By Liz Carroll

Ted Ross has been, in no particular order, a writer, photographer, teacher, librarian, farmer (sort of), Legion executive, garbologist, history buff, enthusiastic Texada Islander. Oh, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 28.

Beacon readers are familiar with his Then and Now series. James Bay seniors know his Friday Forums and Friendship Teas and other projects as President of New Horizons.

Teddy was six months old, his sister Gretel two, when his mom, Eleanore, brought them to Vancouver from Toronto to be with relatives while his dad, Duncan Ross, served in the RCAF.

Together again, in 1945, the little family settled in what was still bucolic Burnaby.

He was five when he first visited Texada Island. He’s still surprised that so few people know its story of logging, mining, quarries. There were lakes and forests, too. And family ties.

In 1919 his granddad, Jonathan ‘Jock’ Ross, had become chief steam engineer at Pacific Lime. Ted’s father grew up at Blubber Bay. Now Duncan was looking for land. “He bought a beachfront lot on Gillies Bay, and our annual summer camping trips began. Expanses of sand, swimming, and picnics, life couldn’t be better.”

He was eleven when, with the arrival of new baby Alison, camping was put on hold. “I was not pleased. I liked my baby sister but I loved my Texada summers.”

A friend of his dad invited Teddy for a two week stay. “I knew the kids from other summers, we got along well.” The stay extended for the whole summer. And four more. “The Woodheads were a logging family so we had chores around the worksite, chopping bushes, measuring fallen logs. After a logger style lunch we’d take a load of logs to Maple Bay. We’d stay there, swimming, exploring while the men went back to work. If I’d had my way I would have moved to Texada then.”

A Brownie camera and a developing kit for Christmas instigated a lifelong passion for photography. “Dad sealed off all the light sources to the bathroom. We put a sheet of plywood over the tub. I hung strips of negatives to dry. I was ecstatic. I made wallet size prints and was thrilled beyond measure.” The rest of the family not so much. With his dad’s help, he converted an unused basement coal bin to a real darkroom. “I practically lived in that room,” especially after his Opa helped him build an enlarger.

High school weekends found him at Vancouver’s waterfront photographing ships and trains with his friend Mike. They even got past security to the top of the Marine building for a shot of the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea.

By grade twelve the counter culture had hit Vancouver. Now the boys were hanging out at Fourth Avenue coffee houses, listening to philosophizing poets. “I still drink my coffee black,” he laughs.

In 1961 he enrolled at UBC. “Within six weeks I was an assignment photographer with the Ubyssey.”

A bit short of his degree, Ted accepted a teaching job. With his American bride, Mary Hubbard, he headed to Queen Charlotte City. “Grade five, 22 students.” Plenty of photo ops meant another makeshift bathroom darkroom.

The successful year was almost over when he saw an ad in The Province. “A grade seven teacher was wanted at Van Anda on Texada.” He applied, got the job.

In September, 1966, Teddy became Mr. Ross to 31 students. He was 22.

He renewed old friendships, joined the Elks club, chaired teacher negotiations, and taught some night school photography classes. All was not serene on the homefront. By the end of his second year the marriage had ended. “We were too young,” he says.

He resigned. “I needed to clear my head.” He went to UBC summer school then, in August, grasped at an offer to teach at a one-room school in Penny, 105 kms east of Prince George. The once thriving sawmill town was decimated by the loss of the mill. He played cards with the railyard workers, set up a darkroom at the CNR station, and captured images of nature. He recalls temperatures of minus 50F. “I was never so cold in my life.” At the end of the school year he went back to UBC to complete his degrees in Education and Library Science with an addition of Creative Writing.

Ted arrived back on Texada in 1970. He would remain until 2010.

“I taught grade four for a year, then grades nine and ten, math, social studies, even typing. I didn’t know how to type, but I got a book, stayed a lesson ahead of my students.”

He’d married Sue Quissy at Christmas. They purchased an acreage and began building a home. He was doing some commercial portrait work so “there was a darkroom in the plans. But with a family on the way,” (there would be four children Jonathan, Andrew, Emily, Timothy) “a laundry room was deemed more practical.” They bought chickens, geese, turkeys, rabbits, planted gardens.

“There are no teaching paycheques in summer so when a friend offered me the swamper job on his garbage truck I became a summer garbologist.”

His dad, after taking teaching courses at UBC, founded a school on Texada. His parents’ desire to live on the island full time was realized. Ted’s recurring health problems had finally been diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. In 1978 he put his library degree to use at Oceanview Sr. Secondary in Powell River. He “battled a sports-minded administration. I commuted by ferry for the next seven years.”

Tragically, Ted and Sue’s three month old daughter Emily died of SIDS. They were shattered. Too often the death of a child contributes to the death of a marriage. In August 1981 Sue, with Jonathan, Andrew and Timothy left Texada.

In 1986 Ted’s parents took a long planned trip to ancestral Scotland. Duncan suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 69. That same year Ted was put on Permanent Disability. “On Dec 10, 1986, I went to work for the last time.”

Barbara Woods had been part of his life for a few years. They married in 1988. They rebuilt the house, added more livestock, were both active in Legion affairs (Ted served four terms as president). Barbara died in 2001.

Ted kept busy with livestock, community affairs, his first digital camera. “No more darkrooms!” And now there was a computer. He’d been “batching it” for nine years when on a history site he met Dana Bourne. Mutual interests lead to live conversations, a meeting. She lived in Victoria. He visited. Frequently. Ted decided to change islands.

In 2010 he sold his home, had a huge, Goodbye, Texada yard sale and moved to Victoria. After a few months he and Dana moved together to James Bay.

Ted dropped into New Horizons, liked what he saw, became involved. He joined the Victoria Writers’ Society, is on the board at the Beacon.

There’s a novel Fernwod Welder gestating on his hard drive. He’s become a texter “so that I can reply to my mother’s texts from Powell River and to my mainland sons and grandchildren”.

His life is full. He refuses to let MS deter him from being an asset to his new community. Ted Ross is a real James Bay Gem.