Total Pageviews

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Fanny Bay, B.C.

Baynes Sound, Fanny Bay, BC. high tide.
It was the late 1970s and I was working as a sales rep in Vancouver. I was single and at times I would take off for the weekend to places like Whistler, Seattle, and Vancouver Island. I had worked on Vancouver Island a number of years before in both Port Alberni and Victoria and in the back of my mind I had thought that somewhere along the eastern coast of the island would be an ideal location to live eventually in my retirement years. I was born a city kid but living in a more rural setting close to the ocean had always had a lot of appeal to me.
There was a particular part of Vancouver Island that interested me, the area north of Parksville, BC up to Courtenay, BC. Between these two smaller cities were little hamlets like Qualicum Beach, Deep Bay, Bowser, Fanny Bay, and Union Bay, all seaside communities.
My father, who spent almost all of his adult life living in Montreal, had a friend who lived in Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island. They had both been officers in the Canadian Army during the Second World War and had palled around London together. I believe they were both attached to the 9th Field Ambulance Corp. My father’s friend was a man named Jim Lunam who was a doctor. Originally from New Brunswick, Jim and his wife at the time, Margaret, migrated west to the small city of Courtenay on Vancouver Island after the war. It was there that they raised a family and Jim practiced medicine. Later on, in retirement, they built a house of their own design on a waterfront lot in the small community of Fanny Bay about a half hour south of Courtenay.
Jim Lunam in London, England 1943
Captain S.T. Paterson London, England 1944
I vaguely remember Jim Lunam visiting our home in Montreal. It was sometime in the late fifties or early sixties. I think my father gave Jim one of his paintings at the time. My guess is Jim was probably fairly familiar with Montreal. I think both he and his father before him, who was also a doctor, got their medical training at McGill University. I was to later learn that Jim also visited my father shortly after the war.
I first went out to the west coast in 1968. Over the next number of years I lived and worked in other places but was always drawn back to Vancouver. I finally settled there more permanently around 1976. Knowing that I was living on the west coast, my father suggested a few times that I look up his old friend. I did just that around 1978 one summer’s day when I was poking around Vancouver Island.
Fanny Bay is a small peninsula and is surrounded on three sides by the ocean. Just a short distance away is Denman Island that is only accessible by ferry.  I asked somebody who was out taking a walk if they knew where Doctor Lunam lived and they directed me to a waterfront house at the end of Shipspoint Road. It was a pretty impressive location. I knocked on the doctor’s front door and explained who I was.  There was moment when the doctor had to sort it out in his mind what my connection was.
I was invited in and I spent a few hours with Jim and his wife Margaret. They gave me a tour of the house and Jim shared some of his memories of my father. Jim’s wife was an ardent environmentalist and she proudly pointed out their composting efforts and organic garden.
Jim Lunam's former house in Fanny Bay.
Over the next few years I took Jim and Margaret out for dinner a few times, once at a quaint restaurant called The Old House in Courtenay and another time at a seaside restaurant at Qualicum Beach. I thoroughly enjoyed the evenings. They seemed like a happy couple. Margaret had lots of opinions on politics and environmental protection. I was quite surprised to learn a year or two later that they had split up and had sold their house in Fanny Bay. I never saw Margaret again.
Jim remarried to French Canadian women who had worked at the same hospital when he was practicing and they bought a riverfront house in Courtenay. For the next several years I would visit Jim about once every year or two. By this point there was infrequent mention of my father other than the fact that he had passed away in 1981. Jim was now in his 70s and his mind was still very sharp. He always had a few jokes to tell, perhaps a skill he had picked up that made his former patients more comfortable.
Jim was a lean kind of guy with sharp features. He had a great appreciation for the outdoors, walked a lot and avoided driving unless it was totally necessary. He also belonged to the Sierra Club.
I always enjoyed my visits with Jim. I never considered him a father figure or a substitute parent. He was simply a kind older fellow who was a good conversationalist and was very comfortable to be around. I felt a bit guilty at times about turning up unannounced. I kind of reconciled that with the fact that it was usually not a planned visit but an afterthought when I would find myself in the area where he lived. He never seemed off put when I turned up.
It was about 12-13 years ago and I was once again poking  around and found myself in Fanny Bay one summer’s weekend. I was kind of half curious about what houses were going for. I was on a road called Baynes Drive (named after Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes who had been in the Crimean War and later took part in establishing the 49th parallel boundary between the US and Canada. The town of Ganges on Salt Spring Island is named after his ship. TMI?)
