#55 George Godwin
January 21st, 2016
LOCATION: 9770 268th Street, Whonnock, Fraser Valley.
DIRECTIONS: The north-south street is 268th Street and going off to the west is 98th Avenue.
Here both the Newcomer in George Godwin’s novel The Eternal Forest Under Western Skies and Godwin himself looked at Mount Baker and dreamed living off the land in the first of two Fraser Valley residences that Godwin had in B.C. The address marks the entrance to the location of his homesite from 268th Street via a right-of-way that leads towards the actual (unmarked) site of the long-gone cabin. According to local historian Fred Braches, it would have stood behind the current house that is on the site.
“Just what had he expected from this change from the Old World to the New? And just what had he got?” — ‘The Eternal Forest’
George Godwin’s The Eternal Forest under Western Skies (1929) is the great novel of the Fraser Valley. Through the thoughts and experiences of a central character called the Newcomer, The Eternal Forest (its 1994 re-published title) vividly portrays homesteading, the prevailing racism of the times, the terrain of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, the clash of socialist hopes versus capitalism’s reality, and the emergence of Vancouver as a city. It remains a penetrating exploration of idealism as well as a revealing work of social analysis. The novel focuses on a couple who buys and clears property at Ferguson’s Landing, a fictionalized version of Whonnock, approximately 25 miles upstream from New Westminster, but their poverty and WWI lead them to renounce pioneering in favour of a return to England.
George Godwin was born in London in 1889. His father died when he was four. He was partially educated in Germany where he learned German and admired the works of Wagner, Schumann and Goethe. Godwin formed an antipathy to the snobbery and pettiness of the English class system, making him curious about life in other places. His brother Dick had gone to Samoa to oversee a copra plantation and his brother Donald had settled in Coquitlam, B.C.
After his mother died in 1911, Godwin went to British Columbia, sent for his fiancée, the daughter of a Belfast physician, and they bought and cleared land at Whonnock. They soon spent most of their money, added a son to their family, and discovered they were unable to compete economically with Japanese, Chinese and American farmers during the recession of 1913.
According to Fraser Valley historian Fred Braches, writing in 2014, Goodwin and his wife Dorothy Purdon, married in 1912, first settled on acreage off of today’s 268th Street. According to Braches, Goodwin was not cut to be a “bushranger,” and Dorothy hated the place. “A year or so later,” Braches writes, “after the birth of their first child, the couple moved to a more urban home on Spilsbury Street, close to the railway station and other amenities, before returning for good to England in 1915.”
Unimpressed by what the education system of B.C. could offer, and stirred by the outbreak of war, they admitted defeat and returned to England. Godwin was unable to join the English army due to his poor eyesight, so he memorized the eye chart and joined the Canadian infantry. With the help of his brother, Dick, he gained a commission from the Minister of Militia and joined Tobin’s Tigers, the 29th Battalion from Vancouver. They fought in France where Godwin was unable to muster antipathy towards the Germans. He was also critical of the coercive use of religion in war.
Godwin was wounded by a gas attack and, like the protagonist in The Eternal Forest, contracted tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanitarium near the Arrow Lakes. Returning to England, Godwin passed the rest of the war in Dorset teaching tank warfare. In the 1920s, he was called to the bar as a lawyer but opted for a career as a writer. He proceeded to publish an array of more than 20 books on a variety of subjects, including a 320-page biography of Captain George Vancouver.
He never returned to Canada.
Following a work called Columbia, or The Future of Canada (1928) and The Eternal Forest, Godwin provided a sequel to his first novel, changing the name of his autobiographical protagonist from the Newcomer to Stephen Craig, and making him a B.C. fruit grower. This memoir novel, Why Stay We Here? (1930), describes Godwin’s military experiences in 1916–1917.
George Godwin died at age 85 in 1974. Under an imprint called Godwin Books, Godwin’s Victoria-based grand-nephew, Robert Thomson, has set himself the task of reviving George Godwin’s literary reputation. Thomson republished an expanded version of The Eternal Forest in 1994, and has since made other Godwin texts available via the internet.
