Articles

The last stronghold of the Longstockings

McKENZIE PORTER April 2 1955
Articles

The last stronghold of the Longstockings

McKENZIE PORTER April 2 1955

The last stronghold of the Longstockings

McKENZIE PORTER

AFTER DRESSING FOR DINNER

in the bush for nearly a century, Canada’s most die-hard community of old-fashioned British aristocrats is finally petering out. The scene of their valediction to the Kipling age is the Cowichan valley, halfway between Nanaimo and Victoria on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

In the western background a range of snowcovered peaks rising to six t housand feet and in the middle distance a series of fir-clad foothills are essentially Canadian in character. But along the gentle slopes of the valley, which carries the Cowichan River some twenty miles from Cowichan Lake to Cowichan Bay, there are neat hedged meadows, vegetable gardens, small herds of cows, chicken runs, tennis courts and formal villas. All these suggest the softer scenes of rural England.

The lake, the river and the bay offer some kind of fishing almost every day in the year. Throughout the fall and winter a giant fight ing trout, called the steelhead builds for the Cowichan River a worldwide reputation among anglers. During spring and summer rainbow trout abound in Cowichan Lake and salmon run in the bay. In the uplands of the valley hunt ers find pheasant, grouse, part ridge and deer. Around the mouth of the river they bag duck and a succulent species of goose called t he brant.

It was these opportunities for sport and the enrichment of their larders that first attracted wellbred English families.

Until the outbreak of the last war the economy of Duncan, the capital t own of the Cowichan valley, was based almost ent irely on the private incomes of surrounding residents. Today t he influence of these funds has been overshadowed by the payroll of an expanding logging industry and the profits of dairy farmers, mink ranchers, bulb growers, oyster cultivators and resort owners.

In the past sixteen years the population of the valley has grown from nine to seventeen thousand and that of Duncan from fifteen hundred to three thousand. English accents, common in sleepy old Duncan, are rare in bustling modern Duncan.

A new city hall, fire hall and liquor store, a new two-story Eaton’s store, and a sparkling-new high school make Duncan look like any other small upto-date Canadian town. The old frame Tzouhalem Hotel, which used to put up titled visitors from England, now competes with the new Commercial Hotel for the business of traveling salesmen and tourists.

The most significant sign of change is the growth

For almost a century Britain’s old warriors from Khartoum to Mandalay have stalked the Cowichan valley in shaggy tweeds and knickers.

Duncan, B.C., echoes with their exploits. But there’s hardly anyone for tennis now — even old warriors slow up at eighty

in Duncan of a miniature Chinatown. It is inhabited by the old Chinese houseboys whom the landed English families can no longer afford to employ.

Yet something of the old spirit remains. In Duncan’s four business streets there are still a few shops that might have been picked out of Stow-On-TheWold. There are also a few men who might have stepped straight out of a joke in the magazine Punch.

These are the heads of the old English households, mostly ret ired British officers. In any other part of Canada they would be described as Colonel Blimps. They are inclined to hold strong views about the privileges of birth and rank, the dubiety of art and literature, the importance of rod and gun, the vulgarity of trade and politics and the superiority of the British. But because they usually keep their opinions to themselves they live on peaceful terms with their neighbors and are known somewhat affectionately as Longstockings.

The nickname stems from their habit of wearing knickerbockers, often with a squashed felt hat, a shaggy tweed jacket, short puttees and sturdy ankle boots.

A few of them, probably in reaction against years of spit and polish, have given the whole community a reputation for eccentric dress. In Duncan, George Ferguson, the editor of the Montreal Star, once saw a plump elderly major wearing a deerstalker hat, a Norfolk tunic, khaki-drill shorts and a pair of those thigh-high cavalry boots

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The last stronghold of the Longstockings

continued page 31

worn by the Life Guards. Last January another visitor saw an aged colonel in a black snap-brim fedora, soldier’s greatcoat, flannel trousers tucked into the tops of scarlet rugger hose, and a pair of mountaineering boots.

