Jean Barman, the fine academic historian who wrote The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, has been turning her hand to some unsung pioneers. The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey concerns a free spirit who, in best 19th-century fashion, invented sequential careers for himself but was often buffeted by larger forces at work in the world. It makes a perfect partner of Maria Mahoi of the Islands, which looks at the region and the era from a different vantage point altogether.
Silvey was born, probably in 1828, in the Azores, a recruitment centre for sailors employed by the U.S.í‚ dominated Pacific whale fishery. In 1860, when the Fraser and Cariboo gold rushes were going strong, he jumped ship in B.C. He failed at prospecting but was lucky in love, marrying the granddaughter of Chief Kiapilano of the Capilano Nation. He fished from Point Roberts but later operated the Hole-in-the-Wall, a Gastown saloon that competed with Gassy Jack Deighton's. After his wife's death, he married a woman of the Sechelt Nation and got the first seine herring licence in B.C.
He was an entrepreneur, with fishing nets for hire and eventually his own whaling vessel, though that grisly trade was dying fast as petroleum replaced whale oil as a fuel. For some years, Silvey lived with his family in what's now Stanley Park. In the end, he had his own island, Reid Island, northwest of Galiano, and he died there in 1902. All these turning points were connected by ethnic and racial prejudice or family tragedy--or both. His descendants still live on the coast.
So do those of Maria Mahoi (1855?-1936), of Salt Spring and Russell islands, whose story is one of prolific childbearing but also a kind of organic protofeminism. Her mother was a Native but her father was Hawaiian. This is one of the founding minorities we tend to overlook, though the Silvey biography reports that there was once a Hawaiian community at the Coal Harbour end of Denman Street.
Both these studies of race relations show Barman's skilled use of hard-come-by facts, anecdotes, and images to restore stories we didn't even know were lost.