REVOLUTION IN LOTUSLAND
Now that a boom is busting out all over Vancouver Island what will happen to the wonderful wacky charm that was always one of its greatest assets? The optimists hope that the power and the glory will live happily side by side
THE LOVELIEST corner of all Canada, in the opinion of Rudyard Kipling, Robert W. Service and William E. Hawkins Jr., an expatriate New Englander, is Vancouver Island, that wooded archipelago tucked into the southern coastline of British Columbia.
Kipling and Service looked on this majestic land with the eyes of artists and sang the praises of its mountains, lakes and rivers in prose and poetry. Hawkins had a different approach. Thumbing through a sports magazine in his Redding, Conn., home a couple of years ago he happened upon a listing of open seasons for hunting and fishing in North America. When he saw the Vancouver Island schedule his eyes popped. “It was twice as long as any of the others,” he recalls. “Blue grouse, pheasant, quail, deer, bear, cougar, coho salmon and winter steelhead. I said to my wife: ‘Dorothy that’s for us.’ She agreed. A few weeks later we had sold the house, packed my rifles, reels and dogs, and we were on our way.”
Not long ago the amiable American spoke to the Rotary Club of Victoria on the reasons for his transcontinental hop. “I hope you appreciate what you’ve got here,” he said. “This island has everything you can find anywhere else in the world.” When a full-grown cougar was shot out of a tree in the front yard of his Saanich home Hawkins refused to send newspaper clippings back to his pals in Connecticut. “They’d never believe it.” Hawkins insists today he’s the happiest man in the world. At least once a week he’s out on the Cowichan or Englishman’s River, depleting these admirable waters of brown trout and steelhead.
When the late King and his Queen passed this way in 1939 she is reported to have looked longingly at one of the Gulf islands, which were pried loose from the main island in some cataclysmic upheaval thousands of years ago, and remarked to the ship’s captain that she’d like to live there for the rest of her life. And when the famed travelogue director, James A. FitzPatrick (“. and so we bid reluctant farewell to beautiful Bongo-Bongo”), had seen the rest of the world he announced that he had purchased an island in the Straits and would hereinafter devote his life to watching the golden sun fading into the golden horizons of the golden west, with the thought uppermost in his mind that this was the life for him.
And so it is for the other 215,003 persons who inhabit this blessed land. Vancouver Island is long (two hundred and eighty-two miles) and narrow (fifty to sixty miles), a fat trout beside the massive creel of British Columbia. It has a jagged backbone of snow-capped peaks rising up to Golden Hinde (7,219 feet), studded with white scarves of waterfalls and exquisite tiny jewels of lakes.
Half the population of the island lives in and around Victoria, which is plugged on a local radio station as “Canada’s most beautiful city”—a tag which irritates a number of natives who regard it as unnecessary and immodest. The other half (invariably called up-islanders by Victorians) live on the coastal fringes, with the largest concentration at Nanaimo (fifteen thousand) and around Port Albemi (about twelve thousand).
Victorians reside in a proliferating jungle of trees almost unknown elsewhere in Canada: flowering
dogwood, gnarled oaks, holly, arbutus, monkey trees and a wild broom whose springtime flowering covers whole hillsides with vivid yellow. Among them, coveys of pheasant and quail roam at will. Farther north, in what island artist Emily Carr called the rain-forest, are the thick stands of Douglas fir, red cedar and hemlock. In 1939, Camp 6 of the Great Central Logging Co. felled c fir two hundred and twenty-five feet high which produced forty-three thousand board feet of lumber, enough for an apartment house.
Such giants live in areas which, like Kennedy Lake, have more than three hundred inches of rainfall a year. But Victoria, a hundred and fifty miles south, is warmed by the Japanese current: last year the peninsula was so parched that a rain-maker was summoned from Regina in an attempt to save the strawberry crop. He didn’t. It is a source of never-ending satisfaction to Victorians that Vancouver, ninety miles away by sea, twenty minutes by air, has twice as much rain.
A few months ago a young Victoria business executive, who earns ten thousand dollars a year, was ottered twenty thousand to go to work in Vancouver. He sneered, “THAT place?”
Few Canadians realize that Vancouver Island’s area of 12,408 square miles makes it six times the size of Prince Edward Island, almost as big as Denmark and Switzerland. But when economists point out that Switzerland supports comfortably a population twenty times as large they are putting their fingers on the island’s basic conflicts: com-
merce vs. charm; industry vs. insularity; the power vs. the glory. Vancouver Island,
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popularly misconceived to be a lotusland exclusively inhabited by tweedy oldsters, remittance men and pukka sahibs, is undergoing a brisk industrial revolution. The remittance man has largely disappeared, devalued by the pound and a changing set of social standards. In his place is the mechanized worker who, with a couple of his pals, may operate a multimillion-dollar plant in a white shirt with his name stitched on the pocket.
