Father Morice, first B.C. publisher
September 21st, 2012
Brilliant and often described as egotistical, Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice is second only to William Duncan as the most remarkable missionary in B.C. history. He lived in British Columbia for 19 of his best years. In the early 1900s, Morice established a printing operation from a cabin behind his church at Fort St. James, communicating with the outside world via the post office at Quesnel, and he produced a collection of his essays, printed in British Columbia, by his own Stuart Lake Mission Press, in 1902. Hence an argument can be made that British Columbia’s first truly independent publishing house was at Fort St. James and Father Morice began the tradition of self-publishing in British Columbia.
Born in France in 1859, Morice was inspired by Father Émile Petitot to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1879. Unordained, Morice first arrived in B.C. in 1880 with Oblate companions N. Coccola and J.D. Chiappini, and began to learn both Chilcotin and Carrier languages at St. Joseph’s School in Williams Lake. Thus began his introduction to the Athapascan language group and his study of what he eventually called “The Great Déné Race.” After he was Ordained in 1882, he was sent to be in charge of the Stuart Lake Mission at Fort St. James as punishment for his rebelliousness in 1885. He was thrilled.
For ten years Morice worked with the Carrier First Nation and invented a syllabic script for the Déné language. This Déné Syllabery, in effect, provided the Athabascan peoples with a written language.
His best-known work in English, The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia, Formerly New Caledonia, 1660–1880 (1904), is the classic history of the trading area known as New Caledonia where Morice spent most of his nineteen years in B.C. Interested in both anthropology and linguistics, he had talked to elderly chiefs to ascertain the pre-contact history of the region. Morice also benefited from the discovery of a trove of old letters and manuscripts by the Hudson’s Bay Company manager Alexander C. Murray at Fort St. James. His resulting manuscript was praised so highly by Bernard McEvoy, who wrote for the Daily Province under the pen name Diogenes, that the Toronto publishing firm of William Briggs opted to publish the work unseen, with much success. The preface confidently states, “The record of these times has never been written, not to say published, and the only author who has ever touched on some of the events with which we will soon entertain the reader, Hubert Howe Bancroft, is so irretrievably inaccurate in his remarks that his treatment of the same might be considered well-nigh worthless.” The oral accounts in Morice’s ground-breaking history make clear how alcohol was deliberately introduced by the fur trade to weaken the resistance of aboriginals. This fundamental B.C. history was reprinted in 1978 by Interior Stationery as The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia.
Morice’s disdain for the ubiquitous California-based historian Bancroft was matched by his disrespect for the Right Rev. W.C. Bompas, Anglican Bishop for Athabasca, Mackenzie River and the Yukon. Morice was a rigorous researcher and a dedicated intellectual. Published in 1902, his essays were described about one century later by Robert Bringhurst as “almost the sole piece of printed evidence for an intellectual culture among the colonial population in British Columbia during the early part of this [20th] century.”
With his health shattered, Morice was sent in 1904 to New Westminster. After four years of recuperation, Morice moved to St. Boniface, Manitoba, where he spent much of his life as a scholar and writer, publishing The History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada, in two volumes, in 1910, and a three-volume French edition of the same work, published in Winnipeg in 1912. Throughout this period he remained a devout Roman Catholic who was often estranged from church authorities.
Morice, who wrote fluently in French and English, also published an autobiography, First Years in Western Canada (1930), and his two-volume The Carrier Language: A Grammar and Dictionary (1932). Having gain literary attention in Europe, Morice lectured in anthropology at the newly established University of Saskatchewan, and the university granted him a B.A. in 1911 and an M.A. in 1912. He was not required to sit for any examinations, but these degrees were not accorded to him as honorary.
Morice before he died in 1938. Moricetown on the Bulkley River is named after him, as well as Morice Lake, Morice River and the Morice Range.
The page proofs of Morice’s autobiography Fifty Years in Western Canada (1930) and five letters to Dr. Robert Bell, relating primarily to Morice’s writings, particularly First Nations legends, are housed at UBC Special Collections. David Mulhall has written a biography, Will to Power: The Missionary Career of Father Morice (1986), but Father Morice’s connection to B.C.’s writing and publishing history is seldom cited because he was primarily a religious figure of French origins who was geographically removed from the coast.
