The Rainbow. A World War One on Canada's West Coast Timeline


I know there is another thread dedicated specifically to this, but could you post a small resume of how the pod affected posterior RCN evolution it to WW2 and after that?
Anyway thanks a lot for your excellent work
I know there is another thread dedicated specifically to this, but could you post a small resume of how the pod affected posterior RCN evolution it to WW2 and after that?
Anyway thanks a lot for your excellent work
I have no real thoughts on that. I am really only telling this story. Sorry.
There is? Could I have a link to it?
There is a timeline, written by another contributor, that started at the same time and uncannily parallels this story. The author has said that the events with HMCS Rainbow on the West Coast are a POD for a different RCN, but he is still writing the August 1914 parts currently. It is a great read so far. Here it is:
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Appendix 6 part 2: The Liners
Auxiliary CruiserPrizes TakenGRT
Kronprinz Wilhelm
Prinz Rupert/ Prinzessin Charlotte
Prinz Eitel Freidrich
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
Cap Trafalgar

Part 2: The Liners

Kronprinz Wilhelm
Kronprinz Wilhelm was the most successful of the big, fast German liners converted to merchant raider. The Royal Navy was concerned about the threat this kind of vessel could present to the British merchant marine since fast liners came into existence, and had included them in the design considerations for their trade protection cruisers for decades. The Royal Navy also sponsored British liners to be built to Admiralty Specifications so that they could be quickly converted to armed merchant cruisers to counter foreign threat in a trade war.

Karlsruhe’s former navigation officer Kapitänleutnant Paul Thierfelder captained Kronprinz Wilhelm to take 15 prizes for a total of 58,201 GRT, in an 8 month voyage that left one quarter of the crew incapacitated by scurvy. The ship haunted the South Atlantic off Brazil and Argentina, but does not seem to have provoked a strong response of Royal Navy cruisers tasked to catch her, and caused no shipping stops. Kronprinz Wilhelm’s success challenges one of the assumptions of Hilfskreuzer design: the ship was the most lightly armed of all the German raiders, she had only 2 x 8.8 cm guns. Later, she captured 2 x 4.7 inch guns from a defensively armed British liner, but these guns had no ammunition, and were only used for drill and to fire blank warning shots. Thierfelder used his ship’s great bulk and superior speed to intimidate merchants, and sank most by scuttling charge. At one point, Kronprinz Wilhelm sank a sailing freighter by ramming, cutting the ship completely in half.

Thierfelder had an opportunity to alter history slightly, when Kronprinz Wilhelm arrived on the scene of the Battle of Trindade Island, just after the German raider SMS Cap Trafalgar had sunk, and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Carmania was badly damaged and in near sinking condition. Kronprinz Wilhelm could have finished off Carmania, but Thierfelder took the cautions path, knowing that other Royal Navy cruisers were on their way. After 8 months of raiding, running low on coal and with the engines in deteriorating condition, Thierfelder ran a British blockade to intern at Newport News Virginia on April 10, 1915.

Prinz Rupert and Prinzessin Charlotte
Prinz Rupert, formerly the Canadian Grand Trunk Pacific Railway coastal liner Prince Rupert, was captured by Nürnberg August 16. The coastal liner was expediently fitted out to act as an armed auxiliary to Nürnberg, under the command of Lieutenant Otto Von Spee, younger son of Admiral Graf Maximillian Von Spee. After taking several prizes, Prinz Rupert was badly damaged in a close-range battle with the Russian naval supply ship Anadyr in the harbour of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Von Spee took the damaged ship and captured a coastal liner of a competitor, the Canadian Pacific Railroad’s Princess Charlotte, which became the Prinzessin Charlotte. Between them the commandeered liners sank 19 vessels, totalling 49,500 GRT.

The voyage of the Prinz Rupert and Prinzessin Charlotte is unique among German commerce raiders, happening entirely within inland waterways. The ships were lightly armed, only with 5.2 cm guns from Nürnberg’s secondary armament and 3.7cm pom-poms, as well as machine guns. The Prinz/Prinzessin sank no merchant prizes by gunfire, all ships were boarded and sunk by scuttling charge, or scuttled by their own side to avoid capture, or in one spectacular case, SS Marama was accidentally run aground at high speed while fleeing to avoid capture.

