Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Most Beautiful Cemetery

If you read this blog on occasion you'll know that I'm very interested in local history. Although I am, of course, most interested in the local history of our region, I'm also drawn to the local history of places I visit. (So, less interested in the "big stories" we learned about in high school, primarily war and politics, but more in the stories of the people who actually did the day-to-day living in a place.) During my travels I am often drawn to cemeteries. Not only are they peaceful, and often quite beautiful, they also have many stories to tell. (While I'm talking about local history, I know some of you have been waiting for the walking tour book for awhile now. It's coming, it's coming. With only two of us running Postelsia Press, and it not being much of a money maker yet, it means we have to keep up with other work. Here is a sneak peek of the cover though!)

We have two cemeteries in Tofino. The newer one is on the outskirts of town. If you have never visited, you should. It is a beautiful spot. But my favourite is the original cemetery, which is on Morpheus Island. A road out of town wasn't really in place until the 1940s (and the road to Port Alberni wasn't through to the coast until 1959) so the ocean was the highway. The crew of the Lifeboat Station (predecessor to the Coast Guard) often carried the coffin (and dug the grave) and a flotilla of boats would follow with family and friends. The Morpheus Island Cemetery is a gem. Thanks to the people who helped do a bit of clearing over the Earth Week — an event sponsored by Tofino Sea Kayaking. Tofino Photography had some questions about one of the gravestones and sent me a few images. Here is a taste of what is over there. There are more images on Tofino Photography's website (just click on the tab for Morpheus).

Fred Tibbs and Rowland Brinckman were two Tofino characters. I wish I'd met them both. Tibbs originally came to the coast in his early 20s and pre-empted land at Long Beach where he was created Tidal Wave Ranch. Well, there wasn't much of a ranch, but he did have a little house near today's Greenpoint Campground. He eventually moved into Tofino, purchased an island (now Arnet Island), where he cut every tree but one. He built a wooden "castle" and then build a scaffolding around the single tree, which he often climbed to the top of and would play his cornet. Can you see why I would have liked to meet him?

Brinckman, or "Brinky", also seemed to be a wonderful character. Most of what I've heard of him is that he created wonderful plays and stage shows, and he would get the entire community involved. Here's a bit about Brinky from Anthony Guppy's Tofino Kid:

"I remember Mr. Brinkman, the night watchman at the lifeboat station. He organized a dramatic society, arranging with the village council and the school board to put on stage plays for special occasions. Mr. Brinkman had an unusually wry sense of humor. No matter what he was putting on, whether a war story or something from Shakespeare, he always gave it a special twist. His plays always filled the Legion and community halls for repeat performances. He would do everything himself, from designing the sets and painting the backdrops, to auditioning actor, to directing the entire production. He had a gift for costuming his cast of actors and would often call on my mother to dig into the trunk full of costumes she's saved for masquerades. He helped put on the school's Christmas plays."

When you are next in the Village Office, check out the hand drawn map on the wall. It was drawn by Brinckman.

Both of these men died young. Tibbs was tending a harbour light when his boat slipped away. He swam after it and managed to make it to Stubbs Island, but died shortly after. Brinckman died of pneumonia when he was 42. At the time he was planning to leave for work in Ottawa. He was packed and ready to go, but never made it.

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