“The War is Over!” The Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum comes to the end of its winter/spring 2019 exploration of Clayoquot Sound in World War One.
In winter/spring 2019, our museum hosted a travelling exhibit from the Royal British Columbia Museum, “British Columbia’s War 1914-1918”. To complement this travelling exhibit, we looked into one of Clayoquot Sound’s war stories, that of Vargas Island.
“Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War” was guest curated by Stephanie Ann Warner, whose grandpa Harold Monks Sr. ranched on Vargas Island in 1914. Stephanie had been researching Harold’s experiences and those of his family, friends, and neighbours on Vargas Island. There were so many stories to tell of how this island was settled just before the war, and how the war impacted the residents.
Stephanie and Ava Hansen (Museum Operations Manager) spent an intensive couple of months pulling together these stories into illustrated panels that used quotes from letters, diaries and oral history interviews to bring to life this previously little-known island story. A related part of this exhibit was Harold Monks’ own wartime memorabilia, medals, snapshots and especially a notebook he carried with him in the trenches.
On March 21 2019, over 30 enthusiastic local history buffs came to the Tofino Legion for an Evening of History and Refreshments. Stephanie (dressed in time-period appropriate costume) presented an illustrated talk “A Vargas Island Rancher Goes to War”. We went on a journey from ranching experiences such as clearing the land (dynamite and oxen!) to war experiences of various Vargas men from the time they enlisted to their sometimes tragic ends on the Western Front.
One such story was that of Captain Arthur Thomas Abraham, M.C., whose mother on Vargas Island, Mrs Helen Malon, kept a diary of the war years. Through this diary we learned of Mrs Malon’s daily life running the local post office and working in her garden. Sometimes the diary entries were touching. For example, on October 22 1917, Mrs Malon wrote about picking blackberries. Little did she know that the very same day, her son had just died in the mud of the Ypres Salient. See our posts on Mrs Malon’s Garden and Mrs Malon's Vargas Island Verandah.
Our Museum “Field Trip” to Morpheus Island was another opportunity to look at the World War One connection, this time the graves of three men who served overseas and died later. One of these men was Burdie Garrard, who contracted tuberculosis while on military service and died three years later in a Kootenay Lake sanitorium. His body was brought back to be buried in his family plot. Please see our feature on Morpheus Island for more information.
Guest Curator of Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war Stephanie, at Morpheus Island.
We further continued our wartime theme with profiles of two Clayoquot Sound residents who served overseas: Tofino’s own military nursing sister, Lilly Garrard, and Murdo Macleod, who was surprised to meet Lilly in hospital in England (Murdo also met quite a few other Tofinoites while he was overseas!).
What has been the result of this 5-month long World War One “tour of duty”?
Operations Manager Ava Hansen has ‘been in the trenches’ so to speak, at the museum, meeting visitors and sharing our local war stories. Ava has noticed a “huge” positive response from local residents. There was a lack of awareness about how many local Clayoquot Sound residents served in World War One, and many people didn't know just how many pioneers had lived on Vargas Island. In particular, kayak and boat guides who've told stories of Vargas Island for years (if not decades) commented that they had learned so much from the exhibit and they can now share it with visitors.
Ava also noticed a strong response from out-of-town visitors, who often come from cities. These visitors were “awed” at the Vargas Island people’s day-to-day lifestyle, especially after reading the "Women at Home" portion of our exhibit.
Ava has read many positive comments in the museum guest book and especially notes this one: "Excellent exhibits - great work connecting ancient history, colonialism, and environmental impacts!"
We know that this big undertaking could only happen so successfully with the support of museum friends, volunteers and everyone who shared their photographs, memorabilia, stories, and historical information. In particular, we’d like to thank Ken Gibson, Ron Macleod, Joan Nicholson and Lois Warner for sharing Vargas Island and wartime era photographs. The museum exhibit would not be the same without such wonderful snapshots of the past!
Though our World War One and Vargas Island exhibits are ending, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum continues to explore these fascinating areas of our history. If you have related stories to share, please let us know! There are, of course, many other areas of Clayoquot Sound’s rich history to explore, so please come and see us at the museum!
Thanks again from Museum Operations Manager Ava Hansen and Guest Curator Stephanie Ann Warner.
Enjoy our photos below of our WWI adventures!
The last day of the Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war exhibition will be June 2nd 2019.
Guest curator Stephanie Ann Warner regales a crowd at the Legion with entertaining stories of the lives of pioneers of Vargas Island.