Book excerpt: The story of Mac and 'the Princess'

After her husband died in 1926 from a suspected drowning, Capi Blanchet spent every summer cruising B.C.’s west coast with her five children and their dog in the family’s 25-foot boat. Blanchet chronicled her adventures in the bestselling book The Curve of Time, but little else is known about her life. Local author Cathy Converse found herself wondering: Who was this skipper, this mother, this writer? To answer these questions, Converse set out on her own adventure to revisit the places Blanchet had written about, including the gorgeous Princess Louisa Inlet, as described in the following excerpt.

More than 70 summers have passed since Capi and her children cruised the inlets and waterways along the Strait of Georgia, Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait. Much has changed and yet much has stayed the same since they carved their dreams into the fabric of time. The people she wrote about have slipped from Earth; some have left traces, others not. Places she knew appear familiar and yet different — sometimes there is a vague outline of what was, of what they saw.

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At the top end of Princess Louisa Inlet and west of Chatterbox Falls there is a spot called Trappers Rock where Capi and the children often tied up. The first year they found their way into this pristine, glacier-cut terrain, they had the anchorage nearly to themselves, just the way they liked it. It was an exciting find for the family.

1_FTC_Cover005346.jpgIn their previous reading about the area, the children were delighted to learn that Capt. George Vancouver had missed the entrance, assuming it was a creek instead. They saw themselves as intrepid explorers, discovering places unknown. Princess Louisa Inlet is almost indescribable in its beauty. It is approached by way of Jervis Inlet, a deep fjord that slices into the Coast Range and divides the Sunshine Coast in two.

 

It is an area where katabatic winds typically sweep down from the mountaintops, spilling out into the inlet and over the boats below. Capi battled the wind part of the way up, but the Caprice held firm, inching its way along. Relaying her experience, she wrote: “[The wind] picks you up in its teeth and shakes you. It hits you first on one side and then on the other. There is nowhere to go, you just have to take it.”

Princess Louisa Inlet is entered at its south end, through Malibu Rapids, a narrow gorge where the waters are squeezed, causing overfalls and whirlpools. The tidal stream in Malibu Rapids can attain nine knots during large tides, and it is best traversed in mid-channel, at slack or near slack water. Capi negotiated this passage aggressively but without much finesse.

She wrote that it was “an effort to control the boat … as you race past the last points, the ridge shatters into a turmoil of a dozen different currents and confusions. Your boat dashes toward the rocky cliff … the cliff … rushes toward your boat. You wrestle with the wheel … and finally manage to drag the two apart.” The inlet then provides a four-mile cruise alongside upthrustings of Precambrian granite and tree-covered mountains that rise to heights of 2,100 metres. At its head is one of the most famous waterfalls in British Columbia: Chatterbox Falls, a 40-metre raging force of water that snakes down from the headwaters of Loquilts Creek and plunges with great clamour into the still waters below.

On the Blanchets’ first visit there was only one inhabitant in the inlet, a German army deserter named Herman Casper. It was said that you could pick up a flea or two from him. He was a blacksmith, zither player and master of 26 cats, but he lived down at the mouth of the inlet, by Malibu Rapids; he was no bother. In the main, they were free to explore without interference, so they were slightly miffed the following year when they found the “intruder,” as they called him, building a cabin in their spot. Capi noted this infringement with smouldering contempt.

“On the other side of the falls we could see a big float … new since last year. Somewhere in behind lay the log cabin and the intruder … this man and his log-cabin made the first thin wedge of civilization that had been driven into our favourite inlet.” The intruder was James Frederick “Mac” Macdonald, who had struck it rich in the Nevada mining boom. He had first visited Princess Louisa Inlet in 1919 and fallen in love with the area. After his windfall, he was able to purchase the property at the head of the inlet. In 1927, he paid $420 to the B.C. government for a small piece of rock and a forest of trees far from civilization.

Despite the incursion into her quiet anchorage, Capi had to admit that she was impressed by the quality of work and thought that had gone into the construction of Mac’s house. Very spacious inside, unlike many on the coast, it was elegant, yet rustic. It was built entirely of peeled cedar logs, as was much of the furniture. He had a large stone fireplace, beautiful shiny wood floors and a handsome stairway that led up to the bedrooms and bathroom. There were floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a lovely Navajo-looking throw rug on the floor, creating a very comfortable and inviting home, much like the man himself.

Always a gracious host, he entertained boaters, loggers, trappers and fishermen, telling them stories of the history and legends of the inlet and pointing out places of interest and of danger. Capi and the children returned several times during their summer cruises. Her initial ambivalence toward and disdain of the man gradually turned into friendship, and she and Mac had many interesting chats over the years. However, as boaters began visiting the area more frequently, Capi and the children spent less time there. Where once they had stayed several weeks, they later confined their visit to a number of days. Beautiful though it was, the inlet was becoming too populated for her.

Over time, Mac’s name became synonymous with the inlet. He grew to become its protector, acting as a self-appointed custodian; he built hiking trails, floats, ramps and outdoor fireplaces to add to the comfort of his visitors. Above all else, Mac wanted “the Princess” to remain unspoiled, and he worked hard to preserve the area in its natural state. Despite many offers to purchase his land, he stayed, even when his cabin was destroyed by fire in 1940. At one point, in the early 1950s, he was offered $400,000. He could have used the money, as he was then running short, but the land was not for sale. Mac was concerned about the very real possibility that his beloved inlet could be used for commercial interests. It had happened once before, in the late 1930s. …

Mac tended “the Princess” until he could no longer afford to do so. Feeling strongly that Princess Louisa Inlet should belong to no one individual, he deeded his property in 1953 to the boaters of the Pacific Northwest under the guardianship of the non-profit Princess Louisa International Society. In 1965, the British Columbia Parks Department took over the administration of the area and made it into a marine park. The Princess Louisa International Society continues to function as an advisory body and has added more land to the park. In 2003, with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a number of other organizations, it purchased an additional 89 hectares surrounding Mac’s original land.

Excerpt from Following the Curve of Time: The Untold Story of Capi Blanchet, TouchWood Editions, ©2018 Cathy Converse

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