Driving force for Nile Creek
Artist, author, activist and environmentalist are just a few hats Ken Kirkby wears and if you happen to see a sexy, blue Austin-Healey driving around Qualicum Bay, it is likely Kirkby behind the wheel and the story about how he recently acquired the classic roadster takes many twists and turns.
Kirkby is known for his tireless work to restore the pink salmon run in Nile Creek. He has spent countless hours on the habitat restoration project and has used the proceeds from the sale of his paintings to financially support the Nile Creek Enhancement Society.
To explain the history behind the British sports car now in Kirkby’s driveway, one must know a bit about the man to realize how significant the car is in his life. The painter, who has has lived in many places around the world, now calls Bowser home.
Kirkby was born in London, England. He was brought up in Portugal, where his father was behind the country’s rebuilding, following the war. When he was 17 he became involved in a revolution in Portugal, where many were killed and few escaped. Luckily, he and the Canadian ambassador to Portugal had become close fly fishing friends and the man helped him find refuge. He provided him with the necessary documents and he also gave him a map to the best fly fishing spot in the country, the south shore of a place called Nile Creek on Vancouver Island. He had friends there who owned a cabin and Kirkby would be welcome. Kirkby immediately fell in love with the place and he promised himself that one day he’d return.
He was 18 and headed off for the Arctic and wouldn’t return to the Island until he was 60. Kirkby left the Arctic when he was 26 and arrived in Vancouver and that is where the story of his beloved Austin-Healey begins.
“When I came back from the Arctic I was walking down Broadway past a car dealership and there in the showroom window was this thing. Oh my god,” he recalled after he first set eyes on the car. “I actually sat in front of Michelangelo’s David and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever … but I found I was wrong. I went in and talked to them about the car and I sat in it … wow.”
He said he didn’t ask the price and didn’t care.
“I said I will take it. It was $6,600. Now of course $6,600 in 1969 would buy you half a house … in some places a whole house,” he admitted.
A while later Kirkby got married and because the car is a two seater eventually the rare car had to go even though it was the apple of his eye.
“I am not a materialistic person even in the remotest way. But the one thing I regretted was selling that car to the point where it became a recurring dream which in turn became a nightmare.”
Kirkby had told the story of his car and nightmare to anyone who would listen to relieve his anxiety — including a lady in Qualicum Beach who said ‘oh my mechanic friend is crazy about these cars and you should talk to him’. Two nights later he was having a party and along came the woman with her mechanic in tow.
“The mechanic gave me a printout of a Healey for sale. For three days I skirted the phone, I couldn’t resist it anymore so I called the guy in Shawnigan Lake, he then said he would be willing to bring it up.”
Long story short, the vehicle is the same one Kirkby reluctantly gave up all those years ago.
“When I sold the car, that person sold it to someone in New York, so it has been around. The only material thing on this planet I hungered for I got back … I am blessed and will be driving around in the summer in my baby.”
Good karma for all of his hard work or serendipity ... whatever you want to call it Kirkby is just happy to be reunited with his dream car.
“No engine on earth makes the sound of that car. It is sort of like a terrestrial spitfire from the Second World War.”