This is the final event in our year-long celebration of 150 years since the union of British Columbia with Canada. Drawn from the Club’s art collection, each of the 16 works has been selected to represent a decade in the 150 years since 1871.
150 YEARS OF ART: 1870-1880 Lake and Stream Pen and ink on paper, ca. 1875 Signed MOKE Collection of The Union Club of British Columbia 2016.01.08. a/b
The founding members of the Club were mainly professionals: surveyors, engineers, architects, military personnel. The quick field-sketch, as represented here,was part of their professional skill-set.
In July 2021 we mark 150 years since BC joined Canada, we are planning some activities to commemorate the event, and below is some history of The Union Club as part of the union with Canada discussions.
STORY OF THE “UNION” IN THE UNION CLUB –
BATTLE OF THE CLUBS: CONFEDERATION ON THE ROPES
The Club official histories cite two rather obscure exchanges of opinion by the
editors of the Standard and Colonist newspapers. In the first, 11 December
1882, the writer accused the founders of The Union Club, which had just hosted
a dinner for the Governor General, Marquis of Lorne, of creating a political
vehicle to oppose the provincial government’s G. A. Walkem administration’s
hard line threats to pull out of confederation if the original terms of the
Union were not met. The Colonist replied on the following day insisting
the Standard editor was just exhibiting sour grapes for not having been refused
membership (by vote) and vigorously denied the assertion of political
partisanship. The Colonist pointed out, Premier Walkem was a charter member.
Not giving up, the Standard responded that indeed Walkem and his friends were
members but that they were hoodwinked into joining the Club by these
There was indeed much “wire-pulling.” As early as 1874 local businessman
William Wilson headed up a consortium of local property speculators who were
facing huge losses with the railway failing to appear. Using the local
Mechanics Institute, of which he was a director, to foment a crowd he proceeded
to storm the Legislature causing Premier Amor De Cosmos to resign. Dr. J. S.
Helmcken assembled a coalition to form the “Terms of Union Preservation League”
and floated a petition to Queen Victoria. The government sent the new premier,
George Walkem, off to London to get the Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon, to
mediate with Ottawa. A deal was reached to extend the completion time of the
railway to 1890 and work to begin on the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N)
Railway portion at once. However, in the Spring of 1875 the Canadian
Senate defeated the financing bill for the E&N and the deal was dead. In
response Wilson’s group formed the “Carnarvon Club” to openly lobby for
dissolving the Union if the Carnarvon Terms were not met.
The gentlemen of The Union Club coalesced shortly thereafter, finally
registering as The Union Club of British Columbia in 1879. Wilson’s group
ultimately became the rival Pacific Club.
In July 2021 we mark 150 years since BC joined Canada, we are planning some activities to commemorate the event, and below is some history of The Union Club as part of the union with Canada discussions.
STORY OF THE “UNION” IN THE UNION CLUB
CHAPTER 1. CONFEDERATION ON THE ROCKS: FOUNDING OF THE UNION CLUB OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
The Union Club of British Columbia was founded in April, 1879, just as the final push was on under Premier George Walkem and Amor De Cosmos, working with John A. MacDonald to get construction to start of the Canadian Pacific Railway as promised under the 1871 “Terms of Union”: a transcontinental railway to commenced within two years, completion within ten.
MacDonald had been able to pass an 1873 order-in-council which identified Esquimalt as the West Coast terminus although this was coincidental with the failure of the CPR syndicate, and just before revelations of the “Pacific Scandal” and collapse of the MacDonald Government
By 1879 there was no sign of a railway. Canada was trying to change the Terms. The negotiations were difficult. Furthermore, a group of disaffected business leaders, land speculators and politicians threatened withdrawal from the union with Canada.
Behind the scenes were the many professionals and civil servants, mainly in Victoria, who were horrified at the prospect of a split. Initially, seeing their civil service appointments and pensions threatened, they had opposed union with Canada. However, having achieved assurances of their continued employment and pensions, a provision actually written into the Terms of Union of course now they remained staunchly in favour of the Union.
It was just such a group, motivated as much by self-interest as altruism who decided to formalize as a club of “remainers”.
