A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.
With the success of her 1909 book The New North, Agnes Cameron became the first celebrated BC-born author. She had been hired by the Western Canada Immigration Association to promote immigration to Western Canada, and the book was an account of a six-month long trip she and her niece took from Chicago to the Arctic Ocean. It was her only book, though she wrote many articles for magazines such as Pacific Monthly, The Canadian Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Educational Journal of Western Canada, and The Coast.
Although Cameron was best known as an author, she began her working life as a teacher at the age of sixteen, first in Victoria, where she was born and lived most of her life, then Comox, and in 1882, in Granville Townsite, better known as Gastown. Cameron was ambitious and took life seriously, but a notice she nailed to the school door suggests she had a sense of humour: “Irate parents seen only after 3 p.m.”
Agnes Cameron was a feminist, but rejected the maternal feminist notion that women’s right to political equality was based on their superior morality. “Anyone with reason has a right to help in determining what laws shall govern him,” she argued. “Women have reason, and, therefore, should vote.”
Cameron held equally strong views about education, preferring a broad, liberal education over vocational training, which put her at odds with groups that promoted subjects such as home economics and industrial arts as the main thrust of the school curriculum. “If you are a parent or a teacher,” she wrote, “don’t strive to fashion your children into one stereotyped pattern. A child’s individuality is the divine spark in him. Let it burn.”
After her teaching gig in Gastown, Cameron went back to Victoria where she became BC’s first female high school principal. As an educator, she was well liked and respected in the community, but ruffled the feathers of the Victoria School Board, which twice attempted to dismiss her in the 1890s and succeeded in having her teaching licence suspended in 1906. Agnes Cameron never taught again, and instead focused on travelling and writing. She died in Victoria in 1912.
Source: Photo ca. 1890 by Hannah H Maynard, City of Vancouver Archives #1477-646