Some Early Historians of British Columbia
July 18th, 2012
This BCHF presidential address was delivered before the annual meeting of the British Columbia Historical Federation in Nanaimo, no rx BC, on January 17, 1958 in celebration of the birth of the crown colony of British Columbia. It was reprinted in British Columbia Historical Quarterly, January 1957 – October 1958.
British Columbia in 1958 is celebrating its centenary: “A century to Celebrate.” It is hardly necessary to remind members of the British Columbia Historical Association that we are commemorating the birth of the Crown colony of British Columbia and not the centenary of the Province. There seems to be some doubt in the public mind on this subject. Let us hope that many of us here will live to see the hundredth anniversary of British Columbia’s entry into the Canadian federation, which took place officially on July 20, 1871.
In this centennial year it seemed useful to discuss with you certain of the early historians of British Columbia. I have chosen six—Hubert Howe Bancroft, Alexander Begg, C.C., Rev.A.G. Morice, O.M.I., R.E. Gosnell, E.O.S. Scholefield, and Judge F.W. Howay.
H.H. Bancroft was a San Francisco bookseller who collected a huge library of source materials on the history of the Pacific Slope from Central America to Alaska, including British Columbia, employed a large staff, ran a “history factory,” and produced The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft in thirty-nine volumes. Alexander Begg, C.C. (Crofter Commissioner), was born in Scotland, lived in Ontario, and came to British Columbia in 1887. In order to avoid confusion with Canadian-born Alexander Begg, author of the History of the North West and editor of the British Columbia Mining Record, Scottish-born Alexander Begg, who was appointed in 1888 by the Government of British Columbia Emigration Commissioner to investigate the settling of Scottish crofters on Vancouver Island, appended the letters “C.C.” to his name. His one important work, The History of British Columbia, published in Toronto in 1894, will be discussed later.
Father Morice was a devoted missionary priest of the Roman Catholic Church, who was distinguished as a historian, an anthropologist, a philologist and linguist, a printer and publisher, and the adapter of Rev. James Evans’ syllabic Cree alphabet to the Athapascan or Dene languages. An extremely able, versatile priest, he was fond of controversy, and was no admirer of H.H. Bancroft.
R.E. Gosnell and E.O.S. Scholefield, however much they differed from each other in character, training, and attainments, may well be considered together. They had one thing in common: they helped to found and build up the Provincial Library and the Provincial Archives at Victoria. Gosnell was an old-time journalist who had a vision of what the library, and later the archives, might become. Scholefield, who was Gosnell’s assistant, and became his successor, was also a man of vision. Above all, he was a collector of Books and manuscripts, who, in the stirring days of Sir Richard McBride, secured the funds for the library and archives addition to the Parliament Buildings. It should, however, never be forgotten that Schofield built upon the foundation laid by Gosnell. Scholefield cooperated with Gosnell in the writing of that large leather-covered volume, produced in edition deluxe, and entitled British Columbia: Sixty Years of Progress.
The standard history of British Columbia during the last forty years has been the first two volumes of a four-volume work produced by His Honour Judge F.W. Howay and E.O.S. Scholefield. The full title of these first two volumes is British Columbia from the Earliest Times to the Present, that is to 1914. This history will, doubtless, be succeeded by the centennial history of British Columbia, which is now being written by Dr. Margaret A. Ormsby.
Judge Howay is usually recognized as the outstanding historian of British Columbia. Born in Ontario, he was brought west by his mother at an early age. His father had already found employment in the Cariboo. Fredric William Howay’s boyhood was spent in New Westminster, a city then filled with memories of the Cariboo and of the Royal Engineers. One of young Howay’s friends was a good-looking lad called Richard McBride, better known to us as Sir Richard McBride. Another great friend was a Nova Scotian, Robie Lewis Reid, whom Howay met when they were both trying the examinations held in Victoria for third class teaching certificates. Reid persuaded Howay to accompany him to Halifax, where they both entered Dalhousie Law School. “Dick” McBride followed them a year later. While attending Dalhousie, Howay began with Nova Scotian affairs to the New Westminster papers. Howay and Reid became law partners in New Westminster and prospered greatly during the early years of this century. In 1907 F.W. Howay became the Judge of the “County Court of Westminster holden in the City of New Westminster.” By this time he had begun his serious study of British Columbia and Northwest Coast history and was building up one of the finest private libraries then in existence in this field.
