Maisie Hurley, Activist and Collector

Posted by Daniel on Nov 28, 2010 - 5 comments

In the latest issue of BC Studies, that fine quarterly journal produced at UBC, there is an article by anthropologist Sharon Fortney about Maisie Hurley, an early advocate for First Nations rights in British Columbia.

Hurley, who was born in Wales in 1887, arrived in Vancouver with her parents when she was three years old. Her father was a mining engineer and both her parents had an interest in the First Nations cultures they encountered as they travelled around the province.

When Maisie left school she embarked on a colourful career as a boxing promoter and social activist for the underprivileged. In the 1930s she became secretary to the well-known Vancouver criminal lawyer Tom Hurley, whom she later married. The Hurleys took on many cases on behalf of the marginalized in society, including the First Nations people.

In 1944 Maisie Hurley became the first woman admitted to the Native Brotherhood of BC and two years later she launched the Native Voice newspaper to advocate for Aboriginal people. The Hurleys argued the concept of aboriginal title long before it was recognized in the courts. When Maisie died in 1964 her funeral was attended by many Aboriginal leaders who felt they had lost a true friend.

During her travels around the province, Maisie accumulated a significant collection of Native artifacts that were given to her and her husband as gifts. These items made their way to the North Vancouver Museum and Archives where they are known as the Maisie Hurley Collection. On January 23, 2011 the museum will open an exhibition called "Entwined Histories" based on the collection. The exhibition is a collaboration between the museum and the Squamish Nation.