Passing Through Missing Pages

The Intriguing Story of Annie Garland Foster

Frances Welwood

Annie Garland Foster was born in Fredericton, NB, in 1875. She was an educator, nurse, politician, social reformer, journalist and biographer of Pauline Johnson. But she was also a bit of a mystery.

In 1939, Annie wrote an autobiography titled “Passing Through” in which she described the challenges and adventures of her earlier life: as a co-ed at UNB in the 1890s, teaching in rural Saskatchewan and British Columbia, nursing the Great War’s wounded in Britain’s military hospitals, being elected to the City Council in Nelson, BC, in 1920 and consorting with suffragettes. But despite her efforts to share her story, she was an intriguingly private person. Her memoir, peppered with pseudonyms and cryptic information, reveals more about the mysteriousness of her character than about the events of her life. Most curious of all is her deliberate removal of one of the most intriguing and critical chapters of her story.

In this thoughtful and thorough biography, Frances Welwood begins her work where Foster ends her tale. Welwood follows her elusive subject from Fredericton to Nelson, giving historical context to Annie’s insightful and cinematic prose. But most exciting of all, Welwood finally sheds light on the events described in the six pages excised from “Passing Through”: the circumstances connecting Annie to a 1926 murder trial.


The Studio

 

It was a grey West Coast morning in 1938 when Annie Harvie Ross Foster sat down purposefully in front of her sturdy 1911 Underwood typewriter to begin her story. Annie had written many articles and essays, but for the first time she set out to write about herself. The distant waters of Semiahmoo Bay were barely visible from the window of her studio. Many tides would ebb and flow across the sandy beach that defined the cottage community of White Rock, British Columbia, before her story was finally told.

Annie was sixty-three years old, and she felt it was time. In her estimation, her life had been a “simple tale”; nonetheless, she felt an inexplicable need—a duty, in fact—to record the events and observations of her life. “Future psychologists,” she would write in her memoir, “would welcome how a person such as me has reacted to life.”

Although Annie began her memoir as a retrospective of her life, she would live another thirty-six years. The memoir would thus tell only two-thirds of her story; throughout her remaining senior years, however, she would continue to dedicate herself to the written word.

Annie, who preferred to be known as the widowed Mrs. W. Garland Foster, was a very busy woman. She had recently served as president of the Vancouver and Mainland Branch of the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) and she had travelled British Columbia (as much as time and money allowed) speaking to other branches of the CAA, Women’s Institutes and Canadian Clubs. The formidable Mrs. Garland Foster promoted Canadian authors, characters and adventurers from Canada’s rich history, as well as women’s and health causes. Now, at age sixty-three, she could step back from these serious, vital activities and devote her attention to this more personal calling.

Writing, research, inquiry, causes and controversy had been her lifeline and her livelihood for the past two decades, yet when it came time to take up the task of confronting her own story, she had deep reservations: “This being the product of my private garden my reluctance can easily be understood…” In the hundreds of publicly available articles, papers and commentaries Annie composed as teacher, healer, critic and researcher, nowhere did she relate incidents from or insights into her personal life. She wrote always in the third person; her daily life was not part of the work of writing.

For 248 pages, Annie typed away at her story, which she entitled “Passing Through.” The manuscript now resides, unpublished, in the archives of her alma mater, the University of New Brunswick, and it reveals a life far from “simple.” Annie’s adult life was one characterized by deep sorrows, profound convictions and firm dedication. While much of “Passing Through” recalls her early childhood impressions and the foibles and charms of her many Ross and Doak relatives, this autobiographical exercise is not an open book. One entire compelling episode from her adult story was omitted (or removed) completely. Annie’s association with the murder trial (and its chief protagonist) held in Nelson in 1926 is not mentioned in the chronological unfolding of her life story. This intriguing episode, uncovered through other research methods, gives added significance to many curious references and musings in “Passing Through.”

In 1939, when Annie had completed the manuscript, the mysterious tale behind the missing pages was far from resolved. The plot would eventually play itself out, but Annie found no reason in the following years to return to the manuscript or to neatly rearrange her life story with a proper Introduction, Middle, Climax and Conclusion. In the peaceful presence of Peter, her canine companion, her cherished tangled garden and the seaside village, Annie had recorded her life and thoughts in her own inimitable style. “Passing Through” captured her story to a particular time. Annie would share only those parts of her life that she considered relevant to “future psychologists”—and possibly to scholars or social historians. However, by her deliberate omission from her memoir of a critical incident in her fascinating life, Annie created an opportunity for an inquisitive admirer six decades later to follow this woman across Canada. Her biographer would share and investigate elements of the Great War, the politics of a vigorous small city in the interior of British Columbia, social welfare causes and journalistic diligence, and uncover the missing chapter in the life of Annie Harvie Ross Garland Foster.

Passing Through Missing Pages is […] a wonderful find. Written by historian Frances Welwood, it describes the remarkable life of Annie Garland Foster, a teacher, Great War nurse, and politician. The book is well-researched and perceptive, providing many insights into the lives of women in the late 19th and early 20th century… Throughout, Annie Garland Foster comes across as a complex, intelligent, outspoken and adventurous woman. Her life, charted vividly by Frances Welwood in Passing Through Missing Pages, is well-worth the read.

Finding the Forty-Seven

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.

— Duff Sutherland for BC Studies

Frances Welwood is interviewed by the Nelson Star