By Erika Anderson,
Museum at Campbell River
Captain Vancouver named Desolation Sound. For the summer visitor (and most visitors are summer visitors), it is hard to imagine why he would have chosen this name for such a stunning place.
In the winter, however, a damp, grey misty gloom can envelop the place for months on end. It is a rare person who can endure the isolation and sodden climate for many months at a time. Socializing with one’s neighbours becomes of the utmost importance in maintaining a sound mind.
Mike Shuttler was not necessarily what one expects from a Desolation Sound hermit. The first settler in Prideaux Haven, he set himself up a homestead at the head of Melanie Cove in 1890. He lived alone, but enjoyed company and reportedly when he saw visitors coming he would row out with his boat and greet them with a posy of flowers from his garden. He terraced his garden and planted vegetables and flowers, as well as several fruit trees. These gardens not only provided for his needs, but allowed him to sell excess to the logging camp at Deep Bay, Quadra Island, and the store at Refuge Cove. Mike enjoyed classical music, and had a phonograph and collection of records that he chose only to play when he had guests.
Shuttler was born in Minnesota in 1858. He left school early to work as a logger. After a brawl that left him scarred and close to death he decided “if that was all there was to life, it wasn’t worth living,” and headed north to Canada to “go off somewhere by myself and think it out.” He read extensively, often choosing the classics and philosophy books, which would have given him plenty of material to contemplate. His bookshelves included works by Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Plato and Emerson. He was happy to lend out books, and the Vancouver library lent him books to help him keep up with his appetite for literature.
On Mike’s wall he had written on a piece of cardboard “Look well of today – for it is the Life of Life. Today well lived makes every Yesterday a dream of happiness, and every Tomorrow a vision of hope.” This philosophy on life accompanied by his warm smile and soft blue eyes, endeared him to those who had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.
Mike had a neighbour named Phil Lavigne, who lived down a short path in the neighbouring Laura Cove. Phil moved to the area about 10 years after Mike. He had a shady past and was rumoured to have killed a man in Quebec before making his way to the B.C. wilderness. Phil loved animals and had a group of goats that followed him around like dogs. He kept a tidy home and enjoyed a peaceful life supporting himself with his pension and smoking the tobacco he grew in his garden.
There were disagreements on how Phil’s last name was spelled, whether it was Levigne, Lavine or Lavigne. Phil couldn’t have cared less how his name was spelled, as he was unable to read nor write. Mike would, however, come over to visit Phil and tell him about his most recent reads, sharing the thoughts of the great philosophers. Another settler, Maria Christensen Zaikow, recalled helping Phil write letters to his family in Quebec. She also read newspapers to him. His favourite was the Sunday edition because he liked the funnies.
In 1931, Mike became sick and was sent to the hospital in Powell River. He died Dec. 1. Shortly after his death, Phil went to Mike’s cabin and collected all of his books. He went home and built shelving to house them, and spent the rest of his days surrounded by Mike’s books. He could not read them, but they were a memento of a dear friend, to whom they held great importance. They were a point of pride and enjoyment for the rest of his days in the Cove.
This week is Family Literacy Week in Campbell River. If someone you know struggles with reading, writing and other literacy skills, the Campbell River Literacy Association offers free tutoring and can be reached at (250) 923-1275 firstname.lastname@example.org .