Category Archives: BC History

Remembering John West: yachtsman, historian, boat encyclopaedia

John West interview in memoriam

On May 17, 2017, the Victoria community, the yachting community and his loving friends and family lost a great friend, John West.

He was a beloved husband to Bonnie, step-father to Sean and a friend to so very many, including Dorothy, a boat that will be forever in his debt.

A tireless source of maritime history and classic boats, John was a champion of British Columbia heritage and culture. He had given much of his time and energy to BC Heritage Society, the Victoria Heritage Foundation, the St. Barnabas Anglican Church and not least, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. He was one of the main founders of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival in 1977, serving as chair from 1998 until 2005 and later as judging coordinator, imparting his deep knowledge of classic vessels.

John and Eric

We got to interview John several times between 2013 to 2016, as he was one of the champions who spearheaded the drive to get Dorothy out of storage and back into the public eye. He knew almost every detail about her design and history, and would recount stories culled from the logs of her previous owners as if he was there. More than that though, we hoped to be able to capture a portion of his passion for history and the tales that classic boats, in general, can tell about our culture and our collective history.

John West and Eric Waal, trustees for the MMBC - photo by Tony GroveJan2-13-Kate cam inside Dot-Emily GroveMMBC Trustees examine Dorothy with Tony G- photo by Emily Grove

You can read his obituary here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timescolonist/obituary.aspx?n=john-west&pid=185467234 The memorial will be held tomorrow, Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 1:00 PM. A reception will follow at the Inn at Laurel Point, 680 Montreal St., at 4:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the BC Cancer Agency and/or The Maritime Museum of B.C. (634 Humbolt St., Victoria, BC V8W 1A4) in the name of John West.

You were one of the great ones, Johnny, and you, and your Cowichan sweater and your wizard brain about boats, will be forever missed.

Our gal is 119 years, and counting

First, some background:

In about one month, it will be 119 years since Dorothy was launched into Victoria’s harbour waters for the first time, July 26, 1897. The news made the papers, of course:

July 26 1897 Dot launched

Imagine the scene: with one month to go, her owner, barrister William H. Langley, was doubtless doing what every owner would be doing right before a beloved boat is about to launch – frantically buying everything needed to outfit his little yacht. How do we know this? Because Langley saved every receipt for every single purchase he made for Dorothy, perhaps knowing his boat was something special. (Or maybe because he had O.C.D.)

Example of a receipt Langley

June 25 1897 Violas placingAs meticulous Langley was in preparing his boat for the water, he was still obsessed with sailing, and was racing his first yacht, Viola. Viola wasn’t fast enough for Langley though – he wanted a winning yacht. So he bought a design from Linton Hope, himself a successful Olympic yachtsman and the owner of the Thames Yacht Company in England. Langley intended to name his next racing yacht “Viola II”, but when he acquired the plans from Hope, they were named “Dorothy”, so he stuck with that.

Evidently, she was fast. The stories of her successful races and regattas up and down the Northwest coast, I’ll save for another post. Below is a picture from Dorothy‘s 100th birthday celebration, in 1997.

Dorothy birthday cake 100th

And now, the hard news…

You may remember that our last post over a year ago lamented the tragic situation of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. News broke in the community that the government had condemned the historic building that the Museum had occupied for 49 years, and they were forced to find a new home. The hope was that they could get a lease for the CPR Steamship Terminal building, unoccupied and in a central, waterfront location, but it was not to be.

(A full backgrounder of the MMBC tenancy timeline is here for anyone interested in the history: http://mmbc.bc.ca/flymetothemoon/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/MMBC-Tenancy-Time-Line-and-Backgrounder-FINAL.pdf)

Packing up, moving everything into storage, and archiving the four floors of displays was painful. The staff was whittled down to three, then two, plus volunteers. Locations had to be secured for the large artefacts, of which there were many, including two entire boats, the Tilikum and Trekka. Over 40,000 items had to be cleaned, examined, meticulously catalogued, wrapped and packed away. The task was enormous, but the staff and volunteers heroically went at it for 6 months straight. I’ll just share some photos of the time, which say more than I can put into words:

It was devastating for many of the countless volunteers, maritime experts and lovers of historical research to see practically all of the collections packed up and stored away. The unknown loomed: where would they be housed? How could they organize and store such a huge collection? Would anything be available to the public again? Was maritime history doomed to be relegated to a back alley storefront, a shelf in a library?

And now, the happy news:

Thankfully, the history of an entire province’s coastline is bigger than any single location, and, true to form, maritime history seems to have survived. Incredible as it seems, the forced move seems to have breathed new life into the organization, which had long struggled with the aging building and other issues.

