How is the world today different from what it was back then?
That is a very big question. Well, there were no electronics. You walked on your two feet. Of course in war time we had no vehicles. No gasoline, anything like that. There was a bus occasionally. Things were hugely different. It’s almost hard to think of where to start on that. I sometimes would love to be able to throw my computer away!
So, what was “the Hermie”?
Well, there’s a 105 acre chunk of land just across the river. Tsolum River and Headquarters Creek. Do you know where Headquarters Creek is? You do? Well done!
A bunch of friends who were all close friends, five of us, got together and said, ‘let’s go to the country, all together’ – so we bought this 105 acres which was called the Hermitage because it had been bought first by the Catholic Church – this is way back, and most of the monasteries were closed and people weren’t allowed out of them. Once you swore yourself into a monastery you were there for life. And it was a reforming Pope, like the present one, who said they should have more freedom; so this was set up for five years each to train them to be able to live in the real world. Well, they were much more sophisticated than the big shots had given them credit for, so they didn’t stay there very long.
Have you heard of Father Charles Brandt? He was one of the monks, and he still lives out that way. He’s a photographer and a book binder. He’s an interesting old man. There’s somebody to interview! He’s been a lifetime member of the Tsolum River Restoration. He’s getting pretty old, though. Another one I knew fairly well years ago is a potter on Denman.
They all knew how to live in the world. They didn’t need five years of introduction to the real world. So, the church put it up for sale and it was bought by a Seventh Day Adventist who was a dentist in Victoria. He was going to turn it into a hermitage for Seventh Day Adventist mothers and families… and he brought them all up there. They took one look at it and said, “no way are we living in this muddy forest!” and it went back on the market and he sold it to us – can you believe it, for practically nothing, $25,000 or something like that, for 105 acres. Two of the originals still live there. One of them you may know – Jackie Sandiford. She works for CRA. She’s wonderful. If you ever get a chance to meet her, go for it.
What did you do when you bought the 105 acres?
I dug a garden by hand. No, actually… a friend had invested in a roto-tiller… my memory gets terrible in old age, that’s one of the fun things, you can forget a lot of stuff! I borrowed that roto-tiller. That was cheating. And she told me afterwards that she wasn’t lending it to anybody ever again and I always wondered what damage I’d done to it.
Was the back to the land movement successful?
Well, in that a lot of people live on five acre plots, absolutely designed to have one five acre plot after another – so the further out you go, the further you get from a store or a school or anything else, and the more gas you waste getting there… what it became was a nice comfortable place for a lot of people to own five or ten acres of land and just do their own thing, so it wasn’t hardly a back to the land movement. It was for my kids, though, because they’d always lived in the city and they were really glad that they’d had the experience.
What is a hippie and do they still exist today?
No, absolutely not. The hippies were the bunch of people who were born right after the war and everybody was so glad the war was over, these kids were the most precious thing, and there was practically baby-buggy jams on the sidewalks because there were so many kids. The night my oldest son was born the most kids were born in Vancouver, and when my youngest was born 16 years later, that was still a record for the most babies born in Vancouver in September 1948.
How would you know if someone was a hippie on not?
Oh you couldn’t miss. And stuffy old Courtenay, if I may so, was very prim and proper, nice respectable people. And all of a sudden there’s guys painting their cars, wearing their hair long and hanging down and not combing it. And did you see the skirt she was wearing??? There’s still people who wear those clothes. You can spot them. They’re grey headed. And they’re hippies!
I was a hippie, not in clothes so much as in heart and soul, because I loved that postwar generation. They were fab. They’d been raised with antibiotics, which had been invented during the war. When I was a child if you got pneumonia you stood a 50/50 chance of dying, and a lot of kids get pneumonia. In my childhood, in the little village where I was raised, several kids died of pneumonia over the years, so there was nothing in the world… it was like you were suddenly given a new life when you were given a shot, which is pretty incredible for you guys, but think about it. No antibiotics. They hadn’t been invented. Makes a pretty different world.
What values did the hippies have and believe in and what do those values mean today?
They said peace is the most important thing. The Americans were dragging on that stupid war in Vietnam and more and more of their boys were getting killed and that generation literally stopped that war by huge movements of people who ended the war.
Did you participate in any movement, like the liberation movement?
Well, the first movement I was involved in was with people in London who had moved into the empty apartments where the rich owners were off somewhere safe. They’d survived London and needed a place to live and they just moved in… they were called squatters, which they were – and then the landlords came along and starting wanting to throw them out, and there was a huge movement. There was a crowd of people going down the wide, wide street that goes to Buckingham Palace, absolutely solid with people, saying ‘let the squatters stay’. That was my first movement. You won’t find anybody else who was part of that one! Well, maybe you will.
When was that, Anne?
Right after the war, in the first year after the war, World War Two. In 1948.
How were you a participant there?
I just went down the street shouting “LET THE SQUATTERS STAY! LET THE SQUATTERS STAY! LET THE SQUATTERS STAY! LET THE SQUATTERS STAY!”