It is BC Book Day and International Women’s Day, and what better way to honour both than to highlight this milestone in BC’s bookselling history: the 1895 release of Lions’ Gate and Other Verses by Lily Alice Lefevre, the first book (I believe, though I stand to be corrected) written by a woman and published by a BC publisher, Province Publishing (1).
Calling the book “a little work of about a hundred pages,” the review in the Daily Colonist was full of praise: “The title poem and some twenty-eight others are the products of the pen and the genius of Mrs. Lily Alice Lefevre of Vancouver” (2).
Born in Kingston, Ontario, in 1854, Lily Lefevre came to Vancouver in 1886 with her husband, CPR district surgeon Dr. John Lefevre (3) (whose surgery on Carrall Street was just down the block from Seth Thorne Tilley’s first Vancouver bookstore).
The title poem of her book first appeared in the Vancouver Daily World on December 31, 1889, as “The Lions’ Gateway,” published under her nom de pleume, Fleurange. The first stanza is shown here, but the entire poem (and the complete book) can be viewed and downloaded at the Internet Archive.
One of the things that touched me most when I looked through her first volume of poetry was Lily’s dedication of the book to her mother:
In a 1909 Daily Colonist article entitled “Women Writers of the Coast,” Lefevre is featured as “a clever polished writer of either prose or verse.” The article also notes that one of her sonnets was included in a volume of poetry compiled by Lord Dufferin (former governor general of Canada) due to his admiration of Lions’ Gate and Other Verses. “Among the eminent contributors to this book were Tennyson, Browning, Sir Edwin Arnold and Rudyard Kipling, so the honor paid the Canadian lady was a very high one,” the passage adds.
After her husband died in 1906 (they had no children), Lily became a great patron of the arts in Vancouver. She “helped found the Vancouver Art Gallery, and made her home, ‘Langaravine,’ a local gathering spot for writers, painters and academics,” notes the entry about Lefevre in SFU’s digital collection, “Canada’s Early Women Writers.”
In addition to Lions’ Gate and Other Verses and a few publications of the title poem in other forms (such as in a limited-edition album of scenic Vancouver photos), Lefevre published a book of poetry in London with A. L. Humphreys in 1921; a Toronto publisher released the book a year later. “Despite this,” notes Glennis Zilm, “knowledge of her work is not common today even among students of B.C. literature” (4).
(1) In her master’s thesis, Glennis Zilm includes a chronological list of the books published in British Columbia. Lily Lefevre’s Lions’ Gate is the first listing by a female author (Glennis Zilm, “An Overview of Trade Book Publishing in British Columbia in the 1800s with Checklists and Selected Bibliography related to British Columbiana” [master’s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1981], 277). ABC BookWorld notes that Lefevre “qualifies as the second female author who lived in B.C. [emphasis added] after Althea Moody had a book published anonymously in London in 1894.” Since Lefevre’s book was published by Province Publishing, this corroborates the fact that she the first female author to be published in British Columbia.
(2) “The Lions’ Gate,” Daily Colonist (July 25, 1895): 8.
(3) “Lefevre, Lily Alice Cooke,” SFU Digitized Collections, http://digital.lib.sfu.ca/ceww-718/lefevre-lily-alice-cooke.
(4) Zilm, “An Overview of Trade Book Publishing in British Columbia,” 143.