Supreme Court Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie was the Club’s founding president. Founding members were businessman and later Lieutenant Governor Frank Barnard, Cariboo MPP and retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Henry E. Croasdaile. Early members were lawyer, City Mayor and former Victoria representative on the colonial legislative council Montegue Tyrwhitt-Drake, court registrar C. E. Pooley, Surveyor General Joseph Despard Pemberton, and Justice Peter O’Reilly. HBC physician and community leader John Sebastion Helmcken was a member. The owner and editor of the Colonist, David Higgins, soon to become Speaker in the Legislature was a member; the editor of the Victoria Standard, a staunch “leaver” was most certainly not. Other early members and attendees at events were officers of the Royal Navy, and the hierarchy of the Anglican clergy.
By 1884 there were 149 Union Club members and 78 charter members.
Stayed for next month “Chapter 2 – The Battle of the Clubs”
Jas Madhur is a Non-Resident member of the Union Club, having joined in 2005.
Eating with others has always been an important feature of Jas Madhur’s life, from the Sikh temples of his childhood, to the meals he enjoyed in the many countries he has lived.
Now the British-Canadian national is importing the concept of Sikh community kitchens, or “Langars”, to Luxembourg by coordinating free meals to encourage “sharing, participation and togetherness”.
“Anyone who wants to come together and sit with us and eat in peace and share ideas, we will do it,” he explains. Madhur, who moved to Luxembourg in 2011 and works as an external consultant, has been a lifelong fan of cooking. He says: “It’s very much a part of my cultures to invite people in. The first thing you say is ‘Sit down. What would you like to eat?’”
Madhur has a good selection of spices and enjoys cooking for friends who, he jokes, like to tell him how he can improve. But his culinary skills were turned to a different purpose when he hosted his first Langar in August 2019 for volunteers at the Aërdscheff, a sustainable construction project organised by Cell in Redange-sur-Attert.
“It was for volunteers who, in my mind, were doing a very noble thing by volunteering their time to work in the circular economy,” he says. “We were invited to celebrate their final dinner. They had all the facilities and were more than willing to help cook the stuff.” At this inaugural Langar, Madhur, whose family originates from India, cooked dishes using lentils, rice and vegetables with blended spices. But he says a Langar meal can consist of anything. The essential ingredients are the selfless act of contributing, sharing tasks and eating together.
The Langar practice is thought to have been started by Guru Nanak, who was born in 1469 in Talwandi near Lahore. He reportedly introduced the concept to encourage equality among all people regardless of religion, cast, creed, age, gender or social status. The Sikh diaspora has since helped to spread the tradition around the world. “The difference between what I’m trying to do versus my father was that his generation was interested in collecting money, buying land and building temples,” Madhur says. “My push is to make it more open and go out.”
Madhur has a rich experience of expat life–he grew up in Kenya and has lived in the UK, Canada, US, France and Middle East. And he sees multicultural Luxembourg as an ideal place to establish a secular version of the Langar tradition. “As an immigrant, one becomes very conscious of the fact that one does not look, sound or even smell like the locals. As such, there is a tendency to shrink back into one’s enclaves and comfort zones and cultivate mistrust,” he says. “I think that rather than creating religious fortresses, the time has come to say that we are here as your neighbours and want to share an important part of what we value, wherever we go in the world.”
To be able to prepare a Langar, Madhur needs a location with cooking facilities and people willing to pitch in. He plans to coordinate four Langars per year, for groups of up to 50 people and he hopes to encourage others to embrace the concept. “I’m now trying to encourage friends of every walk of life to take the idea of a Langar and do it for their friends,” he says, adding: “We all have to eat. It’s nice to share your food.”
Prince Harry has arrived on Vancouver Island to begin his new life with Meghan and baby Archie.
The Duke of Sussex was whisked away by a car waiting on the tarmac just days after he and Meghan agreed a deal with the Queen to step back as senior royals.
Sky’s US correspondent Greg Milam, said: “It’s only a three minute drive to the house where they spent six weeks over Christmas and where the duchess returned 10 days ago to be reunited with their son.”
Harry had earlier attended the UK-Africa Investment Summit in Docklands on Monday, where met the prime minister in private for 20 minutes on the sidelines.
No aides were present during the informal “catch-up” chat in a room upstairs at the summit.
Meghan returned to Canada earlier in January after the Sussexes issued a bombshell statement saying they were stepping back as senior royals.
Harry’s departure from the UK comes after he told supporters of his Sentable charity that the couple had “no other option” on Sunday.
He told those gathered at a dinner on Sunday night: “It brings me great sadness that it has come to this. The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly.
“It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges.
“And I know I haven’t always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option.
“What I want to make clear is we’re not walking away, and we certainly aren’t walking away from you.
“Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.
