Book review: Quarantined: Life and Death at William Head Station, 1872-1959

By Peter Johnson. Victoria: Heritage House,  2013. ISBN 978-1-927527-31-3. Paperback, 312 pages. $22.95.

Peter Johnson is a good writer, and the assembled pictures of William Head wonderfully evoke the time, place, and historic process quarantine played in our country. The images are also all that the average Canadian is going to see of the old quarantine station, unless they are more fortunate than I was in getting past the prison guard. The author does a commendable job of describing the rocky road leading to the development of a world-class maritime quarantine station with its specialized equipment, dangers, and the ever-present problems of politics, media, and accommodating the class expectations of the day. At the end of the book, his interviews with people who lived and worked at William Head are an engaging human touch.

The author does have related recurring themes in the book: the hypocrisy of the inscription on the Statute of Liberty, protecting the public vs infringement of civil liberties, and his favorite--British snobbery, classism, and racism. With the third theme, it is as if he thinks his audience won't get the point unless he frequently reminds them of it. He also gives unreferenced opinions. He refers to the federal government's "niggling neglect." A primary reference to the auditor general's report from the year in question would have been much more convincing. Historical novelists use their own adjectives to describe historical figures. So does Peter Johnson. In British Columbia's first quarantine debacle he describes Mayor Lewis of Victoria "grinning like a Cheshire cat" and says that the quarantine officer, Dr Matthews, "simpered about, vaccinating everyone in sight." This technique may enliven the story but it is at the expense of credibility.

Farley Mowat said of himself, "I never let facts get in the way of a good story." Has Peter Johnson sacrificed focused scholarship for the sake of his story?
--Ian A. Cameron, MD
Sherbrooke, NS

Ian A. Cameron, MD,. Book review: Quarantined: Life and Death at William Head Station, 1872-1959. BCMJ, Vol. 56, No. 8, October, 2014, Page(s) 382 - News.

Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

BCMJ standard citation style is a slight modification of the ICMJE/NLM style, as follows:

  • Only the first three authors are listed, followed by "et al."
  • There is no period after the journal name.
  • Page numbers are not abbreviated.

For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit

BCMJ Guidelines for Authors

Leave a Reply