by Sam McBride
Noel Quintan Peters was born in Charlottetown November 8, 1894 as a fraternal (non-identical) twin with Gerald Hamilton Peters. Their parents were Premier Frederick Peters and Bertha Gray, daughter of Col. John Hamilton Gray, renowned in the island as a Father of Confederation.
Their sister Helen Peters was seven when the twins were born, brother Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters was five, and brother John Francklyn “Jack” Peters was two. Sister Violet Avis Peters was born in 1899 after the family had moved across Canada to Vancouver Island, where Frederick Peters opened a law partnership with Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper. Noel moved with the family to the coastal community of Prince Rupert in 1911 when his father began employment as Solicitor for the City of Prince Rupert.
Noel was handicapped with a moderate — though noticeable — mental disability that made his life miserable in an era when there was little understanding, or allowance for, such handicaps. There is no record of Noel being diagnosed or receiving medical assistance for the problem. Bertha felt no qualms in openly treating Gerald as her favourite child and Noel, her least favourite.
Noel trained with his brothers in boys` militia in Victoria and later in Prince Rupert with the Earl Grey`s Own Rifles. As Noel reached adulthood, his brothers Gerald and Jack were employed as bank clerks in Prince Rupert, brother Fritz was serving in the Royal Navy and sister Helen married Ted Dewdney. Sister Violet had died in a fireplace accident at the family home in 1905. Noel could not find steady employment because of his disability, but he appears to have made ends meet as a labourer and logger.
At the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 Noel tried to enlist in the Canadian army but was rejected, most likely because of his perceived disability. His family had a heritage of war heroes and patriotism for the British Empire, and there was intense pressure within the community for all young men to enlist in war service. The disappointment, shame and anxiety probably contributed to Noel suffering a major nervous breakdown in the early spring of 1915. This infuriated Bertha because she had to cancel complicated arrangements she had made to travel in April 1915 to England to be close to her other sons in war service. Fritz had rejoined the Royal Navy as a lieutenant in August 1914 after a little more than a year of retirement, Jack was a private with the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 7th B.C./Duke of Connaught battalion, and Gerald was training in Montreal and about to go overseas with the Royal Victorian Rifles. Bertha felt obligated to stay in Prince Rupert to care for Noel in his recovery. She managed to make it to England later in the summer, thanks to money provided from her other sons from their military pay. Bertha continued to resent Noel for causing her such problems, and it appears he had a strained relationship with his father as well.
By 1917 Canada had suffered horrendous casualties in the war – including the deaths of Jack and Gerald Peters – and Noel was accepted for service in the Canadian Forestry Corps in May. The idea behind the forestry corps was that it was better to bring experienced Canadian loggers to England and France to get the wood needed for the war from their forests, rather than logging in Canada and sending the wood across the Atlantic Ocean in slow ships vulnerable to attack from German U-Boats.
However, in England Noel and other loggers soon were designated as reserves for army service.
Noel returned to Canada after the war and lived at New Denver in southeastern B.C., where his sister Helen Dewdney`s family lived since 1916 when her husband Ted Dewdney began as manager of the local branch of the Bank of Montreal. Bertha Peters began living with her daughter`s family in November 1916 when she returned from England grieving the death of Gerald and the likely death of Jack, who she believed was still missing, despite being notified by the army officials that he was declared to have died in April 1915 at Ypres.
Family letters show that Ted Dewdney used his business contacts to find work for Noel in northern B.C., but that did not work out. The story in the family was that Ted made personal loans to Noel which he was unable to pay back. The last record of contact with Noel was when he was notified of Bertha`s death in July 1946.
None of Helen`s children or grandchildren ever met Noel or Fritz. I had never heard what happened to Noel, but assumed he died before I was born. When I requested and received copies of the military files of Jack, Gerald and Noel in 1994 I was surprised to see that Noel died July 1, 1964, when I was close to 13 years old. He died in the Shaughnessy Veterans Hospital. The only information about him in brief notice in the Vancouver Sun (below) was that he served in World War One.
Noel was the only Peters brother to survive the world wars, but his story was also tragic.