Rumoured Capone hideout to be open for Indian Arm tour

Deep Cove Heritage Society’s annual Indian Arm Boat Cruise will include an extraordinary feature this year: a tour of the fabled Wigwam Inn.

This historic structure sits at the north end of Indian Arm and has a fascinating and storied past. Wigwam Inn now serves as an outstation for the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and so this a rare chance to go inside the historic building.

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The Indian Arm boat tour is one of the community outreach programs that the Deep Cove Heritage Society offers. In autumn, there is also a bus tour of landmarks throughout the Seymour area under the guidance of Janet Pavlik, who was instrumental in starting the Heritage group in 1970. The group also offers school programs, regular displays as well as photos from the archives that are on its website, deepcoveheritage.com.

The boat cruise this year features tour operator Mitch Bloomfield and Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, author of three history books of Belcarra, Ioco and Indian Arm, both of whom are ready to share their knowledge.

The 1982 book, The History of Indian Arm by Pam Humphreys and Steven G. Wong, covers Wigwam’s history to just before it was purchased by the Yacht Club in 1985.

Wigwam Inn was conceived by Benjamin Franklin Dickens; in 1906 he purchased the land and drew up plans but did not have the capital to build. He brought in German investor Alvo von Alvensleben and it is rumoured that Kaiser Wilhelm was a backer.

The Inn, only accessible by boat, opened on June 10, 1910, with 600 people attending. A retreat for the wealthy, in April 1911, both John D. Rockefeller and John Jacob Astor signed the registration book the same day. Wigwam was a popular destination for regattas, bringing competitors from across the Pacific Northwest with races, rowing, sculling and canoe jousting.

In 1911, the first caretakers were George and Meg Dayton. One winter Meg, who was pregnant, was walking outside when she slipped, fell and hit her head on a rock. The accident caused her to go into labour two months early and she fell into a coma. While waiting on the dock for a doctor, George alerted an elderly First Nations woman who was fishing. She went to Meg’s room and two hours later they heard a baby; both Meg and the baby were saved.

The baby, Marguerite (Dayton) West, became a writer in Victoria. Her obituary in the Victoria Times Colonist on March 19, 2006, states she was the first Caucasian baby born in Indian Arm.

Von Alvensleben returned to Germany in 1914 to raise money but when war was declared between Britain and Germany he could not return, so he moved to Seattle. The Canadian government confiscated his holdings; the Inn was taken over by the Custodian of Enemy Property and purchased by a private purchaser.

In the mid-1920s Capt. Stalker of Harbour Navigation took over the lease and Mrs. Margaret McAuliffe became the manager for the next 17 years along with her son, Marcus. A cook, Lee Yeun, came for the summer seasons and was their undisputed king of the kitchen for 25 years.

During the 1930s the Wigwam was given a new roof and new beds – spring mattresses instead of felt pads. The facelift also saw the gardens re-landscaped, water systems improved and a second dock put in.

After the Great Depression ended and the Second World War began, jobs were more plentiful and people began returning to the Wigwam mainly for day trips. Celebrities such as W.C. Fields and Lister Sinclair paid it visits.

Cpt. Stalker sold it in 1951, the new owners obtained a liquor licence (the Inn had been dry since prohibition) and advertised it not for the scenery but for dancing and partying.

More new owners in the 1960s improved docks and added a swimming pool. However, it was discovered that it had become a major gambling casino; two boats of RCMP officers raided it in the night and 15 people were arrested.

Wigwam Inn sat abandoned, ransacked by boaters; hippies moved in and used oak floors and bannisters in the fireplace. Plans to demolish it fortunately did not happen. It was used as a film location for the movie The Grove, then sat empty until 1972 when it was purchased by Tony Casano of Arjay Developments. Casano spent seven years working to restore the Wigwam, selling it in December 1979 and knowing it would not be torn down.

By 1985 it was purchased by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club as a members’ private outstation.

There are other stories about Wigwam such as an apparent slashing and killing of one guest by another; the Ghost of Martha, who disappeared when walking her dog, and the rumours that Al Capone hid at the Inn.

Deep Cove Heritage Society’s Indian Arm Boat Cruise is Aug. 28, leaving the Deep Cove Government Wharf at 11 a.m. Tickets are $30 at deepcoveheritage.com or 604-929-5744.

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