From Inkerman House toddler to Victoria Cross mother: Bertha Gray Peters

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“I wish you could have known Dally,“ my mother, Dee Dee, said to me hundreds of times over the years.

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Bertha with pet dog in Victoria, British Columbia, circa 1905.  Family ciollecgtion.

Also: “Dally was so smart!“, “Dally was interested in everything“, and “Dally would have known the answer to that question“.

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Bertha`s father, Col. John Hamilton Gray, who was host and chairman of the historic Charlottetown Conference of 1864, is featured in this sculpture in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  Sam McBride photo.

Dally was the nickname used by Dee Dee and her siblings for their maternal grandmother, Roberta Hamilton Susan Gray Peters, who lived with her daughter Helen Dewdney`s family in southeastern British Columbia from 1916 until her death three decades later at age 84.  Her sisters in the Gray family called her Bertie, and she was known in the community as Bertha, which is how I choose to refer to her.  No one in the family recalled the origin of the nickname Dally.

As a boy, I found my mother`s lavish praise of her grandmother somewhat annoying.  My thinking was: she died five years before I was born – why talk so much about someone I am never going to meet?

In recent years, however, my research into the life of her son, Victoria Cross recipient Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, has given me insight into why Bertha was so memorable to Dee Dee, as well as other family members and friends.  I was impressed that one person`s life could span so much of Canada`s history, and that her spirit and sense of humour held up despite experiencing a stream of disappointment and tragedy during her years as a mother and widow.

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The Gray family residence known as Inkerman House, where two-year-old Bertha was introduced to the Fathers of Confederation who were invited to Inkerman by Col. Gray to an after-dinner party on Saturday, Sept. 3, 1864.  Family collection

At age two in September 1864, Bertha was brought forward and introduced to the Fathers of Confederation her father brought home to the Gray estate known as Inkerman House from the Charlottetown Conference for an after-dinner party.   Eighty years later, in February 1944, she received, as her late son Fritz`s next-of-kin, the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross medal from a delegation of American officers and brass band representing President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower.

Bertha was the youngest of five daughters of Col. John Hamilton Gray and Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather.  Sister Mary Stukeley Hamilton Gray was three years older, and the other three sisters were much older.   The eldest sister, Harriet Worrell Gray, 19 years her senior, was out of the house before Bertha was born, as the parents sent her as a teen-ager to England to live with, and care for, her aging Pennefather grandparents.   Sisters Margaret Pennefather Stukeley Gray and Florence Hope Gibson Gray were, respectively, 16 and 14 years older than Bertha.

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Painting of Bertha`s mother Susan Bartley Pennefather at age 17, shortly before her marriage to Col. Gray.  Family collection.

After Susan`s death in 1866, Margaret assumed the “mother“ role for her younger sisters.  Florence took over in 1869 after Margaret left home to marry shipbuilder Artemus Lord.  A couple of weeks after Margaret`s wedding, the widower Col. Gray married Sarah Caroline Cambridge, and they would have three children, of whom only Arthur Cavendish Hamilton Gray survived to adulthood.

In addition to tutoring their little sisters, Margaret and Florence did their best to shield them from angry outbursts of their stern father, whose career as a British Dragoon Guards cavalry officer left him obsessed with discipline and punctuality.

In a family of ardent readers, Bertha stood out as the most voracious reader of them all.  In addition to the large family collection of novels, poetry and history, Bertha`s thirst for knowledge led her to read through dictionaries and encyclopedias.   In later years, her wide-ranging knowledge helped Bertha win cash prizes as a solver of difficult crossword puzzles in contests sponsored by newspapers.

Bounding with energy, young Bertha was always up for outings, and encouraged her sisters to organize social events that included her.  Regarding her father with a mix of fear and admiration, she enjoyed participating in discussion of current events and politics at the dinner table.  As descendants of United Empire Loyalists, the Grays were wary of the United States of America, which was slowly recovering from its Civil War in Bertha’s girlhood.   The Grays saw no conflict in being strongly pro-British Empire and at the same time proud Canadians.  Throughout her life, Bertha introduced herself to new acquaintances as a “Daughter of Confederation”,  since her father was a Father of Confederation.

Painting of Margaret Carr Bartley c. 1830, around the time of her marriage to Major Sir John Lysaght Pennefather

Painting of Margaret Carr Bartley c. 1830, around the time of her marriage to Major Sir John Lysaght Pennefather.  Family collection.

A common topic of sister talk among the Grays was the mystery of their grandfather Bartley`s family.  Their mother Susan was born in Jamaica in about 1825, the only child of Margaret Carr and Lieut. William Bartley of the 22nd regiment of the British Army.  As was common for soldiers stationed abroad in that era, Bartley became ill and died in Jamaica.   His commanding officer, Major Sir John Lysaght Pennefather of Anglo-Irish aristocracy, took charge of looking after the widow and baby.  He later married Margaret, who gained the title of Lady Pennefather.  Her new husband insisted on being recognized as Susan`s father.  Communication with the Bartley relations ceased, and Susan did not learn of her real father until told just before her marriage to John Hamilton Gray.

Bertha and her sisters speculated about titles and inheritances they could have missed out on because of the loss of contact with the Bartleys.  This led Florence to take on the role of family historian.  Bertha`s handwritten copies of Florence`s inquiry letters and replies exist today in the Peters Family Papers.

Florence left home in 1876 to marry mining executive Henry Skeffington Poole, settling first in Stellarton, Nova Scotia and after 1900 in Guildford, England.

By 1880 both Pennefather grandparents had died.  Released from caregiver duties,  Harriet married Rev. Henry Pelham Stokes in London later that year.

The Gray family was comfortable financially but not wealthy.  Years later, she told her daughter Helen that as a young girl she envied Frederick Peters and his brothers at Sidmount House because each boy was treated to his favorite dessert on festive occasions, while she was never presented with a choice.