Prinz Rupert did use her guns in a battle with the Russian Anadyr, and Prinzessin Charlotte used her guns suppressing rifle fire from shore at Swanson Bay and Ladysmith, bombarding an explosives factory, and returning fire on two Canadian submarines that attacked her. Von Spee junior caused a great deal of damage to industry on shore, being involved in the demolition of two pulp mills, a coal loading facility, the aforementioned explosives factory, an abandoned copper mill, and two cement plants.

Like the other two cruisers involved in the actions in British Columbia, Von Spee was lucky, but not extraordinarily so. He did have the services of a local pilot, to get keep him from running aground in the narrow channels, which helped a great deal. He also was helped in this regard by the density of enemy merchant shipping in the waters of Georgia Strait. But his luck eventually ran out, the bow of Prinzessin Charlotte was blown off by torpedo in a submarine ambush, and Von Spee interned his ship and crew in American waters.

Prinz Eitel Friedrich
Prinz Eitel Friedrich was fitted out at Tsingtao in 6 days, armed with 4 x 10.5cm and 6 x 8.8 cm guns from the gunboats stationed there. Her commander, Korvettenkapitän Max Thierichens, followed a similar course as Admiral Von Spee across the Pacific, meeting with Von Spee senior several times, but operated mostly independently. Prinz Eitel Friedrich captured prizes in the Pacific and Atlantic, 11 vessels totalling 33,423 GRT. Thierichens chose a different strategy that Von Spee and the light cruisers did crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Prinz Eitel Friedrich travelled far to the south of Cape Horn, avoiding shipping routes, and arrived in the Atlantic without encountering any Entente warships. After wearing out her engines and with bunkers almost empty, March 11, 1915, Thierichens interned at Newport News, Virginia.

Kaptitan zur See Karl Von Schönberg changed horses to Niagara after Nürnberg had become too damaged in the Battle of Esquimalt to continue. The conversion of Niagara to an armed auxiliary cruiser, in an all-night work party by a crew already exhausted by a whole day of combat, was made possible by Niagara’s construction to Admiralty Specifications. The decks were already reinforced to receive guns heavier than Nürnberg’s, so the deck plates only needed to be drilled for the gun mounts to be bolted down.

Taken by herself, the accomplishments of Niagara are unremarkable. Her prize tonnage falls near the middle for the armed liners, and towards the bottom of the pack for the warships. As an extension of the voyage of Nürnberg, Niagara’s rapid conversion and departure on another leg of a commerce warfare foray is remarkable, and a testament to the tenacity of her captain.

Von Schönberg chose correctly to target the Chilean nitrate trade as the best place to apply pressure to the British arms industry, and it happened to be within Niagara’s range. As fate had it, the allied merchants were mostly held in port by shipping stops in response to the presence of Leipzig, and to the British loss at the Battle of Coronel, so Niagara did not find as many prizes as she might have in other circumstances. But, strategically, stopping a ship from leaving port had the same short-term effect as capturing the ship, so Niagara was reinforcing an already effective cruiser warfare campaign.

Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
The Norddeutcher Lloyd liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, sister ship of Kronprinz Wilhelm, was converted to an armed auxiliary cruiser in Germany with 6 x 10.5 cm guns. Unlike most of the German armed liners, which were expediently fitted out overseas, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse embodied the worst fears of the Royal Navy, a fast liner properly fitted out as a commerce raider in a German shipyard. Her Captain Reymann broke through the Royal Navy blockade at the start of the war, via Norwegian waters and the Greenland-Iceland gap.

Reymann took 3 prizes for a total of 10,685 GRT. Two prizes were steam freighters, one was a fishing trawler of a mere 227 tons. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse also stopped two more British liners, but Reymann let them go when he discovered their passengers included many women and children.

Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse met her colliers in neutral Spanish waters at the Rio de Oro colony on the west coast of Africa. Reymann overstayed his permissible time in neutral waters by 9 days, so when HMS Highflyer arrived August 26 and interrupted the coaling, it was with the knowledge that the Germans had already violated Spanish neutrality. The German ships were at anchor, with no steam up. The captain of Highflyer ordered Reymann to surrender, he refused, and a long range gun battle was fought, with both sides shooting so poorly that they exhausted their ammunition supplies. At this point, depending on the account, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was either so damaged that she sank, or she was scuttled by her crew.