The pioneer economy was built around the sea otter, halibut and coal: these have all but gone. Today, lumber is queen—and so valuable that the bits and pieces the boys used to sweep under the rug are now tidied up and vacuumed into the hoppers of the pulp plants. New power lines march single file across the gullies and ravines, from top to bottom of this island, inspiring a hundred million dollars’ worth of new plant construction.
Will the power destroy the glory? Detached observers claim that they can co-exist in amiable schizophrenia - that this island can be all things to all men.
To the logger it is today the site of some of the world’s finest timber. It is the home of MacMillan and Bloedel, whose merger last year created one of the mightiest logging empires in the world. It is the home of the only new newsprint mill in Canada for a decade—Elk Falls plant at Duncan Bay.
To the commercial fisherman, the bulk of whose ninety-million-dollar-ayear Pacific Coast catch is taken in waters adjacent to Vancouver Island, it provides dozens of sheltered fiords and safe harbors. To the farmer it provides an eighteen - million - dollar
annual revenue in fruit, vegetables, daffodils and turkeys. For the manufacturer it produces one hundred and twenty-three million dollars a year: the unique downtown harbor of Victoria is guarded to starboard by the Pendra y brothers (Bapco Paint) and to port by the Hon. Robert Wellington Mayhew (Sidney Roofing).
Miners extract S9.3 millions a year in coal, iron ore, gold, copper, silver, lead and zinc. Island retail sales in 1951 were one fifth of the provincial total.
Vancouver Island faces the teeming millions of Asia who need its lumber and fish. In the past five years the island’s installed horsepower has trebled but its known potential is three times greater again. Of the arable land in the southeastern quarter of the island only fifteen percent is yet under cultivation.
Rich as the island is. it’s starved for communications. There are today in British Columbia seven thousand miles of new super-high ways' of these, fewer than two hundred are on the island. There is no single road on the island from end to end or side to side. For fifiy years politicians have been talking
of a west coast road from Alberni to Long Beach to open up the wildly beautiful tidewater at the end of Barclay Sound, a jagged sword-plunge into the island’s innards. They are still talking.
This infuriates the islanders, who feel that their country has been retarded while its wealth has crossed the Gulf to open up the interior of B. C.
If the American visitors wjio pour into the southern end of the island from Seattle and Anacortes want to cruise the west coast, whose crashing surf and stark rock formations are reminiscent of the Hebrides, they must seek passage in the Princess Maquinna, a venerable Canadian Pacific Steamships vessel which chuffs out each week with capacity loads to such spots as Nootka where, in 1792, Captain George Vancouver with the assistance of a little swordrattling back at the Admiralty, convinced Señor Don Juan Francisco de Bodega y Quadra that Spain should cede its claims to this territory.
Here also the ship will pass Estevan Lighthouse, the only piece of Canadian soil shelled bv an enemy in World War II.
Last year more than three hundred and fifty thousand visitors were lured by what George I. Warren, the island’s relentless publicist, describes as “a complete compendium of mountains, lakes, rivers and ocean beaches." The portly “G.I.” who has probably eaten more tourist-bureau luncheons than any other survivor, is blissfully happy in his locale and in dedicating his life to the elimination of the phrase “From Halifax to Vancouver.” Warren points out that Canadians describing the outer reaches of their country should say: “From St. John’s to Victoria.”
American tourists reaching the island almost invariably head for the ivy-clad Empress Hotel, perhaps the only hostelry on the continent so imposing that men remove their hats instinctively when they enter the lobby. On the way they pass near the Parliament Buildings, especially outlined at night for them with three thousand lightbulbs—which natives sometimes call “Victoria’s heavy industry.”
They may goggle (as Victorians always do) when an electric automobile glides noiselessly down Fort Street, a Mary Petty figure holding a firm hand on the crossbar. They may hear about the lonely old woman whose house, after her death, was found to be overflowring with new but unused hats, gloves, imitation flowers and other feminine knickknacks, many stashed in bathtubs with the price tags still on them. They may meet “Torpedo,” a woman who likes to send cables of advice to Winston Churchill. One such read: “Winnie! Don’t give up India!"
No visitor has yet been lucky enough to get a picture of the town's famed sea serpent. Caddy, although the Victoria Times had a mild flutter on the subject earlier this year. The Times, which named the beast tafter Cadboro Bay) and has a standing offer of two hundred d tllars cash for a decent picture of it, received a call from a Victorian in a high state of agitation. He had seen the serpent up close and gave a vivid description of it. “But did you get a picture?” demanded managing editor Les Fox.
