Richard Colebrook "Cole" Harris, OC FRSC was born on July 4, 1936. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree (1958) from the University of British Columbia, a Master of Science degree (1962), and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1964). He joined the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor in 1964 and became an Associate Professor in 1971. Later that year he joined the University of British Columbia as an Associate Professor. He became a Professor at IBC in 1973. Harris was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1982. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society awarded Harris a Gold Medal in 1988 and awarded him the Massey Medal in 2003. Harris was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2004.

For eight years UBC geography professor Cole Harris edited the research of more than 240 contributors from 28 Canadian universities to complete the first volume of a projected three-volume work, Historical Atlas of Canada (University of Toronto, 1987 $85). Prior to its publication, this project received $5 million of subsidization since 1979.

A review of Cole Harris' The Reluctant Land: Society, Space and Environment in Canada Before Confederation (UBC Press, 2008) is provided below.

Some people treated the 2002 B.C. provincial referendum on land claims, etc., as junk mail, or as a sad joke, tossing it straight into the trash. Others expressed their indignation about Natives who never signed away the rights to their lands being able to control it. Cole Harris, upon his retirement from teaching, considered how and why patches of land--known as Indian reserves--were set aside amid the emerging settler society in Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance and Reserves in British Columbia (UBC $29.95). In particular he compares the careers of provincial land administrators Gilbert Sproat, to whom the book is dedicated, and his successor Peter O'Reilly. Harris portrays Sproat favourably as a defender of Aboriginal rights while criticizing the long career (1880-1898) of O'Reilly who efficiently laid out hundreds of small reserves to serve the interests of colonialism. Canadian Literature reviewer Sophie McCall noted, "The story of confinement is the quintessential story of colonial takeover; in Frantz Fanon's words, colonialism creates 'a world divided into compartments'."

Harris also co-edited a Phillips family memoir of pioneer life in southeastern B.C., consisting mainly of letters. He has received the Macdonald Prize from the Canadian Historical Association (2002) for the best book in Canadian history; the Clio Award from the Canadian Historical Association (2002) for exceptional contributions to regional history; the Massey Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (2003) for outstanding acchievement in Canadian geography; and the K.D. Shivastava Prize from UBC Press for excellence in scholarly publishing.

Ranch in the Slocan: A Biography of a Kootenay Farm, 1896-2017
by Cole Harris (Harbour $24.95)

Review by Marrk Forsythe

Esteemed ubc geographer Cole Harris has written extensively about European settlement in Canada and colonialism's impact on Indigenous peoples.

His family memoir is different. Drawing on letters, records, photos and family stories, Harris describes the transformation of his grandfather Joseph Colebrook Harris from an upper-middle class gentleman to a socialist-leaning Slocan Valley rancher following his arrival in Canada in the late 1800s.

As a younger son in a deeply religious industrial family in Calne, Wiltshire, athletic Joseph Colebrook Harris didn't display much aptitude for the family's meat processing business when it was one of the largest of its kind in England.

At age 18 he was shipped off to Guelph Agricultural College in Ontario to learn how to be a farmer but, as a mediocre student, he found the college dull. As someone who made friends easily, he journeyed by train to the West Coast for summer visits. In British Columbia, as he helped out on farms, fished, played tennis and attended dinner parties, he was enamoured of new freedoms.

Upon a return to England in 1892, he realized, "I could never fit in such stodgy surroundings... I longed to be back in Canada.";

Dodging stodgy, Joe cut short his agricultural schooling and bought land (with family money) in the Cowichan Valley where he hired Chinese workers, "half-breeds"; and an intemperate deserter from the Royal Navy named Bosun.

Efforts to turn a bog into a farm proved futile. Members of the Fabian Society suggested the Slocan Valley where "opportunities were boundless"; due to a mining boom. After deciding New Denver would likely become a supply centre for the mining industry, Joe bought land southwest of the town.
"I became the owner of 245 acres of very mountainous land,"; he recalled, "less than 20 acres of which was really fit for cultivation.";
Joe moved into a spartan cabin with more workers, including Bosun. They pasted over cracks with newspapers to keep the winter out, bought two Clydesdales, cleared timber, hauled firewood, planted vegetables and eventually grew 1,000 fruit trees amid the mountain wilderness. It became known as Bosun Ranch.

