History holds many stories still unwritten

Since last year, we’ve published stories on Nanaimo’s history, featuring stories and objects that are familiar to some and new to others.

A story on a farm up for sale on a secluded Gulf Island normally wouldn’t make national news.

Unless, of course, it was the former site of a cult.

In case you missed it, last week the De Courcy Island Farm went up for sale on the Gulf Island of the same name. The photos show an idyllic, pastoral setting right on the Salish Sea.

The land gained notoriety in the 1920s and ’30s as the commune of Brother XII and his followers. Typical cult stories follow, with the leader becoming progressively demanding of labour and money from his followers, a mysterious mistress who appears to wreak havoc on the farm, followed by the duo’s eventual disappearance. At least, we think so – rumours and sightings like those of Elvis in the pre-smartphone camera age persisted after Edward Arthur Wilson (Brother XII’s real name) was declared dead.

Moving to Nanaimo 12 years ago I was incredulous about the Brother XII story and others that shape Nanaimo’s colonial past.

Snuneymuxw First Nation’s pre-contact history and culture is just as rich, although perhaps lesser documented and understood among the general population. Hopefully through reconciliation we can begin to learn more about pre-contact civilization because there is a thirst for history in our city, as the News Bulletin’s ongoing history series shows.

Since last year, we’ve published stories on Nanaimo’s recent history, featuring stories and objects that are familiar to some and new and fascinating to others. Stories about the anchor next to the Bastion, the former school and convent on Wallace Street, and Vancouver Island’s very own flag.

These stories are some of our best-read and elicit regular calls to the newsroom with folks happy that we’ve highlighted a piece of the city’s history and more often to dispute our research into the facts of the story.

History can be malleable as eyewitness accounts vary from person to person and change and fade as the years go by. That’s why organizations such as the Nanaimo Museum and the Nanaimo Community Archives, plus the City of Nanaimo’s heritage planner Chris Sholberg, are invaluable to us to provide background, context and all the information available to our stories.

My parents were big local history buffs, taking me and my brother on car rides through the Silvery Slocan to visit former mine sites and boomtowns of the province. They had a knack for finding, in every community they visited, a museum filled with fascinating artifacts valued by the residents.

Sometimes the artifacts were downright creepy – although I can’t remember the town, I’ll never forget the child-size doll whose eyes followed you around the room.

I still visit the former mining town of Sandon, tucked snugly into the mountains between New Denver and Kaslo in the province’s West Kootenay. The hydro electric power plant, one of the oldest in the province, still generates electricity from a nearby creek for the handful of residents who still live there.

I enjoy reading the historical stories in the News Bulletin and look forward to what my reporters uncover in their research. I hope it provides readers with an understanding about how the city’s past helps shape its future.


Just Posted

(Black Press file photo)
RCMP: Air ambulance called to Whiskey Creek after crash involving 2 motorbikes

Both riders taken to hospital with serious injuries

Nanaimo author B.S. Thompson has released his debut novel, ‘The Book of Nodd.’ (Photo courtesy Nora Funk)
Nanaimo author invites readers into dangerous world of dreams in debut novel

B.S. Thompson unveils ‘The Book of Nodd’ with online launch June 20

Potters Virginia Dunseith and Ruth Porter present their joint exhibit ‘Dig It’ at Art 10 Gallery until the end of June. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Potters show pieces for home and garden at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Virginia Dunseith and Ruth Porter’s show ‘Dig It’ on display until end of June

Construction work continues on the City of Nanaimo’s new Fire Station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (News Bulletin file)
Next phase of borrowing approved as Nanaimo fire hall construction ongoing

City of Nanaimo CAO says construction on Fitzwilliam Street hall on schedule and budget

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Port Alberni court house (Alberni Valley News)
Coroners’ inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni teen rescheduled for June 21

18-year-old Jocelyn George died of heart failure after spending time in jail cell

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Singer-songwriter Jann Arden is pictured with a draft horse. (Canadian Horse Defence Coalition)
Jann Arden backs petition to stop ‘appalling’ live horse export, slaughter

June 14 is the International Day to End Live Export of Animals

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

Most Read