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Edited by Margaret Whitehead

Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1988. 136pp, cloth, $29.95
ISBN 0-7748-0313-4. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Robert Nicholas Berard.

Volume 17 Number 4
1989 July

This is the seventh volume in the excellent series of "Recollections of the Pioneers of British Columbia" published by UBC Press. Its core is a memoir written by the Corsican born Oblate missionary Father Nicolas Coccola in 1934 outlining his work among the Indians and while settlers of British Columbia from his arrival in the territory in 1880. Ragged and rambling, it is at the same lime a thoroughly enjoyable narrative, and the reader can easily imagine listening to this charming old priest recounting the details of a remarkable life.

Coccola's account provides fascinating glimpses into the lives of a variety of the different aboriginal societies to which he ministered. One may also learn a great deal about the rivalries of different Christian denominations in the mission field and the often greater rivalries among Roman Catholics.

The memoir is preceded by a lengthy and erudite introduction, which provides a wealth of detailed information on the history and customs of the various Indian nations of the Pacific northwest and their responses to missionary activity. The reader is initiated into the methods by which the missionaries sought not only to spread the gospel but also to restructure Indian society and culture. Whitehead's essay, based on primary research among west-coast Indians and in ecclesiastical archives, may be more complex and detailed than a general reader might wish, but scholars will find it very useful.

The introduction is impressive also for its fair and balanced treatment of the missionary accomplishment in the nineteenth century. Avoiding the excesses of both traditional hagiographical accounts and contemporary assaults on missionaries as insensitive destroyers of cultures and lives, Whitehead places the work of missionaries in its religious, cultural and historical context.

Some minor flaws, which mar Whitehead's essay, include the questionable suggestion that the Roman Catholic Church only adopted a Latin liturgy in the nineteenth century; a confusing reference to "Eastern Orthodox Catholics," who may be either Eastern-Rite Catholics or members of one of the Orthodox churches; and an annoying habit of referring to Coccola as "the Corsican." On the other hand, her judgements of the intentions of the missionaries in British Columbia and the consequences of their educational and social policies are a model of balance and sensitivity.

This book makes a contribution to the social and religious history of the Canadian west that will appeal to both the scholar and the general reader.

Robert Nicholas Berard, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S.
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