"Turning lives into stories in no way reduces our obligation to take the past seriously." -- Jean Barman

"History is usually written by the winners. Their lives comprise the archival collections, and historically these have been white men enjoying political and economic privilege. So long as we rely on the materials at hand, we keep telling the same old stories." -- Jean Barman (BCBW, Volume 23, No 3, Autumn 2007)

In 2014, Jean Barman became the 21st recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia. In June of 2015 she received the Sir John A. MacDonald Prize in Ottawa for "French Canadians, Furs and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest" as well as the Governor General Award for Scholarly Research for 2015 (to be received from the Governor General later in the year).

Since her arrival in B.C. in 1971, Jean Barman has become one of the most essential writers of the province, contributing The West Beyond The West: A History of British Columbia (1991). As one of the few comprehensive, modern histories of the province, it has mostly replaced Margaret Ormsby's work as the standard text on the subject. In much of her work Barman has shown a predilection to examine the lives of women. Her biography of Constance Lindsay Skinner recalls the prolific journalist, born in B.C. in 1877, who managed to produce a wide range of poetry, plays, short stories, histories, reviews and children's novels. [See Skinner entry] Sojourning Sisters, for which she received the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for historical writing, recalls the lives of two Scottish Presbyterian sisters who came from Nova Scotia in the late 1880s to teach. Because one of the sisters subsequently lived primarily in Ontario, they wrote more than 500 letters about their 'sojourns' that included stints in the Nicola Valley, Kamloops, Campbell Creek, Salmon Arm, Rossland, the Kootenays, Saltspring Island and Victoria. Barman has also paid tribute to the working class family of Portuguese Joe Silvey and the half-Hawaiian matriarch Mariah Mahoi, followed by Stanley Park's Secret: Forgotten Families of Whoi Whoi, Kanaka Ranch, and Brockton Point (Harbour, 2005), a second volume that recovers the Hawaiian heritage of Canada's West Coast. It was co-winner of the 2006 City of Vancouver Book Award. [See press release below] BC 150 Years (Harbour 2008) was nominated for the BC Booksellers' Choice Award in Honour of Bill Duthie.

More than one thousand Hawaiians made the crossing the Pacific Northwest coast to mainly work within the fur trade prior to the formal annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States in 1898, some making the sojourn more than once. Barman and Bruce McIntyre Watson of Vancouver rendered a comprehensive study and catalogue of Hawaiians and Polynesians in the Pacific Northwest in Leaving Paradise: Indigenous Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest, 1787-1898. Among the immigrants was the unordained Christian missionary William Kaulehelehe, sent by his Hawaiian king in the 1840s to serve as "Chaplain to the Hawaiians in the Columbia." His "Owhyhee Church" was torn down about 15 years later. The pious teacher was disheartened to discover he was mostly needed to arbitrate disputes among the Kanakas, many of whom preferred to work or drink on the Sabbath. "The Hawaiians have repeatedly and daily asked me to see about their trouble of being repeatedly abused by the white people without just cause,"; he wrote. In 1862, Kaulehelehe came to Fort Victoria where he worked as a Hudson's Bay Company clerk and translator. He and his wife lived on Humboldt Street, an area known as Kanaka Row. He was buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in 1874.

Hardly anyone realizes it, and nobody has made it public knowledge, but for half-a-century French Canadians were the largest group of newcomers west of the Rockies. Ironically, in a place later to be called British Columbia, it was mainly francophones who facilitated the early overland crossings into the Pacific Northwest. It was francophones who chiefly drove the fur economy, initiating non-wholly-indigenous agricultural settlement and easing relations with indigenous peoples. The largely unsung work of these men--often in league with Scots--ensured that, when the region was divided in 1846, the northern half would go to Britain, giving Canada its Pacific shoreline. In Jean Barman's ground-breaking French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press, 2014), she rewrites the history of the Pacific Northwest from the perspective of these little-known French Canadians, emphasizing the role that indigenous women played in encouraging them to stay, and identifying their descendants.

When French Canadian fur trappers reached the Pacific Northwest Coast during the 1790s through to the 1840s, their population grew to approximately 1,240, thereby constituting the largest group of newcomers to the region. Jean Barman argues that they changed the face of this history in five important ways: they were responsible for the early overland crossings; they drove the fur economy; they were the first non-indigenous people in the area to farm; they eased relations with the indigenous peoples; and, perhaps most significantly, they contributed to the 1846 division of the Pacific Northwest, giving Canada its Pacific shoreline.

A UBC historian in the Department of Educational Studies, Jean Barman was born in Stephen, Minnesota. In keeping with her position in the Education department at UBC, her first book about B.C. was Growing Up British in British Columbia: Boys in Private School. She also co-edited Vancouver Past: Essays in Social History with UBC history professor Robert A.J. McDonald; Indian Education in Canada, with Don McCaskill and Yvonne Hebert; and First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds, with Marie Battiste, a member of the Mi'kmaq Nation. Active in the B.C. Heritage Trust and other historical organizations, she has been a catalyst for countless literary and historical projects by others, adding both intellectual input and generous advice. With Linda Hale she co-produced a 1991 bibliography of B.C.'s local history books for B.C. Heritage Trust which included 800 communities.