[For other literary works associated with missionaries, see abcbookworld entries for Andersen, Doris; Annett, Kevin Daniel; Arctander, John William; Bagshaw, Roberta; Beaver, Herbert; Bischoff, William Norbert; Blackburn, Carole; Blanchet, Francis; Boddy, Alexander Alfred; Bolduc, Jean-Baptiste; Bolt, Clarence Ralph; Bolton, Herbert E.; Brabant, Augustin Joseph; Brown, R.C. Lundin; Brown, Robert C.L.; Burnham, Lem; Burridge, Kenelm; Christophers, Brett; Coccola, Nicolas; Collison, William; Craven, Margaret; Crespi, Juan; Cronin, Kay; Crosby, Emma; Crosby, Thomas; Davis, George T.B.; De Coccola, Raymond; Demers, Modeste; Down, Sister Mary; Duchaussois, Reverend P.; Dunlop, Herbert Francis; Durieu, Paul; Furtwangler, Albert; Garraghan, Gilbert Joseph; Garrioch, A.C.; Good, John Booth; Gould, S.; Gowen, Hubert H.; Grant, James; Hadley, Michael; Haicks, Charles; Hall, Alfred; Harrison, Charles; Hasell, F.H. Eva; Hills, George; Huel, R.; Jackson, Sheldon; James, George; Jennings, Dennis; Johnson, M.E.; Jujut, Abbe; Keenleyside, Vi; Keller, W. Phillip; Kelm, Mary-Ellen; Knipe, Christopher; Lamirande, Emilien; Large, Richard Geddes; Lascelles, Thomas A.; Laveille, E.; Le Jeune, Jean-Marie; Lillard, Charles; Maes, Yvonne; Margaret, Helene; McCullagh, James B.; McKellar, Hugh; McKervill, Hugh; McNally, Vincent J.; Mercier, Anne; Moeran, J.W.W.; Morley, Alan; Morris, Wilfred H.; Morton, W.L.; Moser, Reverend Chas; Mulhall, David; Munro, John; Neylan, Susan; Pandosy, Father; Patterson, E. Palmer II; Pena, Tomas de la; Pierce, William H.; Prang, Margaret; Raley, G.H.; Scott, Robert; Sheepshanks, John; Sinclair, James; Smet, Pierre-Jean De; Solverson, Howard; St. Onge, Louis Napoleon; Stackhouse, Cyril; Steckler, Gerard; Stock, Eugene; Stursberg, Peter; Tomlinson, Robert; Usher, Jean; Van Der Heyden, Joseph; Ward, N. Lascelles; Weir, Joan Sherman; Wellcome, Henry; Whitehead, Margaret; Williams, Cyril E.H.]
Carrier Reading Book (Stuart’s Lake Mission, 1894) Second edition; a 192-page follow-up to Morice’s much shorter Pe test’ les et’ sotel-eh (Stuart Lake Mission, 1890). Also published as Notes, Archaeological, Industrial and Sociological, on the Western Denes (Toronto, Copp Clark, 1894) 192 p.
Au Pays De L’Ours Noir: Chez Les Sauvages De La Colombie Britannique; Recit D’Un Missionaire. (Paris, Delhomme et Briguet, 1897) 305 p.
A First Collection of Minor Essays, Mostly Anthropological (Stuart’s Lake Mission, 1902). [Copy at UBC Special Collections]
Du Lac Stuart A L’Ocean Pacifique (Neuchatel, Paul Attinger, 1904) 51 p.
The History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia, Formerly New Caledonia, 1660-1880 (Toronto, William Briggs, 1904). The National Library of Canada and the B.C. Archives retain copies. A revised, corrected version appeared in 1904, followed by a reprint in 1905. It was published by John Lane, The Bodley Head, in London, in 1906.
Aux sources de l’histoire manitobaine (Québec, Imprimerie de la Compagnie de “L’Evénement” 1907 [i.e. 1908])
Dictionnaire historique des Canadiens et des métis français de l’Ouest (Québec, chez J.-P. Garneau, libraire; Montréal, chez Granger frères; Saint-Boniface, M. l’Assistant procureur, l’Archevêché, 1908)
History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada, From Lake Superior to the Pacific, 1659-1895 (Toronto, Musson Book Co. 1910)
Histoire de l’église catholique dans l’ouest canadien, du Lac Supérieur au Pacifique (1659-1905) (Winnipeg, West Canada Pub. Co.; Montréal, Granger Frères, 1912; St. Boniface, Manitoba: Chez l’auteur; Montréal: Granger Frères, 1915 & 1921-1923; Winnipeg, Chez l’auteur, 1928)
First Years in Western Canada: Being the Abridged Memoirs of Rev. A.G. Morice, O.M.I., by D.L.S. (Toronto, The Ryerson Press, 1930) 267 p.
The Carrier Language (Dene Family): A Grammar and Dictionary Combined. 2 volumes (Vienna: Verlag der Internationalen Zeitschrift “Anthropos”, 1932)
Souvenirs D’un Missionaire En Colombie Britannique (Winnipeg, 1933) 374 p.
M. Darveau, martyr du Manitoba (Winnipeg, 1934)
Will to Power: The Missionary Career of Father Morice (UBC Press, 1986) by David Mulhall
Essay Date: 2012