ORMSBY, Margaret Anchoretta

Author Tags: Local History, Women

"British Columbians have always been literate, and they have always been inspired by a sense of their province's destiny." -- Margaret Ormsby

Few other scholars have been so identified with the history of British Columbia as Margaret Ormsby. Published in 1958 to celebrate the B.C. Centennial, her British Columbia: A History was immediately a bestseller--at $4.75 per copy--and it remained the standard reference for several decades until new histories by Martin Robin, George Woodcock and Jean Barman.

Born in Quesnel on June 7, 1909, Ormsby grew up on a Coldstream fruit ranch and attended high school in Vernon. Hers was one of the first graduate degrees conferred by the new UBC History department when she received her M.A. in 1931. As a female academic, she was also a groundbreaker. She received her Ph.D from Bryn Mawr College in 1937, having earned a Bryn Mawr scholarship, but no positions were available in Canada. She taught at a private San Francisco high school until she could join McMaster University in 1940. She overcame departmental discrimination against female scholars at both McMaster and UBC, where she began to teach in 1943. She finally attained the status of Full Professor in 1955. She became Acting Head in 1963, then chaired the department for ten years until her retirement in 1974. She returned to live at the family home in Coldstream, continuing to write. Her local history of Coldstream, published when she was 81, boldly declared her hometown was 'nulli secundus', second to none. Along the way Ormsby became the second female president of the Canadian Historical Association in 1965. She chaired the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the B.C. Heritage Advisory Board. She was a member of the Board of Governors at Okanagan College from 1980 to 1985. A Margaret Ormsby Doctoral Scholarship in B.C. History was established in 1993. There is a university-level Margaret Ormsby Prize for the Best Essay on British Columbia History. She was long active in the Okanagan Historical Society. She died in her Coldstream home on November 2, 1996 at age 87.

In 1993, a group of graduate students, assisted by the British Columbia Heritage Trust and other historically minded supporters, created the Margaret Ormsby Scholarship project. A fund for donations was established in support of scholarships which celebrate and recognize Dr. Ormsby's contributions, ensuring that the work she pioneered continues. To this end, in 1997 the group officially established the charitable organization called The Society for the Promotion of B.C. History to help administer the fund in association with the Vancouver Foundation.

The lakefront house in which Margaret Ormsby was raised in Coldstream, and where she also resided in her retirement years, was demolished in 2014 after the extensive property had been listed for sale for $5.9 million and sold for an undisclosed sum that summer. Ormsby’s will stipulated that the local district should have the first opportunity to purchase her property but the offer made by the town of Coldstream was refused.


Elected Freeman of the City of Vernon, 1959
Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 1967
Order of British Columbia, 1990
Order of Canada, 1996


History of the Okanagan Valley. University of British Columbia, 1929.
Study of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. University of British Columbia, 1931.
Bibliography on the Okanagan District (pamphlet). B.C.L.A., 1935. -- compiler
British Columbia: A History (Macmillan, 1959, revised 1971)
A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison(UBC Press, 1976)
Coldstream - Nulli Secundus: A History of the Corporation of the District of Coldstream (Friesen Printers, 1990)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2016] "History of B.C." "Women" "Classic" "Local History"

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
A History of the Corporation of the District of Coldstream
Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison