It Was a Haig-Brown Sort of a Weekend!

There were two significant Haig-Brown events this past weekend – one at the Museum at Campbell River and the other at the Haig-Brown Heritage House site.

On September 29, the Museum hosted its annual Haig-Brown lecture with special guest lecturers being all four Haig-Browns themselves – Valerie, Alan, Mary and Celia.  Their talk entitled ‘What We Learned’ was delivered to an audience of over 80 people and marked an unusual occurrence – that is, all four Haig-Browns being together in one place at one time.  Many former friends and acquaintances of the Haig-Browns who attended the lecture had an opportunity to reminisce with them about their fond memories of the family.

Sunday proved to be an equally good day, with high attendance at the Haig-Brown Festival, held every year on World River s Day at the Haig-Brown property.  The Haig-Brown family was there too, and one of the highlights of their weekend was having a portrait painted of their father Roderick by local artist Dan Berkshire, pictured at right, painting in plein air to an appreciative group of onlookers.

Great music was delivered by the Bentwood Boyz (at left) and later by the youthful group Who is Barbosa.  Laverne Henderson, who opened the festival, moved the crowd with her powerful rendition of ‘Oh Canada’ sung in the Kwakwaka’wakw language.

Laverne Henderson

It is hoped that Cynthia Bendickson, who took over organizing the festival this year will return to do so once again.  She was clearly up to the challenge of taking over the reins from Terry Hale, who as festival organizer for several years always did an excellent job.

Cynthia with husband Chris Osborne

Festival Features Talented First Nations musicians

The Haig-Brown Festival has been attracting some excellent local talent in the last few years, and this year is no exception.  Duane J. Hanson, a member of Campbell River’s First Nations Homalco band, will be appearing again this year with the Bentwood Boyz, a group of musicians also composed of local Aboriginal artists.

Like last year, they plan to play a mix of blues and country tunes and Hanson is in favour of playing acoustically.  For this appearance, he will play the bass guitar, but he usually plays drums.  “I’ve been playing since I was six years old,” he said, “I grew up in a musical family and learned from my dad and my uncle.  I was already performing in public by the time I was 10.”

When asked what drew him to the Festival, Hanson said that while working with MISA in Campbell River last year on a project involving Aboriginal youth and art, he got to know Ken Blackburn at the Campbell River Arts Council.  When Blackburn (who also coordinates the Haig-Brown Festival) found out that Hanson was a musician, he asked him if he would be interested in providing the festival’s musical entertainment.

“I went to the property to get a feel for the location,” Hanson said.  “I liked the fact that it was right by the river.  Historically, everything in Campbell River started with the river.  I think the Haig-Brown Festival is a really good festival because it tries to create an awareness about our impact on the environment.”

“I don’t think there is a First Nations group that would disagree about the importance of preserving the environment, and right now, there is a concern that commercial interests are going to overwhelm the small communities that are being offered dollars in exchange for compromising their surroundings.”

Hanson has a degree in social and economic studies and works for the John Howard Society as First Nations Relations Advisor.  His recent experience with the Society has given him the opportunity to look from the outside, in.  He has also been an elected chief, and he is well acquainted with the frustration experienced on both sides.

“I have an ‘over the hedge’ philosophy,” he says, “I think Aboriginal peoples are in a position to take the best from both worlds and to empower each other.”

Duane playing with Darren Harry at the 2011 festival

This philosophy has worked well for Hanson musically, and he is ready to move forward with recording original songs.  He has been very busy this summer playing in the Vancouver area mostly for weddings and family reunions.  There, he says, the demand is usually for rock music.  As a writer of songs however, he leans more towards blues/rock.

He would like to see other First Nations musicians on the West Coast break away from what is classified as Aboriginal music and create something new, and he wants to help the Bentwood Boyz take the next steps towards doing that and creating a following.

