Vancouver Region History

The first Jane Austen Society meeting in Vancouver took place in May, 1981 under the auspices of the late Joan Austen-Leigh, a collateral descendant of Jane Austen and one of the founders of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Conversation centered around a BBC dramatization of “Pride and Prejudice.”

When Austen-Leigh pulled out an old book “Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers” written by the descendants of Francis Austen, Jane’s brother, it was suggested that joining the Jane Austen Society of North America would be an opportunity to learn about the author’s life and times as well as her remarkable literary achievements.

When Eileen and Ron Sutherland returned from a San Francisco JASNA conference in 1981, they offered to host meetings at their home. Eileen was chosen as the first Vancouver Regional Coordinator.

The first years did not consist of regular get-togethers but of special events and occasional dinner and luncheon talks by Austen-Leigh, who did much to encourage the growth of the fledgling group.

Eventually, members grew more ambitious and organized lectures at the Vancouver Public Library and some library staff agreed to speak on Austen.
On Oct. 19, 1982, Dr. Mabel Colbeck from the University of B.C. was formally invited to lecture on “Jane Austen’s Novels: a Survey.”

The following spring, meetings were convened at the Mount Pleasant Branch Library. Memorable talks from that time include Austen’s last illness and the state of medical knowledge of her time by Dr. John Norris. Dr. James Winter, also from UBC, gave an address on the importance of property in Jane Austen’s life and in the novels.

The Vancouver Region was always closely involved with the JASNA parent organization. From 1983, Eileen Sutherland served on the Board of Directors and, from 1988-1992, she was JASNA president.

In 1986, the year of the World Exposition which drew many people to Vancouver, a conference centering on Austen’s unfinished novel, “The Watsons” was hosted at the Hotel Georgia. JASNA members loved touring our city.

A display was staged at the Vancouver Art Gallery containing Jane Austen’s famous writing desk (now housed in the British Library in London), a pair of her eye glasses, a “housewife” made with her own hands, and a little note to her friend Mary Lloyd.

Dr. Juliet McMaster, of the University of Alberta, gave the morning opening address “God Gave Us Our Relations.” That afternoon, Dr. Joseph Wiesenfarth, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, spoke on “The Watsons as Pretext.”

A dramatic performance of “Our Own Particular Jane” written by Austen-Leigh was “breathtaking”, Sutherland recalled.
“Instead of the usual Sunday brunch in the hotel, we arranged for a double-decker bus to take everyone to the marina for a luncheon cruise. Afternoon options included a chartered bus tour of the city and walking tours or visits to the Expo ’86 site.

“Even many years later, I am approached at conferences by people who recall the wonderful time they had in Vancouver. It was quite a feat for our small, inexperienced but very enthusiastic group.”

The next two decades for JASNA Vancouver members have been filled with discussions and scholarly debates, delicious pot-luck lunches and delightful company. As well, wonderful dramatic presentations, concerts and fascinating lectures are frequently on the schedule.

The next big highlight was our Region hosting the October, 2007 AGM at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for over 600 JASNA members. The wonderful program and spectacular related events especially the ball (the Pacific Ballroom’s real dance floor), concert which featured songs and musical arrangements from Austen’s time, and showing of the movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, were universally enjoyed. Again, as at the previous AGM in Vancouver, Dr. Juliet McMaster was a keynote speaker.

In addition to the monthly program, each spring the Jane Austen Day celebration includes a formal luncheon, special guest speakers and a dramatic or musical presentation. In December, members look forward to toasting Jane Austen’s birthday and sharing a special Christmas luncheon.
In short, we have a lot of fun and we like to think that Jane would approve!

The Jane Austen library of books, audio and video cassettes, literary papers, clippings and newsletters, as built up by a succession of volunteer librarians, is available to members.

The popular JASNA Vancouver Region newsletter which was composed for many years by Eileen Sutherland is now in the capable hands of author and editor Sandy Lundy and publisher Susan Olsen. Published four times a year, it is also enjoyed by interested subscribers from other regions. To access the latest newsletters simply go to the Newsletter link.