The rocky, grassy, arborial hummocks which support their homes are described in most travel folders as “a string of jewels” and, more accurately on the charts used by the daily CPR steamers between Vancouver and Victoria as the Gulf Islands. They lie off the southeast coast of Vancouver Island like embroidery on the hem of a woman’s skirt. The inhabitants never tire of saying, "I live on an island in the Pacific.” By this the mean that they are under the spell that is implied in the phrase. Though the Gulf Islands are on ten minutes by air or two hours by ferry from either Vancouver or Victoria they are in many way similar to those South Pacific atolls so haunting eulogized by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
There are more than a hundred Gulf Islands ranging in size from seventy square miles to () than an acre, and in height from two thousand feet to a few yards above sea level. Saltspring, the biggest, has about three thousand residents. Galiano, the next in importance, has fewer than five hundred. North and South Pender share about four hundred. Saturna has around eighty. A dozen of the smaller islands have twenty or thirty, a score of tiny ones are the exclusive preserve of (a single) family. The majority are uninhabited and may still be bought from the Crown for around ten (?) dollars an acre and occupied by anybody who cares to spend several thousand dollars boring for fresh water.
Generations of both Canadian and American tourists are familiar with their enticing outlines. Bluffs of bluish granite rear vertically for five hundred feet out of the sea to feathery scalps of (conifers), among which the arbutus is all the more beautiful in its coppery nakedness. Promontories (bank) the entrance to scalloped lagoons where driftwood lies like abstract sculpture on pearly beaches of powdered seashell. Inland there are (shady) valleys deep in ferns, honeysuckle drenching air with candy scents, rose campions whose crimson blooms and woolly white foliage suggest splashes of blood on an ermine cape, and great sweeps of rampant broom.
The homes of the Gulf Islanders generally hug the shore. They have in common flagpoles, motorboats, Cape Cod chairs and hammocks; otherwise they represent every kind of architectural expression from grotesque castles and Victorian piles to bungalows and log shacks. Their windows overlook boaters that are flecked with logs lost from Davis rafts; stippled with pneumatic balls like green (ranges) which support huge amber fronds of seaweed; broken by the joyous leap of porpoises and the bobbing “Old Bill” faces of seals; knifed () the six-foot dorsal fins of killer whales, ten tons (of) weight and thirty feet long; and riddled with opalescent jellyfish and octopuses.
Cleaving through these waters are Canadian and American warships, freighters from all over the world, tugs, barges and fishing boats, and big white yachts from the clubs in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and Portland.
Nearly all the Gulf Islands save Gabriola, Valdes and the tiny De Courcy group lie below the 49th parallel. In the south they tangle with an American cluster known as the San Juan Islands. There is hardly any communication between the (two) collections since informal landings by the citizens of one country on the terrain of the other one forbidden. During the last century the United Kingdom and the United States almost went to war for possession of both Gulf and San Juan Islands but in 1846 the Treaty of Oregon divided them with an imaginary zigzag border which runs rough the sea. The only blood ever shed in (frontier) incidents belonged to rumrunners, hijackers and U. S. coast guards during Prohibition. Six of the Gulf Islands differ in character from the rest. Canadian Industries Ltd. use James Island for a high-explosives plant which employs two hundred men in the risky task of making dynamite. Bentinck Island has for years been one (of) the refuges of unfortunates who return to Canada from tropical climes afflicted with leprosy. Currently, only two lepers are in the institution there. Piers Island was notorious in the early thirties as a penal settlement for Doukhobors convicted of nude parades, and is today deserted. (Super?) Island is an Indian reserve which boasts an excellent high school. Gabriola, the most northerly, is so much a part of Nanaimo’s urban scene that doesn’t rate as a true Gulf Island. Valdes is strictly for loggers.
All the rest have been spared the blemish of industry, misfortune and tourist honky-tonks. Here and there a logger’s axe has bitten timber but it has pruned rather than deflowered the scenery. Each year some vacationers visit one or her of the islands but a shortage of of accommodation and the absence of mechanical amusements have kept them down to a handful.
