The Roedde family often went to English Bay where Joe would have been a familiar face and reassuring presence. Joe taught 3 generations of children to swim and likely taught Gustav and Matilda Roedde’s children before going on to teach their grandchildren.
Gustave and Matilda’s granddaughter, Kathleen Frances Cather (Kay), was the first certified female lifeguard in BC, and was taught to swim by Joe. She would go on to receive a letter from the BC Branch Royal Life Saving Society congratulating her on her membership in the Life Guards Corp as she was “now the first woman in the province to hold this award”.
Roedde granddaughters Gwen and Kay were daughters of Emma Roedde (the second eldest of Gustav and Matilda’s daughters). The girls and their mother lived in Roedde House with Gustav and Matilda, and Emma’s younger siblings during WWI when their father was overseas. The granddaughters returned to the house in the 1980s and recounted what life was like for them, including remembrance of Joe and how he taught Kay to swim.
In the museum we display information about Joe, an old bathing suit from English Bay, and Royal Life Saving Society medals from Gwen.
A young black sailor of Caribbean origins, Seraphim “Joe” Fortes arrived in
Vancouver, then known as Granville, in September of 1885. He discovered his
beloved English Bay Beach by chance c. 1887, while rowing supplies to a logging
camp. Over the following years Joe defied the prejudices of the time, endearing
himself to Vancouverites as the city’s first Official Lifeguard. He also patrolled the
area every night as a Special Constable of the Vancouver City Police. Thousands
paid tribute to Joe at his civic funeral on February 7, 1922. His small cottage
stood on this site from 1905 to 1928.
Sponsored by Karen Seaboyer in memory of Al and Fern Seaboyer