For the past 22 years, the seniors in the Valley and other community groups have “traveled around the world” in the comfort of their homes, thanks to Derek Drewe.
“Memories of a wonderful time my husband and I had in Greece came back to me when I saw those lovely pictures by Derek”, a senior commented recently. That is true also to hundreds others who have enjoyed the thousands of photos presented on the large screens of Fir Park and Echo Villages, Heritage Place, Westhaven, Abbeyfield, among others, by the former Port Alberni Harbour Master.
Before he began sharing his photos from countless trips around the world, Drewe had an active and meaningful life at sea. Born in London, England, in 1928, the son of a Metropolitan police detective sergeant, young Derek joined the British Merchant Navy as an apprentice, training to become a deck officer and soon after, during the part of the war, his ship made two convoy trips across the Atlantic to pick up grain and other food products from North America to European ports. “We brought the grain from Canada to Europe to feed the hungry affected by the war”, he recalls. Shortly after the war ended, his ship was one of the first ones to enter the port of Rotterdam. He was with the same ship from 1945 until 1947, finishing his apprenticeship the following year on a Liberty ship called “Sam Vigna”, a 10,000-ton vessel with a crew of 30. In addition to food, they also carried coal and iron-ore from South American ports to Belgium. Drewe and the crew did several trips. “On one of those trips, we went completely around the world in 15 months”, he adds.
His last months in the Merchant Navy, saw him working for MacMillan Charter traveling to New Westminster and ports on Vancouver Island to pick up lumber, including Port Alberni. “In 1947, I was in Tahsis at the time Queen Elizabeth was getting married”.
Drewe continued his association with the ocean: he went to a nautical school in England, which was a step closer to getting his captain’s papers. After he got a job with the Esso Transportation Company in Venezuela. After two years with Esso, he decided to immigrate to Canada. He had thought that some day he would move to this country. Well, he landed in Montreal and then moved across this vast land and reached the West Coast by train. His first job was with the Hillcrest Logging Company at Mesachie Lake, near Cowichan Lake, as a choker man. Soon after he went to Britania Beach and worked on the dynamite train for a while. Following that job, he joined the Canadian Air Force ground crew, and because of his marine experience, he was transferred to Comox marine division of the Air Force. From there to Holberg.
In 1955 Drewe left the Air Force and got a job with a British freighter, carrying aluminium from the Alcan plant at Kitimat to Europe. The ship made stops in various ports in Nor America to load up canned fruit and also took on machinery parts for construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
He then worked in Sussex for a short time. “I started to get itchy feet again so I set off for Southampton and got the first freighter heading to Canada!”, he says. Once in Halifax, he applied for the RCMP and in a few months he found himself training for the police force. He received his basic training in Ottawa. Among his memorable moments include his assignment as one of the mounted escorts to the Governor General in 1957, and later, when he took part in the escort of the Royal yacht, Britannia, on one of the Queen’s visits to Canada.
Eventually, the RCMP transferred him to the west coast where he was with several boats in the Marine Division. In 1966 he became the skipper of the “Ganges”, the police boat in Port Alberni, from 1966 to 1970. After that he was transferred to Ocean Falls. He could not stay there too long because his son needed treatment, not possible in that city, so he left the police force and worked for a shipping line that took cargo from Vancouver to Skagway, Alaska., working two weeks on and two weeks off, while his wife and three children stayed in Port Alberni.
His working experiences continued when the Canadian Coast Guard offered him a job on one of their 90-foot cutters. He worked in the three boats they had at different times. He was later put in charge of training university students in rescue work.
In 1973, Derek Drewe became the Port Alberni Deputy Harbour Master and two years later became the Harbour Master.
In 1990, after 17 years with the Harbour Commission, he retired.
Derek Drewe was married to Donalda Drewe, a Health Care Nurse, for 43 years. They had two daughters and one son and three grandchildren. Donalda, who passed away in 2007 ,was also an active volunteer. Both she and Derek designed a collage of photos on a quilt for Abbeyfield (as seen on the photo) and this home’s flag.
Mr. Drewe’s name continues to be well known among the seniors of the Valley. He has devoted hundreds of hours to sharing photos of trips he has made to dozens of countries in all the continents and remote areas, which, sometimes are hard to reach, such as the Antarctica region. “ I like to do this because it gives pleasure to the seniors, and it is, in a sense, a way for me to give back to this community, which has been good to me”, he says.
His passion for photography and documentary videos have not decreased throughout the years. In fact, he recently told us that he is looking forward to showing us slides on Myanmar, also known as Burma, after returning from a trip in November.