REKSTEN, Terry (1942-2001)




Author Tags: Architecture, Essentials 2010, Maritime, Photography

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

The great murder story of B.C. is Terry Reksten’s non-fictional account of the life and death of Francis Mawson Rattenbury, the architect who designed the Empress Hotel, the Legislative Buildings and the Vancouver Courthouse (later transformed into the Vancouver Art Gallery). Reksten’s involvement with successful efforts to preserve Crystal Gardens, a Victoria landmark designed by Rattenbury, led to her biography, simply entitled Rattenbury (1978), which received the fifth annual Eaton’s Book Award.

Rattenbury immigrated to Vancouver in 1892, then relocated to Victoria where he enjoyed a distinguished career for three decades until he was embroiled in a land development scandal.

Equally problematic, he had divorced his first wife to marry Alma Clarke Pakenham, a lyricist for popular songs, who was 30 years younger.

The couple left B.C. in 1929 and settled in Bournemouth where the somewhat reclusive architect, nicknamed “Ratz,” was murdered six years later at age 67 by his 38-year-old wife’s 18-year-old chauffeur, handyman and lover, George Percy Stoner, on March 28, 1935. Allegedly high on cocaine-laced sandwiches, Stoner repeatedly bashed Rattenbury on the head with a carpenter’s mallet, giving rise to a famous murder trial at the Old Bailey in May and June of 1935.

Investigations for the so-called Mallet Murder revealed that Stoner and Mrs. Rattenbury repeatedly slept together in her bedroom, with her six-year-old son in the room. In the witness box Mrs. Rattenbury described how she accidentally trod on her husband’s false teeth when she discovered the body, then tried to insert the false teeth into his mouth to help him speak, if he was alive. The sordid affair generated headlines around the world.

The chauffeur was found guilty, but he was glad Alma was acquitted. “Deceitful bloody cow that she is,” he exclaims in Terence Rattigan’s play about the affair, “she’s the only woman I ever had, ever loved.”

Unable to endure the loss of her young lover, Alma went down to a river near her home and stabbed herself to death. Stoner’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Eventually he was released, although in the 1980s he was arrested on a morals charge.

Rattigan’s play became the basis for a TV movie Cause Célèbre, starring Helen Mirren as Alma. It aired on PBS Mystery in 1987.

Terry Reksten wrote six other books, including two about the Vancouver Island–based coal mining dynasty of the Dunsmuir family, and The Illustrated History of British Columbia (2001), a useful, fair-minded work that does not attempt any overriding views or organizing principles. Born in England in 1942, she died in 2001.


FULL ENTRY:

Historians with seven books about British Columbia became a great deal rarer when Victoria's Terry Reksten died in July of 2001.

Born Terry McVittie of Irish ancestry in Colchester, Essex, England on January 22, 1942, Terry Reksten came to the West Coast in 1947. She studied History and English at UBC, graduating in 1963. After a two-year teaching stint, a six-month sojourn to Europe and marriage to Don Reksten in 1965, Reksten moved to Victoria in 1970 where she became active in the preservation of historical and architectural landmarks. As a founding member of the Crystal Gardens Preservation Society, she became interested in the remarkable career and life of its architect, Francis Mawson Rattenbury, who also designed the Empress Hotel, the Legislative Buildings and the Vancouver Courthouse (now the Vancouver Art Gallery).

Francis Mawson Rattenbury was born in Leeds, England on October 11, 1867 and immigrated to Vancouver as an accomplished architect in 1892. He quickly gained the contract to design the Legislative Buildings in Victoria. With corporate clients that included the Bank of Montreal and CPR, Rattenbury, relocated to Victoria, enjoyed a distinguished career in B.C. for three decades until he became embroiled in land development scandal. Equally problematic, he had divorced his first wife to marry Alma Clarke Pakenham, a lyricist for popular songs and a musician who was 30 years younger.

