Caddy spiced up the Dirty 30’s
Ken Wills escaped the Depression years by taking to the sea in search of local sea creature.
When the News printed an article last month about a crew from the TV show Mystery Hunters filming a segment on the elusive Cadborosaurus, it sure brought back a lot of memories for Oak Bay resident Ken Wills. As a young lad in the 1930s, Wills accompanied his father Archie as he and a number of colleagues took to the sea in a small boat in search of the legendary sea monster rumoured to make its home in the waters off Greater Victoria.
Archie Wills was the managing editor of the Victoria Daily Times newspaper in those days.
The expedition of curious adventurers was undertaken in response to a tremendous level of public interest shown by Times’ readers, who were intrigued by a story that ran on Oct. 5, 1933. In the article, Major W.H. Langley and Fred Kemp described seeing a 30-foot (nine-metre) sea serpent in the vicinity of Cadboro Bay.
Over the next few weeks, the newspaper received dozens of reports of past sightings from area residents. Subsequent articles mention people lining the shore with their cameras, in an effort to capture the beast on film and prove its existence once and for all.
Although First Nations people have told sea serpent legends for generations, the 1933 sighting captured the imagination of a much broader segment of the population. That initial sighting and the subsequent incidents were even reported in the venerable New York Times.
Recognizing that he had a bona fide pop culture phenomenon on his hands, the elder Wills came to the conclusion that the mysterious creature needed a name. ‘My father was the person who named Caddy-‘ says Ken Wills. ‘My dad decided that it was time to name that beast, which he did.’
It was the height of the Depression and the editorial staff at the Times welcomed any story that took readers’ minds off their troubles.
‘Times were awfully tough in those days and it was important to try to stimulate the interest of the people and give them something that was more positive,’ explains Ken. ‘So he just took it and decided to roll with it.’ Advertisers jumped on the bandwagon as well. Ads featured cartoon-like illustrations of Cadborosaurus touting everything from clothing to car tires.
Archie began collecting newspaper clippings and a variety of other Cadborosaurus-related material that eventually filled an entire scrapbook. It became a hobby for him and he continued to conduct research into the Caddy phenomenon, chronicling its exploits as reported by his readers.
Today, Ken remains skeptical about whether the creature actually exists. But as a young boy, he jumped at the opportunity to go to sea in search of it.
The expedition included two members of the local First Nations community (since the ocean around Discovery and Chatham islands was part of their traditional territory), as well as a staff photographer from the Times. Although few people could afford to maintain a private boat in those dark economic times, an Oak Bay resident who lived near Beach Drive and Bowker Avenue had a yacht and Archie arranged to have the captain take out his impromptu search party.
‘We went and spent a day out there, wandering around and supposedly looking for this damn thing. ‘ Ken recalls with a smile, noting that they never managed to turn up any conclusive evidence.
But that didn’t stop the story from gaining momentum in the press. In his position as managing editor, Archie kept the story alive by regularly printing accounts of new sightings and articles that speculated about the origins of sea serpents in general and of Cadborosaurus in particular. Through its coverage, the paper kept the entertaining notion of ‘Caddy’ in the public eye – and in the news.
Ken notes that the way the newspaper business operated back in the 1930s was a far cry from how it works today.
In the absence of sophisticated technology to gather and distribute news from and far-flung locations around the world, papers like the Times relied heavily on local events for stories. ‘They had an old wire that came in and a teletype, and that was it. So you didn’t have the worldwide stuff staring you in the face,’ Ken says. ‘Newspapers were primarily local and they had to build a lot of their news around those sort of things to fill up the paper.’ For Archie, who reported from the trenches of Europe in the First World War and ended up spending 47 years at the Times, Caddy provided a welcome diversion from a seemingly continuous series of ‘bad news’ stories during the Great Depression.
As for Ken, he hasn’t yet made up his mind about whether Cadborosaurus exists or not. ‘I don’t know. I guess it could, but goodness only knows,’ he says.