Historians unearth untold stories of influential Vancouver Island women

Historians unearth untold stories of influential Vancouver Island women

VICTORIA -- Vancouver Island's history is full of tales of women who were influencers, disruptors and trailblazers, but according to archivists at the Royal BC Museum, many of those stories rarely see the light of day.

"A lot of women's stories have been overlooked and their roles and perspectives have not been documented," says curator Tzu-L Chung. 

As Women's History Month draws to a close, CTV News went deep into the British Columbia Archives to shine a light on the stories of island women who overcame so much to make their mark. 

Encouraged to carve traditional poles by her father, at a time when women artists were not considered legitimate, Neel's talent quickly put her ahead of most men in the field. 

Her work would be sought out by art enthusiasts, museums and collectors around the world. 

Even in success, the Vancouver Island born Indigenous artist faced a constant onslaught of racism and sexism as she waded through the male dominated world of art in the mid-1900s. 

"I have copies of newspaper articles that read, 'Mr. Neel with his wife assisting.' " said Lou-Ann. "It was this assumption that my grandfather was actually the carver."

Undeterred, Neel broke barriers as she pushed for organizations like the Hudson's Bay Company to purchase handmade art from Indigenous artists and pay them appropriately. 

She is considered a major influence in First Nations art being sold in a way which serves not to strip the art from the communities, but to preserve a living culture. 

Alma Russell

The preservation of British Columbia's history as we know it has a lot to do with Victoria's Alma Russell. 

In the late-1800s, the young woman left the comfort of Vancouver Island and struck out in search of higher education. 

In New York City, Russell would receive university-level training in library sciences. 

Returning home, Russell lived in rarified air.