by Sam McBride
The death of Violet Avis Peters on Saturday, November 11, 1905 was the first of several tragedies to strike the family of Frederick Peters and Bertha Gray in British Columbia.
Many years later Helen said her little sister Violet “burned to death” in a fireplace accident at the family home in Oak Bay, on the eastern outskirts of Victoria. Their house, a large seaside bungalow, had several fireplaces for heat. Helen was 18 at the time of the tragedy, and Fritz was 16 and training as a cadet in Britain with the Royal Navy. Of the other brothers, Jack was 14 and Gerald and Noel were 12.
We do not have details of what happened, but it appears a spark may have landed on her dress and set it on fire. People often died from smoke inhalation in the panic of an accident such as this. Fire was an ongoing hazard in that era. Helen told her children how she used gasoline to wash clothes when she was a young woman.
The Victoria Daily Colonist said she was the “dearly loved child of F. Peters, KC” and she died at St. Joseph`s Hospital in Victoria. The newspaper spelled her middle name “Avice”, but the death registration and cemetery record have it as “Avis”.
The funeral at 11 am on November 15, 1905 started at Christ Church Cathedral, the cathedral church of the diocese of British Columbia of the Anglican Church of Canada, at Rockland Avenue and Quadra Street and went from there to burial at nearby Ross Bay Cemetery.
Fourteen years later, in early August of 1919, her father Frederick Peters was buried in a plot next to Violet`s grave. His tombstone included plates commemorating sons Gerald and Jack who died in the First World War. A photograph taken soon after the father`s burial shows a small stone cross beside it with the words “Baby Violet”. Today that small stone cross has disappeared, probably sunk into the soft, wet ground over time.
Violet Peters was listed as being one year of age as of March 31, 1901 in the Canadian census. Strangely, there is no record for her birth in British Columbia, some time in 1899. Records at the time were not as comprehensive as they are today. For example, we know that her sister Helen`s husband Ted Dewdney was born Dec. 26, 1880 in Victoria, but there is no record of his birth in B.C. registrations.