30th anniversary reunion in 1975 of Canadian soldiers in Italy in Second World War

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By Sam McBride

The “Canadians in Italy” reunion of Canadian veterans who served in the Italian Campaign in World War Two was held in Sicily and mainland Italy between April 22, 1975 and May 3, 1975, commemorating the 30th anniversary.

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Cover of souvenir album of the reunion.  Photo by John Evans is of Canadian veterans beside reflecting pool during ceremony at Cassino War Cemetery.  Published by Minister of Supply and Services Canada 1976.

 

 

 

Approximately 300 veterans joined with the official party led by the Hon. Daniel Joseph MacDonald (1918-1980), minister of veteran affairs, other dignitaries and a selection of young people from across Canada.  Participants included the three Victoria Cross recipients from the campaign: John K. Mahoney; Paul Triquet and E.A. “Smoky” Smith.

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itinerary, page 2.  Also in the schedule were “Briefings in Ottawa and arrival in Rome, April 20-22, 1975”.

During the war Minister MacDonald was a sergeant in the Italian Campaign with the Prince Edward Island Highlanders, and later the Cape Breton Highlanders.  He lost an arm and a leg in the bitter fighting December 21, 1944 for Coriano Ridge in the assault on the Gothic Line.  Today, the headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown is named in his honour: the Daniel J. MacDonald Building.

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photos with caption information from Veterans Affairs published in the Nelson, B.C. Daily News in May 1975.  Leigh McBride was born and raised in Nelson before moving to nearby Trail, B.C. in 1969.

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another photo with caption in the Nelson Daily News, May 1975

 

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ortona pic0001It was the first time Canadian vets returned as a group to the scene of the fierce battles of their youth, and paid their respects to fallen comrades in cemeteries from Agira in Sicily to Argentan north of Ravenna on the Adriatic Coast.  According to Veterans Affairs information at the time, a total of 91,500 Canadians served in Sicily and Italy, of whom 25,254 were casualties, including 5,900 killed in action.

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Seaforth Highlanders Leigh McBride (left) and Borden Cameron (right) with General Bert Hoffmeister (middle) during a side trip to Venice. Family photo.

The tour was described as a “pilgrimage”, and included events in famous names such as Salerno, Naples, Rome, Anzio, Cassino, Ortona, Bari, Reggio, Ragusa, Catania, Florence, Rimini and Ravenna, and 25 cemeteries.

There was some overlap with other ceremonies for a separate commemoration: the country of Italy’s 30th anniversary of the liberation from German rule in 1945.

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Welcomed by local residents.  Family photo.

I recall that my father, retired Major Leigh Morgan McBride (1917-1995) of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, initially did not want to go to the “Canadians in Italy Reunion”.  After coming home to Nelson, British Columbia in 1945 he preferred to put the war experience behind him, though he maintained strong friendships with several Seaforth veterans such as his commanding officer Col. Syd Thomson (who was my godfather), Captain D. Borden Cameron and Major John McLean.

Leigh suffered a bullet wound in his shoulder in the Allied invasion of Sicily in August 1943, and then May 23, 1944 at Cassino he suffered shrapnel wounds to his arms, legs and face that resulted in the loss of his right eye.  The only survivor of his unit, he was found unconscious by German soldiers, and taken to hospital in Rome for treatment, and then to prisoner of war camps in Germany.  He returned to Canada in February 1945 in a prisoner exchange.  On September 16, 1944, while Leigh was at the Oflag 7B prison camp, his younger brother, Capt. Kenneth Gilbert McBride (1920-1944) was killed near Rimini when his carrier vehicle ran over a road mine.

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Posing for photo with local residents.  Family photo.

With strong encouragement from Borden Cameron (the quartermaster who organized the famous Seaforth Christmas 1943 dinner at the Ortona church in the middle of the battle), Leigh decided to attend the reunion.   He was particularly looking forward to visiting brother Ken’s grave in Coriano Ridge Cemetery near Riccione for the first time.   Paying his respects at Ken’s grave was an extremely moving experience for him, as it was for me when I visited the cemetery as a tourist in 2005.  This posting includes a candid photo Borden took of Leigh standing by the gravestone and reflecting on Ken’s death, which was devastating for their parents, particularly mother Winnie who never recovered from the shock, as well as Leigh, other relatives and Ken’s many friends.

On September 20, 1944 the parents were thrilled to hear the news that Leigh, who had been missing for four months, was alive and in a POW camp.  They were still celebrating two days later when a telegram came that said Ken had died six days earlier.  The main reason why news of Leigh being alive and a POW was slow to reach Canadian authorities was because was being treated in German hospitals during most of the “missing” period, and the usual mechanism of informing via the Red Cross was not available in hospitals as it was in POW camps.

