Off The Grid

Living off the Grid on a west coast island


Christmas is coming

E has a lot to do….

The kitchen backsplash was started. Well, not so much started as the fridge was pulled out and a state of chaos created.. Then the rain paused… so he took the opportunity to go out and lay the boards for the walkway. So the front and back of the deck are done, just the sides and railings and stairways to go. (just).

When the rain started up again (the pause in the storm was brief) he came into install the drywall on the ceiling of the bathroom. The bathroom is almost ready for the final sanding and painting. We are short a few tub tiles for the top row by the ceiling. We always seem to be missing something or other to prevent us from finishing projects completely…. I need Home Depot to deliver by drone. So, as well as the chaos in the kitchen, there is chaos in the bathroom. Cupboards are off the walls, a ladder is over the tub and drywall mud is everywhere.

On the weekend E levelled the floor and lay the cork flooring in the hallway. As he lays the cork, in between other jobs we put cardboard down on top of it for protection till we are finished the major part of the renovation. So far the master bedroom and hallway are done, the bathroom presumably will be next.

I realize this is not the way renovations are normally scheduled. I realize we are doing this in the most complicated manner possible.. and yet we are progressing and quite content.

What have I been doing? I found my quilting supplies and made an advent calendar for my grand daughter. We may be living in chaos and I have to step between drywall and cupboards to get to my sewing machine but I am a first time Grandma and

Christmas is coming


Stories to tell


For six years a cult was located on DeCourcy Island. I suspect I am not alone in my frustration that although it was eighty-five years ago, our island continues to be identified by Brother XII’s time here. His residency only lasted six years. There were others who lived on this island, hardworking, honest people, both before and after the Aquarian Foundation.

It goes without saying that before any of us were here, the Lyackson First Nations people lived and fished in these waters for thousands of years. I will leave the history of the indigenous people in this area to the experts and explore the stories of our island, beginning with the first of the European settlers; the men and women who lived on the farm since 1873.

After all, there have been enough books written about the cult. We don’t need another one. There are other Stories to tell.

The First   

Probably like me, you are surprised to discover many of the locals in Nanaimo and even Cedar have never heard of DeCourcy Island. Imagine if you will, how they must have thought, if at all, about DeCourcy in 1873. As evidenced in the documents I have found, many thought….” Mudge, Gabriola, DeCourcy… all the same place, those islands out there….” They use the names interchangeably.

The Government of Canada passed the Dominion Lands Act in 1872. It provided the legal authority under which the Crown granted lands to individuals, colonization companies, the Hudson’s Bay Company, railway construction, municipalities and religious groups. The act devised specific homestead policies to encourage the settlement of the West. Any man, or woman (if she was the sole head of the family) over the age of 21 was eligible for a grant of a 165-acre plot of land. Policy varied over time but most eligible homesteaders who paid a $10 administrative fee were given three years to build a residence and clear at least 30 acres for farming. Once the authorities decided progress had been made, the settler received patent for ownership of the land.

The first land grant for DeCourcy Island was issued to Robert Burrell on the 27th of October 1873. I don’t know how he found DeCourcy. I like to think he was robert burell.jpgon a sternwheeler returning from Barkerville, travelling from New Westminster to Victoria with a stop in Nanaimo. I picture him passing through Dodd’s Narrows and thinking much like many of us… “I’d like to live there…. Own my own land, build a little house, maybe get me some sheep and have a good life away from the hustle bustle of city life.”

Everything I can find out about Mr. Burrell indicates he was a good guy. A man who anticipated that Barkerville, during the wild and crazy days of the gold rush was vulnerable to fire. The kind of man who would chase a thief 678 miles to recover stolen money for his bank. His nautical skills perhaps could have been better, but everyone seems to have liked and respected him.

Burrell was born in Glasgow. He first appears in Canada when listed in the Victoria City directory as he rose through the administration of the Bank of British North America beginning in 1863, then 1869 and again in 1871. In 1866, records appear of his mine claims in Barkerville during the Cariboo Gold Rush while he was posted there as the Manager of the same Bank.

