Monthly Archives: April 2014

April 26 and Rufus is off to the printers!

Rufus cover April 26

Hey, that’s great news!

It is, in spite of this bad picture of the cover. It’s actually more olive than green.

Well, the design’s pretty sharp, otherwise. Was the cover picture his last photograph?

Actually no – it was taken when he became the Province‘s magazine editor in 1924 – either then, or when Southams sent him to London four years later.

So he was 37 or 41 if my math’s correct – I’d say he looks more like 41.

We’ll never know for sure. But here’s one of the last pictures taken of him – near Geneva, just a couple of months before he disappeared.

R 18 Rufus 1933

He looks a lot more middle aged, doesn’t he? I can see why you didn’t put that on the cover.

It was more that the picture we did use selected itself. And remember – that walking stick doesn’t mean he was old and frail! Most men used them for walking in the thirties – it was the fashion!

I’m glad that my favourite picture of him made it onto the spine of the book, at least. I just love that little cartoon.

Cartoon of Rufus with pram, 1913

Another no-brainer – why would we leave it off?

Anyway, I suppose we’ll be able to buy the book soon?

Beginning of May, I reckon. The ‘mills of God’ are not the only machinery that could do with a little lubrication. Keep the faith, people.

Rufus spends Easter at Vimy Ridge, and later in Normandy at Caen and Bayeux

Here’s how Rufus spent two Easters – according to his letters and diaries.


That looks like the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge.

It is, and the picture was taken two years ago on a cool July day. On Easter Monday 1917 Rufus was looking at that same ridge from an observation post  in the Canadian lines.

So he didn’t take part in the assault himself?

No, he’d just been posted to Corps HQ as a ‘learner’ Staff Captain and his job that day was to observe progress, collect reports from the attacking troops, and keep General Byng up to date on their progress.

Did he describe what he saw?

He wrote to Bee on the 10th, the day after the attack. Among other things, he told her “the  sight when our barrage opened up at 5:30 was perfectly wonderful. From where I was you could see everything as the infantry advanced.”

He sounds excited, doesn’t he?

He was excited – he’d only been in France four months and Vimy was his first battle. But the grim reality sank in when the casualties were announced.

Did he write to Bee about that too?

He did, on the 12th. His old battalion, the 16th, had been hit especially hard . “Our losses give one rather a shock,” he wrote. “Gordon Tupper, Campbell and Bevan (both of my company), McGowan (one of my best friends) and several others, all killed – Rietchel of Victoria also.” The final list would include Cornell as well, along with many wounded.

And those were all officers from the 16th battalion?

That’s right – in Rufus’s diary three months earlier, when the 16th was out of the line, he’d written “Heavy rain – all parades cancelled. Walked to Bruay and stayed to dinner with McGowan, Hart and Cornell at “Serniclet”. 

It must have been hard for him – but I don’t suppose it was the last time he lost friends.

You’re right. Survivors had to learn to cope with losing friends – but that didn’t make it easier. So that was how Rufus spent Easter 1917. The only other Easter that gets top billing in his diary was twelve years later in I929, which he also spent in France, curiously enough, though this time in Normandy.

Lisieux cathedral

This is the interior of Lisieux cathedral, where Rufus and Derek attended High Mass on Easter Sunday.

Wasn’t that a bit odd  – I mean, Rufus was a very Anglican believer and this was a Catholic cathedral?

No, not odd at all – ever since the war he’d been most tolerant of other people’s religions. On Good Friday they all went to church at the Roman Catholic L’Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen. Besides, it’s a Gothic cathedral, in many ways similar to Canterbury – so he may well have felt at home there.

What else did they get up to on that trip?

Well, they had no car at the time and relied on trains to get around. And one day Rufus and Derek biked 27kms to Bayeux to see the famous tapestry, while Bee went by train. But they did take a picture of her on a bike in Bayeux – the cathedral spires are recognizable behind her.

O 15 - 1928 Bee at Bayeux.

It’s a woman’s bike, obviously – not borrowed from one of the two men. Maybe she rented it in Bayeux, so they could all see the town together.

I expect that’s what happened. Anyway, they all loved the tapestry – an amazing snapshot of life and warfare in the 11th century.

Teppich von Bayeux

That’s a pretty gruesome scene – what’s happening?

“Harold Rex interfectus est” means “King Harold was killed.” Harold, the English king, is trying to pull an arrow from his eye, while a Norman horseman cuts down one of his thanes – just one frame in a 70-metre tapestry. It’s like a strip cartoon that tells the story of the Norman conquest of England.

And what about Easter 2014 – is it going to see the publication of your book about Rufus?

Well, I hate to sound hopeful in this business, but it won’t be long now. Hang in there people – we just might see the book going to the printer this week!

Finally – three cheers!

Don’t get carried away, lad – I said might. That’s a big might – keep your sticky fingers off that champagne cork!

Roger. And out for now.