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Remembrance ceremony under way.  Family photo.

Participants in the tour got from place to place in sleek Fiat buses.  Leigh told his family he was extremely impressed with how Italy had recovered from the war, when people were starving and living in dilapidated homes damaged by the warfare.  He particularly enjoyed side trips to Venice and Mount Etna.  The experience led him to become an aficionado of Italian art and architecture.  Unfortunately, by the time he retired from his job with the legal department of Cominco Ltd.

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Borden Cameron, Leigh McBride and fellow veterans.  Family photo.

In retrospect, the 30th anniversary was probably the best time for the reunion in Italy to be held, as participants were generally still in good health, were advanced enough in their careers to be able to take a couple of weeks off work, and could afford the cost of the flights to and from Italy and other expenses not covered by Veterans Affairs or the local hosts.

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Leigh joins other tourists during a side trip to Venice in late April 1975..

Leigh would not have been able to attend a 40th anniversary reunion in 1985 because he was suffering from the early stages of Parkinsons Disease.  Ten years later he died at age 77 in a care home in Trail on August 12, 1995, a couple of months after the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Italy.

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1942 photo of Leigh McBride (left) and his brother Ken, who was killed in action near Rimini in September 1944 and is buried at Coriano Ridge Cemetery.  Family photo.

As part of the publicity associated with the reunion, Veterans Affairs distributed photos with identification and caption information to the local newspapers of participants.  Both the Nelson Daily News and the Trail Daily Times ran the material in early May 1995, and the Trail paper passed on the photo prints to Leigh for the family album, from which I am very pleased to be able to scan and share images in this posting.  Local residents, some of whom lived through the war years, showed their Canadian visitors heartfelt welcomes and appreciation, as shown in several of the photos.  A highlight was a parade of the Canadian veterans through Rimini to a response by locals that was described by writer Maurice Western in the May 15, 1975 Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper as “tumultuous”.

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Leigh McBride, seeing his brother Ken’s grave for the first time at Coriano Ridge Cemetery.  Photo taken by Borden Cameron.  Family photo.

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ceremony at Coriano Ridge Cemetery.  Family photo.

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Cemetery ceremony.  Family photo.

 

 

Wood Vallance Hardware Company was a dominant retail enterprise in Nelson, B.C. and region from 1904 until 1989

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by Sam McBride

For most of the twentieth century, the Wood Vallance Hardware Company Limited based in Nelson, British Columbia was a household name in the city, and reached out to customers throughout southeastern B.C. and worked with suppliers from as far west as Victoria, B.C. and east to Montreal, Quebec.

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1902 bill from Byers Hardware in Sandon, which operated until 1904 when Wood Vallance Hardware arrived and centralized hardware facilities in Nelson.  Image courtesy Ed Mannings.

The corporate story for Wood Vallance began with the company’s formation in 1849 in Hamilton, Ontario.  The story of Wood Vallance in the West Kootenay arose from the winding down of business of the predecessor company in the region, the H. Byers Hardware Company, which had hardware stores in the mining boom towns of Sandon, Kaslo and Nelson.

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Original Byers Hardware store in Nelson at Baker and Josephine streets.  Touchstone Archivess

G. Walter McBride, a London, Ontario native who gained extensive experience in the hardware was  business in St. Louis and later in Calgary and then Rossland, was chosen as receiver for the bankruptcy proceedings.  The business opportunity attracted the interest of the Wood Vallance Hardware Company Limited, which purchased the business from Hamilton Byers.  The new company would be an autonomous subsidiary of the Wood Vallance group which included substantial operations in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver as well as Hamilton.

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Wood Vallance store in Nelson, about 1920s.  From McBride family collection.

In April 1904 the new Nelson-based Wood Vallance Company shut down the Sandon store, sold the Kaslo store, and expanded the premises of the former Byers store on Baker Street to be a prominent business in the field of industrial, commercial and household hardware, including sales of  mining and forestry supplies for the region.

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1906 bill for the Hume Hotel.  Owner J. Fred Hume was a major customer of Wood Vallance Hardware, and a close friend of R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp.  Image courtesy of Ed Mannings.

Walter McBride sold his Rossland store and came to work for Wood Vallance in Nelson as manager, with his nephew Roland Leigh McBride – who had gained experience working with hardware stores in Calgary, Rossland and Sandon – was appointed assistant to the manager.  Also working in the new business was Roy Sharp, who had worked at the Byers store in Nelson since 1901 and was given the job of driving a one-horse delivery wagon.  Also joining the staff were well-known Nelson businessman and sportsman Alf Jeffs, and Alex Leith, who came to Nelson from the Wood Vallance office in Hamilton to serve as secretary-treasurer of the new operation.

