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

 

Experimenting with photo scenes with friends in pioneer Nelson, BC

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by Sam McBride

My paternal grandmother Winnifred Foote was a camera buff who enjoyed experimenting with photography with friends in the early 1900s in Nelson, BC.

Here are some pics in various settings and posings of her friends Roy Sharp, Emily Wilkinson, Dr. Wilmott Steed and Elizabeth Lillie.  The year was likely between 1908 and 1910.  You can imagine that at some point in the afternoon the subjects of the photos told Winnie that enough was enough.

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Roy and Emily Sharp at left.  Wilmott and Elizabeth Steed at right.  All of these photos were taken by Winnie Foote, and are part of the Foote-McBride Collection.

On September 5, 1911 Roy and Wilmott were ushers at the wedding of my grandfather R. Leigh McBride and Eva Hume, who was Winnie’s best friend.  A year later, on September 11, 1912, Roy and Emily married.  Just a week later, on September 18, 1912, Wilmott and Elizabeth married.  Tragically, Eva Hume McBride died due to childbirth complications on November 23, 1912.  Two years later, on December 23, 1914, Winnifred and R. Leigh McBride married.

march 29 2017 scans0018The three couples would remain close friends in Nelson for life.  Their children would be childhood playmates, as the Sharps and Steeds were both just a few houses away from the McBride house at 708 Hoover Street, where Winnie took numerous photos of Dawn Sharp as well as Graham, Jack and Edna Steed bicycling and playing with young Leigh and Ken McBride.

march 29 2017 scans0014Roy was a close colleague of R.L. McBride at the Wood Vallance Hardware Company for almost 50 years, and is best known in local history as the Father of the Nelson Midsummer Curling Bonspiel, which was a huge event when I was growing up in Nelson.  Wilmott was the first of several generations of Nelson dentists.   Details of the lives of R.L. and Win McBride are in previous postings in this blog.  The stories of the Steed and Sharp couples are summarized in their obituaries published in the Nelson Daily News.

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On her deathbed Eva Hume McBride encouraged her husband R.L. McBride and her best friend Winnifred Foote to marry

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by Sam McBride

Many years ago my father Leigh Morgan McBride (1917-1995) showed me the gravestone of his parents Roland Leigh McBride (1881-1959) and Winnifred May Foote (1889-1960) in Nelson Memorial Park in Nelson, British Columbia.

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Nelson Daily News article September 1911

He always referred to them as “R.L.” and “Win”.  R.L McBride never went by his first name of Roland.  He was known in the community by his middle name Leigh.  After his son Leigh was born, his father referred to himself by his initials to avoid confusion with his son.  I was seven when R.L. died, and a year older when Win died.  I remember them well from regular visits to their home at 708 Hoover Street in Nelson.

At the cemetery my dad pointed out the gravestone right next to my grandparents’ stone in memory of Eva Mackay Hume McBride (1885-1912), and Marjory Dawn McBride, a premature baby daughter who died a few days after her mother.  He said Eva was R.L.’s first wife, and was a very good friend of Win’s.  Tragically, Eva died from childbirth complications in the bedroom of their home at 824 Mill Street in Nelson, a little over a year after the marriage.  On her death certificate is notation from her doctor that she died from hemorrhaging from childbirth problems, over a period of approximately four hours.

About 20 years ago, a few years after my dad died, I was beginning to be interested in the family history, and I asked my mother about Eva.  She said Leigh had told her that Win and Eva were best friends, and that when Eva knew she was going to die on November 23, 1912 she encouraged her husband R.L. to “get together with Win.”  Two years later, on Dec. 22, 1914 R.L. and Win married and moved into their new home at 708 Hoover Street where they lived for the rest of their lives.  I tended to be a bit skeptical about the story of Eva,  Win and R.L., as it seemed a bit far-fetched.

Recently, though, I was very pleased to receive a letter from Eva’s niece Dawn Bolton Brashear in California, who confirmed the story from the side of the Hume family, except with a twist.  Her mother Freeda Hume Bolton (1900-1998) told her years ago that Eva on her deathbed at their home at 824 Mill Street in Nelson whispered “marry Leigh” in Win’s ear.

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punch bowls from the McBride-Hume wedding (photo courtesy of Dawn Brashear)

Freeda Bolton had written extensively in the 1970s and 1980s about life at the Hume residence across the lake from Nelson called Killarney-on-the-Lake, including the elaborate wedding of R.L. McBride and Eva on September 6, 1911, which Freeda said was “the social event of the year” in Nelson.  Freeda described how she and her siblings and mother Lydia worked for months on decorations and other features in preparation for Eva’s wedding.  The Shawn Lamb Archives at the Touchstones Museum in Nelson have about 40 pages of typed memories written by Freeda and her younger brother Jack Hume.