So the real Gulf Islanders are rarely disturbed their lotus eating. They bask in a climate that never too hot or too cold; never too wet or dry. Temperatures rarely rise above seventy or drop below forty-five. Cool breezes caress them on hot summer days yet in the winter the mountains on Vancouver Island and the mainland protect them from westerly gales and bitter east winds.
Many of the residents on the smaller islands go for weeks without hearing a car, touching an electric switch, seeing a neighbor reading a newspaper. In consequence, they sometimes lose track of time. When Jack Frost, a Vancouver surgeon, was on holiday with his family in the Gulf Islands last June he was asked twice one Sunday morning what day it was. Yet, if they wish, for about twelve dollars by air or five dollars by surface, most Gulf Islanders can have a day’s shopping in Vancouver or Victoria and be home in time for the customary early bed.
Unearned income is the lifeblood of the Gulf Islands. The rich men who own whole big islands have their dividends and most of the aged hermits who occupy tiny shacks receive military pensions for wounds or expired terms of service. The overwhelming majority of Gulf Islanders are retired bank clerks, civil servants, school teachers, minor executives, small businessmen and the like, living on annuities, pensions or the interest from accumulated savings. On Galiano one person in six receives the old-age pension and the same ratio applies roughly to the other islands.
Some pensioners supplement their income by market gardening, running water taxis, odd jobs of carpentry or plumbing, occasional labor on the roads and tasks that amount to taking in each other’s washing. But as a rule their life consists of leisurely strolls down to meet the Vancouver or Victoria Island ferry, organizing picnics for visiting grandchildren and other relatives, engaging in handicrafts for the church bazaar, and indulging in friendly gossip at the general store—usually situated by the dock. Margaret Busteed, a lighthearted elderly spinster who has lived for many years on North Pender, says: "I’m only two minutes from the store but when I go shopping I am involved in so many conversations around the counter that I simply cannot get home again in less than two hours.”
The only people who toil hard are the storekeepers, small loggers, resort owners, a few professional writers, the clerk in the liquor store on Saltspring and the chicken, cattle and sheep farmers. Sheep fare well and Gulf Island lamb is the one export of note.
The bounty of nature contributes to the leisured economy. So plentiful is the game that venison, pheasant and wild duck are part of everybody’s diet in season and sometimes out of season too. Recently one well-known Gulf Islander shot a buck outside a hall where a dance was in progress. If a fisherman returns without a salmon he is greeted with astonishment rather than condolences. Anybody can scramble about a beach for an hour and collect enough oysters and clams to make an ambrosial chowder for twelve.
Vegetables grow big, and apples, pears, plums, cherries, raspberries and strawberries ripen profusely in almost everybody’s back yard. Some islanders, taking a hint from the wild cactus, have produced such semi-tropical fruits as figs and lemons.
Freed from the constraints of convention, some Gulf Islanders permit long-subdued personality quirks to rise to the surface. One bizarre pinchpenny is still wearing out the clothes left by his late wife. A few years ago another islander spent weeks hauling dynamite to a cave where he eventually sealed himself in and blew himself up.
The most notorious island crackpot however was Edward Arthur Wilson, of the De Courcy group, who called himself Brother Twelve. Between 1927 and 1932 he dabbled in black magic, collected about him hundreds of moneyed disciples and encouraged them to observe his doctrine of free love. When he’d robbed them of a total of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars he bought himself a costly tugboat, sailed away, one jump ahead of the law, with a beautiful victim he called the Goddess Isis, and was never seen again. Brother Twelve left such a curse on the De Coureys that to speak of them to a Gulf Islander is a faux pas that produces a stony stare. It was Brother Twelve who saddled all Gulf Islanders with the unwarranted nickname of the Goofy Islanders.
When Jean Howarth, a columnist on the Vancouver Province, bought herself a summer home on Saturna some years ago she was asked: "What on earth made you choose that place? It’s full of wild goats and screwballs.” Saturna, twelve miles by six, is the most remote of the populated islands. It is still without public electric power, resorts, a bank, a gas station or paved roads.
