THE STONEBOAT CAPTAIN
It was 1983 and I was doing intermittent Project Management work for Brian McMahon who was in charge of the Travel and Industry Subsidiary Agreement (TIDSA), a granting agency for the Government of British Columbia, Ministry of Tourism. This program was to stimulate the Travel Industry and was funded by a partnership of the Federal and Provincial Governments.
Whenever Brian found any of the funded projects were not performing according to an agreed contract schedule, he would access my services and I acted as a Special Project Manager. I would go into a community and investigate what the problems were and report to Brian whether the project would succeed and / or what actions were necessary to make it all happen as per the contract with that Municipality.
I came home, to Castlegar, B.C. from an exhausting business trip, to enjoy my family and I was on the floor playing with my children and enjoying the TGIF day and looking forward to the weekend when the phone rang.
“Elmer, is that you?” and it was Brian on the other end. “What are you doing tomorrow?
“Well I certainly have my share of things to do around the yard as it is fall you know,” I responded.
“You and I are having a meeting in Whitehorse, YT., and tomorrow evening about Port Alberni. You will take the plane out of Castlegar tomorrow and meet the plane to Whitehorse in Vancouver which should reach Whitehorse by 7:00 P.M. I will meet you at the airport,” he advised matter-of-factly like as if he were telling me to sit down for dinner.
“You must be joking” I pleaded. ‘How can we discuss the Port Alberni development in Whitehorse when I don’t even know what it is that we are talking about?”
“Besides there are drawings required and other documents; it is not a practical process, Brian,” I pointed out, hoping he would agree and I could just go back to planning my weekend home with my family.
“The plans and documentation will be on the same plane with you when you get here”, Brian advised.
“There is no way around this as you will need to organize a meeting with the Port Alberni Harbor Front Committee on Monday night. So quit stalling and pack your suitcase,” he ended the telecon.
“What’s going on?” Marilyn looked at me with disbelieving eyes, suspecting that her husband was going away again and the weekend preparations with family were over.
I tried explaining as best that I could but I really had very little to go on except it was obviously a project in Port Alberni, B.C., and that I had to go to Whitehorse Y.T., to get briefed by Brian.
“Elmer, this is ridiculous” she opined and shuffled down the hallway to get started on my suitcase.
“How long do I pack for?” was the next sarcastic remark.
“Probably, Wednesday as I have to be home for a few meetings in Trail,” as I started my thought process as to what this thing at Port Alberni was all about and what I may have to do to get it on track.
Well, Brian was smiling at the Whitehorse Airport as I got into the Terminal, “you travel light, I see”
“Thanks for warning me as to where I would have to go, otherwise I would have packed a tent and camping gear,” I sniped.
“We better remember to pick up the documents at the express baggage” Brian noted. Sure enough there was a small roll labeled HOLD FOR PICKUP and away we went into Whitehorse.
Brian was a very efficient Administrator and had a room already booked for me in the hotel and suggested “I’ll see you in 208 as soon as you get yourself checked in. We will get the orientation over with before we go to eat”.
“That’s all you got” I commented at the one page schematic of the Port Alberni Harbor Front Development that had Hotson Architects title block.
“Well the grant is for $2.8 million and there appears to be some disagreement not only amongst the Committee but also between the Committee and the Architect,” Brian admitted. “The agreement is that the project must be complete and funded by June 30 next year. If they cannot execute, the grant returns to the Tourism Ministry”.
“Hey, Brian, this is October and there are no drawings, unless I am missing something, how do you expect drawing completion, tenders to be called and project completion by June 30? Don’t be ridiculous!” I expounded rather emphatically.
“So why did I have you come up here? You are to meet with this Committee on Monday afternoon and determine what issues they may have and report back to me by Friday with your opinion as to whether this project is salvageable”, Brian just carried on as was his style.
“Is the Committee aware that I am coming?” was my obvious question.
“No! You will make contact with them once you are in Port Alberni” he answered.
“So why don’t we just go there together?” seemed like an obvious suggestion as I groped with an understanding of this impending challenge.
