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Charlie Perkins: An adventurer and remarkable Canadian

Charles Augustus Perkins - Submitted photo
Charles Augustus Perkins
— image credit: Submitted photo

CHARLES AUGUSTUS

PERKINS

1912 - 2012

 

In Beirut, Lebanon, in December 1965, world-traveler Charlie Perkins and his wife Joyce waited in their camper van for the birth of their only child. It was but one episode in the life of a remarkable Canadian. Lawyer, author, RCAF fighter pilot, magistrate, adventurer, raconteur, Sooke politician, Charlie answered to all of these.

Born in Calgary in 1912, his childhood was spent in Kerrisdale, Vancouver. When he was 11-years-old  the family moved to Prince George, where his businessman dad went into lumbering. In 1937 he graduated in law from the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, where he was a Phi Delta Theta.

In those frontier days Edmonton was a gateway to the north. Gold mines were opening up in Yellowknife, and in 1938 Charlie was invited to join in the adventure. As the first lawyer to practice in the Northwest Territories, he was offered government work tending to business throughout the region. He treasured this opportunity to see the north. Appointed stipendiary magistrate, he served until 1941.

Two things Charlie identified immediately. One, the need for a newspaper. He and a friend purchased a typewriter and a hand-cranked multigraph machine, setting up shop in a tent. The other problem was plumbing. The frontier village operated with outdoor privies, but there was no public privy. He observed that inbound flights to Yellowknife would see frantic disembarking passengers running to backyard privies, with the result that homeowners began locking them. Possibly this was Charlie’s first public service, getting volunteers together to construct a public facility.

When World War II darkened the skies, Charlie joined the RCAF. As a pilot, he flew missions over the Atlantic, out of Gander, Newfoundland. After the war, he went on the staff of Veterans’ Affairs, where he helped settle returning servicemen into their new lives and opportunities. He remained there until 1962, when his wanderlust got the better of him.

He and his new wife Joyce headed for New Zealand and the South Pacific. His first published book was Fiji, Many Flowering Islands. When the couple was in Lebanon, he wrote Molly about the St. Bernard that had been his companion in his Prince George youth; this book continued to bring him royalties for several decades, even into the last month of his life.

Their five-year odyssey took the couple to India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia and England. With guides, they traversed the Khyber Pass. With the birth of their daughter, however, their thoughts turned back to Canada. In 1967 they found a place on West Coast Road in Sooke, where they could garden and putter to their hearts’ content.

With their background of world travels and interest in humanity, the Perkins’ home became a social center for many gatherings during the next 20 years. Charlie also enjoyed fishing, and kept a small boat. Travel kept calling them, though, and with daughter Laurel added, the couple made several more world trips, including Japan and South America.

In 1976 Charlie Perkins was first elected Sooke’s Regional Director, a feat he repeated in 1978. Probably Charlie could be described as bringing a scholarly approach to Sooke area politics. He served on the Public Works Committee of the CRD, but was perhaps best remembered locally for initiating the Sooke Forum Council, seen as a half-way measure of sorts between incorporation and one-person rule.

Lorna Barry, who became Sooke’s Regional Director some years after Charlie, recalls, “I first met Charlie Perkins at the Sooke Forum Council, which he’d initiated to allow debate. The meetings were well-attended and lively, but Charlie always kept his cool. He had a wonderful sense of humour and was always a gentleman. One thing that impressed me was how visionary he was; already, at that time, formulating plans for a village centre that would include a medical centre.”

Charlie’s largest role in the development of the Capital Regional District was probably as chair of the Hospital Planning Commission. So if one wonders how it came to be that the Victoria General Hospital was built on the west side of Victoria in 1979, it would be safe to say that Director Perkins from Sooke wielded considerable influence. It was a decision that created controversy, but we understand that Director Perkins stuck to his guns.

While Charlie was politicking, Joyce took an active role in Sooke’s drama group Stage West Players. When daughter Laurel was in university and looked for a summer job, she became “Tilly Gordon” of Moss Cottage, carrying out tours at the museum. Their longtime friend Josefina Jacobsen remembers “Whenever I see the lovely pink cherry blossoms along the road I think of Charlie and how he began Sooke’s first official beautification.”

Former Mirror publisher John Arnett recalls, “Charlie Perkins was a writer at heart which is probably one reason why, in the 1980s he wrote a weekly column in the Mirror entitled ‘Conversation Piece.’ He wrote it in a folksy easy to read, usually philosophical style that was popular with readers. While away, he wrote by hand and mailed batches of columns back to the Mirror in fat envelopes from far away places. A proud moment for Mirror readers was when he won the award for the best column in a B.C. community newspaper in 1991.”

It was while on a trip by freighter out of Port Arthur near Galveston, Texas, in 1987 that Charlie, Joyce and Laurel met the ship’s master, Captain Raymond Mathew, who in time would become the Perkins’ son-in-law. Laurel and Raymond settled in B.C. and began raising their family, son Rohan and daughter Meera. To be close, the Perkins moved first up-island to Courtenay and later to Langley, as Raymond’s career moves brought changes to the family’s location. Charlie and Joyce found much joy being with their grandchildren and Charlie’s ingenuity was tested as he built toys for them in the back yard. Charlie was also pleased at the opportunity at this time of renewing ties with his son Paul from an earlier marriage.

In 2006 Joyce predeceased him, and Charlie’s final years were with his daughter’s family, where he continued writing and reminiscing over a life well lived. Just short of 100 years, Charles Augustus Perkins passed away March 9th.

Elida Peers,

Historian, Sooke Region Museum

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