“I’ve accepted this, knowing that it doesn’t change who I am or how committed I am.”
Harry added that he hopes “that helps you understand what it had come to, that I would step my family back from all I have ever known, to take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life”.
He continued: “I was born into this life, and it is a great honour to serve my country and the Queen.”
The Queen held crisis talks with Prince Harry, Prince William and Prince Charles on after Harry and Meghan statement on 8 January.
A deal was later agreed where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will lose royal funds and no longer use their HRH titles from spring.
They will also repay £2.4m of taxpayers’ money spent on renovating their Frogmore Cottage home.
They will still use the property as their base when in the UK, but it is believed they will spend the majority of their time in North America.
It is not yet known who will foot the bill for the couple’s security, but justice secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News there must be a clear “line of delineation”.
“I think there is an issue about how public money is spent.
“Quite clearly there have already been arrangements made about how that family are going to live and how they are going to be able to get private income but there clearly has to be a line of delineation.
“I think we all want a family like that to be safe, but at the same time I think what really needs to happen is they need to understand how their lifestyle is to adapt and what their needs might be.”
At first glance, the Sun Life Financial Centre in the heart of Ottawa’s business district looks the same as virtually any other office building in any other Canadian city.
However, there is one telling detail. As you enter the lobby, there is a bank of elevators, but one is set slightly apart from the rest. It has only one button. Next to it, on a discreet wooden plaque, the words “Savoir faire” and “Savoir vivre” are imprinted in a rich bronze hue beneath the engraving of a crown surrounded by leaves.
This is the elevator to the Rideau Club, long renowned as one of the most exclusive private settings for Ottawa’s elite.
These days, however, even a storied institution such as the Rideau Club is in the process of revamping both its decor and its membership policy in a bid to attract a fresh crop of younger members.
“The board realized through a whole bunch of indicators that we needed change if we wanted to be relevant and be around for another 150 years,” says Carol-Ann Goering, the first woman in the club’s long history to assume the mantle of general manager and chief operating officer.
“If you’re under 40 and coming in, you’re not going to want to sit in your grandmother’s study,” Ms. Goering says. “But we still want to maintain as much tradition and history as we can.”
PRIVATE CLUBS, WITH THEIR COVETED PAST, MUST THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE
As an integral part of Ottawa’s history since being founded by Sir John A. Macdonald and other Canadian luminaries in 1865, the Rideau Club came into being just 22 months prior to Confederation. In the many years since, it has occupied five different locations in the city, including the prestigious Wellington Street building, just across from Parliament Hill, where the club occupied for 104 years. Tragically in 1979, this landmark building was lost to fire, along with most of the club’s original documents.
A short time later, the club became both owner and tenant of the space it currently occupies – the entire 15th floor at 99 Bank St. But the challenge, Ms. Goering says, is that the Rideau Club, unlike many private clubs across Canada, lacks curbside appeal.
“When you walk by some of these other clubs, they have this almost storefront call-out, like, ‘Wow that’s a cool place, maybe I’d like to see in there.’ We don’t have that. I think that’s a drawback about where we are located. We can’t showcase a beautiful heritage building,” Ms. Goering says.
However, the club is looking to add a rooftop terrace – which would offer unprecedented views of Parliament Hill – as well as fully renovating most of the rooms, with the goal of making the existing amenities more attractive to the modern worker.
YOUNGER WORKERS ARE DRIVING CHANGE
Ms. Goering says the influx of tech companies in Ottawa has brought in members who are interested in making use of the club as a downtown workspace, and, as a result, the club already has private spaces for interviews or meetings, and the casual dining menu is being expanded to account for the fact that most tech workers don’t even wear a suit and tie, let alone make time for a three-course lunch.
With construction soon to begin on light-rail-transit service in the city’s core, and a downtown condo boom well under way, the Rideau Club’s location is becoming more relevant than ever. The club’s makeup is also becoming more reflective of Ottawa’s evolving identity as a whole. Not only are membership numbers an average of 184 per cent higher over 2018, but 60 per cent of the club’s new members in the past three years have been under 40, and 30 per cent have been women.
“It’s a really different look to the club,” Ms. Goering says.
The changing vibe and look to Ottawa’s private club is reflective of other, similarly steeped-in-history social clubs across Canada.
In 2010, the Vancouver Club (formerly the Granville Club) used the influx of money it earned for playing host to the International Olympic Committee during the Vancouver Olympic Games to renovate and update its existing home, a building originally constructed in 1913.
