Huldowget by B. A. McKelvie

Huldowget is a 1926 novel by Bruce Alistair McKelvie. It’s an entertaining read–in a historical sort of way–but it is also offensive.

McKelvie was an editor for Victoria’s Daily Colonist. He is remembered for his involvement in the Native Sons (a colonist heritage fraternal order) and for promoting lost civilization theories (over Indigenous rights) through books, newspapers, and speeches.

I recently published an article on Ancient Pages about the Hepburn Stone, which is on display at the Nanaimo Museum. McKelvie was the main person who promoted the stone as a 15,000-year-old lost civilization artifact. I read some of his nonfiction during my research and was surprised to discover he had authored fiction, as well.

The cover of Huldowget caught my eye (I screenshot the Kindle cover and touched it up). Was the monster supposed to be Sasquatch? Reading a synopsis, I wondered if the book would have witchcraft lore in it. I found the novel on Kindle for a dollar and bought it. (Since I published this, the book has been removed. A PDF version is available here.)

Huldowget takes place along a fictitious stretch of Northern BC’s coast (there’s a dock, village, fort ruins, etc.). The protagonists are a Christian missionary who beats up medicine men, a young naive nurse who has just arrived and is staying with the minister and his wife, and a bachelor police officer in charge of the larger geographic area. His boat is the only real clue the story is taking place in the present and is not set pre-1926.

The book’s antagonist is a “half breed” medicine man, described as a sorcerer and necromancer. His only purpose in life is to bring back the evil ways of his Indigenous ancestors. The man is handsome, educated, and charismatic. Whenever white people are around, he skulks in the shadows and stares at them menacingly. He is the Devil in metaphor. Evil for evil’s sake. His mixed ancestry comes across as a symbolic statement. I couldn’t decide if this was intentional or a product of McKelvie’s subconscious. The shaman wants the nurse as his White wife, enlisting non-Christian Indigenous as pawns.

One of the “evil” spells described involves someone putting a leaf of cedar under a bed (In real life this would be cleansing as cedar is a sacred medicine). Another nefarious moment takes place when the medicine man prepares a herbal cough remedy on a stove. I’m not sure how necromancy fits in, as there are no corpse rites mentioned throughout the book.

There is a “Mesachie doll”, however. Mesachie means “evil” in Chinook trader and missionary jargon. Readers will recognize this as pop culture’s Voodoo doll, even though the concept was widely European and is found in other cultures as well. I’m on the fence as to whether this was a real term or McKelvie’s literary invention. I found mesachie used in other works to describe evil. There’s also a lake on Vancouver Island called Mesachie Lake.

The monster on the cover is a depiction of a Huldowget. A Dictionary of Historical Principles (DCHP) says that Huldowokit [sic] is a Tsimshian word meaning “a conjurer of evil spirits; also, the evil spirit conjured.” McKelvie’s book is one of two examples used.

Huldowget is equal parts offensive and educational. It’s strangely entertaining too. This was the era of pulp fiction writers such as H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. It was also a time when minister adventures like those by Ralph Connor were more mainstream. From the beginning, the reader will suspect the nurse and the policeman will fall in love–if they can only get past their disagreements and bickering! Without giving too much away, there is a strong sense that good forces will conquer over evil in the end.

McKelvie’s Huldowget was an important early British Columbia publication. It reflects 1920s West Coast mainstream ideology and was penned by a historical figure who shaped provincial history through journalism, artifact curation and presentation, and erasure (usually accompanied by terms like “vanished”).

Huldowget is a short and entertaining read, but it’s problematic and could be triggering for some. The novel allows us to examine the mindset of a different era on the West Coast. As 1920s pulp fiction, I would give it five stars. Unless a person is intentionally seeking examples of racism, I would remove a star or two for being racist. The cover convinced me to give Huldowget a read and I’m glad I did. But it was eye opening to say the least.

Author: Shanon Sinn

The Spirit of Vancouver Island. Nature Beings, Shapeshifters, Ghosts & Ancestor Spirits. The Earth is Sacred.

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