The Last Ten Years
The view out the corner window of the Aged and Infirm Old Women’s Home at 857 McClure Street in downtown Victoria let Alice Ravenhill keep track of everyone coming and going.
Compared to most of the residents she and her sister Edith were quite lively, she thought, momentarily forgetting that she had been unable to walk on her own for a couple of years.
But today would be a good day. Dr. Carl was coming by to talk about the legends book that she had wanted to have published since her early days working at the Museum.
Mr. Pickford, also of the museum, had been a bit difficult to get along with regarding the revision of Native Tribes of British Columbia. You would think he had forgotten who wrote the book in the first place. That was next week’s agenda.
And she had received a letter from Charlotte Black, niece of her old friend Marie McNaughton, that she needed to answer right away.
* * *
A motto that Alice Ravenhill liked to quote, “Never say die!” applied fully to the last ten years of her life. One of the main achievements was her autobiography, entitled Alice Ravenhill: Memoirs of an Educational Pioneer (1951). It contained a foreword by Norman MacKenzie, President of the University of British Columbia, in which he wrote, “To me, her Memoirs are the record of a great and a good woman.” Of its two hundred and thirty-three pages, less than one-quarter, forty-two in total, are devoted to the 45 years she lived in Canada – an omission that this biography of Ravenhill compensates for.
Alice Ravenhill’s active physical life in Victoria came to an end in January 1944 when she fell and fractured a hip that refused to knit. She spent the next six months in a Victoria hospital. During this time Anthony Walsh maintained his contact with her from his position with the Legion War Services in Alberni, and once brought a visitor with him: “A young Jewish doctor from Montreal, Captain Rosen has the making of greatness. He has been a great help to me with George Clutesi and is paying part of the Clutesi’s [sic] travelling expenses.”
In June of 1944, Alice and Edith moved to the Aged and Infirm Women’s Home (now known as Rose Manor) at 857 McClure Street in downtown Victoria. Ravenhill is purported to have had a corner room with a window where she could see all the people coming and going. She wrote to Walsh that she and Edith felt like “juniors,” “because at least half are senile and another quarter suffering in various ways.”
Her pet project for at least fifteen years had been the collection of myths and legends that she had found hidden away in the Provincial Museum. Many researchers, from Charles Hill-Tout to Frans Boas to James Teit, had collected legends in the same way that they collected artifacts. This commendable impulse saved much from being lost, as historian of ethnography Wendy Wickwire suggests. The fascination with myths and legends was part of the belief of anthropologists that “recording everything and anything imaginable” would make it possible to reconstruct “a pure and untarnished traditional culture.”
It is hard to say whether or not Ravenhill shared such an agenda. Legends, to her, contained useful moral lessons that “would be of unsuspected service to those responsible… for Indian education.” Her interest in legends and mythology could also be traced back to her English education. She frequently quoted Greek and Christian symbols in her correspondence: for example, she called herself a Cassandra when she seemed to be repeating herself, and she compared with Captain Gerald Barry to working with Agag.
Ravenhill had managed to shepherd to publications The Tale of the Nativity and Meet Mr. Coyote, but her own selections of myths and legends had remained unpublished, and she began planning their publication well before she was confined to the Aged and Infirm Home. In September 1943 she wrote to Carl:
Could you send a line to Mr. Bruce McKelvie in your position as Curator of the Museum and inform him you hope to publish some sections of BC legends in the coming months. Otherwise he will precipitate republication of some he formerly contributed to the Victoria press without the hallmark of authenticity — but such details do not concern the public.
In all probability Ravenhill is here referring to the work of Beryl M. Cryer, who had written a series of legends for Bruce McKelvie, editor of the Daily Colonist between 1932 and 1935. Cryer worked mostly from her home in Chemainus, north of Victoria, and her method of obtaining stories was simple, as Chris Arnett notes: “She would show up at [the homes of her storytellers], rarely with appointments, or the elders would seek her out, and they would talk.” But how could such an arrangement not indicate authenticity? Ravenhill seemed to think that “authentic” meant using the myths and legends collected by recognized anthropologists. It could be argued that Beryl Cryer’s approach produced legends that were much more lively than the ones in the museum. As well, did legends have to be static? A famous quote from a letter written by Archie Phinney to Franz Boas sums up the difference:
A sad thing in recording these animal stories is the loss of spirit — the fascination furnished by the peculiar Indian vocal rendition for humor. Indians are better storytellers than whites. When I read my story mechanically I find only the cold corpse.
