Bill Arnott’s Showcase Interviews: John M. MacFarlane

Welcome back to the Showcase. Today we visit with John M. MacFarlane, a fascinating individual, mariner, museum curator emeritus, and bestselling author. Having enjoyed John’s book Around the World in a Dugout Canoe, and having visited as fellow Fellows of London’s Royal Geographical Society, I feel we’ve known each other longer than we actually have.

Welcome to the Showcase John! For our readers meeting you for the first time, please introduce yourself with a bio.

A. I was born into a navy family. We moved, on average, every 8 months of my childhood. I have lived and worked in 7 Canadian provinces and 5 other countries. I trained with the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, before joining Parks Canada. I was the Director of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia in Victoria BC. Moving to Vancouver I worked with Metro Vancouver (the regional government) where I had the most enjoyable and fulfilling work of my career. Retiring in 2010 we moved to Qualicum Beach – arguably one of the most beautiful places to live in the world.

In 2018 I was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers and the British Columbia Provincial Health Officer’s Commendation for Excellence in Public Health for work on Prevention of West Nile Virus, as well as the Maritime Museum of British Columbia’s S.S. Beaver Medal for Maritime Excellence and in 2019, was appointed Honorary Member of the Company of Master Mariners of Canada. In 2020 I shared the John Lyman Book Prize of the North American Society for Oceanic History for our book Around the World in a Dugout Canoe: The Untold Story of Captain John Voss and the Tilikum.

Q. That’s a distinguished breadth of accomplishments! In light of that, what do you feel you’re best known for?

A. I’ve changed careers several times over my lifetime. Different groups of colleagues know me from these different roles. Lately (and probably lastly) I am known currently as a nautical historian and champion of British Columbia’s nautical heritage.

Q. And what would you say brought you here? Please don’t say transit, or the tides. I plan on using that joke (more than once) in the future. So let’s say, specifically, what’s driven you?

A. Descended from a long line of mariners and being a fifth generation British Columbian drives my love of floating heritage and nautical history. I started my working career in the naval reserve and spent 7 years at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (where I am still Curator Emeritus.) Now, in retirement, I have the time to actualize my passion for recording and interpreting these stories for anyone who is interested.

Q. There are a lot of us, especially with the success of your book. And who would you say has been a role model or mentor to you?

A. I’ve been lucky throughout my life to have bumped up against people who took an interest in me – and who possessed qualities and attributes that were worth adopting.

Q. I like that. Now please share with us your favourite book, album, movie, and food dish.

A. I love to cook and bake – fermenting food and making pickles is an ongoing passion. I make our own marmalade and regularly bake. While I enjoy a wide range of musical genres, I am a serious Jazz fan. I like to read the complete works of favorite authors: John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, V. S. Naipaul, Susan Orleans Jack Higgins, John Mortimer, P.G. Woodhouse and Arthur Ransome are among my favourites. My movie favourites are not always to everyone’s popular choices – any film with Sir Alec Guinness in it, Woody Allen movies, David Lean films and Casablanca (the perfect film).

Q. Another great breadth of interests! And what are you currently working on?

A. I maintain a website called The Nauticapedia – an eclectic mélange of articles, databases, photographs, and ephemera related to the nautical heritage of British Columbia. It takes several hours per day to maintain. It generates a huge email correspondence with people who view it online – this is both a blessing and a curse. I am finishing a manuscript of a book on the shipwrecks of British Columbia (an account of almost 2,000 of them – a book which may never be commercially viable).

Q. Both clearly passions, to be sure. So, what’s your advice to others?

A. Theodore Roosevelt sent a telegram to someone that said, “Do the best you can, with what you’ve got, where you are!” I repeat that to myself several times a day and it is good advice to anyone trying to get something done.

The second bit of advice is to remember that life is short – if you want to do something get on with it immediately. You never know what events are just around the corner to scuttle long term plans if you do not do things ‘now’. (The unanticipated Covid emergency is an example of events that derail plans.)

Lastly, remember that it’s not how much money you earn that makes you rich but how much you spend. If you can live on less than you earn you are “rich”. Wealthy and rich are not the same things – rich people are happy – for wealthy people happiness is optional.

Q. Brilliant words, John. And now for a sharp tack (or is it jibe?), one of our trademark Quirky Questions. Make a choice. Toast: Multigrain or Sourdough?

A. Given a choice I’d take sourdough – but I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t choosing multigrain which has a healthier image than the tasty sourdough. I’ll choose multigrain if I am among a crowd but sourdough when there is no one around to give disapproving glances.

(Bill) You’ll like this story of the server bringing me my clubhouse sandwich, which I ordered on sourdough. To which he said, “Not only did you order the best thing on the menu, but you got it on the right kind of bread too.” So we’re part of a club I never knew existed. Thank you, John, for an excellent visit!

Find John’s bestselling book here, and his website, The Nauticapedia, here.


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West Coast Editor/Poetry Reviewer at The Miramichi Reader -- Website

Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the national bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga (WIBA Book Awards Finalist and ABF International Book Awards Finalist). His work is published in literary journals and anthologies in Canada, the US, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia and his column Bill Arnott’s Beat is a feature at New Reader Magazine, Canadian Authors Association, The Miramichi Reader, Federation of BC Writers, and League of Canadian Poets. Bill’s been awarded for prose, poetry, songwriting and performed at hundreds of events internationally. He’s a Director on numerous Boards, Writer-in-Residence, creator of Bill’s Artist Showcase, and for his eight-year Gone Viking trek has been awarded a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. @billarnott_aps | https://billarnottaps.wordpress.com/

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