Frankie Slide Piano Teacher Story Wins 2016 Provincial Newspaper Award for Historical Writing

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By Sam McBride

Receiving the Neville Shanks Memorial Award for best historical writing in the 2016 Ma Murray Awards last Saturday in Richmond, B.C. was a great honour.  I was proud to receive the trophy at the awards dinner from Tim Shoults, 2015-16 president of the BCYCNA. http://www.nelsonstar.com/news/378660761.html

bcycna 20160002These are the annual awards of the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association (BCYCNA).  Historical writing was one of 45 categories recognized in the awards program.  For more than 90 years the BCYCNA has hosted the Ma Murray Awards (formerly called the Better Newspapers Competition), celebrating the achievements of member newspapers, including the Nelson Star.  The awards cover all aspects of newspaper production, including publishing, reporting, editing, advertising, photography, community contribution and website design.

Margaret “Ma“ Murray (1888-1982) is remembered for her sharp tongue and fighting spirit as editor and publisher of the Bridgewater-Lillooet Times.  Neville Shanks (1912-1977), founder and publisher of the North Island News, had a special interest in local history which led him to do numerous articles on local pioneers.  The Neville Shanks Award is sponsored by Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.

Many thanks go to Nelson Star editor Greg Nesteroff, who submitted my story to the awards program and was thrilled when it was named a finalist, and then winner.   Greg is renowned far and wide for his excellent reporting and devotion to local history.   Without his inspiration and support, I could not have done the Marion McPhail story.

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The author with the stylish chrome trophy.

The judges` comments on my award-winning article were: “An excellent account of the Frank Slide and the baby girl who famously survived the disaster, but who later disliked her celebrity.  Lots of solid research here and an engaging narrative“.

 

My entry, a feature article on my boyhood piano teacher Marion Leitch McPhail (1900-1977), was published in the May 1, 2015 Nelson Star.   There was a special story associated with Marion, as she was the famous Frank Slide Baby.  Over the years I often asked people why the story of Marion in her Nelson years had never been told, so I decided to do it myself, as I had clear personal memories of her and extensive experience as a researcher and writer.

chrome statue bestIn effect, Marion  was twice a victim of the Frank Slide, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Canadian history.   First, the collapse of Turtle Mountain in the small community of Frank in the Crowsnest Pass at 4 am on April 29, 1903 killed her parents Alexander and Rosemary Leitch and her four brothers.   Then, for the rest of her life, Marion was plagued by myths about the slide that gave her the unwanted nickname of “Frankie Slide“.

A popular mountain ballad song “The Ballad of Frankie Slide“ and radio plays on the same subject reinforced the myth about Baby Marion being the only survivor of the Frank Slide.   This was completely wrong, as most residents of the town of Frank survived the slide, including Marion`s older sisters Jesse and May.    As Marion grew up in Cranbrook, B.C. she hated having to deal with the Frank Slide stories, particularly when people teased her by calling her Frankie Slide.   The funeral for the six members of the Leitch family was held in Cranbrook four days after the slide.  The local newspaper said it was the saddest event anyone could remember, and men who had not shed a tear in many years were openly crying.   Marion was raised in the family of her uncle Archie Leitch, and her sisters were raised with other uncles in Manitoba.

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Wording at the bottom of the trophy.

As a teen-ager Marion moved to Vancouver, where she received advanced training in piano and music, and her connection to the Frankie Slide myth was less known.   By age 24 she had settled in Nelson, B.C. as a music teacher.   She was a good friend of my parents and both sets of grandparents in Nelson, and was my piano teacher in the early 1960s.  I often thought she was in a bad mood during my lessons because of lingering anger about the Frank Slide myths.

 

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The awards night was a gala event at the River Rock Casino theatre.