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float in Nelson parade, about 1930.  McBride Family Collection

R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp would continue as a team at Wood Vallance until they retired together in 1950 after 46 years of service.  Jeffs would work for 44 years until retiring in 1948.

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Thousands of products were in the 650-page Wood Vallance catalogue.  Touchstone Archives

Walter McBride was manager for 20 years before retiring in 1925, succeeded as manager and later president of the company by R.L. McBride.

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G.W. McBride, first Wood Vallance manager, died Oct. 13, 1925.  He was a half-brother of my great-grandfather Richard McBride of London, Ontario.  Touchstone Archives

Alex Leith worked for Wood Vallance in Nelson until his death in 1932 – one week before his retirement was scheduled to begin.  In 1919-1920 Leith and R.L. McBride were among the founders of the Nelson golf course,  and he would serve several years as President of the club and donate the Alex Leith Trophy which went to the Nelson club champion until the Ken McBride Memorial Trophy was established in 1945.

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The Wood Vallance Trophy in Kimberley was one of many sports-related sponsorships and donations over the years.  It continues to be awarded in annual tournaments. From Nelson Daily News, 1943.

In 1906 the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Ltd (also known as CM&S, and later as Cominco and then Teck) was incorporated.  This included the smelter in Trail and associated mines in West Kootenay as well as the huge Sullivan Mine orne Kimberley in the Sullivan Mine.  The CPR-owned company would eventually become the largest non-ferrous smelter in the world and a huge success, but in its early days its finances were shaky because of problems in processing the complex lead-zinc ore, as it had to be hand-sorted in a very inefficient assembly line.

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Wood Vallance long-service staff recognized in 1961 photo display.  Touchstone Archives.

Around 1910 CM&S was short of funds, and about to go under because no one would offer them credit.  The one supplier that gave them credit was the Nelson-based Wood Vallance Hardware Company.  This help was greatly appreciated by CM&S, and the start of an extraordinary, mutually beneficial, unofficial relationship between the two companies. Tom Lymbery writes about it in his book “Tom’s Gray Creek: A Kootenay Lake Memoir, Part Two”.  The remarkable connection lasted until the 1980s.

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Wood Vallance share certificate. Touchstone Archives.

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December 1949 Wood Vallance staff photo and identification.  Touchstone Archives.

In addition to using Wood Vallance as a supplier, Cominco would contract Wood Vallance to handle part of its Purchasing function, for industrial supplies like rails and steel.   As part of the enduring strong relationship, manager and president R.L. McBride would travel from Nelson to Trail every Thursday to meet CM&S executives and staff about purchasing requirements.

By the 1920s Cominco had developed differential flotation processing technology that made the Sullivan mine profitable, and they expanded by leaps and bounds, with Wood Vallance growing along with them.

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Nelson Daily News June 8, 1972.  Touchstone Archives.

Tom Lymbery noted that “Wood Vallance gave us excellent service, and the range of stock was amazing”.

“These days we would need at least 20 suppliers to obtain the stock we were receiving in our weekly shipments from Wood Vallance,” Lymbery wrote, recalling decades of Wood Vallance business with his family at the Gray Creek Store.

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A corporate change in 1963 enabled purchase of shares by employees.  Touchstone Archives.

Of the original 1904 staff, Alf Jeffs retired in 1948 and died in 1950.  R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp retired together in 1950.

Sharp died in 1953 and McBride in 1959.  Lifelong friends as well as work colleagues, they and family members are buried with memorial stones side-by-side in Nelson Memorial Park.

By the 1980s the business world had changed, and the stewards of the company agreed that it should wind down as a corporation, with final pay-outs to employees and final dividends for shareholders.

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1972 long-service staff photo display.  Touchstone Archives.

Subsequently, the name Wood Vallance has been used for storefronts, but the corporate entity of the past is long gone.  In retrospect, Wood Vallance had a significant role in Nelson’s transition from a boom-and-bust mining town to a regional centre of commerce and administration.

List of Wood Vallance shareholders in 1972. Touchstone Archives.

The two-page corporate history below was written during the World War Two years, with the final section added as an update towards the company’s 75th anniversary in 1979.

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first page of 2-page Wood Vallance corporate history

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second page of 2-page corporate history

 

R.L. McBride (1881-1959) of Nelson BC was head of the Wood Vallance Hardware business and a tireless volunteer at the Nelson Golf Course and in many charities

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By Sam McBride

My grandfather Roland Leigh McBride (1881-1959) was an interesting fellow who had a large role in the business and sports scene in Nelson, BC  in the first half of the 20th century.  Born in London, Ontario, he worked for three years as a CPR ticket agent, and then his hopes and ambition led him to move west in 1900 to Calgary and then on to southeastern British Columbia and the gold-mining boom-town Rossland, where he worked as a hardware store clerk.