George’s Godwin’s The Eternal Forest is the great novel of the Fraser Valley. It is penetrating as a personal exploration of idealism, revealing as a work of social analysis and sophisticated in its impressions and execution. It ranks with Morley Roberts’ The Prey of the Strongest (1906), M.A. Grainger’s Woodsmen of the West (1908), Bertrand Sinclair’s Poor Man’s Rock (1920), Hubert Evans’ The New Front Line (1927) and Frederick Niven’s Wild Honey (1927) for consideration as the quintessential early novel of British Columbia.
The Eternal Forest was written by George Godwin who homesteaded in Whonnock in the Fraser Valley with his wife Dorothy from approximately 1912 to 1915. Through experiences and thoughts of a central character called the Newcomer, it vividly portrays pioneer life, the prevailing racism of the times, the terrain of present-day Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, the clash of socialist hopes versus capitalism and the emergence of Vancouver as a city. The couple buys and clears property at ‘Ferguson’s Landing’, a fictionalized version of Whonnock, located approximately 25 miles upstream from New Westminster, but their poverty and World War One lead them to renounce pioneering in favour of a return to England. Joining the fray would at least provide a source of income. Godwin followed this work with a trenchant and philosophical response to World War One, newly republished as Why Stay We Here? (Godwin Books, 2002). It has been cited as the finest Canadian World War One novel. [See review]
George Godwin (b. 1889) was one of eight children born to a successful wholesale meat marketer in London. His father died when he was four. Around the age of eight he was sent to boarding school, first in Sussex, then at Saint Lawrence College in Kent. Lonely and homesick, he became an avid reader and was stubbornly prepared to be caned on a weekly basis in order to defy school officials. After Godwin was seemingly expelled around age 15, he and his much sister Maud were sent to school in Dredsen, German, where she was studying singing. There he learned German and became an admirer of the works of Wagner, Schumann and Goethe. As a young man around 1907, Godwin worked briefly in a German bank in London but disliked the snobbery and pettiness of the English class system. His brother Dick had gone to Samoa to oversee a copra plantation and his brother Donald had settled in Coquitlam, B.C.
In 1911, Godwin’s mother died. He left for British Columbia, sent for his fiancée, the daughter of a Belfast physician, Dorothy Purdon, and they bought and cleared land at Whonnock. They soon had spent their 500 pounds sterling, added a son (Eric) to their family and discovered they were unable to compete economically with Japanese, Chinese and American farmers during the recession of 1913. Unimpressed by what the education system of British Columbia could offer, and stirred by the outbreak of war, they admitted defeat and returned to England in the summer of 1916 after Godwin has spent several years as a recluse.
Rejected by the army at first due to his poor eyesight, Godwin memorized the eye chart and joined the Canadian infantry. With the help of his brother Dick, he gained a commission from the Minister of Militia and joined ‘Tobin’s Tigers’, the 29th Battalion from Vancouver. They fought in France where Godwin was unable to muster antipathy towards the Germans. He was also critical of the coercive use of religion in war. He later wrote, “what were these marching men as, if not as Christ, Archetype of all suffering, sacrifice?… A battalion of Christs bearing the sins of the world along a northern road in France.” Godwin was wounded by a gas attack. Like the character in The Eternal Forest, he contracted tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanitarium near the Arrow Lakes.
Returning to England, Godwin passed the rest of World War I in Dorset teaching tank warfare. In the 1920s he was called to the bar as a lawyer but opted for a career as a writer. Like an earlier English ‘newcomer’ Morley Roberts, who briefly visited New Westminster in the late 19th century, Godwin proceeded to publish a remarkable array of books on a variety of subjects. He never returned to Canada.
