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Jean Barman Transcript
What I'm going to say, to a considerable extent, follows on what we heard before but a bit of it is the same, so let's just think of it as repetition which is very good for teaching. (Audience laughter.)
It's a truism that women were long absent from the ways in which we write about the past. We considered politics and economics to be the most important and because women were viewed as having only a domestic role, their lives were not worth remembering.
For a time virtually everyone accepted this reasoning. When archives were formed it was the records of male accomplishments that were sought. Not only that, but women mostly took it for granted that men's version of what was important was what mattered and were less likely to keep their own records, much less have them accepted at some archive or library.
So what to do? How do we research and write about women in the past? We've heard a couple of excellent ways to go about it in the previous session, but I have been for my, since an academic and have, but I have published both in academic, with academic presses and with popular presses, so in some ways I cross the boundaries.
Two approaches have engaged me in terms of writing women into the past. The first is one woman at a time by following up traces that came to my attention. The second is to tease out traces, often about groups of women from surviving records. Sharing my pathway will help hopefully encourage many of you who are here today to do the same.
First, individual women. Five women with four resulting books came into my life as traces. I did not go looking for them, indeed did not know that the women existed, but rather took advantages that footed my way by chance.
And here I should add, again to make this point once more, if it happened to me, it will also happen to others, it happens to all of us. It's for us to glimpse the possibilities as traces in the past, float by, and whether we write it for something we use in the classroom, we write it for our pleasure, we write it for possible publication, it's still those traces that float by that we can at least think about a bit.
The first of the four traces was in the form of a book at the UBC library shelf next to one that I came to find. Intrigued by the title "Red Willows," I had a look. What I found was a carefully crafted fictionalized account of everyday life in British Columbia cowboy country over a century ago. Despite being published in New York, it was so accurate in its details, it had to have been written by someone familiar with the area.
Here after that, I think pictures, images are extremely important in teasing out the lives of women, which is why, which is why you have the powerpoint images here. Eventually I came upon, thanks to literary historian Carole Gerson, the author's archives in the New York Public Library.
There, they along with her books, told a story of a young British Columbia woman of a late 19th century so determined to write as she would in a province and a country denying women that possibility, and she tried Toronto as well, but she headed on her own to New York City. There, Constance Lindsay Skinner made a very successful literary career by still writing about British Columbia only camouflaging the locations to appeal to American readers and publishers.
I've ten minutes so this is a rapid rump (audience laughter).
The second trace that's been in my was was a small clutch of letters I came upon by chance while searching for something else in a small interior British Columbia archives. The writer was a local schoolteacher in the late 1880s, longing to return home to Nova Scotia, in British Columbia only because there were jobs to be had.
I initially dismissed him out of hand. That is, I did so, until Jessie McQueen and also her younger sister Annie who soon joined her in British Columbia, began waking me up at night, nagging me to pay attention to them, and so I persistently, and with good fortune, tracked down the rest of the letters, which a descendant I should say, had sort of bundled up and given to various archives in British Columbia depending upon where the teachers were teaching at the time.
The result was a book entitled "Sojourning Sisters," showing how women alongside men have helped to form the Canada we know today. Jessie and Annie did so by virtue of bringing with them, from their home, from Nova Scotia, senses of identity and belonging that they imparted both in the classroom and through their friendship and the women's organizations to which they belonged.
The third trace arrived as a telephone call. It came from the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of an early missionary wife from the British Columbia north coast. They wanted to donate her letters, written to her mother back home in Ontario to the UBC archives, but only if someone, preferably myself, would publish them in their entirety as opposed to writers taking out bits and pieces respecting residential schools and other contentious matters.
I should say also, her, the missionary's husband was very well known in British Columbia lore and obviously not his wife. With completing Anishinaabe doctoral student Jan Hare taking the lead, we took up the challenge of surfacing Emma Crosby's letters and life. The resulting book was not without reason entitled "Good Intentions Gone Awry."
The fourth image I grabbed as a floated by was a casual conversation and a public event in Victoria with a British Columbia politician. He wanted to know about his origins, an uncle having warned him as a young man that he had "Indian blood," and given academics in his field did not have anything to do, maybe I should find out for him.