And it is true about the goats. A couple of domesticated animals deserted by a settler some fifty years ago have multiplied into a wild flock several hundred strong.
An Embrace for the General
Among the screwballs, consider Adam Fosness, who during the Twenties and Thirties lived in a shack on top of a mountain. People said he was crazy because all he did was collect cedar, alder and arbutus boughs and fashion them into organ pipes, for every note in the chromatic scale. Some of the bass jobs were twelve feet long. He stacked them by the hundred all round his cabin. And then about the time the theatres turned over to talkies and began installing Wurlitzer organs Fosness disappeared for several months. Soon after he came back a ship called and took all his pipes away. He left for Norway with a small fortune.
Saturna is also the home of Eddie Reid, a droll middle-aged raconteur who makes his living as an assistant in the general store. During the last war Eddie joined a Saturna home defense force which was inspected one day by General George R. Pearkes VC. It was agreed that the general would not be reminded of the Department of Defense’s failure, in spite of repeated pleas and embittered entreaties, to send the local force some bullets. But Pte. Reid could not keep his mouth shut. He stepped out of the ranks, threw his arms around Pearkes’ neck and cried: "For God’s sake, general, pass the ammunition.”
Old Tom Durow, who lives alone on a pension from England’s Brigade of Guards on top of a nine-hundred-foot hill, is famous for his penetrating tenor renderings of Italian opera while fishing. But music has not undermined his military bearing. He stands to attention the moment he’s spoken to. Every morning he gives himself forty-five minutes of arms drill and occasionally follows up with ten rounds rapid fire at a target.
Many elderly bachelors and widowers like Tom have to make the best of the pittance to which nearly all imperial army pensions have been reduced by devaluation of sterling. There is George Elgie, for example, who took over a rotting shack with tree branches covering holes in the floor. He not only made it habitable but began expanding his tiny domain. Recently he bought ten acres of rocky crown land for eighty dollars and he was given three years to pay.
Bill Maclean, who is getting on for ninety and toddles every day round the same seven miles of scenic walk, has such a soft heart that he lavishes on machinery the sort of kindness that others reserve for animals. For years he has been buying rusting old trucks, trailers, pumps, marine engines and other mechanical equipment and littering them around his cabin. When asked what he intends to do with them he says: "Nothing. They’ve done their job. Let them rest in peace.”
Healthy old age is a phenomenon common to all the islands and especially to Saturna. Some years ago, the story goes, a Saturna man died at eighty. "He was always a sickly boy,” his mother remarked. Saturna’s George Copeland, at ninety-three, still rides bareback on his black pony Prince, raises fruit trees, including one grafted trunk that produces three different kinds of apple and a pear, and recently dug for the new cemetery ninety-three post holes, one for each year of his life, saying phlegmatically: "I’ll probably be first in.”
Ernie Crossingham has lived alone on Saturna for years. People who drop in for a chat and a cup of tea with Ernie are disconcerted by the sight of a chamber pot full of fresh water in a corner. "I always keep that handy in case of fire,” he says.
Baldy Satterthwaite, who does a bit of fishing, was overturned in his boat one night as he was transferring some household goods, including china, from one home to another. When he was pulled out, he said: "I always knew the fish would get me one day but I never thought I’d be served to them on my own dishes.”
One of the few true natives of Saturna is Joan Ralph, wife of Arthur Ralph, the storekeeper. She was a Georgeson, one of a family now scattered throughout the islands. She remembers how her father and uncle would row thirty miles to New Westminster for provisions and a case of Scotch. One night when they were rowing home they encountered a floating dead whale. Her father asserted salvage rights by climbing onto the whale with a bottle of Scotch and an oil lamp. He sat blissfully on its upturned belly all night while her uncle rowed back to New Westminster to fetch a tug.
