Views of the Frontier
- Elizabeth Furniss (Author)
The Burden of History: Colonialism and the Frontier Myth in a Rural Canadian Community. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Morag Maclachlan (Editor)
The Fort Langley Journals, 1827-30. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Bryan N. S. Gooch
The Fort Langley Journals, 1827-30 and The Burden of History both focus on the contact between non-Native and Aboriginals, the first dealing with the building and activities surrounding the Hudson’s Bay fort on the south bank of the Fraser River some fifty kilometres from its mouth, and the second looking at the modern-day town of Williams Lake just east of Fraser in the heart of the Chilcotin-Cariboo region.
Maclachlan’s carefully edited text involves the daily journals of chief Fort officers George Barnston (1827-28), James McMillan and Archibald McDonald (1828-29), and McDonald (1829-30), and a leather-book and notes by McDonald (1830-31). The fur trade was the reason for the Fort’s existence, and the entries provide a remarkably clear picture of the arduous task of constructing a relatively resilient and habitable establishment over several seasons (including clearing land, squaring timber, cutting shingles, digging cellars, planting potatoes and other crops) despite the vicissitudes of the weather and the river’s tendency to flood in the spring. The journals also record the nature of the contacts between the largely white newcomers and the Native peoples, who had used the Fraser as a food source, particularly salmon, and as a travel route for generations. Woven into a fascinating account of building and survival are insightful glimpses of interpersonal relations, trading practices, conflicts between Native groups, and the like. The Company men had come neither to an easy land nor to a peaceful domain. Through the narratives runs the necessity to survive not just in economic but in physical terms: bartering for furs and for salmon, to be laid up for the winter, was the life-blood of the Fort.
Following the main body of the journal texts is an articulate and thoughtful essay by Wayne Suttles on their "ethnographic significance," as well as appendices on the Clallam massacres, reports by McMillan (15 February 1828) and McDonald (25 February 1830) to the Company’s Governor and Council, biographies of Shashia (a Cowichan chief) and Simon Plamondon, a Company employee, and a detailed study by Suttles of the names and their variants which occur in the journals. Notes, a list of references, and an index conclude the volume.
Furniss’s The Burden of History brings the reader to contemporary contacts between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the city of Williams Lake with its economy dependent on logging, ranching, and tourism. A "frontier" town emerging in 1919 with the building of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (later, British Columbia Railway), Williams Lake now sports modern malls and other signs of material progress while, as the hub for an immense rural area including the traditional lands of a number of Aboriginal groups, it also seeks to preserve its pioneer heritage, particularly through its annual Stampede. Furniss, who has established contacts in both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, offers a serious and sensitive look at the nature of the contacts and attitudes of these two groups as they negotiate for economic and cultural existence within the region. She explores some of the historical background, the treatment of Aboriginal people by urban Euro-Canadians in the city, the problem of the frontier myth, the perceived threats to logging and ranching operations in the light of land-claims, and the nature of the political discourse on both sides. Furniss’s ability to convey the myriad of concerns and anxieties which abound in the social fabric of the Williams Lake area make the book particularly interesting. As she points out in this study, the lessons of Williams Lake have a remarkable resonance in many other parts of this country. Well-researched and thoroughly documented, this is a first-rate piece of contemporary anthropology which, given its often anecdotal approach, has the quality of a well-rounded narrative.
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MLA: Gooch, Bryan N. S. Views of the Frontier. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #175 (Winter 2002), francophone / anglophone. (pg. 164 - 165)
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