Thus the commerce raiding voyage of Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse ended, after 3 weeks, with her sinking less Entente merchant shipping than her own GRT. Could she have performed better? Certainly. Could she have performed worse? Hardly.

Cap Trafalgar
The Hamburg South America liner Cap Trafalgar was in Argentina when war was declared. She rendezvoused at Trindade Island, in Brazil, with the gunboat Eber, that steamed across from German South West Africa. Eber transferred her armament of 2 x 10.5 cm guns, ammunition, and some crew to Cap Trafalgar. Eber, disarmed, then interned in Brazil. No sooner had the conversion been completed than the armed merchant cruiser HMS Carmania appeared, and the two liners fought to a bloody draw, with Cap Trafalgar sinking, and Carmania in near sinking condition. Kronprinz Wilhelm appeared at this point, drawn by Cap Trafalgar’s wireless messages, but captain Thierfelder decided to leave again, rather than finish off Carmania and risk being caught by Royal Navy cruisers in the area.

Carmania was in such rough shape at this point that she needed immediate assistance from HMS Bristol and Cornwall, and so the Royal Navy cruisers were tied up escorting Carmania, rather than chasing her colliers down or hunting for Kronprinz Wilhelm.

Cap Trafalgar took no prizes, and Carmania was repaired and continued serving as an armed merchant cruiser until the end of the war. Cap Trafalgar’s net contribution to the war effort seemed to be forcing the dock facilities at Gibraltar to spend a month repairing Carmania. The Battle of Trindade Island was brutal, but often occupies popular histories as a comedic odd-spot, and eerily presages the portion of the Battle of the Galapagos Islands between Niagara and HMS Orama.

Emden captured the Russian mail liner Ryazan on the first day of the war, and brought her back to Tsingtao. There, the guns were taken off the dilapidated Bussard class unarmoured cruiser Cormoran, a sister of Geier, and Ryazan was converted to the armed auxiliary cruiser Cormoran II, although the II suffix was soon dropped. With 8 x 10.5 cm guns, Cormoran became the most heavily armed of the German armed liners. The ship passed through a typhoon before meeting with Von Spee’s main force at the German colony of Majuro Island. Her captain Adalbert Zuckschwert was ordered to engage in commerce warfare off Australia, which Zuckschwert interpreted to be the seas surrounding the German Pacific colonies of The Solomons, New Guinea, and the Carolines.

Cormoran’s hunting grounds thus became the same waters that ANZAC forces were using to invade the colonies, and Cormoran’s attention was split between hunting merchants and avoiding Entente warships. She ended up taking not a single prize. The entry of Japan into the war on August 23 only increased the danger from Entente warships, and Cormoran sought shelter at the American territory of Guam when she was out of coal. The Americans refused to sell the Germans coal, and Cormoran could not leave with no coal, so she existed in Guam in a limbo between liberty and internment until the United States entered the war in 1917.

The Norddeutcher Lloyd liner Berlin was fitted out as an armed merchant cruiser and auxiliary mine layer in Germany, and sailed in September. Berlin laid a minefield off the east coast of the British Isles, then was damaged in a storm. Her captain lost his nerve and interned in Norway. The only reason this ship is mentioned here is that one of her mines sank the brand-new King George V class super-dreadnought HMS Audacious. Audacious was the only ship of military significance sunk by a German surface raider in World War One.

The loss of Audacious, on October 27, and then the dispatch of the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible to the South Atlantic in response to the Battle of Coronel which happened five days later, started to achieve the strategic effect that the German Admiralty was hoping for, attriting the Royal Navy capital ships down to a level where the High Seas Fleet could meet them on advantageous terms. However, Germany was unable to expand on this attrition, and unable to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Hamburg South America liner Cap Polonio was converted to the armed auxiliary cruiser Vineta in Germany. Only after the conversion was complete did the Navy decide that with inferior coal the ship would be too slow for her mission, and she never left port.

A question that comes up, when looking at the combat effectiveness of the armed merchant raiders is, who are the vessels armed against? The most successful of the armed liners was Kronprinz Wilhelm, the most lightly armed. And Kronprinz Wilhelm only used her guns to fire warning shots. With the exception of Prinz Rupert and Prinzessin Charlotte, who were operating in inland waters, none of the liners used their guns against merchants for much more than speeding along the demise of prizes that had or could have been scuttled with explosive charges.

