Clayoquot Sound and WWI

Picnic Party on Vargas Island 1914
A picnic just before the war – Harold Monks and cousins on Vargas Island, summer 1914

A virtual visit to Clayoquot Sound in World War One through my stories on the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum’s website.

For the past few years, a major research focus has been on my Grandpa Harold Monks and his experiences in Clayoquot Sound, starting from arrival in 1914 and through his overseas service in World War One. I became fascinated by his early experiences “ranching” on Vargas Island and as a result also became interested in many of his neighbours and their own experiences before and during the “Great War”. Last year, I was able to combine both of these research themes into a year-long project with the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum.

A major focus for the museum in 2019 was a visiting exhibit from the Royal British Columbia Museum on British Columbia and World War One. As a result, the museum wanted to do a local-themed programming. I contributed several pieces of original research to support this goal through an exhibit, talk and stories on the museum’s website. Below, I’ve highlighted the website stories you can read to learn more about Clayoquot Sound and World War One.

Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War

The Clayoquot Sound and World War One project began in January when I was asked to guest curate an exhibit and deliver a talk. This initial idea became “Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War”, which ran from late February – early June 2019. Vargas Island ranchers go to war introduces the story of the men and women who settled on Vargas Island in the years leading up to WWI and follows some of their stories during the war years, on the western front and on the home front.

Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War exhibit
Vargas Island ranchers at home and at war exhibit
Presenting an illustrated talk on Vargas Island Ranchers at the Tofino Legion

I expanded on some of the Vargas Island “characters” in my story about Helen Malon and the Abraham family, based on her 1912-1918 Vargas Island diaries: Mrs Malon’s Vargas Island verandah. You can also read more about island gardening experiences in Mrs Malon’s Vargas Island Garden.

1914 malon_abraham_anderson_verandah
Mrs Malon and family on the verandah, spring/summer 1914

The War is Over! gave a round-up of the Vargas exhibit and what impact it made on visitors, both tourists and locals. In particular, most locals were not aware about how many pioneers had lived on Vargas Island. In particular, kayak and boat guides who had been stories of Vargas Island for years (if not decades) commented that they had learned so much from the exhibit and they could now share it with visitors.

Harold Monks in outrigger canoe 1915
An early “kayak” — Newly arrived on the west coast from Lancashire, Harold Monks got around by outrigger canoe. Photo taken off the coast of Vargas Island in 1915.

Clayoquot Sound and World War One

Later in the year, to coincide with Remembrance Day, the museum ran a series of articles about Clayoquot Sound participants’ war experiences. World War One Pioneer Joe Grice tells the story of Joe Grice, the son of Tofino pioneer John Grice, who, though small and slight, showed grit and determination as he served in a pioneer battalion. While overseas, Joe met up with a fellow Tofino neighbour, Murdo Macleod, whose story and photos we shared in Murdo Macleod’s WWI.

Joe Grice of Tofino, photo shared by his great-nephew Ron Macleod

While in hospital in England, Murdo Macleod was surprised to meet another Tofino neighbour, nurse Lilly Garrard. I initially shared Lilly’s story on the museum website and have expanded the story in my blog in more detail, with a focus on Lilly’s work at hospitals in Buxton Derbyshire (and my visit to Buxton). Lilly’s brother “Burdie” Garrard became ill while in the Canadian Army and contracted tuberculosis. He returned to Canada and later died at the Balfour Military Sanatorium in 1919. I paid a visit to Burdie’s grave on Morpheus Island near Tofino and also visited the graves of two other men, Fred Tibbs and Rowland Brinckman, who had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and also died too young. You can read about my visit in A Museum Field Trip to Morpheus Island.

Morpheus Island Cemetery
A wet visit to Morpheus Island

Finally, Clayoquot Sound and World War One ended with a fitting tribute to the “returned men” who built a community after the war through the Great War Veteran’s Association, later Royal Canadian Legion. One of these men was my Grandpa Harold Monks, a charter member of Clayoquot Sound Branch #65. His story and details of some of the amusing Legion “entertainments” in the inter-war years can be found here: Harold Monks and the Royal Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Sound Branch #65

Harold Monks gets Legion Life Membership
Life Member Harold Monks

In spring 2020, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum (located in the Royal Canadian Legion building) is unfortunately closed to the public. But, until they open again, and Tofino itself is “open for business”, you can follow the museum through virtual exhibits on social media: Instagram and Facebook. There are also many other stories and photos of Tofino and Clayoquot Sound history and people on the museum website: