Return to main Vanishing B.C. page Return to home page

This page last modified August 28, 2004

© Michael Kluckner

The Tuppers' cottage, built in 1929 at Anchorite Bay on Hermit Island, as seen from Arbutus Island (which is connected to Hermit by a spit of sand at low tide), sketched in 2000.

Little Hermit Island, part of the archipelago off the southwest coast of Bowen Island, has a long history linked to the Tupper family. Reginald and Isobel Hibbert Tupper bought it after staying with their Vancouver neighbours, the Bell-Irvings, on the latter’s nearby Pasley Island in 1925. Before them there were aboriginal visitors and the eponymous hermit, an old man the Tuppers discovered on the island in 1925 building a boat in which he apparently drowned the following winter while rowing to Gibsons for groceries.

The Tupper name entered Canadian history through Sir Charles Tupper, Bart. (1821-1915), a Nova Scotian who figured prominently in the political discussions preceding Canadian Confederation, then entered Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative government. He was an early supporter of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and negotiated between the House of Commons and English capitalists to ensure the project’s completion. He became Prime Minister of Canada on May 1, 1896, the last of a hapless group of four conservatives who attempted to govern in the wake of Macdonald’s death. His defeat on July 8 by Wilfrid Laurier gave him the shortest prime-ministerial term in Canadian history. He retired to England, where he outlived all his contemporaries to be the last surviving Father of Confederation. See Tupper biography at the National Library site

One of his sons, Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper (1856-1927), entered parliament in 1882 and became Minister of Fisheries in his father’s cabinet. Later, he applied to the B.C. Law Society to become a solicitor, and moved his family to Victoria, then settled in Vancouver where he and his wife, Lady Janet, built the beautiful home “Parkside” near the Stanley Park end of Barclay Street. His knighthood was granted for his work on the Bering Sea sealing treaty. His father’s baronetcy followed the line of the eldest son, J. Stewart Tupper (partner of Sir John A.’s son, see the law firm's site) in eastern Canada until the death in 1962 in Toronto of yet another Sir Charles Tupper; subsequently, James MacDonald Tupper (1887-1967) of Vancouver, a former assistant commissioner of the RCMP, inherited it. The baronetcy is currently held by yet another Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, born in 1930, who lives in West Vancouver.

The first Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper was the great “renegade Tory” of BC politics, clashing first with the McBride government in the early years of the 20th century over railway policy, then launching practically a vendetta against William Bowser’s government. His cronies at well-lubricated dinner parties at “Parkside” were the bastions of the Conservative legal establishment: Chief Justice Gordon Hunter, Mr. Justice Aulay Morrison and E.P. Davis Q.C., builder of the house now known as “Cecil Green Park” at UBC. Tupper supported the reformist Provincial Party, headed by industrialist A.D. McRae in the years just before his death at age 71.

Reginald Hibbert Tupper (1893-1972) was the sixth of their seven children. Born in Ottawa, he spent his childhood in Vancouver before being shipped off at the age of 11 to the Royal Navy prep schol at Osborne, Isle of Wight. Subsequently, he attended Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where he contracted rheumatic fever and was invalided out. Remaining in England under the eye of his grandfather, he had considerable independence as a teenager; according to a family story, when he found himself short of pocket money he could borrow it from his grandfather’s tailors, Rogers and Company, in London.

Early in 1912, completely recovered, he returned to Vancouver and enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders Militia Battalion. At the outbreak of war, he took a commission as a lieutenant in the 16th Battalion Canadian Scottish and was seriously wounded by shrapnel at the second Battle of Ypres. Like many soldiers and aviators, his recuperation left him addicted to morphine--an affliction he soon overcame. He spent the balance of the war in Vancouver as a major in command of reinforcement and depot regiments.

Upon his return to Vancouver, he became engaged to Isobel Wilson, one of three daughters of the prominent Conservative and physician Dr. David Henry Wilson. The latter had been the first Sir Charles’ personal physician and had a political career in Manitoba before moving west to Vancouver, where he became president of the B.C. Permanent Loan Company and the founder of the Conservative Association of British Columbia [Who’s Who & Why, 1921 edition, page 34]. The Wilsons lived a block away from the Tuppers at Chilco and Haro; another daughter, Alex, married sugar refinery owner B.T. Rogers’ eldest son Blythe. Isobel and “Reggie” were married at St. Andrew Wesley church on September 27, 1916. There were two children: Gordon, born in 1918, and David, born in 1921.

Tupper was admitted to the bar in 1917 and commenced law practice in 1919 with his father’s firm, which became Tupper, Bull, Tupper. From 1928-1941 the firm was known as Walsh, Bull, Housser, Tupper, Ray, Carroll. (The successor firm today is Bull, Housser & Tupper.) He also had business interests as president of Buckerfields Ltd. and ran unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate for Vancouver North in the 1940 federal election. [Who’s Who in British Columbia, 1944-45-46, page 259] In 1950 he was made a K.C., and was most prominently in the news in 1955 when he served as a one-man commission into Vancouver police force graft and corruption. His son David (1921-1999) became a lawyer and spent his career with his father’s firm.

In the 1920s, the Tuppers lived on Haro Street in Vancouver’s West End, and were friends with Henry Bell-Irving and family who lived next door at the corner of Chilco. His father Henry O. Bell-Irving had owned Pasley Island since 1909. One day in the summer of 1925, according to family story, Reggie and Isobel paddled a canoe from Pasley to Hermit and were skinny-dipping in a small bay when they heard the Bell-Irvings’ launch approaching. They dodged into the bushes (subsequently naming the spot Dodge Bay), dressed, and began to explore the island. The following year they and their friends Bruce and Zulette (London) Boyd bought the island.

