Maisie Hurley

Maisie Hurley, née Maisie Amy Campbell-Johnston, Vancouver-area political activist, Indigenous ally (see Indigenous Peoples in Canada), newspaper founder and art collector (born 27 November 1887 in Swansea, Wales; died 3 October 1964 in North Vancouver, British Columbia). Although Hurley had no formal legal training or law degree (see Legal Education), she worked on several legal cases and advocated for Indigenous peoples’ basic human rights as well as for changes to the Indian Act. In 1946, Hurley started a newspaper called The Native Voice that aimed to bring attention to important issues concerning Indigenous communities across Canada (see Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada). In 2011, Hurley’s collection of Indigenous art was displayed at the North Vancouver Museum.

Maisie Hurley

Early Life

Maisie Hurley was born in Swansea, Wales, to Ronald and Amy Ellen Campbell-Johnston. She grew up in British Columbia, part of the only non-Indigenous family in an area of interior settlements near the city of Merritt. They moved to Canada when her father accepted a job as a mining engineer. Both of her parents were interested in Indigenous cultures and collected Indigenous art, some of which was later donated to the Vancouver Museum.

After a failed elopement with an Anglican minister (see Anglicanism in Canada), Hurley attended private school in Britain. Upon her return to British Columbia, she married estate agent J.R. Armytage-Moore in 1909, but left him a few years later to travel around the Pacific Northwest with a man from Liverpool, England, named Martin Murphy. As a Catholic (see Roman Catholic Church), Hurley could not divorce, and remained married to Armytage-Moore until his death in 1951.

Hurley had five children with Murphy, all of whom were born in the United States (see Americans). Two of them, Terrence and Michael, served in the Second World War — the former in the Canadian Armed Forces, and the later in the US Merchant Navy (see Merchant Navy of Canada). During these years, Hurley worked for a brief period as a union organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World and Murphy as a manual labourer (see Working-Class History).

After returning to Vancouver from the US in the early 1920s, Maisie met Irish-born Tom Hurley (see Irish Canadians), whom she married in 1951 a few months after the death of her first husband, J.R. Armytage-Moore. Tom Hurley was well known in the city as a progressive lawyer and pioneer in legal aid, particularly focusing on pro bono work for Indigenous clients.

Legal Work

Maisie Hurley became Tom’s legal secretary and eventually began assisting with cases, working primarily with Indigenous clients. Though it was illegal for a Status Indian (see Indian) to hire a lawyer or advance a land claim (see Indigenous Land Claims) until 1951, Maisie and Tom offered their legal services (see Legal Aid) to First Nations clients in the province, often free of charge. Hurley also actively lobbied for the rights of First Nations peoples in British Columbia, supporting their claim that they had never surrendered title to their traditional territories to the Crown (see Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada).

Maisie Hurley became the first female associate life member of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia in 1944 (see Native Indian Brotherhood).

The Native Voice

In 1944, Maisie Hurley met Haida Elder Alfred Adams, who was dying of cancer at the time. Adams, the founding president of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia (NBBC) (see Native Indian Brotherhood), asked Hurley to educate non-Indigenous people in the province and throughout Canada about Indigenous peoples’ struggles. His request inspired the creation of the country’s first Indigenous-focused newspaper, The Native Voice. Launched in December 1946, the nationwide paper brought attention to both the struggles and successes of various Indigenous communities across the country.

It featured stories written by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors advocating for the rights of Indigenous communities, like First Nations’ right to vote provincially in 1949 and federally in 1960 (see Indigenous Suffrage) and amendments to the Indian Act to decriminalize alcohol consumption. It was the first Canadian publication (see Newspapers in Canada) to voice criticism about the residential school system (see Residential Schools in Canada) before abuses within the schools were widely known. Although The Native Voice was not the first newspaper in North America to advocate for Indigenous rights — this honour belongs to the Cherokee Phoenix (1828–34) — it nonetheless reached both Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers across Canada, raising awareness about issues affecting Indigenous communities, such as land claims, societal inequality, racism and treaty rights.

The Native Voice was the official newspaper of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, one of the largest democratic Indigenous organizations in Canada. From its beginning, Hurley served on the newspaper’s editorial board as publisher and director — for many years without payment. The Native Voice was published from 1946 until 1967, three years after her death. (From 1964 to 1967, Hurley’s daughter and grandson ran the paper.)

Art Collection

In the early 1980s, the North Vancouver Museum and Archives (see North Vancouver) was given a collection of nearly 200 works by Indigenous artists (see Indigenous Art) previously owned by Maisie Hurley. She had inherited some of the objects from her parents, who had been well-known collectors (see Art Dealers) of Indigenous art. Many of the other artworks were gifted by Indigenous individuals and groups in gratitude for Hurley’s political advocacy of Indigenous rights. For example, she received several significant gifts from local Squamish leaders, including a few coiled cedar-root baskets and trays (see Weaving) as well as a ceremonial mask given to her by Xats’alanexw (Chief August Jack Khatsahlano) (see Coast Salish

In February 1962, Hurley held the first meeting of the Capilano Indian Museum Foundation (Citizens’ Committee — Museum of North Vancouver) in her Vancouver apartment. The group was made up of mostly non-Indigenous patrons of Indigenous art, with the goal of establishing an Indigenous art museum on the Capilano reserve in North Vancouver — something both Hurley and members of the Squamish Nation hoped to bring to fruition.

An exhibition of Hurley’s collection of Indigenous art entitled “Entwined Histories: Gifts from the Maisie Hurley Collection” was held at the North Vancouver Museum in 2011; the exhibit was a collaboration between the museum and the Squamish Nation.

Death and Legacy

Maisie Hurley’s health began to decline after her husband’s death on 25 December 1961. She had several strokes (see Heart Disease), eventually passing away at the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver on 3 October 1964.

During her lifetime, Hurley was honoured in several First Nations naming ceremonies (see Religion and Spirituality of Indigenous Peoples) by people of the Skeena, Squamish/North Vancouver and Comox areas (see Northern Coast Salish). In 1949, she was given the name Chief Sim-Klux by Gitxsan Chief Arthur McDanes, which translates to “Mother of the Finback Whales.” On Dominion Day (see Canada Day) in 1951, she was made a member of the Squamish Nation and named Maithla como (the Dancer), a name also given to her mother.

Hurley and her husband were early mentors to a young lawyer named Thomas Berger, who learned about Indigenous rights issues from them. Hurley maintained regular correspondence with federal Conservative leader John Diefenbaker. Among her many accomplishments, Hurley is particularly remembered for her work on The Native Voice. Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, founding member of Reconciliation Canada, suggested that the paper was crucial in advocating for housing, land rights, education and improved medical treatments for Indigenous peoples. The Native Voice existed at a time when gatherings of First Nations were illegal (see Banning the Potlatch in Canada) — it was one of the few channels of information and communication for and about Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Peoples Collection

Interested in the arts?

Further Reading

  • Sharon Fortney, “Entwined Histories: The Creation of the Maisie Hurley Collection of Native Art,” BC Studies, no. 167 (Autumn 2010): 71-104.

    Eric Jamieson, The Native Voice: The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada’s First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation (2016).

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