By Jeanette Taylor
for the Museum at Campbell River
Mention Twin Islands to Discovery Islanders and they’re sure to respond: “Isn’t that the place Queen Elizabeth stayed?”
And the Queen did indeed visit on two occasions, but this brush with royalty is just one of many intriguing facets of Twin Islands’ story, documented in a new book commissioned by current owner Mark Torrance. It’s a tale of love, murder, poverty, wealth — and the need for a safe haven in times of war and political uncertainty.
‘Twin lies off the southeast shore of Cortes. In the distant past, it was a seasonal food gathering site for Tla’amin people, who called it Tho’kwet, ‘tied together.’ But Twin first hit the news during WWI, when owner Reverend Harpur Nixon was shot through the jaw while smoking his evening pipe aboard his small yacht. He motored across to Cortes for help, his jaw swaddled in a bloody towel, and scrawled a note, saying there must have been a .22 bullet in his pipe. But on investigation police found his intact pipe — and a high-calibre rifle bullet lodged in the yacht’s hull. Before he died, Nixon concurred with the police’s theory that a poacher mistook the glow of his pipe for a deer’s eyes.
Americans Dick and Ethel Andrews predicted the onset of World War II and bought Twin in 1936, shifting capital from their import business in Japan. They hired Scandinavian immigrants from Lund to build a massive lodge, complete with rustic furnishing, using logs and stone on site.
Twin remained an almost mythical place in both families’ lore in the decades that followed, though the Andrews sold the islands in 1956 to Hal Straight, editor of the Vancouver Sun, and two Alberta oilmen. Visits from friends like Walt Disney and Bing Crosby were a sampler of the exclusive resort the partners envisioned, but they sold Twin to German royalty in the early 1960s.
Twin was a remote getaway and an offshore investment for the von Badens at the height of the Cold War. Max von Baden is the nephew of Prince Phillip of Great Britain, so Queen Elizabeth and family picnicked on Twin while on a cruise in 1971. And in 1994 they stayed for three days, as a respite during a Canada-wide tour.
When the von Baden’s children became adults, they talked of selling, but nothing came of it until one day in 1997 a logger named Mike Jenks showed up, telling caretakers he’d just bought Twin. Jenks and his partner Peter Shields immediately began logging, after which they planned to subdivide Twin into recreational lots. Jenks’ reputation for destructive clearcuts preceded him, so protesters waved banners from small boats off Twin’s log dump.
Jenks was unmoved by protestors, but loaded barges of logs caught the attention of an heiress with an interest in Cortes Island’s Hollyhock institute, overlooking Twin.
“We need to find a way to stop this,” Carol Newell told her financial advisors, “even if it means buying [the islands].” Jenks and Shields had cut about 33,000 cubic metres of timber on south Twin by the time a deal was struck less than a year later.
Mark Torrance and his financé Susan Summers were looking for a few acres with moorage and a cabin in 1998, when their realtor showed them Twin. It was not what they’d envisioned — but they were smitten on first sight.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” recalls Torrance. “It was straight out of the 1930s and gorgeous.”
Restoring the 1938 lodge, the caretaker’s house and gardens, and installing renewable energy systems became an all-consuming labour of love. Susan Torrance died in 2012, but Mark remains passionately attached to the beauty and tranquility of his coastal retreat.
“I am one of the longest serving stewards of these islands,” he wrote in the epilogue to the Twin book. “One day the responsibility of caring for the place will include others.”
He wonders if the islands will someday be a park, a research facility, a forum for experimentation in renewable technology, or an eco-tourist destination, centered around its historic lodge — which is one of the finest heritage sites on this part of the coast.
Limited copies of the Twin Islands book are available as a private publication in the Museum at Campbell River’s gift shop. In the new year, Jeanette Taylor and Mark Torrance will pitch the book to a commercial publisher.