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Vancouver Island Scoundrels, Eccentrics and Originals

This was a fun, easy-to-read, informative book. Some intriguing highlights, especially for anyone interested in Vancouver Island (British Columbia):

• Cadborosaurus, or “Caddy,” is an alleged sea serpent living off the North American Pacific Coast. During the past 200 years, there have been more than 300 claimed sightings.

• Victoria resident and recluse Victoria Jane Wilson (1877-1949) willed her estate to her birds. Her parrot, Louis, became a celebrity for his spendthrift lifestyle and died under mysterious circumstances. Chateau Victoria now occupies the site of Wilson’s now-demolished mansion.

• Architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury (1867–1935) designed notable buildings like the British Columbia Parliament Buildings, Empress Hotel, Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Terminal in Victoria; Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver; and Chateau Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta. His personal life, however, was infamous: He divorced his wife and flaunted his affair with much-younger, twice-married Alma Pakenham. He and Alma eventually married and moved from Victoria to Bournemouth, England, where Alma began an affair with their 18-year-old chauffeur, George Percy Stoner. Rattenbury was murdered in March 1935, both Alma and her lover claiming responsibility. Stoner served only seven years of his sentence, released early in order to join the army during World War II. Alma committed suicide.

• Mystic Edward Arthur Wilson, better known as Brother XII (1878-1934?), founded a spiritual community, the Aquarian Foundation, on Vancouver Island in 1927. His misuse of funds and extramarital affair led to the colony’s breakup. Wilson reportedly died in 1934 in Switzerland, but eyewitnesses claim this was not true.

• D’Arcy Island was a leper colony for Chinese immigrants from 1894 to 1924.

• Amor De Cosmos (1825 –1897) was a Canadian journalist, publisher, and founding father of British Columbia. He lobbied to have a railway built linking the province to the rest of Canada and pushed for British Columbia to join the Confederation. He was born William Alexander Smith but changed his name during the California gold rush. He also had a fear of electricity.

• The Pig War was an 1859 boundary dispute between the United States and the British Empire regarding the San Juan Islands. It arose from an incident where Lyman Cutler, who believed the land was American territory, shot a pig belonging to Charles Griffin, who claimed the land belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Eventually, the two nations chose an independent arbitrator, the Kaiser of Germany, to help settle the boundary dispute. He referred the question to a panel of three academic experts, who decided 2-to-1 in favor of Haro Strait being the boundary.

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