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Cover: Legends of the Capilano

Legends of the Capilano

By E. Pauline Johnson, Joe Capilano, Mary Agnes Capilano, Alix Shield (Editor)

Review By Dallas Hunt

July 3, 2024

In the front matter to Legends of Capilano, a brief description is provided for the “First Voices: First Texts” series, edited by Warren Carriou (Métis) and produced for the University of Manitoba Press. Speaking to the aims of this series, the front matter reads: “[t]he editors strive to indigenize the editing process … by providing critical introductions that give readers new insights into the cultural contexts of … unjustly neglected classics” (ii). Indeed, speaking to this desire to provide “new insights,” editor Alix Shield states that one of her intended desires is to “undertake the project of republishing” E. Pauline Johnson’s influential Legends of Vancouver “as Johnson had intended” (3), which includes publishing it under its original title of Legends of Capilano (3). The reason I address this here is because the contribution of Shield’s text has less to do with addressing gaps in the archive through the publication of an “unjustly neglected classic,” and more to do with providing necessary, relevant, and compelling context for an oft-republished, and yet still incomplete, existing classic (E. Pauline Johnson’s Legends of Vancouver). Afterall, as Shield herself states, Johnson’s text has been published “approximately thirty times over the last century” (2) and has been in print since its original publication in 1911. All of that said, however, if gaps do exist, they are filled-in by the voices of the descendants of Chief Joe and Mary Capilano, and serve as evidence of the series’ pursuit of “indigenizing” the editing and production process.

Indeed, the strength of this newest (and possibly definitive) version of Johnson’s influential text is the massive introduction provided by Shield (spanning over 70 pages), which is not only comprehensive and enlightening in the additional context it provides for Johnson herself, and the publication and republication of Johnson’s text over the years, but also in the incorporation of the voices of people affected or influenced by Johnson’s text – that is to say, the voices of the Capilanos themselves as well as their descendants. Since Johnson’s voice, in both Canadian and Indigenous literary studies, looms large, it has the capacity (and tendency) to eclipse the voices, subjects, and content(s) of her writings. To remedy this fact, Shield and the editors of the “First Voices: First Texts” series have taken pains to elevate the words of the Capilanos and their kin, as well as scholars writing about, or in relation to, Johnson (such as Rudy Reimer and Rick Monture). The result is a text that is not only comprehensive in terms of providing critical information on Johnson and the production of “her” text, but also the people most directly implicated in Legends of Vancouver, in both a familial and geographical sense. Legends of Capilano, then, will be of value and interest to those invested in the figure of E. Pauline Johnson (in its inclusion of personal anecdotes in letters from Johnson to her sister, to details of the publication process of Legends of Vancouver and the involvement of “the Pauline Johnson Trust”), as well as those curious or attentive to the lives, voices, and legacies of Chief Joe Capilano and Mary Agnes Capilano (and the enduring legacies of the stories they have told, and continue to tell, long after their deaths).

Primarily, though, it is the voices of the Capilano families that Shield is interested in in this edition, as their voices have been subject to “layer[s] of mediation” through the “transmission process” over the years – which is to say, their voices have been mediated and transmogrified with each (re)iteration and republication of Legends (30). Shield, then, has taken great care to reposition and recentre the voices of the Capilano family all while still honouring the voice of Johnson (and the difficult position she was in during the original publication of Legends of Vancouver). This text is a testament to what rigorous archival work can reveal and produce and how Shield, in being attentive to the cacophony of voices present in this work and its various mediations, can find the crucial minutiae in (pre)dominant histories, as well as the intimate familial and community details contained within and overshadowed by legends.

Publication Information

Johnson, E. Pauline et al. Legends of the Capilano. Edited by Alix Shield. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. 2023. 256 pp. $24.95 paper.