Category: Historical Nuggets (page 1 of 4)

Gold Fever

Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, B.C.

Her One True Love, the third book in my Prospect Series, has encountered many obstacles on the way to publication not the least being the sudden demise of my cover artist. However, the end is in sight, so it’s time to get in the mood.

As the series name says, this is a set of books set in the fictional gold rush town of Prospect, B.C, where fortunes are made and lost and lost and lost.  Many more falling into the latter category than the first.  As an object lesson in gold fever I bring you the real life story of Billy Barker.

 

An Englishman who had already tried his luck in the California gold-fields and on the Fraser River, Billy Barker (1817-1894) staked the most famous claim of the Cariboo near William’s Creek in 1861. Many legends have grown up around the man so it is hard to distinguish truth from fiction, but legends usually have a grain of truth in them.

One such is the story of Billy’s recurring dream that included the number 52. Although he had been partners in a company that eventually struck it rich, Billy had sold his shares in it and gone on to stake a claim in an unlikely spot on Williams Creek. He was convinced that an ancient river had run deep underground at that spot. While others scoffed, he kept drilling. They came up dry at 10 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet and even 50 feet. Any reasonable man, so the theory went, would have abandoned the project, but Barker kept drilling and at 52 feet, just like in his dream, he struck pay dirt, taking out $600,000 in gold dust and nuggets. Calculations of current value vary but in today’s terms that would amount to anywhere from $17 million to $2.5 billion. Whichever figure you use, he had acquired an enormous amount of wealth.

By this time Billy Barker was a widower, his first wife died in the poor house in England. He left the gold fields and came to Victoria where he met and married Elizabeth Collyer, a widow who had recently arrived from England on the Rosedale. The following summer they returned to the gold creeks where a free miner’s licence was issued in her name. Come winter, they again returned to Victoria, ready to spend the winter enjoying their wealth. He enjoyed a party and is reputed to have sung this ditty while dancing a jig whenever he entered a saloon.

“I’m English Bill,

Never worked and never will.

Get away girls,

Or I’ll tousle your curls.”

 

Another legend holds that Elizabeth was extravagant and helped her husband spend or give away his fortune. Whether she did or not, the fact remains that by the time of her death in 1865 Billy Barker was broke, He returned once again to the gold fields to try to recoup his fortune.

This time, luck did not smile.  He embarked on several ventures, but barely eked out a living as a prospector, resorting to working as a cook for other miners. By 1894 he was suffering from cancer and living in The Old Men’s home in Victoria. He died in July of that year and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

Even though he lost his wealth, Billy Barker left a legacy in British Columbia. The town of Barkerville in the Cariboo is named in his honour. Billy Barker Days in nearby Quesnel is a major tourist attraction. And, it seems, Billy was rich in friends. Although he was buried in a pauper’s grave in Victoria’s historic Ross Bay cemetery, his final resting place is marked by a stone erected by his friends to honour his memory and his place in the history of the province.

This monument reads, in part, “”Like many miners, he was soon broke, but Barker continued to mine and prospect throughout the Cariboo for the rest of his life.  The fabulous wealth of the Cariboo mines laid the foundation for British Columbia.  With this monument, Billy Barker is honoured as a builder of the province.  He died poor in wealth, but forever rich in friends.”

 

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole – Research

What I learned this week while writing my “discovery” draft is that I need to discover some more historical facts. To that end, I’m reading 40 Years in Canada, by Samuel B. Steele. This is a wonderful, first hand account of the formation of the North West Mounted Police and they’re trek west in 1874-75. The impetus for this undertaking was to end the whiskey trade that was devastating the First Nations of the western plains.  In Steele’s day, they used the term Indian or Redman.  He writes “For the credit of the Dominion and humanity, it was absolutely necessary that a stop be put to the disgraceful scenes which were daily enacted on the Bow and Belly rivers and in the Cypress Hills.”