But youth is coming into its own on Saturna. Jim and Lorraine Campbell, both graduates in agriculture from the University of British Columbia, went through some old records after the war and discovered that the late Warburton Pike, one of Saturna’s settlers and a famous explorer and big-game hunter, was highly successful at wintering hundreds of pack mules used for the summer exploration of B. C. They bought Pike’s old estate and today herd a hundred head of beef cattle so economically that they can compete with mainland prices, in spite of sea-freight rates across the gulf.
Recently, in the space of two hours, Lorraine Campbell drove four guests on a tractor up a three-mile trail from Saturna Beach to her farmhouse; prepared a chicken supper for six on a wood stove; churned twenty pounds of butter; put three children to bed; fixed the stalled gas engine that generates the electric light; rounded up the milk cow; changed into a party dress; and then downed a couple of cocktails with all the aplomb of a Westmount, Rosedale or Shaughnessy matron.
The seigneurs of Saturna are Jim and Lou Aloney, an energetic couple in their middle forties. Although he’s never had to try a case, Jim is recognized as the leading citizen by virtue of his magistrate’s rank. A former miner, he raises sheep, superintends dirt road repairs, delivers milk and serves as Saturna’s low-pressure promoter. Anxious to increase the island’s population, he builds homes at bargain prices to attract new residents. He will sell you on mortgage a brand-new four-roomed house with indoor plumbing and half an acre of land for three thousand dollars.
Ed Gilbert is one of the typical new residents lured by Jim Money. He had an office job in Saskatoon until just after the war. "My wife and I wrote to places all over the west coast,” he says, "looking for somewhere to retire. We got a lead to Jim Money. Jim’s friendly letter was irresistible and we visited him. We never went back. We stayed in a cabin at Jim’s farm while he built us the house.”
Ed’s only problem is a haircut. His wife died soon after he retired and he has to beg a cut off somebody else’s wife. Recently he heard there was a barber traveling aboard the ferry. He dashed down to the dock and, while the ferry was unloading, Ed got a haircut in front of a hundred cheering passengers.
One young man on Saturna is making a Herculean effort to live there without private means. He is Dave Jack, a former merchant seaman still in his thirties who lost an eye during the war in a German bombing raid on Glasgow docks. Down on a lonely Saturna beach he built a wooden fishing vessel forty-two feet long from logs he cut and seasoned himself. He fashioned every rib, bulkhead and spar and built in everything from the engine to the galley sink.
He borrowed eight thousand dollars before he was through but he sold the fishing boat for ten thousand dollars. Today he’s building a seine netter, and expects a bigger profit.
By Seaplane for Lamb
All the Saturna folk co-operate once a year to run the annual Lamb Barbecue. It started seven years ago as a local Dominion Day picnic and last July attracted more than a thousand outsiders. They came by ferry, rowboat, sailboat and motorboat. More than a hundred rakish craft from the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club were standing off Saturna beach. The navy came in two landing craft. Twenty-four people even arrived by chartered seaplane. The barbecue was originated by Jim Cruickshank, a Scotsman who once tried and failed to sheep-farm on Saturna. Now he travels from Vancouver especially for the event. Tickets this year were only a dollar each and most people got more lamb than they could eat. The holder of a lucky ticket won a case of Scotch.
She was Mrs. Beatrice Freeman, a greying vivacious South Pender Island matron who passes the time making silver filigree jewelry and owes her English accent to ancestors who first settled on the rocky six-by-two-mile knoll two generations ago. She is one of the old-timers who deplore the trend toward tourism. "In ten years,” she says, "the islands will be abominable, simply abominable, if they keep bringing these weekly boarders in.”
Her husband, John Freeman, is the South Pender postmaster. Officially, the thirty residents are supposed to collect their mail from the Freeman home on a wild lonely shore looking across the gulf to the San Juan Islands. But Freeman delivers as much as he can by motorboat, leaving letters and parcels in rocky crevices at the foot of the recipients’ property. He’s familiar with the killer whales which slide up the gulf like squadrons of destroyers. They have been known to bite the bow off a sixty-foot yacht. "It’s dangerous,” says Freeman, "to be in a boat without power when the killer whales are around.”
