Emmie May Binns found her seas legs on the 5-masted schooner the Malahat in 1931. (Photo courtesy of the Ken Gibson Collection)

A Ucluelet-Tofino love story

Honeymoon on the high seas.


Special to the Westerly

Some might question the appeal of a honeymoon aboard a rum running mothership, but it suited Emmie May Binns to a T.

Emmie grew up in Ucluelet, the youngest daughter of Capt. Carl Binns. When she was 12 her mother died, leaving Emmie and older sister Phyllis as an inseparable duo who ran free in the great outdoors. They later became “cannery girls”, working in coastal herring plants. Emmie was strong and feisty, once diving off a burning float plane in rough seas to swim to a nearby launch, commandeer it and return to rescue pilot and passengers. For this she was awarded a bronze lifesaving medal.

Stuart Stone was the son of a correspondence-trained Methodist minister. Rev. Stone brought his family to Clo-oose to pursue his mission. From there they moved to Stockham Island, before settling in 1904 on a small island (now Stone Island) in Tofino Inlet. Stuart and brother Chet ran their Wingen-built boat the Tofino, transporting goods and passengers from Port Alberni to Ucluelet, Tofino, and points beyond. They converted their next vessel, the Saint Roche, to a fish packer. Soon they were making runs to Seattle, with cases of liquor hidden beneath layers of fish.

Rum running was a lucrative business in the tough recession years following World War I. It was also an appealing livelihood for a seagoing adventurer like Stuart Stone. And it was just a matter of time before he met the lovely young daredevil Emmie May Binns.

Stuart, transporting liquor from his base in Vancouver, was often an absentee husband/father to wife Catherine and two kids. Emmie worked with his sister Hazel as a telegraph operator. Hazel, who moonlighted as a ham radio operator for the rum runners, lived with Stuart’s family. When she brought her new friend home, they learned that not only had Emmie met Stuart 13 months previous, but they had been spending time together ever since. Stuart and wife Catherine soon divorced, leaving him free to wed his new love.

Emmie and Stuart married Nov. 8th, 1931. Stuart, as skipper of the 5-masted schooner the Malahat, chose to take his wife to sea. Emmie quickly found her sea legs, overcoming seasickness to take the wheel or climb the rigging. An avid swimmer, she once dove off the port side, unaware of a school of sharks just off the starboard bow. To keep the crew on task, Stuart set Emmie a dress code: no short skirts, and only lady-like outfits at dinner. Life aboard ship had its perks. The newlyweds had a snug stateroom with red velvet curtains, and the only private bathroom. The ship housed a small library and, naturally, a well-stocked liquor cabinet.

Operations on the Malahat ran so smoothly she was dubbed Queen of Rum Row. Anchored outside the 3-mile Mexican limit and just south of the American border, the crew repacked liquor into smaller crates which were then wrapped in burlap, passed to fast tenders, then on to smaller speed boats and in to shore. The American Coast Guard played cat-and-mouse with the rum runners. The Malahat under sail could lure the Coast Guard far out to sea, leaving them stranded when they ran out of fuel.

When Roosevelt became president in 1932, he abolished prohibition. In 1933, with their time on Rum Row nearing an end, the couple were scraping barnacles from the Malahat’s hull when Stuart was struck by pain. Soon he was groaning in agony, but refused to seek medical aid in the US, fearing arrest. A Mexican doctor was at a loss. Pounding 50 miles over a rough road to a tiny airstrip, Emmie and Stuart flew to Los Angeles. They were too late. As 4th of July fireworks flashed outside his hospital room, Stuart Stone, age 42, died from peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix.

Emmie, widowed at 24, took him home for a proper burial. Soon she left the big city, returning to Ucluelet where she helped Phyllis run Binn’s Barn, a boarding house beside the old Co-op. Emmie remarried several times and continued to be a force to reckon with up and down the west coast.

READ MORE: SHORELINE COLUMN: Boat building on the West Coast

READ MORE: SHORELINE COLUMN: Shopping locally is a time-honoured tradition on the West Coast

READ MORE: Tofino artist offers a special brand of West Coast love

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