Jean Barman was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2002, in recognition for her prolific work in Canadian history, particularly in the history of the West. She is married to historian Roderick Barman. They live in Vancouver.


British Columbia in the Balance: 1846-1871 (Harbour, 2022) $36.95 978550179880

On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia (Harbour, 2020) $34.95 9781550178968

Invisible Generations: Living Between Indigenous and White in the Fraser Valley (Caitlin, 2019) $24.95 9781773860053

Iroquois in the West (McGill-Queen's, 2019) $29.95 9780773556256

Abenaki Daring: The Life and Writings of Noel Annance, 1792-1869 (McGill-Queen's Press, 2016) $39.95 9780773547926

French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press, 2014) $33.95 9780774828055

Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture (UBC Press, 2011) $85 9780774818070. Co-edited with Cheryl Suzack, Shari M. Huhndorf and Jeanne Perreault.

BC 150 Years: Spirit of the People (Harbour, 2008) $49.95 9781550174460

Good Intentions Gone Awry: Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission on the Northwest Coast (UBC Press, 2006) $34.95 9780774812719. Co-edited with Jan Hare.

Leaving Paradise: Indigenous Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest, 1787-1898 (University of Hawaii Press, 2006) 9780824829438. Co-authored with Bruce McIntyre Watson.

Stanley Park Secrets: The Forgotten Families of Whoi Whoi, Kanaka Ranch, and Brockton Point (Harbour, 2005) $32.95 9781550174205

The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey (Harbour, 2004) 9781550173260

Maria Mahoi of the Islands (New Star, 2004). Newest Edition (New Star, 2017) $19 9781554201327

Children, Teachers and Schools in the History of British Columbia (Detselig, 2003) 9781550592511. Co-edited with Mona Gleason.

Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen (University of Toronto Press, 2003) $49.95 9780802048776

Constance Lindsay Skinner: Writing on the Frontier (University of Toronto Press, 2002) 9780802036780

The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia (University of Toronto Press, 1996) 9780802094957

First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds (UBC Press, 1995) 9780774805179. Co-edited with Marie Battiste.

Children, Teachers and Schools in the History of British Columbia (Detselig, 1995) 9781550592511. Co-edited with Neil Sutherland and J. Donald Wilson.

Contemporary Canadian Childhood and Youth: A Bibliography and History of Canadian Childhood and Youth (Greenwood Press, 1992) 9780313285851. Co-edited with Neil Sutherland and Linda Hale.

British Columbia Local Histories: A Bibliography (British Columbia Heritage Trust, 1991) 9780771890789. Co-authored with Linda Hale and Griffith William Brian Owen.

HIST 225: History of British Columbia (Open University, 1991, revised 1997) 9781551625522

Readings in the History of British Columbia (Open Learning Agency, 1989; 1997) Co-edited with Robert A.J. McDonald and Jill Wade.

Indian Education in Canada, Volume 2: The Challenge (UBC Press, 1987) $31.95 9780774802659. Co-edited with Yvonne Hébert and Don McCaskill.

Indian Education in Canada, Volume 1: The Legacy (UBC Press, 1986) $31.95 9780774802437. Co-edited with Yvonne Hébert and Don McCaskill.

Vancouver Past: Essays in Social History (UBC Press, 1986) 9780774802567. Co-edited with R.A.J. McDonald.

Growing Up British in British Columbia: Boys in Private School (UBC Press, 1984) 9780774802024


EdD, History of education, University of British Columbia, 1982
MLS, Librarianship, University of California at Berkeley, 1970
MA, Russian studies, Harvard University, 1963
BA, International relations and history, Macalester College, 1961


George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, 2014
Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Historical Writing, 2004 (Sojourning Sisters)
Vancouver Historical Society Annual Award of Merit, 2003
Canadian Historical Association Macdonald Prize Shortlist for best book in Canadian history, 2003
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, elected 2002.
Washington State Historical Society, Charles Gates Memorial Award for best article published in 1999
9th annual Joan Jensen-Darlis Miller Prize for best article published in 1998
UBC Killam Teaching Prize, 1996
Canadian Historical Association Regional History Prize for best book on
British Columbia in 1991
UBC Alumni Prize in the Social Sciences, 1992
Canadian History of Education Association's Founders' Prizes, 1989, 1992-93


Member, Vancouver City Council, Downtown Historic Greenway Committee,
service: 2002-03
Member, Vancouver Museum Revitalization Project, Capital Exhibit
Committee, 2001-02
Regular contributor on BC history, Almanac program, CBC Vancouver, 1998-
Director, Pacific BookWorld News Society (BC BookWorld), 1994-
Director, BC Heritage Trust, 1992-99, first vice-chair, 1994-98, chair 1998-99


Editorial board, UBC Press, 1999-


Co-editor, BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly, 1995-2002
Editorial board, Canadian Historical Association, Journal, 2002-05.
Editorial board, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 1997-2005
Advisory board, Encyclopedia of British Columbia, 1998-2000
Member of council, Canadian Historical Association, 1995-98

[BCBW 2023]

On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia by Jean Barman, edited by Margery Fee (Harbour Publishing $34.95)

Review by Ian Chunn, BCBW 2020

Nineteenth century whites didn’t pull their racist  punches when describing Indigenous people living on reserves near the growing cities of Victoria and Vancouver.