The Pender Islands, now linked by a bridge and within easy ferry reach of Vancouver Island, are fast becoming independent of pensions. Sheep farmers are adding to their flocks every year. North Pender, in seeming protest against the Gulf Islands reputation for primitive conditions, has developed tourist resorts that can compete with mainland hotels. Mrs. W. W. Lynd, a bustling black-haired matron, the wife of a successful Alberta lawyer, took over an old mansion, painted it in dazzling colors, stuffed it with plush furnishings, and installed in the formal gardens a swimming pool and patio with little tables and bright parasols. Everybody’s room is equipped with drinking glasses wrapped in wax paper and a printed injunction to draw the shades when leaving to protect the wallpaper and rugs from fading. She calls it Beautyrest.
Jack Bridge, an Englishman and former bank clerk, who keeps the general store on North Pender, has one of the best Why I Came To The Islands stories. After World War I he was on his way to New Zealand but while waiting for the ship in Vancouver he met an old army pal who said: "You don’t have to go so far to find a bit of peace. There’s a little store out in the Gulf Islands . . .” Jack bought it and has been there ever since.
Island kindliness was seen at its best in North Pender four years ago when old John Newman, a Royal Navy pensioner, lost his cabin by fire. Members of the Canadian Legion built him a new one free. Even so, John has impressed all the islanders by his independence. Out of a pension hardly big enough to keep a cat alive he’s developed three acres and become self-supporting. "He sings in his garden from morning till night,” says Mrs. W. L. Shirley, a neighbor, "and it’s a tonic to listen to him.” Recently Mrs. Shirley sold John an old washstand with a mirror. He said in his chirpy Cockney: "Cor blimey, that’s the first time I’ve seen myself in years, and damn me if I’m not the best-looking old geezer on this ’ere gull perch.”
While the Penders become more progressive, Mayne Island, about five miles in diameter, jogs along at the old tempo. The pace was set by Lady Constance Fawkes who died a couple of years ago. She lived in a sixty-room mansion that is now a tourist home. Once she had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary and until her recent death she affected the same sort of old-fashioned toques, high necks and parasols as her former royal mistress.
There is time for anything on Mayne, even for training dogs as deck hands. When Mayne’s Derril Georgeson motorboats up to a dock newcomers are astonished to hear him cry: "Bowline!” or "Sternline!” and to see his big black dog Punk jump ashore, grab the line indicated, and hold the craft alongside until Derril can make fast. As casually as if he were talking to a human Derril says: "Go and get your victuals.” Punk then trots up to the general store and grabs himself a can of dog food while the clerk nonchalantly puts it down to Derril’s account.
Punk does most of his shopping on Galiano Island, the twenty-five-mile-long three-mile-wide finger that lies just to the north of Mayne. Here Fred and Margaret Robson run a modern resort named Galiano Lodge and recently Lt.-Col. Max Hillary, a cousin of Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Everest, came out from the Eastern Townships of Quebec to give them some hot competition with housekeeping cabins.
Another go-ahead Galiano type is Capt. Ivan G. Denroche, formerly of Dublin, who has such faith in the future that he loses several hundreds of dollars a year keeping a golf course going.
Even a few retired people on Galiano have been caught up in the recent surge of effort. John and Margaret Robinson, a Scots couple who made a fat bank balance in a candied-peel business in Vancouver, settled on Galiano swearing never to do another stroke of work. But now they’re baking eighteen pounds of Gulf Islands Shortbread every day on their kitchen stove, packing it professionally in tins and exporting it as far as England, the Channel Islands, France, Sweden and Australia. "We got bored doing nothing,” says John.
Each year Galiano runs a festival in imitation of Saturna’s barbecue. But the only original idea so far is that of Oily Garner who built a model bronco out of oil drums, burlap, an eccentric axle and a motor. This works so vigorously it has been known to toss an Alberta cowboy.