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Bertha`s husband Frederick Peters with daughter Mary Helen Peters, their first child, born August 31, 1887 in Charlottetown.  Family collection.

All seats of St. Paul`s Church in Charlottetown were filled on October 19, 1886 for the marriage of Bertha Gray and Fred Peters.  The Examiner reported the union of “one of Charlottetown`s most popular and rising young barristers to one of Charlottetown`s finest daughters.“  Following the ceremony, the bride and groom left for a three-month honeymoon in England before settling in their Westwood home purchased from the Hon. Daniel Davies.   In future years, Bertha`s fondness for England continued, as she took every opportunity to travel there for extended stays, particularly in London, in her mind the Centre of the Universe.

The last Gray sister to wed was Mary, who in June 1888 married Montreal lawyer William Abbott, son of future prime minister Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott.  Actor Christopher Plummer is a grandson of William`s brother Arthur Abbott.

August 1887 saw the birth of Mary Helen Peters, first child of Fred and Bertha.  She would always be known by her middle name Helen.  The first son, Frederic Thornton Peters, born in 1889, gained the nickname “Fritz“ because of his great interest in toy soldiers and armies.  John Francklyn “Jack“ Peters was born in October 1892, and then the fraternal twins Gerald Hamilton “Jelly“ Peters and Noel Quintan Peters were born on November 8, 1894 – exactly 48 years before the action in Algeria where their brother Fritz would earn the Victoria Cross.  In 1899, after the family moved across the country to Oak Bay on Vancouver Island, another daughter, Violet Avis Peters, was born.

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Children Helen, Gerald (holding cat) and Noel in Victoria, circa 1905

Fred Peters worked in a law partnership with his brother Arthur Peters and Ernest Ings.  He gained a seat in the provincial legislature in 1890, and within a year became leader of the Liberal Party, and then premier and attorney-general.   Despite political success, the family was experiencing financial woes, as the Cunard inheritance received by Fred’s mother Mary Cunard had run its course.   Fred desperately wanted to improve his finances, as he and Bertha expected to continue to live to a style to which they had become accustomed.

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Son Frederic Thornton Peters, known to family and friends as Fritz, in 1901 in Bedford, England.

Bertha came to her marriage with high expectations, and was not pleased to hear of money problems.  Her demands that the children be educated at private schools in England were likely a factor in her husband abruptly resigning as premier in mid-term in October 1897 so as to earn higher income in far-off Victoria, B.C.

In raising the children, Bertha was the strict parent, emphasizing discipline and the importance of living up to the traditions of the family and the British Empire, while Fred was an affectionate, sentimental  father who read stories to his children and tucked them into bed at night.  She saw no need to treat her children equally, choosing Gerald as her favourite and Noel, who had a moderate mental disability, as her least favourite.

Early in the First World War she decided to travel to England on her own to be close to her sons in military overseas service, particularly Gerald, who was her best friend and soulmate as well as favoured son.   By the time she arrived in July 1915, Private Jack Peters had died four months earlier in the Second Battle of Ypres, but was listed as missing and believed to be a prisoner of war.   In late May 1916, while staying at a rented  cottage near Dover where she hosted Lieut. Gerald Peters on his leaves, word came from Germany via the Red Cross that Jack was definitely not a P.O.W., so was assumed to have died in action 13 months earlier.  Just a couple of weeks later she learned that Gerald was missing following a June 3, 1916 counterattack at Mount Sorrel, also in the Ypres Salient.   Four weeks later his death was confirmed.

Lieutenant Gerald Hamilton Peters, spring 1916

Lieutenant Gerald Hamilton Peters, spring 1916

Engulfed by despair over Gerald’s death, Bertha went to stay at her sister Florence Poole’s home in Guildford before returning to Canada.   As was common at the time, Florence indulged in spiritualism as a means to contact dead loved ones in the afterlife.  Bertha began participating in séances as a way to contact Gerald, which infuriated her son Fritz who saw her spiritualism and excessive grieving over Gerald as signs of weakness at a time when maximum strength was needed to defeat the enemy.

Returning to British Columbia in November 1916, Bertha couldn’t bear to return to the family home in Prince Rupert because it was full of memories of Gerald and Jack, so instead went to live with her daughter Hel en Dewdney’s family in the mining town of New Denver in the mountainous West Kootenay region of southeastern B.C., while husband Fred continued alone in the isolated port of Prince Rupert serving as city solicitor and city clerk.  After Fred’s death in 1919, she lived permanently with the Dewdneys.

The last time she saw her Fritz was in July 1919 when he came back from England to organize his father’s funeral in Victoria, B.C.   She and Helen had only indirect contact with Fritz until receiving a letter from him in March 1942.

As a widow in her fifties, Bertha tried to earn income by writing novels and short stories, but all were rejected by publishers.    Using recipes and cooking skills from her P.E.I. heritage, Bertha often cooked for the Dewdney family, who generally enjoyed her meals but were on edge because, as a perfectionist, she would erupt in anger if something went wrong with the dinner.

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Bertha, circa 1905

In a family of bridge aficionados, Bertha stood out as the best player, constantly striving to improve.     She rated each community in the Kootenay region by the quality of their bridge players.

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Bertha, circa 1910. Family collection.

Bertha was in good health until a fall down stairs in about 1935 left her a bedridden invalid.   As the only child left in the house after her siblings left for marriage and university, Dee Dee became Bertha’s caregiver and audience for her stories and ideas about history and politics.  Her chores included daily trips to the Nelson library to borrow or return books requested by her grandmother.

After Fritz’s death in an air crash on November 13, 1942, Bertha wrote a flurry of letters to England to find out more about the action in Algeria on November 8th for which Fritz would receive the Victoria Cross and U.S. Distinguished Service Cross.  Separately, she asked Fritz’s friends to fill her in on Fritz’s life between the wars.

