FICTION & DRAMA
October Ferries to Gabriola
Inspired by the life of British
novelist Malcolm Lowry
Ferries to Gabriola
is inspired by the life of the notorious British novelist, Malcolm Lowry,
author of the 20th century masterpiece, Under the Volcano.
Playwright Charlotte Cameron mixes
fact and fiction, moving back and forth in time from 1946 to the present
day, juxtaposing the lives of Lowry and his second wife, Margerie, with
the plight of a contemporary couple.
Both couples come to Gabriola Island, British Columbia, seeking refuge, a
place to live, write and love, a place of redemption and hope, creativity
Both couples are dealing with similar troubles: alcoholism, tragedy and
homelessness, hopelessness, guilt and angst. In this powerful drama,
Cameron raises a host of existential questions and explores our endless
quest for a paradise on earth.
"Playwright Charlotte Cameron has taken Malcolm Lowry’s unfinished novel,
Ferry to Gabriola, a barely fictional account of his and his second
wife’s visit to the island, as a theme for his pursuit of an ideal place
both for creativity and redemption. She cleverly overlaps Lowry’s story
with that of a similar, but contemporary couple—both alcoholic husbands
with a guilt in their past and desperately supportive wives. Cameron’s
alternative tellings of the two couples’ search comes to a final climax as
their four voices almost over-layer. Her brilliant dialogue, as in all
good dramas, raises questions; questions about possible redemption and
this never-ending quest of ours for Paradise on Earth."—Naomi
Beth Wakan, Inaugural Poet Laureate of Nanaimo and author of On the
"While mixing fact and fiction,
Charlotte Cameron concurrently spins the wheel of time backward to 1946
and forward to the present day. In this way, she deftly highlights Malcolm
and Margerie Lowry’s dream of finding sanctuary and renewal on Gabriola
Island while simultaneously illuminating the plight of a similar
contemporary couple. Themes such as alcoholism, angst, eviction and
homelessness, guilt, hope, and love reverberate throughout this
Salloum, author of Malcolm Lowry: Vancouver Days
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The Story Behind the Play
In 2005, Charlotte and her husband moved from Edmonton, Alberta, to
Gabriola Island, BC, where she became fascinated by the life of Malcolm
Lowry, the famous author of Under the Volcano. Everywhere she went
on the island, she encountered copies of Lowry’s novel, October Ferry
to Gabriola, and got bitten by a bug to tell a little-known story,
that of the visit of Malcolm and Margerie Lowry to Gabriola in the fall of
Cameron identified with the Lowrys’ search to find a home where they could
live, love and write. She invented a contemporary couple whose lives
mirrored the lives of Margerie and Malcolm and juxtaposed the stories of
the two couples in her play. October Ferries to Gabriola was first
performed as a reading at The Roxy Theatre on Gabriola in 2009, followed
by another reading in 2011 at the 7th Annual Poetry Gabriola
Festival. In 2013, October Ferries to Gabriola was again presented
as a reading at the 2013 Conference, Island Studies: West Coast & Beyond
at The Haven, on Gabriola.
In October 2016, the final and published version of the play was performed
twice, to sold-out houses, at Surf Lodge (formerly Anderson Lodge), where
the Lowyrs had stayed in 1946. These performances were part an organized
70th anniversary celebration of the Lowrys' visit to Gabriola.
& the Peacock
by Ralph Hancox
"Malfeasance! Why that's
preposterous. If there was anything to it at all, it would be merely a bit
of departmental muddling.
Was it credible that he could be thought a crook and a swindler? Patently,
the answer was no. He had not received one cent for his trouble. In
private industry, the work he had done on this enterprise alone would have
made him a rich man two or three times over. All he had received was an
annual stipend of a measly $12,500. He could make more managing his
It’s 1957 in the fictional Canadian Province of Superior. In the span of
just a few days in November, the lives of several high-level government
officials and a colourful cast of “destitutes” are about to change
In this penetrating social commentary by the author of Con Job and
Scandalous, wrongdoings lead to shockingly unequal consequences for the
privileged and the dispossessed.