When the liners Niagara, Prinz Rupert and Cap Trafalgar did fire their guns in anger it was in a mutually destructive battle with another armed merchant cruiser, that would inevitably ended the mission of the German raider if it managed to be the one that remained barely afloat at the end of the exchange. All of the battles between German merchant raiders and Entente warships ended decisively with the warships victorious as one would expect. Möwe did have two battles with defensively armed merchant ships, and she won those both, while taking damage that stopped short of being career ending. Prinzessin Charlotte fired at a surface submarine and managed to force it to dive.

I suggest that the arming of merchants to transform them into commerce raiders was a pro forma exercise, A thing that one simply must do to be taken seriously, similar to a bank robber producing a note saying “I have a gun,” even though the actual utility of the armament was minimal.
Appendix 6 Part 3: The freighters
Auxiliary CruiserPrizes TakenGRT
Wolf (II) as auxiliary cruiser
(Mines laid by Wolf)
Wolf total
Wolf I

Part 3: The freighters

Möwe undeniably holds the top spot with the most merchant tonnage taken at 180,000 GRT, even if one counts Nürnberg and Niagara as a single vessel. In order to achieve this, Möwe made three voyages under her commander Korvettenkapitan Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schlodien, running the British blockade six times. On the second voyage Möwe layed mines that sank two merchants and HMS King Edward VII, one of the more modern of the Royal Navy’s fleet of pre-dreadnought battleships.

Möwe was the first vessel of a new design philosophy for Kaiserliche Marine surface raiders. She was converted from a freighter, not particularly fast, with her armament, including torpedo tubes, concealed behind movable shutters. While previous armed liners and warships had altered their appearance in ad-hoc ways and flown false flags, the freighters as commerce raider were much more systematic about concealing their identities. This proved to be tactical success, as Möwe’s prize count indicates.

Möwe sailed from Germany in the last few days of 1915, and arrived back from her final voyage March 22, 1917. While at sea, she ranged at will through the North and South Atlantic, her presence only marked by Entente merchants failing to arrive at their destinations. Dohna-Schlodien and his crew became celebrity war heroes, and a motion picture of Möwe’s exploits was produced and screened in Germany during the war.

But the effective stealth that Möwe achieved worked against her having the kind of strategic effect that Emden, Leipzig, or Von’s Spee’s main force did. Möwe did not provoke any merchant shipping stops, and did not draw a great number of naval units away from other important tasks. She did not cause a panic. So while her tally was high, Möwe’s greater effect on the war, like that of Karlsruhe, remained localized.

Dohna-Schlodien was lucky. Möwe fought two gun battles with defensively armed merchants and did not suffer any critical damage herself. Even more luckily, one of these ships, her 8th prize, sent a distress call that was received by HMS Essex. Inexplicably, Essex’s wireless operator did not tell his officers about the message, so the two Royal navy cruisers within range did not respond and catch Möwe three weeks into her first voyage.

Captain Dohna-Schlodien became a popular war hero feted in Germany, and was not sent out on further war patrols because he was more valuable as a figure on the home front. The motion picture Graf Dohna und seine Möwe is considered one of the most important propaganda films of the war. The film was obtained by the Hearst News Agency and widely circulated as Cruise of the Mowe in the United States and beyond after the war.

Similar in design to Möwe, Wolf and her commander Korvettenkapitan Karl August Nerger achieved much of what Dohna-Schlodien of Möwe did, but in a single epic voyage. Wolf, officially Wolf II since the first Wolf had run aground on her way out of port, departed from Germany on November 30, 1916. She remained at sea for 451 days, rounding New Zealand before returning to Germany via the Atlantic, and laying mines off Cape Town, Columbo, Bombay, Australia, and New Zealand. Wolf took 14 ships as prizes, and sank another 13 with mines for a total of 27 vessels and 114,279 GRT.

Wolf pioneered new technologies for commerce raiding. She carried a seaplane, Wolfchen, that she used to scout for prizes. She also carried mines and extra light guns to arm captured prizes as auxiliaries and minelayers. She used two prizes for this purpose in the Indian Ocean to some effect. The prizes of her prizes are included in the tally for Wolf. Nerger also carefully loaded strategic war material cargo from his prizes, and returned to Germany with a full hold od cocoa, copra, silk, brass, zinc, copper, and rubber. A motion picture was also made documenting Wolf’s voyage, that screened in Germany during the war.

