From The Islander

Notable articles from the Victoria Times Colonist's Islander Magazine

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Helmcken’s Memoirs

August 19th, 2010 · British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Victoria

Dr. J.S. Helmcken in his later years.

Doctor John Sebastien Helmcken is one of the most well known members of Victoria’s original pioneer community. In this 1961 Islander article, “Helmcken Memoirs Name His Villains” author James K. Nesbitt provides some interest excerpts from Helmcken’s personal memoirs. As a former member of the colonial legislature, Helmcken vividly describes colonial politics and political life at their rip roaring, wild, wooliest worst.

He described the members of the second colonial legislature.

“In it were Cary, Waddington, Franklin, Crease, Tolmie, Southgate, myself and Cooper for Esquimalt. Undoubtedly the members were above the average. and all were of expirience and travel, and, certainly for the most part, honourable.

Apparently, Helmcken was not a supporter of Amour de Cosmos, who was not a member of the Government at the time. In spite of this he provides some first-person insights into de Cosmo’s character and temperament.

“At the election of course, the government by the HBC was denounced and must be got rid of. Governor Douglas came in for a great deal of abuse and criticism, but he had many friends, now that he was attacked. The Colonist, under Amour de Cosmos, had been, from its very commencment, hostile, vituperative, and abuseive of, and to, the Governor, the government, and every thing in general. He seemed altogether too violent…but it pleased the dissatisfied, and made them more so; but many Americans cried shame – in our country it would not be allowed!

At this time de Cosmos was a radical and a demagogue…a good speaker, knew all the captivating sentences for the multitude…well read, a free thinker in religion – a sort of socialist , and uncommonly egotistical. Nothing was right if he said the contrary…and nothing good done but what he had been the author thereof.

One newspaper made the remark they could not report de Cosmos’ speech in full because they had not a sufficient number of capital I’s”

In one pre-election meeting, Attorney General George Hunter Cary took on Amour de Cosmos.

“Cary was in his glory…lashed de Cosmos to fury, and got furious himself…What shouting cheering and hissing, and all kinds of noise…de Cosmos appeared…performed all sorts of semi-theatrical attitudes – boasted of traveling throgh California with a revolver in each boot, or something of this kind – was vain glorious and egotistic to the utmost degree.

The theatre was crowded…de Cosmos was drunk. This settled the latter…he lost the election…He took a little too much, for I am told he always “took a little” before appearing on a public platform.”

And then, election day:

“the day arrived…the voting open…so one could see which way the wind was blowing. In the afternoon many held back; whisky became not a rare thing…People from town harassed them, and so did our side. De Cosmos came down, too, and was told by Burnaby he was only fit to be a Bootblack, which riled him very considerably. Some voted the wrong way – both sides said so; so the grog perhaps influenced them, or something else; anyhow Cooper and I were elected, and there was not a fight.

After the elections Mrs. Mackenzie gave us a jolly good dinner …The men regaled themselves in the kitchen, and after a while came in to congradulate us…Burnaby sang some comic songs – in fact, there was a feast of reason and a flow of sou ’til midnight.

The MacKenzies were whole souled people and felt the victory as much, or more, than the candidates, for not much love existed between them and the Langfords Skinners and Coopers, but they were not enemies. It was a hard fought battle and we learned new dodges of crooks from Victoria interfering with the district elections with voice, carriages, and spirits.”

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The Gibson Twin-Plane

August 18th, 2010 · British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Victoria

The Gibson Twin-Plane, 1910.

In the September of  1910, William Wallace Gibson made Canadian Aviation history in the fields of a small farm near Mount Tolmie in Victoria. Perched atop a horse saddle at the controls of a wood and fabric aircraft, Gibson became the first Canadian ever to pilot wholly Canadian built aircraft. Islander author Iain Lawrence describes the brief flight of the Gibson “Twin-Plane.”

After spending hours building and flying model airplanes, William Gibson took the ambitious second step of attempting to construct an engine that could be capable of powering a man sized aircraft. During the development of his first engine, he also tested designs for an aircraft by launching large models off of Beacon Hill, near Dallas Road in Victoria. Ignoring friends who ridiculed him when passing in the streets by flapping their arms and grinning foolishly, Gibson persevered and soon finished his first four cylinder engine. Unfortunately the first design was a bust, and vibrated violently while it was operated.

W.W. Gibson

Unfazed, Gibson went back to the drawing board and created a new six-cylinder engine with a 41/2-inch stroke and an electric ignition. Once it was completed in March 1910, the improved 40-60 horsepower engine was a lot better than the original design. In early September of 1910, the entire aircraft was finished at the beginning of September 1910.

Finally…Gibson put down his tools. The airplane was finished and he christened it the Gibson twin-Plane.

Fifty-four feet long, with a 20-foot wingspan, the Twin-Plane sat firmly on its four bicycle wheels. Tom Plimley, who was just then advancing from bicycles to automobiles, had built the flimsy looking under carriage which later proved to be the aircraft’s worst failing.

Two spruce framed wings were mounted one behind the other, secured to the fuselage with clamps, and covered with pale blue silk from Juene Brothers of Victoria. By loosening the clamps, the wings could be slid up and down the fuselage until the twin-Plane was properly balanced.

Among its innovative features, the Gibson Twin-Plane boasted gull wings, now often used for added stability, baffle plates inside the gas tanks to stop fuel from surging back and forth and now found in almost all aircraft, and contra-rotating propellers mounted one behind the other, driven directly from the engine, and still found in use today.