I noticed a house for sale on a pretty piece of property but decided not to inquire about it as there was a camper van in the driveway. I didn’t want to disturb the owners. Instead I got out of my car and took a look at another property that was for sale a few lots away. This piece of land had a shack on it and I stopped to take a look more out of curiosity than anything else.  The shack made me think of the infamous American the “Unibomber”. The camper van up the street pulled out and the driver stopped a few feet away from me. It turned out that he didn’t own the other place but was a realtor from Victoria who was up seeing the air show at Comox Air Force Base for the weekend. He invited me over to take a look at the place.
The outside of the building was covered in cedar planks. It had a peaked tin roof. It also had a windowed room that was an addition that ran almost from one end of the building to the other. There was also a deck. It wasn’t until I was inside the house that I realized it was a trailer. It had an open plan kitchen/living room and two bedrooms. I quite liked the place. I liked it even more when I was told what the price was and that it included about ½ of an acre. $85,000.00. Wow! That was certainly affordable.
My house at 68 Baynes Drive in Fanny Bay.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the realtor guy and the fact that his buddy owned the place. I decided to get my own realtor to protect my interests. I had noticed somewhere in a Vancouver Island newspaper that an old roomie of mine from the Banff Springs Hotel was operating as a realtor in the area and I got him to negotiate on my behalf. I paid exactly what the seller wanted. After I bought the place both realtors had a dispute about who deserved what commission. Realtors are not my favourite people.
For the next 3 years I would go over to Fanny Bay from Vancouver about twice a month on weekends. I even rented it out several times. The place didn’t have a phone or cable TV. That was fine with me. I started to buy cheap DVDs at Wal-Mart with most of them being old black and white movies that I love. My kids and I would stay in Fanny Bay for about a week for the next few summers. I started to do some improvements around the house including painting. Bunk beds and other furniture completed the interior of the house.
Livingroom area of house.
When I went over to the island for the first few years I would usually cut out at about noon on a Friday so as not to be caught in the ferry line-up. I always had a feeling of excitement and anticipation when I took the hour and half drive from the ferry at Duke Point south of Nanaimo to Fanny Bay. I just couldn’t wait to get up there. For several months I had a girlfriend who lived about a half an hour from the ferry in a town called Ladysmith. We developed a pattern. She would come up to Fanny Bay for the weekend. On Sunday afternoon she would head back to Ladysmith and catch up on some chores. It also gave us some time to ourselves. On Sunday night I would head down to Ladysmith and spend the night. My girlfriend would set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and I would catch the 5:15 ferry back to Vancouver avoiding the common Sunday night sailing waits. The only passengers at that time of the day seemed to be me and some truckers.
I started to get more familiar with the area. Sometimes we would go for a walk along the beach. All of the beach area surrounding Fanny Bay is leased to oyster farmers. Initially it was seeded in the 1920s with oysters coming from from Japan, Fanny Bay oysters have a world-wide reputation as being some of the best tasting bi-valves. We also discovered a place in the nearby woods known as the “Enchanted Forest”. Some guy, who I never met, spent years creating bazaar looking things mixed in with the trees. There was a bus stop with a bench and an old suitcase. What looked like old books were stuck in cut outs in  tree trunks. Old pieces of machinery could be seen in odd places. There was an old bike or two along with things that some might call folk art.
Bus stop in the Enchanted Forest.
For many of years there was a former cable laying ship called the Brico that was beached at Fanny bay. About 30 years ago the Brico was operating as a restaurant but that venture didn’t last long. My understanding is that it was towed away a few years ago and sunk close by and that where it now lies is a diving site. The government dock was about 100 feet away from the Brico. They rebuilt the dock a few years ago and if you wander out onto the pier you can see and hear the sea lions that make the Fanny Bay area their home for a good part of the year. They are very noisy buggers and their barking can be heard from a fair distance away.
The Brico.
Sea lions.
Another landmark at Fanny Bay is the FBI, otherwise known as the Fanny Bay Inn. For many years it was a biker hangout on summer weekends. The old Island Highway runs right through Fanny Bay and is close to the ocean in most spots making it a motorcyclist’s perfect day trip. The FBI used to have a bit of a reputation. They sold some rather vulgar tee shirts (what rhymes with “shuck them”?) and it was quite common to see 30-40 Harleys parked outside on a warm summer’s day. When I lived in Fanny Bay I never hung out at the place because it seemed to cater to the local drunks. I did go to a few Sunday afternoon jam sessions. I once heard a story about a former owner who got naked one night and tossed around some glasses. The place has been redone. is under new ownership, and now seems to cater to more genteel kind of folks.
Fanny Bay Inn.