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R.L. McBride, on right, was known by middle name Leigh from early years

He moved to Sandon in 1903 to work for Byers Hardware, and ended up a year later in Nelson at the start-up of the new Wood Vallance Hardware operation which would dominate the region`s hardware store business for several generations.  He rose to manager in 1924 and then president of Wood Vallance, and retired in 1950 after 46 years with the company.

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R.L. McBride in Rossland, c. 1902

In local directories in the early 1900s, R.L. McBride was listed as a “traveller“, as he had a commercial travellers license and was often on the road meeting with potential and continuing suppliers and customers, as far west as Victoria and east to Montreal.

rl with collar jpgHis roster of personal contacts amounted to thousands across the country.  He used the opportunity of extensive travelling time on sternwheelers and trains to get to know fellow passengers and discuss their hardware needs with them – feedback he used in making decisions on what items to stock and pricing.

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Second from right, enjoying tea party on Nelson beach

His nephew Judge Blake Allan told me once that R.L. had an ebullient personality and was extraordinarily popular in the community.  “If he was in politics, nobody could have beaten him,“ Blake said.  I was just seven years old when he died in 1959, but I well remember his gentle friendliness and sense of humour.

During his years in charge of Wood Vallance, the company had an ongoing contract with the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited (Cominco — now Teck) to manage its purchasing function.  In this regard, R.L. worked closely with Cominco CEO S.G. Blaylock for more than a decade, often taking his sons with him on visits to Blaylock at the Trail smelter, which grew dramatically in the 1920s to become the largest lead-zinc production complex in the world.

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R.L. McBride in Ward Street in Nelson, B.C., c. 1920s

As a businessman, McBride was ahead of his time in emphasizing customer service, marketing the Wood Vallance brand, and corporate sponsorship of local sports and charities.

In his early years in Nelson McBride was a keen curler, and played hockey with the Wood Vallance team in the local commercial league.  In 1908 he was elected president of the Nelson Hockey Club.  This was an exciting time for hockey in Nelson, as the superstar players of that era, Lester and Frank Patrick, were living in Nelson, and hopes were high that  Nelson might actually win the Stanley Cup.  Unfortunately, for various reasons – including a dispute about refereeing — that never happened.  While he apparently did not participate further in management of the hockey club, he was an avid Nelson Maple Leafs fan for the rest of his life.

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R.L. McBride was a proud member of the all-male Nelson Masonic Lodge, and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.  It is noteworthy that many of his friends, business colleagues and customers were also Masons, including Roy Sharp, Wilmott Steed, J. Fred Hume, and J.D. McBride.  His wife Winnifred Foote belonged to an affiliated organization, the Order of the Easter Star

rl freemasn 1 001On Sept 7, 1911 my grandfather married Eva Mackay Hume, daughter of prominent hotelier and politician J. Fred Hume and wife Lydia, in an elaborate wedding at the Hume summer home across the lake from Nelson known as Killarney-on-the-Lake.  Tragically, Eva and premature baby daughter Marjorie Dawn McBride died a year later from childbirth complications.

In December 1914 R.L. McBride married Eva`s best friend Winnifred May Foote (1889-1960), and their two children were my dad Leigh Morgan McBride (1917-1995) and brother Kenneth Gilbert McBride (1920-1944).  The story in my family was that on her deathbed Eva encouraged Win to get together with R.L. after her death.  I recently heard from a niece of Eva’s that her mother Freeda Hume Bolton told her that Eva whispered in R.L.’s ear “marry Winnifred”.  Through the ensuing years, the McBrides and Humes continued their friendship.

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R.L. as a young father

R.L. McBride`s friends called him by his middle name Leigh, but within the family we called him R.L. to distinguish him from my dad Leigh.

In the spring of 1919 he was a driving force behind purchase of farmland in the hilly Rosemont section of Nelson, and construction of the nine-hole Nelson Golf Course, financed by the sale of shares and memberships.  He served on the club executive almost continuously for the rest of his life.

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R.L. hitting a drive on the Nelson Golf and Country Club, c. 1930

Through his support, Wood Vallance was a regular sponsor of golf tournaments and trophies, and he personally paid for the McBride Cup presented to the winners of tournaments for senior-aged members.  His sons shared his passion for the game, and were top rate players, particularly Ken, who won numerous Kootenay tournaments, as well as provincial championships and inter-university events as captain of the UBC golf team, prior to enlisting in the army in 1942.

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With older son Leigh and his brother Ken

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with Ken in 1932

As reported in Sylvia Crooks` book “Homefront and Battlefront:  Nelson BC in World War Two“, Ken`s death in action in Italy in 1944 was a tremendous shock to the community, particularly his  parents, who were never the same as a result.

