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Passing Through Missing Pages: The Intriguing Story of Annie Garland Foster

By Frances Welwood

Review By Duff Sutherland

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 177 Spring 2013  | p. 188-89

In the early 1990s, author Frances Welwood agreed to research the life of Annie Garland Foster for a Nelson Museum exhibition, “The Women of Nelson, 1880-1950.” An early woman graduate of the University of New Brunswick, Annie Garland Foster was the first woman elected to the Nelson city council in 1920. Impressed by her subject’s life and work and intrigued by her connection to a West Kootenay murder case, Welwood has gone on to write Passing Through Missing Pages, an impressive full-length biography of Foster. In Sojourning Sisters: The Lives and Letters of Jessie and Annie McQueen (2003), Jean Barman showed how two Pictou County, Nova Scotia, teachers, Annie and Jessie McQueen, came west after the 1886 completion of the transcontinental railway and were shaped by and helped shape the British Columbia “frontier.” Although arriving in British Columbia in 1908, more than twenty years after the McQueen sisters, a similar case could be made for the significance of the life of Annie Garland Foster — she was influenced by and had some influence in the making of her society.

Annie Garland Foster led a long and varied life during which she took advantage of and was affected by the major historical events that transformed Canada from the late nineteenth century. Following graduation from UNB, Foster acquired a teaching certificate and trained as a nurse in the United States. Eventually worn down by the physical and emotional demands of nursing, Foster joined many Maritimers seeking work in western Canada; after 1905, she taught for several years in Saskatchewan and then moved on to a teaching position in Nelson, where she met and eventually married William Garland Foster, the editor of the Nelson Daily News. In 1915, William Garland Foster enlisted in the 54th Kootenay Battalion. He died after being wounded during heavy fighting near Cambrai in the last days of the war. Annie followed her husband to Britain where she worked in military convalescent hospitals as a British Red Cross nurse until 1917.

The war and her tragic personal losses (she also suffered a miscarriage on the voyage home) appear to have shaped Foster’s interests and concerns for the remainder of her life. Now a widow and a veteran, Foster returned to the West Kootenay where she taught, ranched briefly on the rugged Pend d’Oreille River, and became an activist in the Women’s Institute and Great War Veterans Association for improvements in child health and welfare and in veteran services. Foster publicly played down her commitment to advancing women’s political rights but was a vigorous and outspoken member of Nelson’s city council in 1920; she also ran unsuccessfully to be mayor of Nelson and as a candidate for the Provincial Party in the early 1920s.Welwood suggests that Foster’s social and political activism led to her “third” career as a journalist and writer which occupied the latter part of her life. Eventually settling in a White Rock cottage, Foster worked hard for many years to support herself by writing articles for Canadian newspapers and magazines, book reviews, and books, including the first published biography of Pauline Johnson.

Finally, and importantly, Welwood discovered that for almost twenty years Foster maintained a private lobbying campaign on behalf of a fellow veteran, Patrick Hanley. Passing Through Missing Pages provides the human story behind a notorious West Kootenay murder case first mentioned briefly in Elsie G. Turnbull’s Trail Between Two Wars (1980). In her survey, Turnbull describes Hanley’s shooting of Mildred Neilson in 1925 as the “callous” killing of a popular young nurse. We learn little about the case beyond that Hanley also wounded himself in the incident and had to be treated in Rossland “because of feeling in Trail” (52). In Passing Through Missing Pages, Welwood reveals that Foster knew Hanley through her work as President of the Nelson Great War Veterans Association—he was the local association’s secretary. Like her husband, Hanley had served in the 54th Kootenay Battalion and been blown up by a shell. He survived but had ongoing pain from his wounds which, according to his Trail business partner, contributed to a nervous breakdown after the war. Hanley claimed in his defence that he had not meant to kill Neilson, who had rejected his romantic advances. After a third trial, the jury found Hanley guilty of murder and the judge sentenced him to hang. Along with others, Foster mounted a campaign which led to Hanley’s sentence being commuted to life in prison. She continued her efforts on Hanley’s behalf, eventually helping to obtain his release from prison in 1945. Foster and Hanley married — by then she was seventy years old, he was fifty-seven — soon after his release and lived together in White Rock until their deaths in the mid-1970s. Welwood speculates that after a lifetime of social action, Foster likely gained satisfaction that she had surely helped this individual in his life.

Passing Through Missing Pages is a carefully researched and written biography of a serious and productive life lived in interesting times. Annie Garland Foster deserves to be better known in British Columbia and beyond — this book will certainly help in that process.

Passing Through Missing Pages: The Intriguing Story of Annie Garland Foster
By Frances Welwood
Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press, 2011. 253 pp. Illus. $24.95 paper