When all was ready, Gibson secretly conveyed the Twin-Plane in pieces to its launch site, a farm field that is now the grounds of Lansdowne Middle School. After reassembling the plane, Gibson was ready for a test flight.

Gibson and two helpers pushed the twin-Plane onto the grassy meadow. Gibson climbed into the horse saddle that served as a seat and started the engine.

He pulled the long lever in from of him and tested the huge triangular elevator at the aircraft’s nose. It tilted up and down at his command and he looked over his shoulder to check the rudders. Pulling on two ropes that lead over his shoulders, he watched the two small rudders wag back and forth. The engine reved up and W.W. Gibson signalled to his helpers.

It is now generally considered that Gibson not wanting the embarrassment of a failure, used that day, September 8 as a test flight. He did get off the ground, shutting off his engine as soon as he was airborne

Two weeks later after repairing his landing gear, which was damaged in a crash landing after his initial test flight, Gibson made another flight. This time, the press and public came out in full force to witness the spectacle.

With undue optimism, Gibson had mounted two 10-gallon gas tanks above the engine, intending to taxi down the field, take off, and land in Vancouver.

At Gibson’s signal, the helpers let go and the Twin-Plane bounced across the meadow. Fifty feet later, Gibson Pulled the lever, raised the elevator, and climed quickly into the air. He watched as the ground dropped awaybelow him and then started to slide sideways under his wings. In an attempt to over come the cross wind, Gibson shifted his body, turning the rudders.

The Twin-Plane swung around but Gibson, in his confusion, had turned the wings the wrong way. With the wind at its tail, the Twin-Plane picked up speed and its pilot watched helplessly as as a stand of oak trees rapidly approached across the field. Completely bewildered, Gibson shut off the engine and drifted to the ground.

Gibson was thrown clear as the Twin-Plane piled into the trees, escaping without serious injury, but his beloved Twin-Plane was a wreck. He had flown 200 feet, though, a tremendous feet in those days for an airplane of new design.

A replica of the Twin-Plane (top left) at the BC Aviation Museum.

Following the wreck of the Twin-Plane, Gibson moved to Vancouver and continued his experiments in aviation. He later built another aircraft dubbed the multi-plane, which flew several times in 1911.

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The Old Rock Bay Bridge

August 17th, 2010 · British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island, Victoria

Emily Carr's 1895 illustration of the Rock Bay Bridge

Its is likely that many Victorians are aware of the present controversy surrounding the elderly Johnson Street bridge. As it turns out, arguing about bridges in Victoria goes back further than the Big Blue Bridge. For over fifty years the wooden Rock Bay Bridge, which was located at the end of  Store Street in downtown Victoria was the subject of a dispute that was incredibly similar to the present-day Johnson Street Bridge dilemma. In his article “Does anyone remember the old Rock Bay Bridge?” Islander author tells the story of the Rock Bay Bridge.

The Rock Bay Bridge was built in the 1880’s, and was the second bridge to connect the shores of the bay. The bridge connected Store street on the Victoria side, what was then the junction of Bridge Street and Work Street in Esquimalt.  In 1900 the B.C. Electric Company, who ran the streetcars that served Greater Victoria, and ran a car across the bridge, proposed to replace its seven ton streetcars with cars that weighed thirty tons. Because of the already fragile state of the wooden bridge, this change over brought to light serious safety concerns about the ever weakening bridge span.

The Taylor Mill, located at this time in the vicinity, objected to the Victoria City Council’s suggestion that the bridge be eliminated, despite the rather infrequent use of the span. The B.C. Electric Company offered $700  to ward the cost of repairs. However Victoria refused to cover the remainder of the repair bill.

About the time of  the new Point Ellice Bridge construction in 1903, the B.C. Electric company again pressured Victoria to strengthen the bridge with no results. The years passed. By October of 1914 [its] faulty swing span had been removed due to its unsafe nature.

Ignoring the further protestations of business owners and citizens in 1915 the city council still “objected to spending any money on a rotten bridge.” That November, the federal government stated that a 70-foot passage way had to be made in the bridge. Though the harbour committee urged for immediate repairs to be made, Victoria City Council continued to staunchly oppose doing any thing to the bridge. The battle continued.

The Rock Bay Bridge decorated for the 1876 Governor-General's visit to Victoria.

Lack of money was cited as a delay tactic. Property owners in the area joined in and began to voice their complaints. In December of 1916 the harbour committee suggested that the sum of $40,000 be borrowed for a new span. A bylaw advocating improvements to the bridge had been defeated in a recent civic election, when the area property owners pressured Mayor Todd in early 1917 for bridge repairs. A report by a local engineer stated that a permanent steel structure would be far too costly, and to repair the existing wooden trestle, for around $38, 000 would be the logical route to follow.

City council continued to stall and further annoyed the area property owners with their decision not to pass the bill of authorization for the reconstruction work to begin. And time went on.

In October 1919, Victoria City Council was indicted in the Supreme Court of Canada for not rebuilding the bridge and maintaining it as a “common nuisance.” Council immediately undertook to “take such actions as may be necessary in the premises to contest the matter.” The city requested and received a postponement of the trial of one and one half months. The trial was held on Dec. 4 1919. Surprise, surprise! The case was thrown out of court. Justice Clement summed up his reasoning by stating that the problem was a civic matter falling under provincial jurisdiction.

