Author Tags: Chinese

As an independent researcher in Chilliwack, Chad Reimer, with a Ph.D. in history from York University, has examined the role of historical writing in colonialism and nation building as it pertains to the West Coast in Writing British Columbia History, 1784-1958 (UBC $85). 978-0-7748-1644-1

Reimer's survey covers only about half of the histories of British Columbia. Of the approximately forty efforts to follow in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s large footsteps, currently the most-used is Jean Barman’s The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia (1991).

For authors who have written histories of B.C, see abcbookworld entries for Akrigg, George Philip Vernon; Anderson, Alexander Caulfield; Angus, H.F.; Anstey, Arthur; Bancroft, Hubert Howe; Begg, Alexander; Bennett, William; Boam, Henry J.; Bowering, George; Brown, Ashley; DeGroot, Henry; Denton, V.L.; Fladmark, Knut; Goodchild, Fred H.; Gosnell, R.E.; Gough, John; Griffin, Harold; Hibben, T.N.; Hocking, Anthony; Howay, F.W.; Johnston, Hugh; Lane, Myrtle E.; Lawson, Maria; Macfie, Matthew; McKelvie, B.A.; Molyneux, Geoffrey; Morice, Adrien Gabriel; Nuffield, Edward; Odlum, Edward Faraday; Ormsby, Margaret Anchoretta; Robin, Martin; Roy, Patricia; Sage, W.N.; Scholefield, E.O.S.; Stephen, Pamela; Tod, John; Woodcock, George.

In 2011, the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia (CCHSBC) joined forces with UBC’s Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC) to launch Gold Mountain Stories, a new series to represent Chinese experiences in North America, including a new book by Chad Reimer.

In Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A History, Reimer follows dual trails of arson in 1921 and 1934 to discover the previous existence of two Chinatowns in his hometown of Chilliwack. Bolstered by interviews and archival research, Reimer brings the Chinese, Whites, and Natives characters of Chinatown North and Chinatown South to life.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Writing British Columbia History, 1784-1958
Chilliwack's Chinatowns: A History

[BCBW 2012]

Writing British Columbia History, 1784-1958 by Chad Reimer

Independent scholar Chad Reimer of Chilliwack had a splendid idea.
Somebody should write a book about the evolution of writing history in British Columbia. Not pictographs, not oral stories. Just the Anglophilic tomes.
This would easily allow us to see how social prejudices are reflected, from one decade to the next, and how history itself changes with demographics and economies.

You start with a sprinkling of explorers with their journals, perhaps a few pithy quotes from letters. Reimer chooses to open the preface in his Writing British Columbia History, 1784-1958, with a quote from Rupert Brooke in 1914, “It is an empty land.” Captain Bodega y Quadra had a better line, in the late 1700s: “I sailed on, taking fresh trouble for granted.” Basically, when Europeans arrived here, they didn’t know where the heck they were.

Next you add the blinkered views of early settlers and literate transients. Everyone’s voice has an English or Scottish accent. The likes of William Hazlitt produced British Columbia and Vancouver Island (1858) and a civil engineer named Duncan MacDonald published the 524-page British Columbia and Vancouver’s Island (1863) in which he described the inhospitable wilderness as “England’s Siberia.”

Finally, along comes the fantastical San Francisco publisher-turned-historian Hubert Howe Bancroft who visits Victoria with his wife, for research purposes, in 1878, and later produces his remarkable 792-page History of British Columbia.

The intrepid Bancroft’s efforts to record the early history of the entire western part of North America are little-known today, but he was a cultural giant, along with two homegrown historical heroes, Judge Frederic Howay and W.K. Lamb. [see for details on Bancroft, Howay, Lamb]

And no less remarkable was the French-born Oblate missionary Father Adrien Morice who ministered to the Carrier people around Fort St. James from 1885 to 1903, producing his highly original (and counter-Edwardian) History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia (1904).

But it was Hubert Bancroft who set the bar, who understood that this land at the western edge of European exploration was quite simply special and worthy of serious scholarship from the get-go.

Newly arrived Alexander Begg received $1,100 from the B.C. Legislature to produce his History of British Columbia with John Kerr and Oliver Cogswell.

“British Columbia’s first resident historians,” writes Reimer, “also wished to correct the embarrassing anomaly of having an American outsider provide the first and only provincial history.”

In 1893, R.E. Gosnell was appointed the first permanent librarian of the B.C. Provincial Library and head of the province’s new archives when it was opened as an independent body in 1908. Gosnell collaborated with E.O.S. Scholefield for their two-volume Sixty Years of Progress: A History of British Columbia (1913), a work which Gosnell later dismissed as “that hunk of cow dung.”

Following a centenary celebration of Simon Fraser’s voyage down the river that was named for him by David Thompson, E. O. S. Scholefield had initiated copying programs for materials about B.C. that were housed in Hudson’s Bay Company records in London and the Bancroft archives in California.

Five years prior to his death, Scholefield published the two-volume, 727-page British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present (1914), co-written with Judge Howay, who wrote the second volume. It replaced Bancroft’s work as the standard history for the next four decades.

Judge Howay’s work hailed the capitalists as builders and he eulogized coal baron Robert Dunsmuir as a “pioneer of pioneers.” As Reimer makes clear, “The historical literature of Edwardian British Columbia represented a heyday of imperial sentiment and capitalist faith.” Not exactly unexpected in a place named by Queen Victoria after a fur-trading district.

Howay acknowledged the importance of First Nations in his British Columbia: The Making of a Province (1928). Walter Noble Sage, who eventually head-
ed the UBC history department, was among the first to recognize “the overhang of colonialism” and to argue that historians were slowly recognizing Canada as a separate nation rather than a British adjunct by contributing Sir James Douglas and British Columbia (1930).

This sets the stage for W.K. Lamb and Margaret Ormsby, both of whom were interviewed by Sage in 1992. This pair represent the climax of Reimer’s concise overview, culminating in Ormsby’s safe but respectable centennial celebration volume, British Columbia: A History (1958).

W.K. Lamb is arguably the greatest and most under-celebrated figure of British Columbia’s literary history. Lamb attended UBC, the Sorbonne and the University of London where he earned a PhD in 1933. He succeeded John Riddington as the second of UBC’s chief librarians prior to becoming Dominion Archivist and the first national librarian of Canada.

W.K. Lamb was the Provincial Archivist and Librarian of British Columbia (1934-40), University Librarian of the University of British Columbia (1940-48), Dominion Archivist of Canada (1948-68) and National Librarian of Canada (1953-67). He held ten honorary doctorates, received the Tyrrell Medal from the Royal Society of Canada and was an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Margaret Ormsby was born in Quesnel in 1909 and grew up on a Coldstream fruit ranch, later writing a local history of Coldstream. 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, Ormsby received her PhD from Bryn Mawr College in 1937, 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. Long active in the Okanagan Historical Society, she died in her Coldstream home on November 2, 1996 at age 87.

Reimer limits his study to the old guard. Fair enough. It’s a first step to towards recognizing and understanding the key works of those who have tried to help us better understand ourselves.

The likes of Martin Robin, George Woodcock, Jean Barman, Harold Griffin, George Bowering and Daniel Francis (as editor of the Encyclopedia of B.C.) have since eclipsed Ormsby, Lamb, Howay, as new histories arise. 978-0-7748-1645-8

[BCBW 2010]