A new board, staff, website and vision have been birthed from the ashes, and in May 2016, they opened the doors to the Society’s modest location in Nootka Court, with a selection of the collection’s very best on display, featuring an interactive journey into the Franklin Discovery, the Captains Cook and Vancouver Journals, as well as many original works by marine artist John Horton featuring the “HMS Discovery”. Check out their featured exhibits here: http://mmbc.bc.ca/exhibits/featured-exhibits-2 We salute you in your new start!

Also, because of the move, we finally found Dorothy‘s suit of sails! They were made in the 80s by Fogh sails, commissioned by her owner at the time, Angus Matthews. Here’s Tony Grove hanging on tight to the valuable find:IMG_2136_2

Onward ho!

MMBC & Dorothy‘s Future

Dorothy‘s fate has always been tied to the people who care for her. She has survived longer than any other yacht in Canadian history because she was loved, appreciated and restored again and again.

And now it appears that those at the Museum who have so enthusiastically revived the institution itself are embracing the chance to influence Dorothy‘s future as well. Tony Grove (who is charged with Dorothy‘s restoration for the MMBC) and I have been talking with new leaders and shapers at the MMBC, and we are extremely heartened by their avid interest and desire to make this little yacht’s story central to the province’s maritime future.

There will huge news forthcoming as talks deepen and as we prepare for Dorothy’s 120th anniversary next year! Look for another significant update in one month’s time.

There is so much to look forward to, and we thank you for joining us on this exciting journey.

All the best, now get out there and get sailing! Tobi & Tony

Hooked on Wooden Boats Podcast

Hooked on Wooden boats

… is live! “Wooden Boat Dan” interviewed Tony and I at this year’s Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, and he put together a great podcast featuring Dorothy‘s story.

Here it is: HookedOnWoodenBoats.com/148

If you ever wanted to hear a semi-complete (and rather meandering) history on Dorothy‘s previous owners and life on the west coast, this is your opportunity. And I must say, Tony did a great job describing Dorothy‘s current state and the boatbuilding techniques he’s employing to bring her back to life.

Thank you, Dan, for giving our Dorothy such a thoughtful treatment! It was a great experience to be interviewed by you and we really enjoyed your relaxed, “down-home” attitude.

Y’all should check out his website and catch up with his wealth of podcasts. Dan is doing great work.

Coming next week: an update with lots of photos showing the latest steps in her restoration. Tony has made significant changes in Dorothy’s bow section, and I’ll get him to describe how he used a “comealong” to pull together some big pieces that have separated over the years.

Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.

Tobi and Tony

Heritage Afloat – a week celebrating BC’s maritime heritage

HBC Newsletter header Feb 2014

February 17-23 is Heritage Week in British Columbia, and this year’s theme is wonderfully titled “Heritage Afloat”.

A not-for-profit, charitable organization supporting heritage conservation across British Columbia, Heritage BC writes this about choosing the theme for 2014: it “recognizes how our lakes, rivers and ocean coastline created a complete transportation network for a resource economy. From First Nations settlement and culture, to the first European exploration, to historic shipwrecks and lighthouses, to fish canneries and floating logging camps, water is an important key to our history.”

I love how everything in BC comes back to water – indeed Dorothy could not have survived so long without it! You can download BC Heritage’s Winter Quarterly newsletter here, which includes our story, DOROTHY: A living legend sets sail again.

I wrote the article’s intro almost absently, thinking of how many wooden boats must have perished, and how miraculous it is that Dorothy, of thousands of boats on this coast, would have survived. I would love to know your thoughts on this:

“The care of a classic wooden boat can be a delicate, uncertain thing. The fact that Dorothy has survived not only intact, but as a fast and sea-kindly little yacht for more than a century is owed in equal parts to her luck, her beauty and her solid Pacific northwest timbers.”

Happily going along with the theme that fits their mandate so well, the BC Maritime Museum asked Tony Grove, the shipwright currently working on Dorothy for her return to the water this fall, and I to give a talk at the Museum this week about Dorothy‘s restoration and some of the intriguing facts we’ve turned up in the course of researching her life. All are invited to come!

1 p.m. Wednesday Feb 19
28 Bastion Square, Victoria, BC

And… If you happen to tune in to CBC’s morning radio show On the Island with Gregor Craigie on a regular basis, you may drop in on a delightful conversation about our own lovely Dorothy tomorrow morning. Gregor recently spoke with Tony Grove and Angus Matthews, one of Dorothy‘s previous owners still very much involved in her life, to get the latest on the vessel’s restoration drama. The segment will air either Tuesday or Wednesday, and we wanted to give you the heads up so you can listen in. If you’re not on the island, you may be able to catch the live stream online here.