The matter was brought forward to the Court of Appeals. On April 6, 1920, a subsequent ruling was reached. The matter was unanimously dismissed.

Despite another petition presented to council by some Rock Bay businesses, council continued to “delay comment”, and switched their attentions to a grand new concept – the Johnson Street Bridge. A proposal to switch the old Rock Bay  bridge with the current railway span, that was located where the Johnson Street bridge stands today was also rejected, as the $90, 000 price tag was too costly.

By August 1923, the Puget Sound Lumber & Timber Company had requested permission to construct a shingle million the approach land to the Rock Bay Bridge site at the end of Store Street. It seems that the rights of the city in regards to the area were in confusion. Records were searched, and as usual, no concrete decisions were reached.

Suddenly it appeared as if the Rock Bay Bridge issue was finally dead. Time passed. Proposals and suggestions of repairs were fewer and far between. Daily tides of the years wore away at the rotting piles of the bridge.

Rock Bay today.

In the following years, nothing was done to the bridge, and it was essentially left to rot away to nothing. During the 1950’s, a number of changes to the shoreline, and the filling in of part of the bay resulted in the elimination of the bridge altogether.

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Brother Twelve (Part Two)

August 12th, 2010 · British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island, Victoria

Brother Twelve.


Once his band of settlers became accustomed to the rough life in the Cedar By The Sea colony, Brother Twelve launched a second promotional campaign in an attempt to raise even more money and convert more people to his cause. After mailing a series of letters containing a self published pamphlet called “The Chalice” to hundreds of well off middle Americans, he received an overwhelmingly positive response. Soon envelope after envelope containing cash donations and contributions to the cause began arriving at the post Offices in Victoria and Nanaimo. As well as donations, “The Chalice” succeeded in convincing a fair amount of people to join the community at Cedar By The Sea. 

Bringing their money and possessions with them, the converted Americans poured off the boats at Victoria and Vancouver and headed for Cedar-By-the Sea. The majority were middle aged and the first sight of their spartan accommodations may well have caused a momentary pang of regret. But with the constant pep-talks from the Brother their spirits were soon raised, as were the blisters on their hands as they set to work on a dawn-to-dusk schedule that left little time for introspection. 

For reasons best known to themselves, native British Columbians appeared totally uninterested in whether or not the world was about to explode and few, if any, joined the crusade. Perhaps they felt that Vancouver Island and the rest of the province was so solidly rooted on the planet that there was no way it would crumble, despite what information Brother Twelve might be privy to. 

The children of the Aquarian foundation prepare for a Spring paegent.


Riding on his recent successes, the Brother decided to make a lecture trip to the United States, to further bolster support for the Aquarian foundation. It was on this trip that he met the first of his two mistresses, Myrtle Baumgarter. 

By subtle hints of salvation, coupled with an attentiveness to her well being, Brother Twelve soon had Myrtle persuaded her life as a doctor’s wife was probably a thundering bore. Certainly in comparison to what he could offer on Vancouver Island. 

While her IQ may have left something to be desired, Myrtle was quick off the mark when it came to decision making. She cleaned out the family bank account in Clifton Hills while her husband was out attending a patient and set off with her new-found companion for the British Columbia wilderness. 

But when they arrived back in the colony they were in for a surprise – and so were the followers of Brother Twelve. “We thought,” the shocked faithful chorused, “that you had taken a vow of celibacy.” Although he stared them down in an answer, the situation obviously called for drastic measures. 

With an arm round the shoulders of wide-eyed Myrtle, he announced: “This is Isis. She was revealed to me by the Brothers and has been given to me for a reason – a very sacred one. Soon a baby will come to us which we will name Horus and he will be the second Messiah.” 

When the child arrived it was a beautiful infant alright. The only trouble was its sex was wrong. Poor Isis had produced a girl. The wretched women was promptly scorned by Brother Twelve as a faithless dud who had betrayed not only him but the 11 other Brothers as well. 

Myrtle was soon shipped back to Clifton Hills, New York, where there is no record whether her wronged husband welcomed her with open arms or, for that matter, ever talked to her again. 

In time, Brother Twelve found another woman to bring back to the colony. After introducing Mabel Skowttowe as someone he had met while mountain climbing in the Rockies, she soon became a regular, and notorious sight around the Aquarian fortress. 

Mabel wasn’t much of a name for the wife of so immortal a person as Brother Twelve so he promptly re-dubbed her Madame Zee. If the shaken colonists were having second thoughts about the mortality of it all they soon had further cause for alarm. Brother Twelve may have been a martinet, but Madame Zee soon out-paced him in throwing her weight around. 

To ensure even greater production around the property she carried a vicious looking horse whip and punctuated her beatings with some of the foulest language ever heard on Vancouver Island. Even Brother Twelve flinched as she made her rounds and more than one silent night was shattered by horrendous oaths emanating from the House of Mystery as Zee berated the bearded prophet in no uncertain terms. 

In time, cracks began to appear in the organization. Brother Twelve began to grow suspicious of many of important lieutenants, and began to accuse them of treason, deceit and treachery. In his rantings and raving s to his followers, he attempted to maintain his control over the organization by issuing apocalyptic threats against any and all who opposed him. 