She was thrilled to hear from the British Admiralty office that Fritz would receive the Victoria Cross, but later was flabbergasted that the Americans went all out in honouring her with a full presentation ceremony for their DSC medal, while Britain just sent the VC medal to her in the mail.

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Bertha after suffering a crippling fall down stairs at the Dewdney home in Nelson, B.C. in about 1935. Family collection.

Passing away July 30, 1946, Bertha was the last surviving daughter of Col. Gray.  Harriet died in London in 1882, Florence in Guildford in 1923, and Mary in Montreal in 1936.  Margaret, the only daughter to remain in P.E.I., was in excellent health until her death at age 96 in Charlottetown on December 31, 1941.

Inspired by her grandmother Bertha/Dally, Dee Dee became a professional librarian, and was an enthusiastic monarchist and anglophile.  Travelling to England in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, she often mentioned in letters home that she wished her grandmother was alive to share the experience.

Today, when people ask me why I buy so many books on England and the monarchy, I lay the blame on my great-grandmother Bertha/Dally!

Sources:

The family history writings of Florence Gray Poole and Helen Peters Dewdney, and letters received by Bertha Gray Peters, in the Peters Family Papers; various newspaper accounts; One Woman’s Charlottetown:  Diaries of Margaret Gray Lord 1863, 1876, 1890; census, vital statistics and ship records; and the author’s recollection of family discussions.

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150 Years Since Edgar Dewdney Blazed A Trail Through the Kootenays

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Proje

The Honourable Edgar Dewdney (1835-1916)

By Sam McBride I have felt the presence of Edgar Dewdney for as long as I can remember.   Paintings and photographs of him lined the walls of our home in Nelson, and many of the books in our family library were inherited from him. His namesake (and my grandfather), Edgar Edwin Lawrence “Ted“ Dewdney (1880-1952), knew him intimately as uncle, godfather, and legal guardian after Ted became an orphan at age 11.  I never got to know Ted because he died when I was a baby, but his wife, my grandmother Helen Peters Dewdney (1887-1976), lived in our home as a widow and often talked about Ted and Uncle Edgar.

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Cary Castle, the viceregal residence of British Columbia, where Edgar and Jane Dewdney resided between 1892 and 1897 when he was Lieutenant Governor.

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Edgar as a young engineer

She referred to Uncle Edgar as a great man who was also an affable and courteous gentleman.  She said Edgar and his wife Jane Moir (who were called Ned and Jeannie within the family and among close friends), who had no children of their own, were fond of – and kind to — their many nephews and nieces.  In addition to Ted, Edgar`s brother Walter Dewdney (1836-1892) had a daughter Rose Valentine Dewdney (1879-1941) and son Walter Robert Dewdney (1877-1956).  And Jane`s sister Susan Louisa Moir Allison (1846-1937) in the Similkameen Valley of southern B.C. had 14 children, several of whom lived with the Dewdneys in the 1890s while attending school in Victoria. Ted`s only complaint about Uncle Edgar was that he insisted that Ted begin a career with the Bank of Montreal when he was just 16 years old.  Ted was keen on history and literature, wanted to attend university, and had no interest in banking, but he respected his uncle greatly and did what he was told, commencing service with the Bank of Montreal as a teller in Victoria in 1897, rising to branch manager at Greenwood in 1915, and retiring in Nelson in 1940 after 43 years with the bank. Helen said there was a special relationship between Uncle Edgar and Ted, as Ted was the youngest of his late brother`s children and lived with Edgar and Jeannie for the longest time.  Ted also shared Uncle Edgar`s interest in history and literature, though not to the extent that he would allow Ted to go to university as he longed to. In the end, Edgar left most of his historical memorabilia to Ted in his will, including substantial correspondence between Edgar and Sir John A. Macdonald when Edgar held the federal government`s senior positions impacting Western Canada from the mid-1870s to the early 1890s.  Since the 1960s the historically valuable letters have been held by the Glenbow Archives in Calgary as The Dewdney Papers.  The Glenbow Archives in Calgary acquired the letters from the Dewdney family in the 1960s, and organized them in a collection known as the Dewdney Family Papers that has been used extensively by researchers.

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Edgar`s wife Jane Shaw Moir  (1843-1906)

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Sketch by Edgar Dewdney, among his drawings while building the Dewdney Trail.

At the same time, the family donated Edgar`s ceremonial Lieutenant-Governor`s uniform and several scrapbooks of photographs taken by Edgar to the Nelson Museum.  Today the uniform is featured in the Touchstones Museum in Nelson and the scrapbooks are preserved in the Touchstones Archives.  One of the scrapbooks has an interesting note attached in Edgar`s handwriting that says: “Give this to Teddy when I die“.

I have often thought Edgar Dewdney had the type of life that someone could write a novel around.    His life reminds me a bit of the lead character the Forrest Gump movie – he ends up in the middle of history happening around him, whether he likes it or not.   He knew all of the colourful characters of British Columbia, from Governor James Douglas to Premier Richard McBride, including colourful Pacific Province characters like his close longtime friend Judge Matthew Begbie and his political enemy Willam A. Smith, who famously changed his name to Amor de Cosmos.   As premier of B.C., de Cosmo insisted that the CPR line be built via Bute Inlet over a series of bridges to the north part of Vancouver Island and terminate in Victoria, but Edgar was just as adamant that the best route was down the Fraser Valley to terminate at the future site of Vancouver, which is what happened.  He doubted that the other option was even possible, no matter what the cost amounted to.

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There was friendship and mutual respect between Edgar Dewdney and Chief Crowfoot.