Megan Rollerson, the Vancouver Club’s marketing manager, says the past decade has seen the club – which is also located in the heart of that city’s business district – modernized at the behest of members who are looking for more co-working space. For example, the updated facilities turned a ballroom that wasn’t used during the day into productive working space.
THE PRIVATE CLUB TREND IS GLOBAL
Ms. Rollerson also points to the well-known Soho House as one of the key influences driving so many of these legacy clubs to upgrade and modernize their facilities.
Founded in 1995, Soho House is a hotel chain and group of private members’ clubs. There are 23 locations around the world, including a Canadian Soho House that opened in Toronto in 2012. Located in an 1840s heritage building in the city’s Entertainment District, the 10,000-square-foot club launched during the Toronto International Film Festival. Despite being only seven years old, Toronto’s Soho House holds its own against legacy clubs such as the Albany Club (founded in 1882) and the National Club (founded in 1874) and is thriving thanks to its youthful membership and focus on creative industries.
“What started in 1995 as a bar and restaurant for people to hang out in has changed since prospective members have changed and what they want in spaces for their spare time and business time have merged together,” says Peter Chipcase, the chief communications and strategy officer for Soho House & Co., based in London.
Although there is just the one club in Canada for now, Mr. Chipcase says workspace will play a key role in Soho House’s next big initiative, just as it has for the Rideau Club and the Vancouver Club. He alludes to the creation of a workspace that will be connected to a Soho House location, but not actually situated in the house itself.
“It might be in the same building, but we want to create a very specific Soho House version of shared workspace. That’s the next step,” he says about the concept that is set to launch in London this fall, then again in New York and Los Angeles later this year and in Toronto at some future point in time.
Shawn Hamilton, the senior vice-president and managing director of CBRE in Ottawa, says it’s not surprising to see this bleeding of the lines between a private club setting and a co-working setting.
Private clubs have younger groups of members that are acting as the lifeblood of the club, he says. They want a club to be a place they can work, where they can entertain, and where they can exercise – all under one roof.
“Private clubs are changing,” Mr. Hamilton says. “It’s no longer like walking into an Agatha Christie novel.”
These days, private clubs are about providing all the amenities a member requires to work, live and play. Shared workspace and live-work clubs may just be the next commercial “growth industry because people just seem to want it,” Mr. Hamilton says.
SANDRINGHAM, England — Queen Elizabeth II agreed Monday to grant Prince Harry and and his wife Meghan their wish for a more independent life, allowing them to move part-time to Canada while remaining firmly in the House of Windsor.
The British monarch said in a statement that the summit of senior royals on Monday was “constructive,” and that it had been “agreed that there will be a period of transition” in which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will spend time in Canada and the UK.”
The summit at the queen’s Sandringham estate in eastern England marked the first face-to-face talks with Harry since he and Meghan unveiled the controversial plan to step back from their royal roles.
“My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family,” the queen said in a statement. “Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”
The meeting came after days of intense news coverage, in which supporters of the royal family’s feuding factions used the British media to paint conflicting pictures of who was to blame for the rift.
Buckingham Palace said “a range of possibilities” would be discussed, but the queen was determined to resolve the situation within “days, not weeks.” Buckingham Palace stressed, however, that “any decision will take time to be implemented.”
One of the more fraught questions that needs to be worked out is precisely what it means for a royal to be financially independent and what activities can be undertaken to make money. Other royals who have ventured into the world of commerce have found it complicated.
Prince Andrew, for example, has faced heated questions about his relationship with the late convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew, the queen’s second son, has relinquished royal duties and patronages after being accused by a woman who says she was an Epstein trafficking victim who slept with the prince.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also face questions on paying for taxpayer-funded security. Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to comment, but said safety was a priority.
There were signs earlier in the day that the House of Windsor had moved to unite. Princes William and Harry issued a joint statement criticizing a newspaper article on the severe strain in their relationship, calling the story offensive and potentially harmful as they embark on talks regarding the future of the British monarchy.
Though the statement didn’t name the newspaper, the Times of London had a front page story about the crisis in which a source alleged that Harry and Meghan had been pushed away by the “bullying attitude from” William. The joint statement insisted that the story was “false.”
“For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful,” the statement said.
The relationship between Britain’s royals and the media is awkward, mistrustful — and seemingly inescapable. But now Meghan and Harry want out.
After years of growing tension with the press, the prince and his wife have announced plans to quit their senior royal duties, move part-time to North America, seek financial independence and withdraw from regular media scrutiny.