I’m a real fan of Sam Steele, who seemed to meet hardship and trial with good cheer and hard work.  He offers his greatest praise to men who did not grumble and who vied with each other to carry the heaviest load or make the most trips back and forth on the near impossible portages from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg. And he did it all “for humanity.”

As we live in an age marred by corporate greed and a “me first” attitude, it brought joy to my heart to read that when, after a march of 1,959 miles, a new fort was established, the first structures built were stables for the horses, then barracks for the men and lastly, quarters for the officers.

Much as I’m enjoying Sam Steele’s memoirs, they do not provide me with the details of a pioneer woman – what she wore, how she cooked, what she did for a sick child.  I’ve another book, Never Done—Three Centuries of Women’s Work in Canada, written by The Corrective Collective, and published in 1974.  This volume attempts to tell “her-story.”  The title comes from the old saying, “a man works from sun to sun but women’s work is never done.”

The authors have tried to tackle women’s history in Canada from the time of New France and les Filles du Roi through to World War One.  The resource yields many interesting facts such as, in 18th century Halifax the Inspector and Surgeon General was paid a guinea a day to operate a hospital.  The Matron of said hospital, while responsible for changing bandages, cleaning wounds, administering medicines, applying poultices, arranging food preparation, ensuring hospital maintenance and sweeping the floor, received no salary. (Picture me shaking my fists!) However, aside from sending me into a rage, the book is still sketchy on the details of daily life in a gold rush town.

Next stop, B.C. Archives.  They have letters and diaries on file.  Here’s to “discovering.”

Life in a Small Cabin

 

In my part of the world it has been raining for days and days and days. Hard rain, the kind that dances on the pavement, makes big puddles, and turns the ground sodden.  The skies are unrelenting grey, the cloud cover so low I can’t see a 100 yards from my house.  (I normally have a panoramic view.)  We keep the lights on all day to dispel the gloom.  I’m getting cabin fever.

How easily that phrase comes to mind – and how ridiculous! In my “cabin,” I have many rooms.  I have the distraction of radio, television, internet, books and the telephone.  I have electricity, that allows me to keep the lights on.  I have natural gas that keeps the fireplace burning with no effort on my part.  I have running water – no need to visit an outhouse.  And I have a vehicle that allows me to travel in comfort and connect with others. If I think I suffer from “cabin fever,” what did our forebears suffer during long winters when deep snow cut them off from fellow human beings?

From Wikipedia: “Since prairie madness [cabin fever] does not refer to a clinical term, there is no specific set of symptoms of the affliction. However, the descriptions of prairie madness in historical writing, personal accounts, and Western literature elucidate what some of the effects of the disease were.

The symptoms of prairie madness (cabin fever) were similar to those of depression. The women affected by prairie madness were said to show symptoms such as crying, slovenly dress, and withdrawal from social interactions. Men also showed signs of depression, which sometimes manifested in violence. Prairie madness was not unique from other types of depression, but the harsh conditions on the prairie triggered this depression, and it was difficult to overcome without getting off of the prairie.”

The short story, “The Lamp at Noon,” by Sinclair Ross gives an indication of the overwhelming sense of helplessness of a woman on the prairie during the dustbowl. The isolation, fear, and daily life in harsh circumstances overwhelm her.  Would a friend have helped?  Even a casual visitor from the outside world?  Ellen is imprisoned by hardship, dust, poverty and loneliness-a graphic description of cabin fever. “One’s a Heifer,” by the same author follows a similar theme.

The photo at the top of this blog is of a replica log cabin close to my home.  The collage at the left is of the interior. The whole building is roughly 12×24 ft.  It is one room with the bed, the baby crib, the cookstove and the table all squished in together.  Note the “distractions” for the woman of the house–the cookstove, the wash tubs, the sewing machine, the baby crib, the baking cupboard, the hand-braided rug, the handmade quilt, the spinning wheel, the water bucket–“women’s work is never done.”  Imagine a whole family, mother, father, baby and likely other children, living in these tight quarters.

