John Muir: West Coast Pioneer
Contains Photos, Illustrations
Ann Turner, formerly the financial and budget manager of the University
of British Columbia Library, is a freelance writer.
John Muir and his family emigrated from Scotland to “Vancouver’s
Island” in 1849 in response to a Hudson’s Bay Company advertisement
offering a grant of land in the new colony in exchange for skilled
labour. As an experienced coal miner, John was much needed there to
assess and develop the rich coal deposits in the Nanaimo area, but he
and his family were resourceful, independent folk who went on to
establish their own farming, timber milling, and shipping businesses.
Ultimately he became the first successful European settler in the new
Province of British Columbia, a magistrate, and a founding member of the
colony’s democratically elected Legislative Assembly.
The Muirs had chosen emigration as a means of escaping the rigid
hierarchical class system in Britain that kept working people there in
hopeless poverty. They found it replicated in the new world in the
policies of the Hudson’s Bay Company and struggled against it from the
beginning. John Muir appears incidentally and often negatively in other
B.C. histories primarily as an activist, reformer, and general thorn in
the side of the Hudson’s Bay Company and its Chief Factor James
Douglas. This history draws on Muir’s own diaries and other
contemporary sources both published and unpublished to tell his side of
Written as a memoir in the first person, and incorporating much of
Muir’s own language, it depicts the hardships of early life in the
colony and the Muirs’ struggle for independence with extraordinary
clarity. John Muir knew such notables as Sir James Douglas, Dr. John
Helmcken, Amor De Cosmos, and Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie personally.
His descriptions of their foibles as well as their accomplishments bring
them vividly to life.