Marge and Bevill Acland

When I was a kid, our family would decamp to Salt Spring Island every few months for a weekend at Acland’s Guest House. Mum in her black Hillman would scoop sister, brother and me at school on Friday. Dad would be doctoring and come later. We drove out Shelbourne Avenue, along East Saanich Road past the little Pat Bay Airport, along Macdonald Road and the Tsehum Harbour lagoon, into a little opening and a tiny ferry slip, where the adventure began.

Here is the MV Cy Peck docking at Swartz Bay:

BC Archives call no. I-20723. Photographer Frank Boucher, 1947. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

Here’s Captain Maud, lower R, taking fares:

BC Archives call no. I-20713. Photographer Frank Boucher, 1947. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

Looking back to Fulford Harbour from the little twisty seaside road on Salt Spring Island, you might see the Cy Peck chugging away on its return trip:

BC Archives call no. D-00005. Photographer unknown, 1940s. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

You would drive across the island, through the tiny hamlet of Ganges and, when you reached the golf course, where the greens were sand and sheep cropped the fairways, turn left on Baker Road and follow that roly-poly gravelly ride almost to its terminus, where Acland’s Guest House overlooked Booth Bay:


Took these in 1980, when staying over at Booth Bay Resort — Acland’s — on a bike trip.

The big old maple tree and the smaller cabin by the second growth as seen in the 1980 visit. When little, I got to stay there with my brother.

The shingled lodge was surrounded by more than 100 acres of gardens, pasture and forest, with hundreds of feet of waterfront on the excellent bay and the mysterious canal. Westward across the channel were the mountains of Vancouver Island. For a child, it was paradise — water warm enough to swim in summer, a dock and log rafts and a rowboat, and meadows and forest to play in.

We used crabs or fishguts to jig for perch on the dock at Acland’s. Photographer possibly Harry Keith, early 1950s. More photos of Acland’s by Harry Keith.

Some kind of paradise for adults, too …

It was the kind of place where the kitchen door was the front door.

Bevill Acland with my sister Virginia (then Dinny) and Tor, or Gusty, Norwegian elkhound (there were two), on the steps to the kitchen door.

Bevill, also known as J B and sometimes Jabe, was kindly and retiring, spoke little, muttered a bit; took me to Ganges to shop; always lent us nails and hammers and saws to build rafts.

Acland collection. On back: “Taken by Nigel Duncan ‘Aclands’ — Quite good?! Happy birthday darling My bestest love — Marge”

Marge was always kind, and spirited, although not in her eyes, which glittered opaquely. “Pete, darling,” she would say through clenched teeth (clenching a cigarette holder), “You’re in the Telephone Room.”

The kitchen was the heart of it. We were welcome to hang out when Marge was making dinner in the wood stove. Mum and dad would drink the home-made berry wine, and Marge would lean back against the sink, wipe her hands on her apron, smoke, take a sip and talk. Marge was intelligent, cultured, rhetorically honed.

Marge made the best Yorkshire puddings, round and puffy, to go with the Saturday roast beast. And the best bread. The buns she made in muffin molds with the bread dough, served late morning fresh from the oven, with a little honey — the best. I do believe mum learned bread-baking from Marge. And mum’s bread was damned good. But Marge’s bread crusts had an indescribably tactile surface — both smooth and rough, with tiny peaks — heavenly aroma, crunchy-chewy texture — well, you could start a religion there. Marge produced a stream of fine cookery. Warm fresh blackberry puddingcake with whipped cream, o my god.

I loved the side porch where the old-fashioned open-top washing machine stood beside metal tubs. There was a wire mesh cooler box where Marge put pies and leftovers. The railing overlooked a flower-lined path and the latched door of the basement where on Saturdays Bevill would load me and John up with gunny sacks full of cans and bottles and send  us off down the path and the steps to the dock and out in the rowboat to sink them in the bay. The cans glinted as they disappeared. You had to fill the bottles to get them to sink.

We went to Acland’s until the summer I was 14, in 1962. When the Aclands sold the place soon after, my father had a hand in the deal, or maybe a later one, which I believe started the career of Booth Bay Resort. Marge and Bevill built a modern wooden bungalow on the hill overlooking. There a group of us assembled in the summer of 1965, when my cousins Eddy and Diny were visiting from France; Marge at L, Bevill at R:

The family Acland includes Marge and Bevill’s daughter Ione (Nonie) Guthrie — I think that’s Nonie beside Marge in the photo above — and her sons Barnaby (Barns) and Nicholas (Nick) Guthrie. (Neither is in this picture.) Photos in the Lounge at Acland’s showed Marge and Bevill’s son Ion, who lost his life in an aircraft accident during the Second World War.

In 2009 I had an invitation from Barns Guthrie who was compiling an album of reminiscences by people who had visited Acland’s over the years. That exercise got me interested in doing the family’s genealogy. Turns out Marge and Bevill’s origins and early fortunes are pretty well documented. Marge’s family, the Guernseys of London, England, and  Bevill’s, from Dorchester, Devon, both laid track to the Okanagan Valley. Oak Bay figures big time in their early life together. Barns allowed me to scan photos from the family album of their Beach Drive home and Nonie’s life from schooling to marriage. Serendipitously I met a poet and film-maker in Vancouver who filled in some details of Great Aunt Marjorie’s family of origin.

John Bevill Acland (1890-1966) descended on his father’s side from a Devon family who had inherited titles; his grandfather Arthur was the second son of the tenth baronet Acland of Columb-John. His father was John Edward Acland, a Captain in the army with an MA from Oxford. On his mother’s side Bevill descended from Henry Hyde Nugent Bankes, a London-based lawyer who published a novel, Melchior Gorles: A Tale of Modern Mesmerism, under a pseudonym. Bevill’s mother was Norah Letitia Nugent Bankes. Bevill was born in Birmingham, where the 1891 census shows a family of four children, plus Norah’s sister and five servants. Bevill’s older brother Henry (Paddy) Acland offered a glimpse of family character in his reminiscences of life as a remittance man in the Okanagan Valley, recorded and preserved at the BC Archives: their father “held the purse-strings” and so called the shots. In 1901 Bevill was boarding at Cleveland House School in Dorset. At age 19 he joined his brother in the Okanagan Valley. In the 1911 census he turns up Tiverton, Devon, a farmer visiting from Canada, staying at Blundell’s School House with a lot of teen-aged boarders. By 1913 Bevill was living in Victoria; employed as a clerk in the BC government, living in James Bay.

Marjorie Guernsey (1896-1977) was born in Paradise, Nevada to Harriet Mary Browning and Herbert Guernsey. The family’s peregrinations were outlined in a  2008 article in the Vancouver Sun by Robin Garland, who descends from Marge’s sister Nora. Her account was based on their brother Hugh Guernsey’s memoir A Naval Career,