Flora Amelia Ross:

a Brief Biography

Introduction:

Flora Amelia Ross was born in late May 1842, on then-uninhabited San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest, as her parents, Hudson’s Bay Company traders, travelled by hired Heiltsulk canoe between Fort McLaughlin and Fort Nisqually, enroute to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Her father, Charles Ross, then Chief Trader for the Company at Fort McLaughlin, was traveling to Fort Vancouver to receive his instructions for the next year. Those instructions were to close down Fort McLaughlin, and build a new fort at the site of present day Victoria.

 

Flora’s mother, Isabella Mainville Ross, was Métis (Ojibwe/French Canadian) and at the time was the mother of eight children. Flora became the ninth, and a tenth followed shortly after Charles Ross’s death in 1844. According to a family story passed down, Isabella joined her husband on the trip to Fort Vancouver despite being pregnant with Flora, and went into labor while camped overnight at San Juan Island.

 

At the time, the only European settlements in the region were trading forts. Fifty-five years later, the story of Flora’s funeral procession through New Westminster, British Columbia was a substantial news story in The Columbian newspaper. In those intervening years, Flora was a nurse, a wife, a divorced-single-working mother before the category had been defined, and the founder and Matron of British Columbia’s first “insane asylum.” While still a teenage girl, she found herself at the center of the San Juan Island “Pig War” of 1859. She married its instigator just as peace was negotiated. And then, when he turned abusive, she managed to divorce him in the courts of Washington Territory before the remedy was legal in the colony of their marriage.

The independence and drive that Flora Ross exhibited throughout her life is particularly striking given not only the gender discrimination that she faced as a divorced mother with a career, but the racism that she faced because of her mother’s Ojibwe background. Flora was born at the end of an era when it was typical for a company trader to marry an indigenous woman and raise their children at remote trading posts. But as she was turning sixteen, immigrant goldminers were arriving by the thousands, and bringing with them a new intolerance that followed Flora throughout her life. The records of the time are replete with references to the “Indian” wife of Paul Hubbs, or the “Indian” nurse, when each was a reference to Flora.

 

Telling the life story of Flora Ross—as with the life story of almost any woman, and many men, who lived long before our own era—is limited by the low volume of primary documents that directly record moments of her life. Flora didn’t leave (or appear to keep) any journal, and only a few letters or documents survive. Some documents that describe events in which she was involved do not bother to record the presence of women. Thanks to the career that she led, there are a fair number of professional documents, asylum-related correspondence, royal commission testimony, and other records that provide insight into her professional life. Her personal life, however, remains largely unrecorded but for some family letters and brief mentions in the diaries of others in her life, such as Rev. Edward Cridge. The book that is described on this website attempts to fill in these gaps based on as much information as is available, including a balancing of direct and circumstantial evidence. The following biography is limited to the information that is verifiable in primary documents, or, in the case of her birth, a family story, unless described in limiting terms such as “it is likely.” In some cases, where there is only circumstantial evidence to suggest her location or status, supposition may be offered, but with an explanation of the reasons.