Leask Homestead at Fawn Bluff, Bute Inlet

Posted by Howard on Aug 23, 2010
Leask homestead at Fawn Bluff. Painting by Charles Leask

One of the odder pieces of information to come my way in recent months is that two mega homes have been built at Leask Cove in Bute Inlet, reputedly for the Hollywood bombshell Michelle Pfeiffer. A more unlikely party spot would be hard to imagine, though its getaway value is good.

Of all the BC coast's mainland inlets, none is more forbidding than Bute. Its shores are sheer and offer almost no shelter from the cruel winds that rumble like a coal train down its 80-km length much of the year. It tends to be dark because of its high sides and the waters are frigid owing to the glacial runoff from the massive icefields draping Mount Waddington. It was once the centre of attention when a group of Victoria entrepreneurs proposed it as a route for the first cross-Canada railroad, but its formidable terrain and vile weather defeated their work crews and precipitated the Chilcotin Uprising, the nearest thing to an "Indian War" in BC history. Ever since, the place has seemed to labour under a curse. Even the Homalco First Nation was eventually forced to abandon its traditional village at Church House and move to a subdivision in Campbell River some years back. One of the few places in the whole inlet to offer a bit of shelter is the little bay below Fawn Bluff known as Leask Cove, and this is where Ms. Pfeiffer has apparently sought refuge from the outside world, some 50 km beyond the end of the last road connecting to civilization.

The Leask boys must be spinning in their graves. They were among the few settlers to make a stand in Bute Inlet, and Leask Cove was the site of their homestead. Leask Lake, which feeds a small creek into the bay, is also named for them. I wish I knew more about them. The little I do know I learned from the late Canon Alan Greene, the seagoing missionary who worked the Vancouver-Kingcome Inlet beat for the Anglican church from 1911 to 1959 and spent his retirement years just down the road from me in Halfmoon Bay. The coast was littered with characters of the most memorable type in Canon Greene’s heyday and he knew most of them, but the Leask brothers were obviously among his favourites. They were three retired Scottish bachelors who for some unknown reason chose to come to Canada and build their dream estate in that little notch on Bute’s inhospitable shore. Maybe it was the closest thing they could find to the storm-blasted Orkney Islands of home. I am guessing they arrived around the mid-teens and lasted until the late thirties or early forties.

The Leask brothers were all professional men, and evidently about as eccentric as you can get. One was named Charles, another Alfred and the third one's name I have never learned. One had been a banker, one an accountant and the other a New Zealand sea captain who was going blind when writer Derek Lukin Johnston visited them in 1925. They laboured day and night to terrace their stony hillside and fit it out with every technological improvement. Their house was full of well-thumbed books on every topic from electrical engineering and astonomy to Ruskin and Shakespeare, and they were always eager to receive any new reading material from passersby, even months-old newspapers. They fed the little creek into a water-wheel that powered their small sawmill and made theirs one of the few electrified homsteads on the coast. They had an abundant garden, an orchard and a herd of goats to provide milk and cheese. Vegetables were stored in a commodious stone root cellar built into the sidehill. They occupied themselves studying and arguing about their huge library and pursuing sophisticated hobbies. Charles was a charming painter of coastal landscapes, a small collection of which have miraculously turned up on the internet at http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1039425099030647390ZMnYHJ.

They were always up to something and Canon Greene always looked forward to his next visit, wondering what surprise they would have for him. One spring he rolled in to find one of the brothers had spent the winter industriously creating a large telescope. It was a wonder of precision, and the old gent had melted the glass for the lenses and ground them by hand. It was set up on the veranda overlooking the inlet and they wouldn’t let Greene sit down until he had tested it. He found it to be a marvel of clarity and enlargement. The only trouble was, there was nothing to see across the empty expanse of Bute Inlet. As Greene told me, “I put my eye to the thing and all I could see was trees on the far shore. I removed my eye and all I could see was trees, except not quite so tall. It seemed a lot of trouble to go to make those infernal trees half an inch taller.”

Another time they came rushing down to meet him all excited about their new diet. They were vegetarians, and claimed to have made a study of human physiology and devised the perfect sustenance. No sooner was Greene in the door than they plopped a bowl in front of him. It contained a substance that looked and tasted like papier mache, but with faint traces of kerosene. He begged off after a mouthful, saying delectable as it was, he had just eaten. Despite the wondrous health-giving properties of their diet the brothers died off one by one until the lone survivor had to be moved to a nursing home.

I anchored in the bay a several years ago and spent a few hours poking around in the underbrush. The buildings had evidently burned, but there was an impressive amount of crumbling rockwork, obviously the labour of years. It was always my intention to go back with a machete and see what I could uncover, but I suppose Ms. Pfeiffer's excavators have since completed the job of eradicating all trace of the the Leask boys' wilderness wonders. Fortunately someone had the good grace to put their name on the cove and lake, so that much will remain at least. I like to think that Ms. Pfeiffer or whoever inhabits the mega homes will pause at some point in their revels and spend a moment wondering where the heck that Leask name came from. Who knows, maybe their friendly ghosts will possess Ms. Pfeiffer and induce her to stay on, seasoning into place like a modern-day Cougar Annie.