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Mulhall, David.

Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, c1986. 221pp, cloth, $29.95, ISBN 0-7748-0254-5.CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Allan S. Evans

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

Canadian historians have long been interested in the early exploration and development of this country. The role of various missionary orders and individuals in this process within central and eastern Canada has been well documented. Now, David Mulhall expands our knowledge and awareness of the importance of one missionary in particular in the opening up of the northern interior of British Columbia. His subject is Father A.G. Morice, an ordained priest and Oblate brother who worked mainly among the Carrier Indians in the period 1885-1903. Born and trained in France, Father Morice displayed, even as a youth, an unusual personality, which helped him in some ways to some notable achievements, but which also, in the end, proved his professional and psychological undoing.

Undeniably intelligent and extremely ambitious, Morice also was inordinately selfish and vain. He was uncomfortable, and indeed unable to function effectively in white society, even within the sheltered environment of a monastery. He required complete personal freedom and independence and sought to create his own empire within which his authority was complete and unquestioned. The assignment to the only partially charted wilds of northern British Columbia suited him perfectly. He regarded the native inhabitants with condescension, as naive children who could be manipulated into being completely subordinate to, and dependent upon, himself.

Mulhall shows that Father Morice largely achieved this goal. It is not surprising to learn that he did so by extensive use of a strict authoritarian approach that often involved physical or mental cruelty, or both. The egotistical missionary took it upon himself to deny sacraments, order public whippings, and to exploit the basic fears, ignorance, and needs of his spiritual charges, in order to bend them to his will.

To further feed his ego and achieve undying fame, he sought recognition as an explorer and chartmaker of the northern wilderness. Ironically, his many treks deep into the interior of British Columbia would have been impossible without the faithful, courageous service of the many Indian guides, canoeists, and hunters who accompanied him.

Because of his personality, Father Morice clashed repeatedly with many of his fellow whites, including his priestly colleagues and superiors. Moreover, his machinations to retain mastery over his domain included shrewd schemes to control potential rivals, such as Indian agents and the local factor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Eventually, his overbearing arrogance, his failure to follow even basic Christian teachings, and his continued neglect of the spiritual needs of his Indian charges caused him to be removed from the position of missionary to the Carrier people. To avoid controversy and potentially embarrassing publicity, the church hierarchy quietly found him a house in Winnipeg, where he was largely left alone to write and publish his memoirs. His single most outstanding achievement reflected his undeniable linguistic skill. He succeeded in learning the highly complex Carrier language and, what is more, articulating it in a dictionary and grammar. He mapped and charted large areas of the British Columbia wilderness, and contributed noteworthy historical and ethnographic writings that are still respected sources of information about the development of certain native tribes of British Columbia.

But, from the time of his dismissal as a missionary in 1903 until his death in 1938, his mental health was marginal at best. He severely tarnished his own reputation by writing a very self-serving autobiography, which he deceitfully misrepresented as an objective biography by a fictional author. His persistent clashes with various authorities and clear tendency to paranoia further discredited him. Perhaps in this truly objective biography, Mulhall actually has restored some lustre to a career which, although of dubious motivation, was not without distinction. This book makes no attempt to provide an overview of Christian missionizing among our native peoples, nor does it weigh the pros or cons of that process. Rather, it concentrates on the life and personality of one individual whose career, though hardly typical, should prove interesting to students of this particular phase of Canadian history.

Allan S. Evans, Emery C.I., North York, Ont.
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