As time went by, Brother Twelve began to slide closer to all out megalomania, and grew increasingly paranoid of both real and imagined threats to the organization. In 1930, he travelled to England with Madame Zee. There he bought a 25-ton Brixton trawler named the Lady Royal, and with an alarming illicit cargo of rifles and two cases of hand grenades, proceeded to sail home across the Atlantic through the Panama canal and up the coast to Vancouver Island. As soon as he arrived back at the colony, he began to build fortifications, which included three block houses with interlocking fields of fire. His increasingly evident paranoia began to make even his most faithful followers fear their  deranged leader. 

Eventually, some of the colonists started to slip away from the island. As tensions within the Foundation heightened, living conditions deteriorated and the few who were left became ineffective as labourers. Soon escapees from the islands brought a lawsuit against Brother Twelve. 

After two days of proceedings, the Nanaimo Supreme Court awarded one the two plaintiffs in the case $26, 500 and $10, 000 in damages as well as 400 acres on Valdes Island near de Courcy. The second plaintiff won $14, 232. When the case concluded, the chief justice described it as the “strangest case ever to come before a Canadian court.” 

However, though the court battle was one, Brother Twelve was never fully brought to justice. After destroying most of his colony, and sinking the Lady Royal with dynamite, he escaped with Madame Zee on a Tugboat. With them they took 143 jars of gold coins which had been hidden in a secret vault underneath the House of Mystery. 

While Edward Arthur Wilson died penniless in Neuchatel Switzerland, nothing is known of the fate of his infamous partner Madame Zee. It is however, probable she was able to start a new life for herself financially well endowed with the spoils of the Aquarian Foundation’s considerable revenue. 

Brother Twelve, it turned out, would have the final word for the curious on Valdes Island. 

[A] caretaker…discovered a cement vault sunk in the ground beneath an outbuilding, the one-time treasure hoard so artfully secreted by Wilson. Lifting the lid by its iron ring, [the man] found a message scrawled in white on a bundle of tar paper. 

It read: “For fools and traitors, nothing.” For Brother Twelve, that said it all. 

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Brother Twelve

August 11th, 2010 · British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island, Victoria

Brother Twelve.

Edward Arthur Wilson, otherwise known as Brother Twelve, was one of the most curious, and disconcerting characters to have ever lived in British Columbia. Beginning his life in Canada as an office clerk, Wilson eventually gained notoriety as the head of a sinister pseudo-religious cult based in the Gulf Islands and was later the defendant in the “strangest case ever to come before a Canadian court.” In his story “Brother Twelve” Islander author Ron Baird tells the remarkable story of the life of Edward Arthur Wilson.

After living in Victoria for a couple of years, Wilson quit his job and joined the British merchant marine, spending the duration of the war at sea. When the armistice was signed in 1918 Wilson moved to Genoa Italy and began studying occult religion and theosophy. It was in Genoa that Wilson felt he was converted to the doctrine of reincarnation. This theory stated that within a certain amount of time, the planet Aquarius would smash into the earth and destroy all humanity, save for a chosen few.

Naturally, Wilson saw him self as the one to lead the faithful at the end of days. In an attempt to gain a following he published a tract called The Three Truths in which he extolled the virtues of his three truths Work, Order and Obedience. The latter meant more specifically obedience to him.

In 1926, he moved to Southampton England and set about gathering up followers

Hiring a small hall he soon gathered a group of adherents, including members of the London Theosophical Society. Dressed in a bright, yellow robe, sparkling with the signs of the Zodiac, and by now wearing a pointed, grey  beard which jutted over his receding chin, Wilson harangued the faithful night after night about the dire fate of mankind.

One hot, July night, perspiration glistening on his forehead, Wilson hurled himself into a trance like state he called “sahmadi” and poured forth a torrent of words as he stabbed the air with a fore finger. “As Mercury dwelleth near the sun,” he shouted, “so I abide in the heart of my Lord. My feet run upon his errands and by my mouth are his words spoken. Many are my journeys. I have sojourned in far countries and have crossed wide rivers. Many houses have I built and afterwards demolished and now I have built another house in your midst, O ye sons of men.”

Wilson promptly proclaimed himself the “Twelfth Master of Wisdom,” as his agitated flock stared transfixed at this strange figure in the billowing robes. “The eleven other Masters – philosophers, great thinkers and teachers like Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha and Christ have welcomed me into the Great White Lodge and bid me return to earth as Brother Twelve, to find a place of refuge on this earth and a fortress for the future against the impending doom which is soon to follow.”

Wilson went on to say that he had ascertained the location of the  “fortress” by “projection.” Pointing his finger at a map he placed it on a spot on the Canadian west coast. He then launched into a further diatribe

“Here,” he shouted “is where I will lead those who are to be saved. They must be silent, uncritical and loyal; renouncing all their worldly possessions to live in a communal society with myself as leader. I know I can discover this place of refuge provided I have the means to get there.”

Finding “means” meant extorting donations from his followers. After convincing several of them to give up their life savings to finance his passage to Canada, he set off on a lecture tour of the country in an attempt to strengthen his following. When he finally arrived on Vancouver Island, with pockets stuffed with hundreds of dollars in cash and a loyal following of over a hundred people, Brother Twelve registered his newly christened Aquarian Foundation with the BC government under the societies act, ensuring that he remained the all powerful head of the society.

