"It was during the Spring of 1901, in Victoria, B.C., that Mr. Luxton, a Canadian journalist, asked me if I thought I could accomplish a voyage around the world in a smaller vessel than the American yawl Spray, in which Captain Slocum, an American citizen, had successfully circumnavigated the globe." -- John Voss

Before there was Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon-Tiki, there was John Voss and the Tilikum in 1901.

The story goes that an intrepid, Winnipeg-born reporter named Norman Kenny Luxton met a hardened sailor named John Voss in a Victoria beer and they started talking about the seaworthiness of Indian dugout canoes made of red cedar. In April of 1901, Voss purchased a very old dugout he found in a small cove on northern Vancouver Island and together the two men prepared their 32-foot craft for a voyage to London. They embarked on the Tilikum from Oak Bay near Victoria on May 20, 1901 having added three masts, a set of close-hauled sails and a small cabin; they reached Penryhn Island in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific on September 2, 1901. All was not calm. The older Voss was a volatile character whom the much younger Luxton once threatened with a .22 calibre Stevens pistol. The journalist disembarked from the Tilikum on October 17 when they reached Fiji. Luxton eventually returned to Vancouver while Voss stubbornly crossed the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope. Accompanied by other mates, he sailed from Brazil and arrived at the mouth of the Thames River in September of 1904. Having logged 16,000 km at sea, the hulk of the Tillikum was left to decay in a Thames shipyard. Captain John Voss published his sailing memoir in 1913 as The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss. He faded into obscurity.

Luxton married and became well-known in Banff as the operator of a tourist store and taxidermist ship called The Sign of the Goat Trading Post. He also published the Crag and Canyon, reputedly Banff's first newspaper. He became a keen promoter of the region as 'Canada's Switzerland'. He played the part of a colourful local character by wearing a buckskin jacket and a ten-gallon hat. He also helped support Banff Indian Days. He died on October 26, 1962. Despite his differences with Voss, he generally expressed enthusiasm for Voss' book and his accomplishments. Luxton always intended to publish his own side of the story but failed to do in his lifetime. His daughter Eleanor Georgina Luxton edited his notes and photographs, added biographical sketches, and eventually published Tilikum: Luxton's Pacific Crossing (Sidney: Gray's Publishing, 1971). Arguably Luxton's abilities as a photographer surpassed his abilities as a writer.

The Tilikum was retrieved from England in the 1920s by the Vancouver Island Publicity Bureau and it was partially restored through the combined efforts of the Thermopylae Club and the B.C. Historical Society. After it was displayed at Thunderbird Park in Victoria for several decades, it became a permanent exhibit of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia as of 1965. [For a more detailed account, see John Voss entry.]

[Image: Norman Kenny Luxton]


Tilikum: Luxton's Pacific Crossing (Sidney: Gray's Publishing, 1971)

The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss (1913)

[BCBW 2004]