Usually the dress of the Longstockings suggests exactly what they are: old warriors who have been touched by the midday sun from Khartoum to Rawalpindi and from Kowloon to Mandalay. At the annual Battery Ball, run by a reserve unit in the Duncan Agricultural Hall, they turn up looking as spruce and gallant in white ties, tails and medals as Sir Aubrey Smith in The Four Feathers.

Longstockings have been settling in Duncan, Cobble Hill, Quamichan Lake, Maple Bay and other parishes of the Cowichan valley since the Seventies. The hyphenated names of many indicate that they are the younger sons of younger sons of titled English families. Born landless and poorer than their kinsmen, they chose the Cowichan on retirement because in climate, landscape and blood sports it offered a substitute for the country gentleman’s life they could not afford back home.

And so for seventy-five years the Cowichan valley became a Canadian facsimile of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ shires of the Old Country. Aristocratic English accents were passed on to Canadian children and grandchildren. Military traditions took young men back to the regular army in England. Eventually the nickname Longstockings was applied not only to the old men in knickerbockers but to their families as well.

On small estates, rarely more than fifty acres, the Longstockings did a little mixed farming. But they spent most of their time at hunting, fishing, cricket, tennis and social gatherings. For money they relied on pensions, legacies and small private incomes from England. The idyll was brought to an abrupt end in 1939 by the war. The local weekly paper, the Cowichan Leader, claimed that the town of Duncan recorded the highest rate of voluntary enlistment in Canada. Today more than one third of the names on the war memorial are hyphenated.

Will Dobson, the editor of the Leader, estimates that in 1939 in the valley about four hundred families (fifteen hundred individuals) were Longstockings. Now there are fewer than half that number.

The changed status of India and Pakistan has cut off the flow of new Longstockings from the Indian Army. Capital export restrictions in England have kept other brass hats at home. The income of the present community was almost cut in half when the pound was devalued after the war. Some, unable to meet dollar costs of life on drafts of pounds, shillings and pence, went back to England. Some followed their children who had taken jobs in eastern Canada and became assimilated there. Many died off. Most of those who are left have become living legends.

The average Longstocking family lives at the end of a long winding muddy lane in a rambling villa situated picturesquely among clumps of oak trees, gorse bushes and bluebells. Usually these villas are heated by an open fireplace in each room. The architectural style reflects a divided nostalgia. On three sides the homes are fussy with the gables, leaded windowpanes and turrets of the typical English house. But on the sunny side most have the

sort of long verandahs found in the outposts of what their owners still call “The Empah.”

Visitors may be startled by the snarling heads of tiger-skin rugs in the big square halls or by sheafs of Zulu assegais, Malayan kris, Gurkha kukris and Bedouin scimitars suspended from the paneling of the dark curving staircases. Some Longstockings sleep in four-poster beds. At breakfast they often eat a kipper or grilled kidneys instead of bacon and eggs. Every afternoon. tea with toasted crumpets and fruitcake is a rite. It is served around log fires in sitting rooms furnished with ample chintz-covered chairs and sofas, and with occasional tables and cabinets carved exotically by Asian and African tribesmen. The Longstockings dine off steak-and-kidney pudding and homebrewed ale at long oaken refectory tables in rooms hung with brass, chinaware and oil paintings of their ancestors.

Every Friday and Saturday they go shopping in Duncan, the women being just as tweedily dressed as the men. For their benefit Mann’s drugstore calls itself a chemist shop; the Duncan Home

Bakery makes those mysterious discs of puff pastry and currants known as Eccles cakes; and Staples’ rod-and-gun shop goes in for a curious sideline: English pipe tobaccos.

On sale in several stores are English magazines such as the Ta tier and Sketch in which Longstockings find pictures of their relatives attending Ascot race week, the Queen’s garden party, Covent Garden opera or the Four Hundred Club. As evidence of their interest in the seamier side of British life it is also possible to buy the News Of The World. In the weekly edition of the Manchester Guardian or The Times they also find news of their favorite team sport cricket.

