A Garden of Thieves – A Story of Colonial British Columbia
First Novel by BC Author tackles the reality of the Province’s First Nations Land Claims Legacy and the destructive effect that rampant Colonial idealism had upon the First Nations, and honest, rugged pioneers trying to survive in the New West.
(Lake Cowichan, British Columbia, Nov. 25, 2017)
Author, Dean Unger, says that during the course of twenty-plus years of in-depth research into Colonial settlement in BC, and how First Nations here were affected, he discovered what he believes are the seeds of dissent that were planted nearly two centuries ago.
“The intent with which a thing is acquired is, in some way, the measure of its merit,” Unger says, “A Garden of Thieves, is an historical fiction that looks the circumstances behind the Texada land scandal, a case that came unraveled in a Supreme Court trial, at Fort Victoria, that started in 1863.”
By its very nature, the story treads on, through, and around the structure that was in place at the time, that facilitated the calculated transfer of all land in the Province of British Columbia, from the collective First Nations, to the Crown.”
Unger goes on to say that the form the land policy was eventually allowed to take, resulted in the smothering of First Nations culture, “Not one culture to be viewed collectively,” he says, “but all First Nations cultures in BC, which were each unique unto themselves.”
Based in part upon actual events, A Garden of Thieves, takes place during the1880’s, in the mineral rush town of Vananda, Texada Island, BC. At the time, Vananda was considered the second largest city north of San Francisco, at one time even larger than Victoria, with some 5,000 inhabitants residing in and around the city.
“The main character in the book is after my grandmother, Evelyn Bennett (Rennie), who grew up on Texada,” Unger says. “In the story her character is the first female journalist in Canada, bucking against a pioneer town with very traditional old-country values.”
As the story unfolds, Eve Walker, the main character, discovers a body washed up with the tide, on the rocky shore, near Vananda. Days later Eli Tomas, the only son of Chief Isreal Tomas, honoured patriarch of the Salish Village of Si-yat-sen, is hunted down and arrested. Two of Eli’s friends are shot dead, and he is paraded, tied and on horse back, through the village. The poignant scene sets the story on its way. A Garden of Thieves, shines new light on the legacy of mistrust between First Nations, and the Government.
As Unger points out, the real problems began when the Joseph Trutch administration of the time, began systematically stripping away all of the Native reserves that were established under the leadership of Governor James Douglas. “By the time Trutch was done,” he says, “Native reserves had been reduced in size by 92%.” Unger says this “take” mentality was rampant among the colonial administration, and abuse of people of the First Nation, at the hands of “white” culture, was devastating… “More devastating than we know,” he says. “The bigotry that was entrenched at the time, resulted from impatience and a lack of understanding, that, no matter what measures were enacted, the Natives just didn’t seem to get it,” Unger says. “In searching the historical record, it’s not much wonder. They were never really given a fighting chance.”
The coup de gras came when Trutch was joined – if not in presence, at least in mind – by Amor De Cosmos, owner and editor of the British Colonist Newspaper, in Victoria, and, later on, Premier of British Columbia. With Joseph Trutch faithfully stripping away the rights of First Nations, and De Cosmos wielding his paper like the proverbial sword, together, they were an outspoken voice against land concessions to First Nations, citing that the practice was a hindrance to economic growth and prosperity. “They would carry on as though none of the original agreements existed, seeming to make up rules and policies to suit their needs as they went,” says Unger.
All-in-all, the stage was set for the one of the largest land scandals in Canadian history… “Which is where A Garden of Thieves comes in.”
With far-reaching effect, the book creates a view from thirty-thousand feet, but blown out into a vivid, moving tale, with accurate descent down into the lives of those whose fates were deeply affected by the crime committed against the First Nations, and, ultimately, to the people of British Columbia.
“I’ve been troubled all of my life about what I thought I knew about “First Contact” and what came after. But after twenty years of research, I discovered it was more profoundly far-reaching than I believed, and not for obvious reasons.”
“A Garden of Thieves is a story that I hope brings discussion, debate, and, ultimately, in some way, does help with the acknowledgement and healing that must continue to take place.”
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