Edgar was also part of the Canadian federal government, either as or an MP and cabinet minister or senior appointed official, for more than 20 years, and knew every prime minister from Sir John A. Macdonald to Sir Robert Borden, and including the Metis rebel Louis Riel, and all of the key players in the greatest project ever undertaken in Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway.  He has the distinction of being the only person to serve as Lieutenant Governor for two jurisdictions — the Northwest Territories (1881-1888) and British Columbia (1892-1897). Compared to his contemporaries, particularly in the U.S., Edgar got along with the native peoples exceptionally well, beginning with the first leg of the Dewdney Trail between Hope and the Similkameen in 1861.  He was amazed at the work done by his Indian crews, particularly an older woman who carried a 120-pound bag of sugar up and down the steep slopes  of the trail, which largely followed  walking trails established over many generations by the First Nations people.  He was frustrated when trail workers refused to go beyond the borders of their tribe, but adapted and hired members of the next tribe along, as well as crews of white and Chinese workers.   There was mutual respect between Edgar and the two most famous chiefs of that era, Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (who met with Edgar after escaping with his warriors to Canada after defeating General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn) and Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot.

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Edgar`s sister Charlotte Cave-Brown-Cave (1829-1909) was one of three Dewdney siblings in Devon to emigrate to B.C. after hearing enthusiastic descriptions from Edgar. Family photo.

The extinction of the buffalo on the prairies by the 1880s was catastrophic for the native peoples, as it disrupted their way of life and caused mass starvation.  As Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories and Minister of Indian Affairs in the John A. Macdonald government, Edgar Dewdney encouraged the chiefs to move their tribes from hunting to agriculture.  This initiative fell far short of its objective, as numerous difficulties were encountered, including corruption and poor performance by the agricultural trainers the government hired to work with the tribes.  The government`s efforts to distribute food to the starving tribes were often much too little, much too late.  As resentment from this crisis contributed to the Riel Rebellion of 1885, some observers have said that Edgar Dewdney deserved some of the blame for the rebellion breaking out.  However, it is generally agreed that there would have been many more casualties in the rebellion if Crowfoot had not met with Edgar and agreed to remain neutral.  After the rebellion`s Metis leader Louis Riel was convicted of treason in a Regina trial, the federal cabinet, led by PM Macdonald, decided that Riel must hang.  It fell to Edgar Dewdney to sign the death warrant.  He was subsequently derided the rest of his life by French-Canadians and other political opponents as The Man Who Signed Riel`s Death Warrant.   In his initiatives as senior federal minister for the Northwest Territories — which, in his era, included the jurisdictions that would later be the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — Edgar meant well, but, from a modern perspective, was certainly colonialist and patronizing, and had scant regard for the value of native culture.   Western Canada historian Hugh Dempsey, author of “Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfeet“, commented on Edgar Dewdney:  “Although much of his career was marked with controversy, his relations with the Indians were good.“

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Edgar at the opening ceremony for the Qu’Appelle and Long Lake Railroad in Saskatchewan in 1886. BELOW: detail of the photo shows how Edgar (wearing white top hat at right) stood out in a crowd with his height of six feet, four inches. Jane, who was five feet, three inches in height, is to his right with a shovel. BOTTOM: Another view of the railroad commencement ceremony. Family photos.

deaildewd 002 another scene of long lake ceremony There is mystery associated with Edgar`s ancestry.   Some researchers say his parents were Charles Dewdney and Fanny Hollingshead, and others say they were John Dewdney and Elizabeth Parsons.  There were a number of Dewdneys with similar first names in the coastal communities of the English county of Devonshire in the 1830s, which has led to confusion.  Edgar`s birth day of November 8, 1835 is solid, but potential birth years for Walter range from 1833 to 1839.  I go with the date of July 16, 1836 which was used in a family history produced in the 1940s by Walter`s granddaughter Harriet Keating.   Neither Edgar nor his siblings ever commented on their parents.   The most likely parents are missing from the 1841 census, so they may have died.   In the 1851 census Edgar and Walter are listed as students at the Templeton School in Exeter, Devon.

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Edgar and Jeannie with dogs at their Regina residence, 1885.

Edgar studied engineering in Cardiff, Wales and then moved to London to work as private secretary to John Lorry Rickards, who had been in Indian at the time of the India Mutiny of 1857.  Before deciding to go to British Columbia, Edgar originally planned to go to India.   In 2009 a researcher published a report in B.C. History magazine that determined that Edgar`s father was a lowly boatman, so Edgar was pretending to be from a higher class after he arrived in B.C.   Personally, I do not think that it was that big a deal.  Once Edgar had built the Dewdney Trail, he was known as the trail-builder from Devon, with no specifics mentioned about his ancestry.  Somewhere along the line, someone provided the means with which he acquired a good education as well as engineering training that stood him in good stead with the projects he took on in B.C.

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Letter from Sir John A. Macdonald to Jane Dewdney on Macdonald`s 74th birthday in 1889. Family Collection.

Upon arriving in Victoria at age 23 in May of 1859, he stood out among other pioneers for two reasons: first, at six foot four and a muscular 200 pounds, he was literally head and shoulders above just about everyone else; and, secondly, he was a capable civil engineer at a time when such skills were in great demand in a colony burgeoning with gold discoveries, including some areas that could only be accessed by travelling through the United States and up river valleys.  This was a threat to the colony`s sovereignty at a time when many Americans subscribed to the Manifest Destiny concept of the U.S. eventually taking over all of North America.  The American interest in the north part of the continent was demonstrated when Alaska was purchased from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867.  Linking Alaska with the U.S. mainland by acquiring British Columbia — either by purchase or military conquest — seemed the logical next step for some Americans in that expansionist era. Edgar`s first substantial job after arriving in Victoria was to head a team of Royal Engineers to lay out New Westminster, the new capital of the mainland colony of British Columbia.   His success at this venture led to other contracts, most notably a mule trail from the frontier community of Hope to the future site of Princeton.  It was the first stage of what would become known as the Dewdney Trail, crossing a multitude of mountain ranges, waterways and heavily-forested areas.

