Soon after a tour through the Okanagan Valley, sponsored by the BC Book Prize in July, to promote his book, John Muir, West Coast Pioneer, in schools and at the University of Kelowna, Daryl Ashby was notified he had been short listed for the Victoria Butler Book Prize.
"This is the first book I've ever written," says Daryl. "I didn't expect to be acknowledged in such a way."
Daryl's interest in writing can be traced to a visit 10 years ago to John Muir's home, which still stands in Sooke.
"I knew there was something there that had not been well profiled," he says.
The more he dug, the more he realized nobody had written about the first settler who survived and stayed in the Sooke area.
"John Muir really was the beginning of settlement in the colony," says Daryl, who was born and raised in Victoria.
Daryl spent over three years researching John Muir's history and approximately three years writing it. The rest of the time was consumed with looking for a publisher. Most publishers thought writing history in the first person rather than the traditional third person would not sell. Daryl disagreed.
"I felt like I had gotten under John Muir's skin," he says, "And I was writing his words."
He was ready to go the self-publishing route when he got a call from Ronsdale Press, who was interested in his book.
Born in 1948, 100 years after John Muir left Kilmarnock, Scotland, Daryl calls himself a simple Scotsman, and like the simple Scotsman he wrote about, Daryl has moved forward in his life from one experience to another.
Shortly after marriage, Daryl and his wife moved to Kitimat, where he spent three years working in forestry - something he knew nothing about before he started.
When he came back to Victoria, he went into civil engineering, which he says he learned by the side of his bed at night. He started with private consulting and then worked as a city engineer until the trend turned to hiring engineers with degrees. That was when Daryl decided to go back to school to get his mechanics ticket before he went into private business, successfully owning and operating a service station in Sidney. In addition to writing, Daryl has been a realtor for the past 16 years.
In his book, Daryl describes John Muir as a simple man who brought his family from Scotland to Vancouver Island at the expense of the Hudson's Bay Company, which promised him 25 acres of land. In return, Muir, his four sons and a nephew were required to work as "consignee" labourers for the Hudson's Bay Company for three years.
The deal with the Hudson's Bay Company turned out to be less than they expected, and Muir, along with his sons and other colonists, petitioned the Queen for an electoral government. Eventually, the Queen consented and John Muir, besides being the first magistrate in the colony became the first Member of Parliament for the Metchosin and Sooke area.
In his book, Daryl credits John Muir with other firsts. He developed the first successful steam-operated sawmill in B.C., and the largest privately owned fleet of ships in the Northwest. No other man in those early days did so much with so little.
Muir was nearly 50 years old when he came to Vancouver's island. The book is about the last 35 years of his life, which, coincidentally, are the first 35 years of the colony.
"The book is not 100 per cent John Muir," says Daryl. "It is about the people of the day and how John interacted with them."
The popularity of Daryl's book prompted an invite to speak at the Lieutenant-Governor's Douglas Tea in November and for the Victoria Historical Society in January. He will also speak for the Nanaimo Historical Society in May.
Daryl's next book is another true story, which required a great deal of research. He says it's a "James Bond kind of story" about a local figure on the wrong side of the law in the 1970s. He hopes to have the book finished by the end of next year.
John Muir, West Coast Pioneer, can be purchased at most book stores in Victoria and numerous book stores up and down the Island.
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