On one vacation at Fanny Bay with my kids I decided we should all take kayaking lessons up the road a few miles at Union Bay. After getting some instruction, the 3 of us headed off to Denman Island across the sound. We never got close to the island and my daughter Leah eventually had had enough. I think she would have beaten me with her paddle if she could have got close to me. Over the next number of years I rented a kayak several times in Union Bay. The owner Sean was more of a diving guy than a kayak guy and he has moved his operation to Courtenay. If you like diving, Sean is your guy. He can be reached at or at I always like to promote local businesses.
My son Dean taking a break while kayaking.

My doctor friend had moved to Courtenay before I bought the place in Fanny Bay. I invited him and his newer wife down to Fanny Bay for dinner around the same time I took the kids kayaking. The doctor had just sold his place in Courtenay and they were just about to move to Victoria. We had a nice visit over a spaghetti and meatball dinner and it was the last time I ever saw the good doctor. I later learned that he had died in his mid-nineties in Victoria. I talked to one of his sons briefly on the phone a year or two ago.
I was about 58 years old and living in Richmond, BC when I decided to pack it in as far as the business I owned went and remaining in the Vancouver area out of the question. I was renting a large house in Richmond that also contained my office. The house had a pool and required a lot of maintenance. The rent was pretty high and I decided to rent out a few of the rooms. This was a big mistake and a lot of trouble. I had one problem after another with crazy renters. One day I decided I had had enough. I sold my business accounts to my supplier who was both a retailer and a wholesaler. I had a huge garage sale and got rid of a lot of furniture. Fanny Bay was where I wanted to be.
About a year before I left Richmond I had purchased a golden retriever pup from a lady out in Chilliwack, BC. His name was Cooper. I remember my last trip from the Richmond house to Fanny Bay. My GMC Safari was packed to the hilt and there was hardly any room for the dog. A girlfriend, who I was to dump about a month later, came along for the ride. She went home after the weekend.
There was some guilt on my part about leaving my kids behind. They were about 15 at the time. (They are twins, a boy and a girl). Both were involved with a lot of activities and there was a bit of an extra burden on my ex in her having to do a lot of the driving of them from place to place. I had always been very involved in their lives including coaching some of teams my son played on. For the next few years I would go over to Vancouver once a month and spend a few days at my ex’s and do all of the driving. At 15 the kids were becoming more and more independent and preferred spending time with their friends a lot more than with their parents. My ex deserves a lot of credit for being as understanding as she was about my move.
It was about 3 days after the move. I remember it as being a perfect kind of day. The sun was out and it was the end of September. I was out for a walk in Fanny Bay with Cooper. Back then we would sometimes go for 2 or 3 walks a day. We were walking down a road and I was admiring all the neat looking houses that we passed. We hiked along a dike area next to a marsh and I looked out onto the ocean. A feeling kind of washed over me. This was it! I had found the perfect place to live. I couldn’t imagine a nicer setting.
Dyke area at Fanny Bay.
The colder weather started to come and I bought a cord of firewood for the Franklin stove that stood between the living room and the kitchen areas. I got the cable guy in and had the TV hooked up. Unfortunately the NHL went on strike so there was no hockey that winter. On the upside, I could now watch Turner Classic Movies. For the next two years my dog Cooper and I were bachelors in Fanny Bay with only occasional visitors. Cooper slept on my bed and we made adjustments for one another on the couch when I switched positions. It was a really cosy place to live with a fire going and being nice and toasty with the rain or light snow falling outside.
I never got to know many people in Fanny Bay other than my next door neighbour and an older very conservative ex-farmer from Ontario who I would sometimes go for dog walks with along the power lines a few miles away. The next door neighbour was quite handy at repairing equipment. He had a very large garage with a couple of old trucks in it. He also couldn’t handle his alcohol very well and could become a sloppy drunk after a few drinks. I have to give him credit for being a volunteer fireman but in all honesty I never cared much for his demeanour.
I had a few garage sales and got rid of a lot of excess furniture and other stuff. I sold a phone system to an artist who lived a few lots away. Her name is Judy Wild and apparently she is quite well known. She has since moved somewhere else.
Other than going over to Vancouver once a month to see my kids I would go on dates now and then with gals I met on the internet that lived on the Island. There is no doubt that I liked my own company but I also needed some….well you know.
People mostly stayed to themselves in Fanny Bay. Every now and then there would be some kind of community event up at the hall but I never got involved. Most of the residents in the area were retired and getting on in years. Occasionally, I would have a short chat with the older sorts while they were out walking their dogs. I got the impression that many of them thought there was nothing but mayhem and killings going on in Vancouver that they had deduced from watching the evening news. One day on a dog walk, I was talking to an older couple on the opposite side of the road when a car passed us by driving down the middle of the road. I remember the old lady getting upset about the guy’s driving. I pointed out to her that he was driving down the middle of the road to avoid running over either of our dogs but it didn’t seem to register with her.
My first spring came around at Fanny Bay and I wanted to make the property look its best. I ordered in some gravel for the driveway. The driveway had a nice rock wall. There were a number of tall fir trees around the property and one beautiful mountain ash at the end of the driveway. A big rock sat in the middle of the grassy area in front of the house. Why I have no idea? I decided to reseed the front lawn and spent hour after hour ripping up the turf. It was all a wasted effort. By the following year all of the moss had returned.
Veggie garden.
Other things I did around the property included building a fire wood shed, redoing the wood exterior of the house and repainting it, and building a boxed vegetable garden.
Over the next two years my kids brought their friends over on some weekends. I don’t know if my son Dean cares to recall our hiking trip to Denman Island when we all got thoroughly soaked not once but twice. (For some reason I think my kids think I am Mr. Outdoors Guy.)