Cartoon of Rufus with pram, 1913

The Vancouver Little Theatre’s farewell to Rufus and Bee, April 1928

Reminder: click on pictures to enlarge; right click, ‘back’, to escape!

VLTA farewell proclamation

My goodness – that’s a fine thing to receive, isn’t it? Rufus and Bee must have made quite an impact on the VLT.

They certainly did. Being able to look at it  when she was soldiering through her first miserable months in Epsom must have been quite comforting for Bee. I expect she looked at  it often.

It’s strange that their friends refer to them as Mrs and Mrs Lukin Johnston – why didn’t they just call them Lukin and Bee  Johnston?

Not so strange really – this was 1928, remember, and people only used first names with their very best friends. I’m sure that at Bee’s tea-fights, as Rufus called them, the women called each other Mrs this and Miss that, and Rufus always used surnames with his friends.

Isn’t that a fun crest at the top – what’s the meaning of the words on the scroll?

VLTA farewell proclamation - crest

You mean “Our Lossibus is their Gainibus”? The artist is having a bit of gentle fun at the expense of Latin mottos and people who take them seriously. Latin nouns have a ‘-bus’ ending in some plural forms.

That’s pretty funny. When was this given to Rufus and Bee?

Some time in March or April, 1928. Funnily enough, Rufus doesn’t mention a special VLTA farewell event. Maybe they were given it at the cast supper after the last night of  The Admirable Crichton – his diary only says “supper at French restaurant with Murrin after the show.Billy and Mary Murrin’s names are at the top of the signature list, as you can see.

VLTA farewell proclamation - names

Murrin was VLT president, wasn’t he?

He was, and Rufus was VP – they’d been a pretty effective team – annually re-elected by acclamation since 1923.  Not only that, but Murrins and Johnstons were the best of friends.

M 13 W.G.(Billy) Murrin

Here he is – unfortunately there’s no picture of Mary.  This photo was probably taken when he became President of BC Electric – forerunner of BC Hydro.

Who else was in the Crichton cast  – are their signatures there?

The diary tells us “Dorothy Somerset as Lady Mary, Jimmy Farquhar as Loan, Treseder as Ernest, Marjory Reynolds as Lady Brocklehurst.”

I see Farquhar… and a Somerset, though not Dorothy. No luck with the other two – maybe they went straight home.

I also see a Beeman. Herbert Beeman wrote a funny poem, based on a line from Crichton, which he read aloud at the dinner. Here it is.

VLTA farewell poem - Beeman

Bee had written underneath – “Written for the dinner given in our honour by Mr W.G. Murrin, April 1928 – for all the original members of the Little Theatre.” The poem was signed “H.B.”, under which Bee wrote – “Herbert Beeman”. So, many of the people who signed the proclamation may not have been involved in Crichton.

I suppose the line “it will undoubtedly increase the Young Person’s chances” was a sly dig at Rufus’s ambition to be a famous journalist, wasn’t it?

Oh yes, I’m sure it was. But you can also be sure it was kindly meant and that the members of VLT were happy for him and genuinely proud of his success.

Bee, of course, had acted many times for Little Theatre, hadn’t she?

In fact, on 3 November 1921, she appeared in the very first Little Theatre play, when Rufus was away at the Washington Naval Conference. She played the grand-daughter in Maeterlinck’s The Intruder.

M 13  Bee 1922 - 4, Little Theatre, Vancouver

Both of them played various roles over the years – Bee more frequently than Rufus. Here she is dressed for the stage, possibly as Olivia (Florio’s beloved) in Harry Kemp’s Boccaccio’s Untold Tale, in December 1922.

So I suppose it wasn’t surprising that the VLTA wanted to give them a proper send-off. It’s a nice story.

And that’s not all of it. Beeman also wrote a short skit for two players, called The Admirable Lukin, which Bee and Rufus performed that night before the assembled company. The last few lines went like this:

A NOISE IS HEARD OUTSIDE.  Lady Mary: “Ha, what’s that”?  Crichton: “it’s a call to London. If I pull that lever it means that the ship will wait for me at Montreal”.  Lady Mary: “Oh, don’t go. Think of Vancouver – when it isn’t raining”!  Crichton: “Yes, but think of that poor old effete country that wants waking up. No, Bill Crichton always tries to play the game”. PULLS THE LEVER.  Lady Mary: “Crichton”?  Crichton: “Yes, my lady”?  Lady Mary: “Pack our bags for the Trans Canada Limited”.  Crichton: “Yes, my lady”.

Rufus and Sam. J. Latta, editor of the Govan ‘Prairie News’, later a Saskatchewan cabinet minister


So this is the famous Sam Latta. How old was he in the picture?

About 55, I think – he looks more or less as he would have when Rufus met him again in 1920.

How did that come about?

