British Columbia

B.C. teenage adventurer's achievements 'lost to history'

Back in the 1920s, a teenager from Vancouver Island became the first woman to drive around the world, but the authors of a new book say Aloha Wanderwell's feats have been forgotten.

Authors revisit tale of 16-year-old girl who became first female to drive around the world

Captain Walter Wanderwell advertised for an interpreter for his global automobile expedition who would agree to forswear skirts and marriage for at least two years. (Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer)

Back in the 1920s, a teenager from Vancouver Island gained international fame for her travelling exploits.

Aloha Wanderwell became the first woman to drive around the world in a modified Model T Ford that included a darkroom for producing films on the road.

Christian Fink-Jensen, co-author of Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer, said her achievements have been largely forgotten.

"She's been lost to history," Fink-Jensen said in an interview with On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

"If you google 'first woman to drive around the world,' her name doesn't come up," he said.

"It was almost 10 years before the woman was properly credited, and she deserves to be remembered, I think."

At age five, Idris and her family moved to the property her father purchased in Qualicum Beach. (Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer)

Co-author Randy Eustace-Walden came across Aloha Wanderwell's name while researching round-the-world driving trips for a separate project.

Before she joined the Wanderwell expedition and adopted her stage name, Aloha was Idris Hall.

Born in Winnipeg, she spent most of her early life in Qualicum Beach where her father was a developer.

Hall was in a French boarding school after her father's death in the First World War when she saw a newspaper ad for a presentation by an American adventurer.

Hired as interpreter

Captain Walter Wanderwell was showing his movies of travels in the United States and South America and Europe.

"She of course skipped out of school and snuck into the theatre and saw this man on stage wearing a pseudo-military uniform and showing films of all these places," Fink-Jensen said.

"When she saw him, it was love at first sight."

Afterwards the tall blonde 16-year-old seized Wanderwell's invitation to join his expedition as a driver and interpreter.

They travelled through Europe to Egypt, into Africa, across Siberia and to Japan, shooting films and developing them in the back of the car to screen at their public appearances.

Arrested as a spy

On the couple's arrival in San Francisco, Fink-Jensen said, instead of the hero's welcome they anticipated, Walter was arrested for violating the Mann Act, which prohibiting transporting women across state borders for immoral purposes.

Walter Wanderwell's real identity was revealed as Polish-born Valerian Johannes Pieczynski, Fink-Jensen said.

"He was considered a spy. He had, in fact, been interned during the First World War."

In Los Angeles, Aloha Wanderwell socialized with actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing Record-Setting Life of the World's Youngest Explorer)

The threat of further charges under the Mann Act ceased after Wanderwell obtained a divorce from his first wife and married 18-year-old Aloha.

But in 1932 Walter Wanderwell was shot and killed on the couple's boat. No one was convicted in the killing.

Aloha later remarried and continued to travel until the Second World War "kind of put a damper on it," Fink-Jensen said.

"She did complete her journey around the world," Fink-Jensen said. "She also became the first woman to drive across Africa."

"She flew solo into the South American jungle. She was there before the famous anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, taking photographs of the Bororo Indians," he said. "She had an amazing life."

With Files from CBC Radio One's On the Island.

To hear the full story, click on the audio labelled: Teenaged adventurer's achievements "lost to history"