Book of the Month - Tweets from the Trenches: Little True Stories of Life & Death on the Western Front

Author Jacqueline Carmichael started to publish excerpts from her grandfather's wartime journals and letters on Facebook and Twitter. This 'flash documentary creative non-fiction' project, as Carmichael calls it, spiraled into a larger research project and finally, a book Tweets from the Trenches: Little True Stories of Life & Death on the Western Front. 

This book is one for youth and adults alike. It does an especially good job of suggesting another way for us to imagine the lives of people who fought, lived, and died over 100 years ago now. 

Drop by the museum to read the book at your leisure, or order it from Vancouver Island Regional Library

Find the Carmichael's Twitter story by following @BlackJackVowel

A Museum Field Trip to Morpheus Island

 

Guest curator of Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war Stephanie Ann Warner, her father Barry Warner, and Museum President Steve Bernard took a trip out to Morpheus Island. 

Stephanie wrote a fabulous article on the visit with profiles of some of the lives of the the people buried there (including the Grices, Garrards, Fred Tibbs, and Rowland Brinkman (a.k.a. "Brinky")  on her website. Follow this link to read on.

To read Stephanie's Research on Harold Monks Sr. follow this link.

 Stephanie and Museum President Steve Bernard. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Malon and her Family on the Verandah

Article by guest curator Stephanie Ann Warner

This spring, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum is sharing stories of the short-lived settlement on Vargas Island, as part of its exhibit Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War. We are fortunate to have access to the photographs and diaries of Mrs Helen Malon, who lived with her family on Vargas Island from 1912 - 1918.

Back: Violet Abraham, Ted Abraham, Eileen Abraham, Arthur Abraham, George Anderson

Front: Helen Malon, Pierre Malon, Yvonne Malon

Photograph taken summer 1913-1914. Photograph courtesy of Joan Nicholson.

A happy family gathers on a large verandah on Vargas Island in 1913 or 1914. Mrs Helen Malon -- centre of the photograph in the chair -- is surrounded by her children and her brother. The family had only recently reunited after years apart and would be separated once again by war. But in the meantime, let's learn a bit more Mrs Malon and especially about her Vargas Island house.

Mrs Malon was born Helen Anderson in 1863 in Gatacre, a suburb of Liverpool England. She was in the middle of a very large family that included older sister Maggie and youngest brother George, both who also lived on Vargas Island. In 1870, young Helen Anderson and the whole family set sail (by early steamship) for Canada, where her father Weir Anderson took a job in Toronto. The family rented a house, Rosedale Villa (the property is now the affluent Rosedale suburb). A newspaper advertisement from that time indicates that the villa had a large verandah. This point is important for Mrs Malon's later life on Vargas Island -- she really enjoyed spending time on her verandah! Weir Anderson died in 1878 and some of the family returned to England. In 1881, Helen, Maggie and George Anderson were living in St Leonards on Sea, an English seaside resort.

In 1883, Helen Anderson married Rev. Thomas Palmer Abraham from Suffolk. Abraham was a Cambridge graduate and a former lawyer with family connections to the Lord Chancellor of England, Richard Bethell. The Abrahams lived at the rectory in Risby Suffolk, a substantial Victorian house with a large garden. Rev. Abraham died suddenly of pneumonia in 1897. Helen was 34 years old and had 4 children: Arthur (12), Violet (11), Ted (10) and Eileen (21 months).

Rev. Abraham left his wife a good income for the rest of her life (not conditional on re-marriage). However, there was not enough money for Arthur and Ted Abraham to attend university or join the professions in England. In 1902, Arthur Abraham (17 years old) emigrated to New Zealand where he worked as a clerk in the offices of his well-to-do businessmen uncles. In 1904, Ted Abraham (also aged 17) emigrated and worked as a clerk. Ted later recalled that they didn't want to be dependent on the uncles, so they started farming.

In 1905, Helen Abraham married Jules-Ernest Malon, a University of Paris graduate and a French and German teacher. Monsieur Malon taught at British boy's boarding schools, where he developed a solid reputation as a "disciplinarian" (a positive feature in the age of "spare the rod and spoil the child!") The Malons lived in Normandy France, where Monsieur Malon had a thriving tutoring business. They had 2 children: Yvonne (born 1906) and Pierre (born 1907).

 

Violet Abraham and her mother Helen Malon outside their house in Normandy France.

Photograph taken between 1905-1910. Photograph courtesy of Joan Nicholson.