In my stories, my heroines have space to call their own.  My heroes embrace the rugged landscape.  Children run and play, unfettered by fences or timetables.  Note, I write fiction.

 

So, now that I’ve considered the true source of the term “cabin fever” I’ll stop my grousing, turn on my full-spectrum lamp, and enjoy my photo-album of sun-filled days.

What about you? Does the weather get you down?  What are your coping mechanisms?

 

 

An “Other” Vimy Memorial

With Remembrance Day approaching, my thoughts turn to the soldiers of my own country and others who went to war “to end all wars.”  That was the slogan attached to the WWI, or “The Great War” as it was called in the years between 1918 and 1939.

I wrote my fictional story, “When the Boys Came Home,” about a soldier returned from  WWI and the effects war had on him and on those he left behind.

Today, I have a real-life story to share.  The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the four original memorials raised at Vimy Ridge by Canadians.  They were replaced in 1936 by the iconic statuary that stands on the ridge today.

The father of a friend of mine, helped to build and install the cross at the peak of Vimy Ridge, three weeks after the ridge was captured.  Carpenter Andy Wallace of Victoria, along with Sapper McIver, both of the 44th Regiment out of Winnipeg, were ordered to fashion a cross to commemorate the thousands who died there.

Using the rudimentary tools they carried with them, the carpenter and the sapper worked on the eight-by-eight inch oak logs within range of the enemy’s guns. Concrete for the base was mixed and poured by other members of the regiment.

In a letter from A.C. King of Toronto to Andy Wallace after the war, Mr. King wrote:  “Here is a picture of the cross.  It doesn’t look so big but, boy, oh boy, that concrete took some mixing.”

The cross was about 12 to 14 feet high and about six feet wide.  It was held together by wooden dowels and had no inscriptions or carving on the cross itself.  There is a brass plate on the base that dedicates the memorial to “the memory of the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 44th Canadian Infantry who fell in the attacks on Vimy Ridge, the Triangle, and La Coulotte in April, May and June of 1917.”

The monument was originally erected on Vimy Ridge, France by the 44th Battalion in 1917. In 1924, the monument was moved to its present location in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg by members of the 44th Battalion Association and next of kin. Plaques on the sides of the monument listed those in the 44th Battalion who had lost their lives during the Vimy Ridge battle. Dedicated in June 1926, it was restored by the Department of Veterans Affairs in June 1967 and by the City of Winnipeg in October 1992.

Andy Wallace

Thanks to my friend for sharing her story, and thanks to Andy Wallace for his service to Canada.

High Fashion in Hats

 

Continuing my search for historical authenticity, I’ve been looking at women’s hats in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Hollywood has given us all an idea of headgear from previous ages but not all movie depictions are accurate.  I once saw a version of a Jane Austin novel where the women wore Victorian dress – billowing sleeves, tight waists and voluminous skirts – not the slender silhouette of a Regency lady.

One way to determine what people wore, is to look at photographs of the time and place. The B.C. Archives contains a wealth of such information.  The archives can be searched on-line anywhere, or in person at 675 Belleville Street,Victoria, BC.

 

Hannah Maynard multi-exposure

Hannah Maynard, Victoria’s own lady photographer, took hundreds of pictures of our province and its people between 1862 and 1912, many are self-portraits as she studied the science and art of photography.  There are no hats in this one, where she shows herself pouring tea on herself in a multiple exposure print of herself at a tea party, made up of herself, herself and herself, but it illustrates her sense of humour.

 

For the purposes of this blog, I’m focussing on hats. I’ll save sleeves, necklines and corsets for another day.

 

Indian Annie

Here we have a picture of “Indian Annie” from 1879 taken at Yale, B.C. Annie is an Indigenous woman, but she wears European garb in this photo.  Her hat is straw, broad-brimmed to protect her from the sun and low crowned.  A very practical accoutrement.

