The fonds consists of correspondence, drafts, essays, lecture notes, course outlines, clippings and research materials created and collected by Ormsby in her diverse roles as student, professor, researcher and author. Also included are records generated between 1957 and 1967 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Margaret Ormsby was born in 1909 in Quesnel but spent most of her childhood in the Okanagan Valley, where her father, a returned veteran, had taken out an orchard acreage on the banks of Kalamalka Lake in the suburb of Coldstream near Vernon, which subsequently became Margaret’s much beloved home base. Thanks to her parents’ strong encouragement to pursue higher education, in 1925, she enrolled at UBC earning a B.A. (1929) and M.A. (1931) in History. Her Master's theses was entitled: "A Study of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia”, marking her first contribution to what became her principal interest. She then began her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr in 1931, interrupting her studies between 1934 and 1936 to work as a teaching assistant in the Department on History at UBC. After completing her Ph.D. in 1936, with a thesis on "Relationships between the Province of British Columbia and The Dominion of Canada", she taught at a girls high school in the United States for three years. These Depression years made it extremely difficult for young scholars, particularly women. Nevertheless In 1940, (partly because the men were in the armed forces, and partly because she could not demand a high salary), she became a lecturer in the History Department of McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, and then returned to UBC to teach in 1943. With the return of the veterans after 1945, the History Department’s enrolment rose rapidly. Margaret found herself not only teaching her preferred subject of Canadian and British Columbia history, but even mediaeval courses. In those days junior lecturers were expected to teach whatever was required. But she persevered, and was soon recognized as a scholar of note. It was therefore no surprise when she was invited to write the magisterial volume British Columbia: a History, which appeared in 1958 to mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Crown Colony, and was subsequently republished four times. This substantial volume of over 560 pages was a great success, and was widely adopted by schools and universities. Her scholarship was straightforward with its chief emphasis on the political developments which had led to the colony’s union with the rest of Canada, its rapid expansion at the end of the nineteenth century, and its tribulations in the first half of the twentieth. She championed a non-Toronto and non-Vancouver view of the history of B.C. All this was based on a judicious if conservative assessment of the archival records, and a desire to see the province’s history from a wide perspective in all its multicoloured and multi-ethnic hues. She also contributed a large number of shorter articles and encyclopedia entries.
This scholarship involved her spending a great deal of time in the Victoria archives, from which she was summoned back in 1963 to take over as Head of the History Department after Dean Soward’s precipitous resignation. She brought to this position a remarkable strength of determination (perhaps because of her Irish ancestry) which occasionally led to some acerbic relations with a few male colleagues, still rather resentful of having a woman in charge. She could not help but feel a certain loneliness in being the only woman head in the Faculty of Arts, or indeed, apart from some Nursing Professors, in the whole university. But her period of service until 1974 saw a remarkable increase in the number of appointments in the History Department (long overdue), which expanded the department’s size three-fold; and brought the UBC History Department into a national, North American and international context. She also oversaw the launching of an unprecedented PhD programme, designed to build on the successful MA programme of earlier years. At the same time Margaret Ormsby chaired the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada between 1960 and 1967, as well as becoming President of both the B.C. Historical Society and the Canadian Historical Association. In addition she was richly honoured for her work and her academic and social contributions as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. She was also a member of the Champlain Society, the Humanities Research Council of Canada and the American Historical Society. Professor Ormsby also served as Secretary to the UBC Faculty Association in 1956-57. She received Honorary Degrees from all four B.C. universities as well as from the University of Manitoba and the University of Notre Dame in Nelson, B.C. In 1966 she was awarded the Order of Canada, and in 1974 the UBC Senate awarded her an Honorary D.Litt. Subsequently she was awarded the Order of British Columbia.
After her retirement, she taught for a year at the University of Western Ontario as the Smallman Visiting Professor. She also completed the editing of an interesting diary written by an early settler, A Pioneer Gentle Woman in British Columbia: the Recollections of Susan Allison (1976), and later wrote a short and flattering account of her home community Coldstream - Nulli Secundus/ (1990).
She died in Vernon in 1996.