The couple — who have complained of intrusive media coverage and accused some British media commentators of racism — slammed the country’s long-standing arrangements for royal media coverage, saying they prefer to communicate directly with the public through social media.
The British press was stung by the snub, reacting Thursday with articles, columns and editorials that ranged from disappointment to fury.
The Daily Mirror said in an editorial that the couple’s failure to tell Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II about their plans “shows shocking disregard for a woman whose entire life has been ruled by a sense of public duty and honour.” The Times of London accused Harry of “petulance and hot-headedness,” while the Daily Mail said the couple wanted “the status of being ‘senior’ royals but the privacy and freedom of being private citizens.”
The Sun and the New York Post both described the departure as “Megxit,” a play on Brexit, Britain’s impending departure from the European Union.
The 93-year-old monarch moved Thursday to take control of the situation. Britain’s national news agency, Press Association, reported that the queen had ordered officials representing the monarch, Charles, Prince William, and Harry and Meghan to meet and find “workable solutions” within “days not weeks.”
Harry and Meghan’s shock announcement drew comparisons to the abdication of the queen’s uncle King Edward VIII, who gave up the throne in 1936 so he could marry divorced American Wallis Simpson. Once again, waspish commentators noted, an American woman has caused a ruction in the British royal family.
But the relationship between royals and the media has changed dramatically in the intervening decades. Before the abdication, the romance between Edward and Simpson was headline news in the United States but went largely unreported by a deferential British press.
The trauma of World War II and the social revolution of the 1960’s demolished that tradition of deference to royalty. For decades, the U.K. media has proclaimed its reverence for the queen while treating the travails of her family as fair game, from the divorces of three of her four children to second son Prince Andrew’s troubling friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
After Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, the media charted every twist in the marriage: the births of sons William and Harry, Diana’s glamour and charity work, the slow public crumbling of the relationship.
Charles and Diana both used the media as a weapon as their marriage foundered, giving TV interviews to present themselves in a sympathetic light. But Diana — a global megastar, followed by paparazzi wherever she went — was never fully in control of the media attention. She was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by photographers.
Diana’s death provoked a crisis for the monarchy — which was portrayed as remote and cold at a time of national grief — and for the media, accused of hounding a vulnerable woman.
In the wake of Diana’s death, the palace and the press reached an uneasy truce. The British media left young William and Harry alone in exchange for carefully staged interviews and photo opportunities as they grew up. That practice has continued with the three young children of William and his wife Kate.
Harry, however, still blames the media for his mother’s death, and since meeting his wife — the former actress Meghan Markle — he has become less willing to play the game.
In 2017, the prince accused the media of directing “a wave of abuse and harassment” at the biracial Markle, including “racial undertones” in articles. Last year the couple launched a lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday newspaper over its publication of a letter written by Meghan. Harry said he feared “history repeating itself. … I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Yet using the media has been a key part of Harry and Meghan’s strategy, just as it was for Diana. When they wanted to make their unhappiness public, the couple gave an interview to a sympathetic journalist from broadcaster ITV.
In that interview, Meghan said that “very naively,” she had been unprepared for the intense media scrutiny she would receive once she married into the British royal family.
“I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair,” she said.
Harry and Meghan now want to use the media on their own terms, dropping out of the “royal rota,” a pool system that organizes media coverage of the royal family’s public events. On a newly launched website, they said the system hampered their ability to “personally share moments in their lives directly with members of the public” via social media.
They said in the future they would “engage with grassroots media organizations and young, up-and-coming journalists.” They also slammed the “misconception” that the British media’s royal correspondents were “credible sources” of information.
Freddy Mayhew, editor of the Press Gazette, a newspaper industry trade publication, said the royal couple was aiming for a “much more controlled, much more private” approach to the media, drawing on Meghan’s experience as a U.S. television star.
“I think they are perhaps seizing an opportunity with the decline of print media to break away,” he said. “That’s something they couldn’t have done before, when papers were at their full strength. But now that a lot of it is moving online, there’s the ability for people like Harry and Meghan to take control of what they put out there.”
Harry, 35, is Elizabeth’s grandson and sixth in line to the British throne, behind his father, brother and his brother’s three children. With his ginger hair and beard, he is one of the royal family’s most recognizable and popular members and has spent his entire life in the public eye.
Before marrying the prince in a wedding watched around the world in 2018, the 38-year-old Meghan was a star of the TV legal drama “Suits.” The couple’s son Archie was born in May 2019.
