When Heroes Become Villains by Jon Bartlett, Brian Robertson

When Heroes Become Villains: Helmcken, Trutch, Bowser, and the Streets, Lakes, and Towns Named After Them


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About When Heroes Become Villains

Reckoning, reconciliation, and reflection are changing our landscapes. In When Heroes Become Villains, Jon Bartlett and Brian Robertson bring home the “naming” controversy, telling the stories of three erstwhile heroes, and how our reconsideration of their roles in our collective story is unsettling our maps.

John Sebastian Helmcken, a trained medical doctor and senior colonial politician, bears a singular responsibility for the rampant spread of smallpox that decimated coastal native populations.

Joseph Trutch was B.C.’s first Lieutenant-Governor after Confederation — rewarding his services as Land Commissioner of the Colony, in which role he actively worked to alienate Indigenous peoples from their lands.

He and Helmcken are also memorialized for bringing British Columbia into the Canadian federation. But that same act also meant the illegal displacement and alienation of Indigenous peoples from the lands they had occupied for countless generations.

William Bowser, premier of the province in 1915-16, served as Attorney General in successive Richard McBride cabinets, in which role he was instrumental in forcing the Squamish First Nation off their Kitsilano lands, as well as deploying police forces against striking Vancouver Island coal miners.

Jon Bartlett and Brian Robertson argue that this “naming” controversy is simply part and parcel of current generations coming to a deeper understanding of their history and province, and an important part of the process of reconciliation and social justice.

About Jon Bartlett, Brian Robertson

Jon Bartlett and his partner Rika Ruebsaat, both ex-teachers, have written two books of local history, about Princeton, their home town. They have both been Secretary of the local museum and active in their local arts council. They have recorded seven CDs of traditional Canadian song, and founded and ran the Princeton Traditional Music Festival for a dozen years. Jon’s legal and historical training allowed him to provide research for both the federal government and a lower mainland First Nation. His latest book, Triumph and Solidarity, investigates the actions of Vancouver Communists in the early years of the Great Depression.

Brian Robertson is a bit of renaissance man, with degrees in engineering and business yet someone who has worn many other hats - millworker, commercial fisherman, salvage diver and cabbie - and finished his professional career as an historical consultant for several decades to both First Nations and the Government of Canada. An accomplished singer-songwriter, Brian is perhaps best known for his authentic and engaging songs about the BC coast. When Heroes Become Villains is his first book.

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