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Review

Buckerfield: The Story of a Vancouver Family

By Mary Buckerfield White, with Philip Sherwood

July 22, 2014

Review By Robert A.J. McDonald

Buckerfield tells the story of one of Vancouver’s most important business families. The story is structured around two narrative strands. One is the business history of the family patriarch, Edward Ernest Buckerfield, the New Brunswick-born farm boy who established a feed, flour, and grain export company that from the 1920s to the 1950s carried the name “Buckerfield” to the far corners of British Columbia. The other recounts the family histories of mother, father, husband, and children as told by Ernest and Amy Buckerfield’s daughter Mary Buckerfield White.

While the text appears to have been written mainly for a specific circle of family and friends, the book will engage others with its illuminating insights into the lives of a socially prominent Vancouver family through the middle years of the twentieth century. Ernest Buckerfield was a creative entrepreneur and one of Vancouver’s most successful businessmen whose company reflected the city’s role as the centre of provincial economic power. The company’s rise to prominence also paralleled and facilitated Vancouver’s emergence as a major port for prairie grain, a point conveyed in an excellent photograph of the company’s elevators on the Burrard Inlet waterfront in 1936. But where the book most successfully moves beyond the dense thicket of family information to link family and community history is in the story of the Buckerfields’ cultural role as supporters of the arts in Vancouver. Amy (Wilson) Buckerfield came from a privileged background that heightened her interest in high culture, an interest that she brought to Vancouver and was able through the family’s business success to foster and enjoy. With other members of the city’s upper class such as Mrs. B.T. Rogers she was a strong supporter of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The writer Ethel Wilson was her sister-in-law, theatre promoter Dorothy Somerset was a close personal friend, Dylan Thomas read poetry in her living room, and performers such as Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuhin, and Joan Sutherland were attracted to Vancouver in part through the friendship and organizational effort of Amy Buckerfield. The story of Mary Buckerfield White’s relationship to her husband Victor White, himself an accomplished singer, integrates the themes of family and community especially well.

Buckerfield entices us with stories about unfamiliar corners of Vancouver’s history and establishes for the record the fact that the name “Buckerfield” must be included in any telling of the city’s economic, social, and cultural history. It also whets our appetite for a more scholarly treatment of the economic and cultural roles played by Vancouver’s “pioneer feed merchant” (246) and his family. For instance, a photograph of Ernest walking casually with the powerful federal politician C.D. Howe cries out for more extensive comment on the connections between Vancouver’s business elite and the federal Liberal Party through the Second World War. Yet the fact that the photograph should be noticed speaks to one of the real strengths of the book: the photos and illustrations encourage us to think further about the role and meaning of this important Vancouver family.

Buckerfield: The Story of a Vancouver Family
Mary Buckerfield White, with Philip Sherwood
Vancouver: Mary White, 2011. 334 pp. $25.00 cloth