As his followers started arriving from places all across Canada, Wilson rented property in the Cedar District of Naniamo and began to build up his “fortress of the future.” Secure in the knowledge that they were chosen to be saved, out of all people on earth Wilson’s followers eagerly went to work.

Wilson supervised the work as the men and women felled trees, cut logs, and rolled up cabins. Besides these healthy tasks the women tended vegetable gardens, while the men ruefully surveyed their blisters. It was a rugged, pioneer life life the disciples led. Few, if any, had ever done manual labour in their lives. Fainting from fatigue or other work induced illnesses was strictly taboo with Brother Twelve, who considered such frailties “a lack of true faith.”

A view from Cedar By The Sea.

The focal point of all this hard work was a super log cabin, the headquarters of Brother Twelve, who called it the “House of Mystery,” which wasn’t much of an exaggeration as it turned out. There he received his followers a few at a time and kept them abreast of astronomical developments by going into a trance and receiving, presumably, the latest news from Brothers One to Eleven.

Although unsure as to just when Aquarius was expected to decimate the planet earth the faithful were told it was “just a matter of time.” The human race had committed such a string of follies over the centuries, the Brother pointed out, that its extermination was inevitable.

The saga of Brother Twelve will continue tomorrow..

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Mail Plane Crashes in Victoria

August 10th, 2010 · British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Victoria, Washington State

An Aeromarine flying boat similar to the one piloted by Air Mail pilot Gerald Smith. It was a fairly large aircraft.

In the early days of aviation in British Columbia, accidents occurred quite frequently. In his article “Mail Plane Crashed on home of senator – in time for breakfast” Islander writer John Green describes the October morning in 1926, when the Victoria to Seattle Mail plane crashed into the home of his great uncle. Senator Robert F. Green. The day after the crash the Victoria Daily Times front page headline was two inches high, and read MAIL PLANE CRASHES IN CITY, a sensational event, the crash was given full coverage by the city papers of the day. The following are excerpts from the Times articles that describe the event.

Crashing his plane against the side of the residence of Senator R.F. Green, 502 Rupert Street. this morning Gerald Smith, carrying Seattle Airmail, was dragged unconscious from the wreckage and now lies in St. Joseph’s Hospital. Smith…now has a broken ankle and gashes about the head and face, but since admission to hospital has recovered consciousness. His injuries are not considered dangerous.

The article goes on to describe the crash.

The accident occurred at 9:04 this morning. In his large Aero-Marine boat, with a 400 horsepower liberty motor, the pilot was returning to Seattle when the machine got out of control.  He failed to make it rise past the house and it smashed into the side of the building with a great crash. Those rushing to the scene found the pilot unconscious and covered with splinters  of the wrecked machine.

Days later the pilot, Gerald Smith, provided a far more exciting first hand account of the crash. After taking off from the Victoria harbour, into a light southerly breeze, when he was cut off by a boat coming in from Seattle, the Ss. Sol Duc; which he had not seen prior to take off.

The Ss Sol Duc.

“I nosed her into a wide circle but ran into choppy water and decided to take off right away. I remember making a second circuit of the harbour, as the machine was tail heavy and I had all I could do to hold her down. There may have been water in the fuselage, though I don’t know for sure.  At any rate, she was down by the tail and I was trying to keep her from nosing into a stall.

The strain on my arms from the pressure was growing too much for me and I think that the controls must have parted. At any rate the machine got out of control. It did a half role on its back, and I still thought I could bring it out alright. A light rope in the cockpit got loose and must have fouled the propeller, though I don’t think it would have made much difference, as the propeller would have cut it to ribbons in a second.

The machine must have rolled over again, and I remember fighting to get it under control. After that I don’t know what happened, I suppose I crashed. “

Meanwhile, on the ground, a crowd of onlookers was watching the calamity unfold. The Times also printed this spectators account of the accident.

For desperate, maddening seconds the aircraft flew on its back in the air, from 300 to 400 feet above the ground, while Smith fought to regain control. Then…the machine rolled over and fell in a sickening dive to the ground.

The crash came when the nose of the machine struck the southern side of Senator Green’s house with terrific force, shattering every pane of glass in the windows, and folding its wings around the corner of the house. The danger of the pilot seated in the middle of the falling machine, with the enormous weight of the engine poised above his head, can well be imagined. Hundreds held their breath as the aircraft fell with a crash of splintering wood and canvass and gasped with relief when they saw the pilot extricated whole but unconscious.

Pilot Smith was not the the only person endangered by the crash. The Times also considered the plight of the residents of the Green house also a worthy story. The article was published under the headline MRS. R.F. GREEN ESCAPES DEATH AS PLANE FALL

Pilot Gerald Smith was not the only one to narrowly escape death when his seaplane crashed this morning. Mrs. R.F. Green, wife of Senator Green, who was standing at the window of her home when the machine swooped down, the wing crashing into the house and shattering the windows, was saved from injury by little short of a miracle. She was not scratched, although debris and flying glass was scattered about her. Senator Green, who was sitting at breakfast, was one of the first to rush out to where the airman lay huddled under his plane. It was Senator Green who leaned in under the debris, crawled to wards the injured man and dragged him into the open while willing hands assisted.

“I was standing in the dining room in front of the window picking dead leaves off my plants and I had just remarked that I was going to trim them up for the winter,” said Mrs. Green “When I saw the seaplane swooping towards the house. There was a crash and the machine shot in front of me and landed with a terrible ripping sound right on the Ivy hedge. It was upside down.  I immediately rushed to the telephone and called for the police.”