Less than two years after that fairy tale wedding, the couple was enmeshed in an uproar that began Wednesday with a statement from Buckingham Palace, described as “a personal message from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.” It said Harry and Meghan intend to become financially independent and to “balance” their time between the U.K. and North America.
In a subsequent statement just 90 minutes later, though, a difference of opinion was laid bare. The palace said many issues still had to be worked out before the couple’s plan could be realized and discussions with the couple “were at an early stage.”
That communique suggested that Harry and Meghan’s statement had caught the royal household by surprise.
“We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through,” it read.
The announcement left a slew of questions: Where exactly do Meghan and Harry plan to live, and how will they earn private income without tarnishing the royal image? At the moment, they are largely funded by Harry’s father, Prince Charles, through income from his vast Duchy of Cornwall estate.
The move dominated the news in Britain, and divided opinion. Some blamed Meghan for the troubles. A social media storm compared her to Yoko Ono, the widow of Beatles singer John Lennon, who was blamed for the breakup of the famous band.
Madame Tussauds, the famed London waxwork attraction, moved the couple out of the royal section, where they had previously stood next to the monarch and Prince Philip.
Others offered sympathy for the queen, who remains a revered figure.
“We don’t mind them having an ordinary life. What we don’t like is the queen not being informed about nothing,” said royal super-fan John Loughrey, adding that the British public did not want to see the royal couple “isolated” abroad.
“It is a crisis,” he said. “We have got a crisis here. Seriously.”
Friday, October 25th, marked the 101 anniversary of the sinking of SS Princess Sophia.
October 25th is the 101-year anniversary of the largest maritime disaster the West Coast has ever seen. On Oct. 25, 1918 the SS Princess Sophia, along with all 367 passengers on board, sank to the depths of the Lynn Canal north of Juneau, Alaska.
A group of about 20 people gathered in Ross Bay Cemetery on the morning of the anniversary, as the Maritime Museum dedicated an unmarked grave to the three members of the Smith family, who died in the wreck.
A head stone was unveiled, there to commemorate the lives of William Peter Sr., 47, William Peter Jr., 17, and Roland Henry, 15, near the cemetery entrance at Memorial Crescent and May Street.
The father and two sons had gone north for the first time, working on the SS Dawson. The two boys were deckhands, while their father was a fireman on the vessel.
“[This family set off] for a trip of a lifetime that ended up being their last,” says David Leverton, executive director of the Maritime Museum.
Twenty-one other people, who died in the shipwreck, are also buried in the cemetery along with memorial stones for two others whose bodies were never found.
The Smith family was returning to Victoria at the end of riverboat season. William Peter Sr. had ranched at Shawnigan prior to moving to Victoria, where he was employed as an engineer at the Union Club for many years. His eldest son, William Peter Jr. had gone overseas with the 103 Battalion when he was 15 years old, only to be sent back home when his real age was discovered.
Leverton has trouble trying to imagine the chaos that must have unfolded on the ship followed the crash into the Vanderbilt Reef. The SS Princess Sophia ended up leaving the port in Skagway, Alaska about three hours late, four hours later the ship hit the reef.
“The sounds of the hull against the reef, the screaming steel, the speed in which the entire event happened, the actual sinking — it’s beyond words,” says Leverton.
The ship sat on the reef for 40 hours as rescuers tried to organize themselves in what would be deadly weather conditions. Thinking they would have better weather the next day, crews were sent home to rest up overnight only to have nothing to return to. Horrific winds, terrible storm conditions and even snow began to pummel the area.
“They basically had everything conspiring against them.”
The next morning, when the weather finally broke, crews returned to the SS Princess Sophia to find only the forward mast above the water. Lifeboats that had been launched in a effort to save some passengers, had no one alive on board — bodies were covered in a foot of snow.
It took months to retrieve the bodies of passengers and even still, some have never been found.
“These things can happen and when they do they ripple effect through so many people’s lives,” Leverton say, recognizing the importance of remembering those lost.
Last year during the 100th anniversary, the Maritime Museum dedicated another gravestone to William and Sarah O’Brien, along with their five children at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver.
In this rare glimpse inside the BBC archives, we reveal the exasperated internal memos, the furious letters from wing commanders – and David Frost’s bid to bring them down.
