In July 2010, my dear friend Giovanni sent me a copy of the July 3rd edition of the New Westminster Record: the front-page article featured a full-page, full-colour colour photo of him singing at the New West Canada Day celebration.
But why would you care, you ask? What mattered to our project is the smaller article on page A11: Archie and Dale Miller’s Our Past column, with a mention of a local author, Alice Bodington (1840-1897), “wife of a doctor at the asylum in New Westminster [who] was very prominent in her own rights as an author of scientific works.” This caused me, not surprisingly, to hunt her out.
She lived in Canada for only the last 10 years of her life, and appears to have been quite a strong character. She now has a Wikipedia page of her own, so I will not waste space repeating her biography here. Her Wikipedia page posts links to some articles she wrote, but at the time, all I found was a short story (on a now-defunct webpage) and an article she wrote in 1893 for The Field Club, a London “Magazine of General Natural History.”
Usually I post authors’ works without much critical analysis, trusting that readers will consider these works in context, forgiving the sometimes lower level of artistic merit as well as the occasional dated or parochial attitude. This time, though, I just can’t be that objective.
While the facts underlying “Notes on the Indians of British Columbia” correspond with what we know to have been more-or-less true about the day-to-day lifestyle of the Coast Salish nation, the language Alice Bodington uses reflects the worst of European bias against those perceived as socially and culturally inferior. The first few lines of the article exemplify the tone throughout.
I would like to think that Canadian society has gone beyond such thoughtless and damaging condescension, but am reminded daily that such a belief is either naïveté or hubris, or perhaps both. Bodington’s neo-Lamarckist ideals (look it up: fascinating and disturbing twist on Darwinism and eugenics) are appalling, and a shudder of horror runs through me when I think of her husband, who likely shared those ideals, in charge of anyone at Woodlands the “Provincial Hospital for the Insane” that opened in New Westminster in 1878 and closed its infamous doors in 1996.
So for a bit of local history, by all means look her up and add her name and works to a list of historical elements for some of us to be ashamed of.
In closing, I will share with you the story I found. It is more a report of someone else’s ghost story, and speaks to Bodington’s involvement with paranormal “research”—I use the term lightly. Interest in the paranormal was in vogue at the time, even more than eugenics and with far less historically damaging an effect.
Here. then, is “The Drummers’ Story,” printed in the Syracuse Herald (7 February 1892) and downloaded from http://www.bellaterreno.com, which is now a gardening URL.