Sunday, February 24, 2019

Harry Tieleman - last navigator of the RCMP's St. Roch - died on February 25, 2000 - my view of his amazing life

Navigator Harry Tieleman on RCMP St. Roch in 1954 - third from right

Last navigator Harry Tieleman on the RCMP St. Roch in 1992
My father Harry Tieleman was a truly remarkable man.  

Born in The Netherlands in 1925, he lived through the German Nazi occupation of his country; joined the Dutch Resistance; in the latter years of the Second World War went to the Japanese theatre of war for the Dutch Merchant Marine as a crew member on troop ships; came to British Columbia as a logger; then became an RCMP officer on Vancouver Island, meeting my mom Pat in Port Alice; serving as the last navigator of the RCMP's famous St. Roch when it retired and sailed from Halifax to Vancouver's Maritime Museum after it had been the first ship to cross through the Arctic northwest passage in both directions; then Harry became a small aircraft mechanic at Vancouver Airport; a bush pilot and mechanic in Burns Lake; a Home Oil distributor in Abbotsford; a garage and then garage and restaurant owner in Tofino; and finally retired in Nanaimo, where he passed away on February 25, 2000.

I wrote this article for The Vancouver Sun on December 14, 2000 and I am pleased to share it with you online on my blog.  
Harry was a great dad and had an almost unbelievable life. 

Fantastic Voyage - the life of Harry Tieleman

The Vancouver Sun

December 14, 2000

Hendrik Willem "Harry" Tieleman

Last navigator of the RCMP vessel St. Roch, Dutch merchant marine officer, logger, environmentalist, bush pilot and mechanic, small businessman, husband, father and grandfather.  Born in Leiden, the Netherlands May 28, 1925; died in Nanaimo, February 25, 2000.

When the RCMP's St. Roch II sails into Vancouver harbour on Saturday, December 16, 2000 the man who navigated the original schooner St. Roch from Halifax to Vancouver in 1954 on its final voyage will be absent from the celebration.

Harry Tieleman's own final voyage ended earlier this year but the highlight of his long and remarkably varied career began when he was chosen out of the blue by the RCMP to navigate the St. Roch home to Vancouver, where it was built.

Harry was extremely supportive of the Vancouver Maritime Museum's efforts to restore the ailing St. Roch so that it can continue to thrill visitors who agree with Museum Executive Director James Delgado's description of the ship as an "icon of our history."  Sadly, dry rot and neglect from lack of funding have threatened the very existence of the first vessel to sail the Arctic's Northwest Passage in both directions. 

With hard work and luck, the trip of the St. Roch II [also known as the Nadon] will hopefully help raise awareness and the funding needed to ensure an important part of Canadian maritime history is not lost.

Harry Tieleman's involvement in the original St. Roch's last journey was both unpredictable and totally appropriate.

Following the liberation of Holland, where a young Harry Tieleman had been involved with resistance efforts, he became an officer in the Dutch merchant marine, sailing to Indonesia, South Africa and through the Panama Canal to San Francisco.

In 1951 Harry decided to set out for adventure, arriving in British Columbia knowing no one.  He ended up in a series of logging camps throughout Vancouver Island.

Harry soon decided to join the RCMP and with his marine background was assigned to patrolling the Island coast on RCMP boats. [It was on assignment in Port Alice that he met Patricia Baseley, a nurse who became his wife of 44 years.]

In 1954, RCMP headquarters in Ottawa undertook an extensive search to find a seasoned crew for the St. Roch's return from Halifax to Vancouver, where the City had agreed to establish the ship as an historic monument.

Legendary Captain Henry Larsen, who was skipper for both Arctic voyages and by then an RCMP superintendent, was an obvious choice for this last trip, but finding a navigator proved more difficult. Someone searching through the files of RCMP officers eventually happened across Constable Harry Tieleman's name and discovered a man with considerable seagoing navigational experience gained sailing Dutch merchant ships.

A surprise call from Ottawa came to Vancouver Island and the young constable was told to report to Halifax as soon as possible.  "Dutchy" Tieleman joined the crew and was extremely impressed with "The Old Man," as the 55-year-old Larsen was affectionately known.

Newspaper story of the RCMP St. Roch in 1954 in Halifax preparing to sail to Vancouver on final voyage - Harry Tieleman on right with legendary Captain Henry Larsen.
The St. Roch arrived in Vancouver on October 12, 1954 to a hero's welcome and front page Vancouver Sun stories. The little 104-foot long, 80-ton schooner with a mere 300 horsepower engine was escorted into harbour by the 6,500 ton HMCS Labrador, which had left Halifax a day before the St. Roch but instead traveled to Vancouver through the Northwest Passage that the old schooner had pioneered.  

It was truly the end of an era. The St. Roch had returned to Vancouver, where it was built in 1928 by the Burrard Dry Dock Company.

For Harry Tieleman, the voyage of his life was over but his life's voyage continued.  Leaving the RCMP, he used his considerable knowledge of ship's engines to become an aircraft mechanic and pilot, working in the bush outside Burns Lake for a time.

Harry Tieleman with sons Bill Tieleman, left, and Ralph Tieleman 1962
Ever restless, he started the first of several small businesses as a Home Oil distributor in Abbotsford. Later he moved to Tofino and opened a gas station, which he transformed into Happy Harry's restaurant, serving seafood that rated a favourable mention in the Where To Eat In Canada guide.
Harry Tieleman in 1985 in Tofino - John Mastromonaco photo

During that time the former logger who had felled thousands of trees realized that clear-cut forestry practices around Tofino would soon kill the tourism-dependent town. With other environmentalists, Harry was an original member of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, the group ultimately successful in preserving the unique rain forest of the area.

One of Harry's proudest moments was when, after buying 100 shares in MacMillan Bloedel so that he could move motions at the annual general meeting, he asked George Watts, leader of the Nuu-chah-nalth Tribal Council to speak on his behalf.  Harry had proposed swapping MacBlo timber licenses in Clayoquot for those elsewhere.

The motion was defeated but the die was clearly cast and in the years to follow Harry was rightfully proud of his important role.  Harry was also immensely pleased to be honoured by aboriginal people in the Tofino area, particularly when he was a non-aboriginal pallbearer at the funeral of his dear friend Chief Shorty Frank of the Opitsaht first nation.

Harry retired in 1990 to Nanaimo and the final chapter of his remarkable life.  Increasing health and memory problems led to a diagnosis of a form of Alzheimer's called Lewy Body Syndrome.  After a brave struggle, Harry Tieleman passed on.

For the last navigator of the St. Roch, his final trip was approached like that historic voyage to Vancouver -- with great determination to provide necessary guidance and with the knowledge that each journey is one of discovery, not only for oneself but for those who follow.

Bill Tieleman is Harry's oldest son and president of West Star Communications.


No comments: