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Deadly Neighbours: A Tale of Colonialism, Cattle Feuds, Murder and Vigilantes in the Far West
Chad Reimer | Caitlin Press (Qualicum Beach, B.C., 2022)
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$26 | 234pp.
We tend to think of Canadian history as a tidier version of what happened south of the border. Americans had genocidal “Indian Wars.” Canadians had “peace, order and good government.”
This version is largely rubbish. The Canadian nation state was a disaster for the Indigenous nations that had flourished here for millennia, and the story is laced with blood and colonial dispossession. It runs from the massacres of the Beothuks to the murderous “clearing of the plains” so memorably chronicled in James Daschuk’s 2013 study to unmarked graves outside residential schools to missing and murdered aboriginal women today.
B.C. historian Chad Reimer is doing his best to replace the soothing banalities of earlier colonialist histories of Canada with his deeply researched and eloquently argued studies. His focus is on the areas that flank the U.S./Canada border in western B.C., where Sumas Prairie lies on one side of the line and Washington state’s Nooksack Valley lies to the south.
In his magisterial Before We Lost the Lake, Reimer tells the story of the Sema:th nation, the lake that had been at the centre of their livelihood and culture for millennia and the profound damage done when settlers drained the lake, appropriated the land and displaced the original occupants. Reimer followed up on this study with a blend of documentary research and true crime excitement in his 2020 The Trials of Albert Stroebel.
In Deadly Neighbours, Reimer is back on the beat, telling a complex story of cattle theft, murder and racist violence on the Sumas Prairie. The book opens with Canada’s only known racist lynching. The “deadly neighbours” of the title, a mob of white settlers in the Nooksack Valley, crossed the border on cold a February night in 1884 and seized a Sema:th teenager named Louie Sam.
They lynched Sam on the Canadian side of the border, claiming he was responsible for the death of a white settler. The American murderers had help from whites on the Canadian side of the border. Canadian newspapers celebrated the lynching and slandered Louie Sam and his family.
Reimer tells this gruesome tale well, drawing on extensive archival research. He makes a compelling argument that the key crime here is the ongoing horror of Canadian colonialism. Anyone who cares about B.C. history or about the still unfinished work of truth and reconciliation will find this a useful, if heartbreaking, read.
Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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