Slender and stunningly beautiful Idris Hall was a tall, bisexual explorer and film star, raised in North Vancouver, Duncan and Qualicum, who has been dubbed the first woman to travel around the world by car.

She faced a firing squad in Russia; drove across Africa and China; briefly lived with Amazon tribes; shook hands with Mussolini and flirted with Hollywood royalty. Her husband Walter Wanderwell, a WW I spy, was mysteriously murdered on their yacht. Now she's the subject of Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer (Goose Lane $24.95), a long-delayed biography co-written by Randy Eustace-Walden with Christian Fink-Jensen.

After an elite education in Belgium and France, tomboyish Idris Hall was hired as a secretary and driver for around-the-world expeditions to headed by "Captain" Walter Wanderwell. Born in Poland, his real name was Valerian Johannes Pieczynski. He had no military rank; he just wanted a name that would appeal to Americans. He soon changed her name to Aloha Wanderwell.

In 1922, with his wife Nell (from Seattle), Walter had started to lead two motoring teams on global expeditions in Ford armoured cars, ostensibly to compete for most miles logged, likely supported by Henry Ford and Standard Oil. Initially Walter claimed Aloha (on his team) as his adopted sister, then abandoned Nell. They were feted with a ticker tape parade in Detroit.

The couple ran afoul of the Mann Act (transporting women across state lines in the U.S. for immoral purposes) and married in Los Angeles in 1925. He was 29; she was 18. He was 5'6";; she was 6'. They would have two children, Nile and Valri, born in Capetown and Miami respectively

It has been erroneously suggested that Aloha Wanderwell, masquerading as a man, was one of the few women to serve in the French Foreign Legion until she was unmasked; similarly there is little proof that she engaged in a fire-fight with Arabs in North Africa in the mid-1920s. She did, however, hang out with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. She also participated in the search for the lost Percy Fawcett Expedition in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil just prior to her husband's death when he was shot in the back. She also learned how to fly a float plane.

Relatives of Idris Hall have owned tracts of land in North Vancouver, Qualicum Beach and Merville, B.C. Her father Herbert Hall, a British Army reservist, was Vancouver Island rancher and developer who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914 and accepted a commission as lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry, based in Yorkshire where he grew up. Aloha's mother travelled with her younger daughter, Miki, to England to be closer to him, leaving Aloha in school on Vancouver Island, but Herbert was killed in action at Ypres in 1917. Idris eventually made it to Paris in 1924.

The biography draws from her diaries, family interviews and recently de-classified FBI material to reveal the ambiguities of a seemingly sensual and bold woman-and purports to re-open the book on Walter Wanderwell's murder.

With a different title, this book was slated for publication from McClelland & Stewart until that distinctly Canadian company was acquired by Random House. The new parent company delayed publication to the point where the authors regained their publication rights. In 2015, their new agent, Carolyn Forde of Westwood Creative Artists, sold North American English and French language rights to Goose Lane Editions in New Brunswick.

Randy Eustace-Walden of Vancouver discovered the bizarre story of Aloha Wanderwell in October of 1998 while researching a documentary he wanted to make about driving around the world. While he looking up various Hawaii-based airlines for the last leg of that trip, the Google search terms 'Aloha Airlines' and 'round the world' produced a myriad results, including 'Aloha Wanderwell.'

His manuscript was originally entitled Aloha Wanderwell: The Mysterious Life of the World's Youngest Explorer, then later The Girl Who Stole The World.

Hall was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October, 1906. Her birth name was Idris Welsh, later Hall. Aloha, her baby sister Miki, and her parents, Herbert and Margaret, moved to North Vancouver in 1910, where Herbert took on the challenges of land speculator. Their large family-style dwelling was located near the juncture of Mahon Ave. and West 13th Street. The family home no longer exists.

Herbert Hall bought and developed a large parcel of waterfront land (approximately 40 acres) in Qualicum Beach bordering on what is now Judge's Row - some of the most expensive real estate in Canada. The site eventually became the home to the Qualicum Beach Boy's School (Qualicum College), and later a hotel complex. The family's original land at Qualicum Beach, since parcelled into many properties, is bounded by three streets:
College Road, on which the old boy's school building stands; Knight Terrace, named for the two brothers who purchased the largest parcel from Aloha's mother in order to build the school; and Hall Road, named after Herbert the developer, which runs the length of Qualicum Beach.

In the late 1930s, Aloha and her sister, Miki, acquired land up the coast near the town of Merville. This land parcel ran to over 70 acres. Miki had squatted on waterfront land there, at one point owned by the E&N Railway, in a canvas tent. In the early 1960's she helped build a wooden structure at Merville she called 'Windsong,' still standing at time of publication of the biography.

Randy Eustace-Walden has been an entrepreneur since high school, at the age of fifteen, when he received his first pay cheque as a film critic. His regular film review column in a local entertainment magazine was syndicated and led to him writing, producing, and hosting his own movie-based television series. Over the ensuing 40+ years, his diverse media-based career crossed and intersected various disciplines including publishing, television, film, radio, and online as writer, author, journalist, editor, forensic researcher, critic, television producer, director, documentarian, web developer and teacher.

His travel and food book, Entreé To Asia: A Culinary Adventure, was simultaneously published in Canada (Raincoast), the United States (Tuttle), and across Asia (Periplus). The book was a hardcover companion to his eponymous twice Emmy-nominated television series, which he wrote and produced for PBS. He is also the recipient of two Gemini Award nominations, several Leo award and Remi award wins and nominations, and a past winner of the Nissan Journalism Award, sponsored by Ryerson School of Journalism.

From kindergarten to grade nine, Randy Eustace-Walden attended ten different schools in two different cities. By 2016, he had moved fifty-two times in his life, having recently spent a year living and working in one of his very favourite cities, Singapore.


Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer (Goose Lane 2016) 9780864928955 $24.95

Alan Twigg [BCBW 2016]