A Museum Field Trip to Morpheus Island

 

Did you know that three World War One veterans – all who had untimely deaths – are buried on Morpheus Island? Museum president Steve Bernard and guest curator Stephanie Ann Warner visited Morpheus Island to pay respects to 3 men who served overseas and returned to the west coast, where they died far too young.

 

Stephanie takes photos of Burdie Garrard’s grave on Morpheus Island.

In 2019, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum has been looking back at the World War One experiences of Clayoquot Sound residents. We hosted a travelling exhibit "British Columbia at War" and shared our own local story "Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War". Part of our exploration was a “museum field trip” to Morpheus Island, one of Clayoquot Sound’s oldest cemeteries.

 

Stephanie and Steve on the docks ready to start their trip to Morpheus island – note how dry they are!

In the early 1900s, Clayoquot Sound residents were carried to Morpheus Island by the Lifeboat or on local fish boats. In present day, we travelled by motor boat from the dock at Method Marine. The trip was a short – but wet and choppy – 10 minutes away.

 

The boat arrives. 

We landed on a small beach area on the west side of the island, tied up the boat and climbed up a short hill. In the past, the west-facing cemetery had “ocean view”. Today, the area has grown up. This first view of the cemetery shows grave markers in the middle of the forest. It also shows a very wet photographer! We first came to the graves of the Garrard family, west coast pioneers. This was the site of our first WWI-related grave.


A first view of the Morpheus Island Cemetery.

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard (“Burdie”) Garrard, aka “Burdie”, was the son of Tofino postmaster and telegraph agent Frank Garrard. Burdie Garrard was born in Nanaimo in 1891 and had an adventurous early life as he followed his family to the Alberni Valley, the Nahmint River, Lennard Island (where his dad was the first lighthouse keeper) and Vargas Island. By 1910, the Garrards were settled in Tofino and Burdie was working at the newly built Kennedy Lake fish hatchery. In the immediate pre-war years, Burdie operated “gas boat” that took government official John Grice around Clayoquot Sound.

 

“Burdie” Garrard circa 1913. 

In spring 1916, Burdie was working with the Canadian Engineers in Duncan, when he contracted pneumonia. He almost died and had to leave military service for a few months, and spent his recovery time on boating and picnics in Clayoquot Sound. However, his illness had long-lasting consequences. By spring 1917, Burdie was back in the military and stationed in England, where he was in and out of the hospital with illness. His family felt he had returned to work too early. Eventually, Burdie was invalided back to Canada – with tuberculosis!

On November 1 1917, Burdie Garrard was admitted to the Balfour Military Hospital in the Kootenays, where he died almost 2 years later on October 23 1919. He was brought back home to the west coast, where his funeral was arranged by the Great War Veterans’ Association. Francis Robert Burdett Garrard was buried – in the rain – on November 3 1919. His headstone reads: "At rest… which came out of great tribulation." (A Bible verse, Revelation 7:14). At a later date, an official Canadian Expeditionary Force grave marker was also placed on the site.

 

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard’s grave marker, erected by his family.

Frederick Gerald Tibbs was born on March 9 1886 in Walthamstow, Essex. In the pre-war years Tibbs arrived on the west coast and took out pre-emptions on Long Beach and on “Tibbs Island”. (He obtained Crown Grants for both pieces of land in 1913.) When Tibbs enlisted in May 1917, he called himself a “farmer”.

Tibbs served in France with the Canadian Forestry Corps. An excellent overview of the work of the Corps appears in the Forest Products Association of Canada website: “Remembering the Canadian Forestry Corps” by Derek Nighbor (dated November 11 2016). The Corps “worked on processing timber for construction of barracks, roads, trenches, ammunition boxes, and other supplies” and was also trained as infantry.

On his return to the west coast, Tibbs settled on his “Dream Isle”. He cleared the land -- except for one lone tree -- and used to climb up this tree, sit on a platform and play his coronet. Tibbs was responsible for maintaining the harbour buoy lights. On July 5 1921, he had been fixing harbour lights when his boat slipped away from the buoy. Tibbs swam to shore at the tip of Stubbs Island, where he died of exhaustion / hypothermia. The Daily Colonist reported: “The deceased, who was a returned soldier, led a solitary existence on an obscure part of the coast and met a lonely death under distressing conditions.” (July 9 1921)

Fred Tibbs was buried at the Morpheus Island cemetery on Thursday July 6 1921. The Great War Veterans’ Association handled all of the funeral arrangements. After his death, an amusing situation occurred whereby his will gave his island to one local girl and his house to another local girl! (The situation was resolved amicably!) Read the full story of Tibbs in Settling Clayoquot by Bob Bossin.

Fred Tibbs' grave.

Rowland Egerton Brinckman was born in 1894 in Kilkenny, Ireland. He moved to Vancouver in the pre-war years, and was working as an architect when he enlisted on December 1 1915. Brinckman served with the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps in France.

In the 1920s, Brinckman settled in Clayoquot Sound. He became an integral part of the Legion's "vaudeville" entertainments, an important social focus for the Tofino community during the winter months. Entertainments included the comic play “King of the Cannibal Isles” and the famous “Captain Cook Pageant”. This January 19 1929 article in The Daily Colonist reports on a Legion annual reunion: "The Legion concert party under the direction of Comrade Brinckman entertained all to 2 hours of "snappy" entertainment -- mostly reminiscent of wartime concert parties behind the lines in Flanders." Brinckman was about to leave for a new job in the National Theatre in Ottawa when he contracted pneumonia and died on April 9 1936. Read the full story of Brinckman in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound a History by Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy.

We also took the time to explore other graves of early Clayoquot Sound residents. In some cases, wooden grave markers are disintegrated and unmarked graves remain. Thankfully, Ava Hansen at the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum had provided us with a hand-drawn map based on where each burial plot was located.

The weather was changing, so we returned to the boat and headed for Tofino. On the way, we passed Tibbs Island, now completely covered in trees. The rain started just as we were arriving at the dock. We were quite soaked, but it was all worth it in the name of local history exploration!

Stephanie was very wet by the time she arrived back in Tofino!

Thank you to Ron Macleod for sharing Burdie Garrard and R.E. Brinckman photographs. Thank you to Ava Hansen and Steve Bernard for making this Morpheus Island trip possible!