“I will be 200 miles into the hinterland inspecting a fly-in Hunting and Fishing Lodge and then I will be visiting some other potential funding sites and I will not be available for any contact till Friday” and with that Brian announced that he was very hungry and we should go and eat before everything shut down for the night
Brian was a good host and we spent the evening watching a Hypnotist performing his feats on an unsuspecting audience. The next day I left for Vancouver knowing that there was absolutely no way I could contact Brian until Friday when he came out of wilderness.
At 9:00 A.M. Monday, I was in Hotson Architects offices on Howe Street, meeting with a very surprised Hotson who refused to provide me with any additional plans than what Brian already gave me and was even less communicative about the status of the project. He admitted, though, that he was having difficulty determining what the Port Alberni Committee wanted from this project. Hotson Architects were the Architects for the very successful harbor development on Granville Island in Vancouver. We concluded the short meeting with an understanding that he would only release information when he had direction from his client.
“I will be back tomorrow morning” I advised as I left to get on with the rest of my investigative process.
I had never been to Port Alberni and never to Nanaimo which was the local airport on my way to Port Alberni from Vancouver. A rental car and a beautiful drive brought me into unfamiliar surroundings within the City of Port Alberni.
I decided that City Hall was my best bet and asked to speak to the City Manager who sat there in disbelief as I outlined my reasons for being in Port Alberni.
“Do you have anything from Brian McMahon? He wanted to ensure that he had this all straight before he called the R.C.M.P.
“No, but I do have this plan he gave me and his address and label is on it”, as I offered same to him for his inquisitive review.
“You realize that is an extraordinary situation that you describe,” he commented. “I will need to have an emergency meeting with the Committee in order to provide you with any more information as this is entirely beyond my authority.”
“May we meet this afternoon?” I responded. “We don’t have too much time and I need to report to Brian this Friday.”
“I will make the calls to the Committee and see what can be done by 4:00 P.M. this afternoon in the Council Chambers,” he reluctantly advised.
I decided that this was a good time to inspect the site for the project and I was not surprised that it was going to be a challenge to not only complete the project on schedule but to also get the site prepared for this development. It would take a considerable amount of cooperation by everyone and all agencies to get the documents for tender into place. It would take a very organized General Contractor with experience in “tight scheduling” to get all this done by June 30.
What am I getting myself into, I mused?
As I walked into the room and counted at least ten (10) committee members in attendance which I am meeting for the first time, I could not miss noting that there was a great deal of disgust on their faces and a readiness to “Tar and Feather and roll out on a rail” this Dude that hailed from Trail, B.C., that was attempting to deride Port Alberni’s ticket to Tourism.
The meeting opened and they all stared at me as I explained the TIDSA agreement that they were signatory to and the requirements to complete on time and budget. I referred to the clause that permitted the Ministry to employ a “Special Project Manager” should there be any concern and / or doubt that completion may not be met.
“I am He,” I announced.
“So where is Brian McMahon?” was the question from the Mayor.
“I am sure you have already tried calling him and were unsuccessful,” I commented. “He is in the far reaches of the Yukon right now and will return on Friday when he expects me to provide my assessment.
“We don’t have much time,” I added.
There was an interesting man at the end of the table that just glared at me the entire time and I tried to remember who he was from the introductions and I now remembered his card as being the Head of the Harbor Commission.
“This is not going to be easy”, I tried to reassure myself as I presented the false presence of confidence to a very antagonistic group who still could not believe that all this was happening to them.
“Let’s start with Hotson Architects”, I instructed. “You need to tell him what you want in on this project so that he can develop the drawings for tender, immediately”.
“He will not do what we want,” they confided. “We are in disagreement with him and his ideas.”
“You will go over his proposal right now and let him know what your parameters will be,” I made it clear as to how the process would unfold. “I will be in his office tomorrow morning to get an update and a copy of his plans to date.”
“Do we want the “Harbor Quay” to get developed or do we just “cash in” is the question here,” I ended my presentation to the Committee. “Are we ready for the challenge?”
I could feel the daggers being thrown into my back as I left the room and heard the animated discussion pick up.
