The Royal Fjord: Memories of Jervis Inlet
May 7, 2017
Review By Howard Stewart
In The Royal Fjord, Ray Phillips, a long-time resident of the Sunshine Coast, finishes a job his late father started. It is, says Phillips, a book of “many anecdotes [and other stories that] tell some of the history of the inlet… [because] if someone doesn’t record them, they will be lost to future generations” (9). These stories come with the disclaimer that they are “… by no means a history of the Jervis area, because that would take a knowledge far beyond my limited resources” (10). Yet these anecdotes and stories are good local history, and the book makes a valuable contribution to the history of this spectacular inlet. This sort of intensely personal local history is one of the things that Harbour does best.
The book tells the stories of local settlers, especially loggers. Their tales of dangers and hardships endured, of gruesome injuries or death, are outsized, right out of Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion (1964). They are from another time that makes us mere twenty-first century mortals feel puny, weak and timid: the logger trapped under a badly fallen tree who has to hack off his own foot with a jackknife to avoid being drowned by the rising tide, then row himself many miles for help; the young couple picnicking on a quiet beach with their toddler who is wading in the shallows one minute and gone forever the next, apparently swallowed by a giant ling cod lurking nearby in the crystal clear waters.
The way that Phillips has organised his material helps keep it interesting; the titles of the several dozen short chapters bounce back and forth between different people – usually families or individuals, different places around the inlet, and different events or activities. A few of the final chapters address specific themes like mining and different kinds of marine transport. In fact, these people, places, events, and themes are all woven together through most chapters. It is a rich tapestry where rugged individualism, sometimes taken to eccentric extremes, and mortal danger contrast with strong ties among settler families and friends. The author and his family seem to have been related to half the settlers around the inlet, and been friends with most of the rest.
Phillips offers another reminder that the “rich Americans buying up the best shoreline” were often viewed differently by local settlers than they were by more urbanised coastal people visiting places like Jervis Inlet in the warm, dry months. For the writer M. Wylie Blanchett, Montreal born and Sidney based, James Frederick MacDonald was the “man from California” who blighted the family’s treasured summer moorage on Princess Louisa Inlet. For the locals, he was “Mac,” a much loved neighbour.
The same sort of conflicting perspectives come up, for me, when Phillips talks lovingly and uncritically of the logging and mining traditions of the inlet. While I wonder about the long-term damage the gyppos have probably done to the inlet’s thin mountain soils and salmon spawning streams, and the acid drainage that might be spilling yet from various metal mines long closed, Phillips reflects a more local perspective, and mostly wonders when they can get logging and mining again.
One slightly discordant note for me was the book’s single map. It shows traditional settlement sites of the Sechelt First Nation and indigenous pictograph locations around Jervis Inlet but otherwise these issues are not discussed much in the text. With the notable exception of a fascinating vignette about Portuguese Joe Silvey and his indigenous families (80-88), this is old-style white settler history that talks of “the first white people to live in the Bay” and “the first white baby born in this place” (107). Yet quite a few of the places that figure in this settler’s history, such as Earl’s Cove, are not on the map, which also lacks a scale.
Kesey, Ken. 1964. Sometimes a Great Notion. New York: Penguin.
Wylie Blanchett, M. 1961, 2002. The Curve of Time. Vancouver: Whitecap.
The Royal Fjord, Memories of Jervis Inlet
Madeira Park: Harbour, 2015. 192 pp. $22.95 paper.