Judge Howay was “learned in the law” and was an extremely accurate and indefatigable worker. He was also a good citizen and interested himself in the New Westminster Public Library. He founded the Fellowship of Arts and was a strong supporter of the Dickens Fellowship. He was a British Columbian, and a “mainlander.” He knew Vancouver Island well and was highly regarded in Victoria, but his home was in New Westminster, and as a lawyer he had also practised in the Cariboo. The great contribution of his later life was in the field of the maritime fur trade. Nor should it be forgotten that he was the first President of the British Columbia Historical Association, founded in 1922, and that he held that office until 1926.
Before going more fully into the lives and writings of this group of historians of British Columbia, it would be well to pause for a moment to point out and emphasize the difference between historical source material and historical works. Source materials for historical writing may be drawn not only from archives and libraries, but also from “historical field work,” the collection of old-timers’ stories, of old letters, newspapers, and pamphlets. Nor can the historian afford to neglect anthropology and its allied sciences. So far we have tended to neglect the history of the native peoples of British Columbia. One important historian, Rev. A.G. Morice, was also a noted anthropologist and student of linguistics. He was, in fact, an anthropologist before he was a historian. Ever since the early voyages, scientists have been interested in the native peoples, as well as in the flora and fauna of the Northwest Pacific Coast. For well over half a century anthropologists have been working in the British Columbia field, but even the historians have not yet paid sufficient attention to their work.
The historian to-day must be a jack of all trades. He must not only be a frequenter of archives and libraries, he must also be a field worker and collector. He must know enough of the techniques of fur-trading, mining, smelting, lumbering, pulp and paper, fishing, agriculture, hydroelectric power, transportation by land, sea, and air, not to mention atomic energy and guided missiles, to be able to write intelligently on these various and varied subjects. He must be, if not “learned in the law,” at least a student of legal, constitutional, and political history. He should be able to read, if not to speak, languages other than his own. Curiosity should be one of his main characteristics. He should always be asking questions, many of which he will never be able to answer. He can never study local history in a vacuum. He must be able to relate it to notional, international, and world development.
Above all, the real historian should be humble. He realizes that he knows so little even concerning his chosen field. He should be prepared to admit his ignorance even in his special field and to answer “I don’t know.” A genuine historian is not a bluffer, nor should he exhibit a “false front” to the world. If possible he should be a man of wide experience and broad sympathies. He must be ready to weigh evidence and criticize. He cannot allow his feelings and emotions to get the better of him. He must stand aside from his work and view it objectively, and yet at the same time be part of his work, just as his work is a large part of him.
In a word, the historian finds and uses source materials, but from them he creates his historical work. It isn’t enough to be a good collector, a wide reader, an assiduous searcher in libraries and archives, a scientific weigher of evidence; the historian must also be an artist in the presentation of his materials. He writes best who loses himself in the writing. Then Clio the Muse descends upon him and real creative historical writing begins. It doesn’t happen often. Most histories are not masterpieces, but the work of journeymen or craftsmen, who are paid well for what they do but fall short of being great historical writers.
Judged by these severe standards, probably none of the six historians under discussion would reach the topmost rating. That is hardly to be expected. But all of them were important, and at least three of them—H.H. Bancroft, Rev. A.G. Morice, and Judge Howay—made outstanding contributions in the field of British Columbia history.
Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1832-1918, was a Californian of the Californians. In no other State of the Union, and probably in no other place in the world, could a successful bookseller have become the proprietor, manager, and inspiration of a “history factory,” which produced volumes on the history and anthropology of the Pacific Slope, but specialized in Old California. He was born on May 5, 1832, at Granville, Ohio, of New England stock and brought up in what he termed in his volume on Literary Industries as “an atmosphere of pungent and invigorating puritanism.” In 1848 H.H. Bancroft left home to go to Buffalo, N.Y., where he entered the employ of his brother-in-law, George H. Derby, a bookseller. He started at the bottom and hadn’t climbed very far up the ladder when, six months later, he was dismissed by the head book-keeper. His brother-in-law provided him with a supply of books on credit and Bancroft went back to Ohio, where he obtained valuable experience as a book-pedlar. By the end of the summer he was able to pay his debts to his brother-in-law, to buy a suit of clothes and a silver watch. He was invited back to Buffalo to a regular clerkship at the then satisfactory salary of $100 a year.
