Author Tom Hawthorn recently released The Year Canadians Lost Their Minds and Found Their Country: The Centennial of 1967. The book includes a story about Nanaimo’s centennial bathtub race. Photo Contributed

Island author recalls Canada’s centennial stories

Tom Hawthorn’s book includes chapter about Nanaimo’s first bathtub race

Tom Hawthorn scoured newspaper articles for stories about Canada’s 1967 centennial for his latest book.

In The Year Canadians Lost Their Minds and Found Their Country: The Centennial of 1967 he shares tales he unearthed in his research. Hawthorn said he started the project because of the call out to Canadians to create centennial projects.

He was inspired to focus on centennial events in 1967 because of childhood memories. Hawthorn remembers when he was six years old, living in Montreal, watching portions of Expo 67 being built. The U.S. pavilion was a glass dome and the British pavilion was decorated with the Union Jack.

“It sort of felt like Disneyland and Beatlemania all one step away,” said Hawthorn.

In his book, Hawthorn shares many stories from across the country, including a tale about Nanaimo.

Before becoming mayor of Nanaimo, Frank Ney was already working to put Nanaimo on the map.

Hawthorn’s book includes the chapter Projects at Sea: The Great Centennial Bathtub Race, which explores the tale of how the Great Nanaimo-to-Vancouver Canadian Centennial International Bathtub Race came into being.

“This is one of my favourite stories, actually, the bathtub race,” said Hawthorne.

He said the event received a ton of newspaper coverage.

“Stories ran across Canada and then actually around the world around that crazy bathtub race,” he said.

The bathtub race idea was thought up by George Galloway, a realtor who worked for Ney. In his book, Hawthorn said Ney was skeptical at first but came on board with the idea. One of the key factors is the boats had to be made out of bathtubs.

“The race would not have been so memorable had it not been fronted by so congenial a character as Ney,” states Hawthorn in his book. “Ney’s good-natured personality and tireless promotional skills made him the face of a race dubbed ‘good clean fun’ for ‘lavatory admirals.’”

For the event, Ney donned the garb of a Mississippi river gambler, complete with a cutaway coat, vest, gold chain and silver-tipped cane. Hawthorne said it wasn’t until later that Ney began to wear pirate garb.

Hawthorn is also the author of Deadlines: Obits of Memorable British Columbians.

The Year Canadians Lost Their Minds was published by Douglas and McIntyre and was released in late May. For more information, visit

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