Authors: Janine McCaw
Tags: #romance, #history, #mining, #british columbia, #disasters, #britannia beach
Copyright 2005 by
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For Gerri Cook, who loved to tell a good
For years I had been driving up the
coast from Vancouver to Whistler, passing by an old mine site on
the east side of the Sea-to-Sky highway.
One summer day my husband Paul and I decided
to stop and take a tour of the mine. I was fascinated by the
history that had occurred at Britannia Beach, that for years, I had
never taken the time to learn about.
To try to write a true account of the life
and times there was beyond my scope. I’m quite content to leave
that task to the historians. But the drama that occurred there, in
the early 1900’s set my imagination into over-drive, and I spun a
tale of what life might have been like, given the situations and
We attended the 100’th anniversary reunion at
Britannia Beach, where I learned a little bit more about the tight
knit community that once thrived there.
Britannia Beach during the 1900’s was a
multi-cultural community with all the challenges that entails.
People were not necessarily politically correct. That part of the
book was difficult to write as I don’t share the viewpoints of some
of my characters. But times were what they were.
Urban sprawl being what it is, Britannia
Beach will soon change forever, and rumour has it, the old mine on
the hill is going to get a face lift. Some of the charm of the old
town may be lost, but more people may take the time to stop and
learn the history of the area. Olivia would have liked that.
I could not have written this book without
the love of my life’s constant support and encouragement. Paul
Busch, thanks for saying “Is it done yet?”
The artwork is done by Canadian artist Millie
LaBelle who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Millie paints incredible
landscapes, and if you would like to see more of her work, you can
email her at [email protected]
Grace Shaw, I will never truly learn the
proper use of a semi-colon. Thanks for reminding me it wasn’t a
body part; as you patiently read through the works. I am learning
about syntax for the next one.
The story you are about to read is
fictitious. The characters are figments of the author’s imagination
and never existed outside the pages of the book. There is however,
a real Britannia Beach, with a real mine and a real history.
There really was a landslide, a fire, a cave-in and a
A good book to read for a more accurate account
of the life and times would be
Story of a Mine
by Bruce Ramsey. Or if you happen to
be in the neighbourhood, spend some time at the BC Museum of Mining
located on the Sea-to-Sky highway between Vancouver and
“There was a time in this fair land when the
railroad did not run.
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone
against the sun.”
"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" by Gordon
c 1967 renewed 1995 Moose Music
Used By Permission.
The single rosebud he held in his hand
was a mixed hue of yellows and soft pinks, a hybrid common to the
gardens of the Pacific Northwest.
“Do you know that every time I come
into this garden and see the roses, I’ll think of you?” William
Bower said, as he removed the thorns, shortened the stem and handed
the flower to the beautiful young woman before him.
In its life the blossom had reached for the
light, twisting itself around a portion of the wooden arbour that
blocked it from the sun. This gave the stem a unique curve. It was
not a perfect specimen, but it was beautiful in its own right. He
removed his spectacles to take a closer look at the flower. It gave
him a sense of peace. The rose garden at the back of the house was
his hobby, his escape, and he tended to it well.
“Nothing in nature is straight,” he
commented, his voice breaking slightly. He coughed, trying to cover
up his emotion, bringing his other hand up to cover his mouth, his
grey moustache poking out from beneath his fist. Although he was a
man well into his fifties and seasoned in the ways of business and
life, at that moment, he found it hard to compose himself.
“I’ll miss the roses very much,” she said,
pausing to smell the perfume. “These are my favourites. I’ll always
remember how it really doesn’t smell much like a rose at all, more
like a peach. Look how the colours blend together, like it can’t
quite decide what shade it really wants to be.”
“Ah, now you’ve hit upon it,” he mused.
“Perhaps that’s why they remind me of you. Not because you’re
delicate like a little flower. Nobody in their right mind would
have the audacity to compare you to such a thing.”
This made them both smile, and broke some of
the awkwardness of the moment.
“No,” he continued, “because after this plant
gathered the gumption to survive the never ending winter rains of
Seattle, it bloomed forth in glory, still managing to hold
something of itself back. It didn’t quite let its full beauty show.
It’s feisty and so complex, like you. I have no idea why this bud
has bloomed early in March. Perhaps it is a sign of good things to
come this summer. Perhaps it just couldn’t wait. Patience has never
been your strongest virtue either.”
“That’s really quite beautiful,” she said. “I
never knew you could be so eloquent.”
“There are a few things you don’t know about
me, you know,” he replied.
William gazed at the young woman before him,
her chestnut hair, not unlike his own, placed erratically atop her
head, like some last grasp at childhood. Her slender figure cast an
early morning shadow over the well-manicured lawn.
“You have always been my flower, Olivia, and
you don’t have to go.”
“I’m a married woman,” she reminded him. “My
place is with Frank, in Canada.”
“But Canada is so far away,” he stated in a
tone that told Olivia he really didn’t believe it himself.
“Next you’re going to say I’ll be living with
a bunch of savages who live on ice flows all year round. I am an
educated woman you know. I shouldn’t have to remind you of that.
I’ll be a short journey away, just north of Vancouver. You can
always come see me if you miss me too much.”
“And you can always come back if you
too much,” he
The two continued their stroll though the
garden. The rhododendrons were beginning to form buds. In another
month, a mass of royal purple would be in full display along the
pathway leading to the home, but Olivia knew she wouldn’t see their
full splendour this year.
