable World of Frances Barkley (Gray's, 1978)

Times Past: Salt Spring Island Houses and History Before the Turn of the Century. Co-authored by Beth Hill, Sue Mouat, Margaret Cunningham and Lillian Horsdal (Salt Spring Island Historical Society, 1983)

Upcoast Summers (Horsdal & Schubart, 1985)

Sappers: The Royal Engineers in British Columbia (Horsdal & Schubart, 1987)

Exploring the Kettle Valley Railway by Car, Foot, Skis, Horseback or Mountain Bike (Polestar, 1989, 1992)

Seven Knot Summers (Horsdal & Schubart, 1994)

Moonrakers (Horsdal & Schubart, 1997)

The Remarkable World of Frances Barkley 1769-1845 (Heritage House, 2003) with Cathy Converse. Reissued in and expanded from 1978.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "Maritime" "Anthropology" "Local History" "First Nations" "Petroglyphs"


Beth Hill, one of B.C.s leading historians, died on January 24 at age 72. Born in Ontario in 1924 of United Empire Loyalist and potato famine Irish stock, she came to northern British Columbia to establish a regional library out of Dawson Creek for the Alaska Highway. In Dawson Creek she met her husband, Ray, and they were married in 1950. After moving to Vancouver and having two children, she resumed her library career at the Vancouver Public Library before moving to Saltspring Island where she resided for 29 years. She also lived for one year in Northern Ireland and for one year in England where she received her Certificate in Prehistoric Archaeology from Cambridge University. This led to her first book, Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest, which was followed by a booklet called Guide to Indian Rock Carvings.

Hill spent two years researching and writing an account of the life of the first woman to circumnavigate the earth on a sailing ship, The Remarkable Life of Frances Barkley: 1769 to 1845. In 1988 she received an Award of Merit from the B.C. Historical Federation for Sappers: The Royal Engineers in British Columbia. Based on the journals of coastal cruising pioneer Francis Barrow and his wife Amy, her Upcoast Summers reflected her own family's explorations by boat forty years after the Barrows. She also produced an illustrated guidebook, Exploring the Kettle Valley and a history of Saltspring Island. The Hills moved to Victoria in 1988. Diagnosed with cancer in 1994, she produced her most personal book, Moonrakers, an investigation of psychic phenomenae, which is being published posthumously this spring. Beth Hill also contributed to numerous publications such as Pacific Yachting, The Islander, Westworld, Alaska Journal and Raincoast Chronicles.

Not everyone has my luck, Hill told the Times Colonist this year. I've had a blessed life, and I have been given this most beautiful dying; given time to resolve everything.

[BCBW 1997]