In 1910, Mrs Malon's health was not good -- probably headaches or "rheumatism" (aka arthritis).Monsieur Malon gave up his tutoring business and took a teaching job at Victoria College, St. Helier, Jersey located in the Channel Islands. Jersey was known for year-round good weather. A 1911 guidebook notes: “Jersey's greatest attraction is undoubtedly is delightful and equable climate. No place on the South coast of England can compare with it as a winter resort.” The family moved into a large house with a cook and a gardener. Mrs Malon and her family would have enjoyed the trips to the beach to "bathe".

 

Havre de Pas outdoor bathing pool an St. Helier Jersey.

Photograph taken in 2018 by Stephanie Warner.

In early October 1911, Monsieur Malon hadn't been feeling well and had  taken a few days off school. But now he was feeling well enough now to take his regular Sunday morning walk with Yvonne and Pierre. That afternoon, Monsieur Malon fell down in an "apoplectic fit" and did not regain consciousness. He died 2 days later. His death certificate says "brain hemorrhage"(probably a stroke or an aneurysm). So, another husband gone! What would Mrs Malon do? She could have stayed on Jersey or gone to the Isle of Wight where here mother and sisters led a genteel life in the garden at "Ivy Lodge". But instead, Mrs Malon decided to go to a wilderness island!

At the same time as the family tragedy on Jersey, Mrs Malon's sons Arthur and Ted Abraham and her brother George Anderson were living on Vargas Island. Farming in New Zealand obviously hadn't worked out, though a family story goes that the brothers were both involved with the same girl and one of them had to leave town! The "boys" and "Nunkey" (as Mrs Malon called them) had various adventures while trying to clear the west coast rainforest. (Ted even cut his foot badly and had to spend several weeks lying in a tent!). But the boys loved their new life and must have really sold their mother on coming out to Vargas Island.

So, on June 14 1912, Mrs Malon set sail from Liverpool England. She was 49 years old and was travelling with her children Violet Abraham (26), Eileen Abraham (17) and the "babies" Yvonne (6) and Pierre (4 years and 10 months). A month later -- after a steamship voyage, a visit to Toronto, a long train journey through the Prairies and Rockies, a boat to Nanaimo, a train to Alberni and a boat to Clayoquot Sound -- Mrs Malon arrived on the west coast. After an initial shock at her new surroundings she soon embraced her new life and wrote in her diary: "We have gone to a primitive life and no mistake, but I think we shall like it alright."

Eileen Abraham, Yvonne Malon and Pierre Malon and their mother Helen Malon on Vargas Island in late 1912, early 1913. Photograph courtesy of Joan Nicholson.

Mrs Malon arrived on Vargas Island on Thursday July 18 1912. Arthur and Ted hadn't told her about the living arrangements! "It was a shock to our feelings to find no house only a shack but it is luckily quite roomy and we shall manage quite well until the rainy weather comes, but must have a house then."

Mrs Malon purchased 2 acres of land from Frank Garrard and Pierre Alexis Hovelaque at a location she called "Suffolk Bay" (now known as Buckle Bay). More recently, this location has been the site of Neil Buckle's home, the Vargas Island Inn and the Cedar Coast Field Station. Arthur, Ted and George started to clear the land, and Mrs Malon arranged with a local contractor, Billy Hilton, to build the house. But there was bad news: "Monday October 7 1912 - Had a blow, Hilton came to say he could not build the house until next year. Horrid nuisance."

Mrs Malon was compelled to spend the fall and winter in the roomy shack. This is what the shack was like: "There is one large room, kitchen dining room etc with a good large stove and two smaller rooms, one for Violet and Eileen and the other for me and the two babies....It is airy, as there are many cracks in the wall and floor but it has advantages, as when sweeping all the dust disappears through the spaces in the floor to the ground beneath." But Mrs Malon got some home improvements! On Wednesday October 2 1912, Arthur made a door, and put it up, "much to our joy and comfort." On Saturday November 9 1912, George and Arthur put down the linoleum "which makes a great difference to the shack."

In winter 1913, there was some progress with the new house: "Sunday February 9 1913 - Hilton came over with patterns of wall paper." But maybe not as much progress as she wanted: "Saturday March 22 1913 - Hilton came last night to ask for more money which I am not going to give him." Finally the house was near completion: "Friday April 18 1913 -- Ted took Pierre and me to see the new house...Hilton has made good progress with the house. Gave him cheque for $45."

The house was completed in spring 1913. This photograph below shows the house as it looked when first built -- notice all the stumps surrounding it! A few years later, stumps would be cleared and Mrs Malon would have a large and productive garden.

