The British Colonist online, 1858-1920
When the first sixty-plus years of Victoria’s British Colonist became available online in searchable form, I lost quite a few hours to what could be better described as distraction than as focused research. The title of the newspaper suggests the aspirations shaping its editorial perspective. But, for me, the seductiveness of the early Colonist lay in the glimpses it afforded of stories that run counter to any standard narrative of white settler colonialism, but nevertheless documented fascinating—and integral—pieces of British Columbia’s colonial history.
Henry Buler writes to the Colonist
One of these glimpses came a March 1898 letter written by Henry J. Buler, defending the potlatch, which church and government were already working to eradicate. Buler’s communication addressed an earlier letter that the Colonist had published from the Rev. Alfred J. Hall, the Anglican missionary at Alert Bay, BC. Buler called Hall a liar (“this is the same Reverend … who was sent out here to teach the Indians that ‘…lying lips are [an] abomination to the Lord’”). He went on to refute the first letter’s claims point by point, concluding, “everything in our country is in your hands … let us have this only one thing—our joyous potlatch.”
Now, Henry Buler’s name was not unfamiliar to me, though I was surprised to come upon it in the Colonist. George Hunt, the long-time co-worker of anthropologist Franz Boas, refers to him in a couple of places, and Buler is also the subject of correspondence between Boas and Hall. Apparently Buler, like Hunt before him, worked for Hall for a time as a translator. Hall also gave Buler the job of caretaker of his first mission building at Fort Rupert after Hall decamped to Alert Bay. Continue reading