“No. I didn’t have a camera,” the native replied. “It was rather bad luck, you know. An American chap standing a few yards away had one slung around his neck.”
“Why didn’t you get that one?” barked Fox
"Heavens!" the Victorian exclaimed. “We hadn't heen introduced. I mean.
Visitors will hear all the old jokes about the town (“Victoria, the home
of the newly-weds and nearlv-deads") which the natives shrug off as priceless word-of-mouth publicity. They know better. A recent survey showed that three quarters of its residents are under fifty-four and that they have the highest purchasing power per capita in Canada.
Most motorists, after touring Victoria's neat homes and immaculate gardens, will head out over the Island Highway to the Malahat Drive, whose brick-red peeling arbutus trees and lofty eminences will one day provide a dazzling finish to the trans-Canada route. About an hour north of Victoria they will come upon Duncan where, if they turn left (as ballerina Moira Shearer and her husband Ludovic Kennedy did a few weeks ago), they can try for steelhead in the rushing Cowichan River. Fishing guides come at twelve-fifty a day and the trout are partial to a lure called the Golden Girl. By the roadside they may find plump Indian matriarchs hand-carding and hand-knitting the renowned Cowichan sweaters.
A few minutes farther north, smack on the forty-ninth parallel, is Ladysmith, whose streets are named after British generals who distinguished themselves in the Boer War. Founded on coal. Ladysmith survived a bitter two-year strike in 1912 only to see the veins run out in 1931. For five years it was virtually a ghost town. But in 1936 the Comox Logging Company persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation to dispose of its impressive timber holdings (after a fortuitous gale had bowled over one hundred and fifty million board feet) and a new era of prosperity dawned. Today, thanks to logging and a nearby oyster industry. Ladysmith has money and sea food, plus one of the finest ocean views in the country.
Sixteen miles north lies Nanaimo (pronounced Nan-eye-mo) which calls itself the Hub City: it is nearest to
Vancouver and midway between Victoria and Campbell River. Boosters claim it is destined to outstrip Victoria: its fine harbor is currently clearing eight million feet of lumber a month.
Nanaimo's personable forty-twoyear-old mayor. Earle C. Westwood, won national attention last fall when he threw away the illuminated address prepared by the city for the Prince and Princess and ad-libbed them a message straight from the heart.
Shelby Saunders, a New Jersey entrepreneur who came to the island twenty-five years ago on a timber deal, liked Nanaimo so well he stayed—and prospered. “Victoria," he says, "provides the social entryto the island; Nanaimo, the commercial.”
Saunders is one of the two hundred and forty enthusiastic Nanaimo yachtsmen who established the town as home port for the International Predicted Log Race, a power-boat test which for twenty-five years has established handsacross-the-Straits amity with Seattle's yacht club.
To many travelers Nanaimo may seem the island's break-off point esthetically as well as physically. To the south its air is ambulant and genteel: to the north lustier, more commercial, redolent of the hairychested life.
Between Nanaimo and Qualicum Beach are a number of fine estates. At one private property near the main highway tourists sometimes wander in. drop their bags and yell for a bellboy. The area offers river fishing, golf, horseback riding and. on the flats of Parksville, a first-class retriever trial dog show.
Thereafter, the pleasant vistas of the south give way to row on row of tiny tourist cabins, roadside hamburger
stands and tae bleak unpainted loggers’ shacks of Fanny Bay and Buckley Bay. Tourists can’t help noticing, however, the thirty-five-hundred-dollar dans and roadsters which stand out. iJe these homes.
Logger-sportsman Cliff Rushton has a ready explanation; “Cars can move. The boys harvest the crop and move on. So why waste money on a house? What’s more, these boys aren’t houseproud. They may fool you. Some of those gyppos (small, independent operators) can write cheques for twentyfive thousand dollars and cash ’em!” Once a month or so loggers and their wives use these temporary quarters for entertainment purposes. A loggersociologist, who looks on his fellow toilers with vast affection and amusement. says that a remarkable pattern emerges from these spectacular beat-
Act 1: Loggers and women gather in kitchen. Table is loaded with ten dozen beer, such mixers as apricot brandy, sloe gin and Drambuie.
Act 2; Men take off their coats and ties; women huddle in corner, discussing latest pregnancies. Men talk about falling a red cedar on boss.
Act 3: Men punch women in ribs: women respond kittenishly by kicking mer. in stomach.