“I Needle Them a Bit”
The most disconcerting man on Galiano is seventy-year-old Dr. Morton Hall who, until five years ago, was a professor of pathology at the University of Alberta. Wearing one of those conical straw hats you see in hillbilly cartoons, and tattered pants held up by galluses, he drives down to the dock every day in a ramshackle car full of eggs. When I met him he said fiercely: "Don’t be fooled by the condition of this car. I’ve got four thousand chickens back there and they’re eating twelve tons of feed a month and that means eggsports, boy —exports! Do you get it?”
He looked at the crew of the ferry and shouted: "If you men feel up to the strain there’s a dozen crates of eggs here for Vancouver. But if this is one of your off days I’ll heave them aboard myself.” As the grinning crew loaded the eggs he said: "You can laugh but remember, this is the only stuff going off the island today. You’ve brought ten tons in but mine’s the only cargo you’re taking out.” Then he swung around on me again and said in a voice loud enough for everybody on the dock to hear: "There are too many people sitting around on their fannies in these islands. Fancy an old man like me having to come in and show them how to get a move on.”
Then he winked and whispered: "I have to needle them a bit. It’s good for their circulation.”
Another unorthodox denizen of Galiano is Don New, the postmaster. He’s a nudist. When he takes his annual holidays he always goes to a nudist convention. Mind you, he doesn’t function in his official capacity in the buff. He wears a pair of shorts. And when he goes out to dinner or loads the mail aboard the ferry he even covers his usually naked torso with a jacket. Though most Galiano residents disapprove of his doctrines they are indulgent toward his sincerity, even to the point of letting him preach in the Anglican church when the dean cannot get over from Vancouver.
The dean is the Very Reverend Northcote Burke, of Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral, who intends to retire to Galiano and meantime occupies a week end and summer cabin there. On Galiano the dean uses unconventional language for one of his cloth. Referring recently to a well-known Biblical story he said: "And the boy David was pitted against this enormous chap put forward by the Philistines. Golly, this gigantic chap was around twelve feet high. He must have been an American import.”
One of Galiano’s several beachcombers is Tom Carolan, who lives on the east shore facing Vancouver in a tent equipped with a telephone. At night Tom can see the city lights turning the sky into a kaleidoscope but he says: "Vancouver is only beautiful from here.” He scratches a living going around the islands by boat and showing movies, often to no more than twelve people. For several years he’s been building himself a bungalow out of washed-up lumber. It’s almost finished now. "You can beachcomb anything here,” says Tom.
His neighbor, Doug Moore, recently picked up on the beach a crate of fresh eggs. "All we need now,” said Mrs. Moore, "is some bacon.” Next morning Doug found a ten-pound can of bacon deposited on his front doorstep by the tide. Four other Galiano residents confirm the story.
They are a generous lot on Galiano. When Lady Tweedsmuir visited the community as wife of the then governor-general she said she’d simply love to own a whole island. The people of Galiano bought her one and the Tweedsmuir family has paid taxes on it ever since.
The biggest wholly owned island is Moresby, four miles long by two wide. In the Nineties it belonged to a man named Robertson who built a castle there. It took the shape of two separate towers joined by a passageway. Legend has it that old Robertson lived in one tower and his wife in the other and that they met in the middle once a year. Capt. Owen Robertson, his grandson, has been heard to say he considers the story "a trifle exaggerated.”
Most of the wholly owned islands support a beautiful lodge in which a Croesus lives. Samuel Island once belonged to Garfield Weston, the Canadian biscuit millionaire, and now is the property of Harry Worth, a Texas oilman. Tumbo, Wallace, Jackscrew, Coal and Knap Islands belong to wealthy Americans who fly in for the summer from homes as far apart as Virginia and California and are rarely seen by the Canadian island residents.
In Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island, there is a small island on which the first owner built a miniature castle complete with turrets and battlements. It’s now owned by George Cran, a retired vice-president of the Vancouver Sun, who has modernized the interior but left the outside alone. It suggests a picture out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.
Ganges is the biggest of three townships on Saltspring Island which, in turn, is the biggest island in the group. Because it has a drugstore, a florist, a dress shop, several groceries, two service stations, a bank, a liquor store, a hotel, a beer parlor and twelve miles of paved highway linking it with the ferry dock at Fulford Harbour, Ganges rates as the capital of the Gulf Islands.
