Deep and Sheltered Waters: The History of Tod Inlet
April 15, 2021
Review By Jacquelyn Miller
In Deep and Sheltered Waters: The History of Tod Inlet, David R. Gray – with a Foreword from his long-time friends and colleagues, Nancy J. Turner and Robert D. Turner – sets out to illuminate “the vast wealth of the human and natural history” of the special place that is Tod Inlet, from the deep and sheltered waters of the inlet itself, to the trails of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, and the renowned Butchart Gardens (1). On the one hand, he traces the history of the emergence of the cement industry at Tod Inlet (driven by Robert Butchart), its growing significance across the province, and its impacts on the local ecosystem. On the other hand, he weaves together the places occupied in this history by its core constitutive communities: the W̱SÁNEĆ People, and in particular the Tsartlip First Nation, whose ancestral territory covers Tod Inlet; the settler families who lived in the once-thriving but now-vanished village; and the Chinese and Sikh cement plant workers, who “didn’t enjoy the ‘privilege’ of families” while they worked at the cement plant that was the impetus for the creation of the community that existed for over half a century at Tod Inlet (42).
To tell the story of each of these communities, their relationships with one another, and the working conditions and socio-political status of each group of workers, Gray relies on a variety of methods. These include interviews with Tsartlip Elders, the descendants of former cement plant workers and villagers, and reviews of the findings of archeologists, memoirs kept by two women villagers from the time, and statistical and archival records, such as correspondence and photographs. Fittingly for a book published by the Royal British Columbia Museum, Gray intersperses an array of photographs that illustrate all elements of the story, enabling a deeper and wider range of learning about these histories than would otherwise be the case in 250 pages. The cover photo of Chinese and European labourers hand-pulling a rail car loaded with coal down the wharf to the cement plant is emblematic of the rich historical photos populating the volume.
The book is not about just one of Gray’s many research interests. The story is personal for him, as the culmination of much of his life’s work and passion, sparked by finding pig skulls with his brother in what remained of the Chinese village when they were boys. For over fifty years, Gray dedicated himself to finding out more about the former Chinese and Sikh residents. In recent decades, Gray joined other local residents in successfully opposing a major resort and residential development proposal and advocating for the history and ecology of Tod Inlet to be protected in what ultimately became the Provincial Park. Gray’s success in documenting and telling the compelling story of others from long ago is subtly balanced with his own place in the story.
An artist aboard the Canada C3 Expedition (which marked 150 years of Confederation) compared Gray’s storytelling about Tod Inlet to Jennie Butchart, who created beauty out of a scarred landscape: “‘As Canadians, we all need to understand the stories that give any given piece of geography within our borders its particular tenor and character. We will occupy it very differently when we do.’” One should read Gray’s book not only to bring depth to a space they visit or think of fondly, but, as importantly, to understand the history of who we are and have been, to remember a once thriving community that no longer exists, and challenging truths we are all connected to as British Columbians (217).
Gray, David. Deep and Sheltered Waters: The History of Tod Inlet. Victoria, BC: Royal BC Museum, 2020. 264 pp. $29.95 paper.