THE BASTION, THE TRUE STORY
Our city’s preoccupation with putting itself on the map to attract tourists isn’t new. It all started in 1855 with the Bastion, our nifty little Hudson’s Bay Company fort which was originally built to protect us from the natives, whose land we were stealing, and the occasional Spaniard swashbuckling his way through town.
Three stories high, octagon in shape, and finished in “seagull poop white,” the little building stands out. Maybe not as much as a sportsplex, a convention center, a railroad to nowhere, or, I dunno, an Arnold Palmer designed sewage treatment plant, but it’s budget friendly and has a rich and glorious history, most of which we’ll make up. If that doesn’t attract tourists, we’ll bill it as the Jolly Green Giant’s saltshaker, either that or his porta potty. This may or may not be true, but in the rough and tumble world of roadside attraction anything goes.
It was July 1855, and stinking hot, when six Indian war canoes paddled into Nanaimo Harbour. “Whew!” Said the chief, “What’s that smell?”
“Never mind the smell”, said the paddle master who paddled professionally under the nickname Roostertail. “What’s that weird-shaped little building? The smell seems to be coming from there.”
The chief turned to the canoe’s navigator, Newcastle Jimmy, the only crewmember who had made it as far as Math 12. “ What do you think Jim?” The chief asked.
“It’s an octagon. First one I’ve ever seen. Let’s paddle over and take a look. Just make sure we approach from upwind. He shook his head in wonder. “They must have pissed off every seagull on the coast to get it that colour. Let’s go see what those goofy white guys are up to this time.”
Much has been said about the relationship between the indigenous people and the early white settlers. The truth is they got along. The white guys were envious of the native’s laid- back West Coast life style. Hunting, fishing, pick a few berries, paddle here, paddle there, work on the tan, life was rough. Plus, thanks to all the exercise, the natives looked great. Bristling six packs, bulging biceps.
Not that the settlers went unappreciated. They were valued for their entertainment value. As the chief put it, “It’s always something.”
Eager to show off their new toy, which they called “the Bastion,” the settlers invited them in for an open house. Their pride in the new structure was obvious, “Cannon balls bounce off it,” they said excitedly. “Attack us, we’ll show you how it works.”
“Whatever,” the chief replied trying to weasel out of it. “Ah come on,” the settlers pleaded. “Attack us. We spent a lot of money on this thing. We want to show you how it works.”
“But we’re just here to pick up supplies, maybe a few women, although a shower is in order before that’s going to happen.”
The natives were reluctant as they were very image savvy and didn’t want to be victimized by the media. The settlers always tried to label them as bloodthirsty savages, whereas the natives preferred to be regarded as a canoe club. Just a group of like-minded individuals out for a good paddle. They were quick however to offer the disclaimer that they weren’t responsible for what club members did on their own time.
Finally the chief relented. This sent the settlers scurrying into their fort while the natives established their perimeter, ignoring the settlers inside who double-dared them to stand in front of the gun slits so they could get a clear shot at them. After one lap around, the chief shook his head in dismay. As he told Roostertail, “We used to paddle in, they’d run like hell into the bushes. We’d give pursuit, then drag them kicking and screaming back to the potlatch where, let’s just say they were shown some real West Coast hospitality.
“Now we paddle in and they lock themselves in that stupid building. How do you fight someone who’s self-capturing? They’ve taken the sport right out of it.”
Later that night the natives had a good laugh at the settler’s expense. While the settlers had been building their fort, the natives had invested in the latest bunker busting technology. “The mother of all bunker busters.” It was called the flaming arrow.
“Man oh man.” The chief said. “Whoever designed their fort sure wasn’t up to date on modern weaponry. That place is one large campfire ready to happen. Did you see the shakes on the roof? They’ve even supplied the kindling.”
But the natives had grown fond of the building, something about its goofy shape made them laugh. They also saw the potential of the fort as a tourist attraction, an outlet for their crafts. They envisioned a fully integrated operation with bus tours, post cards, key chains, the works. All marketed effectively by fit natives in skimpy loin clothes, jumping around like Cher’s backup dancers.
So the building was spared but not before the settlers had been taught a lesson. During the open house, the natives had observed a major design flaw. No indoors plumbing. The settlers kept sneaking out the basement door and running over to the detached outhouse. What we’ll do,” the chief said, tears running down his face in mirth, “is lock them in the fort. We’ll leave a sign: Bathroom privileges denied until further notice” Later that night, under cover of darkness, the chief and the assistant chief put padlocks on the doors. Where they got padlocks is still a mystery.
When the settlers came down for breakfast and discovered the locks, they were not happy. “Not funny,” they said. As the mayor put it, “You guys just don’t play fair. Least you could have done after we spent all that money is to humour us by bouncing a few rocks off the building. But no, you’ve got to play stupid bathroom tricks.”
The chief, not wanting to jeopardize his position in any future lease negotiations, and recognizing someone had to play the adult, apologized for not cooperating “Next time,” he promised. “Rocks. Plenty of rocks.”