Later in the war, German commerce raiders were finding keeping themselves in coal to be difficult, so the 1500 GRT steel hulled sailing ship Pass of Balmaha was converted into the armed auxiliary cruiser Seeadler. Seeadler sailed from Germany on December 21, 1916, evaded the British blockade, and took 16 prizes for a total of 30,099 GRT. The relatively high ratio of vessels taken to GRT reflects that Seeadler’s prizes were mostly sailing ships.

Her commander Felix Von Luckner took such care in his ship’s disguise that when he was boarded by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Avenger (sister ship of Niagara), the British boarding party found nothing amiss with the ship and her Norwegian speaking crew, and let him continue. British warships did search for her, and her general location was known from reports received from captured merchant crewmen on their release. In one instance the armoured cruiser HMS Lancaster and the AMCs Orbita and Otranto attempted to catch Seeadler by ambush as she rounded Cape Horn, but Seeadler was lucky to have been blown south by a storm thus avoiding the Royal Navy trap.

Luckner’s good fortune ran out in spectacular fashion August 2, 1917. Seeadler was at the remote French Polynesian atoll of Mopelia, anchored to clean her hull, when she was struck by a tsunami, thrown up on the reef, and destroyed.

Meteor operated in the Norths Sea June to August 1915. She sank 5 prizes in 2 voyages, and mines she laid sank 5 more. She was scuttled after being warned by a German Navy zeppelin that British Cruisers were on their way to catch her.

Wolf I, Grief & Leopard
The first freighter fitted out as merchant raider, Wolf I, met an ignominious end as she ran aground in the Elbe estuary on the way out for her first voyage, causing severe damage, and was decommissioned. As the war progressed, the British blockade tightened. The commerce raiders Grief and Leopard were sunk by Royal Navy cruisers on their way through the blockade without taking a single prize.
Appendix 6 part 5: Conclusions
Part 5: Conclusions
Cruiser / Auxiliary CrusierPrizes TakenGRT
Wolf (including mines)
Kronprinz Wilhelm
Prinz Rupert/ Prinzessin Charlotte
Prinz Eitel Freidrich
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse
Scharnhorst & Gneisenau

Which Kaiserliche Marine officer was responsible for sinking the greatest number of Entente merchant ships, or the greatest amount of GRT?

From 1915-18, Vizeadmiral Lothar von Arnauld de la Periere sank 194 merchant vessels totalling 453,716 GRT, during 15 patrols in U-35 and U-139. Kapitanleutnant Walter Forstmann sank 146 ships totalling 384,300 GRT in U-12 and U-39. Kapitanleutnant Max Valentiner sank 150 ships totalling 299,300 GRT in U-38 and U-157. These accomplishments have not been reproduced since. The top six Kaiserliche Marine submarine aces each sank more vessels and tonnage than Dohna-Schlodien in Möwe, and the top nine submarine aces each sank more vessels and tonnage than Von Schönberg in Nürnberg and Niagara.

The effort of all surface commerce raiders of the Kaiserliche Marine in World War One sank, with gunfire, scuttling, and mines, 217 merchant vessels of 837,232 GRT. The U-boat service of the Kaiserlich Marine sank, using cruiser rules and then unrestricted submarine warfare, almost 6,000 merchant ships of 13 million GRT.

The surface commerce raiders took their 837,232 GRT with 20 vessels, including vessels outfitted that did not put to sea, and vessels that were sunk at the start of their voyage and took no prizes. This translates to an average of 41,862 GRT per raider. U-boats sank 12,850,815 GRT with 351 submarines, an average of 36,612 GRT per boat, 83% of the average tonnage taken by a World War One Kaiserlicke Marine surface raider.

For comparison, in the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two, German U-boats sank 3500 Allied merchant ships totalling 14.5 million GRT. The slightly higher GRT total in World War Two for just over half the number of hulls sunk is a result of the increasing size of freighters in the intervening decades. The Kreigsmarine U-boat fleet fought World War Two with 1,162 submarines. World War Two U-boats sank an average of 12,478 GRT per submarine, or about 28% of the average World War One Surface Raider.

