Derek Pethick was a private man who lived on a farm in Saanich and conducted much of his research at the Provincial Archives. For almost 20 years, he was the leading popular historian of British Columbia. Exclusively concerned with the formative years of British Columbia, he wrote one of the first books about the S.S. Beaver, the first steam vessel on the North Pacific. Launched on the Thames in 1835, it served the Hudson's Bay Company on the coast from 1836 until 1862. It was afterwards charted as a survey ship for the British Admiralty for eight years. From 1874 it served as a towboat until it was wrecked on the rocks below Prospect Point. A model of the Beaver has been rebuilt and it is the subject of several books. Pethick also wrote the first biography of James Douglas to appear after Walter Sage's book about Douglas in 1930. Pethick reveals Douglas as the historical figure who chiefly kept the province from being swallowed by the United States. Including a chronology, Pethick's First Approaches to the Northwest Coast recalls the 29 European voyages that reached land north of the California-Oregon border prior to 1792. It was preceded by a book on the significance of Nootka Sound in B.C. history and a popular title on B.C. disasters. He also published several titles pertaining to Vancouver and Victoria.

Born in 1920, Pethick graduated in history from the University of British Columbia. He died on May 16, 1988. Some of his papers are stored at UVic's Special Collections, including an unpublished manuscript for a military history of B.C. to be called "Mars Over Eden: A Military History of British Columbia". When Pethick died, critic and historian Charles Lillard wrote an appreciative column "Pethick Deserves a Writer's Epitaph" in the Islander Magazine in September. "His was, in a public way, an unlucky life. Most of his earlier books were published locally when there was little if any interest in serious (and reliable) local history, while his later books fell outside the pale -- being neither popular or academic... And then the final indignity; his death went almost unnoticed among his contemporaries. After so much hard work, so many good books, the man who did so much to awaken our interest in Vancouver Island history should have a better epitaph."

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
First Approaches to the Northwest Coast
Summer of Promise: Victoria 1864-1914
S.S. Beaver, the Ship that Saved the West
Victoria: The fort


Pethick, Derek. Vancouver, The Pioneer Years, 1774-1886. Sunfire Publications Ltd., 1984.
Pethick, Derek. Summer of Promise: Victoria, 1864-1914. Sono Nis Press, 1980
Pethick, Derek. The Nootka Connection: Europe and the Northwest Coast 1790-1795. Douglas and McIntyre, 1980.
Pethick, Derek. British Columbia Disasters. Stagecoach, 1978.
Pethick, Derek. First Approaches to the Northwest Coast. J.J. Douglas, 1976.
Pethick, Derek. Men of British Columbia. Hancock House, 1975.
Pethick, Derek. Vancouver Recalled: A Pictorial History to 1887. Hancock House, 1974.
Pethick, Derek. British Columbia Recalled: A Picture History 1741-1871. Hancock House, 1974. With Susan Baumgarten.
Pethick, Derek. Sooke: Past and Present. Sooke and North Sooke Women's Institute. The Institute, 1971. - editor
Pethick, Derek. S.S. Beaver: The Ship That Saved The West. Mitchell Press, 1970.
Pethick, Derek. James Douglas: Servant of Two Empires. Mitchell Press, 1969.
Pethick, Derek. Victoria: The Fort. Mitchell Press Limited, 1968.

[BCBW 2005]