Azariah Ashley Bancroft, the father of Hubert Howe, in 1850 caught the gold fever and left for California. Two years later George Derby decided to send his young brother-in-law to California with a consignment of $5,000 worth of trading goods. H.H. Bancroft, with his friend George L. Kenny, sailed from New York to Aspinwall, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and took ship from Panama City to San Francisco. A new day was dawning for Hubert Howe Bancroft.
Professor John Walton Caughey, of the University of California at Los Angeles, has traced in detail in his Hubert Howe Bancroft, Historian of the West the adventures of the young Ohioan in the mining camps and boom towns of California. He underwent an extensive and severe training, but in the end he prospered. On a trip east in 1856 he obtained a line of credit and bought $10,000 worth of books and stationary. In December of that year he started in business in San Francisco along with his old friend George L. Kenny. The Name of the firm was H.H. Bancroft and Company. Although times were very hard, the Bancroft shop prospered. Kenny was an expert salesman and Bancroft was an excellent office manager.
During the civil war, California remained on the gold standard at a time when the rest of the country was using depreciated paper currency. Bancroft’s business prospered greatly, and the proprietor had sufficient money to visit not only New York, but London and Paris as well. His brother, Albert L. Bancroft, had arrived in San Francisco in 1858, and in 1859 was placed in charge of the blank-book and stationary shop operated by both brothers under the title of A.L. Bancroft and Company. In 1858 H.H. Bancroft married his first wife, nee Emily Ketchum, a rather straight-laced young lady, who in the best Victorian tradition undertook to convert her free-thinking husband. Until her death in 1869, Hubert Howe Bancroft was, outwardly at least, very religious. His scepticism reappeared later.
On his various journeys, Bancroft learned much. Even in the Eastern United States he found certain customs and mores which shook his early puritanism. California had remade him, and on his travels to and from New York via Panama he had glimpses of Latin-American civilization. Europe was also a revelation to him. He was much impressed by the European leisured classes, although he despised their disdain for work. He realized that there was something more in life than the accumulation of money. He would use money as a means to an end, and that end was cultural rather than plutocratic. Already he was dreaming dreams.
There is no time even to outline how Bancroft gathered his library, found able assistants, and became a historian. Suffice it to say that if he had not made that vast collection which has been since 1905 the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkley, it would have been quite impossible for later historians and others to have recovered what would undoubtedly have been lost. Even in the case of British Columbia, if Bancroft in the 1880’s had not visited Victoria, talked with the pioneers, obtained Sir James Douglas’s private papers, and the manuscript histories and narratives of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, John Tod, and many others, we would have lost much valuable material concerning not only the fur trade and the colonial period, 1849-1871, but even the early days of our province.
Three of H.H. Bancroft’s volumes deal with what is now British Columbia: The North West Coast, Vols. I and II, and the History of British Columbia. Even now at this late date they are essential. No doubt there are errors; for example, Bancroft says that James Douglas married Nellie Connolly. Her Name was Amelia. Mrs. Dennis Harris told me over thirty years ago that her father always called her mother Amelia. Bancroft also states that Connolly’s first name was not William but James. But these are minor defects. In his review of Caughey’s Hubert Howe Bancroft, Dr. W. Kaye Lamb quotes with approval a sentence from Bernard De Voto’s The Year of Decision, 1846: “I have found that you had better not decide that Bancroft was wrong until you have rigorously tested what you think you know.” One charge often levelled at H.H. Bancroft is that he purloined manuscripts, by borrowing them from their authors and refusing to return them. This story was still going the rounds in Victoria thirty to forty years ago. The late James R. Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, told me that Bancroft had stolen his father’s manuscript on the North West Coast. It is interesting in this connection to note that practically all original narratives in the Bancroft Library at Berkley are in transcript form. The original manuscript of the Fort Langley Journal, 1827-1830, is in the Provincial Archives at Victoria.
