Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Descendents of black BC pioneer John Freemont Smith in Vancouver and Kamloops

In Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia, historian Crawford Kilian writes the following:

"Born in the Danish West Indies (now the Virgin Islands) in 1850, [John Freemont] Smith was a restless, multi-talented man whose career was much like that of Mifflin Gibbs. After some years in Victoria, he married 15-year-old Mary Anastasia Miller in 1877. The 1881 Victoria census lists him as a boot and shoe maker, living with his wife and three-year-old daughter Gertrude Florella. Mary had been born in Victoria but her 'origin' is given as Northwest Territories—which in those days included today's Prairie provinces. She was probably native or Métis.

"The family moved to Kamloops in 1884; Smith started a shoemaker's shop. In 1886 he moved to nearby Louis Creek, and later liked to boast wryly that he was 'the first white man on the North Thompson.' He served as an Indian agent and postmaster in Louis Creek, but also prospected all over the BC interior. He tried unsuccessfully to develop some mica deposits near Tete Jaune Cache, and was also involved in a coal-mining venture at Chu Chua.

"In 1898 Smith and his family (now numbering seven children) returned to Kamloops, where he set up a store and also worked as a mining and agriculture journalist. In 1902 he became secretary of the local Board of Trade; a year later he was elected alderman, a post he held for four years. In 1908 he was appointed City Assessor. He had also helped found the local Conservative Association. Smith's careers as prospector, businessman and Indian agent seem to have been notably untouched by prejudice. He was a popular community leader, respected for his energetic 'boosting' of Kamloops." (133-34)

Kilian then goes on to recount the one recorded incident of racism against Smith and his family, when a local militia officer refused to work with him. The officer stated in a letter that he "refused to recognise this appointment of a nigger to an Indian Agency," and that Smith's "colour, race and ... his negro-Siwash family are notorious"; he summed up his objections by adding that he believed "races subject to the whiteman are better governed by a whiteman." The federal government tried to intervene on Smith's side, but the project failed as a result of the conflict (134).

This morning, Ashok Mathur (the director of the Centre for Innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada at Thompson Rivers University) and members of the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project met with Gregory Smith Allen, the grandson of John Freemont Smith, and Andrea Baines, Smith's great-granddaughter. Both descendants of the pioneer are from California, to which Smith's youngest daughter relocated in the early twentieth century. This is their first time visiting the adopted province of their ancestor, and we met with them in Vancouver (on Commercial Drive) the day before they are to carry on to Kamloops to see firsthand the city Smith helped to build. Mathur, who currently resides in the Freemont Block, a Kamloops heritage building bearing the pioneer's name, has been researching Smith's legacy in the city and the region.


Anonymous AKidFromTheHood said...

Glad I found your blog, it's fascinating.
I grew up in the McLean Park housing project and I can attest to the fact that there simply wasn't any indication in the neighbourhood of what once was.
I remember Vi's steak house, and a bar on Main street called Hogan's Alley, but that was it.
I think the entire neighbourhood is considered somehow 'permanently temporary' to the city planners.

The housing project itself, like others in the city, had hundreds of families that formed a community that ended when your children grew up & it was time to move on; So I understand the urge to mark the history.
I hope you're successful with the Hogan's Alley acknowledgements.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Hogan's Alley said...

Thank you for your comment!

October 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello to you! I am sending this email to seek out information about Mr. John Freemont Smith when he and his family lived in Louis Creek BC.

My family has lived in Louis Creek for 65 years, as a matter of fact, our family home is located within an eighth of a mile as to where the Smith family resided. I found out about John when i was in my teens, for some reason or another this information stuck in my mind. I am now 53 years old and this thought process has prompted me to investigate the history of Louis Creek.

I have started a "page" on Facebook entitled "Louis Creek BC". When I think of the two hundred year history of Europeans making contact with the First Nations People of this area (1810) my mind immediately goes to Mr. Smith and what he and his family had accomplished while residing here. From what I have read so far, I can't think of a better ambassador image to our region than he was! My research is somewhat limited and even though John Smith was proficient in keeping records and a prolific journalist as well, I am stumbling somewhat in tracking down more information.

What I am seeking, and being very hopeful of, is of his time spent here in Louis Creek. His wife and children were also very occupied as I would imagine, so I am looking for the overall experience of their daily lives. Records/logs and or diaries they may have kept of their accounts here. I have noted through your blog site "Hogan's Alley" that some others have or had been researching the Smith Family, a person through Thompson River University in Kamloops BC, and it is my desire to contact them as well. But I am hoping that you might be able to shed some light on the subject matter too. At least perhaps to steer me in a direction towards some information.

I thank you in advance and look forward to your reply!


Carson Stone

August 29, 2013  
Blogger Charo Lloret said...

I am an 11-year-old girl and after reading this, I loved it so much that I did my BC Heritage Fair on it! I am so fascinated that he was a black pioneer in a time when slavery had just recently been abolished! I am also so mad though that that militia officer had called him a n****r and refused to work with him. That word is seriously wrong and terrible and I hate how he treated Smith! I am so impressed of his behavior; being black must have been really tough during that time and he was elected Alderman in Kamloops! I think that John must have been SO happy that slavery was abolished when he was thirteen! But growing up, he must have gotten a bit more ... maybe ... less proud because it was just recently abolished and people did not just forget about it right away and move on in their lives, they still remembered! Other tan that, I like what I read! I loved it!

Best Regards,

Megan Matus (did this for the BC heritage Fair)

April 27, 2016  
Blogger Hogan's Alley said...

Thanks for your interest in this history, Megan! And best of luck with your studies.

November 10, 2016  

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