The surface commerce raiders as a group scrupulously observed cruiser warfare rules, and were widely regarded even by their enemies as chivalrous and honourable, catching the public imagination. The U-boat fleet, once it engaged in unrestricted submarine warfare and often even before, was regarded as barbarous and criminal, similar to the atrocities against Belgium, and another piece of evidence to confirm the notion of the Hun as morally inferior. The U-boats may have almost won the war in early 1917, but they also contributed to losing it by bringing the United States into the war in reaction to unrestricted submarine warfare killing American civilians.

Entente navies, primarily the Royal Navy, countered the threat of the surface raiders by patrolling the seas, and by instituting shipping stops in a particular region when a raider was being too effective and when insufficient Entente naval assets were close at hand to chase the raider away. The shipping stops had a high cost for Britain, her industry needed constant inputs to keep the war effort fed.

The Royal Navy countered the submarine threat with minefields, light patrol craft, hunt-and-kill patrols, Q-ships, and late and reluctantly, by implementing the convoy system. The Admiralty and Ministry of Shipping resisted the idea of convoys because the convoy itself slowed the efficient flow of maritime trade, some even claiming that more cargo would be lost per month waiting for convoy departure than to the U-boat threat, so it came at some cost. The British government consented to convoys when it became clear that Britain was close to being choked out of the war in April 1917, and an immediate improvement in merchant survival was noticed. This will be covered in depth in the next chapter.

The underwhelming performance of the last 5 of the German armed liners and last three freighters is really a testament to the nature of fortune. Any of the German commerce raiders could have done better, or worse, but statistically the overall success of any individual actor tends to fall on a bell curve. More actors, in this case, more commerce raiders, could have produced more results, but adding more ships would be unlikely to produce more Möwes or Nürnbergs, just as likely to produce more Cormorans or Leopards, and more likely to produce more Prinz Eitel Freidrichs. That is unless so many more commerce raiders were released that they crossed a quantum threshold and completely overwhelmed the Entente navies. This would have required the Kaiserliche Marine to have a completely different level of planning for a guerre de course than they showed leading up to the Great War.

So who really was the greatest of the surface commerce raiding Aces? Dohna-Schlodien sank the most GRT. Von Schönberg sank the next most, and devastated the industry of a remote but productive corner of the Empire. Von Spee contolled the sea lanes off South America for 5 weeks. After all the criteria we have weighed, I will let the Royal Navy be the arbitrator, based on the resources they sent to put the raiding to a stop. The Royal Navy and allies had up to 60 warships searching for Emden in the Indian Ocean, because if commerce raiding was going to happen unchecked, the Indian Ocean was the worst place for it to happen. That would put Fregattenkapitan Karl Von Müller’s portrait in the place of honour.

Note: IOTL, Kaiserlich Marine surface raiders took 147 merchant vessels and 616,801 GRT, with 18 vessels, Nürnberg did not take a single prize, and SMS Prinz Rupert and Prinzessin Charlotte never had the chance to serve in the Imperial German Navy. The average per raider OTL is 34,267 GRT per vessel. This number falls into line just under the average tonnage taken by a World War One U-boat, and still almost 3 times the tonnage taken by the average World War Two U-Boat.
Appendix 7: CBC Radio Program Morningside Interview
CBC Radio Program Morningside Interview
November 22, 1982.

<theme music plays>

Peter Gzowski (host): You may be familiar with these novels, The Porcupine Hunter, Theft of the Coppers, Walking About Early, The Wigyet Murders, or Falling Leaf Month. I have the very great honour this morning to welcome author, playwright, and professor Zacharias Paul. And I suppose I can add another accolade to that list, Governor General’s Award winner for Fiction, fresh from the ceremony at Rideau Hall last night. Zacharias Paul, welcome, and congratulations.

Zacharias Paul: Ama G_anlaaak. Thank you very much Peter. And please, retired professor. Those young people move too fast for me these days (chuckles).

PG: Professor Emeritas!

ZP: That sounds better! Emeritas really just means “completed one’s service,” Peter, so retired. Which is fine. More time for writing.

PG: Now, The Porcupine Hunter has been called Science Fiction, or Magical Realism, or Native Myth and Legend, or a Detective Story, but none of those genres really quite capture the feel of the narrative, there always seems to be something a bit more.

