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

 

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!

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 Witley 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

Thanks to Stephanie and everyone who came out to the talk March 21, 2019!

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

To read a summary of the exhibition and talk head to the article The War is Over.

 

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. 

Book of the Month - Lone Cone: Life on the West Coast of Vancouver Island

 

Published in 1952, this memoir of a Clayoquot Sound 'war bride' vividly describes how it might have felt to immigrate from Britain to the Canadian west coast. 

 The book dramatically chronicles Dorothy Abrahams's experiences on the coast over 11 years following WWI. She first arrived to Vargas Island where her husband Ted Abraham and other members of his family lived and was shocked by its remoteness. 

The Abrahams were quite affected by the Great War of 1914-1918. To learn more Vargas pioneering attempts be sure to visit the museum between February 15 - May 15 for our spring exhibitions British Columbia's War: 1914-1918 and Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war. On February 28 there will also be a guest presentation by researcher and curator Stephanie Ann Warner where there will be refreshments and opportunities to ask questions and chat about the effects of war on the Vargas Island settlements. 

 

Guest Speaker Event 

February 28, 2019 7:00-9:30 p.m. 

Tofino Legion, 331 Main Street

Admission by donation (suggested $5-10)

 This book is available for purchase on amazon and through Vancouver Island Regional Library.