Bancroft’s historical methods were, to say the least, unconventional, and his works were by no means all his own compositions. He never claimed that they were. His merchandising tactics were also open to criticism. He was, none the less, a great figure in the historiography of the Pacific Slope, and his reputation will, in all probability, increase rather than diminish with the years.
It is, unfortunately, impossible to make a similar statement regarding Alexander Begg, C.C. His book of importance, The History of British Columbia, has always been and still is almost impossible to use. As indicated above, Alexander Begg, C.C., was a Scot. He was born at Watten, Caithness, Scotland, on May 7, 1825, the son of Andrew and Jane Taylor Begg. He was educated privately but later obtained a teaching diploma at Edinburgh Normal School. He taught school for a time at Cluny, Aberdeenshire. Emigrating[sic] to Canada in 1846, he taught school in Ontario. His next move was into journalism. In 1854, with H.F. Macmillan, he founded the Bowmanville Messenger; later he established the Brighton Sentinel and published the Trenton Advocate. He sold out his interest in the Advocate to his brother Peter, probably in 1855. In 1858 at Brockville, Ont., Alexander Begg married Emily Maria Lake. They had eleven children—six sons and five daughters.
Begg was employed in the Department of Internal Revenue at Ottawa for several years. Apparently he found the comparative safety of the Civil Service preferable to the wear and tear of journalism. In 1869 he accompanied Lieutenant-Governor McDougal on his ill-fated expedition Collector of Customs for the North-west Territories, but Louis Riel thought otherwise. At Pembina, Begg was turned back, as was McDougall, by Louis Riel’s “men of the new nation.”
In 1872 Begg, while on a visit to the land of his birth, was appointed Emigration Commissioner in Scotland for the Province of Ontario. His Headquarters were in Glasgow, but he lectured all over the country. He persuaded many thousands of crofters to settle in Canada. About two years later the indefatigable Begg was establishing a temperance colony at Parry Sound. He turned once more to journalism and became owner and editor of the Muskoka Herald and founded the Canadian Lumberman.
The Toronto Mail in 1881 sent Alexander Begg as its correspondent in the Canadian North-west. He travelled by Chicago, St. Paul, and Bismarck, N.D. For a time he tried his luck at Dunbow Ranch, Alberta, and imported horses and cattle from Montana. His son Robert A. Begg eventually took over the ranch, and it flourished under his management. Another son, Roderick Norman Begg, in 1887 left Alberta to take a position with the Daily Colonist in Victoria, B.C. His father followed in a few months and was appointed in 1888 Emigration Commissioner for British Columbia. It was then that Alexander Begg appended the letters “C.C.” to his name.
Alexander Begg, C.C., went to England in 1889 and took up his residence in London, where he remained until 1897, directing the Crofter Settlement scheme. During this period he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Colonial Institute. In 1894 his History of British Columbia from its Earliest Discovery to the Present Time was published by William Briggs, Toronto. It is tedious work, which has no index, and it cannot be classed among the more successful volumes in the British Columbia field.
In 1903 the Beggs left Victoria and settled in New York, where five of their sons and one daughter were engaged in professional work. In March, 1905, at the age of 80, Alexander Begg, C.C., died in New York and was buried in Orillia, where he and his wife had lived for /pg. 23/ several years beginning with 1877. Mrs. Begg died at the age of 93 in the year 1932. “Old Paste and Scissors,” as Begg has been termed by more recent investigators in the British Columbia field, was not a great historian, but in his day he made a useful contribution.
Rev. Adrien Gabriel Morice, O.M.I., 1859-1938, was noteworthy as a missionary, an anthropologist, and a historian. Born at St. Mars sur-Calmont, France, on August 27, 1859, and educated at Oisseau and the Ecclesiastical College at Mayenne, he was early attracted to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He made his final vows in that order in 1879 and was sent to British Columbia in 1880. He had not yet been ordained but, with his companions N. Coccola and J.D. Chiappini, was a scholastic brother of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In 1882 he received ordination and was sent to labour among the Chilcotins, whose language he learned to speak. It was one of the Athapascan language group and introduced Rev. A.G. Morice to the study of what he later termed “The Great Dene Race.”
