FARSON, Negley

Author Tags: 1900-1950, Fiction, Fishing

Early B.C. author Negley Farson is probably today little known to even the most voracious readers under 40. He was a slightly older contemporary of Ernest Hemingway; as a man Farson outdrank "Papa," as a journalist he out-adventured him, and when it came to trout fishing Farson outwrote Hemingway.

In the 1920's Negley Farson and his wife were part of the floathouse community that existed on Cowichan Lake. The attraction of such a life was fishing in "a paradise" -Vancouver Island's Cowichan River.

"Across the lake, on the long stretch of uninhabited shore -where a herd of wild elk nibbled the underbrush was one of the finest Rainbow creeks on the entire Pacific coast. I've seen them lying along the edge of the big slide of granite boulders at its mouth, rocks washed down by centuries of spring freshets, where they were packed tight as mackerel on a fishmonger's marble slab."

There Farson's writing career began, and there one of his first stories netted him $100 -"enough to keep the wolves away for months." No one has located his uncollected stories and articles about the two years at Cowichan Lake; however, there is a body of collected work. Going Fishing (1942) contains two chapters (and some of his finest prose) about the lake. He retells his stories and adds details in the five B.C. chapters of his autobiography, The Way of the Transgressor (1936). In 1938 he returned to Cowichan Lake and wrote the novel, The Story of a Lake. It is still quite readable and, as a logging novel, it is as important as anything written on the Coast.

Someone annotated my copy of this novel. Every one of the characters was identified by this unknown reader. No wonder a former resident of the area, one whose parents had known Farson, could say that Farson headed the list of people to be gut-shot should he return to the vicinity. Only a line or two lower than Farson's name was that of Colonel Andrew Haggard, Rider Haggard's brother, also a resident of Cowichan Lake and also the author of a colourful novel about the place, Two Worlds (1911).

To add slightly more colour to this literary atmosphere, it should be noted that Farson's uncle-in-law, also a lakeside resident, was Bram Stoker's brother.

Farson's writing of Cowichan Lake teems not only with fish of every description; every page introduces yet another character. Most of these are tough enough to make those in the pages of Raincoast Chronicles whimper in terror. And the majority had memories extending back into the 19th century: they were real old-timers.

The last summer on the lake, Farson and his wife were packing up in preparation for a boat-trip to Glacier Bay. That final day Farson could not resist the urge to fish for steelhead one last time. But they wouldn't rise to his fly. He fished all day only to realize that he was in a rut, he had to get out and play in the world again. But he's honest about his decision: "If the steelhead had been taking that day, I would probably be in B.C. now."

-- by Charles Lillard

[BCBW Spring 1987] "Fishing" "Fiction" "1900-1950"