Article by Nicholas Pescod
Theo Dombrowski and Brian Argyle photos
For Theo Dombrowski it all started with a dream.
“I actually had this dream, [where I could] glance down roads and see a bit of beach,” Dombrowski remembers. And then it dawned on him. “Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if someone wrote a book where it showed all the places that you could go?”
That’s when the creative juices began flowing for the Nanoose Bay resident and avid outdoorsman, who decided to create a guide book that would uncover the numerous hidden beaches throughout southern Vancouver Island. But the money he made wouldn’t be for himself, he would use it to help those in-need.
For weeks and weeks, Dombrowski spent hours pouring over government maps and researching the various beaches. He would then head out in search of a hidden beach.
“It was a bit of detective work on paper and a lot of detective work driving around,” says Dombrowski. “It turned out to be a little bit of a wild goose chase at times.”
But after months of hard work, Dombrowski produced two highly in-depth guide books: Secret Beaches of Southern Vancouver Island: Qualicum to the Malahat and Secret Beaches of Greater Victoria: View Royal to Sidney, both of which were released in 2010. Dombrowski has since released three more books resulting in the Secret Beaches guidebook series. But he didn’t stop there. Beyond the Secret Beaches series, Dombrowski has produced two walking guide books, Seaside Walks on Vancouver Island and Popular Day Hikes 4 Vancouver Island. He has also illustrated four children’s books, two of which he also wrote, Finding Dragons (& Diddles) and Sammy the Rescue Bunny.
Research and Exploration
Each of the Secret Beaches books provide in-depth explanations of each beach. Descriptions are broken down into a number of categories including parking, suitability for children and groups, seclusion, view and accessibility. The books also offer recommendations for various activities, like best places to launch kayaks.
“For a lot of these beaches I thought ‘wow, I lived within 10 kilometres from this my whole life and I had no idea that there was this little trail going down,’” says Dombrowski.
Dombrowski says one of the most difficult and time consuming aspects of creating the Secret Beaches books, was ensuring the weather was nice enough for him to take photos.
“The big issue is, you have to find places in sunny weather, ideally with the tide out,” he explains.
On some of his trips, Dombrowski would drive out to a beach, only to discover that it was nothing more than just the edge of a cliff or something else entirely.
Dombrowski says during the research and exploration phase, he was intrigued by how different regional districts handle public access to beaches.
“The regional district up around Campbell River was pretty haphazard with signs, whereas the Cowichan Valley Regional District was pretty meticulous in terms of having signs and steps,” he recalls. “A lot of these accesses depend on the regional district’s interest in keeping paths open, sometimes by putting stairs in or areas where you can park.”
Working for a better world
Now retired, Dombrowski spent his professional life as an English professor, having taught at Lester Pearson College in Victoria as well as in Italy and Norway.
“It was an interesting contrast because the Italian culture and temperament is a little bit different from the Norwegian culture and temperament, especially with the emotions and bureaucracy of Italy.”
In addition to his written work, Dombrowski is also an active artist and painter. Many of his books typically feature beautiful paintings. For the Secret Beaches series, Dombrowski painted various beach landscapes as a way to provide readers with a different perspective.
“When you try and do a painting of a beach, what you’ve got is some shore and some rocky outcropping, because when you are at a beach there is not that much variety,” Dombrowski said. “What I had to do was put a bit of a variety in the way I painted.”
All of the proceeds from Dombrowski’s books and artwork are donated to various charities including the Georgia Strait Alliance and Doctors Without Borders.
“I thought … what I can do? I can write, I can paint, I can hike around. How can I put all of this to good use?” Dombrowski questions.
Dombrowski says he picked Doctors Without Borders because of their strong emphasis of going “straight into” regions devastated by war.
“I really like the fact that there is so much volunteer work in there too,” he explains. “I figured, if doctors can risk their lives and lose their salaries for a year, the least I could do is help out.”
Dombrowski has also used his artistic talents to help Aldea Maya, a Qualicum Beach-based non-profit organization that works with indigenous Mayans in Guatemala. Last year, he travelled to a Chukmuk, Guatemala, where he taught local children art and worked on a number of projects within village.
“I really became fond of [the children],” Dombrowski says. “They are so cute and it was a really great experience.”
Although Dombrowski isn’t working on any new books or paintings at the moment, he is looking for someone to help him market his work. “The big problem with the paintings is, I am terrible with PR and you have to have the nerve to go into places and say ‘hey I’m a great artist, and I need some space’ and I just can’t do that.”
Rest assured when finds the right person to assist him, the world, and those most in need, will benefit.
To learn more about Theo or purchase his work, visit his website