How’s the boy?

In May 1914, Harold Monks, former accounting clerk from Earlestown Lancashire, had just arrived off the boat in Tofino British Columbia. As Harold waited for his relatives on Vargas Island to meet him, he heard a voice greet him, “Well, how’s the boy?” Harold later laughed, “That’s first expression I’d ever heard of something like that. I started looking around where the boy was! I was the boy!”

A studio portrait of Harold Monks in England circa 1913

Harold was 21 and a half years old, but looked younger. He was 5’7, 130 lbs, with a fair complexion, fair hair and blue eyes. Indeed quite boyish! In his 1907 grammar school report, Harold’s teacher noted that Harold “should aim at developing manly qualities.” Clearing land and building a shack, seine fishing, and soon enough, fighting in the Great War, Harold developed the “manly qualities” needed to survive on the West Coast.

Harold Monks (1892–1974) was a long-time resident of Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Harold settled on Vargas Island in 1914, with the intention of ‘ranching’. This was not to be. He soon turned to commercial fishing then served as a signaller in the war with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. After returning (un-harmed), Harold made his home in Tofino. He spent the next 50 years on the waters of Clayoquot Sound, as a lifeboat crew member, a fisherman and a marine gas station operator.

Harold Monks, “returned man”, in winter 1919. A theme of government and community service goes through Harold Monks’ life.

A theme of government and community service goes through Harold Monks’ life. Post-war, Harold was active in the Great War Veterans Association and the Canadian Legion. As a Canadian Life Saving Service crew member for thirty years, Harold helped save lives on Clayoquot Sound. Harold Monks was a Tofino village councillor and a member of the Tofino Board of Trade (later Chamber of Commerce). Harold also was a member of St. Columba Anglican Church and served as a church warden. In the early 1920s, he was a member of the Good Road League that championed connecting Tofino to the outside world. During the Second World War, Harold was an air raid warden. Harold also volunteered in the 1940s and 1950s with the Government of Canada as a weather observer. He won an award for the excellence of his reports and his dedicated service.

Harold Monks was remembered as a “real smiler”

All who knew Harold considered him to be a quiet man and a gentleman. He was well-regarded in Tofino. Harold’s fiancee, Katie, wrote to her parents: “Harold is very quiet and unassuming, but everyone here thinks a great deal of him….He is a very good living fellow.”

Adults who knew Harold when they were children still remembered his smile, love of music and kindness towards them. Harold liked to sing and whistle. When Harold walked to his job at the lifeboat station, he passed the house of the lifeboat coxswain, Alec McLeod. Alec’s young daughter Mary remembered that Harold always sang a special song for her, “Mary Lou, I love you.” Mary’s cousin J.R. MacLeod remembered that Harold liked recorded music and even 70 years later could still see him walking past his house whistling an old Russian tune from one of his gramophone records, “Monotonously Rings the Little Bell” by the Don Cossacks Choir.

In his youth, Harold had been a very active man. However, in the 1950s, Harold was confined by angina (heart condition) to a more sedentary life. A close family friend remembered Harold as “a gentle, refined sort of man” who cooked, read books and listened to music. Another family friend spoke of the kindness that Harold and Katie Monks showed towards her father when he moved to Tofino. She called Harold “a quiet, gracious man and very kind.” Through the Harold Monks story, you will learn more about this “boy” who came to the West Coast for adventure and this “good living fellow” who made his home there.