Signaller Harold Monks in Canadian Army uniform 1917. (Photo courtesy of Joan Nicholson)

Vargas Island Ranchers at home and at war

Created by Royal BC Museum, this exhibit is at Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum until May 12.

ERIN LINN MCMULLAN

Special to the Westerly

As the wind whips up across Monks’ Point, Stephanie Ann Warner is sharing vintage photographs circa WWI on her laptop in the bright sunshine on the lawn outside her uncle Harold Frank Monks’ former home.

In sports clothes, she is perched on the edge of her chair, ready for a weekend on Vargas Island, where she will continue researching the Vargas ranchers’ history and her grandfather’s for the Harold Monks Project.

It was visiting here as a child that she first perused the photo albums and records that would eventually spark this passion project.

Her face now lit up, as it was last night, on her birthday, when she donned era-specific costume to deliver a talk on Vargas Island Ranchers at home and at war at the Legion.

Her talk kicked off the arrival of the traveling exhibit British Columbia’s War 1914-1918, along with her complimentary Vargas-focused installation downstairs at Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum.

“Thirteen of us enlisted and none of us went back,” Harold Monks said in an early 1970s interview. “Hovelaque was the only one left. He never went, he was too old. He stayed there. Some were killed…the others all scattered.”

Pierre Hovelaque and Frank Garrard were the original developers of this ranching community, pre-empting 1,280 acres and advertising in England, attracting settlers from as far away as New Zealand.

But, far from ‘gormless Englishman’ lured by claims of ‘easy clearing’ they included experienced farmers such as a group who had originally settled in Saskatchewan.

Monks, Warner surmises, came west for the opportunity.

On this remote island in Canada he could own land and fish—a life he could only dream of in Industrial England. From Monks’ beatific smile as photographed in his dugout canoe it is clear this Lancashire accountant had discovered Nirvana.

Warner, with a Masters in Public History and a desire to make history more accessible brought all the Vargas community’s characters to life from Old Captain Cleland—who named his property Westward Ho! after Charles Kingsley’s popular novel and served only briefly, to the underage farmhands who lied in order to enlist.

Joining the war offered employment during the Depression and a chance to shortcut the process towards owning the land they so laboriously tried to clear.

That pre-emption displaced the Kelsemaht people living on Vargas as well as the traditional fishing grounds of the Kelsemaht and Ahousaht people.

In addition to Monks’ meticulously kept records and artefacts, Warner references Margaret Horsfield’s Voices from the Sound and the diary of Vargas’s postmistress Helen Malon, whose sons Ted and Arthur Abraham served in the war. While Ted did return to settle briefly on Vargas with his new bride, Dorothy, his brother Arthur was killed at Passchendaele on October 22, 1917 months after receiving the military cross.

Included in Warner’s installation is Arthur Abraham’s poignant letter to his mother, asking her guidance on the best type of wood to touch for luck.

Those soldiers, like Monks, who did return to the Tofino area founded the Clayoquot Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, an organization making up for the shortfall in government support post-war.

British Columbia’s War 1914-1918 credits the contribution of BC First Nations and Métis, who enlisted in equal numbers and acknowledges the lasting damage of war.

Created by Royal BC Museum with financial support from the government of Canada, this exhibit is at Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum until May 12.

READ MORE: A Ucluelet-Tofino love story

READ MORE: Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum in Summer

READ MORE: Heritage Museum grand opening in Tofino

Just Posted

Cleanup event helps Tofino’s shorebird habitats

“These birds shouldn’t be using plastic and marine debris to build their nests.”

BC Ferries to pilot selling beer and wine on select routes

Drinks from select B.C. breweries and VQA wineries to be sold on Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route

Tofino and Ucluelet raise over $185K for hospital

“It’s a statement of our town’s values and what makes it so special to live here.”

Fisheries Department announces conservation measures to protect chinook in B.C.

Urgent protection measures include closure of a commercial fishery involving seven endangered stock

Funding to help Tofino’s seniors ‘age in place’

“Seniors are a vibrant and important part of our community.”

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Kirkland Signature veggie burgers recalled due to possible metal fragments

Recalled products came in 1.7 kg packages with a best before date of Apr. 23, 2019

Parents of 13 who tortured children get life after hearing victims

One of their daughters fled their home and pleaded for help to a 911 operator

Flooding, climate change force Quebecers to rethink relationship with water

Compensation for victims of recurring floods limit to 50% of a home’s value, or a maximum of $100,000

Storms blast South, where tornadoes threaten several states

9.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia at a moderate risk of severe weather

Private cargo ship brings Easter feast to the space station

There are three Americans two Russians and one Canadian living on the space station

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

The fire burned through the lattice of oak beams supporting the monument’s vaulted stone ceiling

B.C. senior sentenced for sexually abusing special-needs granddaughter

73-year-old Cortes Island man will go to jail for three years

Howe Sound Queen sailing toward retirement

Vessel now up for auction ends regular runs between Crofton and Vesuvius at the beginning of June

Most Read