A Measure of Value: The Story of the D'Arcy Island Leper Colony
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
Lawrence T. Woods is an associate professor in the International Studies
Program, University of Northern British Columbia.
A Measure of Value is an important book for anyone interested in the
study of how human beings treat one another. It tells the story of the
leper colony on D’Arcy Island near Victoria, from 1891 to 1924. Most
of the inmates—for they were very much prisoners—were Chinese men
sent there to die. Best to have them out of sight and out of mind, as
far as the dominant Caucasian culture was concerned.
Initiated by the City of Victoria and briefly controlled by the B.C.
government in the early 1900s, the D’Arcy colony became the
responsibility of the federal government in 1906. It was then that the
racism, which imprisoned the lepers, was turned to their benefit: the
federal government agreed it would fund the D’Arcy colony from the
proceeds of a discriminatory head tax being levied on Chinese immigrants
to Canada. Having long been responsible for a well-maintained colony of
Caucasian lepers in Tracadie, New Brunswick, complete with hospital,
doctors, and nurses (the D’Arcy inmates had none of these and were
visited only by a doctor accompanying a quarterly delivery of food and
supplies), the federal government could no longer resist requests that
it be responsible for D’Arcy as well. The book is dedicated to the
memory of the last 14 Chinese men sent to D’Arcy prior to the federal
A distressing tale of inhumane treatment, A Measure of Value is well
written and well documented. While Yorath seeks a balanced perspective,
some readers will no doubt feel he could have been harsher in his
assessments of the local, provincial, and federal authorities. Although
some assumptions are questionable, Yorath, his research assistants, and
the publisher must be praised for making this hidden history accessible
to the general public.