 

Hannah Maynard again, in the 1880’s wearing a typical hat for a woman of her standing in the city of Victoria.  A modest affair, with a rolled brim, and feather ornament on a low crown.

 

 

 

By 1890, headgear was more elaborate. This photo is of Evelyn Berens, an Englishwoman who went adventuring with her husband in the Rocky Mountains.  Note the high crown and the elaborate ornamentation.  Of course, just like our celebrities, she wore the latest and most extravagant of the current fashion.

 

Violet 1900

If Ms Berens was in the forefront of fashion, this young woman, Violet wasn’t far behind. The photograph was taken in 1900 and shows a higher crown than previously.  The brim is wider and tilted forward while the piled ribbons speak to a more elaborate direction for ladies hats.

 

And just to show that fashion is cyclical, this towering concoction is offered to any woman with a mailing address. It comes from the 1877 Eaton’s catalogue.

I’ve listed some reference sites below if you want to explore more, but I warn you, gentle readers, you may feel you’ve gone down the rabbit hole when you delve into the lives of our foremothers.

References:

B.C. Archives> Portraits> Women

Mail Order Catalogues in Canada

Hannah Maynard

B.C. Historical Newspapers Collection

POW’s and World War I

  The set up to my  short story, “When the Boys Came Home,” relies on a Canadian Prisoner of War turning up in England.   Here’s a little background on that often forgotten contingent of men.  The story is found in the anthology Dreams and Promises.

Mistreatment, malnutrition, forced labour, and disease were standard among the POW camps in Germany.   Food scarcity, bad food, and inedible food were the greatest complaint of the prisoners. Most sources agree that without care packages from home, either from relatives, or the Red Cross, or other organizations, many allied POW’s would not have survived their incarceration.

Canadians were known as tough fighters but 1400 were taken prisoner in a single day in 1915 when they were gassed by the enemy during the Second Battle of Ypres.

Once taken prisoner, soldiers were expected to resist aiding the enemy and do their best to escape.  Such action often resulted in even harsher punishment, including beatings, being forced to stand at attention for hours, being tied to a post and food deprivation.

Unlike WWII, where liberating armies marched into the camps at the end of hostilities, and freed the prisoners, in 1918 there was no such liberating force.  Once the armistice was signed, German guards at the prison camps went home, leaving the POW’s to fend for themselves. Already physically weakened, these men had to make their own way, with no co-ordinated transportation.  They mostly headed for France aboard trucks, trains or anything else they could board.  Some walked.  Many died from exhaustion along the route.

When British or Commonwealth soldiers were picked up they were sent to reception centres in France where they were fed and clothed.  From there they were sent to channel ports and from thence to Britain. Captured officers were expected to write a report on the circumstances of their capture and why they’d been unable to avoid it.  .  A true soldier, it was  believed, would fight to the death rather than surrender. There was a popular suspicion that prisoners had an easy war, sitting about in a camp, away from the danger and that those captured were cowards

Once POW’s returned home and were able to tell their own stories the truth became clear.  Being a prisoner of war, far from being safe, was one of the most dangerous conditions a soldier could find himself in.

When soldiers finally made it back to their hometowns in Canada many were afflicted with “barbed wire disease,”, a disorder brought on by complete lack of privacy, an ignorance of the duration of captivity, irregular communication with friends and family and restrictions on all aspects of human activity.  Symptoms include irritability, inability to concentrate, restlessness, memory loss, violent mood swings, insomnia, nightmares and impotence.  See A.L. Vischer.

Once the prisoner made it safely home, some of their families wanted a brass band welcome, but most soldiers just wanted to quietly reintegrate into their old lives with as little fuss as possible.

While “When the Boys Came Home” doesn’t feature a POW, an understanding of this group of soldiers will help the reader more closely relate to the characters involved.

 

Sources:

http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww1/cas/w1c-pow.html

https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/prisoners-of-war

Hero or Villain – You Decide

 

Matthew Begbie was the first Chief Justice of B.C. following Confederation in 1871.  He has been characterized as a  resolute and fair upholder of British law and order, a true Victorian who did his duty, and as a cruel and arbitrary jurist.

