The Sir John A. Macdonald statue is removed from Victoria’s City Hall. (Nicole Crescenzi/Victoria News)

T.W. Paterson column: Tying up some loose ends

Here’s hoping the lesson isn’t lost on the revisionist zealots on Victoria City Council

Here’s hoping the lesson isn’t lost on the revisionist zealots on Victoria City Council who, last year, deposed the statue of a now disgraced Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to a storage locker.

In a never changing world such as ours it behooves me, from time to time, to revisit and sometimes revise previous columns; or, at the very least, update them.

Case in point: recently I told you that changes were afoot in Victoria where it has been proposed to re-brand the historic Ogden Point docks, also known to locals as the Outer Wharf, to the rather bland Breakwater District.

It was denied that this downplaying of Ogden Point, named for pioneer and controversial Hudson’s Bay Co. trader and factor Peter Skene Ogden, was the latest example of laundering history (Ogden was indicted for murder but was never tried or convicted), just a re-twigging of nomenclature for the waterfront area now best known as a cruise ship terminal and for its iconic breakwater. Whatever the case, it’s been settled: Ogden Point remains and new signage and “visual markers” will not only identify the general area as the Breakwater District but will, according to an informational handout in the Times-Colonist, include an “historical account of Peter Skene Ogden that will be introduced [sic] as Ogden Point”.

“We will tell his story within the context of his time, his place in history, and today’s reflections on history for future generations,” wrote Ian Robertson, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. His assurance came after a flurry of letters to the editor expressing dismay, scorn and outright opposition to any downplaying of Ogden Point, whatever Mr. Ogden’s character.

Finally! those in authority are beginning to see the light — that we can’t change history and, rather than try to bury it, we should illuminate it by balancing historical fact with an awakened awareness of the necessity for, and the value of — truth.

Here’s hoping the lesson isn’t lost on the revisionist zealots on Victoria City Council who, last year, deposed the statue of a now disgraced Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to a storage locker.

I’m sure that many readers have followed late summer’s news reports of a potential catastrophe for migrating salmon caused by a landslide blocking the Fraser River in the Boston Bar area. To their credit the federal and provincial governments responded admirably by utilizing the advice of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helicopter airlifts, Department of Fisheries personnel and the assistance of volunteers, including Premier John Horgan.

By the first week of September, thousands of sockeye and chinook had been hauled and flown over the jam or made it through the rock maze on their own, but officials were still concerned for the fate of late arriving pinks.

All of this is such a departure from just over a century ago when, as I wrote in the Chronicles in 2012, blasting during construction of the Canadian Northern Railway all but dammed the river near Hell’s Gate at the height of the autumn migration. The result was catastrophic. Millions of tons of rock further constricted what is by nature the river’s narrowest stretch, and silted the river as far as and even beyond its mouth at tidewater. Millions of returning salmon died trying to continue upstream, with them the eggs and sperm for future generations.

There was no Berlin Airlift response in 1913-14. Even if the means had been available there was no real comprehension, hence no real concern, for the monumental damage by the provincial government of the day or railway management. There was an unsung hero: provincial fisheries officer John Babcock. He was a pioneering conservationist (he devised the means of tagging fish for study) but he was no miracle worker.

Only those salmon which, instinctively or otherwise, hugged the east rock wall appeared to have made it through, the bulk of the run being “swept violently outward and downstream…” To have watched those salmon milling amid the dead and dying below the jam until they were too exhausted to continue and were swept downstream to their own deaths has to have been heartbreaking.

In short, the 1913 slide has been rated as the province’s worst “natural” disaster of all time. It remains to be seen how many of this year’s returning salmon make it, with or without human assistance, to their spawning grounds. At least, this time, so far as has been reported, the disaster wasn’t human-caused, and governmental response (with the aid of technology) appears to have been satisfactory.

As if our beleaguered west coast salmon don’t have enough to contend with…

A potential disaster of an entirely different hue, this one entirely man-made, faces the town of Swinoujscie in northwest Poland after the discovery of an un-exploded seismic bomb from the Second World War by construction workers. This is no ordinary bomb but a 5.5 tonne “Tallboy” six metres long, the biggest found to date in Poland.

With an impact range of 10 kilometres, this thing has the power of a small nuclear device! At the time of last Sunday’s report, authorities were considering the evacuation of 42,000 people (more than half of the population of the Cowichan Valley) while the bomb, by now likely very corroded, is, hopefully, disarmed.

In previous Chronicles I’ve written about the millions of pieces of un-exploded ordnance from both world wars that still litter much of Europe and many of the busiest oceans and waterways. Some of it’s here in B.C., thanks to foolish post Second World War naval disposal policy and in two sunken ships loaded with ammunition (one at the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait and one in the Inside Passage).

The ongoing tragedy of fleeing migrants from war-ravaged or drought-stricken African countries with resulting news stories of smugglers forcing them overboard to almost certain death recalls one of the Pacific Northwest’s less illustrious pioneers, “Pig Iron” Kelly. For years he defied Canadian and American immigration officials by smuggling Chinese immigrants from B.C. to Washington, usually via the Gulf Islands. For years he got away with it, too, to the point that he became something of a legend in his own time.

If you haven’t already guessed, he earned his nickname for the fact that he always carried a load of scrap iron with him — not for resale but, should he find himself unable to evade capture, he could easily dispose of the evidence — his human cargo, weighted down with chunks of iron and old chain. (Ah, the good old days; aren’t we glad they’re not making them any more…)

On a happier note, Victoria’s intrepid sailor Jeanne Socrates, 77, completed her epic year-long voyage by sailboat to become the oldest person to sail solo around the world, non-stop and unassisted. She recalls onetime Chemainus sausage maker Capt. John Claus Voss who, at the turn of the last century, sailed from Victoria’s Inner Harbour in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a restored dugout canoe. He made it only as far as England and didn’t do it alone, but it was a remarkable achievement all the same. Jeanne Socrates joins exalted company.

There you have it for today as I file away some more clippings in my ever-growing archives.

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