LITERARY LOCATION: The Bookstore on Bastion Street, 76 Bastion Street, Nanaimo

A nephew of George Clutesi, Randy Fred of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation survived cruelty and deprivation at the Alberni Indian Residential School in the 1960s--the same school Clutesi had attended. It operated between 1900 and 1973. Students came from various communities on Vancouver Island, including Campbell River, Saanich, Ahousaht, Nanaimo, Beecher Bay, Nanoose, the Malahat, Port Renfrew, Cape Mudge, Cowichan, and Clayquot. It was destroyed by fire three times and rebuilt. Randy Fred also founded one of Canada's first two Indigenous-owned and operated publishing companies, Theytus Books, in 1980. First based in Nanaimo, it had its first office above the Bookstore on Bastion Street operated by Thora Howell. In the same year, the Manitoba Métis Federation established Pemmican Publishing in Winnipeg.

In 2005, Randy Fred received the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding contribution to the development writing and publishing in British Columbia. Thora Howell had received the same award in 2002. She says, "It is remarkable how things came together in Nanaimo--in so many ways--Theytus, Malaspina College with the splendid Creative Writing and English Departments, terrific cooperation with the teacher librarians and so many, many terrific writers, poets and dramatists." When the bookstore closed, the historic building was leased by Hills Native Arts and there was an art gallery upstairs where the children's books section used to be. "After Hills took over, we did several readings upstairs," says Howell. "I think my wine glasses and coffee cups are still there." Anne Cameron named the skylight in the store the Anne Cameron Memorial Skylight. As of 2022, The Bastion is now managed by the Nanaimo Museum and is only open to visitors during the summer.


In the late 1970s, Randy Fred created the Quan-a-ts-tal Media Society with a newsletter that required funding support to become viable. "I took a jump, a leap of faith," he says. With the encouragement of Gordie Antoine and integral assistance from Ron Smith of Oolichan Books in Lantzville, Fred successfully applied for a local employment assistance program [LEAP] grant to conduct a feasibility study. This triggered further federal funding for his new imprint called Theytus Books. Theytus is a Salishan word that means "preserving for the sake of handing down." Fred incorporated Theytus Books as a publishing enterprise in 1981 and released four titles: a paperback reprint of Robert Kroetsch's novel Gone Indian; Ellen White's Kwulasulwut: Stories From the Coast Salish; Charles Jones and Stephen Bosustow's Queesto: Pacheenaht Chief by Birthright; and Teachings of the Tides: Uses of Marine Invertebrates by the Manhousaht People by David Ellis and Luke Swan. Robert Kroetsch provided the paperback rights to Gone Indian at the suggestion of his friend, Ron Smith.

Facing financial difficulties in 1982, Randy Fred approached the Okanagan Indian Curriculum Project to acquire his Theytus imprint. It received permission to do so from the Okanagan Tribal Council that represented the six bands of the Okanagan Valley. The OICP, in turn, approached the five bands of the Merritt area, as represented by the Nicola Valley Indian Administration, whereupon the Okanagan and Nicola councils each acquired 50% ownership of Fred's publishing company. He was retained to serve as manager of the press and Judy Manuel was his only fulltime employee. Initially the new management concentrated on developing educational materials. A former director of the OICP, Jeff Smith, became involved in administration as general manager prior to the ascendancy of Jeannette Armstrong, author of Slash, and the arrival of Greg Young-Ing. By 1987, Theytus Books had published 32 titles and Judy Manuel was involved with a peripheral but independent Aboriginal publishing program for the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society.

Theytus Books has long operated in kindred association with the En'owkin Centre, founded in 1981 by the Penticton Indian Band, and controlled by the Okanagan Indian Educational Resources Society. The Board of Directors of Theytus Books and the En'owkin Centre was originally comprised of six appointed representatives, one each from the six Okanagan First Nations Bands. Pronounced en-OW-kin, En'owkin can be translated as, "a challenge and incentive given through discussing and thinking together to provide the best possible answer to any question." The goal of the Centre has been, quite simply, "to record, preserve, enhance and continue First Nations cultures through education." Members of its International School of Writing Steering Committee in the early 1990s included Margaret Atwood, Maria Campbell, Thomas King, Joy Kogawa, Michael Ondaatje and Rudy Wiebe. In 1995, Theytus convened a gathering of representatives from 39 Aboriginal publishing operations for a National Aboriginal Publishers Conference at Simon Fraser Harbour Centre in Vancouver.