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Reflections of Edgar`s sister-in-law Susan Moir Allison

In August 1860, travelling on a river streamer between New Westminster and Hope, Edgar met Thomas Glennie, a Scot who planned to homestead near Hope.  Accompanying Glennie was his wife Susan Louisa Moir Glennie, and her two daughters from a previous marriage Jane, 17, and Susan, 15.   The girls were born and raised in the colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in a genteel English colonial environment, but with hardly any money in the family.  Edgar, 25, was enraptured by Jane and took every opportunity to get together with her in subsequent years, culminating in their wedding at the Anglican Christ Church in Hope in March 1864.  Today, as the province`s oldest and longest operating church, Christ Church is a national historic site. Jane`s sister Susan married John Fall Allison in 1868 and became an enthusiastic outdoorswoman in a remote dwelling near the current site of Princeton.   Her story is colourfully told in the 1976 “A Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia: The Recollections of Susan Allison“, edited by B.C. historian Margaret Ormsby, who described Edgar Dewdney thus: “A kindly man who had no children of his own, he was generous to his own and to Jane`s nieces and nephews.“

Unlike Susan, Jane in later years preferred city life to frontier abodes.  Jane thrived in the invigorating political scene in Ottawa, but her favorite home was in Oak Bay, immediately east of Victoria, where she enjoyed the mild climate, was close to many friends and relatives, and had wonderful gardens.  Through his career Edgar`s favourite job was in the 1890s as Lieutenant-Governor of B.C., where he and Jane held court in the vice-regal residence Cary Castle.

Susan Allison was in good health until close to her death in 1937 at 91.  She learned the Chinook language and had many friends among her native neighbours.  As her husband was often away from home prospecting or engaged in other business ventures, Susan relied on assistance from her Chinook women friends to deliver her babies.  Her diaries include a number of stories about Edgar and Jane that show them interacting as close relatives in everyday life.  One autumn day Edgar and Jane were visiting when Susan purchased a huge number of salmon from a native fisherman.   Edgar and Jane rolled up their sleeves and joined Susan and some friends in a work bee assembly line where they cleaned all the salmon and preserved the meat with salt and spices, so that Susan and her children were well-fed with fish through the winter months.

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Hon. Edgar Dewdney turns first sod for railroad from Calgary to Edmonton in 1891. At age 55, he was still an imposing figure of physical vigour in Western Canada.

The discovery of gold in the East Kootenay region in 1865 led the colonial governor, Frederick Seymour to offer Edgar a contract to extend the trail to Wild Horse Creek, near the site of today`s Cranbrook.  Edgar knew nothing of the country beyond the Similkameen Valley, but accepted the job, as long as he could choose his own men and be assured that they would be paid.   This would bring the total length of the Dewdney Trail to 450 miles across some of the most rugged and scenic terrain on the continent.  In a letter to Edgar dated April 10, 1865, Gov. Seymour said that, in addition to building the mule trail, “you will make accurate sketches of the different lines examined, with full notes of the nature of the soil and timber, the course and size of the different streams and rivers, the quantity and probable extent of prairie and grazing land, the nature of the different rock, and, where found, the heights of as many different points above the level of the sea as can be obtained, and if possible the latitudes and longitudes of all important points and such other general information as may be useful in preparing a map of the country through which you pass“

Dewdney, Chief Piapot and his warriors, and the Montreal Garrison Artillery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1885

Edgar Dewdney bottom left, with Chief Piapot and his warriors, and the Montreal Garrison Artillery in Regina in 1885.

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Painting of Edgar Dewdney c. 1875.  Frame is 22 inches wide and 26 inches high. Family collection.

The timing of the trail work in the spring of 1865 was significant, because the U.S. Civil War essentially ended on April 9, 1865 with the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.  With the war over, Britain and Canada faced the dire prospect of hundreds of thousands of trained soldiers of the victorious North invading and taking control of lands north of the 49th parallel, as Britain had sided with the South in several controversial incidents.   The fact that much of the planning of the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln occurred in Montreal was another reason to worry about American retaliation against Canada.  As it turned out, the only incursions from the U.S. were the small, poorly-organized Fenian Raids in Ontario and New Brunswick of groups of Irish-American soldiers aiming to strike at Britain – who they saw as oppressing their native Ireland – by attacking Canada.  The fear of invasion from the United States was a key reason that British North American colonies agreed to unite in the self-governing dominion of Canada in 1867.

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The existing Edgar Dewdney memorabilia includes a bible (sideways, lower shelf) presented to Edgar and Jane after their wedding ceremony at the Anglican Christ Church in March 1864.  Family collection

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Inside page of 1864 bible with inscription from Rev. Alexander David Pringle.  Author photo

So, in addition to building the trail, Edgar was on a mission of discovery and reconnaissance for a governor extremely curious about economic prospects for the land they were about to access through a west-east route – without having to approach it from the United States — for the first time. In 1998 the Boundary Museum Society based in Grand Forks, B.C. transcribed and published Edgar`s notes and letters as the trail was being built in 1865, in a binder called Edgar Dewdney: Diary Notes Written on the Trail.   As someone who grew up in Nelson, my favourite part of Edgar`s correspondence was letters associated with a sidetrip he took with an Indian companion in a birchbark canoe from the current site of Castlegar, up the churning Kootenay River (doing 14 portages to get through the rapids) to the current site of Nelson, and up the West Arm and then toward the North end of Kootenay Lake.  The purpose was to check out possible routes for the trail on the east side of Kootenay Lake.  They went to Crawford Bay and partly up the valley to the St. Mary`s River in the East Kootenay, but Edgar decided it wasn`t worth it because travelling miners would not want to pay to be ferried across the lake. In a letter to the governor dated June 29, 1865, Edgar said: “I did not reach the north end (of Kootenay Lake), thinking I should only be wasting my time, but I traveled up sufficiently near to take its bearing.   The scenery on both sides of the Lake is very bold and grand.  The greater part of the rock around the Lake is granite of the coarsest description with large quantities of quartz running in veins of different thickness north and south.  I explored several but could find no trace of gold.“

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Biography of Edgar Dewdney by Brian Titley.

