Discovery Press duo sails again
August 07th, 2012
In their seminal B.C. history title British Columbia Place Names (Sono Nis) G.P.V. and Helen B. Akrigg devoted less than three lines to Virago Sound, approved which was named for the British naval vessel H.M.S. Virago. It is an oversight they have since corrected.
The Akriggs’ H.M.S. Virago in the Pacific 1851-1855: To the Queen Charlottes and Beyond (Sono Nis) is an engrossing account of the Pacific voyages of the “Literary warship” so named because her officers made frequent contributions to the Illustrated London News and other magazines as the Virago touched on, and sometimes changed the history of, dosage Chile, the South Seas, Hawaii, B.C., California, Darien, and Petropavlovsk.
The H.M.S. Virago is as complete a story as anyone could hope because the Akriggs haven’t overlooked the necessary unity of ship, crew and geography.
Life as it was lived by officers and crew is described with a wealth of detail and the immediacy of personal experience. Floggings, not yet abolished, are witnessed first-hand and meticulously recorded. Life below decks in its dynamic contrasts is recounted from the reminiscences of William Petty Ashcroft, A.B.
Although the Akriggs’ new book is appearing now, its origins can be traced to another ship, Captain Vancouver’s H.M.S. Discovery. Back in 1968 the Akriggs, both UBC professors, began to think seriously about self-publishing the results of their own historical research, “seven years of hard work.”
They realized that royalties on a book with 90 per cent of its market in one province would amount to little if it was published in central Canada. At this time there was little commercial publishing in B.C. Helen Akrigg has a business background; the couple knew book dealers in B.C., they knew the province, so why not publish this book themselves?
It was not a new idea. They knew Gordon E. Bowes and he had formed the Prescott Publishing company to publish his own Peace River Chronicles. He gave them some advice, then suggested they talk to his printer, Charles Morriss at Morriss Printing in Victoria. In turn Charlie sent them to see Gray Campbell. Gray – Gray’s Publishing was then B.C.’s only commercial publisher – helped ‘push them over the edge’.
The result was the founding of the Akriggs’ own imprint, Discovery Press, named for Captain Vancouver’s ship. Its first book was 1001 British Columbia Place Names by G.P.V. and Helen B. Akrigg in 1969.
It was printed in September and had to be reprinted in December 1969. By March 1973, 1001 British Columbia Place Names had gone through three editions. The current edition of this book, much updated and almost twice as large, is today’s British Columbia Place Names.
By the time G.P.V. Akrigg retired from UBC’s English Department – where he was known for books such as his Jacobean Pageant, names as one of the ten best books of 1962 by The New York Times – some 25,000 copies had been sold by Discovery Press.
Geoffrey B. Riddehough’s Dance to the Anthill was the next book published by the Akriggs in 1972. Poetically, British Columbia was in the grasp of modernism, so Riddebough’s epigrams were out of stride with the times. No matter: the book hasn’t gone away. Recently Robin Skelton identified the late Riddehough as “Canada’s first epigrammatist.”
In 1973 Discovery Press went in a quite different direction with Nature West Coast: A study of Plants, Insects, Birds, Mammals and Marine Life as seen in Lighthouse Park. Nearly 300 pages long, this comprehensive study was edited by Kathleen M. Smith, Nancy J. Anderson, and Katherine I. Beamish. It has been through many printings and has recently been republished by Sono Nis.
The Akriggs returned to familiar territory when they published their British Columbia Chronicle 1778-1846. The first edition of this book was reprinted again in 1975. Two years later they released a companion volume to this study, British Columbia Chronicle 1846-1871. Few books in the B.C> canon are at once as reliable and readable as these Chronicles.
By the late 1970s Discovery Press had become too large for two people to handle, especially a couple as busy writing as travelling as the Akriggs. Early in 1981 Sono Nis took over the publishing and distribution of 1001 British Columbia Place Names, while distributing the other Discovery Press titles until they went out of print.
Its work over, Discovery Press closed, but H.M.S. Virago in the Pacific 1851-1855 is proof that the Akriggs’ love for the history of this province continues. Almost everything in this book, from text to illustrations, is a fresh addition to our historical record. Printed by Morriss Printing, the book itself is a handsome and serviceable volume, as are all of the Akriggs’ earlier books.
Essay Date: 1993