Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Artifact with a story...

by the ‘The Frying Pan Man’

One of the great pleasures about being a collector is where one goes and the people one meets.

If I purchase an item in an antique store, I always ask the vendor if they know any history or story attached to it. In most cases this question will draw a blank, but sometimes it will spark a story and something interesting may be learned from it. A few years ago my friend Ian, a fellow collector, and I stopped at a little rustic mall in the town of Coombs on Vancouver Island. One of the town’s main attractions was a restaurant and store with a sod roof, the sod was manicured by a few goats which happily grazed upon it. Next to the mall was a lovely old log home converted to an antique store and a couple of old buildings which housed another antique store and a bakery. Both antique stores contained a wide assortment of items which appealed to a variety of collector's interests.

Goats on roof at Coombs Market

I find antiques very comforting, for they are the real survivors of another era. Entering an antique and collectible store always gives me a thrill of anticipation as to what may be displayed on a shelf, in a case. or resting on the floor. When Ian and I entered the store in Coombs, I spotted a display case which appeared to contain some interesting pieces. The first item that attracted my attention was an old key with a leather flap attached. I asked to have a look at it and saw the name ISLANDER 28 stamped into the leather. I enquired of the lady if she had any history with it but she said it came from an estate sale. It first struck us that it may have belonged to one of the old Vancouver Island motels or auto courts. I noticed that someone had written something in ink on the back of the leather flap but it was so faded we could not interpret it. The writing made me think there was probably a reference or story attached to this key, so I purchased it with the thought it was unlikely its history would be revealed. I later thought it may have been a ship's key, as they were sometimes made with a leather flap. A few years later I purchased an interesting book on the CPR Princess ships and came across a reference to the ship " Islander", I am confident the key belonged to cabin no. 28 of that vessel.

It is a sad story but a common one showing the hazards of navigating the west coast of North America.

The following excerpt is from the website "Cruising the Past" (link highlighted below).

"The early CPNC ship Islander set the precedent for the Princess ships that would become the backbone of the eventual CPR fleet servicing the BC coast and Alaska. When built, she was the most luxurious vessel on the west coast.

She began cruising to Alaska in 1889, when the arrival of a steamer as elegant as Islander was a big event. Her career ended suddenly when carrying gold and passengers south from Skagway on July 13, 1892. The ship sank after hitting a submerged rock or drifting iceberg;
42 perished."

"The Islander"
Image from Wikimedia Commons
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