Growing up in Kelowna, documentary filmmaker Greg Crompton would sometimes spot the remains of a strange Great Pyramid replica on Rattlesnake Island when he would go boating on Okanagan Lake. He recalls hearing the story about a local man who had once tried to turn the island into a Middle Eastern-themed amusement park, and seeing the “castle” he had angrily built on the mainland overlooking the piece of land when he lost ownership.
“It was a little bit like lore, but no one really knew anything about it,” Crompton tells the Straight, before his film on the subject opens at the streamed DOXA Documentary Film Festival. “We didn’t know he held people hostage in Lebanon over it. It was just that everybody called him Crazy Eddy; the narrative was Eddy was the wacky guy.”
It was decades later, while shooting a short segment for the TV series B.C. Was Awesome, that Crompton got a fuller picture of the strange 1970s chapter in the province’s history—and realized that the eccentric, conflicted character at the centre of it was still alive, in his late 80s. A local reporter told Crompton that Eddy Haymour had been “screwed over” when it came to ownership of the island, prompting the director to do further research and make a longer film exploring the bizarro tale.
The resulting, Vancouver-produced feature Eddy’s Kingdom finds Haymour staring down the lens of the camera, telling his story. It’s one that starts with his immigration from Lebanon in 1955 with $17 in his pocket, and leads to his building of a chain of barbershops and becoming a millionaire. After a detour kidnapping his own children, he purchases an island off Kelowna’s shore for a theme park—setting off an outcry from eco-activists and moves by government forces to take the land over. From there, the stranger-than-fiction yarn includes a hostage-taking at the Canadian embassy in Beirut, a forced stint in a notorious local psychiatric institution, and a surprise decision in the halls of the B.C. Supreme Court. Crompton even returns with cameras to Rattlesnake Island with Haymour and his daughter, walking the old cracked cement of a long-abandoned mini-golf course.
Haymour comes off, by turns, as a debonair lady’s man, a dreamer, a victim of the state, a terrorist, a domestic abuser, and more.
Filling in the story with witness accounts and archival documents, Crompton takes pains to let the viewer decide what kind of person Haymour really is. Even two of Haymour’s daughters have different views of the man: one has come to terms with his past and helps Haymour; the other is estranged, painfully recounting life with an erratic, largely absent father.
“He’s not a sympathetic character overall, but some people have said after watching it, ‘I don’t totally dislike him,’ ” Crompton says. “There are all these odd things you can look at and say, ‘Wow, he’s out to lunch in a way,’ but you can also see he’s standing up to this element of racism in Kelowna and he gets conspired against. So balancing the tone was a challenge.”
And the reaction of the feisty figure at the centre of it all? “I said to Eddy, ‘We’re going to tell the story; it’s not going to be your story.’ He said, ‘Yeah, get the other side,’ ” Crompton relates, then adds with a laugh: “But when he saw the first cut he was a little angry.”
In the end, Haymour seems to have embraced the warts-and-all project. But he might not have liked seeing the full, weird trajectory of his life so fully put in perspective—or the fallout of one man’s single-minded pursuit.
“I think it’s a cautionary tale about obsession at the expense of family—how obsession can wreak havoc on families,” reflects Crompton. “His dream was to have cross-cultural understanding in Canada, but that led him to being completely at odds with his adoptive country.”
Eddy’s Kingdom streams at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival from next Thursday (June 18) to June 26.