A Qualicum Beach author tells the tale of two lives intertwined by a long-ago used telegraph line on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Author Des Davidge does so to honour his own memories of a forgotten era, and that of his late wife’s.
His only book, Along the Shore and Through the Trees, was published approximately 10 years after her passing.
In the first half of the book, Davidge recounts his years spent as a radio operator at Estevan Point Marine Radio between 1957 and 1959. Though only two years of his life, they are now an intrinsic connection to Vancouver Island history.
The second half serves as a memoir told to him by his late wife, Rosina Adeline Ada Rae-Arthur. According to Davidge, Rae-Arthur’s father spent more than three decades maintaining the telegraph line that connected their stories.
Rae-Arthur passed away on March 5, 2010, at 74 years old. She was the granddaughter of Ada Annie Rae-Arthur, also known as ‘Cougar Annie.’
The idea to first write Along the Shore and Through the Trees came about when he and Rae-Arthur first married and she would tell him about her life as a little girl.
“I couldn’t get over the fact that this little kid would walk behind her dad up that trail. A lot of the time they were in a boat, but from Hot Springs Cove to Cougar Annie’s place they would walk, as there was no other way of going,” he said. “It all kind of fascinated me.”
Davidge said all the stories in the second half of his book were told directly from Rae-Arthur’s mouth, and he merely wrote them down for posterity.
His own memoirs in the first half are used as a framing device for Rae-Arthur’s half, as a means of introducing himself and his own narrative with the telegraph line.
Davidge said he found himself at the Estevan Point Marine Radio Station after joining the Royal Canadian Navy, and after spending some time in Victoria and at sea.
He enlisted in 1956 and was involved with a specialized course for transport radio operators, which lead him to Estevan Point.
At the time, the marine radio station was located at the iconic lighthouse on the west coast of Vancouver Island on the Hesquiat Peninsula. The marine radio station was in operation from 1908 until it closed in 1958 and was co-located with the Tofino station.
Davidge said it was then moved from Tofino to Ucluelet, and then back to Estevan Point to be operated remotely as that location provided the best reception compared to anywhere else.
“That was probably one of the greatest places on the west coast for reception. I remember one night in a storm I was hearing ships from San Diego right up to Alaska….We didn’t use it very much because it was far from being a secure line. It was a party line, you know. Maybe the biggest party line you ever hear of,” he said with a chuckle.
“But it did connect us to the outside world.”
In the 1950s, other than the telegraph line, the only other contact they had with the outside was when the boat came in once every 10 days from Port Alberni with our groceries.
Davidge approximates the very beginnings of the book to somewhere between 2005 and 2010. He gradually pieced the memoirs together over a decade, with the book being published late last year.
While writing, he said he never considered a target audience for his work and simply wrote it as a story that needed to be told, something more ‘about the journey than the destination’ for himself.
“I did think of my own grandchildren and children though, and what they would make of it.”
Physical copies of Along the Shore and Through the Trees can be found for sale at the Mulberry Bush Book Store at 130 2nd Ave West in Qualicum Beach.
Digital copies can also be found online at Amazon.ca.