In an office in Ganges sits plump businesslike Gavin Mouat, a member of one of the oldest families and a mixture of merchant prince and historian. Mouat money is in almost everything on the island from farms to stores and from logging to ferryboats. Most people buying property do so through the agency of a Mouat real-estate company.
Mouat sums up the past, present and future of the islands succinctly: "First the Indians were top dogs. Then they were dominated by pioneer farmers and loggers. Next, retired wealthy families held the strings for fifty years. Lately, retired families of modest means have outnumbered all the others. There is a struggle going on between a few big landholders who want to keep the islands as they are today and businessmen who want to divide them up and develop them into well-populated residential and holiday resorts. The latter are bound to win. The converging pressures of Vancouver and Victoria are irresistible.”
But up to now there’s plenty of the old flavor left on Saltspring. There is a colony of Negroes, for example, whose ancestors arrived in the Sixties. They had traveled to California with their masters as slaves and, on finding themselves unshackled, simply fled. To make doubly sure of their freedom some crossed the Canadian border.
The Negroes were among the first arrivals on Saltspring. The Indians gave them a rough time at first but they carved out homes for themselves. Among the children of the runaway slaves was Matilda Stark, who died only a few years ago at the reputed age of a hundred and twelve. Ernie Harrison, who is in his nineties, and coal black, claims he was the first "white man” born on Saltspring. By this he means the first non-Indian. There is little racial discrimination. Negro and white youngsters dance together at local shindigs. The Negro community has even attracted to Saltspring wealthy outsiders of its own color. One Saltspring Negro girl married Bob Holloman, the former president of a big Negro insurance company in the States. Now he’s retired and lives on his wife’s native heath in a gracious commodious home.
One of the oldest white families is the Ruckles, now running into the fourth generation, and prospering as farmers. On their estates is a house with a sad romance. It was built by a grandson of the original Henry Ruckles for the girl he intended to marry. A few days before the wedding date he was jilted. No one has ever lived in that house.
Old people abound on Saltspring and there is one woman there who’s done so much for them that the National Film Board is making a movie about her. She is Winnie Lautmann, a tough, talkative, bespectacled little citizen in her sixties, who charges around in an old truck wearing a scarlet baseball cap and occasionally tossing back a double gin. After a hard early life as a waitress and jail matron she came to Salt spring, made half a million dollars out of a timber stand, and earned the newspaper title of The Lady Logger.
Since the war she’s spent much of her money on social welfare. Among other things, she’s built twenty-five cabins which she rents to old-age pensioners for as little as six dollars a month. Visitors usually find Winnie on top of one of the cabins with a paint brush or a hammer. "Sure I lose money on them,” she says, "but what the hell? I can’t take it with me.”
The Great Jetty Mystery
Although many people on Saltspring live in homes that are up to city standards the life occasionally calls for pioneer ingenuity. Earl Hardie, a retired merchant seaman, has a showpiece. It’s a jetty built of rocks between five and ten tons in weight. "Now how do you think,” he says, "that one man, with no mechanical lifting equipment, could place those rocks in position?” It’s a poser that never fails to stump Earl’s many visitors.
Well, Earl would spot a rock lying away down the beach at low tide and covet it for his jetty. So he would go out, dig a hole under it, and pass a chain around it. Then when the tide rose high enough to just cover the rock he’d go out in his powerboat towing a log forty feet long and five feet thick. He’d hitch the chain around the rock to the log. As the water rose the log would lift the rock and Earl would simply tow the whole shebang back to his jetty. There he’d release the chain and let the rock sink just where he wanted it.
The spirit of democracy prevailing on Saltspring is purely distilled. At the Harbour House Hotel, Desmond Crofton, who was the commander of an infantry battalion during the last war, frequently waits in the beer parlor on men who were privates in his own ranks. The hotel, painted with shamrocks and hung with shillelaghs on green ribbons, has the atmosphere of an old Irish country inn, though it also has an excellent swimming pool and tennis court. Its profits are divided by a group of Crofton brothers and sisters known as the Seven Dees—Desmond, Denise, Diana, Dermot, Doreen, Dulcie and Donovan. The alliteration is disliked so intensely by Donovan that now, after many years of pleading, he’s succeeded in persuading the whole of Saltspring to call him Patrick.