“The Lake abounds in minerals, iron and large quantities of galena with which I fell satisfied there is silver but I had no means of testing it and unfortunately left my specimens behind,“ he wrote, demonstrating a keen eye for future industry in the region.   Returning to the project staging headquarters at Fort Sheppard (near the current site of Trail), Edgar and his companion Peter shot the spectacular Kootenay rapids in their canoe, and Edgar noted that Bonnington Falls was the most beautiful waterfall he had ever seen.  Years later he said in an interview that his favourite mode of transport in rivers and lakes was the birchbark canoe, which kept paddlers dry and could be easily repaired.

While they were better off than most pioneer couples, Edgar and Jane were never affluent.  In that era before pensions, Edgar was always worried about he and Jane running out of money in their retirement years.   His eager involvement in land speculation and investments in mining companies were almost like a gambling addiction.   He tended to lose much more often than gain from such speculation, but the fact that he was involved got him into trouble during his political career.   Opponents accused him of conflicts of interest, particularly when he influenced the location of the city of Regina to encompass land which partially owned through investment in a syndicate.   Everything was in the open and his boss John A. Macdonald had no problem with it, but the situation looked bad and was a stain on Edgar`s reputation for the rest of his life.  His response to accusers was to say he would have gained more money if the other option for locating Regina was chosen, because he had a larger stake in that ownership syndicate! One of the criticisms of Edgar as a politician and administrator was that he was “overly loyal“ to John A. Macdonald.   Like many Canadians, Edgar was a great admirer of the charismatic Macdonald, and proud of his loyalty to his Prime Minister and party leader.   But he was also a very close personal friend of Macdonald and his wife Agnes.  And Jane in turn was a good friend of Agnes and Sir John.   Macdonald`s high opinion of Edgar was shown when he named Edgar co-executor of his will (along with his son Hugh), and arranged with Edgar to be trustee of a fund to support Macdonald`s handicapped daughter Mary.   When Macdonald died in June 1891, Edgar was at his bedside along with members of Macdonald`s family.  A couple of years later, Lady Macdonald and Mary stayed at Cary Castle for several months as guests of the Dewdneys. Edgar owned and loved many dogs over the years and spoiled them.   Jeannie was not so keen on the dogs, and was particularly put out when one of the dogs insisted in sleeping under the bed when he was away. In 1897, Edgar took great pleasure in providing his assent as lieutenant-governor to legislation that established Nelson, Rossland and Grand Forks as municipalities.   He could remember going through those sites when they were just part of the wilderness.  In his retirement years Edgar travelled to the Kootenays several times to visit friends and check out investment prospects.   Reporters from the local newspapers would come to his hotel and enjoy  hearing his stories of the old days in the region.  He also had pleasant visits with his nephew and ward Ted Dewdney who was working as a bank clerk in Rossland.

edgar's locket of john a macd and wife

Existing Edgar Dewdney memorabilia includes this pendant with images of Sir John A. Macdonald and Jane Dewdney, who were Edgar`s two favourite people in the world.  Family collection.

After a long string of provincial and federal electoral victories, Edgar was defeated in the Nov. 7, 1900, losing to his Liberal opponent 1,772 to 1,627.  Ironically, he was defeated just two days after his 65th birthday while running in the New Westminster riding for the first time – the same community he laid out as a young engineer four decades earlier. Edgar would then experience déjà vu in another respect as a contractor.  The province of B.C. was in the midst of railway fever.   With the southern interior proving to be a land of great mineral wealth and logging prospects, the government and the CPR were worried that the dynamic Great Northern Railway led by James Jerome Hill would capture the freight and wealth of that region through branch lines off its main line near the Canadian border.  There was also great pressure on Premier James Dunsmuir from businesses in the Kootenays and the Lower Mainland for the construction of a Coast To Kootenay railway.  In July of 1901 Edgar Dewdney was commissioned to take charge of a government survey to determine the viability of a rail line through the Hope Mountains.  It was almost exactly 40 years since he faced the task of building a mule trail through the same terrain.  A big difference was that rail lines had to keep within an acceptable grade, or the trains could not pull their loads going uphill, or safely brake going downhill.

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Book on the Kettle Valley Railway includes Edgar Dewdney`s 1901 feasibility study for a railway through the Hope Mountains — 40 years after he built a trail through the same terrains.

In the book McCulloch`s Wonder: The Story of the Kettle Valley Railway, Barry Sanford notes that the government could hardly have picked an older man for the task, “but Dewdney`s long experience more than compensated for his lack of youthful agility.  He accepted the assignment with the vigor and enthusiasm he had shown for his assignment in the early 1860s, and promptly hired two of the most competent engineers in the country, Frank Moberly and Henry Carry, to assist him.“  An expedition of 30 men for the study left Victoria for Hope on August 1, 1901.  In March 1902 Edgar delivered his report to the provincial legislature.   He reported that three possible routes from Hope to Princeton were evaluated, but each option involved long stretches of severely adverse grades.  “The survey shows that the Hope Mountains cannot be crossed without encountering serious engineering difficulties which would necessitate a  very large expenditure of money, and I know of nothing so pressing, either in the way of development or along any line which might be determined on to warrant its construction.“ Many in B.C. were shocked that the growth-minded, ever optimistic pioneer Edgar Dewdney would recommend against building the rail line.  Despite his report, the project proceeded, and the Coquihalla Rail Line officially opened on July 31, 1916 – eight days before Edgar died.  He was proven to be correct in his conclusions, as the cost per mile of building the line through the Hope mountains was five times as expensive as the cost per mile of building the main line CPR through B.C., and it was a money-loser due to extraordinarily high operating costs, largely due to avalanches in winter, washouts in spring and forest fires in summer.   The railway eventually closed for good in 1959, and today parts of the line are a tourist attraction for biking and hiking.