Following a work called Columbia or The Future of Canada (1928) and his novel The Eternal Forest (1929), Godwin provided a sequel, changing the name of his autobiograhical protagonist from the Newcomer to Stephen Craig, making him a British Columbia fruit grower. The resultant memoir/novel describes Godwin’s military experiences in 1916-1917. The peculiar title is drawn from lines by Christopher Marlowe: “The Grecian soldiers, tired with ten years’ war, Began to cry: ‘Let us unto our ships; Troy is invincible; why stay we here?'” The original and now alternate title is Odyssey of a Canadian Officer in France in World War I. Unfortunately this novel was published in London and New York at the outset of the Depression only after a slew of similar works, most famously All Quiet on the Western Front, had sated the market. A reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement noted, “If this book had appeared a year or so ago, it might have made some stir.” A reviewer for The New Statesman said much the same thing–World War One had been done to death.
The father of five children, (Eric, Monica, Bill, Tony and Geoff), George Godwin proceeded with a literary life on a variety of other fronts until 1957. He died at age 85 in 1974 and was buried at the Leatherhead churchyard in Surrey, southwest of London.
In the quixotic Godwin tradition, Donald Godwin’s Vancouver-based grandson Robert Thomson set himself the task of reviving Godwin’s literary reputation in 1993 when he first read The Eternal Forest, having met George Godwin and his wife in 1970. (That year George Godwin’s youngest son Geoff drowned attempting to make his second successful crossing of the Atlantic in a small boat, prompting his elderly father to write Geoff, A Family Memoir.) Under an imprint called Godwin Books, Thomson republished an expanded version of The Eternal Forest in 1994, including archival photos. In his efforts “to build a bridgehead through my guerrilla marketing”, Thomson had asked George Woodcock to read the manuscript and comment. Woodcock contributed an appreciative foreword, having endured his own homesteading attempt at Sooke on Vancouver Island after World War II. “I can vouch in a special and rather intimate way for the authenticity of the central plot line of The Eternal Forest,” Woodcock wrote. “Even the thoughts of the Newcomer, so often strange and inflated and even slightly hallucinatory, are those of a man exhausting himself in solitude under the beautiful indifferent eye of Nature.”
The Eternal Forest was favourably reviewed in B.C. BookWorld by Tom Shandel in 1995. It has since sold more than 2,500 copies. Thomson located and read the sequel to The Eternal Forest–entitled Why Stay We Here?–in 1999. “If anything, I found it better than The Eternal Forest so I knew I had to republish it, too,” he wrote.
Robert Thomson has also made a third book by Godwin available via his internet site. It’s Godwin’s “Columbia or The Future of Canada.” It remains to be seen whether Thomson has the wherewithal to republish more obscure, out-of-print titles by Godwin. Godwin’s 320-page biography of Captain George Vancouver evidently contains ample excerpts from Captain Vancouver’s writings as it examines Vancouver’s influence in Hawaii (the Sandwich Islands), his remarkable skill as a mapmaker and his relationship with the Spanish captain Quadra.
MORE ABOUT GEORGE GODWIN — from Fred Braches
George S. Godwin was born in London, England, the youngest boy of a large family. He was three years old when his father died. After he was educated at boarding schools and later failing his studies at college, he spent a couple of years in Germany.
After returning to England, Godwin reportedly worked briefly for a German bank in England. In the spring of 1909 he was admitted to membership of the Middle Temple and started studying law. His mother died in 1910.
In September 1911 Godwin, then age 22, left for British Columbia, Canada where one of his brothers managed a real-estate agency. George Godwin was employed as “real estate broker” with the agency, but that ended with the arrival of his future wife, Dorothy Alicia Purdon, from Ireland. They married in the spring of 1912 and moved to acreage in Whonnock BC.
Godwin’s dreams of living off the land did not materialize. George Godwin first novel, The Eternal Forest (1929) was inspired by his years in Whonnock.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Godwin wanted to join the Canadian armed forces, but was rejected for active service because of poor eyesight. He returned with his wife and son to England in 1915, where he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force after all and embarked for France in September 1916 with the 29th Vancouver Battalion.
In the summer of 1917, after suffering a “severe cold” in France the previous winter, Godwin was hospitalized in England. He did not return to France but was assigned to a different Canadian unit in Britain. In December 1918, diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, he was shipped to Canada and placed in the Balfour Military Sanatorium in the West Kootenay, BC, for recovery. Godwin returned to England and his family in the summer of 1920.
