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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

Typewriters are still with us–who cares?

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 to my father’s union of which he was secretary, came first.

The first one that I owned, a large, clunky black office-sized Underwood that I sent away for with one of my first pay cheques from my new job at The Daily Colonist, served me well for several years.

But, by then, newer typewriters were smaller, even portable, and much prettier: green and blue instead of the traditional funereal black. So I moved up to a T. Eaton portable. Actually, it was a Smith Corona with the department store’s house brand.

Again, a quality machine

Even if I did wear it out, unthinkingly, by never changing the tabulator stops. Meaning that the carriage return simply ground them down from untold thousands of repeated hard returns. Younger generations who’ve only known computer keyboards won’t comprehend this, but no matter.

Then I was on to an electric, again a Smith Corona bearing the Eaton Co. brand. Again, too, a dependable machine. And much quieter although I had to retrain myself not to punch the keys so hard as had been necessary with a manual.

However, all loyalty to a typewriter died when I bought my first computer. No more white-out! No more erasing! No more having to retype entire manuscripts because of some minor errors or revisions!

With the computer I was God!

I could open, close, insert, rewrite to my heart’s content, change typeface, font size, use italics and boldface, justify…

You get the idea. I wouldn’t go back to using a typewriter at gunpoint.

So, history buff and nostalgian that I am, the only typewriters in my world today are several antiques that I’ve acquired as keepsakes. I do regret that I didn’t keep any of the machines that I used through my writing career, a lapse of sentiment that’s out of character for me. I guess I just wasn’t thinking at the time. Today, of course, they’d be among my prized heirlooms like my film cameras which, too, have become obsolete.

Digital cameras

have been a repeat of my experience with typewriters and I could never go back to shooting, developing and printing film. Even the thought of the time and effort required to process 100s of rolls of film makes me cringe. (Not to mention having to breath in the smell of fixer during hours-long darkroom sessions.)

There really is something to be said for progress!


Finally, at least for today, a note about forest fires and water bombers. (It’s that time of year again.)

More specifically, water bombers.

When I lived at Cherry Point, Cobble Hill, I was on the flight path of the famous Flying Firemen who were based at Pat Bay (Victoria International) Airport. Every spring, they’d fire up and tune up their WW2 Cansos which had been converted to water bombers.

These large two-engined amphibians

would pass right over my roof at low altitude then make a U-turn to return to the airport. They were being test-driven during annual servicing to get them ready for another fire season.

Just as I’d grown up beside the CNR railway tracks and had been exposed to years of living, breathing, smoking steam locomotives, my time at Cherry Point allowed me the joy of watching and hearing these magnificent aircraft with their high-powered radial piston engines.

Like the difference between steam and diesel, their’s is a sound that no jet can ever even hope to replace.

Which, sadly, is the point of this post.

Port Alberni’s Coulson Aviation, known internationally for their ownership and use of the last of the surviving Martin Mars water bombers, has gone modern.

They’ve just bought six used Boeing 737s for conversion to water bombers. I don’t know if these are the first jet water bombers in the world but they must be for British Columbia, a province that has pioneered aerial forest fire fighting.

I’m sure they’re going to do the job well or Coulson wouldn’t have bought them. They also come with a bonus factor, the ability, as former passenger liners, to carry firefighting crews (and/or equipment) as well as a load of chemically-treated water.

But a jet just ain’t the same as a World War 2 bomber.

As proof, a month or so ago while walking my dog along the abandoned CNR grade near my home, I had the joyous experience of watching a warbird. It was about 7 o’clock when I first heard him, coming from the south, which I took to mean he was flying up from Pat Bay.

Moments later, he appeared above the treetops and Langtry’s field. Shoving the stick forward and gunning the motor, which roared like a dozen Harley-Davidsons, he skimmed the field then disappeared over the northern fringe of forest.

It took only a few moments. But what a blast! The only thing missing from his simulated strafing run was the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns. For those few seconds, from my perfect viewpoint, it was like watching a movie. Not in technicolour but in thrilling reality.

It was a moment to savour.

So good luck with your jets, Coulson Aviation. As for me, I’ll go on living in the past with my memories of fine-tuned piston engines. Make mine a multi-prop plane every time.

But I’ll continue to forego typewriters and film cameras, if you don’t mind.


Cdr. (Ret.) Arthur W. Rowse, the subject of one of my most interesting interviews ever, passed away in February 2017. I was still just a novice, hardly out of my teens when I interviewed him at HMC Esquimalt on the subject of unexploded ordnance left over from the Second World War.

Specifically, I was interested in 10s of thousands of mines known to be still afloat and adrift in the world’s major shipping lanes. It was one of those bizarre facts I’d come upon in my research. He, as commanding officer of the RCN’s Fleet diving and demolitions unit and a lieutenant-commander at the time, was the obvious one to ask.

He was a wealth of information and extremely gracious

He began by informing me that there were mines out there going back as far as the First World War, and then gave me an entire afternoon complete with demonstration of some mines and other ordnance (all deactivated, of course).

He told me some great stories. I didn’t think (I told you I was new at the game) to ask him what prompted him to get into explosives, but he’d been at it since the Second World War, on both Canadian coasts.

I’m guessing now that he’d gravitated to demolitions through his being a scuba diver.

He’d seen Canadian servicemen bring home some pretty wild souvenirs, from live napalm bombs to live grenades and artillery shells. He’d once visited the home of an old fisherman who’d built a unique fence of large shells around his hearth. He’d salvaged them from the wreck of a ship, lugged them home, drilled a hole through each one to link to a chain and polished them up.

Rowse had had to admit that it looked very attractive. He just couldn’t understand how the man hadn’t blown himself to kingdom come. Each of the unfired shells contained enough high explosive to level the man’s house and those of his nearest neighbours!

Nevertheless, he said it took some convincing before the old fellow could be persuaded to surrender them for proper disposal.

There were other stories then my interview was done.

I regret now that I didn’t get to know him better; his obituary in the Times-Colonist hints at his fascinating career:

“…The Navy gave Art a life of adventure while allowing him to fulfill fundamental beliefs in duty and service. He traveled widely, serving with UN forces in Cyprus and Israel, worked with Jacques Cousteau on the Alvin submersible in California, provided demolition expertise on the construction of the Alaska Highway, and explosives expertise for the Montreal Olympics.

“There were also unfortunate times when he was called upon to don scuba fear and search for victims of drowning…”

All said and done, a pretty remarkable guy; one whom I met just the once but haven’t forgotten, Cdr. Arthur W. Rowse.


  1. I love those old MARS water bombers, we’ve been up to Sproat Lake multiple times with the hope of catching a glimpse of one of those amazing airborne machines as it flies overhead. As for typewriters, I remember well my mother’s old manual typewriter, although for the life of me I can’t remember what brand it was. I do recall playing with it as a boy and being in absolute wonder as the words sprawled across the paper with the sounds of the hammers hitting the drum and the ding of the bell when you hit the return. Indeed, computers are a positive contribution to those like you who write prolifically, TW, but I do miss the old ones, the ones that literally exuded character with every press of the key.

    • I once had the joy of a Mars flying right over my head during a spelunking expedition in the Gordon River area. It was so low I felt I could touch it. Like watching a whale with wings!
      As for typewriters, you reminded me of the bell. When I worked at the Victoria Colonist the sound of a dozen typewriters over the chatter of the teletype machine grew louder and louder as deadline approached. All done in a fog of cigarette smoke! Thanks for commenting. I know that you like to take photos of old typewriters but, trust me, you really wouldn’t want to go back in time.
      Admit it, the digital and cyber age has spoiled us all… –TWP

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