ZP: Yes, those trickster figures always seem to be turning into something else, they never stay as just one thing, for long.

PG: And the boundary between human and animal, or good and evil, or even the living and the dead, those don’t, they just don’t seem so clear cut. I don’t want to give too much away here…

ZP: Oh oh, spoiler…

PG: Yeah, OK, I won’t say the character’s name, but the character who gets turned into stone, that fate is bestowed as a gift, as a gift of immortality, and the character is grateful.

ZP: Yes.

PG: In Greek mythology characters get turned into stone, but they aren’t happy about it.

ZP: Yes, In Greek mythology…

PG: And my producer tells me you did your Master’s Degree in Greek Mythology…

ZP: The Greeks have that archetypical hero’s journey, the overcoming of obstacles, monsters, the triumph, the return home with a gift, maybe a gift of sight, or a return home to find they are out of place, they no longer belong. But in the Greek, the Classical mythic universe, the hero is a solitary creature. A kind of monad. In the Tsimshian mythic universe, which is my heritage, the tribulations are for the collective good. The hero is much more embedded in the community and all the extended family relationships…

(Both laugh)

PG: As The Porcupine Hunter hilariously describes (still laughing). The family situations are just slapstick. I mean the hero’s relationship with his brother-in-law the bear…

ZP: Yes, things do get complicated at times.

PG: There is much that goes on in your books in the underworld, or the space between worlds. That comes from your mythic traditions as well?

ZP: The liminal space, yes that is part of our mythology, but also it reflects my upbringing, my childhood. I spent my early life in Lax Kw’allaams, Port Simpson, British Columbia, among my people, the Tsimshian people, but my mother saw what was going on in the Methodist school there, the Crosby Girls and Boys Home, and she took me away and got work as a housekeeper in a copper mine boomtown up the Inlet, Anyox. There were no Indians there at all, and that was where I spent my later childhood and my teens. So I was kind of an outsider, looking in.

PG: A news item just today, the United Church in Sudbury is apologizing for their role in the Indian Residential School there in Sudbury…

ZP: Talking about apologizing, they have not issued the apology yet. The United Church, of course are the inheritors of the Methodist order, and continued to run the school in Port Simpson after the churches united. We will be hearing more about this in the future, I promise you. That sad story has not yet been told.

PG: Contrasting with the humour of your stories, there is a feeling of lurking dread, and acts of sudden random… almost capricious violence.

ZP: That comes from the residential schools, although I did not experience that directly myself.

PG: OK, so in the Porcupine Hunter, there is our world, the familiar modern world around us, then there is the underworld, or whatever you want to call it, and supernatural monsters, and then bleeding through there is the future industrial dystopia…

ZP: I spent my youth in Anyox, BC, which was a loud, smoking, polluted, industrial… I don’t want to call it a hellhole because there were some good things about it too, but there was this glow from the fires of the smelter, you could almost never see the sun because of the smoke, and all the trees died from the sulphur dioxide, and everyone was always coughing and had nosebleeds. You could light the snow on fire in the winter. Then at the beginning of the Great War the Germans arrived with the Nürnberg, this state-of-the-art warship coming from another world, it might as well have been an alien spaceship.

PG: Which brings me to…

ZP: This always comes up…

PG: Well, it is hard not to… (laughs)

ZP: You have shown amazing restraint.

PG: Before you were a writer of heroic stories, you were a character in a real-life heroic story. You were one of the Brave Boys of Anyox, from the Grade Five school reader.

ZP: Not to give too much away, I was the Indian boy. Yes, I survived being a child star better than Shirley Temple did…

PG: Child star?!?

ZP: Not really, the story didn’t get put into the school curriculum until the 1930s. I think I was interviewed for a newspaper just afterwards, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. The author of the elementary school reader story did a good job, in a boys-own-adventure way. It was an uplifting story, and we can all use those.

PG: This is difficult question, um, knowing what you did about how your people were treated, did you have some hesitation about saving the Canadian institutions from the German Navy.

ZP: No, it didn’t occur to me for a second. We were just kids, we wanted to help people.

PG: So how did you go from a kid off in the bush to a GG award winning author.

