1529 Enter the Native Daughters
Hastings Mill: The Historic Times of a Vancouver Community
by Lisa Anne Smith
Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2021
$24.95 / 9781553806417
Reviewed by Phyllis Reeve
The history of Vancouver differs from that of Canada’s other major cities. It’s as though she jumped a couple of centuries to land at last on this side of the Industrial Revolution. Her founders were not soldiers, explorers or missionaries; but builders and entrepreneurs, mindful of potential and profit, and ready to take care of business without delay.
That they cut less dashing figures than Samuel de Champlain or Guy Carleton does not make them dull. A feisty bunch, ingenious, far-sighted, resourceful, many were family men, more likely to be settlers than seigneurs and city councillors than generals, less likely to kill Indigenous people, at least not deliberately, than to ignore them.
Nor do they belong, as Scrooge asked, to the “distant past;” they belong to our past. These people were contemporaries of my grandfather, probably of your great-grandfather. Even as recently as mid-20th century, a majority of Vancouver’s population had been born elsewhere. Many of the Vancouver-born joined the Native Sons or Native Daughters, service organizations which endeavoured to collect and preserve information and relics related to the early history and subsequent development of British Columbia. Nowadays the name might be judged offensive to the Native People of the province, but at the time it saluted the members’ place of birth, their home and native land. The Native Daughters play an important part in the continuing story of Hastings Mill.
The story begins with “the enterprising Mr Moody and the bumptious Captain Stamp” — as James W. Morton dubbed them in his 1977 dual biography. Sewell Moody’s sawmill on the north shore of Burrard Inlet preceded that of James Stamp on the south by a couple of years, but Stamp, who was not only bumptious but at least as enterprising as Moody, overcame obstructions ranging from bureaucracy to beavers in his determination to catch up and surpass.
The book is peopled with colourful characters performing good deeds and not so good and all the while making history. From its official establishing in 1867 Stamp’s Mill went through many ups and downs, innovations and metamorphoses, changes of names and changes of ownership and management. In 1870 the mill, surrounding community, and company store were named in honour of Vice-Admiral George Fowler Hastings, Commander-in-chief of the naval base at Esquimalt, second son of the 12th Earl of Huntingdon, and “a regular at Victoria high society gatherings.”
Finding it too easy to overwhelmed by the wealth of available details, I will leave the story telling to author Lisa Anne Smith, and point to just a few of the company bosses and store managers who play major roles in her lively narrative. After Stamp and Moody came “the meticulous” James Raymur, Richard Alexander whom Raymur hired to run the company store and who objected to “using lumber from trees that have taken from 800 to 1000 years to grow,” John Hendry, Hugh Keefer, Eric Hamber, William Hamilton — to name the most obvious. If this sounds like a list of Vancouver place-names, I for one cannot begrudge them their memorialisation on the city map. Smith shows us not only their business accomplishments, but also their personal and family lives, triumphs and disappointments, and idiosyncrasies.
This equal-opportunity narrative devotes a chapter to “Women of the Mill,” especially to Emma Alexander, Georgia Sweney, Emily Patterson, who were wives and daughters of mill personnel, but made careers for themselves on site. Even Lady Dufferin, wife of the Governor-General, makes an appearance and a contribution. In the second part of the book, women take the leading roles.
The supporting cast features the colourful John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, who made his own kind of contribution to city development and gaiety; Rev. Henry Fiennes-Clinton who rang the bell of St. James Church to signal the start of the fire which destroyed the new town in 1886; Rev John Antle of the Missions to Seafarers; and British Columbia Chief Forester H.R. MacMillan whose “appreciation for the stewardship and preservation of British Columbia’s forests would have a lasting impact.”
It’s a sea story too, with a chapter starring tug boats, especially the steam tug Etta White and its ill-fated attempt to rescue the coal collier Thrasher from the not-yet-notorious hazard to navigation off Gabriola Island.
And there, in the middle of things through fire and flood, depression and recovery, war (1914-1918) and the influenza pandemic, stood the Hastings Mill Store, a necessity and a hub.