Buy it now in trade paperback. Just $17.99 USD
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Our readers say:
"I loved this book. Although set in parochial Canada, the themes are
universal. The author's sense of social indignation and his distaste for
political hypocrisy are the background to two juxtaposed story lines, but
the characterisations and the story-telling are sure-footed and the two
extremes of the same world are skilfully contrasted. Above all, the book
is well written and with a delightfully wry humour." SNM. Devon,
review on Amazon.co.uk
"Some funny business in the stock of Consolidated Coal & Oil has
finally caught the attention of the leader of the socialist party and the
local newspaper editor, putting the eponymous “peacock,” Willy Trundle, a
prominent provincial cabinet minister, on the defensive. Meanwhile, petty
criminal Gutsy Timworth, the “ape” of the story, has trouble all his own.
Like all morality tales, the characters in this fictional Canadian
province get their just desserts. Or do they?" Heather Samuel.
4-star review on Amazon.com
"Hancox's fictional town of Turnerville in the fictional province of
Superior appears to be located not far along the trans-Canada literary
highway from Stephen Leacock's Mariposa and Robertson Davies' Salterton,
populated with archetypal Canadian characters, architecture and attitudes.
Then the light satirical touch of the opening chapter opens into a
tragicomic morality tale of human frailty and the corrupting effect of
even a little power. Within a couple of days in 1957 a provincial cabinet
minister Willy Trundle, and a homeless deadbeat Gutsy Timworth face the
consequences of what had seemed like venial sins. Hancox may want to
demonstrate that 'wrongdoings lead to shockingly unequal consequences for
the privileged and the dispossessed,' but undermines his intended
'penetrating social commentary' by making Willy a sympathetic character in
spite of himself. Gutsy is obviously doomed from the start and we know
right away there is nothing we can do for him. There are a few thoroughly
nasty minor characters, but Willy's nemesis, the opposition politician
Burnley Gordon, disarmingly admits: 'Nobody likes me, I've got soup stains
on my tie. I smell in the hot weather. I'm a thorn in the flesh...' Some
strong women try to hold things together: Willy's wife Challis, his
mistress Lillian, his daughter Cynthia and daughter-in-law Elaine, and
Gutsy's tragically over-the-top 'friend' Hattie. Considering that he sets
this tale of good and evil in small town Canada of 60 years ago, Hancox
holds out surprising hope for the younger generation. Or maybe he is being
ironic? An enjoyable and thought-provoking read." Phyllis Reeve.
4-star review on Amazon.ca
"Not your usual read. The style of writing does a great job of
putting you in the 1950's context. The main story revolves around Willy, a
politician (the peacock) and Gustsy, a homeless man (the ape), and how
they both deal with the consequences of poor choices. It also has
compelling secondary characters who come to interact with them and their
perspectives on the unfolding events. Worth your time!"
5-star review on Amazon.ca
The Fabubestan Exposés... Intrigue, Scandal, Murder & Mayhem
by Ralph Hancox
"Legs” Morowitz, on parole and virtually destitute, is offered his old job
back at a Canadian boutique documentary and advertising company. The
owners want him to head the team investigating the illegal drug trade in
North America for a new TV documentary series, Look at the Evidence.
As production begins, Legs faces awary, even hostile, crew, and then a
series of personal setbacks. At the same time, the company finds itself
battling unknown enemies on multiple fronts, forcing theowners to take
decisive, but sometimes wrong-headed action.
In Book I of The Fabufestan Exposés, it becomes increasingly clear that
things are not quite as they appear, and to get at the truth, they must
all look hard at the evidence.
Buy Con Job now in
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trafficking, a sex scandal, political intrigue and murder—things start
to boil over in Book II of The Fabubestan Exposés.
Led by the unassuming ‘Legs’ Morowitz, Fabufestan’s script crew soon
discover that the subject of their latest TV documentary has morphed into
three separate issues: human trafficking, people smuggling and bogus
refugees. To expose the horrors of this triple scourge, they have to
convince their bosses to take on more financial risk to let them produce
three, one-hour episodes, instead of the planned one-hour program.
