Born of Indigenous grandmothers and white grandfathers, Irene Kelleher lived all her life in the shadow of her heritage. Her local community in British Columbia's Fraser Valley treated her as if she was invisible. The combination of white and Indigenous descent was beyond the bounds of acceptability by a dominant white society. To be mixed was to not belong.
Attracted to the future British Columbia by a gold rush beginning in 1858, Irene's white grandfathers partnered with Indigenous women. Theirs was not an uncommon story. Some of the earliest newcomers to do so were in the employ of the fur trading Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Langley and elsewhere. And yet, more than 150 years later, the descendants of these early pioneers are still struggling for their stories of discrimination and segregation to be heard.
Through research, family records and a personal connection to Irene, Governor General award-winning historian Jean Barman explores this aspect of British Columbia's history and the deeply rooted prejudice faced by families who helped to build this province. In Invisible Generations, Barman writes of the Catholic residential school that Irene's parents and so many other ''mixed blood'' children were forced to attend. We meet Josephine, a family friend who was separated as a child from her beloved upwardly mobile politician father. When her presence in his socially charged household became untenable, Josephine was dispatched to the same Fraser Valley boarding school. ''The transition from genteel Victoria to St. Mary's Mission was horrendous,'' she wrote. Yet individuals and families survived as best they could, building good lives for themselves and those around them. Irene chose to be a schoolteacher, and taught many children including Doukhobor children at a time when the Doukhobor community was vehemently opposed to their children attending school.
These stories along with many others have been largely forgotten, but in Invisible Generations Barman brings this important conversation into focus, shedding light on a common history across British Columbia and Canada. It is, in Irene's words, ''time to tell the story.''
About the author
Jean Barman, professor emeritus, has published more than twenty books, including On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2020) and the winner of the 2006 City of Vancouver Book Award, Stanley Park’s Secret (Harbour Publishing, 2005). Her lifelong pursuit to enrich the history of BC has earned her such honours as a Governor General’s Award, a George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, a Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing and a position as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She lives in Vancouver, BC.
“Invisible Generations is a carefully written book anchored in the author’s friendship with a mixed-race schoolteacher […] Barman’s book is a call to recognize the contributions of people who have largely been written out of the historical record.”
"B.C.'s preeminent historian, Jean Barman, honours the lives of those once disparaged as "half-breeds" and second class citizens. Irene Kelleher and her family persevered with dignity in the face of racism; their stories link us to the fur trade, gold rush and settlement of the province. Indeed, these Invisible Generations helped forge a modern British Columbia. They should be celebrated, not forgotten."
--Mark Forsythe, former CBC British Columbia broadcaster and co-author with Greg Dickson of From the West Coast to the Western Front
Other titles by Jean Barman
British Columbia in the Balance
On the Cusp of Contact
Gender, Space and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia
Iroquois in the West
Maria Mahoi of the Islands
The Life and Writings of Noel Annance, 1792-1869
The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years
Vancouver's Literary Centre 1978-1985
French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest
Indian Education in Canada, Volume 1
Good Intentions Gone Awry
Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission on the Northwest Coast
Growing Up British in British Columbia
Boys in Private School