By the mid-1980s Randy Fred had relocated from Penticton and was involved in another imprint that specialized in B.C. First Nations material, the Tillicum Library, in association with Steve Osborne and Arsenal Pulp Press in Vancouver. During this period they published Celia Haig-Brown's Resistance and Renewal, a history of the Kamloops residential school. Writing the foreword for that book reawakened Fred's own deep-seated memories of the Port Alberni residential school. "It forced me to remember the horror of having grown up in prison," he said in 2005. "Every day I thought of death." After the demise of Tillicum Library imprint, Fred founded and published two newspapers, Strait Arrow and Mid Island Advocate. The latter was a result of working with the Canadian Mental Health Association for five-and-a-half years as a computer instructor, during which time he learned a great deal about schizophrenia and bipolar (manic depression). "I was initially asked by Ron Zinck, the then Executive Director, to help some of the clients with writing," he recalls. "It was a give-and-take situation as the person had to tell me what they saw on the screen so I could tell them what to do next. It was mutually gratifying. We ended up securing funding for the newspaper and I simply sat in the room and helped if they needed it. They did all the work." He worked in a similar fashion to help publish the poetry of two clients, Tim Merrill (After the Beginning) and Sheila Klapper (I Don't Understand the Weather). Randy Fred has also worked as a fundraiser for The Nanaimo Festival, a professional theatre company. More recently he and his wife Edith have established a commercial salmon smoking business, Simptew Smoked Salmon.

Randy Fred's parents chose the name Randolph because they admired the actor Randolph Scott. Abused as a student at the Alberni Indian Residential School in the 1960s, Randy Fred became one of 28 survivors of the Port Alberni Indian Residential School who sued the federal government and the United Church for their sufferings as students at the former church-run school. His wife was unaware of many aspects of her husband's ordeal until she heard his testimony in 2000 during the opening stages of the court case in Nanaimo where they live. "The first time on the witness stand was brutal," Randy Fred told the United Church Observer, reliving his memories of a convicted abuser. Taken from his family at age five, Fred has alleged he was abused by an older student when he was six and by his dormitory supervisor when he was eight. He turned to alcohol at age twelve but overcame his addiction as an adult. Randy Fred has had retinitis pigmentosa all his life. Although he is now legally blind, Fred continues to be involved in publishing and consulting, such as his involvement as the project manager for an ethnology initiative to record the culture and history of the Bamfield area. The Bamfield Huu ay aht Knowledge Adventure (BHKA) is funded by Canadian Heritage and sponsored by the Bamfield Community School Association (BCSA). The project officially began September 2004 and its partners are the Bamfield Community School Association, Huu ay aht First Nation, West Coast Learning Network, Malaspina University-College, School District #70 (Alberni), Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and the Bamfield Huu ay aht Community Forest.

In June of 2010, Randy Fred launched a new magazine about Aboriginal life and culture called Face featuring a cover story on Buffy Sainte-Marie, as well as a contribution from the eldest commercial fisherman on the West Coast, Bert Mack. Plus literature from Drew Hayden Taylor, Lee Maracle, Richard Van Camp and coverage of the new memoir by the Las Vegas-based Elvis impersonator Morris Bates from the Sugarcane Reserve in Williams Lake.

"Randy Fred changed my world by making it bigger," says Stephen Osborne, founder of Pulp Press and publisher of Geist magazine.


Tsqelmucwilc: The Kamloops Indian Residential School - Resistance and a Reckoning (Arsenal, 2022) $22.95 9781551529059. Co-authored by Celia Haig-Brown and Garry Gottfriedson.

[BCBW 2022]