UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Everything becomes island : Gulf Islands writing and the construction of region Rayner, Anne Patricia


Literary conventions in the writing of the Gulf Islands of the British Columbia coast have “invented” the islands as a distinct region. Lying at the centre of the Strait of Georgia urban region, the islands function as objects of pastoral desire: in representing escape from the city, they are perceived as “natural” by contrast. The landscapes of the Gulf Islands posit a version of “nature” radically different from that common elsewhere in Canada. The protected waters of inland sea and archipelago, benign climate, naturally-occurring alternation of forest and meadow, and defining liminal zone of the beach make the local landscape seem inherently pastoral. As does the pastoral mode, the tropes of discovery and settlement provide convenient, familiar frames for neo-colonial experience of nature and representation of landscape. Using a broadly historical approach, the thesis traces the longevity of local landscape conventions since Spanish exploration of the islands in 1791 and 1792. Rapid population growth intensifies the dominance of the pastoral, while tropes of discovery and settlement give newcomers and established residents the rhetorical means to claim origins in the Gulf Islands. The need to establish origins shapes community politics, which are codified in the Islands Trust, the provincially-funded body that oversees land-use issues in the islands. The thesis consists of ten chapters, the first two of which examine local conventions for defining Gulf Islands space and for writing the history of the islands. Chapters Three and Four discuss the tropes discovery and settlement, respectively, and Chapter Five focusses on characteristic narratives used to express the notion of “Gulf Island.” Chapters Six through Eight revisit the themes of the previous three chapters, inverting the order of discovery and settlement in the second cycle to reflect the ahistorical, simultaneous invocation of these ideas locally. Whereas Chapter Five demonstrates how one Gulf Island version of pastoral dominates the region’s presentation of itself in imaginative writing, Chapter Eight examines the consequences for local narrative when events cannot be articulated within the pastoral mode. As a counterpoint to analysis, in Chapter Four, of how settlement functions as a rhetorical device in Gulf Islands writing, Chapter Six examines aspects of the physical, settled landscape--specifically architecture and the ornamentation of holiday homes and homesites with objects gathered from the beach--as deliberate expressions of indigenousness. In a similar pairing, Chapter Seven examines nostalgic uses of the “discovery” trope intended to express local space, extending the scope of Chapter Three, which explicates attitudes toward the islands expressed through two “original” European voyages of discovery in the islands. Chapters Nine and Ten discuss the role of intertexts in Gulf Island writing: only very recently has the idea of a Gulf Islands “canon”--as indicated by intertextual references between Gulf Islands texts--become current, Gulf Islands writing continues to rely on intertextual references to imperial foundation texts to define, and determine significance in, local landscape. The “sketch” form, which permeates all genres and modes of landscape representation in the islands, in itself articulates the “natural” and thus expresses the condition of “Gulf Island.”

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