Jean Barman

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Jean Barman is Faculty Emeritus at UBC

Irene Kelleher lived all her life in the shadow of her inheritance. Her local community in British Columbias Fraser Valley all too often treated her as if she was invisible. The combination of white and Indigenous descent that Irene embodied was beyond the bounds of acceptability by a dominant white society. To be mixed was to not belong. Attracted to the future British Columbia by a gold rush beginning in 1858, Irenes white grandfathers had families with Indigenous women. Theirs was not an uncommon story. Some of the earliest newcomers to do so were in the employ of the fur trading Hudsons Bay Company at Fort Langley. And yet, more than one hundred and fifty years later, the descendants of these early pioneers are still waiting for their stories to be heard. Through meticulous research, family records and a personal connection to Irene, Governor General award-winning historian Jean Barman explores this aspect of British Columbias history and the deeply rooted prejudice faced by families who helped to build Canada. Invisible Generations evokes the Catholic residential school that Irenes parents and so many other mixed blood children attended. Among Irenes family and friends we meet Josephine, who was separated as a child from her beloved upwardly mobile politician father. When her presence in his socially charged household became untenable, Josephine was dispatched to the same Fraser Valley boarding school. The transition from genteel Victoria to St. Marys Mission was horrendous, she wrote. Yet individuals and families survived as best they could, building good lives for themselves and those around them. Irene was determined to be a schoolteacher and taught across the farthest reaches of the province, including Doukhobor children at a time when the community was vehemently opposed to their offspring attending school. Stories like that of Irene and of her family and friends have been largely forgotten, but in Invisible Generations Barman brings this important conversation into focus, shedding light on a common history across British Columbia and Canada. It is, in Irenes words, time to tell the story.

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