Rufus had been to the Imperial Press Conference in Ottawa – had been hobnobbing with the great and the good in the worlds of newspapers and politics – and was on his way home on the CPR. He stopped off to see old friends, first in Qu’Appelle , then in Regina. His diary for August 12 reads – “Big Sports Day (at Qu’Appelle). A.C. Paterson, Inspector of Customs of Regina and an old Qu’Appelle resident, and I were judges of the parade. There were also pony races, baseball and the usual things of a country fair. Saw many old friends. Left at 6.10pm (local). Sam J. Latta and his wife met me, with Ken and wife (late of Leader), at Regina, and we had great talk of old times at Govan. Sam is now Minister of Railways in Saskatchewan government and a great man.”

What had Sam Latta been when Rufus knew him back in 1907 – 1909?

He’d been owner/editor of the Govan Prairie News and Govan’s chief booster – a real character – if he made a point of meeting Rufus off the train, then they must have been good friends because he was a busy guy.

How was he ‘a real character’?

Oh there were lots of stories about him. One of the best involves the Prince of Wales when he was visiting Saskatchewan in 1919.


There’s the prince, looking very young in his cap. The picture was taken at Fort Qu’Appelle but he met Sam, then a cabinet minister, when he arrived in Regina.  After their meeting, Sam lit his pipe by scratching the match on the seat of his pants. The Prince was so intrigued that he asked Sam to do it again – to see how it’s done!

He must have worn really thick pants, surely – that’s a pretty amazing story. What else did he get up to?

Well, there was the time he caught the post office robber. This was the old Govan Post Office –

Govan Post Office

and one night in 1910 the town was woken by a terrific explosion – a robber had broken into the post office and had blown up the safe – only he’d used 5 times more TNT than he needed, the safe had been blown right through the back wall and all the money inside it had been scattered about in the snow. Sam, a take-charge kind of guy,  gathered a posse and tracked the guy down to a cabin six miles out of town, where he was sleeping it off . Sam was so excited, he jumped on top of the guy and had handcuffs on him before he woke up.

What was Sam’s newspaper, the Prairie News, like?

It’s interesting, isn’t it – Rufus may have got the idea of journalism from Sam – before ever setting foot in BC. Just as Rufus would do in Duncan, Sam ran his paper as a one-man show . And when he wanted to say something critical about people, he would write silly poems in the paper under the pseudonym ‘Cy Hayrack’.

For example?

Well, he had traditional views on women’s rights, for instance. But instead of coming straight out with them in an editorial, he got his phantom pal Cy to write a poem, like this one when Mrs Pankhurst came to speak in Regina – “To be a suffragette, ’tis said, /Will never be the rage,/ because the darling little things /will never tell their age.”

Pretty horrible sentiments if you ask me.

I agree – but in 1916 most men would have been cheering him on. By putting his views in a ‘funny’ poem Cy (alias Sam) forced feminists to tolerate him, at least –  or risk being accused of having no sense of humour.

Rufus was no poet, unfortunately – in Duncan he just wrote editorials, didn’t he, and stirred up opposition.

Each to his own, I suppose. Remember, Rufus was in his twenties in Duncan , while Sam turned 50 in 1916 – that makes a difference.  He was already an MLA at the time and had political instincts that Rufus lacked.

And he became Minister of Railways.

So Rufus’s diary says, but he may have got that wrong.  He was actually Minister of Highways and later Minister of Education – a good fit because he taught school for 20 years in Ontario before coming west. While teaching, he published Latta’s Drawing Textbook –  which was used in Ontario schools for 50 years.

I guess what he and Rufus had in common was energy. Both were take-charge guys, always trying something new – and not afraid to make waves. I gather Sam lived to 80 – maybe Rufus would have done so too if he’d had the chance.

You’re right about his energy – according to Susan Brooks’ Last Mountain Echoes, a Govan history, Sam also drew the plans for many buildings, including the first school. Here’s a shot of the Silver Plate Hotel, one of the first, and by far  Silver Plate, Govan, 1908

the biggest, building in Govan. Rufus neither stayed nor ate there because, as he said at the time, “The hotel is too expensive and too uncomfortable and the proprietor is a loathsome man.” Sherriff was his name, and his unfinished top floor was available to bachelors – cheap, as snow was said to filter into the rooms – but Rufus preferred to sleep in his office at Beaver Lumber! Here are pictures of the town in 1909 – Silver Plate at the left – and three years later in 1912.

Govan 1909Main street, Govan 1912

Rufus would have been there only for the first picture.

What about Beaver Lumber – where was that? And the Prairie News?

Both were on the street, but I can only find a very poor picture of both.

Sam Latta  - Prairie NewsSam Latta - Beaver Lumber

Looks like McGuire Lumber to me.

Nevertheless, I believe it was where Rufus lived and worked – McGuire bought out Beaver some time after Rufus had left Govan. See if you can find either building in the pictures of main street.

So, did both Rufus and Sam leave Govan for greener pastures?

Rufus did, we know, but Sam was re-elected local MLA for many years and never strayed further than Regina, where the legislature is.