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John (Jock) Sutherland

1888 - 1974

John (Jock) Sutherland was born in 1888 in Philipston, a coal-mining town in southern Scotland. When Sutherland was twenty he made his first trip to Vancouver Island with other Scottish miners who were coming over to Canada to work as there were plenty of job opportunities. When he arrived in Cumberland some of his friends were already here so it wasn't long before he got a job in the coal mines. While there he made the acquaintance of two young radicals, Joe Taylor and Ginger Goodwin, who lived in Whyte's Bay on nearby Comox Lake. He spent many hours fishing with them and talking about the terrible conditions in the mines and how to improve them.

In 1914 Sutherland joined the services to go overseas to the Great War. He volunteered with the Royal Scots Expeditionary Force and was finally called up in 1915. He saw action at Paschendale and Vimy Ridge, spending nine months on the front line without a break. Although the fighting was intense he never sustained an injury that would take him out of the lines to a hospital, except for one bullet wound to the leg. At the end of the war in 1918, Sutherland returned to Philipston where he met a schoolteacher Mary Coubrough. They were married in late 1920 and in early 1921 they made the long boat journey from Scotland to Canada and back to Cumberland. Sutherland was psychologically scarred because of the deprivation and the horrors of the war and suffered from what was called "burned-out condition." After visiting a specialist in Vancouver he became the first veteran in Canada to receive a pension for this condition. This went on to affect not only his ability to work but his family life. In the mean time, Sutherland tried to work for the coal company again but found he had been blacklisted because of his earlier connections with Taylor and Goodwin who were well-known Union organizers.

Around 1925 Sutherland decided to move the family (he now had two daughters) to Whyte's Bay on Comox Lake where he started to build a house. He had various jobs but none lasted very long including watchman at the Comox Logging log dump, a watchman to keep the pumps going at the Number 4 mine after it shut down and to watch over the Canadian Collieries property. Another time he worked as a bridge builder near Campbell River. He also worked as a packer for the surveyor Norman Stewart who was surveying in and around Strathcona Park in the mid 1930's. Sutherland worked with other local men from Courtenay/Cumberland including Jack Horbury, Bill Bell, Jack Hames and George Colwell. In August 1934, Sutherland and Jack Horbury worked around the Aureole Snowfield and left a note on the summit of Mount Celeste (Rees Ridge) recording their visit. He was already familiar with the mountains to the west of Comox Lake as in the summer of 1932 he had taken his wife Mary, daughters Mavis and Marguerite, their dog Buster, and his old friend Harry Rees, on a trip to the Comox Glacier. Mavis later wrote about the trip:

Much planning was undertaken. Pack boards had to be made; two side boards bound with canvas and straps which had to fit just right. A big one for dad, a middle size one for mum and small ones for Marguerite and me. I was 11 years old at the time. Marguerite was given the job of carrying the pots and pans so she was nicknamed "wee pots and pans". Mr. Rees said the clatter of pots and pans would scare the bears away. A big item was food. It had to be reduced to what was most filling; dried vegetables, dried milk, rice, flour for bannock, hard tack, beans, prunes, raisins, oatmeal for porridge and sugar. They carried guns and fishing gear. Fish would be caught on the way and later grouse and deer would be hunted. Mother became more expert at cooking over a campfire. At each night's camp spot, a fire was made; a bed for the ashes and stones round the edge to hold the cooking pots. Soon fish would be sizzling in the pan, a billy can boiling for tea and a bubbling pot of rice made with dried milk and raisins. It made the best dessert ever.

We took the boat up to Quartz creek the first night, and then headed out to Lobley's cabin the next morning where we left the boats. We had to find the trailhead through the slashing. It was an awful mess because of the logging. Old Harry started up the trail ahead blazing the way with his axe; we followed very slowly. We didn't get very far the first day. There was no trail to follow, only some blaze marks. We were heading for the north arm of the Cruikshank River. It was hard getting through the thickets and the Devil's Club was a nuisance. We camped at the north fork by dark. At camp each night, a fire was made, and branches cut and laid just so, feathered, to make a comfortable bed. It was August and the weather was good. After a good meal, Old Harry would play some old Welsh tunes on his flute. We girls dropped off to sleep listening to the song of the river. We were snug under our blankets. There was much discussion about how to climb out of the valley. It would be steep with rocky slides making it difficult to get a hold. But there were plenty of small trees to pull ourselves up by. It was the hardest part of the trip but we did it. On top, we found a nice valley with a little lake which we called "Emerald Lake" because of its color. The Glacier was only about 200 yards in front of us. It was impressive.

This was to be our camping spot for the better part of a week Marguerite and I were to collect wood for the fire. Old Harry used his axe to make a table and log seats. A deer was shot and we had venison steaks with liver and onion for breakfast. We dug into the snow and made a meat store. We spent one day climbing on the Glacier and had to watch out for crevasses. We saw the 'red snow', caused by algae growth in the summer. Also we saw a white ptarmigan, a kind of grouse. One day, we heard the sirens down in Cumberland. Later, we found out that half of Cumberland had burned down.

It was a nice camp by the lake. Heather bloomed all around; the trees were stunted because of the altitude. There were lots of flowers; kinnickkinick, moss campion, phlox, mountain daisy, gentian, Indian paintbrush, monkey flower, arnica, yarrow. Tame whiskey jacks visited our camp and an eagle was seen flying over. It was truly a holiday to remember.

This was one of the earliest recorded (if not the first) ascent by a woman and young girls to the glacier and gives a wonderful view of camp life and the associated rigors during that period. Hikers today would find it hard to cope with the hardship they accepted as "normal" daily life back then.

Sutherland and Harry Rees built a cabin on Quartz Creek on the north side of Comox Lake in the 1920's where family and friends would go for camping trips. Eventually this cabin was taken apart and moved to Hornby Island because of logging and the flooding of the lake. The family also made camping trips to the Little Lakes, nowadays know as Willemar and Forbush Lakes. Several trips were also made up the Puntledge River towards The Red Pillar. Sutherland was a keen hunter and always took his rifle with him as it was an important part of supplementing his family's diet.

Sutherland was a natural athlete and enjoyed playing soccer in Cumberland. There was also a story that during the war he ran against a world champion runner and beat him. Sutherland could be considered a renaissance man as he enjoyed playing the accordion and violin especially old Scottish melodies. He was also fond of poems in the Romantic sense, particularly those of Robbie Burns and Robert Service. He had high moral standards and was firmly against the racist class system. He was friendly with the local First Nations, the Chinese and the Japanese population, and believed in equality for all. In the 1960's Jock and Mary moved from Whyte's Bay back into Cumberland because of ill health. Jock Sutherland passed away on ….1974 at the age of eighty-six.

Sproule, Gwyn. Whyte's Bay Days: The Memoirs of Mavis Wall. Courtenay, BC. 2007.


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