LITERARY SITE: Roberts Creek Pier, 999 Roberts Creek Road, the foot of Roberts Creek Road, Sunshine Coast.

Hubert Evans, the man Margaret Laurence revered as "The Elder of the Tribe," anchored his boat, the Solheim, in the basin beside the pier where, Evans, having survived the trenches of World War One, met a man collecting mussels. He was catching mussels in order to catch shiners, in order to catch cod--so it took three leisurely days to catch a fish. The man convinced Evans to homestead in Robert Creek. Evans and his Quaker wife Ann began building their wilderness home nearby, on the waterfront, in 1926, taking residence in 1927. She died in 1960; he stayed for another 25 years. The property at 2973 Lower Road was still owned by the Evans family three decades after Hubert Evans died in 1986.

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

In 1902, when he was a nine-year old in Galt, Ontario, Hubert Reginald Evans began his career as a professional writer by composing a limerick in praise of Lipton's tea for a contest. The now-forgotten verse earned him $1. Hubert Evans later became a professional writer in British Columbia for seven decades.

Revered by his pen pal Margaret Laurence as "the Elder of our Tribe and ";The Old Journeyman," Hubert Evans was born in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, in 1892, and started building a waterfront cabin at Roberts Creek, B.C., in 1926.

In response to the horrors he witnessed in the trenches as a soldier in WWI, Evans wrote an autobiographical novel, The New Front Line (1927), about a soldier named Hugh Henderson who migrates from older societies to the "new front line"; of idealism in the wilds of B.C.

In 1927, his first year as a fulltime writer, he earned $97 less postage.

Evans is best remembered for his second novel, Mist on the River (1954), the first Canadian novel to portray aboriginals realistically as complex, central characters. This classic arose after Evans and his wife received a visit from aboriginal activist Guy Williams of Kitimaat (separate from present-day Kitimat) towards the end of WWII, requesting Ann Evans move to Kitimaat to teach his children. She had taught Williams in a residential school near the Evanses' floathouse at Cultus Lake in the early 1920s.

Williams told the Evanses that some aboriginal children in Kitimaat hadn't had a teacher for five years and they had forgotten how to speak English. "I had quite a number of chums in the army who were Indians,"; Evans later recalled, "but it was really my wife's Quaker concern over Indians that took us north in the first place.";

Upon their arrival in Kitimaat in January of 1945, the Evanses were greeted by the entire village. They stayed for two and a half years. "We were the only white people around,"; Evans recalled. "It was 140 miles to a hospital at Bella Bella, in a gas boat mostly. Sometimes in bad weather you couldn't get there. The Indian agent handed me the little black bag that the nurse who'd been there years before had had. He said, 'You're the dispenser.' And so I coped.";

The Evanses' experiences resulted in a short story "Let My People Go"; that appeared in Maclean's in 1947. It concerns a Gitksan schoolteacher named Cy who struggles to assimilate his stubbornly backward father-in-law, Old Paul. This led to a second Maclean's story about the same characters, "Young Cedars Must Have Roots"; in 1948.

Both stories were excerpted and serialized in the Native Voice newspaper. By the late 1940s the Evanses had moved to a less isolated mission school near Hazelton so their son could attend a one-room school.

Mist on the River follows the struggles of Cy Pitt, an 18-year-old Gitksan, destined to be chief, who leaves his village to work in a Prince Rupert fish cannery.

Dot, a relative who has turned to prostitution, warns him, "If staying a stick Indian suits you, fine. But be sure you stay one. Don't try playing it both ways."; Throughout the novel Cy Pitt must find an original and honourable path between conflicting white and aboriginal cultures. He loves Old Paul's orphaned granddaughter Miriam, and eventually he returns to his village where Old Paul invites him to carve one more canoe.

Meanwhile Dot's halfbreed son Steve contracts spinal tuberculosis. The boy dies after Cy reluctantly respects the village's superstitious fears of sending the boy to Prince Rupert for medical treatment. This incident was derived from Evans' memory of reading the burial service over the body of a young aboriginal boy who might have survived if hospitalization had been attempted. Cy and Miriam marry, "Indian fashion,"; and live together in Old Paul's house, but Cy must return to Prince Rupert to find work.

The novel culminates in a violent confrontation between Cy and a trio of drunken aboriginals, but there is never any overt confrontation between Cy Pitt and Old Paul. The white characters in the story are peripheral throughout.

Evans later said he was absolutely determined not to falsify anything for dramatic effect: "I could have written about the injustices Indians faced. You know, like The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. I've seen all that. I know all that. But I had commercial-fished and trapped and built canoes with these people. I could roll a cigarette and sit on my heels and talk with them. I was one of them. I wanted to show how they were really just like us.

"This is what I wanted to do with Mist on the River. Just show them as people. Basically I was just being a reporter. . . . I knew the people. I felt for them. I was there. Not like an Indian agent or somebody like that. I was one of the guys. They cried on my shoulder. I straightened out the family problems. The rows and the boozing and that sort of thing. People say to me, 'Do you like Indians?' Well, I like some Indians and there are some Indians I don't like. The same with white people.";

While nearly blind in his late eighties, hardly able to type, Hubert Evans wrote O Time in Your Flight (1979), a memoir novel of growing up in Ontario in the year 1900.

