By Eric Hall
British Columbia has so many strange stories and unusual happenings that it is quite a statement to say that one of the strangest stories relates to our very own town. It is a story that includes an organized raid on the Canadian Embassy in Bierut, in the Lebanon, with 34 hostages held under siege. If you lived in Peachland 30 years ago, you would certainly remember the name and story of Eddy Haymour.
Haymour was born in the Beqaa valley in the Lebanon in 1930, the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother. When he was a young man, Haymour’s family moved to Bierut and Haymour became a barber. He came to Canada in 1955, at the age of 25. He travelled to a small town north of Edmonton, Alberta, where his sister was living. Haymour didn’t speak English, so he had a sign made up that said “Me Barber” and went to Edmonton looking for work. It was very difficult, but eventually he found work. Haymour set up his own barber shop and continued to work hard. After two years, he was making enough money to buy a house. He hired other barbers and got into the construction business. In 1960, he became a Canadian citizen and hosted a banquet in celebration. There were 250 guests including the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta and Mayor Roper of Edmonton.
Haymour was a happy man and very successful in business. He married a Canadian girl, Loreen, and started a family. They had four children. Haymour focused on his business but didn’t spend a lot of time with his family. After they had problems in their marriage, the Haymours decided to make a fresh start by moving to the Okanagan Valley. They came to Kelowna and on a Sunday afternoon drive, stopped in Peachland. Haymour saw Rattlesnake Island (also called Ogopogo Island) and had a vision of building a Moroccan Shadou. This would be a major tourist attraction with gardens, miniature golf course, pony rides, swimming pool and restaurants; a park with an Arab theme. Water taxis would take people to the Island from various places including Peachland.
In June 1971, Haymour took an option to buy the island. In September 1971, Haymour presented his plans to Peachland Council. Peachland Mayor (Harold Thwaite) and council agreed to help with docking facilities for the water taxis. The island was part of the regional district of Okanagan-Similkameen and at that time had no specific zoning; it was listed as non-conforming use. Haymour was advised that he could build anything he wanted, as long as it satisfied health regulations. Haymour started construction of his theme park, but before construction was complete the provincial government decided that it did not want a theme park on Rattlesnake Island. They used their significant powers to try to shut down the project. Despite that, Haymour opened the park, only partly finished, in June 1972. Seven hundred people attended including several members of the RCMP. Although it was subsequently found out that the BC government went beyond what it was legally entitled to do, their actions resulted in the Royal Bank withdrawing its bank loan. Haymour couldn’t pay his bills or complete his project. He looked for alternative financing but at this time his marriage began to fall apart. The BC government offered to buy the Island for $40,000 but Haymour had invested $170,000 in his development project. The result was a financial disaster for Haymour. His wife Loreen left him in July 1973 and took the children with her to Alberta.
Haymour’s life was ruined but he was determined to keep fighting for justice. He made a visit back to the Lebanon to seek support there. Officials with the Lebanese government wrote to the Canadian government requesting that Haymour be offered a fair settlement. When Haymour returned to Canada he was very upset and then he made a big mistake. He talked about revenge and told people that he had letter bombs. The RCMP became aware of the threats and he was arrested a short time later. Haymour was transferred from Kelowna to Oakalla prison in Vancouver. There were no letter bombs and the only charge that they could use to convict Haymour was the possession of two children’s brass knuckles. Haymour was advised that if he signed over Rattlesnake Island for the $40,000 offered, the government would have no more interest in him; so he did that. However he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was transferred to Riverview Mental Hospital. After a year in Riverview, he was released on the understanding that he would leave the country.
He couldn’t get justice in Canada, so Haymour decided that if he took some action in the Lebanon, he would get results. He decided to seize the Canadian Embassy in Bierut and made detailed plans with the help of six cousins. The Lebanon was in the middle of a civil war and there were lots of conflicts in Bierut. Haymour bought submachine guns and rented an apartment near the Embassy to prepare for the assault. Haymour and his cousins waited for the right moment and seized the Embassy and took 34 hostages including the Canadian Ambassador. Then it was time to negotiate for release of the hostages. Initially the Canadian government didn’t take the threat seriously, but conditions deteriorated, and after a nine hour wait an offer came from the Canadian government in order to avoid any bloodshed. Haymour was assured that he would not be prosecuted for the take-over of the Embassy and the Canadian government would pay his way back to Canada and assist him in pursuing his case for compensation through the courts. It was a victory for Haymour and he laid down his weapons and celebrated.
A week later he left for Ottawa but when he arrived there, he was told that his problem was with the provincial government not the federal government. So Haymour made his way back to Kelowna to start his legal action in British Columbia. The legal process proved to be complicated and expensive. Years later, in 1983, the Fifth Estate TV series did a program about Haymour’s situation. Finally in 1986, Haymour won his case for extra compensation in the BC Supreme Court. Justice Gordon MacKinnon agreed that the BC government had conspired to stop Haymour’s theme park and called their actions “highly improper if not cruel.” Haymour was awarded $250,000 in compensation, but he didn’t get his island back.
Haymour used the money to purchase land in Peachland directly across the lake from Rattlesnake Island. He built “Castle Haymour” a small hotel with an Arab theme, which he operated successfully for several years.
Although Haymour has moved away from Peachland, his castle remains. It is now called the Peachland Castle, on Highway 97 near Renfrew. Richard Smith covers this, and many other fascinating stories, in the Peachland Centennial book. This book is on sale at the Peachland Museum for just $20. It has lots of photographs and would make a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in the history of Peachland.