UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Race, dominion, and the British Columbia Penitentiary 1879-1916 Elydah, Joyce


Decades of research have been dedicated to unraveling the role of race in incarceration, but there remains a limited understanding of Canada’s penal history and the social issues present in the nation’s modern prisons. The penitentiaries that are operative today were developed from systems and models created centuries ago. As structures from the colonial and nation-building eras of Canada, scholars have clarified how the penitentiaries are continued sites of violence and inequality nationwide. However, minimal focus exists on the provincial context of British Columbia. When the province officially entered the confederation of Canada in 1871, one major component was the promise by the new Dominion to build a penitentiary immediately in New Westminster. Although six other penitentiaries already existed across Canada, the British Columbia Penitentiary provides a unique colonial legacy that requires further examination. My thesis is an analysis of the penitentiary reports that were written by British Columbian officials during the nation-building period of 1879 to 1916. I explore the following questions: How did the penitentiary’s warden, chaplain, and surgeon reports work in conjunction to create ideas of race? What were the implications of these of ideas of race, how did they reach outside the penitentiary walls, and what do the discontinuities and contradictions in these reports reveal about the role of race in a new nation? I seek to explore these questions on how racial truths were generated, and to what effect these truths were used during the efforts to build the Dominion of Canada.

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