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  • Gayle Baker

A Meander Down Memory Lane with Tom Toynbee

January 26

Nineteen joined us to welcome longtime Salt Spring leader, Tom Toynbee. He took us on a meander down Memory Lane, and did we ever learn a lot about Ganges’ fascinating history! For many of us, it was a welcome break from concern about today’s issues to immerse ourselves in a time past and enjoy Tom’s amazing memory and passion for all things Ganges.


Tom was born at Lady Minto Hospital (at the location of today’s Community Services) on May 8, 1934. Yes, he has a big birthday approaching :). We all shared a laugh when we learned that his first visitor as a newborn in the hospital was 3 1/2-year old Bob Rush wearing nothing but his gumboots! Tom went to the Salt Spring Consolidated School, now our Elementary School, graduating in 1952.


Having only been to Victoria twice a year to a visit to the dentist, Tom knew little but Salt Spring. What a different world of travel and celebrity Tom saw as a member of the UBC rowing team. Often treated as royalty, his team swept the rowing world, generating headlines wherever they went. One of his favorites is: Backwoods Boys from BC Stun the World! when his team beat Russia at the 1955 Royal Henley Regatta.


Coached by Frank Read, this new, untested team catapulted into history with stunning victories in Newport Beach and the 1954 British Empire Games, surprising 12,000 fans. including Prince Philip. A rower of the beaten British crew was both stunned and impressed saying, The Canadians were very, very, fit... in fact they are the guttiest chaps I know. And, beating the Russians at the 1955 Royal Henley Regatta cemented the fame of this amazing upstart rowing team from previously unnoticed western Canada (https://gothunderbirds.ca/honors/ubc-sports-hall-of-fame/1954-1955-ubc-mens-eight-oared-rowing-crew/147).


Offered the opportunity to train for the 1956 Olympics, two events convinced Tom to pass up this opportunity: His grades had suffered from all this fame, and he had fallen in love. Time, he decided, to focus on his career instead.


But, those memories of rowing still make Tom smile, and he recalled with pleasure the recent special Fritz showing of the currently popular movie, Boys in the Boat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boys_in_the_Boat_(film)), made even more special by the attendance of our enthusiastic girls’ rowing team.


Beginning his career as a sales representative of a subsidiary of Texaco, he soon realized that the oil business was not for him. He found a better fit in 1959 with wholesale lumber serving as General Manager until he returned to Salt Spring in 1971.


His brother Dick and wife Barbara had come back to Salt Spring in 1969, convincing other brothers, cousins, and wives to partner to buy what was left of the Mouat holdings. These brothers were the grandchildren of Jane Mouat, who, with her son, Gilbert, had borrowed money from the community to purchase the Malcolm & Purvis store, located adjacent to the present Mouat building. They had opened the original Mouat Store in 1907 (https://mouatstrading.com/our-history/).


When Dick and his partners bought the Mouat property, the holdings consisted of today’s Home Hardware building, the TreeHouse, and the current location of Whiskers and Mondo, then used for lumber storage. Want to read more? Check out Charles Kahn’s Mouat’s, The First Hundred Years (https://saltspringrealestateagent.com/radio-real-estate-show-with-david-from-mouats/).


Dick, a visionary and something of a romantic who wanted to preserve the historic Mouat store, convinced the rest of the family to buy into his vision. Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm, he has underestimated the challenges ahead. No sooner had the deal been made than two of the important businesses, Ben Greenoff’s Ben’s Lucky Dollar and the Post Office, both in the original Mouat’s building, failed to renew their lease, demanding more space.


Not making money, no reserves, and no land to expand, Mouat’s future looked bleak. It was so bleak that Tom and his wife rented their home for five years after arriving in 1971, unwilling to buy, worried that a viable business could not be established. Neither Tom nor Dick took a salary for some time.


But, there was a solution to the needed expansion: Creating land was not a foreign concept in Ganges. Reclaiming land, a good thing in those days, had recently created Centennial Park and the land for the Ganges Firehall by filling in the foreshore.


When Dick met with a provincial official to explore further reclaiming, he was told that he needed to buy all the adjacent properties holding foreshore leases. And, Dick went about doing just that. In very short order, Mouat’s had acquired the Ships Anchor (now Salt Spring Inn and sold soon after acquiring its foreshore lease); the White Elephant Restaurant, on pilings along the bay; and the Salt Spring Trading Company - all on credit.


The purchase of the Trading Company was accomplished through a $40,000 mortgage from Warren Hastings of Hasting's House. This purchase has an interesting twist as the Trading Company had been created to give Mouat’s competition. Established by Henry Wright Bullock, The Squire of Salt Spring, according to legend, the Trading Company was established when a Mouat’s clerk did not leave another customer to immediately give Bullock what he wanted.


These purchases positioned Mouat’s to significantly-expand by reclaiming the tidal bay. Serendipitously, the concrete plant being built on Rainbow Road needed level land for construction. Mouat’s bought 50,000 yards of fill, delivered one truck at a time, at $1 a yard.


Despite the extra land, the Post Office considered moving, The sewer controversy had spurred some business owners to think seriously about expanding uptown, today’s Upper Ganges Centre. Fearful of losing this important tenant, Dick and Tom offered a very low 5-year lease to the Post Office in the building that now houses Glads Ice Cream and West of the Moon, financed from their personal accounts and private lenders.