His Career

  • Nov. 16 1858 Begbie arrived in Victoria on. The following day he left with Gov. Douglas for Fort Langley on the Fraser River,
  • Nov. 19, 1858 new colony of British Columbia was proclaimed. Douglas and Begbie swore each other into office.
  • 1859 Begbie, though a member of the judiciary, was appointed to the Executive Council of British Columbia. This unusual blending of the judicial and executive functions was necessary because Begbie was the only man in the colony with legal training
  • 1859 Aliens Act, written by Begbie, passed into law.  Allowed for naturalization of aliens after three years residence in B.C.
  • 1859 Gold Fields Act also drafted by Begbie set out the rules and regulations for the mining of gold in British Columbia.
  • January 1859 he accompanied Colonel  Moody and a party of Royal Engineers up the Fraser River to quell an insurrection that had broken out among the miners at Yale and Hills Bar. Begbie convened court and tried ringleader, Ned McGowan.  Begbie imposed a fine for assault.
  • February 1859. Begbie walked from New Westminster to what is now Lillooet and back (a journey of approximately 350 miles) to familiarize himself with the mining population of the Fraser River.
  • 1860 Pre-emption Act, the main feature of the Colony’s land-settlement policy, also drafted by Begbie.
  • 1860 He  walked from New Westminster to Kamloops and back to explain the Gold Fields Act to miners and gold commissioners.
  • Along with Sir James Douglas he worked to counter the move to American annexation.
  • 1865 alone he rode about 3,500 miles to hold assizes in mining camps and small towns all over the colony.
  • He espoused the rights of Chinese  opposing a head tax on Chinese immigrants.
  • In 1860 he told Gov. Douglas that Indians (First Nations) held land rights that must be recognized.
  • Fought efforts to displace Indians from their homes.
  • Became fluent in Shuswap and Chilcotin language in order to understand they cases without an interpreter.
  • Persuaded Ottawa to preserve native fishing rights on the Fraser River.
  • Wrote provincial legislation giving Indian common-law wives of white men a share of his estate if he died intestate.
  • 1864 “Chilcotin War” breaks out. Fifteen whites are killed.
  • Aug. 15, 1864: Eight Chilcotin warriors including chiefs Klatsassin, Telloot and Tapitt come into meet Gov. Seymour. They are arrested.
  • Sep 28-29, 1864: Judge Begbie presides at the trial of Klatsassin and the eight others. Five are found guilty of murder.
  • October 26, 1864: Klatsassin and four others are hanged.

“We have all heard of the sacredness of the pipe of peace … among the Indians,” Judge Matthew Begbie wrote to the governor of B.C. on Sept. 30, 1864. “It seems horrible to hang five men at once, especially under the circumstances of the capitulation.”

  • July 1865 another Chilcotin chief is tried and executed in New Westminster
  • 1872 Begbie commites four Indians convicted of attempted murder to the custody of a missionary rather an impose the death penalty.
  • 1875 He is knighted by Queen Victoria in a private ceremony at Balmoral Castle.
  • 1890 Begbie refuses to imprison a group of strikers at the Nanaimo coal-mines despite their repeated violations of court orders.
  • Throughout his career he championed the underdog. Under his judgements, 22 Indians were hanged  He obtained a reprieve for 11 others.
  • He tried 52 murder cases but hanged only 27 convicted murders, despite rigid sentencing rules of the time.
  • Oct. 26, 2014: B.C. Premier Christy Clark and members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation  (Chilcotin) participate in a redress ceremony, the 150th anniversary of the hanging of five of the six chiefs. The province issues an apology.
  • April 13, 2017 Law Society of B.C. announces it will remove statue of Judge Begbie from its lobby.

You be the judge. Is Sir Matthew Begbie a hero or a villain?  Leave your vote in the comments.