Through a marriage the Croftons were all related in childhood to one of the most fabulous residents the islands have ever known. He was a three - hundred - pound Yorkshireman named Henry W. Bullock, who arrived during the reign of Edward VII in a silk hat, high collar, stovepipe pants and spats, with bags bulging with the proceeds of a highly profitable woolen business. He built himself a big red house near Ganges and started to live like Lucullus.
Quarters of beef, haunches of venison, whole lambs and suckling pigs sizzled every night on spits round an open fire. The flesh disappeared by the ton into the mouths of scores of guests. Sometimes he invited so many that his twenty-four-place table was too small and the guests had to eat at two sittings. On these occasions Bullock, occupying a specially reinforced chair at the head, invariably dined twice.
There were certain penalties attached to accepting Bullock’s hospitality. All guests had to wear full evening dress and any woman who turned up without long gloves and earrings was not asked again. "A beautiful woman,” bachelor Bullock used to say, "has many duties to society and not the least of these is having her ears pierced.”
He would walk through Ganges dangling a pair of expensive earrings and when he met a woman who was not wearing them he’d take hold of her ear and inspect it. Then he’d say: "Madam, if you will have your ears pierced these rings shall be yours.” Before his death during World War 1 he’d fitted out almost every woman on Saltspring with a pair.
Saltspring is served by ferries from both the mainland and Vancouver Island. The first of these is the Lady Rose which puts out from Steveston, near Vancouver, every morning, calls at all the major islands on her way to Saltspring, and returns to Steveston late at night. The Lady Rose is only about eighty feet long, and passengers find it hard to believe that she sailed out from the Glasgow shipyards under her own steam in 1937. She is owned by O. H. (Sparky) New, a brother of Galiano’s postmaster. New built up a coastal tug business from scratch and only entered the passenger trade a couple of years ago when the CPR withdrew its Gulf Island ferry because it didn’t pay, leaving the inhabitants cut off from Vancouver. Though the Lady Rose is a bit shabby and New has a tough time breaking even, the islanders are grateful for her.
The other ferry is the Cy Peck, which carries sixteen cars arid passengers from Swartz Bay, near Sidney on Vancouver Island, to Saltspring’s Fulford Harbour at two-hour intervals. One of her two shift skippers is George Maude. His father, the late Commander Eustace B. Maude RN, was in command of the royal yacht Victoria and Albert one night when she had the misfortune to be involved in a collision. Queen Victoria, who happened to be on board, was not amused, so Eustace Maude left sadly for Canada and settled on Mayne Island.
In 1925, when he was seventy-seven, Eustace Maude decided to show his face in England once more and he set off in a twenty-five-foot sailboat named the Half Moon. He intended to take the Panama Canal but when he was off the California coast the boom swung unexpectedly and knocked him unconscious for five days.
When he woke up Maude fixed his position at six hundred miles off San Francisco. He refused assistance from a passing freighter and sailed home again. He never did get back to England but enriched the history of the Gulf Islands.
Before I left Saltspring I called on Jack Scott, whose daily column is one of the best-read features in the Vancouver Sun. We sat on his beach around a campfire and watched a hot day depart. The sun went down in a glory of regret and the full moon soared to take its place. Somewhere in the bush a wild animal shrieked seven times as it was done to death by an enemy and then we were lulled into forgetfulness again by the utter peace of an island night. I've lived in London, Paris, Rome, Athens and Vienna; I've worked in Brussels. Berlin, Marseilles, Geneva and Barcelona: I've ridden a rickshaw in Durban. climbed the pyramids in Cairo, danced with a Circassian siren in Damascus and eaten sheep's eyes with a sheik near Aleppo. But few of these experiences are etched deeper into my memory than the trip to the Gulf Islands which produced this article.