The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was first presented in 1985. The "Old Journeyman"; died the following year.


FULL ENTRY:

Hubert Evans was a professional writer in British Columbia for seven decades. Revered by his pen pal Margaret Laurence as 'the Elder of our Tribe', Evans wrote Mist on the River (1954), the first Canadian novel to realistically portray Aboriginals as complex, central characters. This classic novel arose after Hubert Evans and his wife Ann received a visit from Aboriginal activist Guy Williams of Kitimaat, towards the end of World War II, requesting Ann Evans to move to Kitimaat to teach his children. Ann Evans had taught Guy Williams in a residential school near the Evans' floathouse at Cultus Lake in the early 1920s. Williams told the Evans that some Aboriginal children in Kitimaat hadn't had a teacher for five years and they had forgotten how to speak English. "I had quite a number of chums in the army who were Indians,"; Evans later recalled, "but it was really my wife's Quaker concern over Indians that took us north in the first place.";

The Evans arrived in Kitimaat in January of 1945 and were greeted by the entire village. They stayed for two-and-a-half years. "We were the only white people around,"; Evans recalled. "It was 140 miles to a hospital at Bella Bella, in a gas boat mostly. Sometimes in bad weather you couldn't get there.The Indian agent handed me the little black bag that the nurse who'd been there years before had had. He said, 'You're the dispenser.' And so I coped."; The Evanses' experiences in Kitimaat and Kispiox resulted in a short story 'Let My People Go' that first appeared in Macleans in 1947. It concerns a Gitksan schoolteacher named Cy who struggles to assimilate his stubbornly backward father-in-law, Old Paul. This led to a second Macleans story about the same characters called 'Young Cedars Must Have Roots' in 1948. Both stories were excerpted and serialed in the Native Voice newspaper in 1948 and 1949. By the late 1940s the Evans had moved to a less isolated mission school near Hazelton so their son could attend a one-room school.

Hubert Evans' 1954 novel Mist on the River follows the struggles of Cy Pitt, an 18-year-old Gitksan, destined to be chief, who leaves his village to work in a Prince Rupert fish cannery. Dot, a relative who has turned to prostitution, warns him, "If staying a stick Indian suits you, fine. But be sure you stay one. Don't try playing it both ways."; Throughout the novel Cy Pitt must find an original and honourable path between conflicting white and aboriginal cultures. He loves Old Paul's orphaned granddaughter Miriam and eventually he returns to his village where Old Paul invites him to carve one more canoe. Meanwhile Dot's halfbreed son Steve contracts spinal tuberculosis. The boy dies after Cy reluctantly respects the village's superstitious fears of sending the boy to Prince Rupert for medical treatment. (This incident was derived from Evans' memory of reading the burial service over the body of a young Aboriginal boy who might have survived if hospitalization had been attempted.) Cy and Miriam marry, Indian fashion, and live together in Old Paul's house, but Cy must return to Prince Rupert to find work. The novel culminates in a violent confrontation between Cy and a trio of drunken Aboriginals, but there is never any overt confrontation between Cy Pitt and Old Paul. The white characters in the story are peripheral throughout.

The novel was well-received by more than 20 favourable reviews. "I read Mist on the River and have been urging people to do likewise ever since,"; said Grace MacInnes, daughter of CCF founder J.S. Woodsworth. UBC anthropologist Harry Hawthorne wrote, "It is not often that tenderness is aptly combined with forceful realism and it is unique when it takes place in a young native of this province."; Evans later said he was absolutely determined not to falsify anything for dramatic effect: "I could have written about the injustices Indians faced. You know, like The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. I've seen all that. I know all that. But I had commercial-fished and trapped and built canoes with these people. I could roll a cigarette and sit on my heels and talk with them. I was one of them. I wanted to show how they were really just like us,"; Evans later said. "This is what I wanted to do with Mist on the River. Just show them as people. Basically I was just being a reporter... I knew the people. I felt for them. I was there. Not like an Indian agent or somebody like that. I was one of the guys. They cried on my shoulder. I straightened out the family problems. The rows and the boozing and that sort of thing. People say to me, 'Do you like Indians?' Well, I like some Indians and there are some Indians I don't like. The same with white people.";

Hubert Reginald Evans was born in Vankleek Hill, Ontario on May 9, 1892. As a 22-year-old journalist he provided world coverage of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, a CPR liner that collided with a Norwegian ship, the S.S. Sorstad, during a fog on the St. Lawrence on May 29, 1914, killing 900 people. He enlisted in 1915 in the Kootenay Battalion and was wounded at Ypres in 1916. Despite his partial colour-blindness, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps in early 1918. He fought in the trenches of France and was appalled at the violence he encountered. One of his friends was killed at Mons two hours before the Armistice. Discharged in 1919 in Toronto, he was offered a job as City Hall reporter for his former paper, The World, but he declined. The city was covered with dirty snow. He wanted a fresh start. He took an army transport train out to New Westminster to visit his parents. On the train he met the Chief Inspector of Fisheries who offered him a job as his personal secretary, travelling around Europe to promote salmon sales. Evans told him, "I just tore up a job like that!"; Instead he asked to be posted to the most northerly fish hatchery in B.C. A week later Evans was on another train going north to Lakelse Lake, above Terrace, B.C., beginning his life anew as a British Columbian.