Isobel Bescoby mentions Burrell in her book Society in Cariboo during the Gold Rush (P 199)

There was apparently no thought of organized protection against fire. Individual miners and storekeepers may have equipped themselves with leather fire-buckets. By 1867, having already suffered a depletion of their material goods, a few Caribooites under Robert Burrell and John Buie, fire wardens, collected $676 in aid of Barkerville fire brigade. Most of the inhabitants, however, felt that Cariboo was a charmed community, protected by God against fire and all other dangers, and therefore no precautions against destruction by fire were taken in that year. A little over a year later, on September 16, 1868, the whole “metropolis of Cariboo was destroyed by a fire originating in a saloon where a “hurdy” dancing girl was ironing.

 After the Barkerville fire, Burrell moved back to Victoria and was the interim Manager of the Bank of British North America on Yates Street. An article appeared in the Victoria British Colonist on November 28, 1871 (page 3) which tells a remarkable tale.

Forgery and Successful Pursuit

Robt. Burrell, Esq, of the Bank of British North America, returned from a trip to Idaho yesterday. The trip was made under the following extraordinary of circumstances. About six weeks ago James Huarey stole a check on the Bank of British North America for $1600 from W. C. Anderson at Yale, forged Anderson’s endorsement and was paid the amount at the Bank in this city. On discovery of the fraud the Bank obtained an extradition warrant from our Government. In the meantime, Huarey had taken flight to the United States. Mr. Burrell, of the Bank of B.N.A., went in pursuit with the warrant and overtook the rogue at Salmon River, Idaho. Finding, to take proper legal steps to bring Huarey back to British Columbia, it would be necessary to go to Boise City which would involve a great deal of time and cause a heavy expense which the Government would scarcely refund, Mr. Burrell thought it best to take back the $1600 with $300 additional for expenses, and leave the swindler to escape unwhipt of justice as he might.

 Every Clint Eastwood movie I have ever watched prompts my imagination as to how Burrell convinced Huarey to repay the money with a $300.00 fee for his trouble. He must have been quite the formidable guy…

In 1873, Burrell left the bank and applied for the land grant on DeCourcy Island. He brought with him 100 sheep to start his farm. A long career with the Bank and years living through the Cariboo Gold Rush could not have been very profitable. The sheep were bought on account from a butcher in Victoria. It was announced in the Victoria British Colonist Burrell drowned while rowing from Nanaimo harbour to DeCourcy Island just three months after moving here.

December 21, 1873 (page 3)

Reported Drowning. The Star Emma arrived from Nanaimo yesterday morning bringing intelligence of the supposed drowning of Mr. Robert Burrell, near Nanaimo last Wednesday night. Mr. Burrell had established a stock ranch on DeCourcy Island, about 8 miles from Nanaimo, and started in a small row boat for home on Wednesday about 1 o’clock. On Friday morning several articles which Mr. Burrell is known to have had in the boat were found on the beach about 1 1/2 miles from town. From this it is feared that the boat was capsized, and Mr. Burrell drowned on Wednesday night. An Indian woman who lives near the point thinks she heard some person shouting that evening. When the Emma sailed a party had gone to DeCourcy Island to ascertain if the missing man had reached there. Mr. Burrell is well known and liked throughout the Province. He was for a long time Manager of the Bank of British North America’s business on William Creek.

Burrell died without a will. When his estate was probated, essentially the sheep were returned to the butcher and there were few other assets. Upon his death the land reverted to the crown until 1875 when Roger Elphinstone was issued a grant. There is no evidence that Elphinstone ever took up residence on the island and the land was again returned to the crown.


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pen like Moms

I can be the master of procrastination. My mother’s house was never so clean as when I had a paper due for school.  There is no point in cleaning this house while it is under construction so  I am going to write a blog post instead of my article for Tidelines. Give me a deadline for an essay (Tidelines deadline is today) and I will find any reason at all to delay its completion to the last moment.