 

Mrs Helen Malon's house on Vargas Island.

Photo taken circa 1913.

Photo courtesy of Joan Nicholson.

Mrs Malon's diaries pick up again in January 1916 and now give us a good idea of what her house was like. The house had room to operate the "Vargas Island Post Office" as well as a "school room". Yvonne and Pierre Malon were home-schooled by their sister Violet. The house had a kitchen with a new stove from Eatons' mail order catalogue. The house had indoor plumping, which seems to have been installed in 1916. "February 2 1916 -- finished pipes from bath and sink. A great blessing." Though at times the plumbing acted up. She relied on her neighbour P.A.H. (Hovelaque) to do plumbing repairs. "September 22 1917 -- P.A.H. fixed bath pipe which was stopped up." 

Mrs Malon had a cozy house, but she spent most of her time outdoors in the garden or on the verandah that looked down to the beach, water and the mountains. She often mentions the verandah in her diary. This quote says it all: Friday February 18 1916 -- "Another perfect day which I spent on the verandah."

Mrs Malon enjoyed "picnics" (the term she used for outdoor meals). What better place than on the large verandah? It seems she could spend all day eating outside. On Thursday May 11 1916, Mrs Malon "got up at 6 am and had breakfast on the verandah." On Saturday March 10 1917, she "had dinner on the verandah yesterday and today, tea also." Mrs Malon was often on the verandah in her "big chair", looking out at the view and writing letters. Sitting on the verandah would be a good inspiration! This postcard below was sent from Yvonne Malon to Harold Monks in the late 1920s. The image was probably taken from the Malon property and is a similar view to what Mrs Malon would see from the verandah.

 

Panoramic from Vargas Island. Photograph taken in 1912-1928.

Image courtesy of Harold Monks collection.

During the early 20th century the "fresh air movement" was popular. People tried to get as much fresh air to avoid wide-spread tuberculosis. It was very common for houses of this time period to have "sleeping porches" so that people (especially children) could breathe in fresh air. Mrs Malon and the family used their verandah as a large sleeping porch. On Thursday June 14 1917, she wrote: "Children are going to sleep out on the verandah for the first time this year." On Sunday April 21 1918, "Pierre slept on the verandah by himself." A few months later, on Saturday June 1 1918, Yvonne celebrated her 12th birthday with a girls' sleepover party! Mrs Malon wrote: "Evelyn Garrard, Kitty Hopkins and Lily Sloman came over in the afternoon and brought their bags. We all put them to sleep on the verandah."

It's clear that the family enjoyed celebrating birthdays -- Mrs Malon and Violet were always making cakes! -- and they must have had many birthday meals on the verandah. On Saturday July 1 1916, Eileen's 21st birthday, the Garrards and Mrs Riley and Agnes Riley came over to spend the day. "Had all sorts of games on the verandah."

Happy days and times! The photograph of Mrs Malon and her family on the verandah is the only image we have of the family together. They had been re-united for only two years before war was declared. Arthur and Ted Abraham and George Anderson left Vargas Island. Arthur Abraham wrote to his mother: "You won't probably see us back now till the end of the war."

By the end of the war, Helen Malon's son Arthur Abraham had died and she was now living in a rented house in Saanich so her younger children could go to public school. Mrs Malon occasionally returned to Vargas Island for holidays, but in December 1921, she took Eileen, Yvonne and Pierre back to England and Jersey. They returned to Canada in the late 1920s.

Mrs Malon transferred her house to her son Pierre, who "batched" there in the early 1930s. His daughter Joan Nicholson recalled visiting the house as a very small girl and remembered a big fireplace. Mrs Malon's house is no longer standing but we understand that Neil Buckle built his house on the previous house's cement foundation.

Next time, in our feature Gardening on Vargas Island Past and Present, we will visit Mrs Malon's garden during the war years and visit the modern day gardeners on Vargas Island. Stay tuned!

 

Mrs Malon's identity card photo taken in Isle of Wight in 1922.

Image courtesy of Joan Nicholson.

Thank you to Mrs Malon's grand-daughter Joan Nicholson for sharing the following items:

Helen Malon's diary

Letters of recommendation for Jules-Ernest Malon

Arthur Abraham's letter to Helen Malon, August 1914

Family photographs

Family memories

Other records consulted include:

Thomas Palmer Abraham's will, Suffolk Records Office

Interview with Ted Abraham, BC Museum and Archives, recorded by Bob Bossin in 1978.