The Cowichan cricket team enjoys an unusual fame in the United Kingdom and in other Dominions. It was so good in 1932 that the Australian test-match team, on its way to England, stopped off for a game. The sensation of the day was the failure of Sir Don Bradman, the great Australian batsman, to make his customary century. When he had made sixty G. G. Baiss, star of the Cowichan side, bowled to him. Bradman drove the

ball directly to his front. Like a cannon ball it flew back to Baiss. With magnificent co-ordination, Baiss caught and held it. At that time Baiss was over fifty. Last season, in his seventies, he was still playing for Cowichan.

The most typical of the surviving Longstockings is Colonel Maxwell Edward Dopping-Hepenstal, CBE, DSO, Croix de guerre, late of the Gurkhas. Short and wiry, with nut-colored features and snowy hair, mustache and eyebrows, he is the embodiment of a poem by Kipling. After serving in Aden, India, China and Burma he fought in France and Mesopotamia during the First World War. In 1915, 1916 and 1917, he was wounded. Even after 1918 he was still fighting in the Afghan campaign of 1919 and the Waziristan campaign of 1922.

When he retired in the early Twenties he couldn’t afford to live in England, so he settled at Quamichan Lake in the Cowichan valley. His first home there burned down and he lost most of his souvenirs. But he managed to save his precious collection of kukris, the short curved knives with which a Ghurka can decapitate a bullock at one stroke. A bachelor, he’s in his eighties and his eyesight is failing, but colorful memories brighten his days.

When George V went to India, to be crowned Emperor at the last Delhi durbar in history, Dopping-Hepenstal was one of the officers assisting at a

With their Knickknacks and Tea, it’s almost like “Back Home”

royal tiger shoot. Six hundred and fifty elephants were gathered to carry the King and his retinue.

In ten days the party bagged thirtynine ligers; twenty-one fell to the King, who was a splendid shot. Then the Maharajah of Nepal, the host, said: “I think that will be enough tigers for the time being. There’ll be other kings, you know.”

When he was sixty, after a decade of retirement, Dopping-Hepenstal heard that a Quamichan Lake Boy Scout troop was disbanding for lack of leadership. He became scoutmaster and was soon promoted to District Commissioner. Until a few years ago he often strolled through the hills with a string of panting scouts on his heels. When they complained they couldn’t keep up he never lost his temper. The strongest words he was ever heard to utter were: “Oh, shut up, you chaps!”

In the past twenty years many of Dopping-Hepenstal’s contemporaries have died. There was, for instance, Col. Ireton Eardley-Wilmot, who established in Duncan a group of British Israelites. This sect believes that historians made a mistake—the British, not the Jews, are God’s chosen race. A less militant personality was Col. Arthur Broome who delighted in making dolls’ houses. He was so keen on a lifelike reproduction that even the plumbing worked. For tiger-skin rugs he used the painted pelts of mice.

The Mayor Calls Him “Sir”

One of the most beloved characters was Capt. F. R. MacFarlane who, during the Twenties and Thirties, when he was in his eighties and nineties, was the oldest junior officer in the British Army list. He used to brew his own beer and consume it in such quantities that for forty years local abstainers claimed woefully that he was drinking himself to death. Then at eighty he took up cycling and survived a forty-five-mile-an-hour spill when his brakes failed on a hill.

Colonel L. Oldham, who is still alive, is a good example of vigorous old age too. He is a rosy little figure of eighty-five anti gave up tennis only five years ago. Two years ago he lost his wife, in tragic but stirring circumstances. At seventy she drowned while swimming.

Now he lives with his daughter Monica. He’s out most days, busy with the affairs of the Farmers’ Institute, the Fall Fair, the Anglican Church, the Annual Card Party, the Cowichan Tennis Club and the St. Patrick’s Night Dinner.

“Actually,” he says, “we’ve no right to run a St. Patrick’s Night Dinner for there isn’t an Irishman for miles around. What we should be running is a Burns’ Night Dinner as we’ve scores of Scots. But Burns’ Night is in January and that’s such a terribly wet month here it’s not fit for man nor dog. So in March, when it’s clearing up a bit, we have a St. Patrick’s Night instead.”