Act 4:. Wheezy gramophone plays one record — Be My Life's Companion. Couples dance.
Act 5: Women start tearing out each other’s hair. Men sit back roaring. Chairs fly through windows. Stove overturns. Driver piles car into fifteen-foot log butt.
Act 6: (A month later.) All's forgiven. Party resumes.
Not many tourists will get down a side road to Hilliers where the Doukhobors go serenely about their business of communal living. And they will sail right past the quiet colony of two hundred Mennonites at Black Creek, whose only landmark is Schulz’s general store with the latest shipment of sofas and water tanks heaped on the front
Unless they’re tipped off in advance they may never notice the island's best-known tavern at Bowser, a small white inn where Harry du Pre sells two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of beer on good nights and where they still speak in reverent tones of Mike Bowser, the dog who took the beer tray in a plastic mouthpiece and made change for the customers.
Visitors need a sharp eye for side roads to reach the better tourist resorts. No billboard advertising is permitted on highways. At Yellow-point Lodge, nine miles south of Nanaimo, they can sit in the sun on a rocky promontory and watch an amazing demonstration of precision diving by sea birds, or marvel at the thick arbutus which grows up through the floor of the main lounge.
At Eaglecrest they can admire a stunning seascape, catch salmon, and perhaps get a peek at the royal suite, where the Prince and Princess tarried at the western end of their tour. At Klitsa Lodge on Sproat Lake (“the Lucerne of British Columbia’’) they can swim in w-ater that leaves the skin like velvet. At Painter’s Lodge, hard by Campbell River, they can catch tyee salmon the size of a small boy.
A few weeks ago Duncan Ross, a BBC television expert on loan to Canada, visited Painter’s and saw on the wall a picture of a seventy-twopound salmon caught a couple of years ago by Mrs. Lionel Patton, of Olympia, Wash., on a homemade rod with a hook the size of a dime. Ross studied the picture solemnly. “I don’t care if she is a lady," he remarked. “The woman w-ho caught that fish is a liar.”
At Genoa Bay, not far from Victoria,
travelers will be grn.ud by Hank Irwin, a genial San Franciscan who refused to be intimidated by the large number of admirals, colonels and group captains whose names turned up on mailboxes. Paintbrush in hand Hank strode out to his box and w-ith infinite pride affixed after his own name the serviceable U. S. rank of Pfc (Private first class).
But those visitors who think of Vancouver Island as one vast playground are mistaken. Traveling by road, along familiar byways, they are mercifully spared a look at the heavy-
imprint of industry’s foot on na.u.Us handiw-ork.
“Up top,’ among the cirrus and the nimbus, the island takes on a different perspective: the secrets of man’s
voracious pillaging of this wonderland are bared, naked and unlovely. Mile upon mile of slash and burnt-over stumpage bear mute testimony to man’s devastating march up the island: past Shawnigan Lake. Cowichan, Home, Great Central. Sproat, Upper Campbell and nowon up to Sayward.
At Forbes Landing, a famed fishing resort of Campbell River, gaunt grey
trees poke withered limbs through the waters of Campbell Lake, drowned by the back-up of the nearby John Hart power development.
Frowning down on this Daliesque wasteland is a spine of mountains which the pilots call Little Switzerland. Skimming along at seventy-five hundred feet pilots can see w-ater on both sides of the
Down below they will point out Forbidden Plateau, thus named by the early Indians, who would have made excellent public relations men. Today its dozens of lakes and grotesque
pines are sought out by photographers, skiers, painters and hikers, all of whom aver that the four-thousand-foot climb is well worth the trouble.
Close by is Strathcona Park, an eight - hundred - and - seventy - fivesquare-mile primeval wilderness deeded to the people of B. C. by a far-seeing government forty years ago.
At the entrance to this park lies Buttle Lake, one of the least-known, most - admired and best - publicized bodies of water in the province. It got that way when the governmentowned B. C. Power Commission announced it would dam Buttle to provide power for the burgeoning industries of the northern island. This touched off an epic squabble between those who want to keep the lake inviolate and those who would harness it for industry.
Sportsmen and naturalists, documenting their case in a manner the diekeybird conservationists never knew, argued that the government went into the venture without proper surveys: rhat there is strong evidence a proper dam cannot be built at Buttle: and that they can get their power, without damaging the park, at nearby Upper Campbell which is already defaced.
Leading the fight for the outdoorsmen is Roderick L. Haig-Brown who has virtually, at the point of his talented pen, stayed the power commission for a year. With verbs that curl the paper, and with the support of twenty-three fish-and-game organizations, he has made the debate lively political issue. Plain citizens who have never been near the lake (since it is now only accessible by private aircraft ) find themselves in heated opposition to politicians who have never been near it either but know that power means industry means jobs means votes.