England and Channel Islands Censuses

Victoria College records containing Mr Malon's obituary

 

Vargas Island ranchers go to war

From February 15 - May 15 2019, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum is exploring British Columbia's experiences in the First World War and looking into the local story of Vargas Island "ranchers" at home and at war.

Post by guest curator Stephanie Ann Warner

 
Photograph courtesy of Stephanie Ann Warner.
A group of Vargas Island "ranchers" enjoy a picnic circa 1913. Most of these men would enlist and serve overseas in WWI.

The Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum will host a travelling exhibit from the Royal BC Museum, British Columbia’s War, 1914–1918. To complement this exhibit, our museum will look into one of Clayoquot Sound's "war stories", that of Vargas Island.

In the years leading up to the First World War, Vargas Island was home to a group of "ranchers" who hoped to clear and farm the cedar-filled rainforest. The realities of life on an isolated west coast island and the coming of war intervened.

Our exhibit and talk Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war will introduce Vargas Island as it appeared before the war, and will discuss the men who enlisted and the women who stayed at home.

Harold Monks - accountant to rancher

I am excited to collaborate with the museum to explore this story because it has a personal connection. When my grandpa Harold Monks Sr enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary force in 1917, he gave his address as "Port Gillam, Vargas Island" and his occupation as "rancher."

 

Stephanie Ann Warner CollectionsHarold Monks' wartime notebook with his Vargas Island address. Image from Harold Monks collection.

 Harold Monks in outrigger canoe. Harold Monks Collection. Courtesy of Warner family. Harold Monks, former Lancashire accountant, in his outrigger canoe off Vargas Island, 1914. Image from Harold Monks collection.

Harold Monks had been an accounting clerk in an industrial town in Northern England. He wanted to emigrate to the "colonies" to get a better life for himself. He started corresponding with his "Canadian cousin" Harry Hilton, who lived on Vargas Island. Harold's parents would not let him leave until he was 21. In April 1914, aged 21 and a half, Harold sailed to Canada, took the train across the country and the boat up the coast to Clayoquot Sound.

Harold stood waiting on the dock at Tofino for his relatives to arrive. He heard someone say "How's the boy?" and he turned around, looking for the "boy" -- he didn't realize it was him! Harold was small and slight and young looking for his age and his grammar school report card had said he needed to develop "manly qualities."

In the next 3 years, Harold certainly developed the "manly qualities" he needed to be a Vargas Island rancher. Harold took out a pre-emption of land from the BC Government. He cleared the land by chopping trees and blasting stumps and slashing and burning the boggy ground. Harold's experiences were shared by other men on the island, such as Ted Abraham, who recalled lying in a tent for several weeks nursing a badly cut foot -- his axe had missed when he was chopping a tree!

While Harold was clearing his land, he stayed with his cousins. He later recalled in an oral history interview: "I stayed at Harry Hilton’s, that’s the one I was corresponding with before I came out….they were all mother’s side. I stayed with him part of the time, and with Fred Hopkins. It wasn’t far away.  Fred Hopkins had property on the beach. Harry’s was inland from the beach, you see, and we had a trail running between them. It didn’t take very long to get from one place to another. Harry Hilton and Fred Hopkins’ wife were brother and sister. And living next to Harry Hilton on the beach was Billy Hilton, a brother."

A picnic in the woods of the North End of Vargas Island with the Hilton and Hopkins families, summer 1914. Image from Harold Monks collection.

When Harold started to build his shack, he ordered lumber, shakes and shingles from the Port Alberni Lumber Company. A letter from another Vargas Island settler "Jock" Cleland shows an order for "40 lbs shingle nails and 20 lbs 6 in spikes and 6 sheets zinc for window flashing. And a small water pump."

How did these "ranchers" get money to pay for the building supplies? There was nothing to work at on Vargas. The men had to find a job off the island. Ted Abraham built a road and worked winter crew on the Lifeboat. Bill Forsythe worked at the Dominion Fisheries hatchery at Kennedy Lake. Jerry Lane worked at Kalappa Mine. Harry Hilton built a wharf. Bill Longworth was a logger. Harold Monks got a job at "Brewster's Cannery" at Kenn Falls.

No doubt these physical work experiences would prove useful to the men when they served overseas (in fact, many of the Vargas men served with Pioneer battalions responsible for non-combattant tasks like road and trench building).

Warner Family's Harold Monks CollectionHarold Monks practices with his gas mask at Witley Camp, January 1918. Image from Harold Monks collection. 