Godwin’s second novel, Why Stay We Here? (1932), closely follows Godwin’s own war years. This book starts and ends at the same community described in The Eternal Forest, but the characters from that novel that go to war in Why Stay We Here?, don’t share overseas experiences with the protagonist.
Although Godwin was called to the bar in the fall of 1917 (in absentia), he did not pursue a career in law. During his stay in British Columbia he had freelanced for Vancouver, BC, newspapers and upon his return to England writing became his profession. He made a good income mostly as freelance for newspapers, magazines and publicity people. That allowed the family some luxury and his five children the education they desired.
Aside from freelancing, his main source of income, Godwin wrote a good number of fiction and non-fiction books and a play. His efforts in publishing, started in the mid 1930s under the style The Acorn Press, ended because of the paper shortage of the war years.
Godwin tried to enlist with the army, was rejected, but found employment writing for the War Office.
After the Second World War Godwin resumed his work as a writer and freelancer. He became the editor of the literary quarterly The Adelphi for a year.
Godwin and his wife spent their final years in Sussex on property they bought in 1956 and named it “Oaklands.” It included seven acres of woodland as well as an established orchard. His last book was published in 1957. He continued writing and had plans for another book, but that did not materialize.
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (compiled by Robert Thomson, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cain or The Future of Crime. London: Paul Kegan, 1928. 108 p.
Columbia or The Future of Canada. London: Paul Kegan, 1928. 95 p.
The Eternal Forest Under Western Skies. New York: Appleton, 1929.
Why Stay We Here?. London: P. Alan, 1930. 320 p.
Vancouver, A Life: 1757-98. London: Philip Alan, 1930. 308 p. With maps, etc.
Empty Victory. (A futuristic novel). London: John Long, 1932. 288 p.
Discovery (The Story of the Finding of the World). London: Heath Cranton, 1933. 96 p.
The Disciple (a play in three acts). London: Acorn Press, 1936. 88 p.
Peter Kurten. A Study in Sadism. London: Acorn Press, 1938. 58 p. Reissued by Heinemann in 1945.
Queen Mary College (East London College): An Adventure in Education. London: Acorn, 1939. 209 p.
The Land our Larder. London: Acorn, 1939.
Our Woods in War. London: Acorn. 1940.
Priest or Physician? A Study of Faith-healing. London: Watts, 1941.
Japan’s New Order. London: Watts, 1942. 32 p.
The Great Mystics. London: Watts, 1945. 106 p.
Marconi (1939-45), A War Record. London: Chatto and Windus, 1946. 125 p.
The Mystery of Anna Berger. London: Watts, 1948. 226 p.
The Trial of Peter Griffiths, (The Blackburn Baby Murder). London: Hodge, 1950. 219 p.
The Great Revivalists. London: Watts, 1951. 220 p.
The Middle Temple: the Society and Fellowship. London: Staples Press. 1954. 174 p.
Crime and Social Action. London: Watts. 1956.
Criminal Man. New York: Braziller, 1957.
The Eternal Forest Vancouver: Godwin Books, 1994. With notes, archival photos, footnotes, introduction by George Woodcock and 25 pages of extracts from Godwin’s personal journal. See www.godwinbooks.com
Why Stay We Here? Victoria: Godwin Books, 2002. With notes, footnotes and archival photos. See www.godwinbooks.com
Columbia or the Future of Canada (from 1928). See www.godwinbooks.com
Fred Braches’s Whonnock Notes, No. 21 – Spring 2015 includes the following bibliography of George Godwin’s publications,
The Eternal Forest. London: Philip Alan, 1929, 318 p.
The Eternal Forest, under western skies. New York: Appleton, 1929. Reissued by Godwin Books,
R.S. Thomson Ed., 1994.
Why Stay We Here? London: Philip. Alan and New York: Appleton, 1930. 332 p. Reissued by
Godwin Books, R.S. Thomson Ed., 2003.
Empty Victory: A futuristic novel. London: John Long, 1932. 288 p.