In 1885 he was placed in charge of the Stuart Lake mission at Fort St. James. There he worked out his Dene Syllabery and gave to the Athapascan peoples a written language. What is more, he provided the Carriers of Stuart Lake with a printed language and produced valuable works on his printing-press. Morice became intensely interested in anthropology and linguistics. He talked to the old chiefs and gleaned from them what they knew of the dim period before the white man came. His first book, Au Pays de l’Ours Noir, was published in 1897. The history of the Northern Interior of British Columbia, commonly called New Caledonia followed in 1904. Bernard McEvoy, of Vancouver, well known to many of us as “Diogenes” of the Daily Province, praised Morice’s manuscript so highly that the publishing firm of William Briggs, Toronto, accepted it unseen. It was a great success. The History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada appeared in 1910, in two volumes. A three-volume French edition was published in Winnipeg in 1912. During his long life (he survived till 1938) Father Morice published many books and articles in the fields of anthropology and history. He wrote well in both French and English, and his writings attracted wide attention in Europe as well as in North America. For a time he was lecturer in anthropology in the newly established University of Saskatchewan, which honoured him by granting him its first B.A. in 1911 and its first M.A. in 1912. These degrees were not honorary, but the reverend father was not required to sit for any examinations.
Rev. A.G. Morice, O.M.I., made a most valuable contribution to the writing of the history and anthropology of British Columbia and the prairies. Of his ability and his versatility, there is no doubt. He was a careful researcher and his work was authoritative. Above all, he was a true son of Holy Mother Church. His devotion to Roman Catholicism led him at times to pass very unfavourable comments on Protestants and other non-Catholics. He disliked H.H. Bancroft, and he was unduly severe in his comments on the Right Rev. W.C. Bompas, successively Anglican Bishop of Athabasca, Mackenzie River, and the Yukon. Although he was always obedient to the rules of his order, he was none the less an individualist, and rumour hath it that his fellow members of the Oblate Order found him somewhat difficult at times.
Father Morice spent nineteen of his best years in British Columbia, nearly all in his beloved New Caledonia. He then crossed the mountains and took up his residence in the Prairie Provinces. He was for years in Winnipeg, and part of his later life was spent at La Fleshe, Saskatchewan. He made a great contribution to his church and to Western Canadian Culture. Probably the greatest stroke of luck in his life was the finding by Alexander C. Murray, then the Hudson’s Bay Company’s manager at Fort St. James, of a treasure-trove of old letters and other documents in the attic of the old fort. From these manuscripts Father Morice derived much of his best source material for the History of the Northern Interior of British Columbia, which is usually considered his finest piece of historical writing.
R. Edward Gosnell, 1860-1931, was born at Lake Beauport in the Province of Quebec in the year 1860 and was educated in Ontario. For a time he was a school-teacher, then he became a journalist and worked for various Ontario newspapers. Gosnell came to British Columbia in 1888, the year after his marriage to Miss Alice White, and was associated with the Vancouver News and News-Advertiser. In November, 1893, he was appointed Provincial Librarian, and the next year played a large part in securing the passing by the British Columbia Legislature of “An Act to establish and maintain a Library for the use the Legislative Assembly and constitute a Bureau of Statistics.” He found a library of about 1,200 volumes which was sadly lacking in organization. He had vision and industry and laid the foundations of the present Provincial Library. In 1894 E.O.S. Scholefield became his assistant. Gosnell in 1896 became secretary to the Premier, and held both positions until September, 1898, when Scholefield succeeded him as Provincial Librarian. Mrs. Gosnell died in 1898, a blow from which R.E. Gosnell seems never to have completely recovered. He became restless and changed his posts frequently. He remained secretary to the Premier until 1901, when he was appointed secretary of the Bureau of Provincial Information. Organization was his strong point, and the Bureau prospered. In 1904, however, he lost this position.
Gosnell was always a journalist at heart, and in 1906 he became editor of the Victoria Colonist. The next year, 1907, he was a delegate to a conference on education held in London, England. Premier McBride at this time visited England asking “better terms” for British Columbia. He found R.E. Gosnell a useful assistant, and probably a quite convivial travelling companion.
