Pages Navigation Menu

British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

B.C.’s first ‘lunatic asylum’ was a disaster

Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 in Articles | 4 comments

British Columbia’s first pioneer mental health facility opened in Victoria in the spring of 1876 in a former quarantine hospital on the west shore of the Inner Harbour. Just three and a-half years later, the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ was rocked by scandal. The superintendent admitted to wearing his patients’ socks but not their drawers! The Victoria Colonist expressed its “pain, surprise and indignation” that evidence “injuriously affecting the characters of the superintendent and matron of that institution…that ought to be the most perfect in its management of any in the province…” had come to light after apparently being ignored by the previous government. The matron, Mrs. Flora Ross, had complained of “a series of outrages [to quote the newspaper] that would have disgraced the veriest martinet that ever held authority”. Her charges included her having suffered “gross insults” from Supt....

Read More

Where did Canadian history go wrong?

Posted by on Dec 24, 2014 in Articles | 4 comments

You remember how it was in school: names, dates, events, all of them of long ago and far away and of no real interest. Which is precisely what’s wrong with the way we teach Canadian history in school, if you ask me. (They don’t, of course.) If children don’t engage with Canadian history, is it their fault? Or is it ours because we present it so poorly that Canadian history becomes, in fact, boring and dull? Several times I’ve been asked by teachers who think outside the prescribed curriculum to speak to their students. Now I’ve been speaking to adult audiences almost since I first became published. It comes with the job. But, speak to kids? For years, I resisted. I well remember how I hated my own schools days, how I rebelled against the regimentation, the learning by...

Read More

It will always be Jimmy Chickens Island

Posted by on Nov 29, 2014 in Articles | 13 comments

News Item: When Charlee the American bulldog was spooked by Halloween fireworks in Victoria, she took off. Rather, she swam to Mary Tod Island off Oak Bay. I’m pleased to report that she was soon reunited with her owner, but that’s not my story which is about one of my favourite pioneers… Maps show the wooded isle off Oak Bay as Mary Tod Island but to those who know their history it will always be Jimmy Chickens Island. This amazing eccentric and his wife Jenny lived there in their little shack during the rare intervals between enforced stays “inside the precincts of the durance vile on Cormorant Street or the brick mansion on Topaz Avenue” (the city and provincial jails). Jimmy and Jenny, you see, were slaves to demon drink Time and again the aging couple was to be...

Read More

Sir John Franklin Expedition has strong Victoria, B.C. link

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Articles | 4 comments

So they’ve finally found Sir John Franklin. Well, his ships anyway. 170-plus years after he and all of his 128 men vanished in the Arctic while searching for the legendary Northwest Passage. This is what legends are made of: The most expensive scientific expedition to that time in history, which sailed…into oblivion. Not a single survivor. Not, for years, a single clue! Ever so slowly the puzzle has been unraveled through the efforts, often heroic, of numerous explorers and, in recent years, repeated underwater searches by Parks Canada. All these efforts have been crowned with the confirmed discoveries of Sir John Franklin’s flagship, HMS Erebus, and her sister ship HMS Terror. Vancouver Island has several strong links to the Franklin saga Let’s begin with Herald Rock in Beaver Harbour, ‘twixt Fort Rupert and Port Hardy. It’s named for the...

Read More

Grace Islet Burial Ground Controversy is same old, same old

Posted by on Sep 1, 2014 in Articles | 3 comments

Almost from the time of the arrival of Europeans, First Nations burial sites have been the targets of abuse. Most have succumbed to development although there have been cases of deliberate desecration such as occurred on Victoria’s Deadman’s Island in the 1860s. The public was reminded of the need to protect indigenous burial grounds in the summer of 2014 when controversy raged over otherwise nondescript Grace Islet. Situated in Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island, it was the site of a new home under construction. It’s also the site of a First Nations burial ground and I shouldn’t have to tell you which was there first. It should also go without saying that no one would be allowed to build their home on top of a known cemetery. A non-native cemetery, anyway, as the house referred to had been approved for...

Read More

Canadian $10 bill kerfuffle recalls martyred nurse Edith Cavell

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in Articles | 3 comments

Oops. There was a mistake on our new plastic $10 bill. It only took the Royal Canadian Mint eight months to correct, if not admit, that they goofed on their photo of Mount Edith Cavell. According to the Canadian Press, mountain climber Hitesh Doshi spotted the mistake: a mountain that was identified on the RCM’s website as 3363-metre Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park was actually Lectern Peak. After laying the blame on the Canadian Bank Note Co., the Mint assured us that all is now well. So who was Edith Cavell and why did they name a mountain after her? For answer, I’m going to quote myself from my 2005 book, A Place Called Cowichan: A century and a second global conflict have passed since the ‘war to end all wars’. [Duncan’s] Ypres, St. Julien and Festubert...

Read More