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.