Colonel Oldham owns the biggest tiger-skin rug in the Cowichan valley. He bagged it himself, of course. Instead of having it on the floor he hangs it on the wall. Oldham has been retired from the British Army since 1911. “Nobody can say I haven’t had my whack at the pension fund,” he chuckles.

The most fiery of the contemporary Longstockings is Major L. C. Rattray who fished almost every day until a year ago when rheumatism prevented him from wading. He used to visit Duncan to collect bis mail, wearing his fishing boots, his old fishing hat stuck foil of flies and his fishing basket slung around his shoulder. A stickler for the niceties of rank he gives “Sir” to men

several ranks senior to himself and expects “Sir” from men several ranks lower. The Mayor of Duncan, who is the richest man in town, was a sergeant in the army so all he gets from Major Rattray is his surname: Wragg.

Scene: A street corner in Duncan a couple of years ago. Major Rattray halts suddenly as he sees across the road the stocky figure of Mayor James Chesterfield Wragg.

Rattray: Wragg! Wragg! I say,

WRAGG!

The mayor trots obediently across the road.

Wragg: Yes, Major Rattray?

Rattray: Look heah, Wragg. What’s all this nonsense about the town getting parking meters?

Wragg: Oh come, Major Rattray, we’ve got to move with the times, ye know.

Rattray: What, what! Move with the times? These times? No, I'm damned if I do.

Rattray has never used the meters and parks his car outside the business area rather than submit to them.

James Wragg admits he’s always paid the Longstockings a lot of deference. They in turn have helped him. He was born in a public house in Derby, England, and emigrated to Canada when he was sixteen. He worked as a cook in logging camps and went to World War One with the Canadian Army. He came back wounded with the rank of sergeant, married and eventually opened a bakery in Duncan.

Besides his cakes and pastries, he used to sell sweaters and pipe tobacco to the Longstockings, but most of all he prospered because they liked his chirpy ways. He retired from the bakery before the last war and became Duncan’s biggest real-estate owner. Nine years ago he was elected mayor and he’s held the job since.

“I used to feel sorry for the ladies just in from China, India and Africa when I was running my shop,” he says. “They had been used to a houseful of native servants, and they were lost when they got to Canada. Why, they couldn’t even make a rice pudding! They’d come into the shop with all the mixings—rice, sugar, milk and so on —in a basin and plead with me to make a pudding. 1 always did.”

The Longstocking men would complicate his life in another way. Every day a dozen or more would pop into the shop and say: “Wragg, old boy!

A present for you!” And they’d dump a large salmon on his counter. He’d get so many he couldn’t even give them away to other customers. “I got sick of the sight of salmon,” he says. “I used to wonder, ‘Wragg, what are you? A baker or a salmon exchange?’ ”

In 1951 Wragg was stunned by the news that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would drive through Duncan without stopping. He wrote a letter of protest to Buckingham Palace but the timetable could not be altered.

Wragg then made a radio speech in which he said he would “throw a human chain across the road” and halt the royal car. Scores of old colonels and brigadiers offered to put themselves under Sergeant Wragg’s command for this operation. All over the world newspaper photographs were published showing Mayor Wragg and his supporters linking arms across the highway in illustration of how they intended to carry out the threat.

On the day of the royal visit ten thousand Cowichan valley people gathered in Duncan to see what would happen. The publicity had had its effect. When the Duke of Edinburgh, who was driving, approached the outskirts of the town, he grinned and slowed down to walking speed. There was no need for the blockade because

Things have changed around Duncan now —even some Longstockings are in trade

everybody got a good view of the pair.

Later in Nanaimo the Queen, with dancing eyes, said to Mayor Wragg: “ That was an exciting reception you prepared for us in Duncan.”

If was a woman who put the idea for a road block into Wragg’s head, a woman who is a bulwark of Longstocking tradition. Her name is Miss Norah Denny and she is the headmistress of the Queen Margaret’s School for Girls.

