The King of the Cannibal Isles

Whiling away the wet winter months in inter-war Tofino, schoolteacher Katie Hacking and friends staged musical comedies and vaudevilles with fabulous characters like “The King of the Cannibal Isles”!

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Tofino teacher Katie Hacking dons royal attire for a 1930s Tofino vaudeville show.

In September 1929, Miss C.L.W. Hacking (2nd class teaching certificate, Vancouver Normal School) began teaching grades 1-3 at the Tofino School. She would have been busy — there were 32 students in her class – but she quickly got involved in the local community, especially in local theatre or “vaudeville”, as it was called in Tofino.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Tofino was a west coast community linked to the outside by telegraph, radio and the Princess Maquinna that brought newspapers and mail every 10 days. Yet, as The Daily Colonist noted on February 2 1925, “Being practically cut off from civilization does not deter the people here from enjoying themselves…”

In fact, Tofino had a very active social scene. The Soldiers Memorial Hall (Legion) and the Community Hall hosted various events like whist parties, dances and fancy dress balls, and especially vaudeville shows with music, songs and sketches. These shows were a good way to get through the long wet winter months, Katie told oral history interviewer Bob Bossin (BC Archives, Tofino-Clayoquot Oral History Collection).

When she was interviewed in 1979, Katie strongly recalled one play in particular: “The King of the Cannibal Isles.” The show was performed on Saturday March 26 1932 at the Memorial Hall. “The story took the audience to a cannibal island in the South Pacific and the entire cast was arrayed in most elaborate costumes of the South Sea Islands, complete in every detail to the grass dresses and weird headdresses.” (“Legion Stages Musical Comedy”, The Daily Colonist, March 27 1932) Katie played “The King” who ordered a stray explorer to be cooked!

The Daily Colonist March 1932

Prior to this performance, Katie had been involved in other Tofino plays. She first tread the boards of the Memorial Hall on Saturday December 14 1929. Katie was cast member in a production presented by members of the Canadian Legion, assisted by local artists. “Four humorous playlets entitled “The Lamp Went Out”, “Smile Please”, “Clayoquot’s Crimson Crimes”, and “The Gasboat” followed each other in quick succession and elicited screams of merriment from the audience.” (“Vaudeville well done at Tofino” The Daily Colonist, December 19 1929)

The Daily Colonist December 1929

On Saturday January 24 1931, a show was given at the Community Hall to raise funds for the Boy Scout troop. Katie and her fellow teacher Audrey Nicholson (school principal, grades 4-8) directed the Tofino School children in “Playing School”, a series of four “humorous and instructive” sketches. There were also two farces: the Boy Scouts performed a “Yes Your Worship” (“a scream from beginning to end”) and the Tofino Players performed “Soup and Nuts” (“elicited tremendous applause”). (“Entertaining Show is Given at Tofino to Aid Scout Funds” The Daily Colonist January 20 1931) Both farces were written by R.E. Brinckman, who Katie had mentioned in her interview as responsible for most of the the Tofino shows.

Rowland Egerton Brinckman, a WWI veteran and Legion member, was a talented artist and author. (Brinckman’s background is discusssed in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound a History by Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy.) “Brinky” (as he was known) wrote most of the scripts for the vaudeville shows and painted the usually elaborate backdrops. He was also a popular comic actor, as mentions in The Daily Colonist show: In 1926, there was “a comic recitation by Mr Brinckman in his usual inimitable style.” In 1930, Brinckman attended a fancy dress ball, where he was awarded a special prize for his “side-splitting interpretation of Madame Sobieski, a Russian fortune teller, presented in inimitable style, his weird prognostications creating a furor of amusement among the many dancers.” In 1931, a farce “A Pair of Lunatics” by Mrs Trygve Arnet and Brinckman “fairly brought down the house.”

Rowland Brinckman photograph shared by Ron Macleod

The other person responsible for Tofino’s vaudeville shows Major George Nicholson, MC. Nicholson, a colourful character, was proprietor of the Clayoquot Hotel and secretary of the Legion. Nicholson and Brinckman were co-authors for “King of the Cannibal Isles” and most often the Nicholson-Brinckman shows were performed in the context of the Legion’s annual reunions.

The Daily Colonist

The biggest show in Tofino’s amateur dramatics history was the Captain Cook Landing pageant. On May 2 1931, Tofino staged an elaborate historical re-enactment of Captain Cook’s landing at Friendly Cove Nootka in 1778. “The pageant, which took over an hour to carry out, was presented by members of the Clayoquot Sound Branch of Canadian Legion, assisted by their young lady friends of Tofino.” (Katie Hacking was one of these young ladies).

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The “Nootka Indians” (aka the young ladies of Tofino) in their canoe at the Captain Cook Pageant, May 1931, photo from Harold Monks collection.

Major Nicholson was naturally behind this event (and of course snagged the lead role of “Captain Cook”). Brinckman played Chief Maquinna, “ably assisted by a band of young ladies of Tofino, acting the part of the Nootka tribe.” Brinckman’s costume was considered authentic: “His dress was loaned by an aged Indian and is considered to be one hundred years old”. But Katie’s costume was clearly more of the Wild West variety – buckskin pants and a feather headdress!

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Katie in costume for the Captain Cook Pageant, 1931

On January 23 1932, a successful vaudeville show and entertainment was given at the Memorial Hall as part of the Legion’s annual general meeting. R.E. Brinckman produced and directed the pantomime “Sleeping Beauty”. The cast included Katie Hacking and her fellow school teacher Eileen Montgomery (who danced the Irish jig in an entre’act of “King of the Cannibal Isles”)

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After her turn in “King of the Cannibal Isles”, we don’t hear any more of Katie’s exploits on stage. She did not teach in Tofino in the 1932/33 school year, apparently due to an attack of appendicitis (or perhaps low teaching wages in the middle of the Depression). So, Katie was not in the cast of the March 1933 musical farce “The Hotel Omelette”, directed by Brinckman. This play was part of a vaudeville show to raise money for a Tofino hospital, a cause which Katie would strongly support.

Katie returned to the area for the 1933/34 school year to teach at Clayoquot School on Stubbs Island. Katie quit teaching at the end of that year and later married Harold Monks, the Imperial Oil agent. Harold was a Legion member who’d also appeared in several Legion vaudeville productions such as a Royal Navy sailor in the Captain Cook Pageant and a gunner in “The Guns In Action”.

Brinckman continued to create community shows, such as the Tofino School pantomime “Dick Whittington and his Cat” of December 1934. The show included not only characters of Dick Whittington and his cat, but a fairy queen, a chauffeur, elves, courtiers and “shooers”. “All scenery and costumes and other properties were made by the children and teachers, together with assistance of Mr Brinckman.” (“Concert Held By School Children”, The Daily Colonist, December 25 1934) 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. He was 42 years old. Rowland Egerton Brinckman is buried in the Morpheus Island cemetery near Tofino, where I visited his grave in March 2019. See this story on the Tofino Clayoquot Museum website.