A visit to WWI graves on Clayoquot Sound’s Morpheus Island

A visit to Clayoquot Sound’s Morpheus Island to pay respects to three men who served overseas in World War One and returned to the West Coast, where they died far too young.

Taking photos of Burdie Garrard’s grave at Morpheus Island Cemetery

In 2019, the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum hosted a travelling exhibit from the Royal B.C. Museum, “British Columbia at War” and spent a year exploring the stories of Clayoquot Sound and World War One. I guest curated an exhibit “Vargas Island Ranchers at Home and at War” and contributed research on Tofino residents’ experiences in the War. (See stories on Lilly Garrard, Joe Grice, Murdo Macleod). As part of this World War One topic, I had the opportunity to go on a “museum field trip” to Morpheus Island, one of Clayoquot Sound’s oldest cemeteries.

At the docks with Steve Bernard of Method Marine ready to start the trip to Morpheus Island. Note how dry we are on the way over!

In the early 1900s, Clayoquot Sound residents were carried to Morpheus Island by the Lifeboat or on local fish boats. In present day, we travelled by motor boat from the dock at Method Marine. The trip was a short – but wet and choppy – 10 minutes away.

The boat arrives at Morpheus Island

We landed on a small beach area on the west side of the island, tied up the boat and climbed up a short hill. In the past, the west-facing cemetery had “ocean view”. Today, the area has grown up. This first view of the cemetery shows grave markers in the middle of the forest. It also shows a very wet photographer! We first came to the graves of the Garrard family, west coast pioneers. This was the site of our first war-related grave.

A first view of the Morpheus Island Cemetery

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard (“Burdie”) Garrard, aka “Burdie”, was the son of Tofino postmaster and telegraph agent Frank Garrard. In the 1910s, Burdie was working at the newly built Kennedy Lake fish hatchery and operating the “gas boat” that took government official John Grice around Clayoquot Sound. Burdie enlisted in December 1915 and in spring 1916, Burdie was working with the Canadian Engineers in Duncan, when he contracted pneumonia. He almost died and had to leave military service for a few months, and spent his recovery on boating and picnics in Clayoquot Sound. However, his illness had long-lasting consequences. By spring 1917, Burdie was back in the military and stationed in England, where he was in and out of the hospital with illness. His family felt he had returned to work too early. Eventually, Burdie was invalided back to Canada – with tuberculosis!

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard circa 1913

On November 1 1917, Burdie Garrard was admitted to the Balfour Military Hospital in the Kootenays, where he died almost two years later on October 23 1919. He was brought back home to the west coast, where his funeral was arranged by the Great War Veterans’ Association. Francis Robert Burdett Garrard was buried – in the rain – on November 3 1919. His headstone reads: “At rest… which came out of great tribulation.” (A Bible verse, Revelation 7:14). At a later date, an official Canadian Expeditionary Force grave marker was also placed on the site.

Francis Robert Burdett Garrard’s grave marker, erected by his family

Frederick Gerald Tibbs was born on March 9 1886 in Walthamstow, Essex. In the pre-war years, Tibbs arrived on the West Coast and took out pre-emptions on Long Beach and on “Tibbs Island”. (He obtained Crown Grants for both pieces of land in 1913.) When Tibbs enlisted in May 1917, he called himself a “farmer”. Tibbs served in France with the Canadian Forestry Corps. An excellent overview of the work of the Corps appears in the Forest Products Association of Canada website: “Remembering the Canadian Forestry Corps” by Derek Nighbor (dated November 11 2016). The Corps “worked on processing timber for construction of barracks, roads, trenches, ammunition boxes, and other supplies” and was also trained as infantry.

On his return to the west coast, Tibbs settled on his “Dream Isle”. A popular story is how Tibbs cleared the land — except for one lone tree — and used to climb up this tree, sit on a platform and play his coronet. But Tibbs did have a job, a “government job” (given to “returned men” — he ws responsible for maintaining the harbour buoy lights. On July 5 1921, he had been fixing harbour lights and fell overboard, swam to shore at the tip of Stubbs Island, where he died of exhaustion / hypothermia. The Daily Colonist reported: “The deceased, who was a returned soldier, led a solitary existence on an obscure part of the coast and met a lonely death under distressing conditions.” (July 9 1921)

Fred Tibbs was buried at the Morpheus Island cemetery on Thursday July 6 1921. The Great War Veterans’ Association handled all of the funeral arrangements. After his death, an amusing situation occurred whereby his will gave his island to one local girl and his house to another local girl! (The situation was resolved amicably!) Read the full story of Tibbs in Settling Clayoquot by Bob Bossin.

Frederick Gerald Tibbs grave

Rowland Egerton Brinckman was born in 1894 in Kilkenny Ireland. He moved to Vancouver in the pre-war years, and was working as an architect when he enlisted on December 1 1915. Brinckman served with the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps in France. In the 1920s, Brinckman settled in Clayoquot Sound at Ahousat and later in Tofino, where he was the night watchman at the Clayoquot Sound Livesaving Station (another “government job” given to men who had served overseas.

R.E. Brinckman. Credit: Ron Macleod

Brinckman was active in the Royal Canadian Legion, Clayoquot Sound Branch. He became an integral part of the Legion’s “vaudeville” entertainments, an important social focus for the Tofino community during the winter months. Entertainments included the comic play “King of the Cannibal Isles” and the famous “Captain Cook Pageant”. This January 19 1929 article in The Daily Colonist reports on a Legion annual reunion: “The Legion concert party under the direction of Comrade Brinckman entertained all to 2 hours of “snappy” entertainment — mostly reminiscent of wartime concert parties behind the lines in Flanders.” Brinckman was about to leave for a new job in the National Theatre in Ottawa when he contracted pneumonia and died on April 9 1936. Read the full story of Brinckman in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound a History by Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy.

Rowland Egerton Brinckman grave

We also took the time to explore other graves of early Clayoquot Sound residents. In some cases, wooden grave markers are disintegrated and unmarked graves remain. Thankfully, Ava Hansen at the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum had provided us with a hand-drawn map based on where each burial plot was located.

Old fences surrounding a Morpheus Island cemetery grave

The weather was changing, so we returned to the boat and headed for Tofino. On the way, we passed Tibbs Island, now completely covered in trees. The rain started just as we were arriving at the dock. We were quite soaked, but it was all worth it in the name of local history exploration!

A very wet return to shore!

Thank you to Ron Macleod for sharing photos of Burdie Garrard and R.E. Brinckman. Thank you to Ava Hansen and Steve Bernard of the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum for making this Morpheus Island trip possible.

Read more about Burdie Garrard’s sister Lilly, who served overseas with the Canadian Army Medical Corps in “More than a dishwasher.” Read more about R.E. Brinckman and the Tofino Vaudeville shows in “The King of the Cannibal Isles.”