The Lake of Memory. (Serialized in The Adelphi, 1950)
Vancouver, A Life: 1757-1798. London: Philip Alan and New York Appleton, 1930. 308 p.
The Disciple: a play in three acts. London: Acorn Press, 1936. 88 p.
Cain; or, the future of crime. London: Paul Kegan, 1928; New York: Dutton, 108 p.
Columbia; or, the future of Canada. London: Paul Kegan, New York: Dutton, 1928. 95 p.
Discovery: The Story of the Finding of the World. London: Heath, Cranton, 1933. 96 p.
Peter Kürten: A Study in Sadism. The Acorn Press, 1938. 58 p.
Queen Mary College, An Adventure in Education. London: Queen Mary College and Acorn Press,
1939. 209 p.
The Land our Larder: the story of the Surfleet experiment and its significance in war. London: Acorn
Press, 1939, 2nd Edition 1940. 127 p.
Our Woods in War: a survey of their vital rôle in defence. London: Acorn Press. 1940. 116 p.
Priest or Physician? A study of faith-healing. London: Watts, Thinkers Forum No. 10, 1941. 44 p.
Japan’s New Order. London: Watts, Thinkers Forum No. 23. 1942. 32 p.
A Century of Trading, The story of the Firm of White, Child & Beney. Ed. George Godwin, London:
Marconi (1939-45), A War Record. London: Chatto and Windus, 1946. 125 p. Also a French
version: Marconi, 1939–1945, sa contribution à l’effort de guerre, Londres: Chatto and
The Great Mystics. London: Watts, Thinkers Library No. 106, 1945. 106 p. Folcroft Library
Edition, 1974. Norwood Editions, 1976, etc.
Hansons of Eastcheap: The Study of the House Samuel Hanson and Son Ltd., London, private
printing for S. Hanson & Son, 1947.
The Mystery of Anna Berger. London: Watts, Thinkers Library No. 130, 1948. 226 p.
The Trial of Peter Griffith: The Blackburn Baby Murder. Griffith, Peter, George Godwin Ed.
London: Hodge, 1950. 219 p.
The Great Revivalists. London: Watts, Thinkers Library, No. 140, 1951. 220 p. ; Boston:
Beacon Press. 1950.
The Middle Temple: the Society and Fellowship. London: Staples Press. 1954. 174 p.
Crime and Social Action. London: Watts, 1956. 277 p.
Criminal Man. New York: Braziller, 1957. 277 p.
Geoff, self-printed, 1967. in memory of his son Geoffrey Stephen Godwin who died at sea.
Braches, Fred. Ferguson’s Landing: George Godwin’s Whonnock. (2000)
Jackson, Stewart. Writings of George Godwin: A Twentieth Century Romantic (Trafford Publishing | January 26 2011)
Braches, Fred. Whonnock Notes #21 (Spring 2015)
Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
The Eternal Forest
Canadian Military History journal review, 2004: Review
It has been seventy-three years since Why Stay We Here? has been widely available. It was never a huge seller, so it didn’t go through the dozens of editions like some of the better known books of the genre, like All Quiet on the Western Front. It didn’t find its way into many libraries, and one rarely finds it in an antiquarian bookshop. Nevertheless, it is arguably the finest Canadian novel of the First World War – more substantial and less derivative than Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed, which usually enjoys that honour.
Why Stay We Here? tells the story of Stephen Craig, a British Columbia fruit farmer, and his trial by fire in the trenches of the Western Front. It has everything one would expect of a novel written by someone who was all too familiar with life at the front (Godwin, a prewar emigrant to BC from England, served with the 29th Battalion, Tobin’s Tigers) – powerful descriptions of conditions in the trenches and in battle juxtaposed against the happier times in the rear areas, touching stories of friendships between comrades in arms, and passages that detail the destruction of the French landscape. But what sets the book apart from the other Canadian contributions to the genre is the reflective element. Through his characters, Godwin explores religion, morality, human weakness, and a range of other themes, and the impact on them of the most terrible war the world had ever seen. The book is certainly visceral but it is much more than that, in a way that Generals Die in Bed is not.