After the war, even as the lumber industry flourished, Hastings Mill itself felt the winds of change. Rail and shipping required a terminal, and the Mill occupied “prime waterfront location.” The Vancouver Harbour Commission and the federal government stepped up with offers and negotiations. By the end of 1929 the demolition of Hastings Mill was under way, with the Store at the edge of the site, “derelict and abandoned.” It could not remain where it was, but no one seemed to want to tear it down.
Enter the Native Daughters. Smith found no documentation to pinpoint the start of the plan to relocate the Store and to raise funds to make the move possible. She speculates on the word-of-mouth exchanges and social networking that went on before April 22, 1930 when a letter from the Native Daughters was read at a Vancouver City Council meeting. They had a location, a promontory on English Bay at the north foot of Alma Road. They were rebuffed, of course, with the usual excuses: the building would break in pieces when moved, the proposed location was too remote, NIMBYS objected, the deadline for demolitions was very near — and the world was in Depression. Nevertheless they persisted. They consulted other pioneer organisations, as well as engineers and building inspectors. They whipped up community enthusiasm. They held bake sales. Later, they even grew potatoes.
Frederick Gosse, professional house-mover, and Captain Charles Cates, master of tugs and barges (and grandfather of my former boss), conferred and co-operated. They considered cliffs and tides and winds. And they did it. They moved the Store from the shore onto the water, through the First Narrows to Point Grey, and up the cliff onto another shore. A winch broke on the way up the cliff. But Gosse and Cates knew what they were doing. On August 1, 1930, the Hastings Mill Store occupied its new home at the corner of Alma and Point Grey Road. As Smith narrates the journey in the chapter “The Move,” the reader may find herself following with bated breath, imagining how it was to stand on the shore beside the Daughters and other spectators.
The next chapter “The Campaign” is only slightly less exciting. While basically intact, the Store needed immediate repairs. There had to be funds, benefactors, volunteers, and new members. There had to be acquisitions appropriate for a bona fide museum. Such a team effort yields few – or many — heroines. Smith singles out Jessie Hall, Vera Patterson, Norah Hampton Bole, but none of them acted alone. Their enthusiasm attracted others, including Estella McKelvie, a former pupil at the Hastings Mill School and daughter of a stevedore at the mill “back in its earliest days.” Such recognition mattered if they were to achieve their purpose of preserving part of Vancouver’s past.
And it continues to matter. One purpose of the book is to remind people who care that heritage requires attention and support. Smith takes a lead here: “all royalties from sales of this book will be donated to Friends of Old Hastings Mill Store Museum, the registered charity from which funds are drawn to finance ongoing maintenance and upgrades to the building.”
So the name “Native Daughters” discreetly gives way to the more currently acceptable “Friends.” In her Appendices, Smith highlights the organisation’s sensibility to the location’s past, when “Kumkumlye” (“big leaf maple trees”) was a seasonal encampment of the Squamish people, and when trees were harvested with care long before the arrival of Captain Stamp and the “logging industry.” The Friends are committed to celebrating the co-existence of Indigenous and Settler history.
The Author’s Note brings the story up-to-date with her own involvement with the Friends and her advocacy for continual support of the Museum. She has given us a lively and thought-provoking story of past and present. If she sometimes allows minute details to pile up — (the inventory of the store, the operation of a piece of logging apparatus, for instance), those details are necessary for the book as documentation and easily skimmed by a reader who finds them interfering with the narrative flow.
Aficionados of Vancouver’s history have read much of this story before, especially the first half of it, and will be familiar with some of the characters, but here we have them, story and characters, revealed from the viewpoint of one very small, long neglected, and very important building.
Phyllis Parham Reeve writes about local and personal history in her three solo books and in contributions to journals and multi-author publications. She is a contributing editor of the Dorchester Review and her writing appears occasionally in Amphora, the journal of the Alcuin Society. She co-founded the bookstore at Page’s Resort & Marina on Gabriola Island. More details than necessary may be found on her website. Editor’s note: Phyllis Reeve has recently reviewed books by Mowafa Said Househ, Eric Schmaltz & Christopher Doody, Carolyn Daley, Roy Innes, Veronica Strong-Boag, Ian Hanomansing, and PJ Patten.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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