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Edgar Dewdney memorabilia includes this souvenir card from Westminster Abbey from his visit to his native England in 1890. Family collection.

In January 1906 the Dewdney family experienced two deaths within three days, as Jane`s mother Susan, who was living with the Dewdneys in her early 90s, died on Jan. 27th and then Jane died on Jan. 30th.  Three years later Edgar travelled to England and married Blanche Plantagenet Kemeys-Tynte in Somerset, England.  In his earlier writings and interviews, Edgar said his intention when he left England for Victoria in 1859 was to stay for 10 years, earn the fortune he needed to live comfortably, and then return to his sweetheart who was waiting for him in England.  This led to a false story that Blanche was the sweetheart, and was still waiting for Edgar 50 years later in 1909!  A reason to think they are connected is that Blanche`s father, Charles Kemeys-Tynte, provided Edgar in 1859 with a letter of introduction to Colonial Secretary Edward Bulwer Lytton, who in turn provided Edgar with a letter of introduction to Governor James Douglas which he presented upon arrival in Victoria.  However, British census records indicate that Blanche was born in about 1854, so she would only have been about five years of age when Edgar left England, so she surely could not have been the sweetheart he left behind. Today Edgar Dewdney is remembered mainly in Western Canada, and particularly in British Columbia, his province of first residence and retirement.   He stood out among other men partly because of his height, but also because of his energy, optimism and confidence, his genuine love of outdoor frontier life, and his skills and vision as an engineer.

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Edgar as Lieutenant Governor of B.C. in 1893.   Family photo

He was the type of leader that people chose to name things after, like the municipality of Dewdney, Mount Dewdney, Dewdney Peak, Dewdney Creek, the Dewdney Trunk Road, Dewdney electoral constituency, Dewdney Schools, Dewdney Avenue in Regina and, most importantly, the Dewdney Trail.   And the City of Trail is named after Trail Creek, which in turn was named after the Dewdney Trail.  The City of Fernie is named after William Fernie, who was a foreman of Edgar`s in building the trail through the Kootenays.   Allison Pass at the top of the Hope-Princeton highway is named after Edgar`s brother-in-law John Fall Allison.

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Edgar`s official diary for 1894 exists in the family memorabilia. ABOVE: This Feb. 25, 1894 entry mentions a serious fire in Kaslo.  It is interesting that a brother of his future wife Blanche Kemeys-Tynte visited the Dewdney`s at the lieutenant governor residence Cary Castle on Feb. 26, 1894.  BELOW: Diary notes from Jan. 8-9, 1894, including William Cornelius Van Horne of the CPR, and Col. James Peters, who was a cousin of Edgar`s ward Ted Dewdney`s future wife Helen Peters, who at the time was still a young girl residing in Charlottetown.  Family collection.

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Postcard-style photographs of the Royal Family in Edgar`s personal scrapbook. At left is Queen Victoria with one of her daughters. At right is Carrie Trutch O`Reilly, who, with her husband Peter, was a long-time friend of the Dewdneys. Family collection.

Some observers have said the Dewdney Trail was of little consequence because it fell into disuse after a few years, which is true but a large part of Highway 3 of today follows the trail that Edgar blazed through the wilderness.   When the Salmo-Creston Highway was under construction in the early 1960s, it was proposed to call it the Dewdney Highway because it generally followed the Dewdney Trail, but officials decided instead to call it the Kootenay Skyway (locals just call it the Salmo-Creston).  In retrospect, the most valuable thing about the Dewdney Trail in its early years was a symbol of British and later Canadian determination to keep the Okanagan, Kootenays and other parts of southern B.C. free from control by the giant nation to the south.  And sections of the trail were used in several discoveries, including the Red Mountain find in 1890.

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Invitation the Dewdneys received for dinner in 1912. Family collection.

Edgar died in August 1916 during one of the bleakest periods of the First World War.  The lists of Canadian casualties in newspapers went on and on, but the publishers still felt that the end of the life of one of the province`s greatest pioneers deserved extensive coverage on front pages and in editorials. In an editorial the day after he died, the Victoria Times said: “He was an exceedingly loveable person.  He impressed everyone he came in contact with his geniality and fine open-heartedness.   He ever had a kindly word for all who sought his advice.“ Over the years there have been numerous magazine and newspaper articles about Edgar Dewdney, as well as a 1999 UBC Press book The Frontier World of Edgar Dewdney by Brian Titley, a professor of education at the University of Lethbridge.   Titley also wrote the Edgar Dewdney entry in the Canadian Dictionary of Biographies http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dewdney_edgar_14E.html, which concludes that Edgar “was an accomplished engineer, an indifferent businessman, an adequate administrator, and an undistinguished politician.  His greatest fault, perhaps, was his partisan loyalty to John A. Macdonald, which clouded his judgement at critical moments. He deserves some of the blame for the North-West rebellion and the repressive policies that followed it.  The roads he surveyed in British Columbia were his greatest achievement.“  An interesting review of the Titley book by J. William Brennan is at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3188&context=greatplainsquarterly

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Signed photo of Uncle Edgar, 1912, as a gift to nephew Ted Dewdney on his marriage to Helen Peters. Family photo.

