Tofino Profile: Art Clarke
by Shirley Langer, Tofino
Even before meeting Art for this interview, he is already joking and
joshing as we talk on the phone. Art loves to josh, and in person,
he’s one of those people who can remain absolutely deadpan, except
for the twinkle in his eyes. We sit in the small office he built on
his driveway overlooking the sea and the docks where he worked as harbour
manager for twenty-two years in 2000. Now retired, he and his family
run a Tofino B&B and Duffin Passage Charters.
Art once owned his own fish boat, fishing up and down the coast for
four years. Though he gave it up – “Didn’t much like
rolling around out there”, he says – still, he does like
talking about boats and what’s going on out on the briny. Every
day at one o’clock, his cronies gather in Art’s office
for a coffee klatch, where they exchange information about what’s
going on out on Clayoquot Sound. One of these cronies is David Rae-Arthur,
grandson of that eccentric personage, Cougar Annie, former occupant
of Boat Basin. Art and the Rae-Arthur family go back a long way, school-mates
in the one room school at Hot Springs Cove, where Art was raised and
lived until 1975. There were eight kids in the school in those years,
the 40s and 50s, four Clarkes and four Rae-Arthurs.
In 1933, Art’s father bought 260 acres at Hot Springs Cove from
the province. A former tugboat skipper for Island Tug Barge Co., he
then opened Clarke’s General Store, which he ran until retiring
in 1968, selling all but 40 acres of his land. The 40 acres he donated
for parkland, named Maquinna Park. Over the years, the Clarke family
ran the store, dispensed fuel to boats from the Standard Oil Gas Station
on the dock, and unloaded fish, Spring salmon and Coho, hauling them
to fish boxes where they were packed in ice for shipping off to the
Canadian Shipping Company in Victoria.
Born in 1940, from the age of eight, Art worked hard. “Sometimes
we iced fish all night, as much as 30,000 pounds. Once we iced 75,000
pounds.” Along the way, Art, mechanically adept, learned to fix
almost anything. Despite all the work and school, Art and the other
youngsters had the kind of great childhood fun that is enjoyed when
kids are allowed to invent their pastimes in the great out-of-doors.
For high excitement, a couple of kids would climb an alder tree, which
would then be chopped down. The fun was hanging on until the tree hit
the ground for two great bounces before jumping free of the tree. A
mix of native and non-native playmates cleared bush for a ball field.
What about cougars?” I ask. Art laughs aloud.
The cougars never bothered us. I think they knew we kids were as wild
or even wilder than they were!” Art is nine in a photograph he
shows me of him in his first boat—a fish box, its drain holes
corked, paddling about in front of the dock using 1x4s as paddles.
Art explains there were few holidays in those days, but no shortage
of work. An exception was Christmas. The fish company would send up
as many as eight turkeys, and Art’s mother, Mabel, would invite
native friends to partake in the festive big dinner. Art remembers
the many Japanese fishermen of those days. He still corresponds with
one Japanese friend who now lives in Toronto.
In the remoteness of the bush, the family radio was treasured by
the Clarkes. Art’s favourite program was a phone-in talk show on
CJOR hosted by sharp-tongued Jack Webster. And there was a phone in
Clarke’s General Store. “Our ring was 2 short and 3 long.
I remember that even though I sometimes can’t remember my own
number now.” Such is the way with the memories of nostalgia.
I wonder about growing up, about thoughts turning to girlfriends
in such a remote place.
We went out (to Victoria) every once in a long while. My first girl
friend was from there.” But Art didn’t get hitched until
he was forty years old. He met his wife, Gloria, in a church in Hong
Kong, where he was on vacation. Gloria is from the Philippines, and
was working in Hong Kong to send money home to her family. Upon returning
home, Art courted Gloria by letters, and after six months, she came
to Canada to marry her long-distance suitor. Art says that people welcomed
Gloria. They have a son, Arthur, now eighteen, “but Gloria’s
full time job”, he says, face deadpan with eyes twinkling, “is
looking after Arthur—who’s really a pretty quiet guy.”
While we chat, Art has kept on his brown fedora, a Stetson.
I’ve never seen you without a hat”, I remark.
That’s because I started going bald at age sixteen—some
illness I had”, he explains. He lifts the fedora up. Bald as
the proverbial bowling ball. Grinning, he replaces the hat. “Lose
too much heat without it”, he says.
Thanking him for his time, shaking hands, Art asks, “What was
your name again?”
I supply my name, adding, “Valerie Langer’s mother. You
know Val don’t you?”
He registers surprise. “Well, so you’re Valerie’s
mom. She’s the protestor, isn’t she?” his tone not
so much a question as a statement.
Activist”, I respond. Then Art speaks again, endearing himself
to me forever.
Well, well, well, so you’re Val’s mother. She did the right
thing you know. They would have cut everything. Really slowed them
down, she did.”
And this time, he wasn’t kidding around.
Shirley Langer describes herself as a woman about town with a well
developed civic consciousness.
Tofino profile of Art Clarke. Art was born in 1940 and lived at Hot Springs cove near Tofino until 1975. He now lives in Tofino, where he runs a B&B.