100 years of BC books

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When it was almost French Columbia

Last year’s recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Award, Jean Barman, has bagged a Bazzy.

May 11th, 2015

Jean Barman's 22nd book is a new history of French Canadians and indigenous women in B.C.

She will receive the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for best academic book about B.C. on June 9th at UBC Library for French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press).

Runners-up were Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and the Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America by Nancy J. Turner (McGill-Queen’s University Press) and The Sea Among Us: the Amazing Strait of Georgia by Richard Beamish and Gordon McFarlane, editors (Harbour Publishing).

Earlier this year Jean Barman was also the special guest for the tenth annual banquet of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia in Vancouver.

A founding director of the CCHS, Barman has written or edited 22 books, including The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, generally regarded as the foremost history of the province.

Hardly anyone realizes it, but for half-a-century French Canadians were the largest group of newcomers west of the Rockies.

In Jean Barman’s ground-breaking French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press 2014), she rewrites the early history of the Pacific Northwest from the perspective of these little-known French Canadians, emphasizing the role that indigenous women played in encouraging them to stay, and identifying some of their descendants.

In a place later to be called British Columbia, it was mainly francophones who facilitated the early overland crossings into the Pacific Northwest

Alexander Mackenzie, for instance, has long been identified as the first non-Aboriginal to traverse the North American continent, from east to west, in 1793.

Mackenzie famously reached the coastline, near Bella Coola, on July 22nd, leaving a message on a rock with a mixture of vermillion and melted grease. By the time the bold Scot (“the northern Sinbad”) had departed from Fort Chipewyan in northern Alberta and journeyed overland and back, he’d covered a distance of 2,300 miles.

Barman, Jean French book jacketMackenzie was knighted almost immediately. He had his portrait painted by a leading artist. He became rich. At age 50, he married his 14-year-old cousin.

Few Canadians are taught the extent to which Mackenzie and his second-in-command Alexander MacKay depended on indigenous interpreters and six French Canadian paddlers under the employ of the NorthWest Company who essentially did most of the work.

Their names are Jacques Beauchamp, Francois Beaulieu, Baptiste Bisson, Francois Courtois, Charles Ducette and Joseph Landry.

Mackenzie’s account does not distinguish between the six men. “Only twice during the course of the trip,” Barman writes, as ‘with these persons I embarked’ and when one of them momentarily rebelled, did Mackenzie acknowledge all or any of the men by name.”

Similarly, all nineteen of the ‘common men’ whose names survive from Simon Fraser’s journal were described as “Frenchmen.” According to Barman, only one of these nineteen men can be identified with any certainty. That was Jean Baptiste Boucher who became the earliest ‘not wholly indigenous person’ known to engage in family life in the Pacific Northwest.

Jules Maurice Quesnel was an exceptional Francophone officer on Simon Fraser’s journey who stayed in the Pacific Northwest until 1811. The town of Quesnel now bears his name, but his case is an anomaly.

It was francophones who chiefly drove the fur economy, as well as initiating non-wholly-indigenous agricultural settlement and easing relations with indigenous peoples.

Over half of the 1,240 French Canadians who reached the Pacific Northwest as fur trade employees prior to 1858 opted to stay on the western side of the Rockies.

The largely unsung work of these men—often in league with Scots—ensured that, when the region was divided in 1846, the northern half would go to Britain, giving Canada its Pacific shoreline.

Barman, Jean Chinese dinner 2015

Jean Barman was also recently honoured by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society as a co-founder.

Barman’s unprecedented overview greatly benefitted by the spadework of fur trade historian Bruce McIntyre Watson. Barman clearly acknowledges his meticulous primary research that resulted in the publication of his three-volume Lives Lives West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858.

Twenty years in the making, Bruce McIntyre Watson’s massive, three-volume compendium has been made available electronically in conjunction with the Centre for Social, Spatial, and Economic Justice, an academic research centre located on the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.

It records the lives of more than 3,500 individuals of all backgrounds from northern B.C. to southern Oregon. Watson and Barman jointly received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grant that facilitated their books.

As well, Barman was greatly assisted by Nicole St.-Onge who made available her Voyageurs Contracts Database, which contains 36,000 individual fur trading contracts signed before notaries, principally in Montreal, between 1714 and 1830.

Jean Barman will receive her Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize from UBC Librarian Ingrid Parent on June 9 at UBC Library. The judges were last year’s recipient David Stouck, who won for Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life; former BC Studies editor Allan  Smith and UBC librarian Brenda Peterson.


The Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Book on British Columbia was established in memory of Basil Stuart-Stubbs, a bibliophile, scholar and librarian who died in 2012. Stuart-Stubbs’s many accomplishments included serving as the University Librarian at UBC Library and as the Director of UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

The first Stuart-Stubbs’ Prize recipient in 2013 was geographer Derek Hayes for British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas (Douglas & McIntyre). Entries can be written or edited by any Canadian (s) but the subject matter must pertain to British Columbia. The author need not be formally affiliated with a university or college, etc.

The award is judged by a panel selected by Pacific BookWorld News Society Here are the 22 nominated titles for 2014, in alphabetical order, according to the authors’ surnames.

French Canadians, furs, and indigenous women in the making of the Pacific Northwest / Jean Barman. UBC Press.
The sea among us: the amazing Strait of Georgia / Richard Beamish and Gordon McFarlane. Harbour.
Vancouver confidential / edited by John Belshaw. Anvil Press.
Echoes of British Columbia: voices from the frontier / Robert Budd. Harbour.
Equality deferred: sex discrimination and British Columbia’s human rights state / Dominique Clément. UBC Press.
Dream / arteries / Phinder Dulai. Talon Books.
From the West coast to the Western Front: British Columbia and the Great War / Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson. Harbour.
Shore to shore: the art of Ts’uts’umutl Luke Marston / Suzanne Fournier. Harbour.
From classroom to battlefield: Victoria High School and the First World War / Barry Gough. Heritage.
Accidental Eden / Douglas L. Hamilton and Darlene Olesko. Caitlin Press.
Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: a history / Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy. Harbour.
The cougar lady: legendary trapper of Sechelt Inlet / Rosella Leslie. Caitlin Press.
Great bear wild: dispatches from a northern rainforest / Ian McAllister. Greystone.
Innocence on trial: the framing of Ivan Henry / Joan McEwen. Heritage.
Born out of this / Christine Lowther. Caitlin Press.
Canoe crossings: understanding the craft that helped shape British Columbia / Sanford Osler. Heritage.
Tracking the great bear: how environmentalists recreated British Columbia’s coastal rainforest / Justin Page. UBC Press.
Welcome to Resisterville: American dissidents in British Columbia / Kathleen Rodgers. UBC Press.
Surveying southern British Columbia: a photojournal of Frank Swannell, 1901-07 / Jay Sherwood. Caitlin Press.
Vancouver is ashes: the great fire of 1886 / Lisa Anne Smith. Ronsdale.
Islands’ spirit rising: reclaiming the forests of Haida Gwaii / Louise Takeda. UBC Press.
Ancient pathways, ancestral knowledge: ethnobotany and ecological wisdom of indigenous peoples of northeastern North America / Nancy J. Turner. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Becoming wild: living the primitive life on a West coast island / Nikki Van Schyndel. Caitlin Press.

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