At any rate, Clifford Carl showed interest in Ravenhill’s legends. He had turned out to be a valuable member of the Society, quickly becoming an active member and firm supporter of Ravenhill’s efforts. Her relationship with him was less confidential than with Walsh, and less emotional than with Stewart, but equally or more important in terms of achievement.
Carl supported Ravenhill completely. When Bullock-Webster refused to do a write-up for the newspaper which recognized B.C. handicrafts at the 67th Handicrafts Display at Quebec City (including one of Ravenhill’s needlework reproductions), Carl “in protest took it on.” He had made the printing of A Cornerstone of Canadian Culture possible and was prepared to do the same for the “Legend Booklet.”
By February 1945, Ravenhill had prepared a selection of legends for Carl’s consideration and asked him to come see her at the Home: “Could you spare time to see me so that I could explain verbally what would take much time to write. I know my hours are inconvenient to you but I have no choice.” When the possibility of having the legends published by the Provincial Museum stalled in 1948 because of budget concerns, she took the bold step of contacting Dr. Harry Hawthorn, a newly appointed UBC professor. “It’s more than 12 years since I made a start,” she wrote. “In all humility I dare to think this is the best work I have done.”
Hawthorn responded positively and requested more information on Ravenhill’s previous work. He asked if the sources were “JESUP or BAE,” or private informants? Here he refers to the ethnographic work of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902) and of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Ravenhill took such technical allusions in her stride, but she hesitated to abandon the idea having the Provincial Museum publish her book, as she told Hawthorn: “From one point of view I am ashamed to do anything before opening the subject with Dr. Carl, who, I learn from one of his staff, has spent hours checking every one of my allusions and references.”
Ravenhill’s mindset was, as always, a mixture of humility and pride. Finally, she got to the point in a subsequent letter to Hawthorn: “Would it be disloyal to my very kind & forbearing friend, Dr. Carl, could an Enquiry be addressed to him in tactful terms to relieve him of this particular burden?” Hawthorn’s answer is not recorded.
Folklore of the Far West with Some Clues to Characteristics and Customs was finally published in 1953 in Victoria by the British Columbia Indian Arts and Welfare Society at a cost of five hundred dollars paid by Ravenhill. Dr. Carl had sought out a local printer for her and Betty Campbell Newton provided the red-and-black wolf mask on the cover and a few interior pen drawings.
The contributions of various experts are acknowledged, starting with Franz Boas and the Smithsonian Institution Report of 1909-1911 and ending with Ravenhill’s old acquaintance, Erna Gunther of the Washington State Museum in Seattle. In the lengthy foreword, Ravenhill defines folklore as including myths, legends and tales, stating that it is not necessary to distinguish further among the terms because they “reflect the efforts of primitive man to explain his bewildering experiences in a perplexing world.”
Ravenhill also included a disclaimer and a political statement:
Keenly alive as I am to the risks associated with attempts to compress so comprehensive and complicated a subject as is the folklore of the first comers to this Province, I have risked doing so on behalf of a little understood people, for whose welfare Canada undertook responsibility a century and a half ago. Brief allusions to tribal complicated customs and organized methods will, it is hoped also draw more attention to their just claims for the provision for them at all ages, of full opportunities to utilize their various gifts for their own advancement and for the enrichment of Canada.
Fifty-two legends were included. For each, Ravenhill indicated the number of versions she had found in the Provincial Museum. For example, “Some Adventures of Kanilak,” attributed to the Lillooet people, was one of forty versions. “A Boy’s Adventures in Sky Country,” from the Chilcotin, was one of forty-five versions.
She also included sections on “Former Beliefs and Customs,” “Examples or Tribal Folklore,” and an index entitled “Clues to Customs and Conduct.” This last section was indexed according to subject and legend. The largest number of topics covered in the legends was “Family, Affection, Forbearance and Home Sickness,” followed by “Punishments.” The topics least covered were “Generosity” and “Ingratitude.”
