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  • Good Intentions Gone Awry: Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission on the Northwest Coast
  • Johanna Selles
Jan Hare and Jean Barman. Good Intentions Gone Awry: Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission on the Northwest Coast. University of British Columbia Press. 308. $29.95

Emma Crosby (1849–1926) was the daughter of a Methodist clergyman who graduated from the Hamilton Wesleyan Female College in 1868 with a mistress in liberal arts (MLA) degree. Returning to her alma mater, she served as a teacher for four years until her marriage in 1874 to Thomas Crosby (1840–1914).

Crosby was an Englishman who had immigrated with his family to Woodstock. After conversion at the age of twenty-one at a Methodist camp meeting, the newly converted Thomas went to British Columbia in 1862 to convert the souls of those preoccupied by the gold rush. Although his energy for the start-up phase of mission building was boundless, his ability to maintain sustained contact and follow-up with new missions developed into an essential flaw of his mission strategy.

Thomas needed a wife to serve as a model for indigenous people and to protect him from the accusations of impropriety that were a potential threat to unmarried clergy. During a visit to the Hamilton Ladies' College, Thomas found the perfect helpmeet and missionary wife in the person of Emma Douse. Her culture and training had prepared her to accept this charismatic but uncultured man and embrace his mission to serve at Fort Simpson near the border of Alaska. Although already convinced of her call shortly after meeting him, she still wrote to solicit her mother's permission to accompany him to British Columbia. Whatever her mother's will might have been, it was God's will that triumphed, as Emma packed up her belongings for the long trip to British Columbia. Letter-writing between Emma and her mother provided the former with solace for an isolated life in which her husband was regularly absent from the home.

The Crosbys faced their mission with blind spots that prevented them from appreciating the fact that their work was assisted by Aboriginal and mixed race or 'hybrid' intermediaries. White assumptions of superiority inspired their attempt to impose their culture upon every aspect of Aboriginal life, including family structure, cultural rituals, economics, spirituality, and schooling. Although the Tsimshian were intrigued with certain aspects of Christianity that had the potential to offer new sources of social and spiritual power, they continued to adhere to traditional practices behind the scenes. Total conquest is [End Page 308] rejected, as this book argues that the Tsimshian selected aspects of the missionary package with potential for improved opportunities or conditions for their lives and for their children.

Emma's pet project, the Crosby Home for Girls, is a case study in how 'good intentions go awry.' When the federal government undertook support of the home as a residential school in 1893, the school shifted from an institutionalized culture of confinement to a culture of incarceration. This book presents the multiple layers of accountability within church, mission, and political structures that contributed to the complicated legacy of residential schooling.

This book was made possible by the care and generosity of Emma's granddaughter Helen Hager and her great-granddaughter Louise Hager who made her letters available for publication. The collaboration of the authors, who acknowledge their locations respectively inside and outside Aboriginal culture, allows for perspectives that nuance the text and provide correctives to traditional missionary accounts that, for example, tend to emphasize exclusively the work of the white, male missionary. In addition, Hare and Barman challenge historiographical assumptions that Aboriginal peoples were 'objects' of conversion, brought to salvation by missionaries by arguing that the Tsimshian peoples were effective agents in shaping their world. The degree to which mission agencies shifted their priorities over time disrupts a simplistic interpretation of the role of churches and mission boards. Competition for mission dollars grew and Aboriginal missions became less attractive as Asia caught the imagination of mission supporters. Our understanding of the reconciliation related to residential schools, such as the Crosby School for Girls, cannot be complete without the corrective lens of history that...


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