770 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2020
Gitxsan village, and the large Gitanmaax reserve. Eight miles further up the
Skeena was the Wrinch’s destination, Kispiox.
The life of Horace and Alice Wrinch in the four decades that follow provides
the thread that connects a fascinating variety of stories of a world now
far removed. No cars, no railway—just horses, mules and pack dogs. No
electricity, no telephone, no contact with the outside world from the time
of the last steamboat in October to the first of the following May—only a
telegraph to send brief messages in Morse code.
Wrinch was the only doctor within 200 miles and was called upon to
make long journeys by horseback or dog sled in answer to urgent calls for
help, which he seemingly never turned down. Until he was able to build his
hospital in Hazelton in 1904, he operated wherever his patients were found
or on the nearest dining room table. The only alternative was the Indigenous
shaman, the halayt: that combination of physician, prophet and priest
who, until then, had functioned in the Indigenous villages without any
competition. My one regret in this book is that we don’t have a fuller
account of the transition from traditional to modern medicine. Wrinch was
not one to leave a written record of such things. He simply did his job with
patience and dignity. One has the impression that he stood back when the
halayt was clearly in control but stepped forward when opportune. As time
passed the Indigenous people came gradually to appreciate the benefits of
what was to them an entirely new approach to curing the afflicted.
Wrinch was a passionate advocate of an early form of medicare. He
served two terms in the provincial government and was vocal on this subject
and anything to do with the needs of his remote community.
The book is more than a biography; it is an invaluable contribution to the
history of the Upper Skeena. Famous characters in the area step in and out
of the narrative: Thomas Crosby, Richard Large, Richard Sargent, Simon
Gunanoot, Premier Duff Pattullo, Alex Manson (later Manson J.) and many
others. The reader learns how it is that we have three Hazeltons, the full
story of which, we are told, is found in a book called A Thousand Blunders:
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and Northern British Columbia.
Relying on microfiche records from old local newspapers, the author
paints a fascinating picture of life in a community that provided its own
entertainment and drama. Dr. Wrinch sat as one of the three police magistrates
in Hazelton and dispensed justice over events that he would have
learned of well before they were recounted again in his courtroom. In one
of his cases, the Court of Appeal restored a judgment of his that had been
overturned by the B.C. Supreme Court—a conviction on a charge of possession
of 70 beaver pelts out of season.