Note:  I have used the word “Indian” rather than “First Nation” as that was the term used during Begbie’s time.  I have also used the spelling Chilcotin, rather than Tsilhqot’in, for the same reason.

SOURCES: Canadian Heritage and University of Victoria

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/begbie_matthew_baillie_12E.html

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chilcotin-tsilhqotin/

Independence Day


 

Today, May 17, is Independence Day in Norway.  The date commemorates the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814 that ended a 100 year coalition with Sweden and, prior to that,  400 years of Danish rule.

Nearly every country in the world has a national day that celebrates their liberation from some other power.  The U.S.A celebrates on July 4, Canada on July 1, Australia on January 1 (that’s summer down under). France has Bastille Day, July 14, to commemorate the abolition of feudalism and the arbitrary rule of the King.  Even England, the country from which many nations of the world today won their freedom, has Magna Carta Day on June 15, to celebrate a cornerstone in the development of a modern, parliamentary democracy.  Just as children grow up and leave home, mature nations are eager to be autonomous — but with favourable trade agreements in place.

The same thing happens in families. As we grow up, we demand independence, but at the same time we strive for connections.  This seems to be an eternal struggle of the human condition, autonomy vs connectedness.  It’s also a rich source of inspiration for writers. How many times have you read about a heroine who is determined to escape the stifling influence of her family/job/school/location, only to then find herself adrift and desperately seeking a deep connection with another.  I’ve just finished writing a short story where the heroine struggles with this problem.  Does she carry on as expected or does she break free?  Does freedom mean loneliness?  The story is part of a collection that celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday.  

Our independence from Britain was a gradual process.  We went to war in 1914 because England declared war on Germany.  In 1929 the Privy Council of Britain was the final court of appeal for a group of Canadian women seeking to have females declared “persons” under the law.  It wasn’t until 1982 that our last legal ties with Britain ended with the patriation of our constitution.  Just like nations, families break apart in various ways, some with anger and violence, like South Sudan, others more peacefully. 

The desire for independence vs the yearning for deep connections seems to be one of those universal truths of the human condition.  For writers, that’s a good thing.  We  need only to look at our own families to find grist for the story mill.

E. Pauline Johnson

Something new is happening with Canadian bank notes. For the whole of our history the notes have featured the image of the reigning monarch and former prime ministers. Now, the ten dollar bill will feature a famous Canadian woman, other than Queen Elizabeth II.

As part of the process for choosing whose picture would grace the bank note, Canadians were asked to submit suggestions. These were narrowed down to a list of fifteen: artists Emily Carr and Pitseolak Ashoona; authors L.M. Montgomery, E. Pauline Johnson and Gabrielle Roy; pioneering feminists Nellie McClung, Idola Saint-Jean and Therese Casgrain; humanitarian Lotta Hitschmanova; aircraft designer Elsie MacGill; Olympian Bobbie Rosenfeld; and businesswoman Viola Desmond.

My book club decided we’d each choose one of the candidates and read up about her and present our report at our March meeting. I chose E. Pauline Johnson.

Now, I knew she was part First Nations and I knew she was a poet, but that barely touched the surface of this amazing woman.

Born in 1861 on a reserve near Brantford, Ontario,  she took the name of Tekahionwake, and billed herself as a Mohawk Princess.  She was only about one quarter Mohawk, she was not a princess and the Indian name she assigned to herself was made up. Still, she identified strongly with her Mohawk heritage and drew on their legends and history for her own writings.

Her mother, Emily, was a Quaker, without a drop of Native blood in her veins, and some very odd views on marriage.  Emily’s own mother-in-law had objected to the marriage on the grounds that Emily was not Indian.  Her minister refused to perform the ceremony because the groom was not White.  Against this heritage, Emily enforced a social isolation on her children preventing them from being fully native or fully white. They were not to participate in kissing games, popular in Upper Canada at the time, nor to let anyone, male or female touch them, even on the hand. The result was that white neighbours considered them stuck-up and the children on the reserve called them “proudy.”