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Both Leigh (left) and Ken were officers in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada regiment.  Ken died in action, and Leigh was seriously wounded, taken prisoner and to hospital by the Germans, and returned to Nelson in a prisoner exchange in February 1945.

Funds were raised within the golf club for a silver shield known as the Ken McBride Memorial Trophy, presented to winners of the Nelson Labour Day tournament starting immediately after the war ended in September 1945.

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Daily News report of retirement of R.L. McBride and Roy Sharp in 1950

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from Nelson Daily News, August 1950

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from Nelson Daily News, August 1950

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invitation to retirement reception in honour of R. Leigh McBride and Roy Sharp in 1950.  The Whimster signature is of the printer, Bert Whimster, father of Lois Arnesen and Muriel Griffiths.  McBride Family  Collection.

 

R.L.`s community involvement over the years included serving on the hospital board, as well as the Red Cross, the Civic Centre project board, wartime bond drives, and with the United Church and the Association of Canadian Travellers.  He was particularly active during the world war years, in charge of bond drives, Red Cross support and events that welcomed soldiers back home from battle and responded to their needs.

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R.L. and Win with a friend, and SS Moyie in background.  C. 1951

He was in good health until his sudden death from a stroke in March 1959.  Though she was 8 years younger, his wife Win was in poor health in her later years, so everyone assumed she would die before husband R.L.   As it turned out, she lingered in care facilities for 15 months after his passing, before dying in July 1960.

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R.L. and Win McBride are buried in the Mason section of Nelson Memorial Park, next to the memorial stone for Eva Hume McBride and the premature baby who died a half century earlier.

sept 11 2014 006Also right beside the McBride gravesite is the grave of Roy Sharp and his family members.  Roy and R.L. were among the first five staff members when the Wood Vallance Hardware business began in Nelson in 1904.  Roy was always R.L.’s reliable second-in-command in the company, and the pair retired together in 1950.  Sharp was as active in the curling scene as McBride was in golf.  He served as president of the B.C. Curling Association in the 1930s, and led efforts to establish Nelson’s famous Midsummer Bonspiel.

 

Winnifred May Foote, born in 1889 in Perth, Ontario; came to Nelson, BC in 1900 at age 11; married R.L McBride in Nelson in 1914; died in Nelson in 1960

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My paternal grandmother Winnifred Mae Foote (1889-1960) was born in Perth, Ontario and came across Canada to Nelson, B.C. with her mother and sisters in 1900 to join her father Jim Foote who was working as a blacksmith at the Silver King Mine.  They lived in a rented cabin in the mine townsite before moving into Nelson in 1902 at a house by Cottonwood Creek and Hall Mines Road when Jim began working in construction with the City of Nelson.  Years later she recalled riding on the the mine’s spectacular tramway.

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Win with camera beside Kootenay Lake c. 1907

 

She was in a camera club where members took turns posing and practising photography techniques, and she learned how to make her own prints.  Many of these photos have been safely kept over the years in family albums.  Based on the pics, she had a happy time growing up in Nelson.  She worked as a Post Office clerk before marrying R.L. McBride in December 1914.

She died when I was 8, and was in poor health when I knew her, though she retained a playful disposition.  The big tragedy of her life was the death in action of younger son Capt. Kenneth Gilbert McBride in Italy in September 1944.

Edna Steed Whiteley, a neighbor who knew Win well, told me in 2006 that Win was never the same after Ken’s death.  These pics of her were taken either in Nelson or on Prebyterian or Methodist church outings at Proctor.  The pic of her welcoming son Leigh in Vancouver in February 1945 on his way home in a prisoner exchange ran in the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

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Win with male friend (perhaps Wilmot Steed) in c. 1907

Win was active for many years in the Nelson IODE, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Nelson Golf Club and the Nelson Curling Club.

I recently discovered that Win played ladies ice hockey between 1910 and 1912.  She was a forward in 1910, and then moved to the goalie position.  She played on teams that competed within Nelson, and also for the team of the best Nelson players that played against ladies teams of other cities.  I was amazed to learn that she was a member of the Nelson team in 1910 that was coached by Hockey Hall of Fame player Lester Patrick, who, along with brother Frank Patrick, was among the best players of the era.  Lester may well have become involved with the team at the urging of his sister Dora Patrick, who was a player and manager of the team.

 

Here are some more pics of her, from her youth until later years, including the local Daily News write-up of her marriage in 1914 and her obituary (written by her son Leigh) in 1960.

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Win with Nelson as backdrop c. 1907

 

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Win c. 1907

 

 

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Roy Sharpe in front, with Win Foote next from left c. 1907

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Win (top) with friends in a fun pose.