While a new two-story store was built for Ben’s Lucky Dollar Store, his store was not lucky: The large food chain, K and R, arrived on Salt Spring offering to buy or threatening to compete. Fearful of competing, Ben’s lease was transferred to K and R which survived, despite the fact that all the other K and R stores went bankrupt in the 1980s. Wanting a larger location, in 1986 K and R moved to the Upper Ganges Centre, the beginnings of Ganges Village Market, now Country Grocer.


A participant remembered buying at the Red and White in the Trading Company building. We learned that it thrived until 1993 until Mouat’s closed the building temporarily for renovations, returning it to its 1926 heritage condition and using much of the original lumber.


The hardware business in the original Mouat building (today’s location of Home Hardware) was initially run by Mouat’s. The hardware industry changed when Canadian Tire expanded its big box stores to British Columbia in 1980. Known for its low prices and huge inventories, wholesalers were failing, and Mouat’s hardware business was threatened. Luckily for them, Home Hardware also expanded into western Canada in 1980. While not offering the lowest prices nor largest inventory, Home Hardware offered better product knowledge and customer service. Mouat’s was happy to welcome Home Hardware, a lasting and good relationship and the beginnings of profitable profit margins for Mouat’s.


Want to learn more about the Ganges Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant? When Tom and his family arrived in 1971, Ganges had already been given notice by the Health Officer: Immediately stop dumping sewage into the Ganges Harbour! A decade-old study had revealed that existing Ganges septic systems were failing. And, few even had septic systems, most using a tank before discharging it into the ocean. Some, though, like the school, dumped their raw sewage directly into the bay. By the early 1970s, notice had been given to owners and fines and legal action threatened. Tom knew something needed to be done and even considered a private treatment plant at today’s Thrifty location, a solution not supported by health officials as they wanted a sewage treatment plant for all of Ganges.


And begin a decade of conflict and unpleasantness that was not resolved until our Ganges Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant finally opened in 1985. A strong proponent of this treatment plant, Tom was severely lambasted by determined opponents. For years Salt Spring was divided between those supporting a plant to treat our effluent and those sure that the treated outfall would both pollute the ocean as well as spurring multiple high rises. To this day, Tom still cannot understand how dumping sewage directly in to bay was preferable to its treatment and distant outfall, citing a study after the plant was in operation finding no coliform at the outfall and significantly-cleaner, e-coli-free, beaches.


An extraordinarily-painful time for Tom, he still describes the personal attacks and anger directed at him, a prominent local leader in favour of the Ganges Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant. Among his most unpleasant memories was NDP MLA Bob Skelly’s (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bob-skelly-bc-ndp-obit-1.6548980) public accusation charging MLA and Finance Minister Hugh Curtis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Austin_Curtis) of political favoritism.


Curtis was accused repeatedly in the Legislature (until Skelly was removed from the session) that he had made a payoff to his friends on Salt Spring. Later, MLA Charles Barber (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Frederick_Barber) named Tom Toynbee as one of the recipients of this political payoff, alleging that Tom planned to build a 250-unit housing development in Ganges with the advent of the proposed sewer.


Lawsuits flew and tempers got so out of hand that a barge in the Harbour loaded with the pipes for the outfall was torched. Eventually, to avoid an expensive defamation suit, Skelly was forced to retract his statement and apologize to Curtis, also sending his apology to every household in his riding. And, finally, after over a decade of controversy, the Ganges Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant, a model for its time, began operation in 1985 and continues to serve Ganges, still operating below its capacity.


As our time together was drawing to a close, a participant asked Tom about the relationship between Mouat’s and our Japanese community. A complicated question with no simple answers and no time to fully-explore this deeply-emotional question, it was decided that this question deserves more focus than was available as 1:00 approached. Watch for a gathering focused on this important piece of Salt Spring’s story.


As we prepared to leave, Tom promised to come back to visit us again. . .maybe near his upcoming 90th birthday in May? - to continue to take us meandering among tales of a forgotten Ganges. Amid applause, we said a fond farewell to Tom, appreciating his amazing memory, enthusiasm retelling great stories, his fearless leadership of our community despite opposition, his vision, and the infectious joy he exudes. (Thank-you, Tom!)


Please join us this Friday, February 2,11-1, in the SIMS (the former Middle School) classroom next to the Boardroom to welcome MLA Adam Olsen.


What would you like to ask him?

  • Can you tell us what is happening with the Police Review initiative?

  • What is being done to help our insecurely-housed?

  • What proposed legislation do you strongly support?

  • What bills concern you?

  • What would you like to accomplish in 2024?

  • -And?

Please join us this Friday to welcome Adam!


Did you know that ASK Salt Spring now has an Event Organizer? Grant Fredrickson has stepped up to identify special guests and coordinate their visits. . . Wahoo!


Who else would like to help? Maybe you would like to take charge of weekly media? Do you see yourself facilitating? How about writing reports? Or. . . ?


Please join us making ASK Salt Spring ever better!


Big News:

ASK Salt Spring now has ongoing funding! A heartfelt THANK-YOU to the Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA) and its Executive Director, Peter Allen !!!


***New fundraising option***

You can now give the Return It change you earn from your bottles to ASK Salt Spring: Account #230.


Any questions, anytime: ask@asksaltspring.com


Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings,

monthly schedule of upcoming gatherings? Asksaltspring.com.

Want to listen to interviews of our special guests?ASK Salt Spring Answered


Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.

We love your receipts! Remember: #15


Our Partners. . . .

Institute for Sustainability, Education, and Action (I-SEA), Country Grocer through Save-a-Tape and Gift Cards and Island Savings' Simple Generosity grant.

A heartfelt Thank-You!


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