TALES OF OLD VICTORIA
Norman K. Archer
Combine a little old school charm, a splash of gallantry and a heap of local historical knowledge, and you've got Norman Archer's newly released book Tales of Old Victoria.
Published in March 2007, and released at the Senior Living Seniors Celebration Festival, Tales of Old Victoria contains 25 mini-biographies of some of the greatest known and unknown nineteenth century West Coast pioneers.
"The book is meant to fill a very evident void," says Norman. "There are many exhaustive historical tomes on the stories of Victoria and an equal number of excellent biographies on many of its early pioneers. What, until this time, did not exist, is a light, simple, inexpensive, overall synopsis that can be read in a couple of hours."
Designed specifically with the "busy" reader in mind, Norman designed both the content and layout of his new book to encourage easy reading. Several illustrations, including original pencil sketches provided by Norman's oldest son, and lots of white space encourage people to pick up the book for a quick read. What holds their attention are the intricately woven stories this Victoria city tour guide has to offer.
"I have selected a cross-section of people who laid the foundations of the City of Victoria. Many of the names are well known: Captain Vancouver, James Douglas, Matthew Baillie Begbie, John Helmcken. Others are less well known: John Butts, Boone Helm, Belle Adams. All of them helped to shape the fabric of the city in one way or another," says Norman. "The tales are arranged in an approximate chronological sequence, so one is able to detect the historical flow and interplay of events. Interspersed among the biographies, I have woven some scenarios to help complete the picture, such as details of the gold rush, the catastrophe of the smallpox epidemic, the horrors of the leprosarium on Darcy Island and the mysteries of old Chinatown."
So, what inspired Norman to write this book?
"Each summer, I conduct over 100 tours of the city. At the end of a tour, where I have been recounting the bizarre exploits of some of our founding fathers - and mothers, too - I am frequently asked 'Are these stories in print?' Well, yes, they are, but they have to be dug out from the multitude of historical records, websites, analytical books and detailed biographies. Most of my tourists don't want that kind of trouble. They are looking for the cursory glance and the entertaining style. This book is an attempt to meet that very real need, not only for tourists, but for anyone who would like to know just a little about Victoria's birth and early life. I make no claim of originality. Most of the material in my book can be found in other books and articles. What is unique is the way the stories are presented. Each story is capsulated and can be read in about five minutes."
Born in London, England before the outbreak of the Second World War, Norman's colourful past helps make him a charismatic storyteller. Educated at Oxford and London University, Norman, in his early years, worked in Britain's printing and publishing industry. During his second career as a Baptist minister, he met his wife under a street lamp on a Saturday night in the middle of London. They hitchhiked across Europe, married, began a family and eventually immigrated to Canada, where they moved first to Victoria in 1966, left, and then returned in the '80s.
During Norman's many adventures in Canada, his fondness for informing and entertaining others inspired him to start a tour company where he spent 15 years escorting church groups to nearly 50 different countries. Upon retirement, Norman was approached to lead a "Birds Eye View Historical Tour" of Victoria, a summer walking tour for locals and tourists that provides insight into the historical and cultural landmarks of the city.
"Tour guiding is an ideal occupation for my interest and abilities," smiles Norman. "I am descended from a line of circus performers and the genes are certainly there. I am very much at home in the public eye and on the stage. I love drama!"
In his younger days, Norman did amateur dramatics and enjoyed every minute of it. And while he'd like to do it again, he says he doesn't know where he'd find the time.
"My tours include a large percentage of narrative. Most people are still children at heart and love a story. I am a born yarn-spinner. I love telling stories. My book has given me the perfect outlet for this natural inclination."
As a boy, Norman had a profound dislike for history until Mrs. Black became his history teacher.
"I well remember her saying that 'history is people. Get to know the people and you will understand the history.'"
The light went on for Norman that memorable day. Who doesn't enjoy stories about people? And people remain the heart of his tour guiding and the essence of his book.
For more information or to purchase a copy of Tales of Old Victoria
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