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Reviews

The Northern Mariner
Harbour Publishing has returned with another installment of its popular collection of West Coast stories and essays. The general focus of these easily read, accessible publications is on those who lived, homesteaded and worked on or near the waters of Canada's Pacific shore. This issue is of particular interest to those fascinated with maritime history as it brings attention to the role that the sea played in the development of British Columbia. As Howard White (editor and founder of the publication) laments in the introduction, other than the odd rusting anchor and some artifacts in local museums, British Columbia is oddly devoid of maritime monuments.

A favourite formula of Raincoast Chronicles is to look at the characters central to the formation of British Columbia's raincoast mythology. In "Svendson and the Tax Man" Dick Hammond recalls an incident from his youth in which the operator of a small logging outfit put the run to a slick tax man after he stepped off the coastal steamer. Ruth Botel provides readers with insight into how her German immigrant family endured wilderness life on the northern tip of Vancouver Island as they struggled to make a living on their 160-acre preemption. Halivard Dahlie also takes a look at his past, describing the experiences of a sixteen-year-old getting a job in 1941 as assistant to an eccentric lightkeeper at Cape St. James, off the southern end of the Queen Charlottes.

But there is more to this issue of the Chronicles than a collection of fond recollections of life along the coast. In a carefully researched story, Douglas Hamilton debunks a conspiracy theory that garnered national attention in the early 1990s. The leading proponent argued that the supposed shelling of Estevan Point on 20 June 1942 by a Japanese submarine was instead an elaborate hoax instigated by the federal government to unite the population behind the war effort. Hamilton uncovered a number of witnesses to the event and recounts a revealing 1973 interview with the commander of I-26 who was responsible for the attack.

White and Robson deserve particular credit for featuring articles that explain the role that local innovators have played in establishing British Columbia as a world leader in the development of maritime technology. For instance, David Conn details how the towing industry found a more reliable way to get logs from upcoast logging operations to southern sawmills. Operators began purchasing retired sailing ships and American war surplus cargo steamers for conversion into barges after one too many log booms broke up in foul weather. The massive self-loading and unloading log barges built in West Coast shipyards - a familiar sight on local waters today - are the direct descendants of the first of their kind: the former wooden steamer Bingamon and the steel windjammer Drumrock built in the mid-1920s.

An entertaining story by Tom Henry looks at how British Columbia became the leading edge in submersible technology. Three Vancouver scuba divers built Pisces, the first manned deep submersible in the 1960s, contrary to the popular belief that the achievement was only possible with the resources of a large high-tech manufacturing corporation.

Raincoast Chronicles Eighteen succeeds in its goal of providing the reader with a strong sense of how the sea has influenced lives and directed the development of British Columbia. The attractive format and unpretentious style make Raincoast Chronicles Eighteen an accessible read that will again prove popular.
-Rick James, The Northern Mariner


Albert Report: How to Present a Portrait of Region
A quarter of a century ago (26 years, to be precise) Howard and Mary White launched Harbour Publishing from a 40-foot pink house-trailer at Pender Harbour, BC, by issuing the first of the Raincoast Chronicles in 1972. Their idea was to reflect the diverse history, activity and personality of Canada's West Coast, thus representing British Columbians to themselves, so to speak. Harbour has been modestly thriving ever since, and so has the series.

As Number 18 demonstrates, this long-running compendium of B.C. coastal lore has changed very little, beyond switching somewhere along the line to betterpaper and a handsome, glossy cover. It preserves the trademark magazine dimensions.

It provides its customarily generous proportion of photographs, drawings and maps. It varies wildly, as usual, in writing style and quality. And its nine stories
range from the arduous early survival experiences of an immigrant family on Vancouver Island's wild northwest shore circa 1913, to the history of and latest developments in log-barging.

One of the longest and most striking stories, excerpted from an upcoming Harbour book tells how in 1966 three wildly eccentric Vancouver divers concocted, built and successfully tested to 600 metres a breakthrough submersible called Pisces. When Pisces proved useful indeed for salvage operations, Don Sorte, Al Trice and Mack Thomson formed a company, HYCO, to manufacture it. But HYCO proved less buoyant than Pisces - predictably, given the personalities of its principles, "who insisted on redesigning the sub every time they received an order." He folded after 15 years, although not before considerably influencing underwater exploration, salvage and other such activities. Also thoroughly covered is the controversy over who shelled the Estevan lighthouse, B.C.'s tallest, in 1942: a Japanese submarine or (as claimed by Donald Graham in Keeper of the Light) a covert propaganda operation of the Canadian Government. Douglas Hamilton, author of the Chronicles article, opts firmly and convincingly for the Japanese sub.

From the same era comes an account by Vickie Jensen and Arthur McLaren of shipbuilding during the most frantic period of the Second World War (1942-43), when the Port of Vancouver had seven shipyards employing some 25,000 workers and producing an average of two vessels per week.

Different again is Hallvard Dahlie's tale of his experiences the previous year (1941) when, as a raw 16-year-old, he got a job as assistant lighthouse keeper at the Cape James lighthouse at the southern tip of the Queen Charlottes. No stranger to hardship, young Hallvard was nevertheless so spooked by that strange place and lonely life (especially one eerie night) that half a century later the memory remained vivid in every detail.

In short, number 18 is unlikely to disappoint Raincoast Chronicles fans, of whom there seem to be a goodly number. Harbour Publishing has greatly widened its publishing activities since its beginnings in the pink trailer, but the Chronicles are still a mainstay and they are all in print - numbers 11 to 17 as single volumes, earlier ones in combination.
-Virginia Byfield, Alberta Report

Coast Independent: Short stories reflect BC's nature
The venerable Raincoast Chronicles, now in its 18th incarnation, has been once again edited by publisher and author Howard White. It's hard to pick a favourite from among the stories it contains, but for the sheer pleasure of experiencing meticulous research and well-constructed argument, I'll take Douglas Hamilton's "Who Shot Estevan Light?" Refuting the account of Donald Graham's Keepers of the Light, Hamilton carefully re-examines all the evidence available about this World War 11 incident and concludes that yes, a Japanese submarine definitely did shell the lighthouse at Estevan Point in 1942. And it's hard to disagree with his conclusions.

For genuine humour, I'll take Dick Hammond's delightful yarn, "Svendson and the Tax Man" about a gyppo logger who decides to go to jail rather than pay income tax. And for adventure, it's a toss-up between Hallvard Dahlie's "Light at the End of the World," the story of his youthful adventures at the isolated Cape St. James light station, and Ruth Botel's short biography of Claus Botel who took his young family to a preemption on the remote northern tip of Vancouver Island in 1913. My only quibble with this issue of the Chronicles is that I really wanted to know more about the authors. What else have they written and where can I read more of their work?
-Betty Keller, Coast Independent