My kids and their friends at Fanny Bay.
Leah with Cooper.
Every now and then I would take my dog Cooper over to Rosewall Creek which was about 15 minutes away for a swim. My old doctor friend once told me a story about getting clipped by a car while walking along the side of the highway near the creek and being out of commission for some time as a result.  Linda and I have hiked up the trail by the creek a number of times in the past few years. There are some very pretty waterfalls in the area.

Cooper swimming at Rosewell Creek.

Fanny Bay doesn’t really have a business area or stores other than a small gas station. About 20 minutes away is the Buckley Bay ferry landing to Denman and Hornby Islands. There is a Petrocan gas station at Buckley Bay that seems to do very well. They also sell liquor and have a Subway franchise. I remember visiting some people who had a summer place on Denman Island and coming back at night on the last ferry. The ocean was completely still and the moon shone down over the mountains onto the water. It was one of those perfect moments in time.
Buckley Bay ferry to Denman Island.
After my first year in Fanny Bay I started to have second thoughts about the whole deal, maybe even sooner. I absolutely loved where I was living but it was somewhat like living the life of a hermit. Was I supposed to send away for a mail order bride? (Just joking.) I started to think that Fanny Bay was the kind of place to be when one was living out their last years. There was still a lot of “giddy-up” in me. I wasn’t even 60 yet.
Even though I had sold my business accounts in Vancouver I kept the company name. I made a few road trips on the Island and opened a number of accounts. It was hard slogging as another company had most things sewn up and I was nowhere near the center of commerce on Vancouver Island in Victoria. There was no way I was going to make a living working out of Fanny Bay.
I decided to put the house up for sale but there were no bites so I decided to put the selling of the house on the back burner for a while; probably because the warmer weather had come around again. By the 2nd year I knew I had to get more serious about selling the house. I was going through my savings pretty fast and I had to figure out a plan B.
The Fanny Bay/Courtenay area has long been a depressed area as far as employment goes. Nobody was looking for a person with a business background like mine. If I found any kind of work it would be in the service industry and even at that an older guy like me probably wouldn’t be what they were looking for. My plan was to find any kind of work until the house sold.
I managed to secure a job as a night security guy at a spa resort called the Kingfisher Lodge just south of Courtenay. I didn’t realize at the time what I was getting myself into. The job was for 3 nights a week. The guy who trained me was the other night security guy. He often had his bible open on his desk and his hobby was taxidermy. Some of my chores included breaking up late night rowdy parties, picking up the dirty dining room laundry in a golf cart, checking the readings on some meters in the electrical room, washing the floor in the lobby and reception area floor, doing an hourly walk around the site, and straightening out the lounge chairs at the beach area. It is pretty creepy walking around in the dark with a flashlight knowing that a few feet away in their rooms the guests were sawing logs.
My coffee breaks were spent with a gay kitchen night cleaner and an older gal who cleaned up at the spa. I often wondered how long I could stick this job out. It took everything in my power to keep my eyes open. I also thought about how low I had stooped just to pick up a few extra bucks.  The resort took an hour off of each of my shifts for my lunch break even though I couldn’t leave the property in that time and was effectively on duty. One morning on my way back to Fanny Bay a car came directly at me in my own lane and I barely missed a head on collision. It should have been a warning to me.
One evening I spotted water coming out of the electrical room. The manager was out of town and I figured out that my best bet was to wake up the former resort owner who lived on the next property. He put on his rubber boots and waded into the electrical room. I was having none of it. Water and electricity are not a good mix. The former owner seemed like a pretty decent guy. Sadly, his wife had committed suicide a few years earlier nearby.
There was a new manager at the resort and I learned that some of the staff was not exactly thrilled about him. One day he gave a speech about all the hotels he worked at around the world. One of the jobs he did was spy on hotel employees, not the most endearing kind of thing to tell his new staff.
After I was there for about a month the manager told me he was very happy with my performance and perhaps they could offer me additional work like picking up guests at the airport. His opinion of me was to change drastically about a month later.