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Win on horseback c. 1907

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Win with friend Wilmot Steed c. 1907

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print says W.M. Foote 1her si907

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Win at left with her sisters and parents and Mr. and Mrs. Lilly (parents of Mrs. Steed, grandparents of Edna Whiteley

 

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pic from Craig Bowlsby book “Knights of Winter, the History of Hockey in BC 1895-1911” has my grandmother Win Foote second from the right

 

 

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Win Foote, in middle of ice hockey teamates 1910

 

 

 

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Win c. 1910

 

 

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Win at far right with friends in Nelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Foote sisters c. 1908.  From left, Win, Marion, Gladys, Isabel and Lillian.

 

 

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Win with baby Leigh 1918

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R.L. and Win McBride c. 1915 in Nelson

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Win with son Leigh and baby Ken 1920

 

 

 

 

 

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Win with elder son Leigh and younger son Ken in Nelson c. 1923

 

 

From left, Ken, RL, Win and Leigh

 

 

 

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Win and.L. McBride with grandson Sam McBride and R.L.’s sister Edith Monroe c. 1953

 

 

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First Nelson Streetcar Head Frank Peters Had Fateful Golf Game with a U.S. President

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by Sam McBride

It was Friday, June 1, 1900, a day before the official public opening of the new eastern line of the fledgling streetcar system in Nelson, British  Columbia.

To publicize the event and build support for the new service, Francis White “Frank” Peters, founding president of the Nelson Electric Tramway Company, organized and led an advance tour of the new line and its stops for a group of Nelson businessmen, including Nelson Daily Miner newspaper editor Donald J. Beaton.  They knew Peters well from his day job in Nelson as assistant freight agent, Kootenay district, for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

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F.W. Peters, c. 1916, City of Vancouver Archives

According to Beaton`s report in the next day’s paper, the businessmen greatly enjoyed the tour, and were impressed by improvements the streetcar company made to the park facilities so as to increase passenger numbers and generate much-needed revenue for the fledgling company.

During a break in the tour, Peters playfully pushed a couple of the men on children`s swings to relive their youth, while the rest of the group enjoyed relaxing in a shady spot with a cool breeze.  Upon Peters’ return, a spokesman of the group announced they decided to name the park Petersville in his honor.  While the naming was essentially in jest, they stipulated that the beach area known as Lake Park would retain its name.

As it turned out, the beach and green space would become solidly, and affectionately, known as Lakeside Park.

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Nelson’s streetcars were replaced by buses in the late 1940s, but today Streetcar 23 on a section out of Lakeside Park operates seasonally for tourists and locals.  I took this photo July 1, 2017 when the streetcar was free as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

But the unauthorized Petersville naming reflected the high regard they had for Peters.  Two books on the history of Nelson streetcars – “Streetcars in the Kootenays” by Douglas Parker and “Hanging Fire and Heavy Horses” by Art Joyce – both note that F.W. Peters was popular and well-respected in the community.

His railway connection was valuable in getting the new service off the ground, as British investors, wary of investing in Nelson because its population of less than 7,000 was much less than that of other communities with streetcar systems, admired the CPR as a company and approved of a long-term CPR man being president of the local operating company.

The previous December Frank Peters was among the dignitaries who dutifully deposited a dime in the fare box to commemorate the official launch of the first stage of the new streetcar service, which would be a big part of life in the city until the aging system was replaced by buses in 1949.  But the romance and nostalgia of Nelson streetcars did not end there.  Thanks to the work of local volunteers in the Nelson Electric Tramway Society, a section of the streetcar line from Lakeside Park to the Prestige Inn has operated Streetcar 23 seasonally as a popular tourist attraction since 1992.

In the late 1890s Peters and fellow Nelson boosters pushed for a streetcar service as something Nelson as a booming mining town deserved, and particularly needed because of its steep streets.

In late 1900 Frank Peters faded away from Nelson histories when his employer transferred him to Vancouver with a promotion.  He had lived in Nelson since 1896 when the CPR transferred him in from Winnipeg.  Though just 36 years old when he arrived in Nelson, he had 23 years of experience in railroading.

One of Peters’ jobs with the CPR while in Nelson was to organize and lead a three-day excursion of West Kootenay VIPs (council and board of trade reps) commemorating the start-up in December 1898 of the company’s new Crowsnest Line that connected the Kootenays with southern Alberta and points east for the first time.

On December 7, 1898 about 100 representatives of West Kootenay councils and boards of trade – including well-known names in the region’s history such as J. Fred Hume, Colonel E.S. Topping, John Kirkup and J.S.C. Fraser — boarded the brand new sternwheeler S.S. Moyie at Nelson and steamed up the West Arm and down Kootenay Lake to Kootenay Landing (near Creston).

