Mr. Forbes was originally from Plymouth, England and came to Vancouver Island by way of India where he had done very well in the stock market. The climate in India took a toll on his health and he moved to Canada where he purchased Hill farm (now Baird Brothers Farm) in 1923. He also owned a home on Oak Bay Avenue in Victoria named “The Oaks”, a house built by famed B.C. architect Samuel Maclure. In the mid to late 1920s Mr. Forbes had both The Oaks and Hill Farm extensively renovated by Mr. Maclure. The farmhouse became nearly double its former size and the Forbes also invested in excellent dairy cattle as well as poultry and pigs. The Forbes daughters kept riding horses and the family pursued a generally elegant life style.
Then in July of 1929 everything changed with the arrival of a very personable man in a brand new Cadillac who asked if Mr. Forbes might be interested in selling his farm to Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn for a very healthy sum. Mr. Goldwyn was reported to require a situation for a family member to live under supervision out of the public eye. Mr. Forbes was interested and arranged to meet Mr. Goldwyn in Seattle. The proposed meeting did not take place, but the charming Mr. Stoneman who Mr. Forbes had met at his farm presented a plausible explanation for the studio head’s absence. By the time the confidence man and an accomplice parted company with their rather naïve mark, they had separated him from $30,000 in a horse betting scheme in Reno Nevada.
Once Alister Forbes realized he had been taken, instead of contacting the authorities, the embarrassed victim hired a detective to track down the swindlers. After two years Mr. Forbes was informed that a “Mr. Stoneman” would be in Stanley Park at an appointed time. When “Mr. Stoneman” saw Mr. Forbes approaching, he attempted to escape, but Mr. Forbes tackled him and held on until a policeman arrived and arrested them both. Once Mr. Forbes had convinced the Vancouver Police of his story, the con man was escorted to the American border. Law enforcement officers in that country were only too happy to return him to prison for a parole violation while they sorted out Mr. Forbes claim amongst others. As it turned out, the confidence ring consisted of twenty people operating from Reno. They scammed $2,500,000 (this would be a staggering $40,000,000 in 2015 currency) from 70 victims and were convicted in New York in 1938 with Mr. Forbes appearing as a witness.
Sadly for the Forbes family, they were left practically destitute. Unable to sell his farm during the Great Depression, Mr. Forbes and his family moved to Montreal where he could not find employment in the economy of the time. His health deteriorated further and he died at fifty-three.
The Cobble Hill Historical Society meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm in the Youth Hall at 3665 Watson Avenue in Cobble Hill.
Cobble Hill Historical Society
c/o Brenda Krug
785 Red Oak Drive
Cobble Hill, BC V0R 1L4