HARPER, Frank




Author Tags: Journalism

Frank Harper is a well-loved figure who came to Clayoquot Sound with his young family at age forty in 1970. “I was a teacher at a factory-like university in Oregon,” he says. “I was seeking to change my life, to find a way to drop out and to drop in. I wanted to find a simple place to live, to find community and self sufficiency and adventure.”

Harper and a small group of friends settled on a south-facing sandy beach on land below Catface Mountain, a twenty-minute boat ride from Tofino. To this day they continue to legally squat (and pay taxes) on the Crown land beneath Catface’s bumpy outline that can be seen from the Whiskey Dock of what he refers to as the “neo-classical resort” of Tofino.

The story of how Harper achieved his “drop-in” objective is told in Frank Harper’s Journeys (Cherub Books ___), a charming collection of personal essays that sold out its first printing in six months, despite being sold being only available from two stores. Most significantly, Harper founded, edited and published The Sound Newspaper with a village of volunteers. In business since 1990, that newspaper remains the best record of Tofino when it was still a fishing village at the end of the road.

In short, Frank Harper is Tofino’s Steinbeck. His talents include a great ear for dialogue and the ability to make you feel right there in the story with him. Illustrated by Joanna Streetly’s line drawings, Journeys is a collection of Harper’s essays that appeared under the same title in The Sound. A few additional stories were written specifically for this collection.

Journeys is book-ended by two stories—set thirty years apart—in which Harper is struggling to get to the Whiskey Dock in his car. In the first tale, a dog sleeping in the middle of the road stops him; in the second, a tourist traffic gridlock holds him up.

Other stories include an amusing tale of a bogus tsunami warning, a canoe rescue from Catface, a storm journal, life as a wilderness chef cooking moose meat, our occasional beastly attitudes towards nature and a tale set in Smiley's Bowling Alley with a pesky interviewer.

Journeys is filled with amazing adventures, big and small, in which Harper is usually the central character. “But the book deals with a more profound journey than mine,” he notes. “An ever-changing mysterious wilderness is intruded upon by the sudden, money-haunted globalization of a tiny village."

Produced by Cherub Books—a loose collection of Tofitians who have contributed both financial and digital support to the project—Frank Harper’s Journeys is now into its second printing. Harper neither decries nor laments; he simply uses his keen eye and ear to help us bear witness.

[Journeys is available from two Tofino bookstores: Wildside Booksellers (250-725-42222, wildbook@island.net) and Mermaid Tales Bookshop (250-725-2125, merbook@island.net).]

-- By Grant Shilling, a founding member of the Catface Bodysufing Club and author of The Cedar Surf: An Informal History of Surfing in British Columbia.

[BCBW 2007] "Journalism"