Meanwhile, the new provincial government is reeling from its first
political crisis: a high-profile sex scandal involving three of its
elected members, charged with sex tourism and trafficking under-age Thai
prostitutes to Canada. The premier entrusts Angus McRossie, her Minister
for Democratic Action, with crisis management. His wife objects to his
involvement in such a sordid matter, and McRossie’s personal life and
political career start to unravel from there.
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researched, this play brings Alex Decoteau—the
man, his life, his death—
before us. A man of ability, ambition, and integrity. At root: a true
one who was ultimately sacrificed on the altar of futile tactics.”
—Major (Retired) David Haas,
“Charlotte Cameron touches on
major issues which drive us now: race, gender, family, colonialism,
Canadian identity, and the horrors of war. Cameron's juxtaposition of
actual and imagined words and events, and her introduction of significant
mundane objects – a
pencil box, a policeman's cap, a watch – inspire
our affection for Alex and move us to tears as he runs from the North
Saskatchewan River floods to the mud and blood of Passchendaele.” —Phyllis
Reeve, contributing editor to The
the Alex Decoteau Story tells
the tale of a real Cree hero, brought to life in this moving one-act play
by Charlotte Cameron. In 1911, in
Edmonton, Alberta, Decoteau became Canada’s first aboriginal police
officer, famous for chasing down speeding vehicles on foot to ticket them!
A champion runner and popular figure, he raced for
Canada at the 1912
Olympics in Stockholm. He fought
for Canada in World War I and was killed, in 1917, while running
a message at the Battle of Passchendaele. He was only 29 years old.
The book includes an historical note and
archival photographs to provide background to the story. A fascinating
introduction explains the origins of the play, its various versions, and
the Alex Decoteau Run, which brought this aboriginal role model to the
attention of many hundreds of Edmonton school children over the 10 years that
the event was held.
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play in which the part of Everyman is played by a First Nations survivor
of the residential school system..."
Cameron touches on major issues which drive us now: race, gender, family,
colonialism, the Canadian identity, and the horrors of war. Running;
the Alex Decoteau Story may
be seen as a morality play in which the part of Everyman is played by a
First Nations survivor of the residential school system who is also an
Olympic runner, an Edmonton police officer, a son, brother, lover and
friend—and a casualty of World War 1. But it is also a very specific story
of a real person who is never merely a symbol. Cameron's juxtaposition of
actual and imagined words and events, and her introduction of significant
mundane objects—a pencil box, a policeman's cap, a watch—inspire our
affection for Alex and move us to tears as he runs from the North
Saskatchewan floods to the mud and blood that is Paschendale.
—Phyllis Reeve writes about local and personal history.
She is a retired librarian and bookseller, and a contributing editor to
The Dorchester Review.
"A role model
for Aboriginal youth..."
The title of
this play has a double meaning. Alex Decoteau was not only a champion foot
racer, he served in the army as a regimental runner. In an era before
radio existed for infantry battalion communications, and with telephone
lines being susceptible to being cut or tapped into, messages between the
levels of command were carried by hand—the duty of a soldier called a
“runner.” This was hazardous duty in the extreme, and performing it is how
Alex Decoteau died.
nearly a hundred years ago, in the cauldron of the Battle of Passchendaele,
the worst of Field Marshal Haig’s repeated failing offensives along the
Western Front in Belgium and France. He lies nearby, at the Passchendaele
New British Cemetery which contains about 2,101 graves and commemorations
from the late 1917 fighting in the area. At least he has a known grave.
Only a quarter of the bodies in that cemetery are identified. Visitors to
Canada’s cemeteries in northwestern Europe are often jolted by how many of
the gravestones do not also display the name of the warrior beneath. Even
so—their bodies were found. Many others who died were buried hastily and
their graves lost. Still more vanished in horrifying explosions which
buried them beyond location, or left little or nothing to be found.
