A few regretful moments in history

Historian Maureen Duffus is firing up her time-travel machine once again.

Historian Maureen Duffus is firing up her time-travel machine once again.

She has inserted newly-discovered photographs into a revised edition of her 1993 book Craigflower Country: A History of View Royal 1850-1950.

Two puzzling questions came to mind as I drove past the Six Mile pub and the tidal mudflats near the mouth of Millstream Creek, while thinking about Maureen’s light-hearted but carefully researched array of  memoirs from an era that is closely linked with today’s rush of invention.

How could those smart 19th-century people have been so dumb? And why did I — a not-so-smart 20-to-21st-century person — turn out to be even dumber?

The 19th-century thick-heads were the usually shrewd and manipulative traders of the British chartered Hudson’s Bay Company, who dominated this coast and controlled everything. Well, almost everything.

They thought they could harness Millstream Creek — sometimes a torrent, more often a trickle — to drive two mills, cutting lumber and grinding grain into flour.

The funny thing was that they did it. They sawed some lumber and ground some flour, but they paid a high price in wasted time.

The mills were usually broken down because of a mechanical fault, or the water had dried too low to run the wheels. Commercially, they weren’t worth the trouble. They were replaced by steam-powered machines, a technology already quite far evolved in Britain.

My particular folly a century later was to soak myself too often in the false cheer of rye whiskey and beer.

It seemed like fun (although the life-shortening impact of over drinking had been scientifically proven since Hudson’s Bay days), and I was just one among millions of drinkers. But the remembered cultural acceptance of the 1950s doesn’t make me feel any better about my past behaviour, now that I drink maybe one glass of wine and one beer per year and usually refuse to take even a sip before I drive.

Monty Montgomery, the Victoria agent for Corby’s Distillery, lived in View Royal. His job was to promote the sale of Corby’s products, but he was a temperate fellow.

Therefore (as far as I can remember) he never served more than three drinks to me and my friend Alec Merriman when we visited him by his invitation, on our way home to Langford from the old Daily Colonist office.

Among Alec’s rising responsibilities, he wrote about fishing and little-known waterways on forest roads (I used to ask him what beautiful fishing place he intended to ruin next week by telling everyone about it), and I wrote a daily column focused on personal life, commonplace trivia and political bickering.

Monty diverted us from booze with non-alcoholic gifts, such as a packet of vitamins for my wife Peggy, who at the time was four months from giving birth to our oldest son, John.

Monty referred to John thereafter as “the vitamin kid.”

The trouble was that after visiting Monty we sometimes dropped into the Six Mile for a few beers, which meant a table full of foaming glasses urged on us by friends. On one such occasion I accidentally drove my car off the road into a field, around a stump, and back on the road again.

That dim-witted adventure wasn’t funny then, and it isn’t funny now; but I got away with it in the thin traffic.

The episode nagged at my mind for some years after I left peaceful Victoria to work in Toronto, Guelph and other wild places. It came back when I read Craigflower Country.


—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second Wednesday in the Gazette.


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