But Why Stay We Here? Is not really an antiwar novel. Godwin knew as well as anyone the horror of war, but he also knew that there were certain things worth defending. This gives the novel a complexity often lacking in such books. It is worth noting that when Stephen Craig returns to British Columbia at the conclusion, it is not with a feeling of bitterness or disillusionment, but of hope.
George Godwin, Why Stay We Here? (Victoria: Godwin Books [available from www.godwinbooks.com], 2002 ), $28.50 paper, 220 pages, ISBN 0-9696774-6-4.
One Book, One Whonnock
by Fred Braches
Fifty-seven people signed up to read The Eternal Forest and of those 30 gathered at the Ruskin Hall on Tuesday, February 25 of 2014 to discuss the book.
Ruskin Hall was built in 1924 close to the time The Eternal Forest was published, not far from where the novel is set, so the discussions were surrounded by an authentic atmosphere. Readers also united on a wonderful and sunny Saturday afternoon to review the history of Whonnock in the years immediately before the First World War when the Godwins lived in Whonnock. The participants included Lucy Godwin, granddaughter of George and Dorothy Godwin.
This novel, first published in 1929 in London and New York, is set before the First World War. It focuses on a small community called Ferguson’s Landing on the Fraser River. The author seems to reveal the true identity of the place by letting the chorus of frogs sing: “Wan-ik, Wan-ik.”
Whonnock is where in 1912 the author, young and starry-eyed George Godwin, and his wife Dorothy Purdon – just married and both fresh from England – settled on acreage off today’s 268th Street. George Godwin was not cut out for life as a “bushranger,” and Dorothy just hated the place. A year or so later, after the birth of their first child, the couple moved to a more urban home on Spilsbury Street, close to the railway station and other amenities, before returning for good to England in 1915.
The Newcomer, Godwin’s double in the novel, is as naively enthusiastic as the author himself must have been. He wants to be together with his wife “…undisturbed, encircled by the bush, alone.” He does not give up, but keeps on trying to scratch a living from the soil until his health forces him to put the property up for sale.
The Newcomers – as the Godwins – see themselves a notch above the others in the settlement. She choses not to befriend the women of the community and prefers to get her practical knowledge from books. He judges his neighbours harshly but he shares local gossip and discusses news and ideas with them and learns from them how to develop his land and work in the woods.
Robert S. Thomson, the editor and publisher of the 1994 version of the book, stressed the historical significance of the book, but reading historical facts into these stories is perilous. This book after all is a novel where fiction is inspired by reality – not necessarily reality itself.
It is tempting, for instance, to take the story in the “prologue” of the founding of the place in 1849 by a Scots master mariner called Captain Ferguson at face value. But the true first white settler in Whonnock was Robert Robertson, who started living here in 1860, and he does not figure in Godwin’s book in any way.
Recognizing residents of Whonnock among those of Ferguson’s Landing’s is an interesting but rather disappointing exercise. Similarities between Godwin’s creations and real people are only superficial and Godwin’s portrayals, often unflattering and derogatory, even vindictive, are obviously coloured by imagination and sometimes downright untrue when compared with the historical record.
Godwin describes Ferguson’s Landing as a rather gloomy and humourless male-centred place where women play a passive part and where there is nothing good said about assertive females.
However, Whonnock was, at the time the Godwins lived there, a vibrant place, proud of its new “Ladies Hall” (later Whonnock Memorial Hall) that came about through the efforts of self-assured women who took care of the operation of their hall in the same way they had run the activities at the school, the churches, and social life in general. Nothing of that female initiative and energy is reflected in Godwin’s Ferguson’s Landing.
For those and other reasons The Eternal Forest should not be understood to be the story of Whonnock specifically. Ferguson’s Landing is just too different. Actually it does represent any and every of the numerous small settlements in the Fraser Valley around the First World War (which is interestingly never mentioned in the book) with its people’s fears and phobias, their hopes and illusions, their ambitions, their hard work, their failures, some successes, some happiness and a lot of misery.
