Off The Grid

Living off the Grid on a west coast island

William Minter Flewett

william flewett photo

William Minter Flewett arrived on DeCourcy with his preemption certificate from the Canadian Government in 1881. The second European to own the 320- acre property. He arrived, to what his family called “The Ranch” with his third wife, Martha, and his youngest daughter, Mary Helen. He was forty-nine and lived here for thirty years.

An engineer by trade, Flewett worked at Bulkley’s Harwood mine when he first arrived on the West Coast from the Maritimes in 1875.      In Jan Petersen’s book Black Diamond City, Nanaimo, the Victorian Era, Flewett is mentioned on page 91.

William Flewett oversaw the tramway. He saw an opportunity of using the tramway to communicate with staff at the base, so he installed a wire on the trestle of the tramway then ran it all the way down to the harbour. This became Nanaimo’s first telegraph line.

In 1879, Flewett ran a ferry service from Nanaimo to Departure Bay, on his fifteen- passenger, 28 foot steam launch named Nellie.

Nanaimo Free Press – Gabriola Edition January – July 1879

Steam Ferry             Nanaimo & Departure Bay

“NELLIE”   Will leave the public landing, Nanaimo, for Departure Bay, carrying freight and passengers every day, as follows:

At 8 o’clock a.m. and 4 o’clock pm., returning at 10am and 5:30 p.m.

Persons wishing the use of the steam-launch for picnics, etc. can obtain full particulars on application to Wm Flewett, on board, or at Renwick & Co. and Glasgow House.

 

Flewett had arrived in Canada from Shoreditch, London, England in 1853. Arriving in Nova Scotia, he met and married his first wife Sarah Lipsett Browne. In the 1861 census he was living in New Brunswick and he was listed as an engineer. William and Sarah had six children between 1854 and 1864, five daughters and a son who died in infancy. In the 1871 census Sarah was listed as of “unsound mind” in a St. John hospital. Flewett sent his daughters off to boarding school in Boston and married his second wife Rebecca.

When Flewett arrived in Nanaimo in 1873, he arrived without Rebecca. Four of his daughters joined him there. Three of them, aged 21, 20 and 15 were married by 1875 to local miners. His daughter, Mary Helen was 17 and still at home when he married wife number three, Martha Fisser. She had just arrived from Holland.

It was Martha and Mary who joined William when he first arrived on the Nellie to DeCourcy Island. They would have landed at the southwest side of the island in 1881. Walking inland he would have come across a flooded valley with a willow swamp where the sheep now graze. The fields east of where we now see the greenhouse would have both been flooded. Where the orchard is, would have been a thick old growth fir forest. He would have realized, with the swamp drained, he could have a fertile field rich with peat moss.

He built a temporary house facing the swamp and dug a well 60 feet east of it. In an attempt to lower the water level he dug a drainage ditch going toward the ocean where the main gate is now located.

Eventually he blasted out the rock ditch and drained the swamp completely. Four of his son- in- laws were miners and presumably knew how to blow things up and were able to help him. According to our John, it wasn’t done particularly well, just drill and blast but they got the depth right. Flewett was then left with a two foot  layer of top soil over two feet of peat moss followed by blue clay. Flewett began to raise his sheep. He cleared the land to the west of his temporary house for the big farmhouse which stood until March, 2009. The orchard was planted in front of the farmhouse to where we now see the chicken house.

In 1882, Flewett made application to purchase the remaining acreage of DeCourcy and the island to the south which he named Flewett’s Island, now known as Ruxton. Boat Harbour at the time he called Flewett Harbour. Only its entrance point and one of the roads on DeCourcy retain the name Flewett.

The British Columbia Gazette September 15, 1882

Notice is hereby given that, at the expiration of 60 days from this date, I shall apply to the Chief Commissioner of Lands and works for permission to purchase about 100 acres more or less of pastoral lands, said lands being balance of DeCourcy Island. (upon which I reside), situated on Trincomalie Channel, Nanaimo District. William M Flewett

DeCourcy Island, Nanaimo

 

Shortly after purchasing the entire island, Flewett put it up for sale. It could have been that his anticipated  discovery of a coal seam here became unlikely, or perhaps he didn’t take the news of his nineteen-year-old daughters elopement with a fifty-three-year-old man very well. After a flurry of scandalous articles published in the local paper, a for sale advertisement appeared. Although he placed the ad early in 1883, William and Martha remained farming on the island for at least twenty-eight more years.