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The S.S. Moyie, safely preserved in Kaslo, B.C. in October 2017. Almost 120 years ago Frank Peters organized a special excursion of the new Moyie sternwheeler to transport local dignitaries toward a rail excursion to commemorate the CPR`s new Crowsnest Railway.

From there the group boarded rail cars east to receptions and tours in Cranbrook and then Fernie, where they witnessed the first shipment of coke to the Trail smelter (which the CPR purchased along with mines and rail rights earlier that year from mining magnate F. Augustus Heinze).  Next stop was a banquet at Wild Horse Creek, and then return voyage on the Moyie from Kootenay Landing to Nelson, arriving on December 9th.

In his four years in Nelson Peters made many friends and business contacts – particularly fellow members in the Nelson Club — who kept in touch with him in years ahead when he rose to executive rank in the CPR.   He was a talented raconteur, with many stories and jokes to tell from the historic construction of the CPR main line across Canada. The Daily Miner would publish some of them, prefaced by the phrase “Here`s another one from Frank Peters…“.

His goal in his CPR work in Nelson was to increase freight tonnage – and resulting revenues — for the company. He met regularly with boards of trade, as well as companies and individuals in industries like mining and fruit ranching to see how they could work together for mutual benefit in getting their products to markets.

Peters was born March 25, 1860 in Saint John, New Brunswick, the same port where his great-grandfather James Peters arrived in 1783 leading a group of United Empire Loyalists who fled their homes in Long Island, New York after the American rebels won the Revolutionary War.

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Frank Peters`ancestor James Peters (1746-1820), United Empire Loyalist from New York

The Peters family in the 19th century was prominent in the Maritimes as lawyers, judges and government administrators, but young Frank was fixated instead on the exciting new industry of trains and railways.

In 1873 at 13 he started work as a telegraph operator with the Intercolonial Railway in his native province.  From there he went to the U.S. where he worked for the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway in Michigan before joining the CPR in Winnipeg as a billing clerk in 1881, the year of CPR’s incorporation.  For his part in the history of Manitoba, the Manitoba Historical Society includes Peters in its online gallery of Memorable Manitobans. http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/peters_fw.shtml

After Nelson, Peters became general freight agent and then assistant to CPR vice president William Whyte.  On behalf of his company, he responded to questions the Nelson Board of Trade and the Nelson Daily News had regarding construction of the CPR`s Kootenay Lake Hotel at Balfour, which opened in 1911.  It was in line with the CPR vision in the early 1900s of building tourist resorts in the Kootenays along the new “southern line” through B.C. in similar fashion to resorts near the CPR main line that included world famous destinations such as the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise.

In 1912 Peters received his biggest and last promotion, becoming CPR`s general superintendent, B.C. division.

In 1916 the Canadian government, worried about shortage of facilities to care for the injured and sick soldiers returning from Europe, established a national Military Hospitals Commission, with Frank Peters one of two B.C. businessmen appointed as directors.  Peters, who lived with his wife Gertrude Hurd in the prestigious Shaughnessy neighborhood in Vancouver, was a driving force behind the construction of the Shaughnessy Veterans Hospital which opened in 1917 and served as a care facility for veterans until the 1990s.  At the same time, the CPR offered its luxury hotel in Balfour – virtually dormant due to lack of tourism in wartime — to the Commission, and it was used as a sanatorium for soldiers recovering from tuberculosis until 1920.  Unfortunately, the hotel had little appeal for tourists after serving as a sanatorium, and it was dormant for several years before torn down for building materials in 1929.

As the top CPR man residing in Vancouver, Peters was active in local and provincial business groups, serving as president of the Vancouver Club as well as the Canadian Club.  A keen golfer, he was president of the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club in 1921.  His involvement with sports administration began in 1896 when he was president of the Manitoba Curling Association.  Three years later while in Nelson he was president of the B.C. Curling Association.

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CPR B.C. superintendent Frank Peters (with handlebar moustache) greets President Warren Harding and wife Florence in Vancouver on July 26, 1923. Photo courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives

As a loquacious CPR executive, Peters was often approached by newspaper reporters for comments on CPR operations and the economy in general, particularly during and after his periodic inspection tours of the interior of the province.   In interviews in the 1920s he often commented on the success of the subsidiary company Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company Canada Limited (future Cominco and now Teck) having the world’s largest lead-zinc mine (the Sullivan) in Kimberley and the world largest smelter of its kind in Trail, while generating huge amounts of traffic between them on CPR lines in the Kootenays.

Peters had a memorable brush with U.S. presidential history in 1923.  President Warren G. Harding was in Alaska as part of a West Coast tour, and decided to stop at Vancouver, B.C. for a quick visit on July 26, 1923 on his way to Seattle.  Vancouver residents were proud their city was chosen as the site for the first visit to Canada of a sitting American president.