By choosing to look for these topics as opposed to others, Ravenhill reflected her own values and beliefs. In his classic text, A Guide to B.C. Indian Myth and Legend, Ralph Maud commends Folklore of the Far West for its “good Canadian title” and its representative legends, drawn from the more popular tales: “Her rewriting is fresh and inoffensive — insofar as any rewriting can be.”
Several more events occupied Ravenhill’s last years. Revision of the 1938 publication, The Native Tribes of British Columbia was frequently discussed with Dr. Carl. Ravenhill wanted to know what remuneration she would receive. “I have added much to my own information upon the subject… but… very much more time and skill has to be spent in rewriting parts of most chapters.”
A number of years previously she had hoped that someone would collaborate with her on such a bulletin: “Full well I know the man [to do the job best] is W.A. Newcombe, but I also know it would be hopeless to expect acceptance.” Ravenhill corresponded with and met Arthur Pickford on a number of occasions regarding the revision, and Pickford’s personal copy of Native Tribes contains the following hand-written inscription on the flyleaf:
Some of the corrections indicated in pencil are quite trivial, many of these were elected for change by Dr. A.R. [Ravenhill] (Spring 1949). The more lengthy of the important changes suggested by A.E.P. [Pickford] at these sessions were submitted in manuscript form. The revision was interrupted by the indisposition of Dr. Alice and thus must be considered quite incomplete. The rewriting of several passages of less importance than those mentioned above was left to A.E.P. Some chapters such as XIX and XV were not even touched.
Pickford’s reference to “Dr. Alice” alludes to another major event in Ravenhill’s life. Many of her friends and acquaintances had begun advocating for some recognition of her work with Indigenous arts and crafts. Ravenhill had already received recognition from her Home Economics associates from thirty or forty years previously; in addition to being named one of the ten Founders of the American Home Economics Association, she was also made the first Honorary Member of the Canadian Home Economics Foundation in 1941.
Ravenhill had never left her home economics and health roots completely behind: she continued to promote the expansion of home economics and “the elevation of the subject from tedious drudgery to the high dignity and responsibility of laying the foundations of human health and welfare in family life in childhood and training parents in the maintenance of their own health as a national responsibility throughout life.”
In 1948, additional acknowledgment came with the awarding of an honorary doctorate of science in absentia by the University of British Columbia. “I do regret that I shall never wear the magnificent hood,” she wrote.
In the citation delivered by UBC president Norman MacKenzie, Ravenhill was described as a “distinguished scientist who, after devoting many years of energy to the advance of social welfare in Great Britain, has won the lasting gratitude of this Province by her pioneering efforts to make known and preserve its native culture.”
Ravenhill sent out letters to various friends, acquaintances and agencies, informing them of her new status as “Doctor.” Her London bank, Lloyd’s, wrote back with congratulations and stating that they would amend their records. The Royal Sanitary Institute replied that, “The older members of the Council who remember the good work which you did in this country before you went to Canada, were glad to have news of you.”
Bischlager, the Anglican Rector at Cumberland, BC made a touching reference to her late brother: “The Squire [Horace Ravenhill] will be delighted and we are sure that your sister is overjoyed. May this be a banner year for you — 90 and ‘not out’ as the cricketers have it!”
Alice Ravenhill also completed an 18-page submission to a Royal Commission on Indian Affairs in 1947. As “President Emeritus of the B.C. Indian Arts and Welfare Society,” her submission began:
Addressed to the Royal Commission of Senators and Members of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into all phases of the affairs of Canadian Indians in May and October, 1946. The following suggestions (chiefly educational) are submitted in the hope of contributing to the rehabilitation of the Indians of British Columbia.
Here, Ravenhill summarized much of her intellectual work in B.C., beginning with a “discarded theory of Race distinctions.” If proof were needed that Ravenhill had long said goodbye to her eugenics opinions of the 1920s, it could be found in her statement, “The conviction that all human beings originated from one and not many stocks is now the opinion of unassailable authorities.”
She acknowledged the continuing exploitation of Indigenous peoples and the “unconsidered destruction of deeply ingrained religious and social organisations.” She repeated her familiar theme that original Indigenous designs were suitable for commercial as well as artistic purposes. She tried, unsatisfactorily, to explain why Indigenous peoples were not inclined to take part in agriculture, at least in the European sense, and suggested that more incentives were needed.
