History

Power Squadrons in the West: How it all Started.

By D/C/ (ret.) Bob Thatcher, Vancouver Power SquadronAt the June 21st (1978) meeting of the Vancouver Power Squadron, the retired commanders of VPS were asked to briefly outline highlights of their term of office. As D/C (ret.) Bob Thatcher’s association and term of office spanned the actual formation as well as the early years of the squadron, his outline covered this period. Walter Lavey, VPS correspondent to Propwash thought this account may be of general interest to readers of Propwash and asked Bob to relate the story to you . . .

It started in the fall of 1953 when my friend and business associate Pat Dahle informed me he was interested in purchasing a boat. Pat was aware that I had been involved with boats for many years and asked if there was a course he could take on piloting and boat handling that would make him reasonably proficient and prevent him from becoming a menace to himself and others on the water. This was a very good question but not easily answered. Books on various aspects of boating and piloting were available and a few courses were held periodically by yacht clubs for members. Yearly courses were held at the Vocational Institute for professional seaman studying for Board of Trade tickets but not suitable for the recreational sailor or boatman.

Up to this time, those bold enough, bought a boat, started the engine and away they went from the dock. One learned mainly by exposure to the sea and picking up information from companions who were probably poorly informed or misinformed. The serious amateur studied on his own but this was for the few who had great determination. There was no course available for the part-time sailor.

At this Mr. Lincoln Clarke was introduced to Dahle. Lincoln was a resident of Balboa, California, and was in Vancouver as the chief engineer of the construction company erecting the Royalite Refinery in Kamloops. It was soon learned that Linc was a keen sailor and a member of the Balboa Squadron, USPS. His advice was to seek the local Power Squadron and take the Boating Course. It soon became evident that there was no local squadron. Clarke made some inquiries through his own squadron and obtained a P.O. Box number in Toronto for an organization known as Canadian Power Squadrons.

We got a letter away to CPS and asked where and how the course could be taken. It should be remembered that at this stage of the game, all we wanted was to take the course. It never occurred to us that organizing a squadron would be a necessary requirement. In due time an answer was received signed by Alec Neville, Chairman of Admissions, CPS. Alec informed us that the nearest squadron was at Port Arthur, Ontario. He also advised us that a West Coast squadron would be welcomed by CPS and gave us all information necessary to initiate a study group leading to the formation of a squadron. Alec also advised us that another inquiry recently came from Vancouver and suggested we get together with this person. His name was Tommy Pakenham.

Tommy was well known to me from a predicted log race to Juneau Alaska the previous year. A telephone call to Tommy confirmed his enthusiasm to form a squadron and thought it was a great idea to work together. A meeting was then held to decide what we were going to do. We had the feeling by now that had a lion by the tail and couldn’t let go. For the record, those in attendance at the first organizing meeting were, Tom Pakenham, Pat Dahle, Lincoln Clarke, Bill McBean, a friend of Clarke and Bob Thatcher. It was decided to go ahead with the project as there was a great need for the services provided by CPS. Dahle was named chairman, Thatcher assistant chairman and Pakenham class chairman. A decision was made to commence a class somewhere in the Vancouver area in the fall of 1954.

Strange as it may seem now, it was not easy finding enough people interested in forming a class. Initially those we approached thought they knew all there was to know about boating. There was a good deal of resistance from the major yacht clubs who saw us as a threat to their interests. The more we were ridiculed the more determined we became and the harder we sold the need for CPS. After months of hard work we has a list of about forty names who said they wanted to take the course.

Arrangements were made by Tom Pakenham to hold a class at HMCS Discovery, starting the first week of October, 1954. Kits were ordered some time before and arrived in September. Dahle, Pakenham and I put up the money for the first kits because they were shipped COD. As I recall our cost was five dollars each, including Chapman’s (then the textbook required for the course). As an incentive to get people to design up we agreed to sell the kits at cost. On the first night 32 of the 40 turned up. Many of them, it seemed to me, to get Chapman’s at lower cost than regular retail price. Within a month this group had shrunk to about 15 and we became concerned that we wouldn’t have enough to form a squadron after writing the exam. One of our small group, Frank Holden, was stricken with a coronary and was in hospital for most of the time. Dahle was forced to drop out due to business pressure. Our instructors were mostly professional sailors and except for a few, confused us more than they taught us. Eventually we instructed ourselves. We finished the term with Clarke, McBean, Pakenham and Thatcher doing the instructing and review work. The big night arrived and 14 wrote the exam. One of the 14 was Frank Holden who got permission from his doctor to write the exam in hospital. When the results were mailed to us, the required 12 passed and 2 failed. As it turned out Rolly Ellison, a member of Toronto Power Squadron was transferred by his company to the Vancouver office and became the 13 name on Vancouver Charter. Rolly also supervised the exam under instructions from CPS.

A meeting was called and application for a charter was approved, the squadron to be known as Vancouver Power Squadron. The first executive was elected and to take office after the granting of the Charter. The first executive was Squadron Commander, Tom Pakenham; Executive Officer, Bob Thatcher; Administrative Officer, Bruce Taylor; Secretary, Cece Hurd; Treasurer, Jim Hatchett.

The Chief Commander of CPS at that time was Bill Thompson, and he advised us that neither he or any other member of the National Executive could travel to Vancouver at that time for the Charter presentation. This left us in a position of being fully qualified to form a squadron and nobody able to give us the official blessing. This problem was solved when somebody had the bright idea to ask District Commander Dusty Kemmish of District 16, USPS to preside at the ceremonies. D/C Kemmish was contacted and said he would be delighted to act on behalf of our Chief Commander.

Charter presentation ceremonies were carried out in May, 1955 at HMCS Discovery, after all candidates for membership were presented with their certificates and given the membership pledge. D/C Kemmish was meticulously instructed in a 17-page telegram he received from C/C Thompson. Dusty was accompanied by a group of officers from District 16 and the Seattle Power Squadron. In addition to Dusty, were Reg Harting, Orville Lupton, Rutherford Hayes, Ivan Pinion and some others whose names escape me now. When the serious part of the ceremonies were dispensed with, we had a bang-up party. A close and continuing friendly relationship was established between District 16 USPS and the Vancouver Power Squadron and eventually the three Western Districts of CPS.

This is how the Vancouver Power Squadron was formed and the beginning of Canadian Power Squadrons on the West Coast of Canada. Most of the charter members became very active and within two years we were trying to accommodate classes numbering over a hundred. At first we were overwhelmed but with help and advice from District 16 and Seattle Power Squadron we gradually brought the organization under control. Through all of this, the energy, enthusiasm and devotion of one man stands out above all the others, Tommy Pakenham, the first Commander of VPS.

It was fun, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!