Both families lived in tents for the first few years, but in 1929, flush with cash from the stock market, they both built log houses. The Tuppers hired the Weingarten family to build, on the rocks at Anchorite Bay in the lee of little Arbutus Island, a 1065 square foot five-roomed cottage with an annex for their Chinese cook. The Boyds built on a meadow looking directly north up Howe Sound, a 1030 square foot five-room cottage that burned down in 19xx. Locals Pete Blad and Herb Steinbrunner felled the trees and prepared them for both buildings. Later, Blad convinced Reggie Tupper to let him live in his cottage for the winter, but allegedly used it as a brothel, which terminated the arrangement. Steinbrunner, however, remained a friend of the family, dropping by from time to time with gifts of fresh salmon. He was a woodcarver, of animals, boats and people.

Another legacy of the stock-market profits was a trip the Tuppers took to Italy, where Reggie developed a fascination for building in stone. With the help of the Island’s caretaker, J.C. Cunningham, he built a stone-veneer house and guesthouse in 1937 and 1941 respectively. Cunningham also did considerable rockwork on the island, and created a proper central water supply. Later, Bill Williams of Bowen Island built the docks, trails and ramps on Hermit; following his death, Richard Bates (married to Diana Rankin) Additionally, Richard did only the occasional maintenance after Williams died. The operative word is occasional. It was never his role to maintain Hermit. He was, for a time, the resident caretaker at Pasley Island, prior to his living in Bowen Bay.

In the early years, the Tuppers owned small, rather unsafe boats to get back and forth from Coal Harbour to Hermit, then used the Union Steamships to get to Gibson and hired a fishing boat to get them to Anchorite Bay; later, the McKenzie family, who had a house on Keats Island, started a water-taxi service with the boat Tymac. Gore Street on Vancouver's waterfront to Hermit Island cost only $1 from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s, but it was sometimes a five-hour run.

Reginald and Isobel moved in the late 1940s to “Tavistock,” the large Tudor house on Southwest Marine at Macdonald, but continued their interest in the island, at some point buying out the Boyds' interest. Isobel died in 1969, her husband three years later. Their son David, always in love with the island, bought out his brother Gordon, then strata-titled it in 1968. An appraisal done then by E.W. Palmer of the Bell-Irving Realty valued the island at $95,000. It is still in family ownership today. [Information not cited above from an unpublished manuscript by David Tupper, conversations with his widow and second wife Jacquie Tupper, and a biography of Charles Hibbert Tupper included in Victoria The Way It Was, 1986.]

The Tuppers' 1929 log cabin at Anchorite Bay (the one I sketched above)

The Boyds' 1929 log cabin, burned down in 1994 (thanks to Chris Bardon for the information).

The 1937 stone house "Reggie" built with J.C. Cunningham--an interesting feature of it is the bronze bas-reliefs of Sir Charles Bart., Sir Charles Hibbert, and Reginald mounted to its wall.

Reginald Hibbert Tupper--a citizenship document photo.
House photos by E.W. Palmer, 1968, all in the collection of Jacquie Tupper

 

* * *

Pasley Island was named in 1860 by Capt. Richards of the British survey ship HMS Plumper in memory of Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, Bart. One of his two daughters married Major John Sabine, who shrewdly assumed the Pasley name and inherited the title; his sixth son, a lieutenant, served at the Pacific Station, Esquimalt, from 1862-4. Henry Ogle Bell-Irving, who made his initial fortune in fishpacking (Anglo-British Columbian packing company), was its third owner, buying it in 1909. It soon became a summer camping place for his large family, but following his death in 1931, with the Depression followed by the war, the island did not generate enough revenue to satisfy the interests of the beneficiaries of his estate. After a failed attempt to sell it internationally, Henry Pybus “Budge” Bell-Irving (the BC lieutenant governor, deceased in 2002) put together a syndicate in 1950 and bought it for $25,000. Much as has been the case more recently with Hernando Island near Lund, ownership of the island is held corporately by a series of shareholder families. [Information from “Historical Note: Pasley Island” by A. D. Bell-Irving, unpublished manuscript, VPL Special Collections, 1960]

Henry O. Bell-Irving founded the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company in 1890. By 1891 the company had purchased seven Fraser River canneries and two on the Skeena River and it accounted for more than one quarter of British Columbia's total salmon pack. In 1901 Henry Bell-Irving and Company Limited was incorporated as Canadian agent for the ABC Packing Company, which had been registered in Britain. The company remained with the Bell-Irving family for three generations. The company announced in 1969 that it would close out its British Columbia operations to concentrate on the east coast herring fishery. [Add. MSS. 870 ; CVA 783, City of Vancouver Archives] Bell-Irving (1856-1931) was a civil engineer who came west on CPR construction. He had six sons and four daughters [Who’s Who and Why, 1921 edition, page 616]. About 20 years ago one of his granddaughters, Elizabeth O’Kiely, told me that her grandmother Isabel had “taken to her bed,” exhausted from the constant pregnancies, and behaved effectively as an invalid until one day when there was a fire in family house--she apparently was the first one downstairs and outside! The late Mrs. O’Kiely was a delightful character, a well-known contributor to Vancouver historical societies and arts organizations, and authored a biography of her father, Gentleman Air Ace - The Duncan Bell-Irving Story (Harbour, 1992) and Crofton House School : The First Ninety Years 1898-1988 (Crofton House, 1988).



Return to top of page

Contact me

Return to Vanishing B.C. main page

Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001