Unknown Victoria

Victoria: The Unknown City is a guidebook to an eccentric town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This is the author's blog. Look here for Victoria lore, updates and additions to the book, and hate mail.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Crank and The Seaman

In his Politics, Aristotle said that good citizens were like sailors. They had different functions, as rowers or navigators, but they had a common purpose, to keep the ship safe. "Similarly, one citizen differs from another, but the salvation of the community is the common business of them all."

It's likely that Aristotle would have admired Jarrett Teague (photo left). A leading seaman based at Esquimalt, when he is not on tours of duty abroad, Teague is dedicated to preserving John Dean Provincial Park in Central Saanich, and the memory of Dean himself, one of the most distinctive citizens to have called Victoria home.

Teague, who grew up in Sidney, remembers visiting the park as early as his eighth birthday. He became fascinated by the place: its native legends, its stands of old-growth Douglas fir (the last on the Saanich peninsula), and its history. For school projects he interviewed old residents and collected photos, he says, "and I found myself, at 16, being able to tell a story that no one had really told before."

John Dean was a self-made man. Born in Cheshire, England in 1850, at the age of eight he was an orphan; he left school at 12 to become a builder's apprentice, and emigrated alone to Canada in 1873. "I always thought of him as this old guy," says Teague, "but in his first diary [stored at the B.C. Archives], he's 22 years old. Goes to Toronto, sleeps with 25 girls, gets jobs, gets laid off, loans money, is betrayed, gets locked out of his boarding house. He goes down to Galveston, Texas, builds houses, puts some money in his pocket. He owns three houses, a horse, a pistol, can do whatever he wants. He was 33 when he arrived in Victoria in 1884. He kept on earning money. He wasn't a greedy man, and he wasn't a rich man, but he was always ahead."

He not always happy, however. Dean tried to build a hydroelectric plant near Prince Rupert and was defeated by politicians who stole the idea and built it themselves. Back in Victoria, he spent time on Chatham Street trying to reform prostitutes, and one of them broke his heart. (Her pressed flowers are in his diaries.) Dean moved to Rossland, became a successful realtor, then returned to Victoria in 1908 – and spent the next 35 years waging a public one-man war against ineffective and arrogant government officials.

Dean ran three times for mayor between 1926 and 1929, on the platform that Victoria's natural beauty was being destroyed by haphazard construction approved by politicians, instead of professional planners. He lost those campaigns, but continued publishing hundreds of letters to editors (a practice daily papers discourage today by limiting the frequency of missives from the same author), providing observations from his travels around the world, and commenting on such subjects as causes of the Depression, beer parlours, wasted water, and elevator bylaws. In 1938, when the city considered replacing streetcars with buses, Dean wrote a 15-point analysis in favour of rail transit, proving that he was ahead of his time. ("Sending money away for oil," he noted, "when we have hydro power galore, appears foolish.") To celebrate his 90th birthday, Dean mailed 250 letters to politicians complaining about the shabby military construction visible from the huge windows of his mansion "Seascape", at 572 Head Street in Esquimalt.

Certainly, some who remembered him said that Dean was a miserable old coot. Although he loved giving his money away to small children, he never saw his dreams for Victoria fulfilled, and remained a bachelor all his life, a fact he blamed on his constant travelling. In 1936, he bought a plot in Ross Bay Cemetery and erected a gravestone with the error-ridden epigraph, "It is a rotten world, artful politicians are its bane. It's saving grace is the artlessness of the young and the wonders of the sky." Dean had his photograph taken beside the gravestone (shown below) and mischeviously sent it to all his friends. He died in 1943, at the age of 92.

But Dean did leave a substantial legacy. In 1905 he'd bought 32 hectares on Mount Newton, and in the middle of the forest built "Illahie" (photo left), his summer lodge, using materials he'd hauled from town on the Interurban railway. One summer, Freeman King, the local Boy Scouts troop leader, persuaded Dean to let Scouts camp on his property, and Dean was so impressed by how clean they left it that he decided to turn it into a park. In 1921, he gave his land to the province, creating the first donated provincial park in British Columbia. After Dean's death, Illahie fell into disrepair, and the forest service tore it down in 1957. But Dean's neighbours followed his lead and donated their own land to the park, and by 1960 it was 173 hectares in size.

"He was a man of great foresight," says Teague, who's now 33, and has self-published two books about Dean and the park. "Everybody shares John Dean, so I can't say he's had a greater influence on me than anyone else. He was quick to comment, he could cut right through nonsense and tell when people were trying to stall things. I certainly try to do that."

Teague certainly also shares Dean's reverence for the landscape. Since his teens, Teague has volunteered thousands of hours as the unofficial "Keeper of Illahie", building stairways and signposts, clearing trails, digging trenches to prevent washouts, and keeping the park immaculately clean. As he notes, to the Saanich peoples, Mount Newton is LÁU,WELNEW, "the place of refuge" where their ancestors escaped a great flood, and it must be treated with respect. "The First Nations have a deep connection to how they use the land here, for sweatlodges and initiations. It's a special way to share the mountain: it's a legislated park and a spiritual centre too. That's an amazing testament to what we can do, to share the wealth."

Last week, Leading Seaman Teague shipped out with the HMCS Protecteur on a seventh-month mission to the Persian Gulf. Here's hoping that he'll be safe, and the park too while he's gone.


At 12:43 PM, Blogger Benjamin Madison said...

Fascinating post. Thanks for the information about these little-known Victorians, John Dean and Jarrett Teague.

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A beautiful story indeed. Both men such gentlemen and for such worthy causes! Thank you for reminding me what a treasure I hold in having a copy of one of Mr. Tagues books regarding the John Dean Provincial park! Cheers.

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Merlin said...

Jarrett and I were best friends in school and he will always be dedicated to the care of the park. I am happy I could be a part of building some of the trails in the park as well as help him purchase the computer he wrote the books on.

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article! It is so nice to put a story, face and images to the mysterious moss-covered stones and trails the have been enchanting me (and my family) since the late 70's.


Post a Comment

<< Home