Mrs. Green admitted to being shaken by the nearness of the tragedy. the sweeping wing of the plane was within a few inches of her head when it struck the house and buckled up. The fuselage of the plane shattered when it struck the ivy covered fence and ground.

Debris was scattered over the floor of the dining room. Under Senator Green’s chair was found a piece of wreckage.

The outside of the house was scarred where the plane had scraped. The boarding was ripped away splintered and hanging…

Apparently the accident was never formally investigated by any sort of official agency. The pilot was able to return home to Seattle by boat on a stretcher, during the afternoon after the crash.

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The Famous Artist Next Door (Part Two)

August 5th, 2010 · British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Victoria

Emily Carr on the porch of 316 Beckley Avenue.

After Emily Carr moved into the rundown cottage on Beckley street in James Bay, next to Bert Hudson’s house, relationships between the new neighbour’s were not always peaceable. Hudson explains

Really Miss Carr could not have chosen a less likely family to live beside. My father was a stubborn pioneer from the Canadian Prairie.  Painting and other cultural activities held little interest for him. Miss Carr, with her back ground of European education in the arts and her emphasis on cultural expression, contrasted vividly with his down-to-earth realism. A clash was not long in developing. From my perch in the apple tree one afternoon Miss Carr sent me scurrying with the command:

“Get your father out here to the fence immediately!” Startled, I stammered “Y-y-y-yes ma’am,” jumped down and rushed inside.

All unknowing, my father followed me into the yard where Miss Carr fixed him with a fearsome gaze and demanded an explanation of why her yard was filling with water. My father attempted to explain to her how in this land she would have to dig ditches as he had done; but there was no meeting of the minds and with much snorting and grumbling they both stomped off into their respective houses and my father vowed never to have anything more to do with Miss Carr.

Overtime relations between the neighbours gradually improved. After striking up a friendship with Emily over a pet kitten, Hudson’s sister Phyllis began to visit Carr regularly.

As the summer rolled on my sister brought back tales almost nightly that she recounted at the dinner table. The monkey, Woo particularly fascinated us and over and over again we had Phyllis describe the little fellow whose eating habits were so “persnickity” as Miss Carr put it.

Emily and Woo.

“Miss Carr was eating a kipper for her supper,” Phyllis said, “and she gave a whole one to the monkey. He sat there and picked it clean, licking his fingers between every bite. He’s real fond of lettuce too and Miss Carr buys him heads of it.”

Unfortunately Woo had a pretty bad temper and only Miss Carr could actually handle him.

One day as my mother held the board in the fence open for my sister to squeeze through Miss Carr said suddenly:

“You sew don’t you Mrs. Hudson?”

“Well yes I do,” my mother said modestly. Unlike my father, my mother was awed by this lady.

“Well then make me two nightgowns,” Miss Carr demanded. And my mother did , following the brusque instructions with her usual gentleness. We wondered, but my mother said quietly:

“I don’t think Miss Carr has much in the way of worldly goods.” And so started a warm friendship which in those days I could never understand, for it involved a sort of old world relationship. My mother and eventually my father sort of took under their wing a number of practical requirements for this dedicated lady, who, somehow, took for granted their little services, and I suppose to some extent considered it right and proper so that she could continue with her art. Now twenty years later, I think perhaps she was right.

On Phyllis’s birthday, Carr helped out with the party

There was great excitement the day my sister was given a birthday party. Miss Carr made the candies herself, and personally painted the place cards. It was a most unusual party altogether and my sister was overjoyed. Among her presents was a book – inside was the giver’s name, “Woo the Monkey.”

Over the fence to my father’s consternation, were passed the other gifts: two bantam hens! (My father had been trying to chase the small flock out of his seed bed for weeks. Was this a touch of irony?) Amid much muttering and grumbling about the appropriateness of such gifts for children he set about building a pen.

During her time at Beckley street, Carr’s health began to deteriorate. At one point she had to be taken to hospital suffering from heart angina. While Emily was away, Bert was tasked with taking care of the Carr Menagerie

I came into the limelight as a caretaker for the pates. I’m normally pretty good with animals and always had dogs or other pets to care for; but feeding the menage next door had its own problems. The little family of Belgian Griffin pups refused to accept anyone other than Miss Carr. Twice a day as I fed them and talked with them they yapped nervously and would only approach the dish when I was yards distant. However they never bit me, which is more than I can say for Woo. This little fellow was plain bad tempered and I guess it was only by the greatest luck and agility snatching away my hand that I am still able to call for four beers without having to use two hands. All I got was a nick and a good cursing as he hurled chunks of banana and half a head of lettuce in my direction.

Despite her ailing health, Carr continued to paint and would still undertake expeditions to Sooke and Saanich to paint the deep dark woods and big trees she loved so much. In this final excerpt, Hudson describes excursions with Emily Carr

"Cathedral," 1937

In the summer,…Miss Carr was off …to paint. She no longer traveled by canoe and pack horse into Indian villages. a gravel pit near Sooke, about 30 miles up the west coast of Vancouver Island became her headquarters.

Miss Carr had a caravan, rather like the old Gypsies, and this she would get towed out to the gravel pit, then summoning my father on the day her entourage was ready – dogs, monkeys, parrots, boxes and paints they would sally into the country.

