MCKELVIE, B.A. (1889-1960)




Author Tags: 1900-1950, First Nations, Forts and Fur, Journalism

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Before B.C. BookWorld, there was Charles Lillard. And before Charles Lillard, there was Alan Morley and Arthur Mayse. But before that, there was B.A. McKelvie. Bruce Alistair “Pinkie” McKelvie was an unabashedly middle-brow newspaperman who served as the first popularizer of B.C. history. According to McKelvie, he once saved the life of a drowning Sliammon girl and was made an honorary Coast Salish chief. Decades later, he was not averse to publishing Tales of Conflict: Indian-White Murders and Massacres in Pioneer British Columbia (1949). His best literary idea was an attempt to craft a popular biography of the Mowachaht chief who met Captain Cook in 1778, Maquinna the Magnificent (1946). In Legends of Stanley Park (1941), McKelvie recorded how Stanley Park was once home to Si’atmulth, the Rainmaker, who punished the first man, Kalana, by imposing a drought upon the world. McKelvie also wrote a teen adventure novel, The Black Canyon: A Story of’58 (1927), and he is best remembered for his 118-page Early History of the Province of British Columbia (1926), published in the same year as his first novel, Huldowget, depicting the clash of values between encroaching Christianity and aboriginal spirituality.

The plot of Huldowget: A Story of the North Pacific Coast (1926) gives an indication of McKelvie’s style. At a small mission up the coast called Fort Oliver, Father David, a didactic missionary with 40 years’ experience, learns that a half-breed shaman named Thompson is practising heathen rites. Thompson wants to marry Father David’s lovely missionary hospital assistant Mary Cunningham, who in turn, loves the local police officer named John Collishaw. Mary falls temporarily under the spell of the “necromancer” Thompson. The Indians force Thompson and Collishaw to undergo “trial by mouse” whereby the tiny animal’s movement towards one man or the other determines who is to be buried alive. Although McKelvie makes a sincere attempt to translate complex conflicts into a dramatic narrative, he mainly succeeds in his efforts “to picture some of the trials and tribulations and disappointments of a missioner and his wife.”

Born in B.C. in 1889, McKelvie began working as a printer’s apprentice at age ten. From 1913 onwards, he worked for more than 30 years in the Vancouver and Victoria newspaper trade, becoming managing editor of the Victoria Colonist in 1930. An ardent British Columbian, he launched a successful “Buy B.C. Products” campaign. He retired to Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island where he died in 1960. Mount McKelvie and McKelvie Creek are named in his honour.

FULL ENTRY:

Bruce Alistair 'Pinkie' McKelvie was an admirable hack. With a newspaperman's soul, he was seldom averse to sensationalizing the past, based on fanciful research, if it meant getting more people to pay attention. If McKelvie is to be believed, his lifelong interest in the First Nations of British Columbia was partly inspired by an heroic act from his youth when he saved the life of a drowning Sliammon girl and was thereafter made an honorary chief among the Coast Salish. Possibly McKelvie's best idea was Maquinna the Magnificent (Montreal: Southam Company, Vancouver Daily Province, 1946), an attempt to craft a popular biography of the Mowachaht chief Maquinna loosely based on historical accounts and impressions left by visitors to Friendly Cove in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Ian S. Mahood undertook much the same project in 1971 but neither work has had lasting appeal.

In Legends of Stanley Park (Vancouver: n.p., 1941), McKelvie recorded Stanley Park was home to Si'atmulth, the Rainmaker, who once punished Chief Kapalana (sic) by imposing a drought upon the World, so the Insect People assaulted the house of Si'atmulth and stole his baby, whereupon the Rainmaker was forced to make peace.

McKelvie wrote a teen adventure novel, The Black Canyon: A Story of ‘58 (London, Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1927), loosely based on a fatal attack on goldseekers by Indians in the Fraser Canyon, but he is perhaps best remembered for his novel, Huldowget (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1926), one of the first attempts to depict the clash of values between encroaching Christianity and Aboriginal spirituality. At a small mission up the coast called Fort Oliver, Father David, a didactic missionary with 40 years experience, learns that a half-breed shaman named Thompson is practicing heathen rites. Thompson wants to marry Father David's lovely missionary hospital assistant Mary Cunningham who, in turn, loves the local police officer named John Collishaw. Mary falls temporarily under the spell of the 'necromancer' Thompson. The Indians force Thompson and Collingshaw to undergo 'trial by mouse' whereby the tiny animal's movement towards one man or the other determines who is to be buried alive. The novel is often condescending towards Indians but McKelvie was making a sincere effort to translate complex frictions into a dramatic story. He wrote in his Foreword, "an effort has been made to picture some of the trials and tribulations and disappointments of a missioner and his wife."

Born in B.C. on November 19, 1889, McKelvie grew up in various parts of the province. At age ten he worked as a printer's apprentice. After working at various newspapers around the province, he joined The Vancouver Province in May of 1913 as a reporter, covering the police and city hall beats. He worked for more than 30 years in the Vancouver newspaper trade, and for the Victoria Colonist for seven years, becoming its managing editor in 1930. He also published a 116-page summary of the history of British Columbia in 1926.

Also, according to the public archives of Canada, "From 1929 to 1930 he served as Director of the Bureau of Provincial Information. In 1931 he was part of the BC delegation to Honolulu to negotiate a trade pact with New Zealand and in the following year represented BC at an Imperial Trade Conference in Ottawa. While manager of the Vancouver Board of Trade Manufacturers' Bureau, he launched a successful "Buy B.C. Products" campaign. McKelvie also held executive posts with the BC Historical Association and Native Sons of BC. McKelvie twice tried to represent Victoria, first in the provincial election of 1 June 1937 and in a federal by-election of 29 November 1937 but was unsuccessful on both occasions."

He retired to Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island where he died on April 17, 1960. Mount McKelvie and McKelvie Creek are named in his honour.

BOOKS:

Huldowget: A Story of the North Pacific Coast (Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1926) -- novel
Early History of the Province of British Columbia (London, Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1926)
The Black Canyon: A Story of '58 (London, Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1927; reprinted 1947, 1958) - juvenile fiction
Pelts and Powder (1929) -- novel
Legends of Stanley Park (Vancouver: n.p., 1941)
Maquinna the Magnificent (Montreal: Southam Company, Vancouver Daily Province, 1946)
Fort Langley: Outpost of Empire. (Vancouver Daily Province, 1947; reprinted Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1957; reprinted as Fort Langley: Birthplace of British Columbia, by Porcepic Books, 1991, as arranged by Charles Lillard)
Tales of Conflict: Indian-White Murders and Massacres in Pioneer British Columbia (Vancouver Province, 1949; Heritage, 1985)
Pageant of B.C. (Nelson & Sons, 1955; reprinted 1957)
Magic, Murder and Mystery (1966)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "History of B.C." "First Nations" "1900-1950" "Journalism" "Classic" "Stanley Park" "Forts and Fur"