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Page last updated November 26, 2003

© Michael Kluckner

Written/sketched in 2003: Bridge Cottage at the Tlell River is one of the real "roadside landmarks" on the Charlottes/Haida Gwaii. There is only a handful of buildings on the islands that are this 1910s/1920s style with hipped roof and dormers, a few in Masset, Port Clements and Queen Charlotte City respectively. Due to the Second World War, military-style buildings of the 40s and 50s dominate towns like Sandspit and Masset.

It turns out this cottage is owned by James and Alice Houston. His biography, lifted from a publisher's website:

"James Houston, a Canadian author-artist, served with the Toronto Scottish Regiment in World War II, 1940-45, then lived among the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic for twelve years as a Northern Service Officer, and the first Administrator of west Baffin Island, a territory of 65,000 square miles. Widely acknowledged as the prime force in the development of Inuit art, he is past chairman of both the American Indian Arts Centre and the Association on American Indian and Eskimo Cultural Foundation Award, the 1979 Inuit Kuavati Award of Merit, and the 1997 Royal Geographic Society's Massey Medal, and is an officer of the Order of Canada. Among his writings, The White Dawn has been published in thirty-one editions worldwide. That novel and Ghost Fox, Spirit Wrestler, and Eagle Song have been selections of major book clubs. Running West won the Canadian Authors Association Book of the Year Award, while his novel, The Ice Master, also appeared in Spanish translation. Author and illustrator of seventeen children's books, he is the only person to have won the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award three times. His most recent children's book is Fire and Ice, about creating glass sculpture. He has also written screenplays for feature films, has created numerous documentaries and continues to lecture widely. His drawings, paintings, and sculptures are internationally represented in many museums including the St. Petersburg Museum in Florida and private collections including that of the King of Saudi Arabia. He is Master Designer for Steuben Glass, with one hundred and ten pieces to his credit. He created the seventy-foot-high central sculpture in the Glenbow-Alberta Art Museum. In 1999 Canada's National Museum of Civilization devoted its show 'Iqqaipaa' to the art of the Arctic in James Houston's time, and he played a central role in organizing the exhibition. He and his wife Alice now divide the year between a colonial privateer's house in New England and a writing retreat on the bank of a salmon river on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, where he has written a large part of his trilogy of memoirs, Confessions of an Igloo Dweller, Zigzag, and Hideaway."

Visiting Tlell, the loose collection of houses and stores along the east coast of Graham Island midway between Skidegate and Masset, is the kind of time travel usually associated with Hornby Island, Salt Spring or New Denver. If Port Clements is for loggers, Tlell is for hippies. Painted sunbursts and rainbows adorn some of the whimsically modified wooden buildings, artisans abound, and the Edge of the World Music Festival is a summertime event for the counterculture. The landscape is an interconnected series of cleared meadows, with the particular long, rank grass and looming forest of the archipelago, and some grazing cattle, sheep and horses on some of the properties. The area entered the written historical record in the person of a colourful character named William Thomas "Mexican Tom" Hodges, who homesteaded there in the first decade of the 20th century. Swarthy, Stetson-wearing, revolver-brandishing, with shoulder-length black hair and a Texan's attitude, he was apparently a bit of a hothead, getting into an argument in Hazelton which caused him to be ordered out of town. Eventually he moved to Masset to round up abandoned cattle belonging to Port Simpson hotelkeeper George Rudge; subsequently he settled at Sandspit, then traded his property there for land at Tlell. His homestead has disappeared. According to historian Kathleen Dalzell, Mexican Tom sought a bride through lonely hearts advertisements written by his friends; widow Flora Burns of Seattle nibbled at the bait, and eventually took the hook following the reading of further love letters, also written by the friends in a partial Cyrano de Bergerac scenario.When the bride arrived at Skidegate on the Amur only the captain was available to marry them, so the entire party took to sea on March 6, 1907. Alas, his wedded bliss did not lead to longevity, for he died in Prince Rupert hospital on November 23, 1912, aged only 55. [see Dalzell, Queen Charlotte Islands vol. 1, Harbour Publishing 1968, pp. 231-4; also Vital Statistics, Province of BC, which has his marriage certificate as William Taylor Hodges]

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002, 2003