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Review

Along the E & N: A Journal Back to the Historic Hotels of Vancouver Island

By Glen A. Mofford

The Hot Springs Cove Story: The Beginnings of Maquinna Marine Provincial Park

By Michael Kaehn

November 4, 2020

Review By Andrew Nurse

Local histories are different from scholarly studies. They are written for different reasons, often focus on different subjects, use primary sources in different ways, and draw different conclusions.  Recent books by Michael Kaehn and Glen A. Mofford illustrate this point. Kaehn’s The Hot Springs Cove Story: The Beginnings of Maquinna Marine Provincial Park is a labour of love. It is a family history focused on Ivan H. Clarke, Kaehn’s grandfather, built around memory, lore, and newspaper stories. It describes Clarke’s life in sparsely populated Hot Springs Cove, the businesses he built, his personal relations, and the family he raised. Kaehn finds Clarkes’s legacy in Maquinna Provincial Marine Park, founded upon land Clarke donated, and in a host of other historical markers – pictures, gravesites, memories – that trace his family’s history to the present day.  Along the E & N is similar. It is billed as a journey to the grand hotels that used to dot the Esquimalt and Nanaimo line in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries interspersed with Mofford’s memories of the hotels, restaurants and pubs he visited. Both texts are available in electronic as well as print format and both are richly and voluminously illustrated, particularly, but not exclusively, with archival photographs.  What are we to make of these kinds of local histories of Vancouver Island’s smaller communities? How are we to assess popularly written and oriented books like these?  There are four points I’d like to make by way of review.

First, put together, these books add to our understanding of the ways in which Vancouver Island communities developed, particularly in terms of their infrastructure and links to larger centers both in British Columbia and internationally. They don’t overturn our conceptions of Vancouver Island small town and community histories. What these texts show is the degree to which Vancouver Island economic development was connected to the state.  Through the development of communications and transportation infrastructure, direct regulation, land grants, and in a host of other ways, the state facilitated the growth of Island resource industries and then tourism. This conclusion is not new but these texts provide a dense series of illustrative examples that show how the state facilitated economic expansion.

Second, Kaehn and Mofford’s work also demonstrates that remote communities might not have been as remote as they seem in popular culture. But, I think this is an argument that the authors unintentionally develop. There is, of course, the question of ‘remote to whom’? The fact that a place was remote to Settler society does not mean that it was remote to Indigenous people. But, it also begs the question of what actually is remote? Without intending to, both texts highlight the development of communications systems that linked different communities by rail, telegraph, telephone, or boat to other parts of the world. Kaehn, for instance, notes that after World War II, Hot Springs Cove was visited by a larger number of boats, sometimes bringing with them vacationing celebrities. The state maintained an active presence through the postal service and schools. Charities provided books and, in the case of E & N’s grand hotels, a steady stream of travelers looking for a vacation experience. There is no doubt these communities lay outside evolving urban centres such as Vancouver, but we can also find networks that connected them to, and allowed them to interact with, the wider world.

Third, these studies are significant for what they neglect. This tells us something of the authors, to be sure, but more importantly, I think it tells us something of the character of Settler historical memory. The obvious neglect is the limited treatment of Indigenous peoples.  Indigenous people do pop up now and then in these histories but we actually know shockingly little about them by the end of the texts. In The Hot Springs Cove Story, which has considerably more material on First Nations than Along the E & N, we have a situation where Settler and Indigenous societies clearly interacted with each other in peaceful, and potentially friendly and mutually supportive ways over a long period of time. This connection is not ignored but it is not discussed in detail either. In part, this is the product of Kaehn’s narrative focus on his grandfather but I also suspect it reflects a broader tentativeness on the part of popular historians to engage the issue of Settler/Indigenous inter-relations or, perhaps, to know how to find information on that subject.

Following from this point, and finally, these books illustrate the nature of popular historical practice – that is, the way in which history is practiced as an art of memory, subject of study, and set of signifying practices – outside the academy. There can be a range of issues raised (or, not raised) by Along the E & N and The Hot Springs Cove Story that would be addressed differently by academic historians. What these works tell us, however, is that history is important in popular culture. It is connected to family – a way of narrating kinship and preserving memories – and to place.  In other words, the stories Mofford and Kaehn want to tell us are deeply personal stories in which they find meaning and which, I am sure, other people will (and have) as well. There are problems with these texts but those problems are, in my view, an opportunity to open up a new kind of conversation about the relevance of the past and of history as a discipline and set of practices in 2020. After all, Mofford and Kaehn don’t need to be convinced that history is important. The opposite: they have devoted years of their life to its study and to recording aspects of it.

That is more than a good first step. They’ve written books that are fun and exasperating to read; that both tell us important things and neglect things that should not be neglected. They have both strengths and weaknesses, but I don’t think they have closed minds. Indeed, the opposite. I suspect, if asked, they would both say that they want to be part of that conversation. And … good.

Publication Information

Kaehn, Michael. The Hot Springs Cove Story: The Beginnings of Maquinna Marine Provincial Park. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2019. 188 pp. $24.95 paper.

Mofford, Glen A. Along the E & N: A Journal Back to the Historic Hotels of Vancouver Island. Victoria: TouchWood Editions, 2019. 272 pp. $22.00 paper.