Cathy Converse of Victoria has taught women's studies and criminology at Camosun College where she and a colleague edited In Her Own Right: Selected Essays on Women's History in B.C. She is also the author of Mainstays: Women Who Shaped B.C. (Horsdal & Schubart), the stories of little-known women such as talented portrait photographer Hannah Maynard and cancer specialist Dr. Ethyn Trapp.

Converse revised, edited and extensively expanded a re-released version of Beth Hill's 1978 book The Remarkable World of Frances Barkley (Touchwood Editions, 2004). [See Frances Barkley entry] She subsequently built upon the research of Edith Iglauer for a full-scale portrait of coastal author M. Wylie Blanchet, Following the Curve of Time (Touchwood $24.95). This book was nominated for the BC Booksellers' Choice Award in Honour of Bill Duthie. [See review below]

Auntie Vie: A Life of Pickles and Pearls (TouchWood, 2010) is the biography of Pamela Anderson's aunt, who 'burst onto the scene as Pamela's biggest supporter' on the TV program Dancing with the Stars.

Against the Current: The Remarkable Life of Agnes Deans Cameron by Cathy Converse (Touchwood $30)

When agnes Deans Cameron died in 1912, her funeral cortege was the largest the city of Victoria had ever witnessed.

Fast forward to Canada's 150th anniversary of confederation and Agnes Deans Cameron was named one of the top 150 most significant individuals in B.C.'s history. But few people know her as the first celebrated author to be born in B.C.

Born in Victoria in 1863, she wrote one significant book, The New North: Being Some Account of a Woman's Journey through Canada to the Arctic (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1910), that described a 10,000 mile return trip she made in 1908 with her niece. Cameron claimed they were the first non-indigenous women to reach the Arctic overland and to travel down the Mackenzie River to the Beaufort Sea.

A lifelong crusader for women's suffrage, Cameron became B.C.'s first female high school teacher in 1890 and its first female principal in 1894. She was also one of British Columbia's first female journalists, publishing extensively in Canadian and American magazines such as Saturday Evening Post, Pacific Monthly, The Canadian Magazine, Educational Journal of Western Canada and The Coast.

Also, a perceptive observer of Inuit and Chipewyan culture and women, she travelled extensively in later years promoting immigration to western Canada and addressing audiences at Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrew's University and the Royal Geographical Society. Now she's the subject of Cathy Converse's Against the Current: The Remarkable Life of Agnes Deans Cameron.

"The events that shaped Cameron's life, her integrity, her courage, and her intelligence piqued my interest,"; Converse says. "I was drawn to the fact that she was a strong woman who wrote her own script and was able to make the very best out of the very worst.";

Cathy Converse was first introduced to Agnes Deans Cameron when Roberta Pazdro contributed a chapter to a book that Converse co-edited with Barbra Latham in 1980, called In Her Own Right: Selected Essays in Women's History in B.C.

"As a woman,"; Converse says, "I also felt that she could teach me about confidence and how to deflect the arrows that threaten to slay us the moment we dare to step apart from the norm.";

Agnes Deans Cameron's parents were Scottish. Her brother William became a Victoria alderman and a member of the B.C. legislature; Cameron chose teaching as a profession and never married. Possibly she was influenced by a visit to Victoria by the leading American suffragist Susan B. Anthony in 1874.

Cameron earned her first teaching certificate at age 13. She taught at Angela College in Victoria at age 16, then in Comox and the sawmill settlement of Granville, before returning to Victoria after the death of her father in 1884.
At 26, while teaching at Victoria Boys' School, she became infamous for strapping a disobedient student named Herbert Burkholder. The parents objected to this disciplinary treatment and the controversy reached the press.

"I whipped him severely,"; she wrote, "just as severely as I could. But the father goes further and insists that I struck the boy on the head-this is a mistake."; Cameron was fully exonerated.

Cameron was newsworthy again in 1901 when she wrote about sex discrimination in salaries. This time the Victoria school trustees dismissed her on a technicality for daring to threaten their authority. She was later reinstated.

In 1905, she was in hot water for allowing her students to use rulers for their drawing tests. Her dismissal this time brought forth a public outcry. A Royal Commission Inquiry was held for two months. It issued a 33-page report that upheld the firing.

The Royal Commission Inquiry process encouraged the government to suspend Cameron's first-class teaching certificate for three years effective June 1, 1906.

This fracas prompted Cameron to get elected as a Victoria School Trustee in 1906, placing herself in the position of working with the people who had fired her. Unable to work as a teacher, Cameron turned to journalism and was asked to speak at the third annual Canadian Press Association convention, in Winnipeg, in 1906. This led to a position with the Immigration Association, based in Chicago which prompted her resignation from the School Board of Victoria and her relocation to Chicago to work as a writer, chiefly writing about the Canadian West.

Cameron became vice-president of the Canadian Women's Press Club and began saving for her long hoped-for journey up the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Circle in 1908, at age 44, in the company of her niece, Jessie Cameron Brown. With photographic equipment and a typewriter, they made a six-month journey from Chicago to the Arctic via the Athabasca River, Great Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River.

Cameron's lone book is almost always accorded an initial publishing year of 1910 but it could well have been 1909. In her travelogue Cameron accepted polygamy among the Inuit but regretted the general status of women.
"Sad is the lot of the Indian woman of the North,"; she wrote. "Fated always to play a secondary part in the family drama, it is hard to see what of pleasure life holds for her. The birth of a baby girl is not attended with joy or thankfulness. From the beginning the little one is pushed into the background. The boy babies, even the dogs, have the choicer bed at night, and to them are given the best pieces of meat.";

Cameron returned from the Arctic with a heightened awareness of the need to assert the equality of aboriginal peoples. She returned to Chicago and later toured Britain with Jessie Cameron Brown and another niece, Gladys Cameron, giving presentations about her journey at the end of 1909.
In 1911, Cameron returned to Victoria and appeared on stage with the British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Cameron's writing career was in its ascendancy with a four-month contract from the London Daily Mail to write a daily column about Canada and the prospect of being hired by the government of Canada to lecture throughout Britain to encourage immigration. She planned to write a novel about mining camps to be based upon research in Stewart, B.C.

Now that larger metropolitan centres had recognized her spirit and accomplishments, Cameron soon discovered she was welcomed back to Victoria as a celebrity. Stricken with appendicitis, Cameron contracted pneumonia following surgery and died at age 48 on May 13, 1912, in Victoria. Her body was taken to Seattle for cremation. 9781771512701

[BCBW 2010] "Women" "Maritime"