Remember: All manner of wonderful things float on water… but loveliest of all is the wooden boat.

Hope to see you Wednesday!

– te

Dorothy presentation Jan 30 at the Haven

Just a reminder, we’re doing a presentation on Dorothy – her restoration and the documentary – tomorrow night (Thursday, Jan 30) at The Haven on Gabriola. The event is put together by the Gabriola Historical and Museum Society and they’ve done a fantastic job of promoting this local project. 

The talk will be about an hour, with time for a Q & A after. Expect lots of visuals – stills and short video excerpts from what’s been filmed so far for the documentary. Shipwright Tony Grove will update us on the restoration process and what he’s discovered this winter since sanding Dorothy down to her planks. While there will be some technical talk about planks, fastenings and construction methods of the era, Tony is a great teacher and will unveil some surprising facts that even non-boaty people will find intriguing.

I (Producer Tobi Elliott) will cover some of Dorothy‘s history and also reveal tidbits of the new information that we’ve gleaned from the most recent interviewees. I just came back from a few days on the mainland where I got to meet up with Bridget Brand, one of W.H. Langley’s granddaughters, and was privileged to hear her tell some amazing stories of her times aboard the Dorothy. She is the only surviving member of the Langley clan on this continent (her sister lives in France) who sailed on Dorothy, and it was so neat to hear her talk about her Grandfather’s love for his boat.

Bridget also loaned me her grandmother’s daily diaries – what a treasure! Every day for decades, she wrote something – usually very dry and short, and containing some variation of “Lovely day. Billy spent part of day working on Dorothy. I worked in garden.” Very Victorian. I’m still looking for the entry where she writes about seeing the famous “Cadborosaurus” from Dorothy‘s decks in 1933.

I’ll bring the diaries tomorrow and you can see for yourself…

Hope to see you there! Happy sailing, Tobi

 

More gold!

20131108-082244.jpg

20131108-074911.jpg

For those of you not on Facebook – and I know there are more than a few – I’m adding some of the images I took recently from my time at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. I was so delighted to discover that one of the club’s archivists had carefully searched every reference to “yachting” in the Victoria Times Colonist, and printed them out from microfiche records… Right back to the inception of the club in the 1890s! So it wasn’t too difficult to read through the 1896-1900 years and find references to WH Langley, Dorothy’s first owner, and his dealings with the Club. He was Club Commodore in 1904-06. He also served as the lawyer for the plaintiff when the Club sued the builder of its first clubhouse after it sank! And I got to read of the tragedy that befell the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in Victoria when a train carrying merrymakers to the waterfront so they could watch the yacht races and mock battles, crashed into the water, killing some 50 souls. The news accounts are so compelling I must admit I got sidetracked a bit from my Dorothy research.

Fascinating stuff. But what’s more, there was a whole binder full of Dorothy material that I hadn’t seen before: letters from Langley to Linton Hope in England, Dorothy’s designer, lists of Langley’s expenditures on his new boat, bills of sale on everything from the anchor to ropes and lead for her keel! This man was meticulous, and somehow these precious records have been preserved for over a century. The copies I saw were photocopies to be true, but it must mean that the originals aren’t far.

Thank you to Ken Reksten and Gord Nickells for letting me in and giving me so much time with these precious documents. More gold!

20131108-080150.jpg

20131108-080210.jpg

20131108-080228.jpg

20131108-080245.jpg

Keep in mind the campaign to support the documentary about Dorothy’s life “Between Wood and Water” is online for only one more week! Donate now and get a choice of some amazing perks and gifts (in time for Christmas!) Share with your friends and family and be part of making this doc an important film in the canon of BC maritime history. Campaign ends Nov 15. Thank you!

Love, Tobi

20131108-081954.jpg

Off to see the Boats… the beautiful, beautiful boats!

20130829-175022.jpg

So we’re on our way!! (Left: Kate Bradford, our director of photography, in a rare moment in front of the camera)

20130829-173458.jpg

We’re off to the Classic boat festival this long weekend with a truck full of gear (see right- the exposed blimp and box of tee-shirts? this is how movies are made…) to capture some magical boat shots and interviews with people CRAZY about wooden boats. This is the first shoot that isn’t totally Dorothy-focussed, and I think it’ll be nice to get some light touches and atmospheric colour for the film. Not everything has to be about Dorothy – does it?