The couple left B.C. in 1930 and settled in Bournemouth where the somewhat reclusive architect, nicknamed "Ratz", was murdered five years later at age 67 by his 38-year-old wife's 18-year-old chauffeur named George Percy Stoner, on March 28, 1935. Allegedly high on cocaine-laced sandwiches, Alma's lover Stoner repeatedly bashed Rattenbury on the head with a mallet, giving rise to a famous murder trial at the Old Bailey in May-June of 1935. Investigations for the so-called Mallet Murder revealed that the chauffeur and Mrs. Rattenbury repeatedly slept together in her bedroom, with her six-year-old son in the room. In the witness box Mrs. Rattenbury described how she accidentally trod on her husband's false teeth when she discovered the body, then tried to insert the false teeth into his mouth to help him speak. The sordid affair generated headlines around the world. The chauffeur was found guilty, but he was glad Alma was acquitted. "Deceitful bloody cow that she is," he exclaims in Terence Rattigan's play about the affair, "she's the only woman I ever had, ever loved." Unable to endure the loss of her young lover, Alma went down to a river near her home and stabbed herself to death. Due to his age, Stoner's sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Eventually he was released. In the 1980s he was arrested on a morals charge. Rattigan's play became the basis for a TV movie Cause Célèbre, starring Helen Mirren as Alma. It aired on PBS Mystery in 1987.

Reksten's biography Rattenbury (1978) received the fifth annual Eaton’s Book Award, the province’s top literary award at the time. Her second book, More English Than The English: A Very Social History of Victoria (1988), also became a perennial bestseller. She wrote two books pertaining to the legendary Dunsmuir family of Victoria, Craigdarroch, The Story of Dunsmuir Castle (1988) and The Dunsmuir Saga (1991), as well as A Century of Sailing 1892-1992: A History of the Oldest Yacht Club on Canada's Pacific Coast (1992) and The Empress Hotel (1997). Movie stars John Wayne, Shirley Temple and Mickey Rourke, plus royalty such as the King of Siam and Queen Elizabeth II, were among the Empress Hotel's more famous guests. Built in 1908 to accommodate wealthy world travellers, The Empress also attracted some eccentric, ongoing guests such as Florence French, the "Empress dowager", who lived at the Hotel for 42 years and drove an electric car at a top speed of six-miles-per-hour, and John Rowland, a dedicated "lobby sitter" who occupied the same chair by the grandfather clock for more thanb 20 years.

Reksten's seventh and final book, The Illustrated History of British Columbia (2001), was delayed so it would not compete head-to-head with the 824-page Encyclopedia of British Columbia, edited by Daniel Francis. Her 280-page summary of the province's history is approximately one-third text with 320 mostly black and white images. It contains dozens of fairly standard images such as Ripple Rock exploding, Amor de Cosmos, Bill Miner, Percy Williams, impounding of Japanese Canadians’ fishboats, Barkerville’s hurdy-gurdy girls, the Second Narrows Bridge tragedy and the Last Spike, etc. With major corporate sponsors that included the BC Archives, it is a useful, fair-minded work that does not attempt any overriding views or organizing principles.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Dunsmuir Saga
More English than the English: A Very Social History of Victoria
Rattenbury

BOOKS:

Rattenbury (Sono Nis 1978, 1998, 2005).
More English Than The English: A Very Social History of Victoria (Orca 1986)
Craigdarroch, The Story of Dunsmuir Castle (Orca 1988)
The Dunsmuir Saga (D&M 1991)
A Century of Sailing 1892-1992: A History of the Oldest Yacht Club on Canada's Pacific Coast (Orca 1992)
The Empress Hotel (D&M 1997). Reissued as The Fairmont Empress: The First Hundred Years (D&M 2008) with a new chapter by Rosemary Neering.
The Illustrated History of British Columbia (D&M 2001, 2005)

[BCBW 2010] "Eaton's"

