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Table of Contents and Introduction by Jim Spilsbury

1 Savary Island
2 Radio Days
3 Running An Airline
4 Back to the Coast

INTRODUCTION by Jim Spilsbury

With the appearance of my first two memoirs about life on the BC coast, Spilsbury's Coast and The Accidental Airline, I realized that some people got as big a kick out of the photographs that went along with the stories as they did from the stories themselves. Any irritation the storyteller in me might have felt at being upstaged by mere pictures was relieved by the fact the photographs were from my own collection and were largely my own work. In fact there were hundreds more I hadn't been able to fit into the books and it wasn't long before I found myself talking to my publisher about a third book that would make use of a larger pictorial format to give the photograph collection the kind of prominence it seemed to crave. A game sort, he agreed to give it a whirl, but a curious thing happened along the way. While I was looking over all these old photos trying to come up with concise, pithy captions, I accidentally wrote 35,000 words of new stories. Some of it grew out of the pictures but some of it had a life distinctly its own.

The book still follows the haphazard method of the family album and the photographs still provide the backbone. Taken up and down the coast between the First World War and just yesterday, they record the great changes which have taken place on the coast since I first came here as a child. I suppose that many of the scenes I was lucky enough to witness may never have been photographed by anybody else.

To a large extent, I wouldn't have trusted my memory alone to tell many of the stories in this book or the two previous ones. They seem so improbable sometimes. I'd think, "Well, I must have been dreaming." But then I'd have these photographs, and I knew that I wasn't dreaming. It did happen, and I was there.

I suppose you could say that photography is in my blood. I didn't realize it at the time, but some of my earliest memories are of photographs. From a young age, I was surrounded by people who were accomplished photographers, and this must have had a lasting influence on me.

Childhood recollections are sometimes partial and distorted, crowded out by more recent happenings. But I can remember quite clearly many of my family's traditions. In particular, I recall the overpowering importance attached to the past: the family in England with its ten generations of history; the stained-glass windows in the church that read SPILSBURY; the cemetery full of family gravestones, which my old Aunt Bella decorated with fresh flowers all her life. No one seemed to talk about the future. Was there going to be any?

Feeling so strongly the weight of the past, I suppose it was only natural for me to look around for something less depressing, more interesting. I discovered the present! I could do something about that. I was so pleased with my discovery that I developed the urge to record it for others to enjoy, and at first I tried to set it down in drawings and paintings. As business involvements made my time increasingly precious, I turned to photography as the ideal medium.

I was certainly not the first photographer in my family. In the 1890s, my Aunt Bella took up photography as a hobby. She took all kinds of pictures of me as a baby in England, and when my parents came back to British Columbia the family gave Dad a camera with instructions to take lots of pictures of me. The camera was a folding Brownie. It had a bellows, and used Kodak 116 film which was smaller than postcard size.

Dad used that camera for many years, and he certainly got dam good pictures with it. He used what in those days was called "Soleo" film; he would dip it in a solution, then develop it in the sun.

My mother's friend, Ethel Burpee, also took excellent photos, some of which I have reproduced in this book. I was five or six years old when I first remember her taking pictures, and she definitely spurred my interest in photography.

In 1922, when I went to work at a shingle bolt camp up Homfray Channel, Dad loaned me his old folding Brownie, and that is when I started taking pictures myself. I didn't take very many in those days, mind you, because of the high cost of film. The original lens of the Brownie was very simple, but I replaced it with an F 7.5 anastigmatic lens. Everyone was talking about the anastigmatic in those days, and I got pretty good results with it for several years. Then I left it on the beach one time and the tide came in and that was the end of that.

Shortly after, Dad's dear old friend Harry Hall gave me all his photographic equipment. It included an Aldis Butcher, quarter plate reflex camera, with an F 4.5 lens. I think it was Harry Hall more than anybody else who explained to me the principles of photography. This camera took excellent pictures. I lugged it all over the coast, even packed it up mountains, complete with glass slides, cut film adapters and a large, wooden tripod.

I'd been used to mailing my film to Dunn and Rundle in Vancouver for developing. But Harry also gave me all his developing equipment. This was about 1929 or 1930. I built an enlarger, using the bellows and lens from a defunct camera. I developed and enlarged my own pictures for several years.

During the 1930s, the Vancouver Art School used to run an off-season camp on Savary Island, my home for many years. Twenty or thirty students used to stay at the Royal Savary Hotel, and, as part of my taxi business, I carted them around with aft their equipment. One day I was taking some photographs of these students when one of the teachers, an old fellow with a pointed white beard, happened along. He was Mortimer Lamb - a Vancouver art critic, a supporter of the Group of Seven, and a very high-brow, avant-garde photographer, at least so I was told. He kindly took me under his wing for an hour or so and gave me instruction concerning the artistic point of view. He had me photographing stepped-on crab shells, dead tree branches, and all kinds of strange stuff I never would have given a second thought. I couldn't see what he was aiming at. I was more interested in making a record of what I saw, taking pictures to show people where I'd been. When I saw something new, or different, the first thing I would think was gee, I better get a picture of that.

What I didn't realize until years after was that my mental camera was working along on the same principle, snapping memories of novel and curious events and people which would come back to me in words. The great discovery of my later years has been that so many things which caught my eye along the long and meandering path which has been my life also strike a spark of interest in others. I hope readers of my third book will find this continues to be true.