I think now my father looked forward to these commands although she still ticked him off on occasions.

Carr at the door of her Caravan.

There was one…trip on which we took Emily Carr and her pets, and I believe it was en route to Sooke. The woman we visited paled as Emily swept into her living room – complete with a vulture. The evil looking bird could scare anyone who looked into its cold eyes. “Oh he won’t hurt anyone,” Miss Carr exclaimed and proceeded to tie him to the table leg, I often wonder how much of the conversation the woman subsequently absorbed for she was obviously frightened of the huge predator.

After a serious heart attack in 1939, Carr moved back in with her sister Alice. During the forties, her main creative focus shifted painting to writing. In 1941 she was able to see her first book the Governor General Award winning”Klee Wyck” published. She died several years later on March 2 1945, leaving behind a considerable artistic legacy of both influential paintings and written works.

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The Famous Artist Next Door

August 4th, 2010 · British Columbia, Victoria

"Straight of Juan de Fuca" by Emily Carr.

During the 1930’s, as a 14 year old boy, Bert Hudson lived on Beckley Avenue in James Bay. One day, a new neighbour moved into the vacant cottage next door to his families home. Unbeknownst to the Hudson’s, the severe older woman who had moved into 316 Beckley Avenue was the artist Emily Carr. In this Islander from November 1963, “From Boyhood He Remembers…A Genius and Her Maid” Hudson recounts vivid memories of living next door to “Miss Carr.”

Emily Carr was my neighbour. I doubt if she was ever really aware of this fact, because although justifiably famous as an artist, painter and author, I doubt if Emily Carr liked small boys. I was a small boy.

I didn’t know much about art in those days; I’m not much of a connoisseur even yet! My attitude has changed, however – what a wasted opportunity! Now I would fawn and pry in an attempt to get every bit of knowledge available from this truly great Canadian. A boy of 14 though, as I was then, is interested in great athletes, pocket knives, throwing stones, and eluding work.

Therefore I guess I goofed as a would be artist; but I did observe, and I remember vividly the years that Emily Carr spent in a cottage next to ours in a run-down section of James Bay. Out house was 322 Beckley Avenue  and was probably one of the oldest houses houses in Victoria, and I well remember the day my aunt went through the living room floor, chesterfield and all. I guess that proves that it was old!

At the time, nobody was quite sure why Carr had moved to Beckley Avenue in the first place. It turns out that after leaving the “House of All Sorts” near Beacon Hill Park, which she had run as an apartment building, Emily moved into a cottage on the lands of the former Carr estate with her sister Alice. This house-share did not work out. And, consequently,  craving solitude and perhaps peace and quiet, Emily packed up her pets and canvasses and moved to 316 Beckley Avenue.

The Day Miss Emily moved in next door did cause a stir. We peeked from behind curtains for a site of this unusual arrival. It isn’t every day that crate loads of canvasses are moved in. To our eyes incomprehensible, but never the less even to our untrained sight, rich with the reddish hues, warm greens, and dramatic  with the dramatic grotesque totems, were the products of Miss Carr’s life and special perspective. These masses of canvasses resulted from her years of hard work and happiness amongst the coastal Indians.

If you could think of a snowman in a plaid tunic or a rotund hausfrau with a round, suntanned face and braids coiled…severely around her head, you would have some idea of Miss Carr of the 1930’s. Hers was a strictly no nonsense countenance. I mean no discourtesy in my attempts at her description, just the facts. We were honestly disconcerted. This was to be no benevolent mother-image dispensing cookie’s at the back door. Certain small boys were soon warned off the back fence; the loose board that had provided easy access to the apple tree in the back yard was nailed up, and that was that I don’t suppose I spoke a dozen times to the famous Emily Carr. I would guess that some of those words were retorts. The apple tree where we played cowboys and Indians, Robin Hood and Tarzan hung nearly over the back door. If she was a nite vinegary on occasion I have no doubt we merited it.

Due to the length of this article, and time constraints, this post will be continued in a second instalment tomorrow. Stay tuned for tales of the Carr menagerie, and Emily Carr’s own reminiscences of “life among the Indian’s.”

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The Sophia Disaster

August 3rd, 2010 · British Columbia, Victoria

The Princess Sophia

In October of 1918, British Columbia experienced its worst nautical disaster. T.W. Patterson describes the events surrounding the loss of the 2, 320-ton Sophia and 343 of her passengers and crew.

Winter struck the west coast early and hard in 1918. Driven off course during a blinding snow storm, the Sophia grounded onto Vanderbilt Reef early in the morning of Oct. 24 and stuck fast. Her master, Captain F.L. Locke, a veteran of 27 years service with the Canadian Pacific[Steamship Company], immediately radioed particulars to the B.C. Coast Service.

Capt. Locke did not think his ship was in danger. Both he and senior officials believed the Sophia would float off the reef on the next high tide, expected that afternoon.

Vanderbilt Reef.

At the time the Sophia had one of the longest passenger lists of any vessel sailing that year, as it was carrying some of the last groups of people south from the interior of Alaska before winter set in.

Despite the fact that the ship had gone aground, almost everyone on board remained calm throughout the afternoon of the 24th, confident that the tide would change, and rescue ships were on the way. In Victoria, news of the accident began to hit the newspapers.

Both Victoria newspapers gave the story prominent and through coverage, providing the details to a news hungry city all to familiar with marine disasters. Victorians followed articles closely, speculated among themselves…and waited.

