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Bolton Expedition 1896
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Robert DeBeaux

From the Nanaimo Free Press, October 7, 1957

Pioneer Character Was Innkeeper, Storekeeper.

Recollections of another character in the Alberni Valley's early history are set on paper by Charles Taylor, Sr., who came to Alberni as a child in 1884. At one time the Valley's oldest living resident, Mr. Taylor now lives near Nanaimo. Here he writes of an old-time acquaintance.

Robert De Beaux
One of Alberni's unforgettable characters was Robert de Beaux [DeBeaux] or Bob, as he was usually called. He was born in Alsace-Lorraine and emigrated to the United States in his youth. After traveling about for some years and working in various places, he finally drifted into the Alberni Valley.

He took up a half section of land near Bainbridge, where the McLean Sawmill is now located. Bob was industrious and enterprising and when the China Creek gold rush started he moved up there and built a roadhouse to accommodate the miners and prospectors in the district. He supplied meals and beds and did the cooking himself. The meals were plain but substantial.

He was fond of putting up signs and writing letters. As his English education had been somewhat neglected, the spelling was weird and he had a habit of using long high-sounding words that very often had an entirely different meaning from what he intended.

Bob was very set in his ideas and would take no advice. One day he was busy cutting down trees around his place and one of them had a dangerous lean towards his house. Just as he was starting to take it down a prospector passed by and advised Bob to be very careful in falling it.

"Young man," said Bob, "I could draw a chalk line anywhere along the ground and lay this tree exactly along it." An hour or two later the same man returned and found Bob busy trimming the tree, which had fallen back across the roof of his house. "Where was your chalk line?" he called out. "Will you kindly go to h…! was all Bob could say.

Ran Store
After the gold excitement subsided he moved down to the townsite, as the Port was called, and opened a small general store. This was really about the first business to be started in Port Alberni. It was located on the corner of what is now Argyle and 3rd avenue, but was surrounded by brush at that time.

Bob kept a very miscellaneous stock and advertised his goods in the usual way with some wonderful signs, but the prices were moderate. He occasionally bought skins from some of the trappers in the district and when he had enough collected he sent a consignment out to a fur dealer.

The value of furs fluctuated a good deal and sometimes his returns were rather disappointing. I happened to go into the store one day just after he had received a cheque for his latest consignment of skins.

Bob was busy at his desk, which was cluttered up with his invoices and receipts, and he was going over them all. When he had finished he turned to me and said, "After checking everything very carefully, I find I have only lost a dollar and 49 cents."

He was a good citizen, but undoubtedly he still had a deep regard for Germany and when World War I started and public sentiment was running high, he was inclined to express himself too freely, so much so that he was interned at last and shipped back to Germany as a dangerous character.

After the war conditions in Germany were at a pretty low ebb but Bob was shrewd enough to see that there were chances there for investment, so after he was released he came back to Alberni and sold all his property and returned to Germany. In a few years he had become quite prosperous and eventually rose to the rank of burgomaster of some German town.

He met his death in an automobile accident.

On one of DeBeaux's trip to Vancouver, he left a man in charge of his store on Argyle Street. Due to his poor English and use of long words he posted a sign in the window saying: "Gone to Vancouver. My prostitute is in charge." Of course he meant "substitute" but the humour in his choice of words renedered something memorable out of something forgettable. Another story, one of the best known, had him writing a postcard to Simon Leister Company of Victoria requesting them to ship him a box of miners candles. Having done so he went to his storeroom and found that he in fact had some candles. He then wrote on the bottom of the postcard: "PS. Don't ship them, for I went to my room and there I found some." He then put on his hat, went out and posted the card. DeBeaux's store included bachelors quarters and a garden in which he grew strawberries and loganberries. He advertised as being a "Dealer in Boots and Shoes, Phonograph Records, Sporting Goods and Ladies Underwear." De Beaux was interned in Germany for two years and returned to Port Alberni in June 1921. Sometime in the next few years he sold all his holdings and returned to Stendal, Germany, but kept in touch with friends in Port Alberni. He was born on August 5 in 1868 or 69.

Hines, Ben. Pick, Pan and Pack:A History of Mining in the Alberni Mining Division. Local Initiatives Program. Alberni Valley Museum. Alberni, B.C. 1976,

Notice of interment. Port Alberni News. [Port Alberni, B.C.] (July 30, 1919) p. 4.

"Robert De Beaux Returns." Port Alberni News. [Port Alberni, B.C.] (June 8, 1921) p. 1.

Sproat, A.W. "West Coast Lore." The West Coast Advocate. [Port Alberni, B.C.] (April 11, 1935) p. 4.

"Bobby Debeaux." The West Coast Advocate. [Port Alberni, B.C.] (July 30, 1941) p. 2.

"Pioneer Character Was Innkeeper, Storekeeper." Nanaimo Free Press. [Nanaimo, B.C.] (October 7, 1957) p. 6.

"Eccentric Bobby DeBeaux an 'original'." Alberni Valley Times. [Alberni, B.C.] (February 11, 1976) p. 4.

Peterson, Jan. "Valley in Review." Alberni Valley Times. [Alberni, B.C.] (December 5 , 1990)

"De Beaux of the Sinful Syntax." The Nanaimo Star. [Nanaimo, B.C.] (July 26, 2002) p. B2.

Letter to Mrs Lilian White, September 3, 1927. Held in the Archives of the Alberni District Historical Society.

Bird, George. Tse-Wees-Ta (one man in a Boat). Arrowsmith Press Ltd. Port Alberni, B.C. 1971.

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