In 1920, in Vancouver, he married Ann Emily Winter, most recently of Verden, Manitoba, who shared his Christian disdain for 'unworthy ends'. While working as the superintendent of a salmon hatchery at Cultus Lake near Chilliwack, B.C., Evans sold a 500-word satirical piece to the New Yorker when Dorothy Parker and Sherwood Anderson were editors. He was paid for 17 cents per word. "It was a thing about a high-pressured business executive who had retired to the country,"; he said. "His hobby was keeping bees. He used the same technique on the bees as he had used to manage his sales staff. It ended with the bees stinging him to death-which must have suited Dorothy Parker just fine." Evans partially supported his family with the sale of twelve keenly-observed anecdotes about wildlife at Cultus Lake. After they were syndicated in the U.S., Judson Press of Philadelphia asked him for a book. Evans wrote 50 of these anecdotes for young readers in six weeks. They comprise his first book, Forest Friends, published in May of 1926. While raising their family, the Evanses lived briefly in West Vancouver and North Vancouver before moving to the Sunshine Coast on a fulltime basis in 1927.

Evans started building a cabin at Roberts Creek, B.C. in 1926. He lived there as a Quaker for most of the next 60 years. In 1927, his first year as a fulltime writer, he earned $97 less postage. In response to the horrors of World War One, Evans wrote a naive, autobiographical novel, The New Front Line (1927), about a soldier named Hugh Henderson who migrates to the 'new front line' of idealism in the wilds of British Columbia. He had been encouraged to write an 'authentic' B.C. novel by his newspaper colleague Fred Jacob and it was published upon the recommendation of novelist Frederick Niven's reader's report ("not the sort of book to go a-begging";). Following the acceptance of the manuscript, Evans approached Garnet Sedgewick at UBC and asked to take his course in the novel. "He said, 'Look, if you've had a novel published, you don't need to take a course.' Well, he was wrong. I could have benefited a great deal from a course,"; Evans said. He joined the Canadian Authors Association that year but was soon unimpressed by their genteel approach to writing. Evans became a trade unionist during the Depression, and helped the unemployed men survive by teaching them to fish. Hubert Evans was ahead of his time during World War II when he wrote No More Islands (1943), a sympathetic portray of the effects of internment on both Japanese Canadians and the people who knew them.

After Ann Evans died in 1960, Hubert Evans remained in their home on the beach at Roberts Creek and added some books of poetry to his prodigious output of hundreds of stories, serials, novellas and articles. While nearly blind in his late Eighties, Evans wrote O Time In Your Flight (1979) his remarkable memoir/novel of growing up in Ontario in the year 1900. Later Evans completed a somewhat simplistic juvenile novel, Son of the Salmon People (1981), about Aboriginals trying to protect their land from logging. Much of his writing had been for young readers because he and his wife believed it was important to mold young minds. They felt adults could not be altered much by fiction. The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was first presented in 1985. The 'Old Journeyman' died on June 17, 1986.

BOOKS:

Adult novels

Evans, Hubert. The New Front Line (Macmillan, 1926).
Evans, Hubert. The Western Wall (novella, 1932).
Evans, Hubert. No More Islands (novella, 1943).
Evans, Hubert. Mist on the River (Copp Clark, 1954; New Canadian Library, 1973).
Evans, Hubert. O Time In Your Flight (Harbour, 1979).

Juvenile novels

Evans, Hubert. Forest Friends (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1926)
Evans, Hubert. Derry, Airedale of the Frontier (New York: Dodd Mead, 1928).
Evans, Hubert. Derry's Partner (New York: Dodd Mead, n.d., presumably 1929).
Evans, Hubert. Derry of Totem Creek (New York: Dodd Mead, 1930).
Evans, Hubert. The Silent Call (New York: Dodd Mead, 1930).
Evans, Hubert. North to the Unknown (New York: Dodd Mead, 1949). (biography /Alexander Mackenzie)
Evans, Hubert. Mountain Dog (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956).
Evans, Hubert. Son of the Salmon People (Harbour, 1981).

Poetry

Evans, Hubert. Bits and Pieces: Notes for Stories that Didn't Get Written (Harbour, 1974).
Evans, Hubert. Whittlings (Harbour, 1976).
Evans, Hubert. Endings (Harbour, 1978).
Evans, Hubert. Mostly Coast People (Harbour, 1982).

About Hubert Evans

Twigg, Alan. Hubert Evans: The First Ninety-Three Years (Harbour, 1985).

[BCBW 2010]