Hubert Evans: The First 93 Years

Hubert Evans: The First 93 Years (Harbour Publishing 1985)

Hubert EvansHubert Reginald Evans, whom novelist Margaret Laurence called “the elder of our tribe,” had one of the most remarkable careers in the history of Canadian writing. In 1902, when he was a nine-year old in Galt, Ontario, Evans began his career as a professional writer by composing a limerick in praise of Lipton’s tea for a contest. The now-forgotten verse earned him $1.

The Quaker outdoorsman later became a professional writer in British Columbia for seven decades. Born in Vankleek Hill, Ontario, in 1892, he witnessed the horrors of war in the trenches as a soldier in WWI, leading to his autobiographical novel, The New Front Line (1927), about a soldier named Hugh Henderson who migrates from older societies to the “new front line” of idealism in the wilds of B.C. He and his wife came west and started building a waterfront cabin at Roberts Creek, B.C., in 1926. In 1927, his first year as a fulltime writer, he earned $97 less postage.

Evans is best remembered for his second novel, Mist on the River (1954), the first Canadian novel to portray aboriginals realistically as complex, central characters. It is now rightly considered a Canadian classic. It arose after Evans and his wife received a visit from aboriginal activist Guy Williams of Kitimaat (separate from present-day Kitimat) towards the end of WWII, requesting Ann Evans move to Kitimaat to teach his children.

She had taught Williams in a residential school near the Evanses’ floathouse at Cultus Lake in the early 1920s. By the 1980s, Evans had produced ten volumes of fiction, three of poetry, twelve plays, over 200 short stories and countless articles. His final novel, written when he was almost blind, is O Time in Year Flight (1979), a scrupulously remembered account of the year the twentieth century began—written eight decades after the fact.

The monumental nature of Evans’ accomplishment drew all manner of literary admirers, from poet Patrick Lane to journalist Peter Gzowski to an entire Convocation Party of Simon Fraser University, including Margaret Laurence, to make the pilgrimage to his hand-made bungalow on the Sunshine Coast. Visitors were always moved to find him to be warm, gracious and inspirational. The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was created in 1985.

– Harbour Publishing