Searching for Daisy on Read Island & in Port Neville, BC

Here’s a guest post from Lois Wade, with a second installment of the story of her discovery of her grandmother Daisy Lang’s hidden childhood. See the full story of the love triangle and murder Lois and her family uncovered when they began to put the details of Daisy’s past together: http://thescribes.ca/disturbing-the-dead-a-read-islandbc-tale/.  And for more, check the latest edition of Harbour Publishing’s Raincoast Chronicleshttp://www.harbourpublishing.com/title/RaincoastChronicles23.

Exploring Burdwood Bay on Read Island 

DSCN3161

Bob Watney, Lois Wade, Jan Richards and Karen Hawkins, four of Laura J Smith’s great grandchildren. The lilac marks the site of the Wylie’s hotel, where we started our search for Laura’s and Daisy’s life on Read. Our first step into the past!

Our adventure began aboard the Misty Isles (http://www.mistyislesadventures.com/) with Jeanette Taylor as our guide and story teller. Jeanette pointed out a white lilac tree, visible as we approached Burdwood Bay on Read Island, marking the site of Wylie’s Hotel, a building that once sat on the tip of John and Laura Smith’s property. This is where our Daisy, Grandma, was born in 1893.

I felt a strong urge to get ashore, to walk where Daisy had walked. The journey into our family’s past was solidified as we touched the ground, her past was real and began to come alive. I looked for my sister and cousins and saw they too were immersed in their search of the land. Where did Grandma live? Would we find a remnant of her family’s life here on Read? The remoteness of the island was matched only by its beauty.

As we tramped about it didn’t take much to imagine Daisy and her half siblings, Cora, Myrtle and Roy, scampering across fields, up hills and to the orchard and farm field. We began to follow a wagon trail, climbing uphill to a clearing. The first thing I noticed were the fruit trees. The next thing was a feeling of amazement as I pictured Laura tending her garden, picking vegetables, hanging out wash… The children running freely. Baby Daisy on the hip of an older sibling.

When we left the orchard and made our way back to the beach, we tried to determine where Laura and John’s house might have stood. Much conjecture and discussion took place. But we do know by looking on a plot map that lot 159, the lot pre-empted through a land grant system by the Smiths, lay in a protected bay with a fresh water creek running down to the ocean.

We found an ideal spot along the shore on the rocks to picnic. We were ‘breaking bread’ where our ancestors had in the 1890’s. How cool was that.

Hans Hansen’s Port Neville Diaries

at Port Neville '15 - edited

Lois Wade, Jan Richards, Karen Hawkins, three of Daisy’s granddaughters, standing at an old fence post at Port Neville, all that remains of the fence where their grandmother camped more than a century ago.

Port Neville, three days later; We were excited as we neared the pier and the large Welcome to Port Neville sign. We have learned much about Daisy’s childhood in Hans Hansen’s journals (Museum at Campbell River Archives) he kept as Postmaster and store owner. His daily log of the people, including our family and their activities, gave us clues as to what to look for.

The groundskeeper opened the old store for us. It isn’t the original store our family visited in the 1890s, but one built in 1924, incorporating the old post office. The mail ‘cubbies’ of solid wood, aged to a very rich dark colour filled our imagination with scenes of Laura, Henry and Daisy buying stamps and picking up their mail.

We began to explore the grounds, looking for those glimpses Hans had given us in his journals of our family’s daily life. What a thrill to see the old cabins, falling down and overgrown by nature but stirring images of our family spending the night for a 25 cent fee, waiting for a steamer or a change in weather. They camped beside a fence, so off we went to look for it. There it was…several posts still standing, the boards lying rotting. We looked at each other and could only guess as to what each of us was thinking, but the emotions were again evident on all our faces. Laura and Daisy camped here next to this fence on a warm July night in 1896. Maybe Laura sent Daisy to the orchard to get a plum? For the first time we could imagine Grandma’s childhood. She had lived in and visited this beautiful place.

Life must have been hard for our ancestors of the coastal waters. Eking out their survival from a harsh land and unpredictable ocean. The distances our family travelled in everyday life were astonishing. Out on the water, rowing many miles, learning the landmarks and how to navigate the various weather and tidal conditions.

How grateful we are to have journeyed to Read Island and Port Neville and into our family’s history. We feel connected to the land and our past in a very real way. We are bursting with new thoughts and ideas to explore.

Lois Wade, May 30, 2015