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ABOVE: Photo of Edgar`s gravesite at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria shortly after the funeral in August 1916. BELOW: the gravesite today, including BOTTOM: name plate. Family photos.

edgar tombstone close up of edgar plaque Edgar Dewdney Chronology November 5, 1835 – born in Bideford, Devon on the southwest coast of England, son of Charles Dewdney and Fanny Hollingshead*

1851 – Edgar and younger brother Walter were boarders at Templeton Mansion School in Exeter, Devon. April 1854 – brother Walter Dewdney joins the 17th Lancers as a private, rising quickly to Troop Sergeant Major January 1858 – death of sister Rose Johnstone Dewdney at 29 in Devon. March 5, 1859 – Edgar left England on the Hamurg mail line steamer, arriving in New York after a stormy passage. May 18, 1859 – arrived in Victoria after sailing to Panama, crossing to the Pacific side by land, and sailing north via San Francisco to his destination. 1860 – Hired by Governor James Douglas to build a pack trail from Hope to the mining camps in the Similkameen Valley

March 25, 1864 – marries Jane Shaw Moir at the Anglican Christ Church in Hope, B.C. Mid-September 1865 – Miners began travelling from Hope to the Kootenay gold fields on the new four-foot wide, all-Canadian Dewdney Trail June 1866 – Private Walter Dewdney retires from 17th Lancers of the British Army after 12 years of service and moves to British Columbia. July 1, 1867 – Canada becomes a self-governing nation under the British North America Act. Dec. 5, 1867 — sister Charlotte Dewdney marries Rev. Jordayne Cave-Brown-Cave in Sappeton, B.C. December 1868 – elected to represent Kootenay in the colony`s Legislative Council March 4, 1870 – Louis Riel`s Metis provisional government executes Orangeman Thomas Scott. July 20, 1871 – British Columbia becomes a  Canadian province, largely based on the federal promise to build a railway across Canada. July 20, 1872 – elected  to represent Yale district in the federal parliament Jan. 22, 1872 – elected again to represent Yale district in the federal parliament July 27, 1876 — sister Fanny Dewdney Lethbridge marries John Lawrence in Victoria, B.C. Sept. 17, 1878 – re-elected to parliament for Yale by acclamation December 3, 1881-June 30, 1888 – took on the additional responsibilities of Lieutenant-Governor of the Northwest Territories May 30. 1879 – becomes federal  Indian Commissioner, appointed by PM Sir John A. Macdonald. May 1880 – meets with  Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (defeater of U.S. Gen. Custer at Little Big Horn)

March 26-June 3, 1885 – The North-West Rebellion (also known as the Riel Rebellion). May 9-12, 1885 – Canadian forces under Major General Middleton decisively defeat Metis forces May 15, 1885 – Louis Riel surrenders and is taken to Regina November 7, 1885 – Pounding of the last spike marks the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. November 16, 1885 – Louis Riel is hanged in Regina.  Edgar Dewdney signed his death warrant, which made him persona non grata among French-Canadians for the rest of his life. Sept. 12, 1888 – elected MP in a federal by-election for Assiniboia East district Sept. 25, 1888 – June 6, 1892 – serves as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs under Prime Minister Macdonald. Sept. 25, 1888 – made a member of the Queen`s Privy Council, and thus holds the title of the Honourable Edgar Dewdney. April 25, 1890 — Chief Crowfoot dies.  Edgar writes: “He was beloved by his people, feared by his foes, esteemed by all.“ Sept. 9, 1890 – Edgar leaves for England on a mission to encourage emigration to Canada, and investment in Canadian business. March 5, 1891 – elected MP to represent Assiniboia East district June 6,  1891 – death of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.  Edgar Dewdney was among the relatives and close friends at his bedside when he passed away. June 16, 1891 – Oct. 16, 1892 – serves as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs under Prime Minister Abbott Jan. 25, 1892 – death of Edgar`s brother Walter Dewdney in Vernon Nov. 1, 1892 – became Lieutenant-Governor of British Columba and moved to Cary Castle, the viceregal estate of Lieutenant Governors.  He succeeds Hugh Nelson, after whom the City of Nelson, B.C. is named. August 16, 1896 – gold discovered in Klondike River in the Yukon, leading to the Klondike Gold Rush March 4, 1897 – As Lt-Governor, he assents to the incorporation of Rossland, Nelson and Grand Forks as municipalities, under the Speedy Incorporation of Towns Act.

Oct. 28, 1897 – death of brother-in-law John Fall Allison at age 70. Dec. 1, 1897 – retires as Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia and moves to home on Rockland Avenue in Oak Bay, B.C. Nov. 7, 1900 – defeated by Liberal opponent in the federal election in the New Westminster riding 1,772 to 1,627 July 1, 1901 – commissioned to report on potential routes for a rail line through the Hope Mountains for the Coast-to-Kootenay Railway. March 1902 – presented his report to the B.C. legislature, concluding that none of the potential routes for a railway through the Hope Mountains was feasible. January 27, 1906 – Jane`s mother Susan Glennie, who lived with Edgar and Jane in Oak Bay, dies at age 95l January 30, 1906 – wife Jane dies three days after her mother, at 62. August 5, 1909 – death of sister Charlotte Wright, 80, in Victoria September 1909 – married Blanche Plantagenet Kemeys-Tynte in Somerset, England August 31, 1914 – death of sister Fanny Lethbridge Lawrence, 81, in Victoria August 8, 1916 – died of heart failure at age 80 August 12, 1916 – his funeral, followed by burial at Ross Bay Cemetery in the Anglican section. March 27, 1936 – widow Blanche Dewdney dies at Leycroft, Salterton Road, Exmouth, Devon. February 1, 1937 – death of sister-in-law Susan Louisa Moir Allison in Vancouver at 91.

dewdney stones at Ross Bay Cemetery July 2008

In a separate area of Ross Bay Cemetery, about 50 feet from Edgar`s memorial,  are the gravesites of, from left to right: Edgar`s wife Jane Moir Dewdney, his sister Fanny Lawrence, and his mother-in-law Susan Glennie. Author photo.

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Edgar Dewdney death certificate.