Against such a background, Pauline wrote poetry and developed a taste for dramatic acting.   She sent her poems to various magazines and a few were published. She made very little money from her writing but she gained some important friends in the literary world. Socially, she was more lonely than ever.  Pauline was popular, witty, charming and full of life. Society matrons welcomed her into their homes as an entertainer but they stood firmly against welcoming her as a prospective daughter-in-law.

In 1892 Pauline recited at a concert put on by the young Men’s Liberal Club of Toronto.   She was an “instant” success. Her stage career was launched. From there she went on to perform all across Canada, mostly one-night stands in little whistle-stop towns, but also in the cities of Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Halifax. Her goal in the beginning had been to raise enough money to travel to London, England in search of a publisher for her book of poetry. Two years later she had saved enough and struck out for England armed with letters of introduction to the Canadian High Commissioner, the Marquis of Lorne and the Marquis of Dufferin, who, with his wife, became her patron. She was soon entertaining audiences in the drawing rooms of Hanover Square, and reciting for the King and Queen.

But her main purpose in visiting London was to find a publisher for her book of poetry. Within a few months she had the necessary introductions and met John Lane, the publisher of Oscar Wilde, John Davidson, Kenneth Grahame, and others. Into this august company, came E. Pauline Johnson with her little book of poetry, The White Wampum. Quite an accomplishment for a “colonial” let alone a woman of mixed blood, and scanty education.

Although her objective of finding a publisher had been accomplished, Pauline soon learned that she needed to continue with her stage career in order to promote the sales of her poetry. For the next sixteen years she undertook a gruelling schedule criss-crossing Canada, with some forays into the United States and another trip to England. She acted as interpreter for a delegation of chiefs from the Vancouver area who sought an audience with King Edward VII to outline their grievances against white settlement that encroached on their reserves.

Wherever she went Pauline inspired admiration and loyalty, but romance eluded her. She was betrothed to Charles Drayton but his socially conscious family objected to the match and he eventually cried off. She fell in love with a swindler, Charles Wurz, who stole her money and then abandoned her. It is a testament to her personality that when she was dying, penniless in Vancouver and too ill to work, her friends took it upon themselves to publish a collection of her poems, and thus provide her with an income. Society matrons, her first manager, stage partners, prominent businessmen, high-ranking politicians, all rallied to help Pauline Johnson.  Flint and Feather was published in 1912 and her champions went on a marketing campaign that secured sufficient funds to care for Pauline until she died. When she passed away of breast cancer at the age of 52 in 1913, mourners lined the street as her cortege made the three-block journey to Christ Church Cathedral. Every flag in the city flew at half-mast. In accordance with her wishes, her ashes are buried in Stanley Park. She did not wish for a memorial but in 1922 the Women’s Canadian Club raised the money and erected a stone to mark her grave.

Pauline Johnson was not the woman chosen to be on Canada’s newest $10.00 bill, but she was a remarkable woman who made her own way and lived her own dreams in an age when “ladies” were expected to bow to male authority and confine themselves to the home. She proclaimed her Indian blood proudly at a time when First Nations people were excluded from many parts of Canadian life. Her most famous poem, The Song My Paddle Sings, was memorized by generations of Canadian school children, including me.

I’m so glad my book club pushed me to read the biography of this remarkable author.

Fiction and History

With the success of dramas such as Downton Abbey, movie makers have turned to history for inspiration. Yay!  I’m all for teaching the modern generation about our past, our triumphs and our tragedies, our successes and our mistakes.  What concerns me is the willingness of film-makers and screen writers to present fiction as historical fact.  Even with the disclaimer at the end or the beginning of the film that the work comes from the writer’s imagination, the viewing public will believe that Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth I or Henry VIII really said and thought what the film portrayed.  Historical researchers will spend months or years, poring over personal correspondence, diaries, contemporary writings, newspaper articles and pictures of the day to ensure the accuracy of what they publish to the world about historical characters.  Modern film-makers seem  cavalier about truth.  If the real life of an historical character is dull, they just make up stuff to give it more sex-appeal, attributing thoughts and words to an historical figure that may even contradict what is known about that person’s beliefs.  As a writer and a lover of history, I find this approach disturbing.

