From Ships to Settlers: two books for history buffs

Book Reviews

Jim Woods of Sechelt has loved boats all his life — from his former sailboat to his current vessel, a canoe. He’s been writing about them for many of those years, for publications such as Pacific Yachting and the now defunct West Coast Boat Journal. This year he has brought 38 of his ship stories together in a self-published collection titled West Coast Spirit. These short stories of steamships and tugboats, shipwrecks and lighthouses tell much of the history of B.C., starting with the dugout cedar canoes of the Aboriginal people and moving through the years to the ill-fated Empress of Canada that was sunk by a torpedo during the war.

Woods has stayed away from archival photos on purpose, he told Coast Reporter, and has illustrated each story with one of his own sketches, simple line ink drawings, that adds another dimension of interest for the reader. The cover is taken from one of his oil paintings that depicts the Victoria sealing schooner the Thomas F. Bayard.

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Readers in Gibsons may remember the Alibi Wahoo. This sleek wooden craft was rumoured to have been built as a rum runner and was moored in Gibsons Harbour for many years, available for short cruises and events. Woods reports that in 2005 it was sold to a movie company in Vancouver.

One of Wood’s more interesting stories is that of a good friend, Sechelt boat builder, the late George Gilmour. “It’s a heckuva good story,” Woods said. “He was building boats into his 90s and one of his boats is still tied up in the inlet.”

Some of the more exciting stories involve the tragedy of shipwrecks, particularly along the stormy west coast of Vancouver Island. Lighthouses and the people who run them also offer good tales — particularly the familiar ones, Point Atkinson and Merry Island. Woods also recounts the bizarre story of the Triangle Island lighthouse near Cape Scott that should never have been built.

The book has been professionally edited by local writer Viveca Ohm, making it a pleasure to read. It is available at Talewind Books and Art Vintage in Sechelt and Windows on the Water in Gibsons, for $20.

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Echoes of British Colum-bia, a compilation of stories from the province’s frontier by Robert “Lucky” Budd, is a gorgeous history book by Harbour Publishing, brimming with archival photos and lively tales of settlers who made the province what it is today.

Budd has a background in history that spurred him to write a previously successful book, Voices of British Columbia, and earned his presence on CBC’s North by Northwest with host Sheryl MacKay who writes a foreword for Echoes. But the true foundation for this book comes from the oral histories gathered by the late CBC journalist Imbert Orchard in the early 1960s when he travelled around B.C. with a recording engineer, collecting interviews with many pioneers and their descendants before they were lost forever. Orchard gathered 998 conversations and 26 of them are featured in the book. The recordings on three CDs are sold with the book.

The pioneers gave up their stories freely. Some homesteaded in the Shuswap area or founded the town of Langley. Others froze in the wilderness or were attacked by robbers. Some, like Mary Grace Chamberlin (nee Glassford) of Gibsons, upon questioning by Orchard as to why her father wanted to move to the Sunshine Coast, answered that he had thought “Vancouver was the most awful-looking place he ever saw.” Chamberlin, who died in 1979, considered her life growing up in Gibsons was pretty good.

Echoes is available at local bookstores for $35, including the oral history CDs.

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