Nanaimo Free Press     January 10, 1883       NOTICE

I hereby give notice that, as my daughter, Helen, has left home without my consent and contrary to my express wishes. I hereby caution parties not to trust her on my account, as I will not be responsible for her debts.

W.M. Flewett Nanaimo, December 29th, 1882

 

Nanaimo Free Press     February 21, 1883      MARRIED

In this city, on the 17th instant, by the Rev. B. Chappell, Mr. Thomas R. Jones of Wellington to Mary Helen Flewett of Nanaimo.

 

 

Nanaimo Free Press    February 21, 1883        MARRIAGE OF MINORS

Editor Free Press – an incident occurred on Saturday last of so great concern to the community at large that I would respectfully crave a short space in your columns to draw the attention of your readers to the matter in question.

I was asked to solemnize the marriage of a couple, one of whom (the bride) I found to be not of legal age as required by the Marriage Act, viz:21 years of age. Moreover, the father’s consent had not been obtained, nor any notification sent him of her intended marriage.

The Act most distinctly states that any minister, clergyman, or registrar, knowingly marrying either party under 21 without the knowledge or consent of parent or guardian, if such exist, subjects him to a liability of being prosecuted for felony. And, it also as clearly implies that it is the solemn duty of each minister to satisfy himself on the point before proceeding to celebrate the marriage.

I asked for time to refer the question to the father and found I could receive his reply before eight in the evening, to which hour the affair, by general consent, was postponed.

In the meantime, unknown to me, application was made by the parties to the acting minister of the Methodist Church (Mr. Chappel) who, I find, was not informed of the previous application to me, and the marriage took place at the Temperance Hotel while I was waiting for the reply, which reached me through a friend, who had given himself great trouble to oblige me, at 7:30 p.m.

I regret exceedingly to find, on inquiry, that it is a common occurrence for persons to be married in violation of the plain and direct prohibition of the Act, which was intended to give parents full protection against the clandestine actions of their children. Who thus, by the connivance of those in whom the public trust and who ought to stand, as it were, in loco parentis, set all authority at defiance.

It is high time such proceedings came to an end. The marriage license was never intended to sustain such irregularities and whoever lends himself to defeat the efforts of those who would seek to maintain what conduces so materially to the safety and welfare of the commonwealth deserves the reprobation of every good citizen amongst us.

I have reason to believe that the resident clergy of this town, representing different congregations, will set their faces against any further attempt to override the law. And, I can only say for myself, in my capacity as Rector of St. Paul’s that whether I suffer pecuniary loss or not, all marriages celebrated by me must be above-board, as it were, and the parties applying must be legally entitled to claim my good office before I consent to make them, in the sight of God and man, indissolubly one, and to give them that marriage benediction which was never intended to be bestowed on the children of disobedience.

I am, Yours et.,   J.B. Good, Rector of St. Paul’s

 

 

Nanaimo Free Press       Gabriola Edition January – February,1883

FARM FOR SALE

A cultivated farm on DeCourcy Island, south of the “Rapids” is offered for sale on reasonable terms, together with the stock and farming implements. Possession can be given at any time. Title perfect. Particulars can be obtained by applying to W.M. Flewett on the premises.

P.S. Also, a steam launch, 28 feet long, 6 feet, 6 inches beam, and draws 2 feet, 6 inches of water.

 

Nanaimo Free Press – Gabriola Edition July – August 1885

July 29         The Clam in its Rocky Home

Mr. W. M. Flewett of the DeCourcey islands, has furnished the FREE PRESS with a wonderful and rare curiosity in the shape of a clam embedded in a piece of sandstone, the piece has been broken off the sandstone rocks at the water’s edge where Mr. Flewett has just completed a substantial wharf.

The clam, which is about 2 inches in length by over an inch in diameter, is embedded in the solid rock and obtained its food by means of a small hole, an eighth of an inch in diameter, through which the salt water would flow into the clam’s inner chamber.

The question for experts to decide is how the clam got into the solid rock and lived in its narrow cell. This is not one of the many petrifactions found on this coast but is evidently their natural home and mode of life, for they can be found in the rocks of DeCourcy Island, which is situated about 10 miles south of Nanaimo, in large numbers.

