LARGE, R. Geddes




Author Tags: First Nations, Local History, Medicine, Missionaries, Mitchell Press, Physician Author

Born on October 21, 1901 in Bella Bella, Richard Geddes Large was given the name Hemasaluk by a Kwakiutl family of the Raven crest. He was the son of Methodist missionary-doctor Richard Whitfield Large who arrived from Ontario to live in Bella Bella (Wáglísla) on McLoughlin Bay, Campbell Island, in December of 1898. Geddes Sr. was the only outsider to continuously observe and document the Bella Bella community during the first decade of the 20th century, sending 145 artifacts to the Provincial Museum in Toronto in 1901 and 1906. By 1928, Franz Boas declared, "The whole culture of the Bella Bella has practically disappeared," but R.G. Large was to prove Boas wrong more than 30 years later with the publication of Soogwilis (1951).

Based in Blunden Harbour, Soogwilis in presented as an epic hero who has various encounters with supernatural creatures, marries Klaquaek and ultimately confronts his human nemesis Pahquees, an old medicine man. Although Large Jr. credited himself as the author of Soogwilis, it was primarily the work of Charlie George of Fort Rupert. According to Large Jr., Charlie George gave the 33 colour drawings in the book to his father when he was a young patient at the Bella Bella Hospital. In a condescending foreword in which Large Jr. suggests some of the illustrations are "undoubtedly crude", he offhandedly cites Charlie George as the source of the accompanying text, as well. "Many years later it was my good fortune to meet the artist and hear from his lips the stories which were meant to go with the pictures. The drawings have undoubted value as ethnological data. Most of the text is the original story [of Soogwilis, the central character] as told by Charlie George, but I have included two additional tales gathered in later years from other Indians, but all of Kwakiutl origin." Large Jr. blended the stories of Charlie George into one narrative in his attempt to "make this book at once ethnologically correct and interesting to the reader," thanking Marius Barbeau for "his helpful criticism" in the process.

R.G. Large received his own medical training at the University of Toronto and served at misson hospitals at Bella Bella and Hazelton prior to accepting the position of superintendent at the Port Simpson Hospital (1926-1931). He maintained his medical practice in Prince Rupert (1931-1982) while becoming increasingly active in civic affairs. He was a president of the Prince Rupert Chamber of Commerce, president of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Medical Association and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Having also served as president of the Museum of Northern B.C. for 25 years and chaired his local school board for eleven years, Large received the Good Citizen of the Year Award in Prince Rupert in 1958. Large Jr. also published The Skeena: River of Destiny (1957), Prince Rupert: A Gateway to Alaska (1960) and Drums and Scalpel: From Native Healers to Physicians on the North Pacific Coast (1968), a significant account of how European medical practices were introduced to the northern B.C. coast. He died in Prince Rupert on April 26, 1988.

BOOKS:

Soogwilis: A Collection of Kwakiutl Indian Designs & Legends (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1951).
The Skeena, River of Destiny (Mitchell Press, 1957; Gray's Publishing, 1981. Reprinted, 6th edition, Heritage House).
Prince Rupert, A Gateway to Alaska (Mitchell Press, 1960).
Drums and Scalpel: From Native Healers to Physicians on the North Pacific Coast (Mitchell Press, 1968).

[BCBW 2004]