When the Provincial Archives was separated from the Provincial Library in 1908, Gosnell became the first Archivist of British Columbia. He held this position until 1910, when he was succeeded by E.O.S. Scholfield. In 1910 and 1911 he performed special services for the Attorney-General’s and the Treasury Departments. From September, 1915, to December, 1917, he was again secretary to the Premier.
fter 1917 we lose sight of R.E. Gosnell for a time. He went back to Ontario and lived for several years in Ottawa. He seems to have been in the employ of the Federal Government for a while, and he also represented the Vancouver Star in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. I met him once in 1922, in the Public Archives of Canada, but he was then but a wreck of his former self. He lingered on in Ottawa, but in April, 1931, returned to Vancouver, where he died on August 5th. In many ways his life was a tragedy. He was brilliant, wrote well, and possessed organizing ability. Unfortunately he lacked both stability and sobriety.
None the less, R.E. Gosnell made a great contribution to British Columbia. In 1897 he issued the first Year Book of British Columbia, a storehouse of useful information, historical and statistical, concerning our Province. In 1906 he published A History of British Columbia. Two of his best works were done by Collaboration. R.H. Coats, Dominion Statistician and “Father of Canadian Statistics,” took Gosnell’s manuscript on Sir James Douglas, prepared for the Makers of Canada series, Revised it, drastically cut down its length, and rewrote the volume. It was not really a life of Douglas, but a most useful one-volume history of British Columbia. Dr. R.H. Coats many years ago told me the story of the revision of this volume. My memory may be at fault, but I am almost certain he said that he had never met R.E. Gosnell. Gosnell also joined E.O.S. Scholefield in the production of British Columbia, Sixty Years of Progress, which appeared in 1913. It was a weighty tome, beautifully printed, and handsomely bound. Gosnell wrote Part II, the period since federation. On the whole, it was a good piece of writing, probably his best. He was a keen analyst of British Columbia /pg. 25/ politics and politicians, and he was also well acquainted with the economic development of the Province. R.E. Gosnell may be forgotten to-day, but historical students should study his writings carefully. He knew a great deal about British Columbia and he told it well.
Ethelbert Olaf Stuart Scholefield received much of his early training in library and archives methods from R. Edward Gosnell. He succeeded Gosnell first as Provincial Librarian and later as Provincial Archivist. Was this the result of chance, or of skilful manipulation, or was it by merit? At this date it is difficult to tell. Probably all these factors entered into Scholefield’s advance and Gosnell’s decline. By inference we may state that Gosnell was a bit of an enthusiast who dreamed dreams, worked out schemes, did well for a time, and then got tired. Scholefield was a collector and builder. His real monument is the Library and Archives Building and much, if not most, of its contents.
Born at St. Wilfrid’s Ryde, Isle of Wight, on May 31, 1875, Scholefield came to British Columbia, along with other members of his family, in 1887. His father, Rev. Stuart Clement Scholefield, was an Anglican parson who was for a time in charge of a church in New Westminster and later was rector of Esquimalt. Ethelbert, in the best English tradition, attended a private school conducted by Rev. W.W.Bolton. He later entered the Victoria High School, where he had a distinguished record. On leaving school he entered the service of the Provincial Library. In 1894 he was assistant to R.E. Gosnell, whom he succeeded as Provincial Librarian in 1898. In 1910 he became Provincial Archivist. These positions he held until his death, after a lengthy illness, on Christmas Day, 1919.
Scholefield was intensely interested in the early voyages of discovery to the Northwest Coast and in the development of Vancouver Island. He was fortunate in his collaborators—R.E. Gosnell and Judge F.W. Howay. The Judge often spoke to me with kindly affection of “little Scholefield,” and sometimes commented on his acuteness. He had been a page boy in the Legislature, and he early learned how to get along with men and how to get the best out of politicians. He planned the Archives Memoirs series and edited three of them, which were published in 1918, the year before his death. He died before he was 50, and had he lived out the allotted span he probably would have written much more.
C.B. Bagley, of Seattle, writing in the Washington Historical Quarterly shortly after Scholefiled’s death, after praising him and his work, criticizes him rather severely for his broken promises. He always lived under a terrific nervous strain and was continually making engagements he could not fill. He wrote, as has been well said, “with the printer’s devil at the door.” His work suffered as a result, but he gave all he had to the Provincial Library and Archives of British Columbia.
