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Discovering B.C. through a book

Jean Barman’s British Columbia: Spirit of the People explores historical roots of the province

What: Author discussion

When: Thursday, Oct. 9

Where: Whistler Public Library

Admission: Free

The pages of British Columbia: Spirit of the People are filled with vivid photographs, maps, and stories of the people and events that shaped this province. Jean Barman is the woman behind the finely crafted text of this stunning, glossy-paged coffee table book.

The American-born scholar has a background in history, international relations, Russian studies, and the history of education. And this certainly isn’t Barman’s first literary endeavour — she’s authored a number of other books, including, The West Beyond The West: A History of British Columbia, The Remarkable Adventures of Portuguese Joe Silvey, and Stanley Park’s Secret. She’s also won the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing in 2004 and was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2002.

“If I start to think about why, when we moved here in the 1970s — because my husband got a job at UBC — the reason British Columbia intrigued me was because I had all these backgrounds,” Barman explained.

Between her books and her involvement with historical organizations and committees throughout the country, Barman clearly believes in the importance of studying our history.

“I think we need to know Canadian history and world history, but also if we understand where we’ve come from and, whether you want to talk about the development of Whistler in the ’60s and ’70s and how Expo 86 absolutely swung British Columbia into a worldwide tourist spotlight, it’s useful to know why things are the way they are.”

This most recent project, the 192-page coffee table book, was commissioned by the provincial government as part of their B.C. 150 celebrations to help commemorate the 150 th anniversary of British Columbia becoming a British colony in 1858.

She began working on the contents in early 2007, and the book was released in May 2008.

“A lot of these are done from the perspective of individual life stories of average people, not the politicians or the superheroes, but looking at what particular people’s lives can tell us about British Columbia more generally and more broadly,” she said.

Barman has already visited the Cariboo, Okanagan and East Kootenays to promote the new book, and is scheduled to visit the northwestern parts of the province and Vancouver Island before making her way to the Sea to Sky area next week.

“One of the things that most impresses me is the really wide diversity of people who come when I’m talking and who buy books, which ranges from older people with children and grandchildren… to college students,” she said. She was recently approached by a young, aspiring playwright in Cranbrook.

“You just don’t know who’s going to turn up, and people come for just a really wide range of reasons,” she said. “In the East Kootenays in particular, where there are a lot of people who have moved quite recently from Alberta or the United States or the coast, it’s just sometimes individuals who want to know something about British Columbia.”

It’s definitely a great introduction to the province for newcomers.

“I sort of look at what I think are five turning points in the history of British Columbia over the last 150 years, so again if they want a thumbnail sketch for the next tourist who asks them, ‘tell me about British Columbia,’ they’re going to be prepared.”

Between the content of the text, sidebars and images, the contents of the book are accessible to all — the average Joe and the history buff.

“It’s also intended, on the one hand, to be accessible to someone who’s never even heard of British Columbia,” she said. The provincial government commissioned the project because they wanted to have something to give away as promotional materials, with copies given away in China, during the summer Olympics. Copies were also distributed to schools, libraries and municipalities throughout the province.

“But then also, on the other hand, for people who do know quite a lot, whether they’re local historians or they’ve lived here for quite a long time… you don’t want to talk down to people,” she added.

Now, Barman is hoping that the book will capture the regions and communities throughout the province.

  “It’s not the end of anything — I think it’s the marker of how we are in 2008 and its going to continue to be a record of how British Columbians think of themselves at this particular point in time,” she said.

Barman will also visit the Squamish Library on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.