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watercolour of Killarney-on-the-Lake by Arthur Lakes, commissioned by Lydia Hume, 1916

Freeda wrote that there was a wonderful array of wedding gifts, as R.L. and Eva were both “immensely popular” in the community.   According to Freeda, the newspaper report was wrong in its description of roles in the wedding.  She said her older sister Dawn Hume was the Maid of Honour, R.L.’s sister Edith McBride from London, Ontario was Matron of Honour, and she was a bridesmaid — not a flower girl, as was wrongly reported.  Other guests from London, Ontario — where R.L. McBride was born in 1881 and lived until moving west in 1900 — included his mother Fanny Morgan and his cousin Ina McBride.

The wedding was long before there was a bridge across the West Arm of Kootenay Lake at Nelson, or even a ferry, so the wedding guests arrived either by rowboat or motor launch, or on one of two water taxis operating at the time.  Many of the guests at the wedding would go to the official opening two days later of the the CPR’s new Kootenay Lake Hotel at Balfour.  Aside from the ups and downs of the mining industry, times were good in Nelson and optimism abounded in the West Kootenay region.

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Eva Mackay Hume McBride (photo courtesy of Dawn Brashear)

Eva was actually a niece of Lydia Hume.  She was adopted at age eight by J. Fred and Lydia Hume after both her parents had died in epidemics in their home province of New Brunswick, where J. Fred, Lydia and their eldest children also lived before moving west in the late 1800s.  Freeda described Eva as “a dearly loved adopted child.”

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Eva’s engraved jewellery boxes (photo courtesy of Dawn Brashear)

Freeda wrote that R.L. McBride`s second wife was Eva`s “dear friend“ Winnifred Foote, and she noted that the Hume family “loved them both.“  Freeda did not write about Eva’s deathbed communications, likely because the memories were so painful and private for her.  But she did talk about it to family members, including daughter Dawn.

The Hume name has been a dominant one in Nelson ever since J. Fred Hume (1860-1935) built the Hume Hotel in 1898. Originally from New Brunswick, J. Fred moved west to Revelstoke, B.C. in 1883, where he established a dry goods business and was active in mining ventures.  After marrying teacher Lydia Irvine in 1891 they settled in Nelson.  He served as representative in the provincial legislature between 1894 and 1900, including the positions of Provincial Secretary and Minister of Mines in the latter two years, where he had a central role in establishing the eight-hour day regulation for miners and other workers.

J. Fred built the Hume Hotel in downtown Nelson 1898 at a cost of $60,000 operated it until selling the hotel in 1907.  Freeda wrote that her father earned “three fortunes” in his business career, as he had to recover more than once from devastating fires to his buildings.

The name of the hotel changed to Heritage Inn for about 20 years, but is now once again known as the Hume Hotel.  For almost a century the Hume Elementary School in Fairview has also carried his name.

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The married couple R.L. and Eva McBride are in the upper left of this view of the 1911 wedding scene, looking back across the lake to Nelson.  The young girl next to them is 11-year-old Freeda Hume, who was a bridesmaid.

Prior to her marriage, Eva worked as a stenographer for the Wood Vallance Hardware Company, where R.L. McBride was assistant to the manager.  Winnifred Foote worked as a clerk at the Nelson post office.  They were all in a circle of young unmarried friends that included Roy Sharp (another Wood Vallance staff member), and the dentist Dr. Wilmot Steed.  Sharp retired from Wood Vallance with his close friend (and longtime boss) R.L. McBride in 1950.

A great curling enthusiast, Sharp was president of the B.C. Curling Association in the 1930s and is credited as being the Father of Nelson’s famous Midsummer Curling Bonspiel.

Wilmot Steed was the first of several generations of Steed dentists in Nelson.   His children included Dr. Graham Steed (who was my childhood dentist), teacher Jack Steed, and nurse and Welcome Wagon hostess Edna Steed Whiteley, one of Nelson’s best-known and most popular old-timers who is well into her 90s, and has been a great friend of the McBride family and also kept in touch with Freeda, Dawn and other Hume descendants over the years.

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Nelson Daily News report of Sept. 6, 1911 McBride-Hume wedding

 

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Nelson Daily News report of McBride-Foote wedding in December 1914

 

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Roland Leigh McBride, c. 1904. Family photo.

 

 

 

 

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Winnifred Foote, c. 1910. Family photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gravestones of Eva Hume McBride and baby Marjory Dawn McBride at left, and R.L. and Win McBride at right.  Side by side in the Mason section of Nelson Memorial Park.  The memorial stone for J. Fred Hume and other Hume family members is in another section of the Mason burial area.

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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.