Seraphim, or Joe as he was known, lived through the great fire, saw the first train arrive and, during the 'boom', obtained a steady position at the bar of the Bodega Saloon where the Rainer Hotel now stands at Carrall and Cordova Streets. The burly, chocolate-coloured seamen became a popular citizen, and was known for his habit of discouraging excessive drinking.
Every morning - 365 days of the year - he swam in the bay and drank his "medicine" - a cup of salt water. When he wasn't working, Joe managed the beach. More people moved into the West End and to the adults, he was "English Bay Joe' and to the children "Ol' Black Joe". Joe loved kids and most of the children raised in the 1890's or 1900's learned to swim with Joe holding the back of his or her cotton swimsuit and listening to the deep, mellow voice ordering, "Kick yo' feet, chile - kick yo feet".
During the summer, mothers would confidently shoo their children to the bay with a simple command "...and don't go away from where Joe is."
When the time came for the Park Board to hire a lifeguard, Joe was the obvious choice.
Joe belonged to the beach and the beach was his. From dawn to dark and long after dark, he hosted picknickers, chaperoned courting couples and terrified bums and hoodlums. His cottage was spick and span inside and out. The children came to visit - he kept a tin full of all-day suckers. Beside his bed was his one book, Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis and he did leave the bay on Sunday mornings. A devout Catholic, Joe attended Mass weekly.
Joe Fortes was given the authority of special constable by the city of Vancouver and when the houses were cleared away from the shore where he lived, Mayor Buscombe had Joe's cottage moved beside the bandstand in the park where it would stay as long as Joe lived.
In January of 1922, Joe became ill.
I hope you find the beauty around you.