Although she’s about sixty, Miss Denny, witli lier short hairdo, blue blazer, brief tweed skirt and stout brogue shoes, has the brisk appearance and actions of a girl who has followed the beagles across the Yorkshire dales.

Like Mayor Wragg, she arrived in the Cowiehan after World War One, during which she served in the British WA ACs. For a year she scrubbed floors in Duncan because there was no other work for a single woman. Then she went into partnership with Miss Dorothy Geoghegan, a second-generation Longstocking; they opened a school in a small rented house. Miss Denny named it after her alma mater, the swanky Queen Margaret’s School in Scarborough, Yorkshire.

Their school has educated two general ions of Longstocking daughters. Many girls from British families in Hong Kong and the Pacific colonies also attend, because it’s closer than England. Today Miss Denny has four hundred and fifty boarders, twenty mistresses, a cluster of large old houses turned into classrooms and the school’s private farm, with a herd of prize Ayrshire's.

War Took All the Mud Pups

Another woman whose life spans the history of Longstocking society is Mrs. George Share. She still lives in the dignified old house at Cowiehan Bay in which she was born more than seventy years ago. It was built by her father, Frederick Maitland-Dougall. The family is descended from Frederick Sears Maitland, the commander of the British warship Bellerophon, which took Napoleon into captivity after Waterloo.

A tall handsome woman, Mrs. Share talks in the bubbling accents of a Mayfair dowager of early-day social life in Duncan. In summer there was tennis and cricket, in winter formal dances that attracted families from surrounding districts. “Some men used to row over from Salt Spring Island in evening dress,” Mrs. Share recalls. “After the ball whole families would stay the night at the Tzouhalem Hotel.”

Before the First World War there were so many single men in the community that a Bachelors’ Ball was started. Most of them were young Englishmen sent out by their families to learn farming. They were called Mud Pups. The parents would pay five hundred dollars a year to the Cowiehan valley expatriates to look after their sons. When the war started the Mud Pups joined up to the last man and the bachelor population of Duncan vanished overnight.

George Share, a tall sinewy man nearing eighty, is an uncle of Lord Rothermere, the British newspaper magnate. Share himself was an officer in the British South Africa Police. After he retired he came to Canada and raised cattle for a time on the prairies. Then he went to the Cowiehan, met and married Edith Maitland-Dou-

gall and started growing asparagus. Labor costs got too high during the last war and he gave up farming.

The Shares used to employ several servants. Now they can afford only one. “Times have changed for all of us,” says Edith Share. “Now the Indian field workers come home from the beer parlors in taxis and we’re glad to get the old-age pension.”

In Mrs. Share’s lifetime Longstocking society has provided congenial shelter for many men and women who left England after a breach of the conventions. There was, for instance, Teddy Hieks-Beach who was said to have been cut off by Ins father, a baronet, because he married a greengrocer’s daughter. Walter Rudkin, an English gardener, married the daughter of a duke and brought her to the Cowiehan valley where they grew those sweet russet apples named Cox’s Orange Pippins. E. W. Cole, who is still alive, sang as a boy in the choir at Sandringham Castle and later married a Miss Bowes-Lyon, a member of the Queen Mother’s family. She was twenty years older than he. So they settled in the Cowiehan and lived happily raising pedigreed dogs. Mrs. Cole died only a few months ago.

The Longstockings have also had literary and theatrical affiliations. Negley Farson based his novel, The Story of a Lake, on some members of the community. Rosamond Marshall, author of the best-selling Kitty, lived in the valley until recently. Doctor Charles Stoker, a brother of Bram Stoker, author of the horror story Dracula, still lives there. So does George Chaney, brother of Lon Chaney, the actor.

Another famous Longstocking is Philip Livingston, who left the Cowichan when he was a boy, became an Oxford rowing blue and later an eye specialist in the RAF. During the last war he devised the training methods that enabled fighter pilots to see like owls at night. Later he became Air Marshal Sir Philip Livingston, chief of all medical services in the RAF and a consultant to the Royal Family.

