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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

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 Mackenzie and was one of six of 50 WW1-era ‘four-stacker’ destroyers acquired by Great Britain from the U.S. under Lend-Lease then turned over to the Royal Canadian Navy. Commissioned in Halifax in September 1940, newly recommissioned HMCS Annapolis underwent refit (including removal of one of her four funnels) and strengthening after having spent 17 years in mothballs. Initially assigned to...

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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 the most perfect in its management of any in the province…” had come to light after apparently being ignored by the previous government. The matron, Mrs. Flora Ross, had complained of “a series of outrages [to quote the newspaper] that would have disgraced the veriest martinet that ever held authority”. Her charges included her having suffered “gross insults” from Supt....

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Where did Canadian history go wrong?

Posted by on Dec 24, 2014 in Articles | 4 comments

You remember how it was in school: names, dates, events, all of them of long ago and far away and of no real interest. Which is precisely what’s wrong with the way we teach Canadian history in school, if you ask me. (They don’t, of course.) If children don’t engage with Canadian history, is it their fault? Or is it ours because we present it so poorly that Canadian history becomes, in fact, boring and dull? Several times I’ve been asked by teachers who think outside the prescribed curriculum to speak to their students. Now I’ve been speaking to adult audiences almost since I first became published. It comes with the job. But, speak to kids? For years, I resisted. I well remember how I hated my own schools days, how I rebelled against the regimentation, the learning by...

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It will always be Jimmy Chickens Island

Posted by on Nov 29, 2014 in Articles | 13 comments

News Item: When Charlee the American bulldog was spooked by Halloween fireworks in Victoria, she took off. Rather, she swam to Mary Tod Island off Oak Bay. I’m pleased to report that she was soon reunited with her owner, but that’s not my story which is about one of my favourite pioneers… Maps show the wooded isle off Oak Bay as Mary Tod Island but to those who know their history it will always be Jimmy Chickens Island. This amazing eccentric and his wife Jenny lived there in their little shack during the rare intervals between enforced stays “inside the precincts of the durance vile on Cormorant Street or the brick mansion on Topaz Avenue” (the city and provincial jails). Jimmy and Jenny, you see, were slaves to demon drink Time and again the aging couple was to be...

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Sir John Franklin Expedition has strong Victoria, B.C. link

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in Articles | 4 comments

So they’ve finally found Sir John Franklin. Well, his ships anyway. 170-plus years after he and all of his 128 men vanished in the Arctic while searching for the legendary Northwest Passage. This is what legends are made of: The most expensive scientific expedition to that time in history, which sailed…into oblivion. Not a single survivor. Not, for years, a single clue! Ever so slowly the puzzle has been unraveled through the efforts, often heroic, of numerous explorers and, in recent years, repeated underwater searches by Parks Canada. All these efforts have been crowned with the confirmed discoveries of Sir John Franklin’s flagship, HMS Erebus, and her sister ship HMS Terror. Vancouver Island has several strong links to the Franklin saga Let’s begin with Herald Rock in Beaver Harbour, ‘twixt Fort Rupert and Port Hardy. It’s named for the...

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