In a memo sent in 1969, the BBC head of comedy seems to have lost his sense of humour. “Please will you have a word with the writers?” said Michael Mills. “I haven’t reacted to the funny titles that have appeared on the scripts so far. I hoped that they would cease of their own accord.”
The titles that irritated him included “Bunn Wackett Buzzard Stubble and Boot”, apparently a spoof legal firm, which came to be shortened to Bunwackett. The show, meanwhile, had the working title The Circus. Now, though, Mills had had enough: “The time has come when we must stop having peculiar titles and settle on one overall title … Please would you have words with them and try to produce something palatable?”
Following this intervention, a title was finally agreed upon: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And on 19 September 1969, BBC North sent an invitation to journalists to go on location for the filming of the show at the Cow and Calf pub on Ilkley Moor. They were promised “crazy antics” and “the first opportunity to see this new-style brand of late-night nutty comedy in action, and all its writer-stars: John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and Michael Palin.” (As would often be the case, the animator Terry Gilliam was omitted, though he played many on-screen roles, and his brutal cartoons were the show’s signature innovation.)
This memo and press release are among the documentation relating to the premiere, exactly 50 years ago, of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Until exhumed by a researcher, the creative entrails of old BBC shows are buried in pink folders, hole-punched and tied with green bootlaces. Now, a rare peek inside the binders has uncovered all the secrets of the Pythons’ earliest days.
The archive is especially important for this show. The Pythons included a prolific diarist – Palin has published three hefty volumes already – but, dismayingly, the months around the start of the first Python show are one of the longest gaps. Palin attributes this to the busy-ness of filming, and having a young child and ailing elderly father.
Presumably following calculations on some abacus of celebrity value, accounts initially paid Cleese £67 per show more than the others, Palin £1 less than Jones and Chapman, and Idle £2 less. Gilliam, an artist rather than “artiste”, was contracted separately.
Although comic weirdness had been introduced to the BBC by The Goon Show, Monty Python went even further. BBC production teams may have sensed something odd was coming from the paperwork: a requisition form to the props department asks for a “selection of bras (6), panties (6), and tights (5)” and “1 swastika flag, approx 4’ x 2.6”. A list of extras for a filming day includes, after one name, the specification “no pigeon on shoulder” (parrots, on shoulders and flat on their perch, would become a Python speciality). A handwritten note asks: “What about topless on fountain?”
Most surreally, on 9 September, the show’s producer John Howard Davies sent a memo to Bernard Wilkie in visual effects requesting “1 copy of Turner’s ‘Fighting Temeraire’ … in a detachable frame, which can be broken off and eaten – with two eatable refill frames”.
Later the same day, Wilkie’s assistant returned the request with the note: “Unfortunately … all edible props must be obtained through the Catering Manager.”
While the head of comedy had persuaded the team to pick a title, he could not persuade them to take editorial procedures seriously. The Pythons wanted to caption the first episode “programme two”, a joke the corporation chose to ignore. They also described their show as “designed to subdue the violence in us all with gentle sick laughter”. This was not passed on to the press, though the misleading subtitle “Wither Canada?” was – which some newspaper previews reproduced unquestioningly.
Having survived the threat of a strike by BBC staff over the controversy that the new comedy show was replacing a late-night religious programme – the corporation cleverly argued that the devotional show was shifted to spare clergymen a late night on their busiest day – Monty Python’s Flying Circus was first transmitted at 22:50 on 5 October 1969.
A memo sent between senior executives reveals that the first episode achieved 1.5 million viewers with an audience appreciation (based on a small number of viewers paid to value what they watched) of 45 (out of 100). In comparison, the Rolf Harris Show (though in a primetime slot, and with a presenter then seen as a lovable family entertainer, rather than the convicted sex offender he later became) attracted 11 million viewers and a 64 enjoyment score.
The public response, at least from the correspondence archived by the BBC, seems to have been positive. The fan letters are a rarity, in that they immediately mimic and celebrate the tone of the Pythons. What seems to be a furious letter from a wing commander (retired), complaining about the “long-haired louts” making fun of the flying machines that won the Battle of Britain, is revealed to be written by a 16-year-old called Philip.
Another viewer called Rufus writes in the guise of an expert in the art or sport of “black pudding bending”. A gentleman from Tunbridge Wells is not outraged, in line with the local stereotype, but engaged, repeatedly sending handwritten sketches that are politely declined on the grounds that the Pythons write all their own material.Advertisement
While Cleese has latterly attracted a reputation for irascibility, he is caught out in the files in a gesture of striking kindness. A Kent schoolboy called Doug Holman writes, asking for tickets to a recording. Cleese arranges for a pair to be sent. Doug, boldly, writes back, saying he is part of a large group of friends who want to go. Cleese contacts the BBC to request a further 14 tickets, suggesting that the young will be “good laughers”.