Vargas Men enlist

"Thirteen of us enlisted …. none of us went back...Some were killed…. The others all scattered.   --- Harold Monks, 1973

My review of pre-emption records and war service records shows that approximately seventeen Vargas Island ranchers enlisted in the military between August 1914 and October 1917.

Arthur and Ted Abraham, who had arrived on Vargas in summer 1911, enlisted as soon as war was declared. Arthur wrote to his mother: "You won't probably see us back now till the end of the war, whether we go or not of course. I shall be horribly sick if we don't go at all, but we had to take a sporting chance."  

He and Ted did go -- a few months later they were training on Salisbury Plain in England and by spring 1915 were in France, where Arthur was gassed but returned to duty. By 1917, both brothers had become junior officers in the British army. Captain Arthur Thomas Abraham was awarded the military cross in summer 1917 and died in the mud of Flanders on October 22 1917.

Two other ranchers were lost in the War: Syd Price, who died of infection after an amputation in May 1917, and Don Forsythe, who was killed in action at Hill 70 in August 1917.

And what about Harold Monks? After 3 years of ranching and fishing for the cannery, Harold went down to Victoria in April 1917 and joined the artillery. He training on the "big guns" at Camp Petawawa and learned signalling skills like morse code at Witely Camp in England. Harold went on active service to France in April 1918. He participated in decisive battles of Canada's 100 days to victory -- the Battle of Amiens and the Battle of Valenciennes.

Harold Monks kept all of his wartime memorabilia. We are excited to be able to share Harold's war experience through these personal items -- medals, pamphlets, a photo album with comical snapshots and wartime notebook with cartoons of "ladies" and a Vargas Island oxen!

 

Harold Monks Collection from Warner FamilyHarold Monks' wartime notebook had a sketch of a Vargas Island oxen! Image from Harold Monks collection.

Vargas Men return

After the war, a few of the Vargas Island ranchers returned. Ted Abraham brought his "war bride" Dorothy, who was shocked at the primitive life she encountered. She later wrote about her experiences in Lone Cone. It's important to point out that Dorothy Abraham arrived on a much depopulated Vargas Island. There had been about 40 ranchers on the island in 1914 -- by the 1921 census there were only 5 left. Life may have been much more appealing for Dorothy had she been there with the various women and families before the war.

After a year back on Vargas Island, Ted Abraham moved to Tofino where he became the customs officer and magistrate. Other former Vargas Island men also had government jobs: Ted's uncle George Anderson worked for the Clayoquot Sound Livesaving Service, as did Harold Monks. Bill Forsythe was the manager of the Dominion Government Hatchery at Kennedy Lake. All these men were also active comrades in the Great War Veterans Association / Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Sound Branch.  

By the 1930s, the last remaining original "ranchers" on Vargas Island had left. Harold Monks kept paying taxes on his lot on Vargas until the mid 1930s, when it reverted to the government. His shack on Vargas remained standing for several years, but by 1974 when Harold's family went to see the shack, all that was remaining was broken down boards in the middle of the rainforest.

A historic evening and talk

If you missed this talk, drop by the museum to see the printed version, or read about it in this Westerly article. 

RESCHEDULED TO - March 21

Please join us on Thursday February 21, 2019 at the Tofino Legion. Our evening of history and refreshments will officially open our exhibit Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war. I will be giving an illustrated talk on Harold Monks and other Vargas Island ranchers.

The event runs 7:00 - 9:30 p.m. Admission by donation.

Learn More

To learn more about Vargas Island rancher and Tofino resident Harold Monks, please see haroldmonksproject.com

The Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:30 to 4:30.

 

 

 

History Evening - "Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war"

Tofino Legion

RESCHEDULED TO 

March 21

7:00 - 9:30 pm

 

Join the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum for an evening of history and refreshments as we celebrate the opening of our new exhibit British Columbia's War 1914-1918 and our special exhibit on Clayoquot Sound's war experience.  

Guest curator and presenter Stephanie Ann Warner has been researching the life of her  grandfather Harold Monks Sr., a Vargas Island "rancher", cannery fisherman, wartime signaller, Lifeboat crew member and active Legion comrade.

Stephanie's presentation will use photos, historic documents, diary entries and memoirs to bring to life the experiences of Tofino and Vargas Island residents and how the First World War impacted their lives.

Join us for refreshments in the Legion and visit our exhibit at the museum before or after the talk.

 

Event admission by donation. 

Contact Ava at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details. 

If you missed this talk, drop by the museum to see the printed version, or read about it in this Westerly article.