The Museum’s Blog

Comox Valley Intelligentsia

During the 1950s, on the third Friday of every month, a group of the thoughtful and politically oriented elite of the Comox Valley met to stretch their intellects and voice their opinions on the weightiest issues of their time. Membership was exclusively male, and by invitation only. They met in members’ homes and the host was chair for the evening.

When Geoff Capes, the owner of Courtenay Builders’ Supply on the corner of England and Fourth, and Mogens (Moggie) Stelling, a farmer from Fanny Bay, were invited to join in 1952 they were informed that the club had only two rules. The first was that, because members should be able to express themselves freely, all discussion would be confidential. The second was that everyone was to use first names.

Among the featured topics were several that have a familiar ring:
How can we combat the narcotic scourge in Canada?
Have morals and ethics deteriorated over the past 50 years?
Has the two-party system outlived its usefulness, and should it be replaced by a more representative system?
Are the Jews entitled to Palestine?
Other topics more germane to the period included:
Has the time arrived when we should enforce eugenics?
Is it inevitable that the present desire for social security should lead to a regimented state?
Should the H-bomb be abolished?
Would it be desirable to include the West Indies within the Dominion of Canada?

We know from the diaries of Geoff Capes that discussions were always lively and that opinions sharply divided. The members included many of the valley’s distinguished citizens, led by Henry Spencer, an Alberta farmer, who was a member of the House of Commons from 1921 to 1935. Spencer’s political interests were strongly aligned with western farmers, and in 1932 he was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Party. Unsuccessful in the next three elections, in 1948 he retired to Comox. Others in the group were Bruce Gordon, a dentist, Ben Hughes, publisher of the Argus newspaper, Chris Holmes, the office manager for Comox Logging, Henry (Hank) Williams, a medical doctor, Rupert Williams the owner of Comox Grocery, Bill Bell a logger, Larry Bryans, a schoolteacher, and Ray Pakasaar, a forester.

It is not unlikely that such a diverse group of valley folk might be found discussing the issues of our day with the same intensity, but in a less structured fashion. The venue is likely to be a pub or a coffee shop, there would be no chair, confidentiality would not be a concern, and it would not be unusual for the group to include equally thoughtful and forthright women.