New Revelstoke book: Cathy English’s Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins selects our best early chapters

New book by Revelstoke historian Cathy English condenses stories from her lunchtime history sessions into Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins.

Revelstoke historian Cathy English has released her new book Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountianeer

I’m a big fan of Revelstoke Museum & Archives curator Cathy English’s Brown Bag History lunch series — her noontime history talks featuring chapters from our past. I’ve probably taken in I guess a dozen or so of them in the past six or seven years. I highly recommend them!

Because I am a bona-fide Brown Bag Lunch punch-pass holder, I got a special invite to the private launch of her new book at the museum last week.

At a typical Brown Bag Lunch, Cathy shares through a collection of ongoing research on set topics, gleaning highlights and quotes from research she’s collected into manila folders brimming with notes, historic photographs and other archive material. It’s a bit of a freestyle thing — she hits the key points at the start, but is open to questions from the floor and dalliances as she indulges local history buffs on lesser-traveled corners of established chapters of our history.

Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Orgins. Photo: Cover of Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins
Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Orgins. Photo: Cover of Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins

Brown Bag History Revelstoke Origins is a collection of stories from the series, and may be the first of several books exploring popular chapters from our past.

It focuses on 12 stories, mostly from Revelstoke’s early colonial history, after a first chapter on Sinixt history.

The stories, explained English at the club launch, are the refined versions of her manila folder collections, based on her ongoing research into the subjects. She took the time to delve deeper and refine the stories until she’d achieved a synthesis ready for publication.

“I just felt I was able to dig a bit more deeply into some of the stories,” English explained about the work that went into the series.

With so many stories to choose from, so much that could be said, so many ways to the destination, which path to choose?

This was the most interesting for me. The Brown Bag History series has repeated through subject matter, and each time English — through questions and prompting from the audience — has explored new areas.

I haven’t read all the stories yet. Comparing Brown Bag History lunches I’ve attended with their corresponding stories in Revelstoke Origins, the print version is a bit more staid than the oral histories, but it’s still firmly focused on storytelling. The selected chapters illuminate key stories from Revelstoke history, with a flair for the dramatic.


The selected chapters illuminate key stories from Revelstoke history, with a flair for the dramatic.

For example, the Farwell Police War is a well-known chapter in our history, and now in the book. It features men who had local mountains, rivers or forts named after them — Sproat, Kirkup, Steele, Johnston, Begbie. Federal and provincial/local authorities clashed, booze was seized, leading to police arresting police, and the results of the trials depended largely on which camp was closer to the court. In the end, the town wasn’t big enough for the both of them.

The chapter Edward Mallandaine features the young man who appears right behind Sir Donald Smith in the famed photo taken during the driving of the Last Spike image at Craigellachie. A teenager when he traveled to Farwell en route to join up against the Louis Riel Rebellion, he settled here after learning the police action was over, taking up a job on the mail ponies to Eagle Pass. After etching his face into Canadian history, he went on to found Creston, B.C., where he served as magistrate, head of the board of trade, chairman of the board of education and designer of many of the homes and buildings in the community.

These are just a couple stories from the book.

For me, and anyone with an interest in Revelstoke history, Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins will be a great summer read.

Brown Bag History, Revelstoke Origins is available at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives. $20.