This summer audiences enjoyed their music at Spirit Square, and they are booked to play at the Quinsam Hotel in November.  On Sunday, September 30, you can have the pleasure of hearing them play live on the grounds of the Haig-Brown house.  The festival is free and runs from noon to 4:00pm.

While you are there, don’t forget to look for this year’s commemorative fly, Haig-Brown’s ‘Coho Blue’.  A boxed ‘Coho Blue’ has been donated by Tony Pinder and will be available for auction at the Festival.

By Catherine Gilbert

Intriguing Yorke Island Re-Visited

For those interested in Yorke Island and BC’s coastal defence, a book about Yorke Island has just been published.  See link below for full story:

In 2004, museum docent Danny Brown (see left, yellow jacket) gave a presentation at the Campbell River Museum on a unique west coast military defence installation, Yorke Island, and later in the year took a group of people there on a tour.  The conditions had to be just right for this tour as this tiny island is surrounded by one of the most dangerous stretches of water in Johnstone Strait.  Located six kilometres northeast of Sayward, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, Yorke Island was considered to be a strategic site during World War II as it commands an exceptional view of the strait.  Then, there was another kind of danger lurking in the water; Japanese U-Boats had been sited in the vicinity as early as 1939 and especially after such a U-Boat launched a shell at Estevan Point lighthouse on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1942, the Canadian military felt it was critical to establish a gunnery post in defence of British Columbia’s west coast.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Yorke Island with outdoor guide and military enthusiast Ross Keller, and one of the most profound impressions the site leaves is of the sheer magnitude of the construction that still remains.   While the windows might be missing and some of the paint peeling, these poured concrete edifices look as serviceable today as they must have been during the war years.  Yorke Island was occupied from 1939 – 1947, after which some of the portable buildings were taken to Hardwicke Island (about one kilometre away).  Prior to that, the only evidence of occupation was a cabin left by an individual who had been there in about 1925.

The island would not have been a hospitable place to reside on as it was missing one crucial resource – fresh water.  To resolve this problem, the military had to import enough fresh water to fill a 50,000 gallon (250,000 litre) tank.  Each of the men by military standards had to be provided with one gallon of water per day.  With 250 men posted there and sometimes as many as 200 construction workers, it was a formidable task to store enough of this precious commodity.  In fact, sea water was used to supplement their requirements in places like the toilets.

As a result of Brown’s talk on the island, he met a veteran who had actually been posted on Yorke Island, Gordon Kurton (now deceased) of Powell River.  His research also lead him to meet Garry Ogrodnik, manager of the Campbell River Superstore, whose father had been posted to the island, and he provided Brown with a photo of his father in uniform.  Other archival photos (see right) were donated to the Museum by the Bishop family , whose father Jack Husted had also been posted to the island.

Isolated as Yorke Island was, it was not a popular post and has been referred to as ‘Little Alcatraz” (Raincoast Place Names, Andrew Scott).  Many young men living there, especially those not used to coastal conditions, found the circumstances extremely trying and in Peter Moogk’s book, Vancouver Defended, he relates a few amusing tales of attempted escapes.  Not so amusing is the story of a soldier who committed suicide on the boat returning him to spend another stretch of time there.

The island is currently under the protection of BC Parks, and as it is without a dock, is not an easy place to reach.  A boat can anchor there, but a kayak or dinghy is required to reach shore, unless you have a landing craft like the Aurora Explorer that can lower its drawbridge and place you safely on the beach.  Although the undergrowth and buildings have been well cleaned up by out-of-work foresters through Sayward Futures, a visitor has to be fit enough to climb the steep hill to the top (200ft) in order to properly view the abandoned buildings.  For now, it remains even more remote than it did during the war years, which adds in many ways to its intriguing charm.

While the Museum no longer has tours to Yorke Island, there will be historic boat tours beginning July 11 with Discovery Marine Safaris to many of the other Discovery Islands.  Call us to find out more!  250-287-3103.