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U.S. President Warren Harding returning from golf game hosted by former Nelsonite Frank Peters at Shaughnessy Golf Course in Vancouver on July 26, 1923.  City of Vancouver Archives

Like many U.S. presidents, Harding enjoyed golfing.  Authorities decided that Frank Peters would be a good host for Harding, particularly in organizing a golf game at the Shaughnessy Club, renowned as one of the best 18-hole courses in North America.  Arrangements were made for a golf foursome including Harding, Peters, a Vancouver judge, and the club pro to play in the afternoon, accompanied by caddies and presidential security staff.  This followed a speech by Harding to a crowd estimated at 50,000 in Stanley Park.

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President Harding prepares for a tee shot at Shaughnessy Golf Club, hosted by Frank Peters, on July 26, 1923. City of Vancouver Archives.

After just six holes, Harding, 57, told his golf companions he was extremely exhausted and could not continue playing.   However, knowing that reporters and cheering fans would be beside the 18th green to greet him and he did not want to be questioned about his health, he suggested they rest for a while and then walk over to play the 17th and 18th holes, and his health problem would not be mentioned.

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news story in Ottawa Journal with comments by F.W. Peters on the late president Harding caption

It would be Harding’s last round of golf.  Exactly a week later the world was shocked to hear of the president’s death from a stroke in San Francisco, with vice president Calvin Coolidge succeeding him as president.

As the Vancouverite who spent the most time with Harding during the visit, Peters was contacted by reporters for comments on his passing.   In an August 3, 1923 article in the Vancouver Daily World (as well as other newspapers across the country through wire services), Peters praised Harding as a determined golfer and good fellow who was courteous to spectators, including a one-legged veteran who he invited within the security ropes, assisted in setting up his camera equipment, and posed for a photograph.  “Kindness and consideration for other people — that was the keynote of the president`s personality,” Peters said.

After the death of Harding’s wife Florence in 1924 there was speculation she may have poisoned him in revenge for his affairs with mistresses.  She was with him when he died, and insisted he be immediately embalmed, not allowing for an autopsy.  In 2014 Harding’s end was the subject of a PBS documentary “The Strange Death of Warren G. Harding”.

Peters retired from CPR in 1926, but stayed on as a member of advisory groups and as a director of the CPR subsidiary Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railroad.  One speaker at his retirement event said Peters could not possibly retire completely because he was the only person in the county who understood Canada’s incredibly complex freight rates.

In 1927 his older brother Col. James Peters, who had been District Officer Commanding, British Columbia in the early 1900s , died in Victoria.  As a major in November 1887, James Peters was in command of a contingent of 100 men, accompanied by wives and children, who travelled on the new CPR line across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver, and then by ship to Victoria, where they served as Canada’s first West Coast defence force.

The death of Frank Peters in Vancouver after a short illness at age 73 on May 13, 1933 was front page news across Canada, including the Nelson Daily News, which mentioned his freight work in Nelson but not his long-overlooked role in getting streetcar service off the ground.    Noting his 60-year connection with trains, he was dubbed “The Grand Old Man of the CPR” and “The Grand Old Man of Canadian Railroading”.

In a tribute to Peters, CPR vice president D.C. Coleman said “Genial, kindly and approachable, he knew how, without loss of dignity, to gain the confidence and affection of the western people.  He played the game of life to the end with boyish zest, but always with an honorable respect for the rules“.

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Gertrude Wynyard Peters (1863-1937)

There are some interesting connections between Frank Peters and his famous CPR boss, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915).  Van Horne also began in the railroad business as a telegraph operator, starting at age 14 in 1857.  Van Horne and Peters both joined the CPR in 1881 after working for Chicago-based railroad companies.  Their wives had the same surname of Hurd.  Van Horne married Lucy Adeline Hurd in 1867 in Joliet, Illinois and Peters married Gertrude Wynyard Hurd in 1884 in Winnipeg.  Census data shows they were not sisters, but could have been cousins.  Widow Gertrude died Oct. 10, 1937 in New Westminster, BC.

Sources:

Memorable Manitobans (http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/peters_fw.shtml)

City of Vancouver Archives

“Streetcars in the Kootenays” by Douglas Parker, 1992.

“Hanging Fire and Heavy Horses” by Art Joyce, 2000.

Shaughnessy Golf Course web site – history

Newspapers.com (Vancouver Daily World, Ottawa Journal and others)

Nelson Daily Miner

Nelson Daily News

Warren G. Harding & Stanley Park – History of Metropolitan Vancouver

A Peters Lineage, 1896

Ancestry.com

Knowles, Valeries, William C. Van Horne: Railway Titan, Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010