One night a guest and his wife turned up about 1 a.m. They were expected and I gave them a room key. At about 3 a.m. my cell phone went off. A number of guests were complaining about a commotion going on outside their rooms in the lower section of the resort. The manager had told me to call him any time at night if something got out of hand. I went down to where the commotion was and found the guy I had checked in straddled over his wife outside of their room. He wasn’t hitting her but he was certainly controlling her. There was a lot of yelling going on. First I phoned the cops and then the manager. The manager didn’t seem too pleased about my waking him up.
The cops turned up and handcuffed the guy. The wife went into her room. A few minutes later the manager turned up. He started to engage the guy in handcuffs. The guest was clearly psychotic and telling him to be quiet was clearly a bad move on the manager’s part. I tried to tell the manager what had happened but he didn’t want to listen. Instead he told me to get the kitchen cleaner to come up. I felt really stupid repeatedly calling the kitchen cleaner on the walkie-talkie. Like he was going to be any kind of help? I knew that he took the walkie-talkie off when he was using heavy duty cleaners. Then the manager took it upon himself to go into the guest room where the wife was. Another really stupid move I thought. He wasn’t a cop. He didn’t a clue what he was going to find in there.
Later on the manager expressed his being upset with the cops’ performance. I have no idea what he expected them to do other than remove the guy from the property. I wrote a long letter about the manager’s handling of the event that day and I was fired a few days later. I was way too old for this kind of nonsense. It turned out the psychotic guy was an ex RCMP officer. I really detested the arrogance of the resort manager.
Some people like to go to spas I guess. I was never impressed with the cleanliness of the kitchen or dining area at the resort. The buffet area had soiled carpeting and in the kitchen area the croutons sat out in the open close to the floor where industrial cleansers were used. (My last jab at a place that totally freaked me out!)
After the spa deal it took about another 5 months to sell the house. I stuck with the same realtor even though he seemed to have other interests like writing screen plays and becoming a developer. I checked out a local realtor in Fanny Bay but she was only interested in exclusives. I think it was September when I finally sold the house for close to $200,000, way more than twice what I had paid for it.
The couple that bought the house were from Calgary. When they turned up to see the house the realtor was nowhere to be found. I took them for a tour of the surrounding area including the oyster beaches. I don’t think the realtor was too thrilled that I did that but I had been in sales for a long time and knew about selling the sizzle not just the steak. The man in the couple was supposedly an Italian count. He boarded small dogs in his home in Calgary. Not what most counts do I don’t think. He was pretty easy going but his wife was quite aggressive. At first I kind of liked her gusto. After they saw the house the 3 of us went kayaking. I remember when we got back from kayaking and were about to go back to my house. The count guy asked if he could ride with me and pulled out a cigar a moment later and I kind of thought that it was a bit of a statement about his own independence.
I never got a thank you from the realtor for sticking with him for so long. Screw him anyway I thought. As the new owners lived in Calgary I offered to screen potential tenants for them. Quite a few deadbeat types applied. In my last days at Fanny Bay the wife of the couple got more and more demanding as to my finding a tenant for them and I finally told her to screw off. The favour I had offered seemed to now be a duty.
I had a few drinks with two of my neighbours, rented a moving van, and said goodbye to Fanny Bay and set off to Victoria where I rented a place near the university.
Yes, it wasn’t the perfect ending to a perfect dream. I will never forget the time I lived in Fanny Bay. I still think it is one of the more gorgeous places anywhere. It just wasn’t right for me at the time. I still take the cut off to Fanny Bay when I am up that way and check out what new houses have been built. Sometimes I get out of the car and take a walk along the beach. Each time it seems more and more like a distant memory. I am glad I got to experience the adventure.
My stay in Victoria lasted about a year and a half. I met a gal from the Nanaimo area and we decided to live together about 6 years ago. I have a feeling this is my last stop.

More pics.....

Fanny Bay peninsula.
Mac Oysters Fanny Bay.
Oysters ready for market.
Autumn at Fanny Bay.
Me at a liitle island off of the tip of Denman Island.



1 comment:

  1. Very interesting read. Dr. Lunam was my doctor in the early 70's here in Courtenay and delivered my first child. I'm glad you have fond memories of my hometown.