"History is endless in this country, and boundless, but no one really cares deeply." -- Charles Lillard, in a letter to Alan Twigg

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

After twenty books, bibliophile Charles Lillard is remembered for his passionate devotion to B.C. literature in general. "He was one of the people who wrote about the Northwest Coast in a way that gave it a mythology,"; said Susan Musgrave, "and in that way he'll last."; Howard White once observed that Lillard's literary column in the Times Colonist, "dominates the field like a leafy oasis in mid-Sahara."; Doug Beardsley referred to him as "a beacon on this coast.";

Born in California in 1944, Charles "Red"; Lillard was raised in Alaska and spent much of his childhood on his parents' fish scow. He preferred to view the Inside Passage as a river running from Skagway to Seattle. He worked at forestry jobs as a faller, rigger, and boom man, drove a truck and taught at Ocean Falls, before entering the UBC Creative Writing Department. He published his first poetry collection, Cultus Coulee (1971), and became a Canadian citizen the following year. In 1977, he met his partner and fellow poet Rhonda Batchelor.

Important Lillard titles include his history of Vancouver Island, Seven Shillings a Year (1986), which received the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Historical Writing; Circling North (1988), which won the first Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize; and Just East of Sundown (1995), his history of Haida Gwaii. Shadow Weather (1996) was nominated for a Governor General's Award. With Michael Gregson he compiled a coffee table book on post-war B.C. icons, Land of Destiny (1991); and with Ron MacIsaac and Don Clark he co-wrote a study of the 1920s religious cult leader Edward Arthur Wilson, The Brother XII, B.C. Magus (1989). Lillard's enthusiasm for B.C. and Alaskan literature resulted in the reprinting of several West Coast classics. He also edited the Malahat Review and some Sound Heritage titles. In addition, he co-founded Reference West and he edited a gathering of writings about Haida Gwaii, The Ghostland People (1989), to "allow the actors in our history to give their own speeches.";

Lillard could be somewhat erratic in his writing, selective in his scholarship and highly opinionated in his judgments, but his enduring enthusiasm for Pacific Northwest literary culture made his presence necessary and constructive. After Charles Lillard died in 1997, a memorial service was held at the home of Robin and Sylvia Skelton. "Perhaps people in this country think of him mainly as a poet-which he was, of course, a fine poet,"; said Marlyn Horsdal, one of Lillard's publishers, "but he was also an extraordinary repository of information on the literature of the coast and coastal history; he loved collecting it and talking about it."; Charles Lillard also had a deeply melancholy streak. "History is endless in this country. It is boundless,"; he wrote in a personal letter to Alan Twigg, "but no one really cares deeply.";


FULL ENTRY:

Charles Lillard was one of B.C.'s most knowledgeable bibliophiles and prolific authors. Fellow Victoria writer Doug Beardsley referred to him once as "a beacon on this coast." Raincoast Chronicles publisher and poet Howard White once wrote, "For regional culture addicts still mourning the loss of Alan Morley and Arthur Mayse, his column dominates the field like a leafy oasis in mid-Sahara." Widely read for many years as a literary columnist in the Times Colonist and as a contributor to B.C. BookWorld, Lillard amassed a deeply-felt knowledge of B.C. writing, publishing and culture. He was most closely associated with Sono Nis Press.

Born in Long Beach, California in 1944, Charles 'Red' Lillard was raised and educated in Alaska. He spent much of his childhood on his parents' fish scow. He first visited B.C. in 1961 and preferred to view the Inside Passage as a river running from Skagway to Seattle, 'the Great North River'. After travels in Canada and Europe in 1965, he worked at several forestry jobs (faller, rigger, boom man), drove a truck and taught at Ocean Falls, and entered the UBC Creative Writing Department where he received the Brissenden Award in 1970. He published his first poetry collection, Cultus Coulee, in 1971. In 1972, when he became a Canadian citizen, his play The Crossing was produced at the Freddy Wood Theater at UBC. He received his M.F.A. and won the MacMillan Prize in 1973. In 1976 he edited an issue of Canadian Fiction Magazine. In 1977 he met his partner Rhonda Batchelor.