Comments on education formed the bulk of the submission. Whereas some teachers were worried about the “inability of Indians to copy free-hand designs and elementary outline drawings,” she described Anthony Walsh’s methods to stimulate interest among Indigenous children in a variety of artistic, dramatic, and vocal forms.
She outlined an entire course of studies for teachers of Indigenous students with a remarkable community-oriented perspective, including adult education and organization of community centres. Ravenhill criticized the current state of education on reserves with frosty understatement: “Surely it is humiliating for us to realise that about half the Indian children in this province have no school advantages at this date.”
She asked that schools not be tied to particular religions and that grade schools should be opened on all reserves, rather than sending young children and adolescents away from home. In this she was decades ahead of mainstream scholarly scepticism about value and intent of Residential Schools. The rationale for this last point related back to her child study interests in England:
The sudden change to the necessarily disciplined methods [of the Residential Schools] where from a hundred or many more children, varying in age from seven to fourteen, are collected into a wholly unfamiliar building causes manifold shocks to the new arrival, physical, mental, emotional…. Psychologists also emphasize more strongly the enduring mental strain on little children of having to acquire a new language; as well as being among a staff and playmates speaking unknown tongues.
She raised the question of Indigenous rights, referring specifically to those who had fought in the war, but were not recognized as Canadian citizens after the war. She also suggested that school principals should in all cases be laymen, if possible married, and fully qualified educationally.
An event in 1948 that showed Ravenhill’s continuing influence on Indigenous affairs, although she was again unable to be present, was the UBC Conference on B.C. Native Indian Affairs in Vancouver organized by Harry Hawthorn. Its object was to bring together “all those interested in Native Canadian affairs in order to discuss problems related to Arts and Handicrafts, Health and Welfare, Education, Training of Teachers, Welfare Workers, Nurses, etc.”
Ravenhill’s needlework was part of the displays, chosen because it showed the application of tribal designs to modern objects. Her portrait by the well-known B. C. artist and photographer, Ken McCallister, was placed on the mantelpiece of the fireplace in the Youth Training Centre, looking down on the large and interested crowd. According to Anthony Walsh:
It would have done your heart good to have heard the many fine and beautifully-moving speeches that were given by a number of the Indians. In comparison, the majority of the whites seemed very drab…. Time and again the Indian speakers expressed appreciation and gratitude for all that you have done for them during the past years.
Walsh indulged in a little denominational bipartisan jousting that harkened back to Ravenhill’s complaints about the Roman Catholic Bishop of Victoria who had wanted to join the Society in 1942. The Anglican representative had not turned up at the Conference, Walsh reported, and the new — presumably Anglican — head of St. Michael’s residential school at Alert Bay School had expressed great indignation at most of the proceedings: “He thought we were advocating a return to Paganism by encouraging Indian art and handicrafts. It is a tragedy that such a man is head of an Indian residential school.” Walsh asked Ravenhill to speak to her Anglican Bishop about the importance of principals having some understanding of present-day conditions of the Indians of B.C.
The arts and crafts section of the Conference was a testament to Ravenhill’s belief in the values of Indigenous art. It began with accolades to the abilities of Indigenous peoples that were frequently tempered by the use of the conjunction and qualifier “if,” as in, “If given proper treatment and recognition…the Indian would go far.” One person after another spoke of the need for improvement in attitudes, infrastructure, historical understanding, and appreciation of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Arthur Pickford asked for “fair play for the Indian.” Mildred Valley Thornton talked of her work in children’s art: “All the children need is the guidance of others to set this spirit, this enthusiasm alight.” Josephine Godman, Convener of Handicraft Marketing for British Columbia Indian Arts and Welfare Society – a position that in itself indicates the extent the society had expanded in the four years of Ravenhill’s absence — urged the continued focus on marketing initiatives to ensure that more “authentic” goods were available.
The Kwakwaka’wakw artist Ellen Neel (1916-1966) reminded those present that art is living, not dead, and that efforts should not be confined to preservation of the old work. This was a touchy subject that resonated with Godman’s request for authenticity. What did authenticity mean? Could any form of mass production still retain the artistic aspect? Neel thought so and advocated the use of Indigenous designs on everyday items, much as Ravenhill had suggested decades before.