“You’ve been to Britannia before, haven’t
you? You’ve never told me what I’m in for,” she noted.
“Your Uncle Aaron asked me to
investigate one of his business holdings a few years back,” William
replied. “He was dabbling in mining himself then, always looking
for new money-makers; you know how he is. Since I was heading up
there on some investment business myself, I dropped in on the town
for a weekend. Despite what your mother might have you believe,
it’s actually quite civilized. There are over 500 men working at
the copper mine. The town’s not a bad size. My stomach ulcer was
acting up somewhat while I was there and I was relieved to learn
that there was a doctor living at “the Beach” as they call it. In
fact, there is a tiny little hospital which seems to be able to
handle most of the day-to-day mishaps and ailments, which is more
than I can say for our own medical facilities at times. Don’t get
me wrong, I was rather relieved to have to spend only a few days
there. I think the isolation will drive you quite insane, you being
a big city girl. But you won’t be any worse off than you would be
in one of the smaller towns here in Washington State. Your mother’s
sister lives in Spokane, and just try to get out of there in the
winter when the snows close the Snoqualmie Pass. Now
William sat down on the wooden garden bench
he had hand-crafted many years ago. The winters had weathered it
over the years, but it held for him many memories of spectacular
sunsets with his children on his lap.
“At least,” he continued, “you will be able
to take a boat into Vancouver every now and then if you get
lonesome for some city life. Vancouver’s not so bad, and it’s rare
that there’s enough ice in the Straight of Georgia to stop the
boats, even in January. That’s how you’ll get back and forth, on
supply boats, mainly.”
He noticed Olivia was taken aback by this
last bit of information.
“Besides,” he said, taking her hand as she
sat down beside him, “it’s 1915 and we’re heading into a new age,
let me tell you. If my conversations with the Canadian government
continue at the pace they are now, they’ll soon be putting in a
railroad there too, north-south, just like they’ve done here.
They’ve got to find a better way to bring that lumber down from the
forests to the pulp mills, mark my words. If they had listened to
me the first time around, they’d have the confounded thing
completed by now, instead of just talking about it. Great Pacific
Western Railway indeed!” he scoffed. “Silly buggers.”
“Now that sounds more like you,” Olivia
He tweaked her nose like he had done so many
times in her life, a ritual between them, and Olivia briefly
wondered whether she would ever find that familiarity with him
“There’s a man up there, McMichael, I think
is his name. I’d say he’s in his early thirties but he’s crusty
enough to be in his eighties. Swarthy character…you’ll find out
soon enough who he is. Don’t you go spilling our family secrets to
him. He’s got his fingers in enough of the pie up there, from what
I recall. Don’t mention me. I think he’ll remember the occasion we
butted heads. There’s no real reason for him to know you’re a
Seattle Bower unless that man you married goes and tells him so. I
told him I’d flog him if he did, and by God, I meant it. You’d be
better off to wait until we have the opportunity to harvest some of
that untapped wealth up north, so that you’ll be able to provide
for yourself once you divorce that man. No sense handing him the
money. You’ve got to be practical.”
“Daddy,” she said. “I’m surprised that such a
staunch Catholic as you would even whisper the word divorce, let
alone recommend it. If you want a family scandal to spice things
up, open Emily’s closet.” She looked him in the eye. “I know what
I’m doing. I’ll be fine. Frank’s a good man, you know that.”
“Hmm, we’ll see. I’ve spoken to your sister
Emily about her gallivanting ways and she tells me it’s entirely
your fault. She says it all started when you taught her how to tie
the sheets to the bedpost and use them to escape out the window and
onto the porch roof and off into the great beyond. Something your
mother has never been able to figure out to this day. Or at least
she claims not to have. Perhaps separating the two of you for a
while is not such a bad idea. Your sister is a young seventeen,
rather naïve…wipe that smirk off your face Olivia…but she’s
ultimately sensible, takes after her mother. That husband of yours
though, Frank, I’ll never understand why he insisted on dragging
you, a woman of twenty years, up to that God-forsaken copper mine
rather than take the job I offered him here. You go with my
blessing, my child, but not my approval. We had this discussion
before you married him. They are two very different things.”
Olivia smiled. “I never told him about the
offer. It never would have worked. You’d have been hard on him to
disprove any favouritism.”
William Bower laughed in mock disgust.
“You know what I mean,” she laughed back. “He
would have hated you for it.”
“I should have known better,” he sighed.
“Still, if I really wanted him to work for me, I suppose I could
have asked him myself, rather than leave it to you. Freud would
have something to say about that.”
Olivia noticed a vacant look in her father’s
“Sorry, I was just reminiscing. By God, you
were a frustrating child Olivia. Always going against the grain. At
four you would turn your head when we were reprimanding you,
thinking that if you couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see you. Your
mother and I laughed so hard we didn’t feel much like scolding you
after that. A devious little mind, even then. No, out of the five
of you, if there’s one child I worry the least about, it’s you.
You’re the most like me. I’ve often wished it was your brother
Jason, but it’s not, it’s you. I have very fond memories of you,
but I don’t want just memories. Promise me you’ll be careful,
because I have a feeling that life is going to throw you some
interesting curves. You have the stomach for it. You will be fine.
Your family loves you very much, and we’ll always be here for you.
Remember that. Remember to hold on tight to those you love, and
that everything material can ultimately be replaced. I love you
Olivia, and I trust that God loves you as much as I do and will
protect you. It is hard for me to let you go, but go I know you