All he had was a relative's death notice, which took me by a very meandering route almost wholly in the form of oral testimony from relatives he did not know he had, to the book entitled "Maria Mahoi of the Islands."
Maria was the daughter of an Indigenous Hawaiian employed in the Pacific Northwest fur trade, as many such men were, and would have known Vancouver Island Indigenous women. She partnered in about 1870 with a maiden whaling captain who'd arrived from the west coast to make his fortune, so he thought.
Their daughter Ruby was married, you'll see on the right, was married off on a residential school to a Belgian, who happened to pass by there at the right time. He having disappeared from view, Ruby made her way to Vancouver with their young children.
There she got herself a job and refashioned herself as a white woman, hence the Provincial Minister of Educat- of Finance, hence the Provincial Minister of Finance's uncertain identity. Maria's story is a consummately British Columbia tale.
Now to the second way in which I've written women's history which is by mining records primarily relating to men. Well I initially did so in the form of articles and also in a book entitled "Stanley Park's Secret" which surfaces Indigenous women making their lives with newcomer men in the future park. Some more ambitious attempt now brings me to Ottawa to receive an award.
I should add that both the "Stanley Park's Secret" book and the "Maria Mahoi" book as well as a couple other books were commercial publications. So we as academics sometimes do slip from one kind of publisher to the other.
"French Canadians, Furs and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest" is different from other books and I did not begin with a trace. I literally woke up one morning, one day wanting to know about what role of any French Canadians played in early Pacific Northwest and went about finding out.
I'd written a general history of British Columbia where I had ignored them and decided maybe I was wrong. I did not initially seek also to uncover Indigenous women's lives, but soon realized I could not write about French Canadians, who were all men, without doing so.
The resulting book relies on written accounts created for other purposes by men for men. Only in the end of 1838 did the first priests arrive in the Pacific Northwest, and record birth, marriages, and deaths, the fundamental markers in the life course, and only in 1846 did the region acquire external governance. Consequence was, that I went through daily journals, a whole bunch of other of additional kinds of male records, searching out information, in the first instance about the fur trade, which has long the sole outsider economy across the vast region extending from today's British Columbia fell through Washington, Oregon and to parts of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
The good news for tracking Indigenous women in the fur trade is behind the scenes those in charge depended on them in two critical ways. First they're hard workers who were paid in trade groups, hence if change occurred outside of the official records.
Second and more importantly, was Indigenous women's partnering with French Canadians who formed the bulk of the work force which kept the company in charge, the Hudson's Bay Company based in London, profitable.
The HBC was as a consequence determined that when the international boundary was established in 1846, the United States would not as a want to acquire the entirety of a Pacific Northwest. It was the Hudson's Bay Company, using its connections with the British government which prevented the region's giveaway. British ex-, several French Canadians and the Indigenous women in their lives I argue, British Columbia would not have come into existence and Canada today would have no Pacific shoreline. The United States would extend from California which would soon acquire north to Alaska which was in Russian which would acquire in the 1860s.
The rest of the book follows descendants' wives in the present day, where again women matter. In the United States, sons and daughters of the fur trade could, to extent they thought to do, identify with their Indigenous inheritance but not so as we're mostly aware in Canada.
As of 1876, the offspring of unions that have been legitimized by marriage, as almost all of those between French Canadians and Indigenous women, who, along with their descendants into the present day, legally banned from identifying with their maternal inheritance.
Daughters coped by mostly marrying newcomer men. Not that hard to do given the fur trade and a gold rush in British Columbia starting in 1858, which brought in many thousands of men mostly on their own.
Sons in contrast had no such opportunities, with very different life chances across the generations, which is why -- on a side note, most French-, most Indigenous people in British Columbia across the prairie provinces often have French Canadian names because these descend from the sons, whereas the daughters surnames when in any case would have disappeared -- gives the impression that there was only one possible destiny when in fact they were there were two very possible destinies.
It is with such traces of women's life, as well as those of men, that I've been engaged over the past number of years.
I thank you for your time and attention.