Anthony Walsh pointed out that the group would not be meeting if it weren’t “for the art of the Indian. It [Indigenous art] has been the one approach for interpreting the culture of the Indian people to the public.” In an appendix to the Proceedings, Walsh and Noel Stewart made a number of recommendations that addressed the need for improved art education in Indigenous schools.
The potentially fraught topic of the role of religious organizations in administering and providing schooling never came up, although this might have been at the core of the problem, as Stewart had mentioned eight years before. In the end, the Conference was unable to pass any resolutions. It was most successful in drawing together a disparate group of people to talk about a common subject of interest.
As Ravenhill became more frail, her friendship revived with Charlotte Black, the Head of Home Economics at UBC. Black’s aunt, Marie McNaughton, had been very helpful to Ravenhill in her early years in Victoria. Black recalled that she and Ravenhill maintained this connection. “During later years we carried on a rather intense correspondence…. No sooner would my letter reach her than [Ravenhill] would reply.”
The Black-Ravenhill correspondence covered an astonishing range of interests. Ravenhill would often ask Black to come see her to discuss something. “Such visits frequently proved to be unsatisfactory as [Ravenhill] would be so wrapped in a particular project that she talked on that to the exclusion of the matter she had asked one to come see her about,” recalled Black. 
Her sister Edith Ravenhill died in July 1953. Mary Hincks wrote to the Victoria Colonist to recognize her “exquisite church needlework,” and mentioned that the Royal School of Art Needlework at South Kensington, London, regarded her as an outstanding artist.
Alice Ravenhill outlived her younger sister by a few months, dying on May 27, 1954. Eulogies came from the many direction that her life’s work had taken her. Betty Campbell Newton, her one-time hoped-for protégé, summarized some of her work in the Daily Colonist:
The late Dr. Alice Ravenhill, author and lecturer, embroidered cushions, memo-bag covers and work bags with Northwest Indian designs. She used this means to augment her slender income. She tried to make the designs recognized as an art style unique in the world whether popular or not and finally got her illustrated manuscript published. She wanted it used in schools and industry as something typical of this great country and to bring morale to the native people. This she has pioneered in accomplishing. Her work was exhibited and sold at many exhibitions of the Vancouver Island Arts and Crafts Society.
Alice Ravenhill’s will split her estate of $13,280 (the equivalent of about $115,000 today) three ways among the Aged and Infirm Women’s Home, Christ Church Cathedral Buildings Ltd., and the University of British Columbia. The estate consisted of cash and income from real estate in England, along with small personal property.
Ravenhill had specified that the annual income from the UBC money should be awarded to the student with the highest marks in second-year home economics, along with a copy of her autobiography. The 2013 winner of the Dr. Alice Ravenhill Memorial Scholarship was a young man who spoke English and Hindi and graduated with a B.Sc. In Food, Land and Health.
It’s unfortunate that the winner would not also receive a copy of Ravenhill’s out-of-print autobiography.
 Ravenhill, Memoirs, p. viii.
 AW to AR, 14 May, 1944, GR-0111, Box 16-27, BCA. This was about the time that George Clutesi was introduced to Emily Carr, a connection facilitated by Walsh and Clifford Carl. Perhaps Rosen influenced Walsh’s later move to Montreal.
 AR to AW, 10 September, 1944, Alice Ravenhill fonds, Box 1, File 8, UBCSCL
 See Ralph Maud, A Guide to B. C. Indian Myth and Legend: A Short History of Myth-Collecting and a Survey of Published Texts, published by Talonbooks in 1982.
 Wendy Wickwire, “To see ourselves as the other’s other: Nkala’pamux contact narratives”, Canadian Historical Review, LXXV, 1, 1994, pp. 1-20.
