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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.


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‘Island idyll Just Minutes from Nanaimo’

Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 in Articles | 0 comments

So read the headline in the Vancouver Island Free Daily of the idyllic Newcastle Island, immediately off Nanaimo. And make no mistake, Newcastle truly is a treasure island of natural beauty. It also comes with a fabulous pedigree of industrial and dramatic history. There’s something for everyone including summer camps for kids. For me, of course, it’s the historical provenance that has been the draw to Newcastle (and its immediate southern neighbour, Protection Island) numerous times. What’s now Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park owes its christening to officers of the Hudson’s Bay Co. who named it for the Northumberland, Eng., coal city, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On maps, Newcastle Island and Channel date back only to 1853; their namesake was thriving in the days of the Roman occupation. HBC officials obviously coined Newcastle because of its long history as a coal port—surely you’ve heard the expression, “coals to Newcastle”? The fur company had hopes that Nanaimo (aka Colville Town) would prove to be a major coal producer. As indeed it did. Northumberland Channel (known locally as Exit Channel) and Tyne Point achieved their designations in the same manner. The original and present owners, the Snuneymux First Nation, know the island as Saysutshun, which means “training for running”. That’s because competitive canoe puller’s would run the island’s trails...

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Morden Colliery Park’s New Memorial Crowns 12-Year Campaign

Posted by on Jul 18, 2017 in Articles | 0 comments

Yesterday’s doubleheader began with 90 minutes of taking over 100 pictures in Nanaimo’s Bowen Road cemetery before the unveiling of Morden Colliery Park’s new memorial. I was waiting to join an hour-long tour of Masonic graves led by fellow Duncanite and Mason historian Mark Anderson. His tour was part of the day-long 150th anniversary celebration of Nanaimo’s Ashlar Lodge No. 3. In purely historic (and storytelling) terms, this is a really great cemetery: headstone after headstone bears the sad epitaph, “Killed in the explosion of…” Or: “Killed in Extension Mine…” Or some other industrial tragedy. This isn’t surprising for a city that was founded on coal mining What was unexpected was the extent of vandalism as evidenced by broken and missing headstones and columns. A story in itself, I’m sorry to say. Not all of the markers are for miners, of course. There’s one for a lady who, in the 1880s, served for two years as a county sheriff in the U.S. Her flat, black on white granite headstone catches the eye because of the atypical American sheriff’s star in the centre. She obviously was a woman ahead of her time. A sheriff! But it was the coal miners who resonated with me and they were the real reason I was in Nanaimo, Saturday....

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Typewriters are still with us–who cares?

Posted by on Jul 9, 2017 in Articles | 2 comments

According to an item by the Associated Press, typewriters are still with us; at least for those nostalgians who prefer to continue to pound out letters and manuscripts on a Smith Corona or an old Underwood or a Remington or… Me? Never again! I can well remember, as a kid, dreaming of the day that I’d be a professional writer—an author!—which would also mean my having a typewriter of my own. Access to a portable Smith Corona, which belonged...

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Remembering Terry Fox, Old Trains, the Galloping Goose

Posted by on Jul 2, 2017 in Articles | 2 comments

Almost 20 years ago, when I began writing my twice-weekly historical column in the Cowichan Valley Citizen and (for 10 years) a once-weekly retrospective in the Nanaimo Daily News/Harbour City Star, a friend predicted that I’d “be starved for material in four months”. “Not a chance,” I replied. “In four months I’ll have more to work with than when I started.” This wasn’t idle bragging but based upon years of experience. You see, and to give but one example,...

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Black Ball Ferry Chinook was last word in comfort

Posted by on Feb 1, 2015 in Articles | 2 comments

A tribute to “the Queen Elizabeth of the inland seas” It’s hard to believe, today, that in 1946-47, Victorians were as interested in Washington’s newest car ferry as the citizens of Seattle. That’s when the M.V. Chinook was said to be the last word in Pacific Northwest commuter comfort and elegance. So proud of their new-born flagship were the directors of Puget Sound Navigation Co., the parent firm of Black Ball Transport, that they touted her as “the Queen...

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HMCS Annapolis made waves for Reefs Society

Posted by on Jan 10, 2015 in Articles | 2 comments

HMCS Annapolis, an honoured name in Canadian naval history, was in the news in 2015. After successive challenges by The Save Halkett Bay Marine Park Society to prevent the sinking of the stripped-down destroyer escort as an artificial reef in Howe Sound, she was in fact sunk off Gambier Island. This is the second Canadian destroyer to bear the name of the river that runs through Nova Scotia’s fabled Annapolis Valley. The first Annapolis began her career as USS...

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B.C.’s first ‘lunatic asylum’ was a disaster

Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 in Articles | 4 comments

British Columbia’s first pioneer mental health facility opened in Victoria in the spring of 1876 in a former quarantine hospital on the west shore of the Inner Harbour. Just three and a-half years later, the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ was rocked by scandal. The superintendent admitted to wearing his patients’ socks but not their drawers! The Victoria Colonist expressed its “pain, surprise and indignation” that evidence “injuriously affecting the characters of the superintendent and matron of that institution…that ought to be...

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