Given the passage of five decades, many of the early Python audience have joined the choir invisible with the programme’s late parrot. But I tracked down a Doug Holman who grew up in Kent and is now 69, running a business in Hampshire. My email rapidly received the reply: “It’s a fair cop! Hearty congratulations on your detective work.”
In 1969, he was an electronics student at Portsmouth University, and an obsessive fan of the radio show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, starring Cleese. Noticing a poster in the student union advertising the comedian as guest speaker, Holman went and saw Cleese deliver a “verbal assault on British Rail [he had arrived late] and BBC bureaucracy”, before inviting the students to write to him if they wanted tickets for a recording of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.
Then, “almost as an afterthought,” Holman remembers, “he handed round a few copies of scripts for ‘a new, as yet untitled, TV show’ he was hoping would be commissioned. The copy I saw included strange references to things like exploding knees, but I confess the general reaction was one of polite perplexity.”
Holman wrote off for tickets to the radio show but, some days later, “my sister rushed into the kitchen blurting out: ‘It’s … John Cleese … from the BBC … for Doug!’ Cleese explained that sadly, there would be no new series of ISIRTA that year, before asking whether I’d be interested in tickets for the new TV show? In the heat of the moment, I suggested: ‘How about four; that’s four car-loads?’ That’s why the number of tickets increased from two to 16.”Advertisement
The BBC response, the archives make clear, was far less positive. At the weekly meeting where senior managers discussed the output, the head of factual had found Python “disgusting”, arts had thought it “nihilistic and cruel”, while religion objected to a Gilliam animation in which “Jesus … had swung his arm”. The BBC One controller sensed the makers “continually going over the edge of what is acceptable”.
In yet another sign of internal disapproval, the Pythons were commissioned to provide material for the 1969 Christmas Night with the Stars, the BBC end-of-year jamboree, but a brisk memo rejects their sketch.
The archives also reveal an undertow of tension with the TV presenter and producer, David Frost. On 20 April 1969, while the first series is in pre-production, the writer-performer Barry Took, then a consultant for the BBC, warns Mills, the head of comedy: “John Cleese phoned today to say that he is still under contract to Paradine Productions, who want to be involved in The Circus project as a co-production.”
Frost, only 30 but already a formidable TV impresario, owned Paradine (which was called after his middle name). Took reports that, if the BBC will not co-operate with Frost, Cleese will withdraw from The Circus. He recommends that the BBC produce a series with “Palin, Jones, Idle and cartoon inserts from Terry Gilliam”, then revive the idea of The Circus in 1971, when Cleese becomes free.
There is always a moment when what is now a classic comes perilously close to not happening; this was Python’s. The files do not reveal how the BBC saw off Frost, but the corporation seems to have played hard-ball.
In another intrusion of real-life surreality into the Python story, the postmaster general at the time was John Stonehouse, who would soon afterwards fake his death by leaving his clothes on a beach in Miami, and was subsequently arrested by police officers who thought he was Lord Lucan, another prominent disappeared Briton of the era. Stonehouse was jailed for fraud, and revealed as a Czechoslovakian secret agent. Having censured Python over the Frost incident, he later inspired another major BBC comedy series: The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, in which David Nobbs’ hero pretends to have drowned in a swimming accident.
On 11 August 1970, having commissioned a second run of Python, Mills laments in a memo to the BBC hierarchy: “I am very unhappy that all the regions are opting out of the new series.” The team had become victim to another BBC continuity announcement trope they liked to satirise: “Except for viewers in Scotland/Northern Ireland/Wales.”
But these rejections – and many memos reporting Cleese’s reluctance to make another series – could not prevent the Pythons going on to conquer TV, cinema (Holy Grail, Life of Brian) and stage.
Five decades after a 19-year-old student struck the audacious free-ticket deal immortalised in the BBC archives, Holman still energises his memories of the recording: “There was a restaurant scene but I think the producer abandoned it when Cleese – seemingly unhappy about having no lines – disrupted each take by performing random Tourette-like impressions of a mouse being strangled by a psychotic cat. I remember it being total anarchy yet excruciatingly funny, in the literal sense. We all experienced genuine pain from extended bouts of uncontrollable laughter.”