My mother began university at 40 when my Dad took off. To help pay the bills she would mark essays for her English profs. Before laptops and proof spell she would give an automatic ten percent advantage to students who typed their essays instead of hand written. As such, I was forced  encouraged to type anything and everything I ever submitted in school. I would sit in my bedroom at my Moms manual black Underwood typewriter, balls of rejected drafts surrounded me on the floor.

I would give the pages of canary yellow paper to my Mom to proof before I carefully typed the final draft on the expensive white paper. I was suspicious of how happy Mom seemed to be when she covered my drafts in circles of red ink. Was she disappointed when she couldn’t find anything?

In grade twelve my imbecile of an English teacher failed my essay on women in literature “Chivalry is dead” because I had used resources unavailable to other students.  (My Mother’s extensive women’s studies library). Mom, who had never been to a PTA meeting, concert or field trip in all of my years of school, took time off work to march into the principals office and demand an apology.

The first storm of  winter continues. We are into our fourth day. High winds and crazy rain has us reluctant to venture outside for much longer than the time required to bring down a load of wood. The dog is miserable.

Anne has offered to read my article and see that it makes sense. Maybe I should bring her a red

pen like Moms


doesn’t bother them

We are in the middle of a heavy storm. Last night the rains were torrential followed by pretty wild winds this morning. At one point we couldn’t hear each other speak over the din.

During breakfast, we watched the huge rolling waves in the water beneath us. A rare treat as usually it seems the heaviest winds we have here are during the night and although we can hear the waves,  we don’t get to see them at their mightiest. E spied five Orca just in front of our house. Surprising that he did, as it was hard to see the spouts over the white caps. I went out on to my new deck in my stocking feet and tried to get a picture…This is exactly the reason I didn’t want to be without access to the water over the winter. …It’s during these months that the nature channel explodes out front of our house. Staying at the South end last winter we missed out.

I do wish I could figure out how to get the whales to stay still while I get a good picture. I didn’t get the pod but I did get a good shot of this fellow.

When there was a break in the storm we took the chain saw for a drive to check that all was well with the island. Only small branches down that we could see. However, we had an arbutus branch test the sturdiness of the new back deck.

We are back home in front of the fire with hot chocolate and a good book. I worked on my “story” all day yesterday.. No, it isn’t finished… sigh…. I’m taking the day off.

High tides with heavy winds have the surface of the ocean covered with logs and beach debris. Difficult circumstances for navigation. I am happy we don’t have anywhere we have to be. Most appear to agree with me as there aren’t too many on the water at all.

Except the whales of course, the wild water doesn’t bother them


Can be told

Although it was great to get foundations and be attached to the rock, I was pretty happy to get walls and a bathtub. I was very excited to get a roof and pretty darned pleased this week when the deck began to take shape. But you can colour me over the moon happy with my new doors.

Tom, who designed the basic concept of the renovation is a talented artist and carpenter. He agreed to make us two doors. One from the dining room to the deck and one from the guest room to the deck. He made them out of the fir beams that came out of the original roof over the kitchen. They are gorgeous. This door is off the dining room.

And this one is off the guest room. The tiling at the door in the bedroom is the same as at the front door, under the fireplace and eventually the back splash in the kitchen. We will also put a little bit in the dining room as you enter off the deck…

Craig installed both today while I worked on my stories. E contemplated how he was going to install the fan in the bathroom.

I say that I’m writing  stories, not a book so I don’t get overwhelmed. I figure if I write a bunch of stories which I might one day combine to be a book I won’t get so intimidated. My first story will go in the next issue of the Tidelines. I will add a link to the story on the home page of the blog and will tell you when I add to it..

Not sure if anyone other than me will be interested in the subject matter but one always has to start at the beginning, with the first story, before the greater story

can be told.



bit of bubbly

We are progressing and it’s all very exciting.

The foundations of the decking were complete so E was able to lay a lot of the deck boards and Craig was able to get a staircase to the dining room constructed. There was much discussion at 8 am yesterday as we tried to decide how we wanted to build the stairway… We are literally deciding on the deck design as we go. It’s very hard to imagine how to proceed until it is built stage by stage… very complicated. We are after all, on the edge of a cliff.img_5923

That being said. We have a stairway to the deck and a large area completed which is suitable for nature watching. Railings will come when the deck is complete. I moved a couple of chairs down and waited for the show to start. The sea lions soon came and didn’t disappoint. Sea lions and fish flying in the air right below me…  It’s like my own private aquarium.