CPR news releases were encouraging “The waters of Lynn canal are well protected and no loss of life is feared…”

Hard aground, the last picture ever taken of the Sophia above water while she was aground on Vanderbilt Reef.

In spite of the CPR’s lack of concern, the Sophia’s predicament worsened when wind from the north began blowing down the passage, frustrating efforts to transfer stranded passengers to the rescue vessels that were standing by. These ships included the U.S. shops Cedar and Peterson as well as the auxiliary schooner King & Wing and various small fishing boats.

CPR officials remained optimistic, although they were concerned about the disrupted passenger services, and juggled schedules and steamers in an attempt to keep all routes operating.  However they did admit publicly that they were having increasing difficulty making contact with the Sophia, but reassured Victorians that all would work out well. They said that if the situation deteriorated the many boats at the scene would take care of all of those aboard the Sophia.

And deteriorate it did, that night Victorians received shocking news. Shortly before, radio operators monitoring the Sophia received a sobering message “Just time to say goodbye. We are foundering.”

The announcement of the Sophia’s sinking hit the city like an earthquake. People were numbed. A brief wireless message had been relayed to Victoria from Juneau, stating that sometime during the night the ship that had made its home port here since arriving from a Scotland shipyard six years before, had sunk.

At the news of the Sophia’s sinking many people reacted with disbelief, while others remained confident that the passengers and crew of the Sophia would be picked up by the nearby rescue vessels. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Pitch blackness and stormy weather made it impossible for any of the boats to approach the site of the wreck, and in the morning, the only evidence that remained of the vessel, was her foremast, which stuck out just above the water.

The Sophia's foremast, as viewed from the reef.

When the storm abated, rescuers were able to walk, at low tide, over Vanderbilt reef where Sophia had perched. The rock where the hull had rested was worn smooth as “a silver dollar” by the grinding action of the ship.

Apparently heavy gusts quartering on her stern, which was not held by the reef, swung her around, the bow acting as an axis. When the bow was blown free, she filled by the head and sank.

In the following weeks, many bodies were discovered littering the shores of Lynn Canal. It appeared that many had died of exposure to the elements, and some women and children were found still aboard drifting life boats.

It was later discovered that passengers had refused to leave the ship before the onset of the storm, preferring the comfort and warmth of the Sophia to the chilly shores of Lynn Canal. Ironically the barometer aboard the ship had deceived them; it had been rising, indicating that the weather was about to improve.

An oiled soaked English setter discovered some days after the wreck was said to be the sole survivor of the worst shipwreck in BC’s history.

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They Burned Poor Higgins in Effigy

July 29th, 2010 · British Columbia, Canada

Unpopular David W. Higgins

Pioneer journalist and newspaper man David William Higgins was at times, extremely unpopular in Victoria.As editor of The Colonist newspaper and successor to the quirky previous editor, Amor de Cosmos, Higgins enjoyed his fair share of conflict and controversy.

James K. Nesbitt dug up this story, published The Standard, a rival newspaper, which exemplifies the brutal nature of colonial politics, seems to show that “back in the day”, David W. Higgins was an unpopular man.

When a political adversary accused Higgins of corruption, supporters of George A. Walkem, a member of the opposition in the Victoria legislature, held a torchlight parade in an attempt to vilify and disgrace Higgins. According to the Canadian Dictionary of Biography

The Colonist was the city’s foremost newspaper and through it Higgins helped to shape public opinion in Victoria. A political adversary claimed that Higgins controlled the opposition to the administration of George Anthony Walkem. The part was one which carried its share of liabilities. Walkem brought a successful libel suit against Higgins for linking him too closely with the mismanagement of work on the Esquimalt dry dock.

The Standard’s article kicks things off with a satirical tirade

“THE CHAMPION LIAR – A view of Mr. D.W. Higgins friends intend raising a subscription for the purpose of paying that notorious fellows passage as far as New York, where he will be exhibited at Barnum’s Museum, as the champion liar of America.

Last night a procession formed outside the Hook and Ladder House, Government Street, and headed by Haynes Band, proceeded to the residence of Mr. G.A. Walkem, Pandora Avenue, for the purpose of welcoming that gentleman on his return after an absence of some months in California.

Over 2, 000 persons joined in the prosession, which was headed by the band and lighted on its way by innumerable torches. On arriving in front of Mr. Walkem’s house three hearty cheers were given for that gentleman.

After the band had played several suitable airs, the procession reformed and proceeded to Government Street, by way of Johnson, halting opposite the Colonist office, where a life-like effigy of the proprietor of that journal, hung to a gallow, was burned amid the execrations of the spectators.

The effigy was a very natural representation of that notorious fellow, dressed in his usual street cloths, black hat, and umbrella.

Whoever the artist was he certainly deserves credit for his faithful picture of Higgins. During the execution, the lights in the Colonist office burned glim, and when the burnt remains of the traitor fell to the ground, the band played “The Rouges March”  winding up with the “Dead March.”

The Standard office was then serenaded, after which the procession reformed and   to the Hon. Mr. [Robert] Beaven, Hon. Dr. [John] Ash and Hon. T.B. Humphreys, each of whom made suitable addresses”

It is worth noting that the next day, when The Colonist published an account of the goings n the night before, it reported in detail about the speechs, and passed over the burning of Mr. Higgins effigy.

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