A couple of years ago he retired and went back to Cowiehan Bay. There, after fifty years, old families like the Shares, the Falls, the Leneys and the Corfields greeted him casually, “Hello, Philip,” as if he’d been away for a week. His neighbors wouldn’t let him retire so he now has an office and advises them on their eye troubles.

In the last war a third-generation Longstocking also achieved fame. As an officer in the Lincolnshire Regiment young Charlie Hoew won the Victoria Cross and lost his life at Arakan in Burma.

Ex-officers of the British imperial forces still trickle into the Cowiehan, but they are different than the old Longstockings. They have no scruples, for example, about going into trade. Commander John Lawrence, RN, who served in destroyers and was a friend of the Duke of Edinburgh, is the manager of Eaton’s in Duncan. Col. Ross Smith opened a restaurant named the Silver Bridge Inn and Commander George Windeyer, RN, works in a sawmill at Chemainus.

Even among those with the bluest

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blood time has wrought changes. Take the case of Robert Hew FergussonPollok, an aristocrat in his forties who stands six feet four beneath strong iron-grey hair. Fergusson-Pollok can trace every one of his male ancestors back to the eleventh century. Born in B. C., he had to make his own living. He served as the mate and captain of coastal tugs and freighters. There was a time when he had to ask the mayor of Duncan for work on the roads.

Then, about four years ago, he inherited Pollok Castle at Newton Mearns, near Glasgow, Scotland. It was built by his ancestors in 1028; since 1703 it had been the seat of baronets. The estate included thousands of acres on nineteen farms.

When he heard of his inheritance Fergusson-Pollok didn’t even go to Glasgow to look the place over. “My wife,” he explains, “didn’t want me to.’’ So lie instructed his lawyers to stH 1 the land and the castle and to send all the furniture out to a ten-room villa he bought in the Cowichan valley.

Shipping costs were a staggering eight thousand dollars. Now the Fergusson-Polloks and their caged pet birds live in a house so packed with antiques there is hardly room to move.

Stacks of Jigsaw Puzzles

In the sitting room, Chippendale chars, a whole Hepplewhite suite, a Jacobean solitaire table, a Queen Anne cabinet full of thirteenth-century Venetian glass and an Elizabethan writing desk are crowded among departmentstore furniture the Fergusson-Polloks owned before they came into their fortune. A dozen Persian rugs are kept rolled up because there is no place to lay them. Claymores, skein c/hus, pistols and shields of highland chieftains lie about the room. There are several sets of sixteenth-century playing cards; a quill pen used by Mary Queen of Scots when she visited Pollok Castle; a pair of silver candlesticks as thick as a man’s wrist and each weighing fifty-six pounds and ancient oriental vases embossed with patterns of solid gold.

Among the dozens of ancestral portraits are three believed to have been painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and one by Holbein. In the dining room, near a great oak table and matching chairs dating from Charles 1, are giant stacks of red-and-yellow boxes, containing the Fergusson-Pollok’s favorite pas t i me — j igsa w p u zzles.

If he wished Fergusson-Pollok could build the most beautiful home in the Cowichan valley and lead the sort of aristocratic life all the other Longstockings have dreamed about. But he’s not interested in Longstocking society. With some of the money he received from Scotland he bought a new Cadillac. He put thirty thousand dollars into a baseball club recently. And now he’s toying with the idea of financing a racetrack.

Fergusson-Pollok’s attitude to the Longstoekings reflects the gradual decline of this unique society. It is reflected too in the attitude of many native Canadians who have become openly anti-Longstocking.

Bobby Evans, a member of a Cowichan Bay family descended from pioneers, came home from the last war in a satirical mood. All along the Maple Bay Road, where he lives, there are rural mail boxes painted with the lengthy titles, ranks and decoration initials of old brass hats. Most of the inscriptions end up with the word “Retired” in brackets. On his mailbox Evans painted the following:

Acting Unpaid Leading Seaman

Robert Evans (Just Tired) ★