At this point the exit to the deck from the dining room is covered in a sheet of plastic but the door is ready and might go in tomorrow.

E has also been splitting wood, dry walling and sanding. Our new furniture arrived by barge yesterday and is now sitting in a giant pile at the front door. We really aren’t ready for it but I wanted to get it here before the winter rains arrived. I don’t mind stepping around a few more boxes. At this point I don’t even take notice of the mess anymore..

I am knee-deep in research for some papers I want to write. It’s time-consuming but fun work… With any luck I will have an article finished in time to submit to the island newsletter.

We are beginning to feel like life is returning to new kind of normalcy. We even had time to christen the deck with our neighbours and a little

bit of bubbly





Doesn’t scare easily

I accept the fact that this is not the easiest house to build a deck around. There are multi levels of uneven ground, huge boulders to go around and deep crevasses to hang over. That being said,  all I ever wanted was a deck. When we sold Soho, we also then needed a guest room and along the way we decided to add a new living room, bathroom and kitchen. But I still want a deck.

I scared the bejesus out of Duane this summer when he suggested politely over drinks at a party that we just finish the house and put off building the deck for another year. He had never seen the scary Me as I screamed … are you kidding me?!?! that is all I wanted! or words to that effect…..deep breath.

E stained the fascia boards and that was the end of his back. Years of miserable anti-rejection drugs have taken their toll on his bone density so he suffers. Usually it’s worse after carrying propane tanks which he did this week. We have plans to build a new shed behind the outhouse and move the propane system there. E could then drive the tanks right to their hook up. With all of our new solar power we are also hoping our dependence on propane is reduced drastically.

The guys were working on the foundations and joists for the deck.. nice big strong boards sitting on cement footings will hold us tightly to the rock. The deck has a bunch of different levels needed to get around the elevation problems. The largest amount of deck real estate in the easiest build site is ready to have the deck boards laid. E is going to get to that tomorrow. It sounds like the weather is supposed to be good and its a job he is happy to do on his own if his back cooperates.

I spent the day looking for places to hang our pictures. We really have very little wall space and are very limited in what we can hang. I figure we can store most what we have until the kids are ready to take them.

The mat on my Mom’s map doesn’t really go with our paint colours but the mat , can be changed. In the meantime,  the map  is hung in a place of honour. Mom is in my dining room. All of these pictures that she loved hanging on my walls makes the new house even more special to me.

So the house is coming along,, but  great many things need just “a little” more work to be finished.. it’s all good.  More importantly though,  it looks like I’m going to get the beginnings of a deck very soon.

and our friend Duane? what happens to him.. Not to worry.. Even after my scary outburst, He is still appears to be my friend.. Apparently he

doesn’t scare easily




another muffin tin

My Grandmother, bless her heart, could not cook. One of her regular dinner features was hamburgers. She would roll plain ground beef into balls and put them in a black cast iron frying pan at around 3:30 in the afternoon. Then she would fry them for an hour and half. At five pm when my Mom walked through the door, dinner was served. The fried up wads of ground beef were placed on a dish with canned peas and mashed potatoes made from instant flakes. Hamburgers.

Grandma could however, bake. Her scones and pie crusts were to die for. I loved to bake right along side her where I was often treated to samples before anyone else. Subsequently, I don’t really enjoy cooking but I do like to bake. I’m not as good a baker as Grandma or as bad a cook, but I’m pretty unadverturesome (?) in my offerings.

The guys were working outside today. More concrete footings and joists for the deck and sheathing for the house have appeared. E was staining the rough cedar fascia until he ran out of stain. One can of stain only covered 10 of the 24 boards. I made blueberry muffins for coffee break. First time I’ve baked in the new kitchen and could only find one muffin pan.

