Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ode to the Pioneer

I ended Monday's entry talking about the changes in what was then known as Granville/Gastown. The time of the pioneer was ending and the settlement was growing. By 1870, it looked like it was a safe bet that British Columbia would join the Confederation of Canada and the terms of the Confederation included a railway.

A person could cross North America by the recently completed Union Pacific Railway then board a comfortable steamship service from San Francisco to Victoria, BC. But what about the rest of Canada?

Here's why men like Mannion arrived. There were astute or adventurous men of the commercial class who had sufficient capital to enter immediately into business and hoped to get a large share of the colony's coming prosperity.

These men may be called pioneers of industry or pioneers of business but true pioneers they are not. If the original pioneers, like Gassy Jack, hadn't braved the untamed wilderness and opened it up, the business people wouldn't have arrived. They would have gone to different areas where the roads they see as a 'proper' were just walls hemming in the true pioneer.

The pioneer was a different breed. He or she was self-reliant and they needed to battle nature and exist by their own strength, skill and wits. They were physically strong because they opened the country without machines, only with the power of a human and their animals.

This country was theirs because they proved they were able to exist in it and every one of these pioneers had an intense feeling of ownership. Because they were so isolated, they were generous, hospitable and neighbourly. Their charity was given freely without the condescending stigma of today. If an individual needed something, more was usually given.

The pioneer lived on the edge of disaster and was subject to the cruel twists of fate.

They worked hard and occasionally partied hard. Their lust for drinking, eating and sex were wild but rare. The wrecks we see in the present-day 'skid row' have nothing in common with the loggers, miners, seamen and ranchers who gave the area the name. No, the wild debauchery of those individuals was only a week or two after living a Spartan, difficult lifestyle for six months to a year.

The pioneers also died early. And they accepted it as natural part of life. They closed the deceased's eyes, bathed the bodies, cross the hands and buried their dead. This is inconceivable to many of us nowadays as we hide our sick in hospitals and leave the dead to the undertakers. Many of us would be shocked to see a corpse who hadn't been 'made over' by an undertaker.

The pioneer was subject to minute and intense scrutiny before his place in the community was determined. But that scrutiny was based on his individual strength of body, character mind. Everyone had their own niche and no one was excluded. Even the feeble minded or otherwise disabled person was allowed to contribute to the community where they could. The pioneer life may have been hard and demanding but it was also kind and generous. I wonder if people had more confidence and pride in themselves in those times then many do now.

I would like thank Alan Morley and his book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis for this interesting look at the life of a pioneer.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Very few have the pride that the pioneer had and I wonder if it is because government agencies make life for some to easy. Everyone was allowed to work and live today everyone thinks someone owes them something. I am old schooled and will make it on my own.