And now, at long last, we come to His Honour Judge Fredric William Howay, 1867-1943. How is it possible to recapture the Judge and to contain him within a few manuscript pages? The main events of his life have been rapidly sketched above. He was a British Columbian by adoption, but no native-born son could have loved our Province more nor done more to advance the writing of our history. He was easily the greatest historian that British Columbia has as yet produced.
As a boy in New Westminster he became steeped in the early history of the Lower Mainland and of the Cariboo. His father-in-law, William H. Ladner, had come in with the gold-seekers in 1858 and had later taken up land at Ladner’s Landing, now Ladner, B.C. The Judge grew up with British Columbia. He witnessed the coming of the railway and vividly recalled “the battle of the terminals.” Ha was a “mainlander,” and his sympathies in the struggle between “mainland” and “island” in the 1870”s and 1880”s were all with the “mainland.” It is sad, but amusing, that his resignation of the presidency of the British Columbia Historical Association in 1926 was due to a difference of opinion, which became an open quarrel, between himself and a learned Justice of the Supreme Court, residing in Victoria, on the date of the birthday of British Columbia. Judge Howay was adamant in upholding the date, November 19, 1858, and the place, Fort Langley, B.C.
The Judge was a tireless worker and he was also fiercely accurate. He checked and rechecked his references, and although he made mistakes—we all do—he tried to keep them to a minimum. He exhibited his legal training /p. 26/ in his handling of materials. On the whole he wrote well, but he spoke better than he wrote. There are few brilliant passages in his writings, but he has checked his facts, and the burden of proof is now, as it was during his lifetime, on anyone who challenges his statements. But under all this legal and historical armour there beat a kind and generous heart. He did not “suffer fools gladly,” but to any serious historical student he would open his stores of learning and his wonderful library. Time meant nothing to him on such an occasion. I owe the Judge a debt which I can never repay. He checked over the manuscript of my thesis on “Sir James Douglas and British Columbia,” not only chapter by chapter and page by page, but line by line. It was excellent training, from which I profited greatly.
Law and history, however, were only part of the Judge’s repertoire. He was widely read in English literature, especially in Dickens. He was himself not only a Dickensian, but to a great extent a character which had walked right out of Pickwick Papers. He was a bit of an actor and delighted in dressing up and taking part in the Twelfth Night revels of the Fellowship of Arts. He wrote for many years the addresses to be spoken by the May Queen and the May Queen-elect at New Westminster. He was once awarded a good citizenship medal, and an elementary school in New Westminster was named after him.
To list all the historical and other honours Judge Howay was awarded would be tedious. He had an international reputation. A fellow of the Royal Historic Society of London, he was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, of which august body he was president in 1942. He received the Tyrell gold medal in history from the Royal Society of Canada. He was for many years the representative of the four western provinces on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. There are now four members carrying on the work which once he attempted alone.
After Judge Howay’s death in 1943, Dr. W. Kaye Lamb prepared a bibliography of his writings which was published in the British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. VIII, No. 1, January, 1944. There are in it 286 items, stretching from 1902 to two posthumous publications in 1944. Later Dr. Lamb added a few more items. There is no time to discuss this lengthy list, but it proves beyond argument that Judge Howay worked and wrote hard.
There was, of course, another side to the story. There always is. Judge Howay, as was Father Morice, was often involved in historical arguments, and I have known him to become quite heated. Usually he had the backing of the older and more reputable Canadian historians, but occasionally he and they went just a bit beyond what was needful in trying to smash an opponent. Dr. J. B. Tyrell and Judge Howay tried on one occasion to demolish Dr. A.S. Morton, but Morton put up a good argument and, as usual, was unconvinced.
These six early historians of British Columbia all made their contributions. Without them there would be irreparable gaps, not only in source materials, for they were all collectors with the possible exception of Alexander Begg, C.C., but also in the comprehension of what actually occurred in the early days of the white man on the Northwest Coast and on the Pacific Slope. It would be hard to find six men more unlike, but their work somehow now seems to intertwine and to form a firm foundation upon which we and subsequent generations of historical investigators in British Columbia can build.
— Transcribed from: British Columbia History, Spring 2012, Vol. 45 No. 1 p. 18
Essay Date: 1958