“Seriously inconvenient,” said an 1862 Royal Navy officer in Victoria.

“A source of nuisance and an impediment to progress,” stated Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1911.

Historian Jean Barman has dug up these perspectives from under-examined resources—oral histories, family trees, local history and statistical records as well as poetry, drama and fiction—and published them in essays over the years.

Sixteen of her essays from 1995–2013 have been gathered together in On the Cusp of Contact. Barman pieces together stories of individuals and groups disadvantaged in white settler society because of their gender, race and/or social class. Each chapter concludes with an historical lesson.

There was a time when indigenous people lived in reserve lands at Kits Point and Stanley Park until settlers coveted these choice areas. In Erasing Indigenous Indigeneity in Vancouver Barman documents how white newcomers settled these reserve lands.

What the city wanted, and what the province helped it get was both the land and, hypocritically, a reputation for being Indigenous-friendly.

But white settler ignorance of local Indigenous groups is there for all to see. The totem poles in Stanley Park—not Squamish, like the people who lived there, but Kwakwaka’wakw, from the northern end of Vancouver Island—stand as an example of what Barman dubs ‘sanitized indigeneity.’

“The passion to rehabilitate the imaginary Indian who existed prior to the arrival of outsiders was very different from coexisting with real people,” she says.

Drivers using the Burrard Bridge experience a solid reminder of that very coexistence. In 2002, the Squamish won a court case that saw the return of ten acres expropriated for the CPR, and as Barman writes, “Roadways free of billboards except when passing through an Indian reserve have become a staple of British Columbian life.” The billboard now so visible from the bridge is a present-day reminder that “the hasty erasure of indigenous indigeneity earlier is coming full circle.”

In a section titled Indigenous Women, Barman provides several vignettes from contemporary accounts that show Indigenous women acting as independent agents. From the time of Captain Cook, whose crews were searching for the Northwest Passage, furs and “women to bed,” we learn that “except for women taken in war or otherwise exploited, Nootka women on the cusp of contact, controlled access to their bodies.” Barman remarks, “These accounts challenge the easy stereotype held at the time, and into the present day, of Indigenous sexuality as a commodity.”

Barman also addresses diversity within frontier communities in Invisible Women: Indigenous Mothers and Mixed-Race Daughters in Rural Pioneer British Columbia. “Acknowledgment of these pioneer women as part of our common history challenges one of the last bastions of the frontier myth” she says disagreeing with the notion that settlers were only white and not diverse.

Barman demonstrates that “the best history grows out of a combination of perspectives” in Island Sanctuaries, in which a successful mixed-race settlement on the Gulf Islands is examined, focusing on settlers who came from the Shetland Islands, Ireland, England and Portugal.

Another section deals with Hawaiian settlers. Canada granted Hawaiians full civil rights—perhaps because of their work in the fur trade—and they often married into Indigenous families. The Hawaiians remain enthusiastic about their heritage and in 1992 (in line with Canada turning 125), “The Hawaiian Connection” brought together 200 people, who learned that they had stories and sometimes ancestors in common.

In Navigating Schooling Barman traces how the ideology of common schooling, in linguistically and ethnically diverse B.C. (where, in 1867, Indigenous people were in the vast majority) was overwhelmed by racism with its assumption that non-whites would perform less well in any setting. Schools thus “almost certainly played a role in the process whereby attitudes of inferiority were internalized” by Indigenous people.

White prejudice and lack of federal funding meant fewer opportunities for Indigenous people to lead lives that would help overcome that prejudice.

In Separate and Unequal Barman writes about All Hallows School in Yale where an initial period of mixing is changed to separation—in the classroom and the playground—as the federal policy for Indigenous peoples moved from assimilation to preparing “the Indian for civilized life in his own environment.” One white girl describes the party around the ‘Indian’ Christmas-tree: “We were not allowed to go to it, only to peep in through the open door for a little while… The Indian children… singing carols… looked very nice.”

“The past cannot be undone, but it can be better understood,” says Barman and she highlights some of the difficulties still to be resolved: a lack of Indigenous teachers, not enough support for teaching Indigenous languages and lack of appropriate Indigenous content in textbooks and the classroom.

On the Cusp of Contact is robust and well produced, with excellent illustrations. It is ideal for courses across a range of disciplines (history, sociology, education), but in fact, because it so successfully enriches our common understanding, it deserves a place on everyone’s bookshelf.  9781550178968

Former BC Book Prizes executive director Ian Chunn, a retired college instructor and teacher, writes from Galiano Island.