The Empress Hotel (D&M $40)
Info



Movie stars John Wayne, Shirley Temple and Mickey Rourke, plus royalty such as the King of Siam and Queen Elizabeth II, were among the Empress Hotel's more famous guests. Built in 1908 to accommodate wealthy world travellers, The Empress Hotel (D&M $40) is chronicled by Terry Reksten. Eccentric guests included Florence French, the "Empress dowager" who lived at the Hotel for 42 years and drove an electric car at a top speed of six-miles-per-hour, and John Rowland, a dedicated "lobby sitter" who occupied the same chair by the grandfather clock for over 20 years.
1 55054 604 X

[BCBW 1997]


Craigdarroch: The Story of the Dunsmuir Castle
Info



THE LITERAL HIGH POINT OF VANCOUVER island coal mining history is the subject of Terry Reksten's Craigdarroch: The Story of the Dunsmuir Castle (Orca Book Publishers $12.95).

Constructed for millionaire coal baron Robert Dunsmuir atop the highest point of land in Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle was once the most expensive residence in Western Canada. The property was sold in 1909 and became the prize for a lottery featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

After serving as a military hospital, Craigdarroch housed Victoria College from 1921 to 1946. Faculty member Walter Gage later became president of UBC. Student newspaperman Pierre Berton left his mark at the college by carving his still visible initials into the building's panelling.

[BCBW 1988] “Mining”


The Dunsmuirs: Alone at the Edge (Talon $10.95)
Article



ROBERT DUNSMUIR ARRIVED IN B.C' AS A Scottish labourer in 1851. Overcoming bloody protests and strikes about lethal working conditions, he fashioned a fortune in coal and railways. His son James became premier and lieutenant-governor; his other son Alexander died an alcoholic. James' eight daughters married fortune hunters. One financed and acted in the first 'talkies' shot in B.C. Another was a lesbian who gambled away her life in Monte Carlo. Another married Parisian couturier Edward Molyneux. Still another devoted herself to serving Tallulah Bankhead. James's two privileged sons fared equally poorly. One went to his watery grave on the Lusitania; the other drank himself to death in Singapore. Terry Reksten has followed her book on Craigdarroch, the Dunsmuir family castle in Victoria, with a forthcoming multi-generational study, The Dunsmuir Saga (D&M $29.95), which promises to serve as a definitive reference text.' Playwright Rod Langley has already proven the popular appeal of the Dunsmuir clan by fashioning a trilogy of highly successful Dunsmuir plays for the Nanaimo Theatre Festival. The Dunsmuirs: Alone at the Edge (Talon $10.95) chronicles the disgrace and exile of Robbie Dunsmuir, his scab labour tactics in the Nanaimo coal fields and his scramble to control the lucrative Wellington Mine. The Dunsmuir dynasty naturally appears prominently in Dunsmuir's Dream: Ladysmith, The First Fifty Years (Porcepic $9.95), a local history project undertaken for Ladysmith by Richard Goodacre, executive director of the B.C. Heritage Society. Covering some of the same terrain is Ellen Mackay's Places of Worship: In the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys (Sono Nis $18.95), a study of more than 100 places of worship from a wide ethno-religious variety. When you worked in a Dunsmuir mine, you had plenty to pray about. With millions of dollars being spent to bolster B.C.'s film industry, it's surprising that the saga of the Dunsmuirs has remained under wraps. It's the stuff of a mini-series. Power, greed, jealousy, sex. The proof can be found in scores of books and pamphlets beyond these four new releases. Lynne Bowen's award-winning oral histories of Vancouver Island coal miners and Susan Mayse's biography of labour organizer Ginger Goodwin are among the essential source materials for anyone interested in the Dunsmuir family and how their tale of exploitation and corruption serves as an essential reflection on the evolution of B.C. society as a whole. Langley ISBN 0-88922-297-5 Reksten ISBN 0-88894-742-9 Goodacre ISBN 0-88878-302-7 Mackay ISBN 1-55039-021-X

[BCBW 1991] “History”