 A. Ravenhill, Royal Commission Submission, January, 1947. Typewritten manuscript. Alice Ravenhill fonds, UBCSCL.
 AR to AW, 19 September, 1941, Alice Ravenhill fonds, Box 1 – File 8 – UBCSCL. Cassandra had the gift of prophecy but no one believed her. http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/the-myth-of-cassandra/
 AR to J. Laurie, 15 Sept. 15, 1941. Add Mss 1116, Box 1, BCA. Agag is mentioned in the King James Bible as a person who had to be walked around delicately. http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/relg/bible/KingJamesBible09
AR to Carl, 18 September, 1943, GR -0111, Box 16, File 27, BCA
 For further information, see Beryl Cryer and Chris Arnett. Two Houses Half-buried In Sand: Oral Traditions of the Hul’q’umi’num’ Coast Salish of Kuper Island and Vancouver Island. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2007, p. 17. The introduction in particular is very informative (pp. 17-55).
 Archie Phinney to Franz Boas, 20 November 1929. 2394. PHINNEY, ARCHIE. Correspondence with Franz Boas 1929-1934. Courtesy C. Greifenstein, Manuscripts Library, American Philosophical Society. Phinney was a Nez Perce anthropologist who worked with Boas at Columbia University. See “Archie Phinney obituary”. American Anthropologists 52:3, pp. 442 (1950).
 AR to AW, 6 November, 1943, Alice Favenhill fonds, Box 1, File 8, UBCSCL. Ravenhill considered the needlework that she had submitted, “Spirit of the Winds” to be one of her best.
 AR to CC, 18 February, 1945, GR -0111, Box 16, File 27/36, BCA
 AR to Harry Hawthorn[HH], 25 July, 1948, Harry Hawthorn fonds, Box 1, File 3, UBCSCL
 HH to AR, 4 August, 1948, Harry Hawthorn fonds, Box 1, File 3, UBCSCL. For more information on Jesup and BAE see Douglas Cole, Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts. 1985. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
 AR to HH, 6 August, 1948, Harry Hawthorn fonds, Box 1, File 3, UBCSCL
 AR to HH, 16 August, 1948, Harry Hawthorn fonds, Box 1, File 3, UBCSCL
 Alice Ravenhill, D.Sc. 1859-1954. Unpublished manuscript, Charlotte Black fonds, Add. Mss. 1655, BCARS. Black was a long-time friend of Ravenhill’s and visited her frequently in her later years.
 A. Ravenhill. Folklore of the Far West, p. 6.
 Ibid, p. 12.
 Maud, A Guide, p. 174.
 AR to CC, 30 October, 1948, GR 0111, Box 16, File 27/36, BCA
 AR to CC, 28 January, 1942, GR 0111, Box 16, File 27/36, BCA
 This book is in the author’s personal collection.
 Charlotte Black, “Alice Ravenhill, D.Sc.,” Canadian Home Economics Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp. 56-57, June, 1964.
 A. Ravenhill. Highlights in over twenty years’ Service for the uplift of the Native Tribes of British Columbia. Copy of material collected July 1948 by CBC and sent to Toronto. Alice Ravenhill fonds, UBCSCL.
 AR to H. Hawthorn, 23 June 1948. Harry Hawthorn fonds, UBCSCL
The Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) Conferred at Special Congregation, June 15, 1948. http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/hdcites/hdcites2.html
 Alice Ravenhill fonds, File 1 – 3 , Incoming Letters. BCA
 A. Ravenhill, Royal Commission Submission, January, 1947. Typewritten manuscript. Alice Ravenhill fonds, UBCSCL.
 Ibid., pp. 14-15.
 First Conference on B.C. Native Indian Affairs, 2-3 April, 1948, Alice Ravenhill fonds, UBCSCL.
 AW to AR, 9 April, 1948, Add. Mss. 1116 Box 1, Walsh fonds, BCA
 See http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/u_arch/black.pdf for a brief biography of Charlotte Black.
 Marie McNaughton was a clubwoman in Vancouver who moved to Victoria in about 1920. See Gillian Weiss, “As women and as citizens:” clubwomen in Vancouver 1910-1928, unpublished dissertation, UBC (1983) for an in-depth analysis of this social phenomenon.
 Alice Ravenhill, D. Sc. 1859-1954. Typewritten manuscript. Charlotte Black fonds, Add. Mss. 1655, BCA.
 Mary Hincks, 9 August, 1953, Readers’ Forum, Victoria Colonist, p. 4.
 Betty Campbell Newton, 7 October, 1954, “Native Art Style”, The Daily Colonist, p. 5.