There were friends in Port Alberni that I knew and I called them up as it was too late to get back to Vancouver. These friends were very much part of the community and it was good to get an appreciation of all the Committee Members and what they represented. This all helped considerably in my understanding of how I could possibly make all this happen.
I dropped into Hotson Architects the next day and it appeared that everyone was going to cooperate and so a meeting was set for the following week in Port Alberni, when Brian could attend as well.
It was that meeting that I noted that the Committee Member from the Harbor Commission seemed to passively study me the entire meeting as the Committee set up a schedule that included approval of drawings and going to tender, etc., the normal project process so that I could recommend to Brian that we were now “on track”.
After the meeting the Harbor Commissioner walked up to me and invited me to see his Harbor operation. I kept wondering how this was to “unfold” but I readily agreed to follow his vehicle down to the Harbor.
I went after him up the stairs and into the Harbor Master’s office. There behind the desk sat a smiling man with an identity plate in front of him that said:
The Harbor Commissioner asked “do you know this man?”
“The only Ken Fertuck that I know was a classmate of mine in Pelly, Saskatchewan” I blubbered, not believing my eyes and twenty-five (25) years made recognition difficult.
“The same”, came the response from the man behind the desk, smiling even more now.
“Well how in the blazes did a kid from the prairies get a job as Harbormaster on the coast,” I questioned.
“Well, I just wrote down on my resume, that I was a Stone-boat Captain in Saskatchewan and they considered that to be all the experience necessary for this job”, as we all laughed uncontrollably.
It is necessary to explain to those of you who are not “Stubble-Jumpers”, that a stone-boat is approximately 6 feet x about 8 or 10 feet long built with 2 inch to 4 inch wood planks laid on two (2) 8 inch x 8 inch wood runners that is pulled behind a team of horses. Its uses on the farm are multiple with following common adaptations:
- Pick up stones from a field and transport to a dumping area
- A similar function with roots that are common after clearing new land as they are piled to dry and burn thereafter
- Manure from “cleaning” a barn to a disposal site usually on an open field for use to fertilize
- Countless other functions that are common to the operation of a “mixed” farm operation
- Sometimes for recreational purposes as joyriding over snow
Being a “Captain” of a Stoneboat would be similar to being a “King of the Castle” as children would play. The largest body of water adjacent to Pelly was at best a slough and a larger swamp. Both of these “bodies of water” were used by youths to float a makeshift raft of loosely tied logs and pushed around with a pole in the spring when there was water. Everyone from the Prairies knows that having a nickname of “Stone-boat Captain” is quite similar to being a “Stubble-Jumper”, any such reference would clearly indicate heritage from the Prairie Provinces.
Then the Harbor Commissioner explained how he had returned from that first meeting with some “jerk” called Elmer Verigin from Trail, B.C. that totally insulted the intelligence of the Committee who had worked so hard to get the Harbor Quay Development going and now suggested that he has taking over.
Ken asked him where this Elmer was from as he only knew one Elmer Verigin and he was from Pelly, Saskatchewan. Perhaps this guy should be given a chance to prove himself.
Well we spent a great time after, reminiscing about old times and places and I found out how Ken came right to Port Alberni in 1956 and worked himself to the top by starting from the bottom “on the docks.”
The epilogue is that Ken still lives in Port Alberni to this day but unfortunately, he had a stroke and I understand that he is dealing with a handicap quite well. The project did get completed by June 30 as required with a surplus budget that was utilized for other purposes on the Harbor Front Project. The designs by Hotson Architects were in keeping with their creative ability on Granville Island in Vancouver. The Contractors outdid themselves in quality and performance. My on site Clerk of Works was a God send that ensured quality control. The Committee was an excellent group to work with.
The breakfasts in that tiny Diner near the waterfront are still a mouth-watering memory that will be hard to forget.
My purpose was successfully exercised in Port Alberni.
Brian McMahon and I made contact from time to time, later, and he was able to secure $1.3 million in establishing the Doukhobor Village in Castlegar B.C. as a destination point tourist attraction when disagreement of local politicians forced the funding to move elsewhere. That will be the subject of another story.
Posted by EWV November o7, 2017 from EWV Archived Files for use in his Adventures Story being composed for his family