Friday, May 1, 2015

Remnants of Ancient Canadians Found in North Kihei

      There is a strange site in North Kihei. It’s across the old Maui Lu and next to what now seems to be a defunct condominium. A grove of tall and skinny coconut trees surround a large boulder. The boulder is enclosed by a low rock wall under a grove of tall coconut trees.
      If you don’t know where to look, you will breeze right by it. There’s no place to park and no marker to attract visitors. It’s a memorial that’s been beaten up by the weather and faded by neglect. But I could still make out the hand-written inscriptions on the rock wall:
      “Captain George Vancouver, Maalaea Bay 1792. . . . 1793, he brought the first cattle and root vegetables. 1794 granted the right to the Hawaiian people to fly the Union Jack as part of the Hawaiian flag. Unveiled by Mayor Elmer Cravalho. Dec.-22-69.”
      The other one is even more strange:
      “Aloha and Kla-How-Ya. Canada’s [illegible] to dedication Kihei Monument to Captain George Vancouver. May the Kla-how-ya spirit/the Aloha welcome forever prosper in these climes. Pierre Elliot Trudeau Prime Minister of Canada. Dec. 22, 1969.”
      I was really puzzled. But who built it? Was this a joint effort between Maui County and the Canadian government? It sure seemed fishy. First of all, the inscription is handwritten into cement. It is not the work of something you’d normally see from a government.
      I started asking around. While many folks had never heard of it, some long-term Mauians remembered it as well as the totem pole that used to stand next to it. It’s even featured in old tourist brochures and photos from the 1970s.
      But that didn’t solve the mystery. The factual assertions are suspect. Vancouver was among Captain Cook’s crew when they first laid eyes on the Hawaiian Islands. Unlike Cook, who met his end here, Vancouver survived his visit t Hawaii and made several trips back to the islands, including Maui.
      Just like the inscription says, he introduced cattle to the islands. The cows were a gift for Kamehameha. He also added to the fledgling goats and sheep population too. He also gave other chiefs seeds for different fruits like oranges and grapes.
      As for giving Hawaiians the “right” to use the Union Jack, that’s a stretch. He ordered his carpenters in 1794 to build Kamehameha a Western-style ship complete with ironworks, masts, and sails. In the end, he named it the Britannia and left him a Union Jack with a pennant—the proto-type for our State flag. But was this a right that he conferred to the Hawaiian people? Not likely.
      The memorial is just dead wrong when it comes to root vegetables. Vancouver did not bring roots to the islands. Hawaiians did. Long before any Westerner came to these shores, the local diet revolved around taro and yams.
      So what gives? Who would be so devoted to the memory and legacy of Vancouver? I set out to find out more and stumbled across a resolution from the Maui County Council dating back to January 1970. It’s basically a letter of congratulations to a Canadian for building the monument on December 22, 1969—the same date in the inscription.
      The resolution congratulates J. Gordon Gibson, a Canadian logger, businessman, and politician. Gibson made his money in the Canadian Northwest in the logging industry. He was a politician too, but was a bit eccentric. Like Vancouver, he sailed to Maui. The rig was later re-named the Maui Lu in honor of his wife, Louise. And yes, in 1956 he bought a 28-acre property in North Kihei and opened a resort bearing the same name in 1960. The mystery was solved.
Six years later, he apparently built a home-made memorial to Vancouver. The resolution noted that Gibson led “the way for other Canadians to develop the Kihei area.”
      The County Council and Gibson might have been prescient. Would the pioneering Canadian have never dreamed that his countrymen and women would be the biggest group of foreign land buyers on Maui fifty years later?
      Last year, Canadians spent $84 million in buying properties on Maui. Their presence is obvious in Kihei. The red maple leaf flies proudly at strip malls and eateries along South Kihei Road. Canadians are all over Kihei. Many of them are from British Columbia and they all certainly know about Vancouver.
      And so the memorial still stands—long after Gibson and his aging resort, which finally came down back in February. Now that a million-dollar time-share resort will be built over what used to be the Maui Lu, perhaps the bizarre, little structure across the street can get a new totem pole to attract Canadian visitors who know all about Vancouver (and Gibson for that matter).


  1. Thank you for this article. I am one of those Canadians from BC that has bought a place in this beloved Maui. I would really like to know what happened to that totem pole.

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