Monday, January 3, 2011
A vision of imperial Eden on southern Vancouver Island
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 3, 2011
At age 13, John Bosher steeled himself to defend Vancouver Island from a feared Japanese invasion.
He was a Boy Scout armed with a Winchester .30-30 rifle, displaying the bravery of a lad who had seen war only in the movie theatre. He drilled with the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, alongside white-haired veterans, many with English accents, who had settled on the Saanich Peninsula, north of Victoria.
He trained on the Sten gun and even handled a .45 revolver. “I remember I needed two hands to lift it,” he said. Happily, the enemy invasion never happened and the war ended before he was old enough to enlist.
Mr. Bosher went on to a stellar academic career, studying at the Sorbonne before completing a doctorate at London University. He taught history at King’s College London; at Cornell in Ithica, N.Y.; at York in Toronto; at the University of British Columbia. Over the years, he wrote eight books, academic works examining French history and trade with Canada.
He always remained curious about the backgrounds of the men with whom he had prepared for war.
For the past decade, he gathered material from archives and private letters, from directories and microfilmed newspapers. The result — Imperial Vancouver Island: Who Was Who, 1850-1950 — is an impressive volume offering fascinating portrayals of the men and women of British ancestry who created on southern Vancouver Island a vision of an imperial Eden.
“They saw the empire as a safety net, a kind of gated community,” he said.
The 81-year-old retired history professor, who now lives in Ottawa, has written A-to-Z thumbnail portraits of 769 notables.
The author contends that while nearby Vancouver developed as did other Canadian cities, Victoria with its naval base at Esquimalt more resembled the empire’s other island outposts, such as Malta, Ceylon, Bermuda, Jamaica, Bermuda, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Mr. Bosher’s volume is a delight for anyone interested in the island’s history. You can find the characters for which such places as Mayne and Mears islands are named. Here, too, are the ancestors of the poet Susan Musgrave and the former politician, now again an academic, Andrew Petter. Major Andrew Henry Jukes promoted Social Credit doctrine in the province during the Depression. The name Yarrow, which once made Victoria synonymous with shipbuilding, is now falling out of living memory, so it is good to see the son of the founder in the volume.
Many of those profiled by Mr. Bosher are worthy of a biography of their own. One such worthy is Sir Clive Phillipps-Wolley, a big-game hunter who stalked prey in the Crimea and on Vancouver Island, about which he wrote several volumes, including a novel about a remittance man. He warned of the rise of the Imperial German navy in the years following Queen Victoria’s death, urging Canada to build warships. His son died in the early days of the Great War, during which he was knighted, surely the only Vancouver Island writer to be so honoured. He died in Duncan in 1918 and is buried in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which decorates the cover of the book.
The poet Rudyard Kipling made three visits to Vancouver Island, likely on scouting expeditions for a retirement home. (In the end, he settled in Sussex in the south of England.)
The author’s own ancestors first came to Victoria aboard a bride ship in 1863. His father, born in England, immigrated to the island, where he became a bulb inspector for the Dominion Experimental Station in Saanich.
While the book’s title is accurate and informative if somewhat terse, the author would have preferred to name it in the 19th-century fashion. He knows modern ears have little patience for the rambling descriptions of yesteryear. Otherwise, his doorstopper volume would be known as — take a deep breath — Some Imperial Campaigners and their Friends on Vancouver Island from the Cariboo Goldrush and the Indian Mutiny to the Invasion from Mainland Canada after the Second World War, 1858-1958.
He is mercifully mute on what he had in mind for a subtitle.