Joseph Colebrook Harris

preface by Cole Harris

Joseph Colebrook HarrisThis account was written in 1944 by Joseph Colebrook Harris, a farmer of English background who pioneered in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in the early 1890s, visited the Slocan in 1896, and settled there in 1897.

Raised in an upper-middle-class industrial family in Calne, Wiltshire, he bought land between Silverton and New Denver and, intending to supply the miners with fresh fruit and vegetables, set about creating a farm. With his team of Clydesdales, he also hauled for the mines, and although known as a green Englishman soon made many friends among the working people of a mining camp.

He had come to stay, committed the rest of his life to the Slocan, and was always intensely interested in its short modern history. Over the years, he frequently discussed the early days with the valley’s earliest prospectors, and in the late 1920s considered writing their history. It was never written, but in 1944, when 73 years old, he settled down with his old, upright typewriter and pecked out more than a hundred single-spaced, foolscap pages about his coming to Guelph Agricultural College in 1888, his summer on Salt Spring Island in 1889, his several years of pioneer farming at Westholme in the Cowichan Valley, his exploratory visit to the Slocan in 1896 and settlement there the following year.

This booklet comprises the small fraction of this writing that describes the Slocan mining rush. J.C. Harris was not a trained historian; his account of the early days in the Slocan is a collection of glimpses written out of a memory steeped in the Slocan and a reflective habit of mind that readily turned to social criticism.

He had been there—not quite at the Slocan’s modern beginning, but only five years later—and had participated as fully as he could in the life of the place. He wrote out of that experience and from the inside, and because he did his account is full of incidents, information, and stories that a more detached historian could not possibly match. These glimpses provide a good deal of new information, but it may be their capacity to awaken the early Slocan and capture some measure of its vitality that is their principal value.

These 1944 writings comprise a set of manuscripts that overlap and tend to wander. Many of them are chains of memories. While I have pulled some of these chains apart and reassembled them, I have also sought to preserve my grandfather’s writing as he slowly recorded his memories on an old upright typewriter. I have corrected spellings and altered some punctuation but, my italicized introductions apart, the words are his. They reveal a thoughtful man who revelled in the early Slocan while viewing it with a fair measure of critical detachment.

—Cole Harris, Vancouver,
March, 2014