At the time
of his enlistment on April 24, 1916, at age 28, Alex Decoteau was already
a man of public accomplishment: an Aboriginal at a time when racist
sentiment in Western Canada was strong and open, he had joined the
Edmonton City Police and risen to the rank of Sergeant. A top calibre long
distance runner, he had won a place on Canada’s team for the 1912 Olympics
in Stockholm. It may be added that his army enlistment was
voluntary—Canada did not have conscription at the time, and when it did
later his police status would have exempted him.
Charlotte Cameron brings out that Alex would have felt internal pressure
to join up—for he came from a warrior tradition. But there were external
psychological pressures on younger men to enlist, among them the practice
Cameron mentions of women presenting younger men in civilian clothes with
a white feather denoting cowardice. I once read that young officers in a
London office of the British secret service, who went about their duties
in civilian attire, kept on a mantelpiece a collection of white feathers
they had been given in the streets. That noxious stigmatizing seems to
have died out by the Second World War, but I have personally talked with
two men who were turned down on medical grounds for military service in
that conflict, yet received public slagging despite the nature of their
physical defects being readily apparent. Their pain in talking about their
humiliating experiences was readily apparent decades later.
Charlotte Cameron in early 2001, when she was getting Running ready for
the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, and contacted The
Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum. As it happened she was after a
particular First World War song to be sung in the show, and as it happened
I was able to sing it for her. That was the beginning of occasional
collaboration over the years since. One thing quickly became abundantly
clear—Charlotte wanted to get the military details right. Plays depict
truth, they cannot recite it in detail. The important thing is for the
playwright to understand what condensations and abstractions are necessary
for the theatrical performance, but to keep the play true. Charlotte’s
play Running meets that standard, and it is because she took the time to
learn what Alex Decoteau’s wartime experience really involved.
I was unable
to take in the 2001 production, but I made it to the first 2004
presentation. Though I knew the story, I was moved and enchanted. I was
accustomed to dealing with lists of names where bits of a soldier’s
wartime experience emerged, but for most of them little or nothing was
known of their life before the army. Now I encountered the depiction of a
real person, a complex individual of considerable achievement. And one who
was ultimately sacrificed on the altar of futile tactics. For me this was
much more compelling than the repetitive plays of social significance,
coming of age dramas, etc. that dominate much of the contemporary theatre
scene. Want grinding realism? Try the battle scenes at the end of this
But plays are
meant to be staged, performed by living actors. Reading the script cannot
convey to the reader the richness of a well-executed theatrical
performance. This book, however, is much more than a script. It gives
historical details of Alex Decoteau—the person, the athlete, the police
officer, and the soldier. And it gives an idea of the process through
which his memory was preserved and made available to future generations.
Four and a
half decades ago my military duties had me from time to time perusing the
pages of The Times of London for relevant articles. On those occasions I
would range more widely through the newspaper from purely personal
interest. I was struck by the many, many personal notices that commenced,
“In proud and loving memory …” Then a name. A date just over a half
century earlier in the First World War. Sometimes a few details. That
answered the bitter challenge thrown out by poet (and winner of the
Military Cross as a young infantry officer in that conflict) Siegfried
Sassoon: “Who will remember … the unheroic Dead who fed the guns.” Many of
their families do. And so it was with Alex Decoteau. You can get the feel
of that from Charlotte Cameron’s book, and a sense of how the process made
more details about him available when later generations began seeing him
as a role model for Aboriginal youth.
The play ends
with Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden’s blunt threat to his
British counterpart David Lloyd George, to withhold Canadian troops if
there was any repetition of the futile butchery of Passchendaele. The
passage is quoted from Borden’s nephew, who witnessed the conversation,
and—as a prominent Toronto lawyer years later—repeated it. That battle
featured the bloodiest 24 hours in the history of the 49th Battalion
(Edmonton Regiment) and its successor The Loyal Edmonton Regiment. It was
then that Alex Decoteau died. This book will tell you how that happened,
and what manner of man he was.
(Retired) David Haas, CD, rmc
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