Humanitarian Uncovers Island Secrets

By Valerie Green

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A man of many talents, Theo Dombrowski, a retired teacher, has firmly established his skills as a photographer, artist and now writer on Vancouver Island.

Two recently released books Secret Beaches of Greater Victoria and Secret Beaches of Southern Vancouver Island are written and illustrated by Theo. The illustrations in watercolours, oils, charcoal and ink blend to create what he describes as “a sort of scrapbook of different visual responses that visitors, artists and photographers might have to our varied shoreline.” In addition, there are sketched maps showing the reader how to find the “secrets” he has discovered.

These two books are Theo’s first to be published by Heritage House Publishing. In the past, he self-published a children’s book called The Dragons of Vancouver Island. He is also working on cover art and some chapter illustrations for a young readers’ book called, A Book of Tricksters by Jon C. Stott, to be published this autumn.

Theo’s many years in teaching have mostly been spent at Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific where, with a PhD in English, he taught literature and writing.

“I first considered a career in art after taking courses at the Banff School of Fine Arts and the University of Victoria Fine Arts Department,” he says. “I also considered a career in biology while at university and even though my greatest academic strengths lay in the sciences and maths, I finally decided English literature was more meaningful for me as a teacher.”

Since his retirement in 2006, Theo has been recalling the inspiration he found many years ago when he first caught sight of enticing little beaches hidden at the end of access roads. Once retired, those long-ago memories led him to do more research. Much to his delight, he discovered even more beaches along sections of coastline he thought he knew well. He soon realized there was a wealth of rich information worthy of exploration.

Theo describes himself as “an obsessive outdoors-lover and an inveterate beach-goer,” who is fascinated by details of wind exposure and tides. Once he had decided to collect all the relevant beach information together, he self-published a smaller version of the Beaches books limited to the areas between Qualicum and Nanaimo.

Since 1963, Theo has lived in his family’s home at Nanoose Bay, sometimes just seasonally but, since retirement, he and his wife Eileen (also a retired teacher) have lived there full-time. He and Eileen have also published a book together about the first 30 years of Pearson College.

Working on Volumes 1 and 2 of the Beaches books in preparation for publication took a few months of intense research and study, plus working on the illustrations, but he was then ready to seek a publisher, feeling there would be a market of interest for those who are intrigued by little-known beaches on Vancouver Island.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of working on these books has been the knowledge that all proceeds from sales will be going to organizations about which Theo feels very passionately - Medecins Sans Frontieres MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and the Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA), which is devoted to one of our most precious, yet vulnerable, local resources.

Past support of these worthwhile causes have inspired him to make calendars of oceanside images, design T-shirts, art cards and artworks, plus donating the proceeds from his self-published children’s book.

In addition to teaching international students at Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, Theo taught for one year at the Collegio del Mondo Unito in Italy and two years at the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway, all of which made him more aware of the world’s many worthwhile causes. Following the Haiti earthquake, for instance, he arranged a display of his work in a local shopping centre, where he sold several paintings to raise funds for both the Red Cross and MSF.

Today, he continues to think of ways in which his work can help other local causes - from campaigning against open-net fish farming to the dumping of improperly treated sewage.

Theo is also looking for a publisher for a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek book about retirement to be sold as another fundraiser.

As a humanitarian and a man conscious of the environment, Theo says, “I have been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world, such as Cuba, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Columbia, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal.” His roots lie in Poland, where his father grew up before moving to Canada.

Born in Port Alberni, this much-travelled man is constantly coming up with more ideas to make the world a better place; one that future children and grandchildren will be proud to inherit.



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