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

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.

SHIRLEY MARTIN

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson kneels as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
UPDATED: Vancouver Island paddle boarder’s orca encounter brings joy and outrage

Woman’s ‘best day’ criticized for disturbing the whales

Tofino’s library is currently located in the basement of the Tofino Legion building but talks are underway to build a brand new facility. (Andrew Bailey photo)
The District of Tofino has put new restrictions in place around alcohol at public events. (Westerly file photo)
Tofino puts new restrictions on alcohol at public events

Town’s council adopts Municipal Alcohol Policy.

Gord John stands during question period in Ottawa in Sept. 2020. (PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTIAN DIOTTE, HOUSE OF COMMONS PHOTO SERVICES)
2020: A Year in Review with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns

NDP MP wants to ‘build back better’ in 2021

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Mowi Canada West’s Sheep Pass salmon farm, the company’s final B.C. operation to receive certification from the Aquaculture Steward Council. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is questioning a government decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada West)
Canadian Federation of Agriculture backs B.C. salmon farmers

Letter to prime minister calls for federal “champion” for aquaculture growth

Most Read