Joe visited england and married Margaret, a cultured Scottish woman. Cole Harris writes: "Years later she told my mother that as she and her husband got closer and closer to the Slocan, the estate got smaller and smaller.
"When they finally reached it at the end of a jarring wagon ride from the wharf at New Denver on an improbable, end-of-winter road, it became a log cabin stinking of potatoes in a tiny mountainside clearing.";

Margaret stayed, became a farm wife and mother, but Bosun Ranch never became commercially successful. Its orchards were too distant from markets, the dairy operation was too small and the land had limited agricultural capacity. An inheritance financed construction of an 18-room ranch house, but the need to generate income increased as family money dwindled.

In 1898, Joe prospected two mineral claims on his property and discovered galena ore, a source for lead and silver. He sold one to an English syndicate for $7,000. Initially the Bosun Mine performed well, but by the 1930s it was played out and had closed.

Harris describes it as "an industrial slice through the middle of my grandfather's farm.";

Gradually, Joe fused his religious beliefs with socialist ideals. "He thought that capitalism produced inequality and poverty, and in the interest of social justice, government should centrally manage the economy...
"Moreover, a socialist spirit need be in the air...that spirit which was infused in Christ's life and teaching.";

Joe Harris consequently created the Useful People's Party and he compared humans to cabbages who needed, "sound heads and tender hearts."; He tried, "with a fanatical edge softened by kindness and humour to convince whoever would listen that greed should give way to cooperation and we should all work for the common good in wisely managed societies.";

During WW II, after Japanese Canadians were forcibly sent inland, part of Bosun Ranch was leased to the Security Commission. About 50 elderly Japanese Canadian men lived in the ranch house while families stayed in basic camp houses in the Far Field. Many internees worked at the local hospital and businesses. Joe's family came to respect and admire them, as did many in New Denver who were initially fearful.

Over time, he concluded, "it became increasingly clear that the appreciation and accommodation of a good measure of diversity were built into the nature of Canada."; One can argue this naïve viewpoint failed to assess the plight of the people he magnanimously befriended.

Eventually, Cole Harris' parents built a cabin beside a small lake and spent summers on the family property. Cole's father left to become an academic but Cole's uncle Sandy stayed behind to work the ranch. Sandy resented this division of labour, which made for painful complications later.
The old ranch house fell into disrepair and was invaded by pack rats. Much of it was torn down, but the original cabin was preserved and restored by Cole Harris.

As Ranch in the Slocan describes the later construction of a low impact clay house in the 1970s, we're introduced to various American, countercultural back-to-the-landers and draft evaders who came north with remarkable skills and "prescriptions for change."; These immigrants became crucial to Cole Harris' projects and also greatly contributed to the development of Slocan Lake communities.

Ranch in the Slocan is a tribute to a very particular B.C. landscape and its power to shape lives. The author hopes his own children will use the land creatively.

Harris probes with the rigour of a scholar, but by this book's end, we see how the natural environment of the Slocan has also shaped the soul of its chronicler. 987-1-55017-823-4

Former CBC radio host of Almanac and long-time BCBW contributor Mark Forsythe remains active in numerous historical and community groups.


Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Letters from Windermere 1912-1914
Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance, and Reserves in British Columbia
The Reluctant Land: Society, Space, and Environment in Canada before Confederation
The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographic Change


The Seigneurial System in Early Canada: A Geographical Study (1966)

Canada Before Confederation: A Study in Historical Geography (1974) Co-edited with John Warkentin

Letters from Windermere, 1912-1914 (UBC Press, 1984). Co-edited with Elizabeth Phillips ISBN: 0774803940

Historical Atlas of Canada, vol. I: From the Beginning to 1800-1987 (University of Toronto, 1987)

The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographical Change (UBC Press 1997)

Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance and Reserves in British Columbia (UBC Press 2002) 0-7748-0900-0 Nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

The Reluctant Land: Society, Space and Environment in Canada Before Confederation (UBC Press, 2008). 9780774814492 hc

Henning Von Krogh, Cole Harris. Early New Denver 1891-1904: A Selection of Data on People, Places and Things. (New Denver, B.C.: Chameleon Fire Editions, 2017).

[Photo by Raymon Torchinsky, 2009]

[BCBW 2017]