Florence, Dante and Me

In the early 1960s, when all things European were hip, a UBC student went to Italy for a year to study Dante. His letters home are the subject of a new book. Review by Beverly Cramp. FULL STORY

#12 BC Crime Stories Rattlesnake Isl.

February 17th, 2015

They called him Crazy Eddie in the Okanagan Valley.

Eddie Haymour complained constantly that powerful forces were conspiring against him, plotting to steal his land and his dreams, ruining his life.

The provincial government, police, and bureaucrats were part of the conspiracy, he’d tell anyone who would listen.

By 1972, most people dismissed the former barber as paranoid, a nut.

But Haymour was right. Powerful politicians and bureaucrats were conspiring against him, using and abusing the courts and coercion to kill his dream and force him to sell his beloved Lake Okanagan island to the government at a desperately cheap price.

What nobody realized was how far Eddie would go to get justice.

Haymour was an outsider in the small Okanagan community of Peachland, about thirty minutes south of Kelowna, when he came to pursue his vision of the Canadian dream in 1970.

He was born forty years earlier in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, an area of rich farmlands, hills and lakes, and spectacular Roman ruins. His family—his Muslim father and Christian mother—decided to move to Beirut when he was a young man, and Haymour became a barber.

But he wanted more. And in 1955, he immigrated to Canada, where his sister was already living. Haymour didn’t speak English, and arrived with seventeen dollars in his pocket. He got a sign that said “Me Barber,” learned to pronounce the two words, and walked around Edmonton until he got work.

Haymour worked hard, with tremendous energy. He started his own barbershop, bought a home, and opened hair salons and stylist schools in Calgary and Edmonton. It was the Canadian dream.

He was charming, handsome, captured in a photo in white tux and black bow tie, a cigarette in one hand, black hair shiny and swept back, a strong cleft chin.

In 1960, when he became a Canadian citizen, Haymour was so proud that he threw a lavish Mideast-themed celebration for 250 people, complete with belly dancers. Edmonton mayor Elmer Roper and the lieutenant governor were on the guest list. “The best day of my life,” he recalled later.

But as he neared his forties, Haymour started to reflect on his life. He had married a Canadian, Loreen, and they had four children. But Haymour worked constantly and the marriage was increasingly strained.

It was time for a change.

In 1970, Haymour decided the Okanagan Valley offered a new start. With the fruit trees and gentle hills surrounding the large lake, it reminded him of the Beqaa Valley.

The Okanagan was a conservative place in 1970. Kelowna had 19,000 residents, less than one-sixth today’s population.

Haymour—with his Lebanese background, self-made wealth, and a big personality—stood out. Especially when he built his dream house on a rocky ridge overlooking the lake. It was enormous, and defied architectural labels, part Moorish castle and part German chateau.

The site offered spectacular views across the valley. Which meant the towering house, with seven bedrooms, three living rooms, and two elevators, was visible for miles. People called it an eyesore, sniffed at the ostentation.

Haymour had more plans. He dreamed of a Mideast-themed amusement park to bring people to the Okanagan. On a Sunday afternoon drive, he spotted Rattlesnake Island, in front of Peachland. It was empty, just rock and scrub and grass, and, at 1.8 hectares, a perfect place to build his dream.

Haymour was a doer. He found out the unzoned property could be developed any way he wanted. He presented his ideas to Peachland council, which agreed to help with an onshore dock for the water taxis that would ferry visitors to his attraction.

And he bought the island, drafted his plans, and started building. Haymour didn’t hire architects; he walked the island and started sketching—a dock to welcome visitors here, an eighteen-hole miniature golf course, each hole celebrating a different aspect of Mideastern culture, here, two pyramids, a swimming pool, restaurants serving delicacies from his homeland, a twelve-metre-tall concrete camel children could play inside, a cave, and a pretend submarine.

But some well-connected locals weren’t happy—including W. A. C. Bennett, the legendary Social Credit premier who represented the riding.

Suddenly, Haymour started having problems. Approvals he needed for things like a sewage system were stalled in the bureaucracy. The Highways Ministry blocked access to the ferry dock. The provincial government retroactively zoned the island as ‘“a forest and grazing reserve,” even though it only had one tree.

When he tried to welcome several hundred guests to a preview in June 1972, RCMP officers spent the day at the water taxi dock discouraging people from attending.

Haymour pressed on, despite the enormous challenges and mounting costs. He became increasingly convinced he was the victim of a conspiracy.

But the Royal Bank heard about the problems and delays and pulled his loans.

The project was dead, and the $170,000 he had spent on it was lost. Haymour couldn’t pay his bills. His marriage, not surprisingly, began to fall apart, and in July 1973 Loreen and the children moved back to Alberta. The government made a lowball offer of $40,000 for the island.

But Haymour wouldn’t sell. He complained of the conspiracy, pleaded for help from anyone he could reach, even flying back to ask the Lebanese government to intervene. No one believed him. In fact, people thought he was nuts.

Willcocks, Paul b&w

Paul Willcocks

But Haymour was right. Behind the scenes, Bennett, provincial cabinet ministers, local officials, and at least six government departments had been secretly conspiring to make sure the project would never be built.

This story is from the book, Dead Ends: BC Crime Stories (University of Regina Press $19.95), by journalist Paul Willcocks. It’s part of the University of Regina Press’s Canadian True Crime Series. Each book in this series contains 40 bizarre and sensational transgressions. 978-0-88977-348-6

 

 

2 Responses to “#12 BC Crime Stories Rattlesnake Isl.”

  1. me says:

    The Government was racist at the time.

  2. me says:

    The government was racist at the time

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