The view from Mt. Warburton Pike, Saturna Island. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

The view from Mt. Warburton Pike, Saturna Island. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Famed author and sportsman feared neither man nor beast

“There never was and never will be another Warburton Pike…”—friend R.E. Gosnell.

“There never was and never will be another Warburton Pike, a rare old sport, game all the way through, a gentleman within the veneer of old clothes.” —friend R.E. Gosnell.

Although he’d earned world-wide recogniton as an author, as an adventurer, and as an unrivalled master of the Canadian wilds, upon his death, few Victorians recognized his name.

Yet Warburton Pike, “noted hunter and author,” has been honoured as “one of the most interesting and picturesque figures in British Columbia”. The reason for his relative obscurity, at least as far as the general public was concerned, was the fact that Pike had been of “a retiring disposition, modest and unassuming…more at home in the wilds than anywhere else”.

In fact, as his obituaries pointed out, Pike had been a most remarkable man: “Perhaps as a woodsman he was without a close rival; certainly he had no superior. He knew the vacant spaces in Canada as few other men do, and the too few records he gave the world of his travels are characterized by the absence of anything like self-praise and are full of interest. He was a good observer…”

Pike’s real claim to fame was based upon his two excellent works, Barren Grounds of Northern Canada, and Through Sub-Arctic Forests, and numerous articles in leading British periodicals. Until his death he’d been actively engaged in placer mining in B.C.’s Cassiar district, “was very well known by men in prominent spheres of activity,” and listed among his close personal friends, ex-president Theodore Roosevelt.

Several B.C. and Nunavut geographical features including Saturna Island’s Mount Warburton Pike are named for him.

Ironically, when word of Pike’s death by drowning reached Victoria, but for a limited circle of friends, his death would have passed unnoticed. One who was determined that his passing be noted was R.E. Gosnell, founder of our provincial library and archives, who wrote in the Colonist: “…Warburton Pike, though widely known in the international circles of sportsmen, was only known to a limited circle locally. The reading public, of course, had knowledge of him as they would have of a man of letters, and especially one who had written about part of our own and contiguous northern territory; but 99 out of 100 of our citizens would not have known him had they met him on the street.

“No photograph of him appeared in public print and he was unknown to the pages of Who’s Who, at least so far as I am aware. These facts are, to a large extent, a key to his character. He was modest of his achievements, reserved in manner and indifferent to the opinions of those who hold conventionalities in esteem. Biographical material in respect of him, therefore, is very meagre. Even his closest personal friends in this city and elsewhere in B.C. know little of his career, except so far as personal association disclosed it.”

The fearless and reckless Pike committed suicide by drowning at Bournemouth in 1915 after being rejected as being too old for military service, this being shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. It’s interesting to note that neither the Colonist nor Gosnell made mention of suicide, saying only that Pike had been assigned to the rescue service in the English Channel.

Born to a prominent and wealthy family near Wareham, Dorsetshire, in 1861, Pike attended Rugby and Oxford, “after which [he’d] embarked on that career of sport and adventure he so dearly loved and which made him famous among men of his ilk”. He arrived in B.C. in 1884 as one of a big game expedition. Immediately taken with the province, Pike decided to make it his home, buying, with Sir Charles Payne, Saturna Island, where he lived for some 15 years between expeditions to the B.C. and northern wilds. The result of his northern adventures was the two books which earned him immediate international recognition.

As his friend Gosnell noted, Pike “was reckless as to danger and feared neither man nor beast”.

“I knew Warburton Pike fairly well for some years,” he mourned, “…and I owe him many services. He had a quaint style of conversation, amusing, yet striking. Divested of all the illusions of life, which for him had no glamour, he was a bit of a cynic, but his cynicism was not biting or offensive. Of him it may be said that he was sui generis.

“There never was and never will be another Warburton Pike, a rare old sport, game all the way through, a gentleman within the veneer of old clothes.”