WATSON, Robert




Author Tags: 1900-1950, Alcohol, Fiction

Robert Watson was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1882. He came to Canada in 1908 and worked as an accountant for the Hudson's Bay Company for ten years in Vancouver, six years in Vernon, one year in Saskatchewan and four years in Winnipeg. In Manitoba he became editor of The Bay's magazine, The Beaver.

His first novel, My Brave and Gallant Gentlemen (1918), is a romantic tale of a man finding love and paradise on the B.C. coast. The Girl of the O.K. Valley: A Romance of the Okanagan (1919) is a similar tale about a young girl who comes to live with an aunt and uncle in Vernock (Vernon). These were followed by Stronger Than His Sea (1920), in which an Irish girl moves to her uncle's Canadian ranch and falls in love, and The Spoilers of the Valley (1921). In the latter, an escaped convict from Oakalla is hidden from his pursuers on a dark night by the lovely and single daughter of a blacksmith. She hides him in the woodbox and, while the pursuers knock on her door and insist on searching the house (her father is away), they are unsuccessful and leave. But a very short time later, after she has revived the stranger and administered to his wounds, one of the posse turns up and surprises them. The posse member is also the Mayor of Vernock - and totally in love with the young woman. He urges the stranger to leave in order to protect the woman's reputation. Later, we discover that the fugitive is caught and returned to the prison in New Westminster. But there was some misunderstanding about the term he was to serve and it turns out he was due to be discharged on the day he escaped. He is given his freedom and 50 dollars. He spends about a week (and 20 dollars) in Vancouver before he decides to return to Vernock...

Following Watson's collection of "western ballads" and poems in the manner of Robert Service, The Mad Minstrel (1923), his novel Gordon of the Lost Lagoon (1924) concerns the misfortunes of a waterfront waif named Douglas Gordon who must live with his alcoholic foster father in a shack at the foot of Dunlevy, "one of the numerous streets in the vicinity with high-sounding names and disreputable histories." His happy Huck Finn existence is shattered by the death of his foster mother. The boy sells newspapers on a coastal ship, "The Seagull," and befriends a girl named Sheila Campbell in a coastal town called Cohoe (probably Gibson's Landing). In his early manhood he turns down an opportunity to become "the youngest stevedore on the coast" in favour of establishing himself as an independent Howe Sound beachcomber. He finds a lagoon--the lagoon of the novel's title--on an island in the vicinity of Keats Island and stores his logs there. He fights a rival, discovers his parentage and secures Sheila's love.

Secret Harbour (1926) and High Hazard (1928), the latter being an incredible Arctic romance serialized in Maclean's, also both begin in Vancouver. His final novel, When Christmas Came to Fort Garry (1935), is a romance of early Red River days.

"Giving one's formula for writing makes me feel as the bootlegger must have felt before the Royal Commissioner when he was asked to give his recipe for good Home Brew, but I must say that I never make plots," said Watson in 1928. "I create the characters and then let them work out the plot themselves. Sometimes they run away with it and surprise me, but whatever happens to them I always try to keep the colour of the hair and the eyes of the heroine the same from the first chapter to the last." Watson moved with his family to Hollywood in 1933 where he is reported to have done quite well for himself. He died on January 15, 1948.

BOOKS:

My Brave and Gallant Gentleman: A Romance of British Columbia (Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart; New York: George H. Doran; New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1918).

The Girl of the O.K. Valley (New York: A. L. Burt, 1919).

Stronger Than His Sea (New York: George H. Doran; Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1920).

The Spoilers of the Valley (New York: George H. Doran; A.L. Burt Company, New York, (1921).

The Mad Minstrel (Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1923).

Gordon of the Lost Lagoon (Toronto: Thomas Allen; New York: Minton, Balch & Company; New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1924).

Canada's Fur-Bearers (1925)

Secret Harbour (1926)

Me and Peter (1926)

Lower Fort Garry: A History of the Stone Fort (Winnipeg: Hudson's Bay Co., 1928).

High Hazard: A Romance of the Far Arctic (London: Sampson Low, 1928; New York: Louis Carrier, 1929).

Famous Forts Of Manitoba (1929)

A Boy of the Great North-West: The Rousing Experiences of a Young Canadian Among Cowboys, Hunters, Trappers, Fur Traders, Fisherrmen and Indians (Ottawa: Graphic Publishers Limited, 1930).

Dreams of Fort Garry: An Epic Poem on the Life and Times of the Early Settlers of Western Canada, Complete with Glossary and Historical Notes (Winnipeg: Stovel Company Limited, 1931). Illustrated by Walter J. Philips.

The Native Returns (1932)

When Christmas Came to Fort Garry: The Romace of the Early Red River Days (Toronto: Ryerson, 1935).

[BCBW 2005]