If this afternoon’s brief time with Angus and Sandy Matthews is any indication, we’re in for a fantastic shoot. They were marvelous! I was so captivated by the conversation that I didn’t even remember to pull out my camera for a photo, so we’ll have to get them another time (they are very photogenic, by the way… )

Owners of Dorothy in the 70s until 1984, they actively sailed her as a young family and did much to keep her alive. Angus confessed a secret about what he did for Dorothy while she was under his care – which Tony Grove said did much to keep her in good condition – which we have sworn not to reveal. But something we can tell you… It was Angus who provided Dorothy with the gift of a full suit of Fogh sails, which are waiting for her return to the water even now (thanks to his brother, an Olympic sailor who worked for Fogh.) We learned during our time with them this afternoon that it was apparently the first suit of gaff-rigged sails Fogue had ever done!

Then, the photos came out. Oh my, there are some beautiful shots of Dorothy under sail like I’ve never seen before! They will for sure make the film. Can’t put them up yet as we left in such haste for the ferry that they will have to wait until after Victoria and Port Townsend boat shows.

I’m personally so stoked to meet the many people who have written us or talked about hearing the Dorothy and are looking forward to the film. And we have some amazing volunteers who stepped forward to help us sell T-shirts (which fly out of the box whenever they come out) and enlist people in our doc film community – thank you especially to Harry Martin, a volunteer for the MMBC who has come over to see Dorothy a number of times and already has done so much for us in organizing help and volunteers. Thank you Harry!

Thank you everyone who has stepped forward to help, or even give encouragement that they are eager to see the film. THIS is how films are made… as a team, for a community, with passion and diligence and no small amount of sweat and persistence. So thank you again. We can’t do this without you.

And now, if you want a moment of levity, go to the Dorothy Documentary Indiegogo Kickoff party event on Facebook and look up the ridiculous video I posted yesterday to reveal the party location! It’s going to be an amazing event, full of artists who are donating beautiful work for the fundraiser, tapas by some incredible local chefs, music and dancing and oysters and Dark n’ Stormys, oh my! Please join, even if you can’t come personally, join virtually! Sign in and you can see my new video pitch for the film, get some photos of the action and download the dance mix curated by Bryan. It’s going to be a blast, so come if you can!

20130829-180550.jpg

 

More to come from the amazing festival grounds, for now, off to the Sticky Wicket to meet our team and plan out the weekend…

Much love, Tobi

Pick up a copy of the Times Colonist today

20130816-170635.jpgOver here at Dorothy restoration headquarters, we were pretty happy to read the lovely article on Dorothy’s restoration written up by Victoria’s Times Colonist today: “Old boat gets new love”, by Richard Watts.

It’s a great read on its own merits, but also very interesting for me (Tobi) personally to see what another journalist sees in this story. I love that Watts puts Dorothy into context with other vessels, neither puffing up her importance or putting her down. For instance, he quotes Tony saying, “She hasn’t been around the world or done anything dramatic. She has just kept going along. She is just a well-built little boat. Now her claim to fame is she is the oldest functioning sailboat in Canada, which is pretty substantial.”

And he highlights the archaeological investigation into Dorothy‘s physical history, citing Tony’s surprise about the small construction details that differ from today’s methods. And… he quotes me saying something actually articulate nice about the “legacy of care” that has kept Dorothy alive all these years.

So… nice read, and thanks Richard!

If you have the opportunity, pick the paper up today. The article also lives online at
Times Colonist.com/old-boat-gets-new-love

– Much love, Tobi

The #DocBus on the wharf in Victoria, PEI. A woman asked if I had really driven from BC. Yessirreebob!

The Dorothy documentary team loves #getonthedocbus thoughts and images. Producer/community screening organizer and all-around doc wonderwoman Mandy Leith is on a quest to kickstart documentary distribution in Canada. Check out her website http://getonthedocbus.com/ and follow the travel blog.

Send Mandy some love, she’s made it all the way from Victoria, BC to PEI, talking to filmmakers and doc lovers across the country about how to make the great films created by Canadians, seen by Canadians. Support the vision. We do!

– love to you from the complete other end of the country, Mandy!

Dorothy makes the press – Pacific Yachting and Western Mariner

Red letter day for Dorothy! We are stoked to see Dorothy‘s story appear in two significant boating magazines, Pacific Yachting‘s August Wooden Boat Special, and Western Mariner (The Magazine of the Coast) in the “In the Boatshops” special section. Already people are writing to ask how they can support the documentary.

Pacific Yachting Aug 2013 wooden boat special issue

 

westernmariner-aug2013-cover.jpg

Western Mariner-Aug 2013 TOCPick up a copy at your nearby magazine stand, and write and tell us what you think!

– Happy sailing, Tobi