In spite of such protests—or perhaps because of them—there is a growing awareness on the island that wilderness country, once destroyed, cannot be replaced. “The changing attitude of industry is encouraging." says government forester Harold McWilliams. Much of this may be attributed to enlightened self-interest. Estimates of the life expectancy of present timber stands range from twenty-five to seventy-five years. Now increasing care is being given to reseeding.
In the past thirteen years the Forest Service has planted one hundred thousand acres on the island. Nevertheless, there are two hundred thousand acres of privately owned land adjacent to the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway which need replanting.
Mere mention of the E. & N. elicits anguished yelps from George Bonner, president of the Vancouver Island Ratepayers' Association, which claims two thousand members. Bonner is a Cobble Hill merchant who conducts a one-man war against the line while handling its freight and express at the local station. When the ambiguity of this situation is pointed out to him. he chuckles: ' I'm seventy years old
and I don't give a tinker's damn for anybody. I'm trying to get this island out of the mire. The railway isn't hostile to me. They know we'll all benefit in the long run.”
Bonner contends that the CPR. which bought the E. & N. in 1905. has failed to live up to its pledge to provide on Vancouver Island a passenger service comparable to that of the parent line. While doing a brisk freight traffic poky E. & N. has been superseded in the passenger trade by Vancouver Island Coach Lines (buses which the CPR also controls. A few months ago the E. & N. threatened to discontinue its passenger service, which wasn’t being used. Bonner’s
outcries could be heard almost as far as the line’s dolorous klaxons.
Behind this beef is the oft-debated contention that the B. C. government, in an 1383 treaty with Ottawa, gave away priceless tracts of land to the original contractors of the railway. Recipients of this bounty were Robert and James Dunsmuir, enterprising Scottish coal barons who had SiJohn A. Macdonald on board when tht new line puffed into Nanaimo or. Aug. 13, 1886.
In return for building the railway the Dunsmuirs and some U. S. associates were given twenty miles of land on either side of the line, plus “all coal, coal oil, ores, stones, clay, marble, slate, mines, minerals and substances whatsoever thereupon, therein and thereunder.’ (Later the “royal minerals." gold and silver, were excepted.)
The Dunsmuirs liked to build castles of Scottish stone, hand-shaped. One of the most handsome stands today as the home of Royal Roads, tri-service training centre of the west coast.
What agitates George Bonner, and a great many other islanders, is that the government received no royalties on subsequent third-party sale of the E. & N. timber lands. No record of timber sales was kept from 1887 to 1S97. But between 1S98 and 1944 the company sold 763,565 acres of timber for revenues totaling .814,814.792.69: and another six billion feet is valued at twelve million dollars.
That this gift of three thousand square miles of matchless forest was a generous one may be inferred from the somewhat wry remarks of Chief Justice Gordon McG. Sloan, in his monumental 1945 Forest Resources
A return from the sale of timber land alone of approximately twentyfive million dollars, when compared with the original investment of two and a haLf millions, would appear to most people a reasonably adequate subsidy for the construction of eightytwo miles of railway.
Consideration of these figures, plus the arrival of big industry by his beloved Campbell River, causes Roderick Haig-Brown to glower darkly into his glass and talk lugubriously about moving with his family to the darkest recesses of the Forbidden Plateau.
It also inspires the island’s unofficial historian, journalist Bruce A. (Pinky) McKelvie. to talk wistfully of secession from the rest of B. C.. a cause which he championed with great ardor in the period 1935-38. Pinky's idea was that Vancouver Island should do away with income tax and succession duties and cash in on its natural beauty as a sort of Bahamas of the Pacific.
“I still think it would be a good idea." he murmurs, a faraway look in his eyes. "When we had equal representation in the House with the mainland we had a chance. Now, with ten seats out of forty-eight we haven’t got t hope. We ought to get out.”
And what do these gentlemen— Haig-Brown. Bonner and McKelvie -—think of the future of the island?
At this question they react as though pinked with c peavey. “Good Lord!" they exclaim. "Absolutely limitless —if we wake up in time.” ,
The only known dissenter from this view is sixty-eight-year-old Giuseppe Roat, a certified hermit (he charges forty-five cents for a look at his Museum of Nature An near Qualicum Beach), who recently announced that after thirty-three years on the island he was ready to give up and go back to his home in the Italian Tyrol.
This, to his outraged neighbors, was conclusive proof that the Hermit was. indeed, eccentric. H-