Spider Island Experience (1945 & 1946)
"Spider Island is situated off the coast of British Columbia about 300
miles north of Vancouver. It is a small island, one of a group that shelters the famous Inside Passage of Canada's West Coast. The island itself is roughly two miles across, and on the seaward side is buttressed by a huge rocky cliff. At the foot of this cliff the open Pacific Ocean pounds and thunders during the winter gales. The remainder of the island presents a startling contrast. Safe behind the rocky battlements of the cliff great trees tower into the sky. Beneath them, moss and sweet-smelling fern create glades of primeval beauty. Occasionally, one can see an antlered buck standing quite unafraid, just alert and watching... and always in the background the sound of the sea ... sometimes a thundering angry roar, at other times a soothing whisper, but at all times, a voice filled with fascination."
"Spider Island: where what you could do was more important than how much you made. Money had no meaning. There was a complete absence of greed. There was a slowed pace of life with time to appreciate simple pleasures, especially the wonder of nature. Important lesson learned: how much one could do without and still be happy and content. Food, shelter, clothing, basic essentials and some pluses: books to read, radio - and nature surrounding all, unspoiled."
Spider Island was chosen as a communications base during the Second World War because there was nothing between it and Japan but wild and open ocean.
After Japan surrendered in September, 1945, the radar and much of the auxiliary equipment were dismantled and most of the thirty servicemen were relocated. However four men remained on the island to maintain a 24/7 radio signal that U.S. aircraft used to fly between California and Alaska. Peter was one of these men. Gino, Mickey and Charlie were the other three.
Despite the differences in their backgrounds, the four were
compatible, fulfilling their duties as radio operators, managing supplies, and sending weather reports by radio to Port Hardy several times a day. The barracks were spartan in their amenities, but Peter was able to set up a small area to continue his art and poster work. He was also elected to cook most of the dinners for the group. He spent a good portion of the free time he was afforded sketching the waves and rocky shoreline below the station, making notes for future use. Herman was the resident cat at the base. A rather portly tabby, he couldn't catch a mouse even when he was locked in an empty room with it - a fact discovered when he was put to the test one spring afternoon.
road across the island
A point of concern that winter was the damp cold of mornings before the fire was lit. The men took turns lighting it, but the initial shock of the cold room was disconcerting. Peter had inherited a good dose of ingenuity from his father and devised a method that would allow the fire to be prepared the night before when the air was still warm. A wire was rigged to the key that wound the alarm clock. When the alarm sounded in the early dawn, the key would unwind, in turn pulling on the wire which would cause a wooden match to strike a rock and drop into the kindling, thus lighting the fire without anyone having to climb out of bed until the room was toasty warm. This worked perfectly well at night but, as it turned out, fizzled in the morning due to the damp air and moisture that collected on the rock during the night. So much for the "automatic fireplace lighter".
It was only a nine month assignment before Peter's war duties ended in 1946. With summer approaching, Gino, Mickey and Charlie were sent to Vancouver but Peter was granted permission to remain a little longer with their replacements to capture the terrain with his paint in summer. After that, he returned to live in Montreal and continue his life and work there. Just before he did, however, on a summer weekend leave to Ocean Falls, he met Susan. It was a fateful meeting which changed the course of events and circumstances for him, for her, and subsequently for both of their families. She was to become his wife.