E brought down more boxes for me to unpack.. We found two large bags of clothes. With it being October, we were delighted to open the bags and find all of my summer tank tops and sun dresses and E found his swimsuit. We also found boxes of flower vases, wine glasses and hooray hooray, the Scotch. We can’t find the clothes hangars.

I’m usually pretty organized and was shocked to discover a box I had marked vases, candlesticks etc. Really, etc??? What the hell was  I thinking, with etc.. I am not a person who accepts the existence of miscellaneous files let alone a box marked etc.. If you are going to go to the trouble to write etc.. just write what is actually in the box.  I must have been really tired that day.

Two years ago my sister-in-law (who is an awesome cook) served us french onion soup. It was delicious. She assured me that making french onion soup is really easy. Shortly thereafter, I was at the thrift store and saw some french onion soup bowls for 25 cents a piece. I grabbed four of them. I had the momentary delusion that french onion soup could be added to my limited repertoire of menu choices..

Apparently “etc. ” means french onion soup bowls because the four unused  bowls were in the box marked vases, candlesticks etc. It has been two years since I bought them. The soup bowls are unlikely ever to be used.  I should have saved the dollar or bought

another muffin tin 


would be ironic

Today, was a two steps forward kind of day.. Seems like they have been few and far between lately so we take them gratefully when we can get them.

To summarize E’s day.. The water issue is fixed.. The pressure tank and pump are working. We have lots of water down at the house and all is well with the world… Fifth time lucky,  when you are trying to solve water problems, is apparently a thing.  Part of the problem was the level or lack thereof of water in our tank.. But we have been pumping religiously lately and finally got the tank up to a level sufficiently above the outlet valve to make a difference.

Also, E turned the pressure tank dial down to 42 PSI. Forty two is where the tank seems to want to shut off.. If it won’t get to 50 PSI for shut off.. simple solution.. turn the dial down to a point where it will turn off.. Honestly, sometimes it is so simple that you just want to kick yourself for putting effort into problem solving.

Down below the house Robert and Craig made huge progress today. Robert on the foundations under the original bedroom part of the house and Craig on the foundations of the front deck. There was hammering and sawing and all kinds of good sounds coming from out front all day. Both guys seemed very pleased with the progress. Tomorrow, more concrete will be poured for more footings for the wrap around deck. This deck will be securely attached to the island and to the house. The house, which itself will be firmly attached to the bedrock.

If, once we are securely attached to the rock safe and snug, confident that heavy winds won’t blow us onto the wetter side of the water; if, when we lay in bed secure in the knowledge that we have taken the dangerous trees down and addressed most of the risks of living on the edge of a cliff…. If this is when the rock, which hangs above our bedroom window decides to fall on our bed and wipe us out. It

would be ironic

june 11 004


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nests in it

We moved here full-time in April of 2012. This will be our sixth winter here. Friends in Vancouver placed bets that we wouldn’t last three years. I am constantly asked by said friends, “don’t you miss stores?”. Nope.. I miss my kids and I miss take out Chinese but I do not miss stores, or traffic or noise or crowds or pressure or just about anything else we left behind in town… as a couple who spent most of our forties in emergency rooms and hospital beds… we especially don’t miss doctors.

We are quite content to be stocking up for winter. We wave goodbye to our neighbours as they head out on their adventures to England, Europe, California, Asia and Africa. We will enjoy hearing their stories upon their return. Sometimes, briefly, every so often we entertain thoughts of travel, but its unlikely we will be going very far, very soon. Any where we would be interested to visit is usually medically unrealistic.. Heart transplant patients are generally not encouraged to wander down the Amazon or kayak the waters of the Antarctic. Realistically, we are where we should be, and where we are happy. What more can you ask for?

E spent the day today working on the continuing water pressure issue. We should know by tomorrow if his new solution worked… I am still slowly putting things away and planning for the day when I can hang pictures..Well, in truth I spent the majority of the day looking out the window at the changing colours of the trees on the island in front of me… But I did put a few things away too..

Here is the Maple tree at the entrance to our property. There was some concern this tree would shade the garden and have to go. But its one of my favorites and it will likely live a long and happy life. Especially if the hummingbirds continue to put their

nests in it