The book shows the blatant racism and sexism so common at this time. Godwin tells us about swindlers and ruthless speculators ruining the lives of the common men. He admires and pays tribute to the true farmer, fisherman and woodsman, whose existence is threatened by the seemingly unstoppable flow of Japanese and Chinese immigrants,
Above all else Godwin glorifies the invincible eternal forest. He would go on dreaming of trees, the forest and Canada for the rest of his life.
Jean Davidson is the heart and soul of the One Book Whonnock program, which she started three years ago with the support of the Whonnock Community Association. Her efforts made neighbour talk to neighbour – not a small achievement in these rural parts of Maple Ridge.
[Fred Braches has written numerous articles about George Godwin and local literary matters.]
Fred Braches on George Godwin
Whonnock Notes (2015)
Precious little spadework on B.C. literary history has been undertaken by B.C.’s universities.
The likes of that late Charles Lillard contributed ten times more to the subject than most B.C. English professors combined.
A rare exception has been the biographer David Stouck who has undertaken biographies of Ethel Wilson and Sinclair Ross (who died here).
Nearly all B.C. English professors continue to specialize in non-B.C. writers—leaving the grunt work to non-academics such as Dutch-born Fred Braches (b. 1930).
Braches and his wife Helmi immigrated to Vancouver in 1975 and have lived for decades on acreage in the community of Whonnock, in Maple Ridge, B.C.
After he retired from a career in ocean transportation, Braches became increasingly interested in the obscure early history of the eastern part of Maple Ridge. He has been steadily amassing materials about the life and times of the Fraser Valley pioneer George Godwin (1889–1974), a prolific British immigrant who wrote two novels directly connected to Whonnock, The Eternal Forest (1929) and Why Stay We Here? (1930).
Not a mere amateur enthusiast, Braches served as editor and prime producer of BC Historical News for several years before the B.C. Historical Federation changed the magazine’s name to British Columbia History. Along the way he won their Best Article Award for 2009 and their Web site Award in 2008 for his Slumach website.
Braches has since remained active by writing, editing and producing a series on the history of Whonnock and Ruskin (Maple Ridge) called Whonnock Notes, freely available on the internet but also produced in a magazine format. Most recently has gathered many years of research into a single Spring issue devoted entirely to Godwin.
After a foreword by Godwin’s granddaughter, Lucy Godwin, Fred Braches clearly states in his preface that his extensively illustrated booklet “does not pretend to be a biography of George Godwin.”
He is also careful to credit the essential spadework of Godwin’s great-nephew Robert S. Thomson who has edited and reissued both of Godwin’s B.C.-related novels.
“Most of the published biographical information about George Godwin was either written
by Robert Thomson or is based on his research,” Braches writes, “That includes the information about the life of the author in my Whonnock Notes No. 6, “Ferguson’s Landing, George Godwin’s
Whonnock,” published in 2000.
“Since Dr. Thomson’s biographical work was mainly done in the 1990s, updates and revisions
are necessary to correct erroneous views that have no basis in fact.”
Braches has expanded knowledge of the subject by gathering photos and quoting from the following sources.
(1) Letters to Dr. Ethlyn Trapp in Vancouver, written in the years 1939 – 1941 and in
1970. Vancouver City Archives, Reference code AM211.
(2) Letters to J. S. (Ted) Roberts, written between May 1964 and April 1965. This
correspondence started with a shared interested in the life and work of Captain
George Vancouver but also provides insight in other matters that interested George
Godwin. The original letters are now the property of Lucy Godwin who kindly gave
me permission to publish part of their content in this issue of Whonnock Notes.
(3) Godwin’s “Private Journal,” and specifically the description of his early childhood,
written on the last pages of this journal, probably in his last years. Quotations have
been transcribed from a photocopy of the original manuscript, also with Lucy
Braches also acknowledges and thanks Lucy Godwin (daughter of Godwin’s daughter Monica) and Paul Godwin, son of Godwin’s oldest son Eric.
Extensive information on George Godwin is also available from the ABCBookWorld public reference site.