Shadow Weather was nominated for a Governor General's Award. Important Lillard titles include Seven Shillings A Year, his history of Vancouver Island, which received the Lieutenant-Governor's Medal for Historical Writing; Circling North, which won the first Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize; and Just East of Sundown, his history of the Queen Charlotte Islands. With Michael Gregson he compiled a coffee table book on post-war B.C. icons, Land of Destiny; with Ron MacIsaac and Don Clark he co-wrote a study of the 1920s' religious cult leader Edward Arthur Wilson, The Brother XII; with J. Ellis he co-wrote a local history, Fernwood Files; and with Robin Skelton and Rhonda Batchelor he coordinated numerous literary events and publications from Victoria. Other poetry titles included Drunk on Wood, Jabble, Voice, My Shaman, Shadow Weather, Circling North and A Coastal Range. Lillard's enthusiasm for B.C. and Alaskan literature resulted in the reprinting of several West Coast 'classics' such as Three's a Crew. He edited many other history titles, edited The Malahat Review and co-founded Reference West. Lillard also edited some of the final issues of the Sound Heritage quarterly that was issued by the Provincial Government. Always on the lookout for new information about the West Coast from old sources, he edited a gathering of writings about the Queen Charlotte Islands, The Ghostland People, to "allow the actors in our history to give their own speeches." He was long involved in the preparation of a bibliographical project, B.C.: A Literary Geography, but it was never completed. He could be somewhat erratic in his writing, selective in his scholarship and highly opinionated in his judgements, but his enduring enthusiasm for Pacific Northwest literary culture made his presence necessary and constructive. He is missed.

Charles Lillard's work in progress was a yet-to-be released study of the Chinook language on the B.C. coast, A Voice Great Within Us. It was released posthumously with the collaboration of Terry Glavin. By 1962, the Summer Institute of Linguistics estimated that approximately 100 Chinook speakers remained in North America and by 1990 the creole language (comprised of an amalgam of aboriginal, English and French terms) was considered nearly extinct. Chinook was used in criminal trials in B.C., such as the prosecution of Chilcotin chiefs following the so-called Chilcotin War in 1864, and the prosecution of Tshuanahusset, charged with the 1868 murder of black Saltspring Island pioneer William Robinson. It was officialy used as late as 1913-1916 for the McKenna-McBride commission. Lillard occasionally used Chinook terms in his own poetry.

In the early 1990s Charles Lillard was profiled by his closest writing friend, Robin Skelton: "I think of Red (for I still call him Red) in conversation over the whisky, that sudden eager leaning forward, that gargantuan chuckle which is his laughter. I think of that battered black hat, even more curiously shaped than mine, and of the disreputable knapsack he carries to flea markets. I think of his comfortable presence, easy and undemanding, as he chats to booksellers and flea market vendors. And I think of that voice on the phone, jovial, teasing, persuasive, telling me of some new project in which I am to become inescapably involved. And I think, above all, of his enthusiasm; this is my friend, a man in love with life, a man of zest, a man of poetry, a man of honest labour: I wish there were more like him."; After Charles Lillard died on March 27, 1997, a memorial service was held at the home of Robin and Sylvia Skelton on April 12. "He was one of the people who wrote about the Northwest Coast in a way that gave it a mythology, and in that way he'll last," said Susan Musgrave. "Perhaps people in this country think of him mainly as a poet - which he was, of course, a fine poet,"; says Marlyn Horsdal, one of Lillard's publishers, "but he was also an extraordinary repository of information on the literature of the coast and coastal history; he loved collecting it and talking about it... Charles was endlessly interesting, opinionated and entertaining, and a good friend.";

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Devil of De Courcy Island: The Brother XII
The Ghostland People: A documentary history of the Queen Charlotte Islands 1859- 1906
A Voice Great Within Us: The Story of Chinook
Warriors of the North Pacific

BOOKS:

Cultus Coulee (Sono Nis, 1971) -- poems
Drunk on Wood (Sono Nis, 1973) -- poems
Jabble (1975) -- poems
Voice, My Shaman (Sono Nis, 1976) -- poems
Mission to Nootka, 1874-1900: The Diary of Father Augustin Brabant (Sidney: Gray's Publishing, 1977) -- annotated edition, reminiscences of Father Brabant, first priest to reside on the West Coast of Vancouver Island
In the Wake of the War Canoe (Sono Nis, 1981) -- editor
Dreams of Freedom: Bella Coola, Cape Scott, Sointula (Provincial Archives Aural History Program, 1982) -- editor
A Coastal Range (1984) -- poetry
Warriors of the North Pacific: Missionary Accounts of the Northwest Coast, The Skeena and Stikine Rivers, and the Klondike, 1829-1900 (Sono Nis, 1984) -- editor
Seven Shillings a Year (Horsdal & Schubart, 1986) -- history of Vancouver Island
Nootka (1986) -- editor
Circling North (Sono Nis, 1988) -- poetry
The Ghostland People (Sono Nis, 1989) -- editor
Fernwood Files (Orca, 1989) -- history with J. Ellis
The Brother, XII, B.C. Magus: A Quest for The Brother, XII (Porcepic, 1989) -- biography, co-author with Ron MacIsaac, Don Clark
Land of Destiny (Pulp Press, 1991) -- with Michael Gregson
The Call of the Coast (Horsdal & Schubart, 1992) -- anthology editor
Just East of Sundown (Horsdal & Shubart, 1995) -- history
Shadow Weather: Poems, Selected and New (Sono Nis, 1996) -- poems
A Voice Great Within Us: The Story of Chinook (New Star, Transmontanus, 1998) --history, with Terry Glavin

[BCBW 2010]