In my 50s I finally got around to reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. There is a famous and pivotal scene near the beginning of the multi-thousand page novel where the narrator dips a Madeleine cake into his tea, and, from that taste, is transported back to his childhood in the fictional town of Combray, in France.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.”

Marcel Proust from In search of lost time

His words “…this essence was not in me it was me” captures what this Call it Home project is to me. It’s more than just the physical place on which it’s based, or some random memories; it’s really all the experiences of a life, all the thoughts, dreams and wishes in one’s heart, all the sunny days, the stormy winters, the ups, the downs, all rolled into one sensation that fills me with a “precious essence.” 

My wish for audiences when they experience the show is that, for a short time, they let the vicissitudes of life slip away, and that the stories, songs, and images are a form of Madeleine cake that helps them rediscover their own lost events during childhood summers, times with family and friends they’ve perhaps not thought of in years and years.

The 24-minute video below features solo performances with multimedia elements of six songs from Call It Home.

My Relationship with Hornby Island

Hornby Island is in the Salish Sea off the coast of British Columbia on the unceded traditional territory of the K’òmoks First Nation. Their history here goes way, way back, so even though I feel the long tie to this place of a single lifetime, their history and link is very long, indeed. It’s humbling to think of how many feet tread the shores where I first came as a two-year old in 1962.

An artist colleague of my dad’s (Richard Wyndham) gave him a brochure featuring Shingle Spit Resort. Richard and his family had vacationed here for a few years already, and it interested our family enough that we booked accommodation. 

My parents, Nancy and George, my brother Robert, and I loaded up the ’54 Pontiac Chieftain in the summer of 1962, and caught the CPR ferry from downtown Vancouver to Nanaimo. I have no recollection of this trip except for the 8mm movie footage my dad took of my mother, brother, and me sitting out on the deck as the ferry went under the Lion’s Gate Bridge.

After an 80 kilometre drive up Highway 19 on Vancouver Island, we came to Buckley Bay where we boarded the eight-car ferry, the Catherine Graham. We then drove across Denman Island, and caught the six-car Lorraine S 2 at Gravelly bay to make the 10 minute crossing to Hornby Island and our accommodation in the cabins at “the Spit.”

For four summers we’d rent one of the cabins for two weeks, and make it our base. Connected with the resort was a small cafe where, as the brochure said, “when mother doesn’t want to cook” we could eat there. As it turned out, it was usually only on our last night that we used the cafe as the cabin had a full kitchen. 

There was also a small convenience store which had a great selection of penny candy. Later in the 60s my brother and I would take our dime each day, and buy either a selection of double-bubble gum, jaw-breakers, pixie-sticks, Sweet-Tarts, or, heaven forbid, candy cigarettes (“just don’t tell your dad”). My mother would ask, “why not get a nice, wholesome Jersey Milk Bar, instead?” 

The resort was owned by Jack and Jean Parnell. They subdivided land near the Spit, and, in 1965, my parents bought a 100-foot wide piece of waterfront on which they then built a small cabin. It was here that we’d come for the next five or six years, and spend the entire two months of summer, followed by shorter stays as my brother and I got older, and other activities meant for summer activities in Vancouver.

Besides growing into a teenager in the 1970s, and all its changes, the island also grew in many ways. A couple of subdivisions were created, and the roads that had once been dirt started to get paved. My dad has some rare footage of driving across the island in 1962 where the more rural, bucolic scenes of farms and pastures would soon be largely a thing of the past as we saw roads paved, houses erected, an increase in population by the hundreds, and, with it, an old rural way of life gone forever. I’m glad I got to see it then, even if I was so young, and have only fleeting memories. 

My dad was a commercial artist, but also painted in watercolour and acrylic, and it was was some of the rural landscape that my dad loved so much to paint. A favourite subject matter was some of the old farm buildings, and marine scenes. Most of these structures are long gone.

As time went on, I never stopped visiting, and would always look so forward to getting to the island, even for a few days. In my 20s, I’d often come alone, or with friends, and it was fun to explore and show others the amazing place. There were certainly some years when I was so busy with life in the city that I missed coming at all, but it was never far from my mind.

In 1968, my parents purchased a second piece of property just behind their first. The $2,500 was a stretch for them to be able to afford, but my mom always said it was nice having the space, and that “who knows, maybe one of you boys will want to build a house there one day.” 

In 2010, my partner, Darren and I decided to do just that. We sold our condo in downtown Vancouver, and contracted Blue Sky Design, which had designed and built many wonderful houses on the island. Designer Michael McNamara came up with a design we loved, and his business partner, Tim Wyndham, brought on his crew, and built the house we now live in.

The songs and the stories are drawn from memory, triggered by the old home movies and Kodachrome slides as well as scents, revisited scenes, sounds, and the whole feel of living in such a wonderful place. Most of the stories are true, at least in the way I remember or felt them, but as Proust said about his mammoth book “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”

Call it Home is as close as I can get to remembering the essence of things as they were.

John McLachlan (photo by George McLachlan, 1970)