ZP: Well it is a long story, I’m 80 years old now (laughs). I read a lot of classics in my youth, but that didn’t do me much good for work. I worked in sawmills and fish canneries and on fish boats in and around the area, as young men did. My mother and I moved away from Anyox in 1923 after the first big forest fire, back to Port Simpson. I didn’t fit in too well there either, by now I was kind of an egghead. But I met a remarkable man, William Beynon, he was a translator for anthropologists, ethnographer, and Gwisk'aayn, a hereditary chief of the Gitlan house. Anthropologist were very interested in our area at the time. Beynon heard I spoke Sm’algyax, the Tshimshian language and English, and could read, so he hired me to help carry his books and the anthropologist’s stuff on all these expeditions, traipsing through the bush, up and down the rivers and inlets visiting all the villages and doing field work. I figured, this is a lot easier than working in a fish cannery. Beynon was not trained as an anthropologist, but he did as much work as any of the big names. I managed to get my undergraduate degree in anthropology paid for doing translation work. It was a good time to be in school, during the Great Depression.

PG: Did you stay in touch with your friend Magnus, the other Brave Boy from the story?

ZP: I did, we wrote letters when we could. He left Anyox when the town shut down in 1935. He told me at one point, when they landed in Vancouver during the Depression, that growing up in a company town, the most capitalist of institutions, had not prepared him for the outside world. In Anyox, the Company took care of your housing, and your medical care, and your food, it was just like Communism. In Vancouver, in the dirty thirties, it was devil-take-the-hindmost. After a while I lost touch with him.

PG: When were you first published?

ZP: I wrote a lot doing the anthropological work. It was possible for an Indian, as they called us in the day, to get published in the Anthropological field as an academic writer, as long as a proper white anthropologist was the top name. And after that I was encouraged to write some popular anthropological stories. And those sold not too badly, in the niche of Indian legends. I wrote a lot of bad fiction in my 40s and 50s, that didn’t get published, thank goodness (laughs). But all those bad manuscripts gave me exercise in the craft.

Indian writers could not get published in mainstream Canadian literature at the time. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake, was a very popular writer in the late 19th century, she really worked the angle of telling the white popular culture what they wanted to hear. The exotic Indian. But it took young women writers in the 1970s to break the scene open for Indigenous writers. Maria Campbell and Lee Maracle.

PG: Wonderful writers both.

ZP: Yes, they were telling the stories the culture really didn’t want to hear. Lee Maracle told me that the publishing industry said they did not publish books by Indians, because Indian couldn’t read or write. So she took a straw poll. She had gone to public school, and could read and write just fine, but she found that three quarters of the folks she asked could not, and those were the ones who went to the Residential Schools. She had not been invited to the Vancouver Writer’s Festival when her first book was published, so she just invited herself up on stage and grabbed the mic, and did a reading. No one dared to stop her. (laughs) After that they always invited her. So it was the young people, the next generation that broke things open for me, and many like me.

PG: Quite a journey.

ZP: I hope you noticed the supernatural transformation story that unfolded in front of us here.

PG: What’s that?

ZP: That the two young heroes, Magnus and Zacharias, in thanks for their service to the community, got transformed into paper.

PG: Thank you.

ZP: My pleasure Peter. Ama xsahtg_n

PG: Zacharias Paul’s latest Governor General’s Award-winning book, The Porcupine Hunter, is published by Harper Collins.
I was just in the middle of writing a chapter using a nearly identical interview format, it would seem that we are still at each others heels in regards to writing choices even after all this time! It still amuses me to no end XD
I was just in the middle of writing a chapter using a nearly identical interview format, it would seem that we are still at each others heels in regards to writing choices even after all this time! It still amuses me to no end XD
Alright, I am done. Very last chapter I promise.
Alright, I am done. Very last chapter I promise.
Jokes aside, this is a very fitting end for this tale. Once again, thank you YYJ, for creating this magnificent piece of writing.
Do keep us updated on any progress you make with getting this published!
Will you mention what happened to the Royal Canadian Navy in this timeline before leaving, YYJ?
I imagine it would be bigger, and have a stronger continuity between the wars, but that is really not my focus or strength. Others will have to tell that story.


Alright, I am done. Very last chapter I promise.
Then may I say both congratulations on your really superb work, and thank you very much for putting so much effort into it. I have consistently really enjoyed this saga, as much for the history, seafaring detail, and links and photos you included as for the straight alt-history aspect of. Brilliant stuff.