The walls of the cells and passage are worn as smooth as the finest glass.

Any person desirous of inspecting this natural curiosity can do so by calling at this office.

 

A story is told of a boat lowered off the Amelia at DeCourcy. It was caught in the paddle wheel and smashed to pieces. Perhaps that incident precipitated the building of a new wharf in 1885. While constructing the wharf he came across a Piddock – A small clam which can burrow into shale or sandstone.

Nanaimo Free Press                  Gabriola Edition June 1889         June 21

MONSTER CHERRIES

Mr. W.M. Flewett, of DeCourcey Island, arrived in town today with a large assortment of produce from his splendid gardens on that beautiful Isle of the Sea. In addition to his usual assortment of produce, he brought up, and laid on “ye editor’s” table, a quantity of cherries of the Yellow Spanish variety that for size, flavor and lusciousness capped the climax of anything we have hitherto seen in the shape of cherries.

Mr. Flewett says the continued dry spell is beginning to tell on his gardens, and a shower of rain would be gladly welcomed by the parched earth of the sun-burnt vegetation.

He says the crows are playing sad havoc with his fruit, and for clear audaciousness he never saw the like. He has been put to wits end to save his crop from these “black robbers,” and says that the old yarn that crows can smell powder is exploded. He says they know, as well as any human being, what the intention of a man is who has a gun in his hands. For, just as soon as he appeared with a gun in his hands, the “black sentinel” would give the danger signal, and their “cawships” were at once out of reach.

Necessity, however, is the mother of invention, and Mr. Flewett, seeing that the crows took no notice of his moving about while he had no gun, adopted the plan of secreting the laden gun in the bed of strawberries, and the crows would hop on to it and over it in search of the luscious fruits. Mr. Flewett would then walk up to the gun and quickly raising it, fire and kill the crows. This is a wrinkle for the farmers.

 

Flewett raised sheep and sold his mutton at the Nanaimo Farmers Market. He was a proud gardener and often took specimens to the Nanaimo Newspaper office as evidence of his successes. Despite the heat and crows he was able to produce bushels of yellow Spanish cherries and 20 oz apples.

 

Nanaimo Free Press, August 30, 1889

Fine Peaches

Mr. W.M. Flewett, of the DeCourcey Group of islands laid on our table several large and luscious peaches. For flavor, they are fully equal to the famous peaches grown in the gardens of New York state. This fruit is a good indication of an excellent location and the horticultural skill of Mr. Flewett.

Nanaimo Free Press, October 20, 1888

Magnificent Fruit!  The DeCourcey Garden of Eden

The numerous specimens of fruit sent to this office during the present season are a sure and certain indication of the adaptability of the soil and climate of Vancouver and adjacent islands to grow magnificent fruit.

Mr. Wm. M. Flewett of the main DeCourcey island, about ten miles distant from Nanaimo, has left at this office a beautiful red apple weighing, when picked, twenty ounces. It is from a graft only three years old. The cutting was obtained from an orchard at Plumper Pass, about twenty-five miles south.

Mr. Flewett does not know the name of the apple but believes the parent tree came from Australia. The apple is from the first tree he ever grafted, and he feels justly proud of the fruit of his skill and labor

 

The census continued in 1911 to list William as a farmer on DeCourcy Island. Amazingly, under occupation for Martha on the census form, also living on DeCourcy, it states she had none. I rather doubt her life was that of an idle gentle woman reclining in the sun popping cherries into her mouth.  When Flewett died at eighty- two years old on July 16, 1914, his address was listed as Five Acres, a residential district in Nanaimo. Martha died seven months later, on February 16, 1915.

The Daily Colonist 7/17/1914     Nanaimo July 16   Old Resident Dead

The death occurred last evening of William Flewett a native of London England. Aged eighty-two years and for forty years a resident of this district. Despite his advanced years, Mr. Flewett had been enjoying the best of health and retired last night feeling hale and hearty but two hours later passed away peacefully. Death being due to heart failure at the home of his daughter Mrs. James Malpas, Five Acres.

 

The Island remained on the market for thirteen years after William and Martha died. It was eventually sold by his executor in 1927 for $10,000 to the Brother XII cult.