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Reviews

Canadian Book Review Association
Come to Hidden Basin - an idyllic bit of God's country along the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia not far from Jarvis Inlet. Let's go back to the first decades of this century when settlers were few and far between, when life was simpler, self-reliance was the key to success, and the imagination was attuned to the unexpected. Meet Dick Hammond's immediate ancestors-his grandfather Jack, his father Hal (who told him most of the stories), and his uncle Cliff-and listen to the tales of their adventures (and accidents), the stories of their boats, their schemes to make money, their recollections of friendships (non-nal and eccentric), and their yarns about the seemingly supernatural (or just the unusually natural). The experience is immensely enjoyable.

For what Hammond does very well is tell a good story, all the while investing it with it folkloric, even mythic significance. Take his friendship with Charlie, for example; Charlie teaches the boys so much yet seems compelled to play the part of "the old Indian," as if, quite playfully, he senses the 'white' boys' need to have their fictional stereotypes verified in real life. The "Fish Story" in which he is the central figure is humorous and yet somehow slightly painful perhaps because old Charlie sometimes needs to "play" the Indian.

There is that undercurrent of seriousness. But, mainly, Hammond revels in nostalgia, delights in his fictional encounters (through his father's stories) with all kinds of weird and wonderful people, and regales us with the kinds of tales we used to hear around the old wood stove on a winter's evening. And, since he is so obviously retelling his father's stories, he does so with an affection that is not maudlin, and in a style that is wholly commendable; in a first effort at writing that must only be praised. This reviewer looks forward to reading more.
-R.G. Moyles


Growing up wild in paradise: Sechelt life was poor in former times, but never dull
Dick Hammond is simply a superb story-teller and these are great stories. Moreover, they are set in part of Canada's mystic wonderland, the Sechelt area of the British Columbia coast where Mr. Hammond, a log salvor, has lived all his life. They are his father's stories, he says, and he believes they happened just as he has written them. But they are meant as entertainment, not history.

Hal Hammond grew up early in this century on a subsistence farm beside Hidden Basin, an almost landlocked little bay on Nelson Island, southeast of Powell River. (An adequate map is provided.) Hal and his brother Cliff, two years older, were inseparable in good deeds or ill. Their father, Jack Hammond, had no talent for money-making but he was a philosopher, craftsman and visionary who taught his sons to read (although not to write) and left them to forage among his considerable book collection. He believed a healthy boy should be able to clear his own height with a standing jump over, and stay under water for three minutes, both of which his sons accomplished. He also built them a canoe for exploring.

Although the boys worked hard on the farm, there wag time for fishing and hunting with their special mentor, Old Charlie the sardonic Indian, and for playing horrendous jokes on him (which he reciprocated) and on others (who usually could not).

Among these were two men who were pitlamping deer at Hidden Basin, for instance, until the brothers at dawn lobbed a wasp's nest into the cabin of their boat.

The people who lived in those parts or who passed by are vividly described. There was the blind Jewish scholar who paid Hal a dollar to describe to him every Sunday all had seen that week. The tough logger, Red, who had "come over on a four-master out of Liverpool," began by holding up the Hammond family. A strangely skilled quarry blacksmith could seemingly conjure with fire. Most of them were benevolent, a few dangerous, none ordinary.

Hal's remembered idyllic life at Hidden Basin came to an end, of course. While the tales of his first job, at 14, in a granite quarry, and his adventures in logging camps and the shipbuilding industry are equally entertaining, a grimmer note gradually intrudes. Jack Hammond becomes an exile in New Zealand.

Cliff serves in the First World War and is never quite the same afterward. Hal supports his mother, and his sisters until they marry. The Nelson Island properties are sold.

But that is the nature of idylls. They must end, and this bittersweet collection provides a grand nostalgia trip.
-Virginia Byfield, Alberta Report


Early Island life as seen through a writer's eye
This book should come with a warning. "Don't start reading unless you are willing to surrender totally to the world of Hidden Basin Beds will go unmade, dishes unwashed (that is, if the meals get cooked), telephone message tapes will be filled to capacity and faxes will pile up as you answer the siren calls of tales of another time and another way of life.

These are Dick Hammond's re-telling of his father Hal's stories of his (Dick's) grandfather Jack and his grandmother May and his uncle Cliff - and to a lesser extent, his aunts and of their day-to-day life at Hidden Basin on Nelson Island.

Stories of hardship, determination, adventure and ekeing out a living from the land. All these interspersed with tales of the great sea serpent, the blind Jewish philosopher and would-be benefactor to Hal. Of 6 year old Hal catching a 61 lb. salmon when he himself weighed only 60 lbs. Of Charlie, the self-named "Old Indian" who was a fixture in the young boy's lives patiently teaching them practical lessons like how to make a simple and effective cod-jig using lead, strips of cod skin and a shiny strip of tin.

Tales of the itinerant tacitum German craftsman who could repair and restore anything made of metal. Of the affluent couple in white yachting attire arriving in a speedboat and gratefully accepting an invitation to tea.

Stories of dirty dealings in land-claims, hard lessons in becoming an adult in coast logging camps, the dawning of reverence for fine craftsmanship working on the "Mabel Brown" in North Vancouver.

I found myself being drawn into the unstated. Like why were Hal's sisters almost invisible? Like wraiths hovering on the periphery of the book. And May, so determined to keep to her Victorian values, not allowing the girls to read from Jack's extensive library. May appears to be a grudging, controlling woman, longing for the time when she would be free to own her own business. She wouldn't allow her daughters to go down to the float for a ride on the speedboat to see the affluent couple's yacht. These stories show us a glimpse of how families often interacted in the past. There was little input from the children. Decrees were handed down by parents, and children had little say about their own feelings.

These real-life characters live on when the book has been put back on the shelf, whetting our appetite for more stories from Dick Hammond. By the way, is the rumour true that Dick Hammond was the model for Relic in "The Beachcombers"?
-Margaret Gabriel, Gambier Island Books Reviews