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill.  I believe this is true.  How often throughout history have we seen the same forces at work – greed, intolerance, hatred, fear, racism, — leading mankind into war and famine and suffering.  Yet, how can we learn from the past if the past is distorted?  I’m all in favour of a good story, in an historical setting, with real-life characters playing a role, but I think the made-up stuff should only apply to the made-up people.

To that end, I present this brief biography of one of the first women of the Klondike.  It’s as accurate as I can make it.  The tale needs no embellishment to touch the heart.

Kate Carmack

Sometime around 1886, Shaaw Tlaa, the daughter of a Tagish woman and a Tlingit man married, “in the custom of the country”, George Carmack, an American prospector and had a daughter with him.  Upon her marriage, Shaaw Tlaa became known as Kate Carmack.      Kate was skilled in the art of survival in the harsh climate of the Yukon.  She kept house for her husband, raised their daughter, Graphie Grace, sewed moccasins and warm winter clothing to sell to other miners, picked berries and snared game for food and even took in laundry to keep the family going until the mining claims began to pay.  Then on Aug, 16, 1896, George, along with Kate’s brothers, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, discovered gold on Rabbit Creek.  The three men hurried to Forty Mile on the Yukon River to register their claim and the Klondike Gold Rush was underway.  By default, Kate became the first woman on the Klondike.     For the first year after their strike, Kate’s life didn’t change much, but in 1898 George decided to take a trip “outside” to enjoy his new wealth.  Taking Kate and Graphie Grace with him, George headed south to visit his sister Rose Watson, in California..  In Seattle, George  signed Kate into hotels as Mrs. Carmack and showed off his wealth by draping her with gold-nugget necklaces.   He even told the newspaper reporters that he had a mind to take his family to the Paris Exposition in 1900 and he would be glad to have Jim and Charlie along.     Sadly for Kate, the city proved her undoing.  She was unhappy and bewildered in these strange surroundings.  She and her brothers drank too much.  Once she was arrested and spent a night in jail.  The newspapers of the time delighted in portraying Kate and her brothers as wild savages.  George doesn’t appear to have done anything to ease her way into southern society.     After a few weeks in Seattle, the Carmacks moved on to California to stay with George’s sister, Rose.  Rose was delighted to see her brother, but had scant regard for Kate.  She must have felt enormous relief in the spring of 1899 when George took her home to the Klondike.  The only fly in her ointment was that Graphie Grace stayed behind with her Aunt Rose to be “civilized”.     On a second trip South in the summer of 1899, Kate was again sport for the newspapers and George complained bitterly to his sister about her, saying he’d like to send her home to Dyea right away.  Instead of acting on that reasonable impulse,  George returned to the Yukon alone, leaving Kate with his sister in California.  In the winter of 1899-1900, George met Marguerite Laimee in Dawson and proposed at once.  Marguerite accepted on the spot.     Hurt and confused, Kate charged George with adultery, but although they had lived together as man and wife for thirteen years, she could not produce any legal documentation to support her claims.  George married Marguerite in Seattle.  Kate returned to the Klondike where.  Skookum Jim build her a cabin in Carcross.   She earned a small income from selling her needlework to tourists and occasionally posing for photographs.  George sent not a single dollar to support her or their daughter.     Instead, when Graphie Grace was sixteen, George arranged for her to leave the mission school in Whitehorse and join him in Seattle.  It was the greatest betrayal Kate could have endured.  In the  Tagish traditions children belonged with their mother’s clan.  A year later Graphie married her step-mother’s brother and severed all ties with her mother.   Kate died of influenza on March 29, 1920.

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