Totem Poles and Tea
In the mid 1930s, Village Island at the mouth of Knight Inlet and 25 kilometres from Alert Bay off northern Vancouver Island, was still an active winter village for the Nimpkish people. It was also the home of Katherine O'Brien and Miss Kate Dibben, two English ladies who operated a small mission outpost and preventorium for native children suffering from tuberculosis. The Mamalilikulla Indian Day School which doubled as the Village Island Church came under the jurisdiction of Indian Affairs and it was their responsibility to provide a school teacher for the resident children. In the fall of 1935, hesitant and shocked by the primitive facilities she encountered, a youthful Hughina Bowden, fresh from Royal Jubilee Nursing School in Victoria, started her first year as teacher-nurse in these surroundings. To her surprise, Hughina returned for a second year of isolation, and she regularly wrote long letters home to pass the time. Years later, she discovered those many letters in her late mother's belongings and wrote a series of stories read regularly on CBC radio. In 1985, widowed with a family of three adult daughters, Hughina returned to Alert Bay. Village Island, she was told, had long been abandoned and was visited only by summer boaters seeking an overnight anchorage. Hughina's manuscript provides a compelling account of adversity and perseverance, and the coming of age of the author, sixty years ago.
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