The big event of the year for Marion and her fellow piano teachers was the Kootenay Music Festival, which alternated each year between the original Capitol Theatre in Nelson and the Junior High Auditorium in Trail.   Students like me were under extra pressure to perform well in the music festivals because our success (or lack thereof) was a reflection on our piano teachers.   It was very difficult for me, as a young boy with many other interests, to devote between one and two hours each day to piano practice, as ordered by Marion.

 

The full Marion Leitch McPhail in Nelson story in the Nelson Star is at http://www.nelsonstar.com/news/302000401.html

 

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Nelson Star story on Frank Slide-surviving Piano Teacher is a finalist for the 2016 Ma Murray Awards

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The amazing story of Nelson piano teacher Marion Leitch McPhail, who was bothered all her life by myths associated with the disastrous Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass in 1903, is among three finalists for the 2016 Neville Shanks award for historical writing.

This is one of 46 categories of awards that recognize achievements of the  111 members of the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association (BCYCNA), in the Ma Murray Community Newspaper Awards.

The awards, ranging from ad design and classifieds to photography, editorial and newspaper excellence, will be presented on Saturday, May 7, 2016.at River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond.

http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/371085171.html

BCYCNA 2016 Ma Murray Awards

 

Special edition Mountaineer yearbook commemorates move in 1956 in Nelson B.C. from Nelson High School to new L.V. Rogers High School

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fby Sam McBride

One of my favourite local history publications is the special edition of The Mountaineer — the annual high school yearbook in Nelson — in 1956.

It was before my time as a student at L.V. Rogers High School in the late 1960s, but there has always been a copy of the yearbook in our family home because my dad received a souvenir copy at the opening ceremony of the new high school in 1956 when he was a school trustee.  Our copy has a distinctive, sponge-like cover.  The Shawn Lamb Archives at Touchstones in Nelson has a copy of the yearbook with the special white cover, as well as more economical copies with blue paper cover.

Students from the school`s Publications Club did an amazing job in producing a 104-page publication that paid homage to the pioneers and buildings of Nelson.  They diligently researched and produced lists of students, teachers, trustees and just about everyone else connected to high school education in the time from the first Nelson High School in 1901 until March 1956, when the school moved from the old Nelson High School at Hendryx and Latimer streets to a brand new site in Upper Fairview, where the school continues to serve the students of today.

Production of the annual yearbook had been sporadic over the years.  This one was the first Mountaineer since 1948 — and they made up for lost time with an excellent product.   Below is a table of contents of the 1956 Mountaineer and scans of the pages.  My favourite part of the publications is the lists, because they include many of my relatives, including my father Leigh McBride, mother Rose Pamela “Dee Dee“ Dewdney, her brother Peter Dewdney, my dad`s brother Kenneth Gilbert McBride, their cousins Blake Allan, Jim Allan and Alex Allan, my great-aunts Isobel Foote Murphy, Lilian Foote Allan and Gladys Foote Moir, as well as a photo of their mother Edith Foote among a large group of the Pioneers Club that consisted of Nelsonites who were living in Nelson before 1900.  Admittedly, the lists are not complete, particularly as records in the early years were skimpy.  One of those missed is my paternal grandmother Winnifred Foote McBride, who grew up in Nelson and was 13 in 1901.

My article in the Nelson Star on the 1956 Mountaineer is at http://www.nelsonstar.com/news/370801101.html

Below are a Table of Contents for the publication, and then scans of the pages.

The 1956 Mountaineer

Contents

Before Man Saw It…4

To the Pioneers, to our Parents, who created the environment for our growing………6

Boyhood Days in Nelson, by 1912 NHS graduate G.V. Ferguson..13

Nelson Pioneers who lived in the city before 1900…16-17

To the Trustees, Who Have Prepared the Soil for Our Growing…..18

And Finally a Dedication to Our Teachers for Their Patience and Wisdom ……………..20

Daily Miner headlines on first day of class of Nelson High School…………………………22

Letter to Teacher Enid Etter from student in first NHS class……..24

The School`s Early History, by Ross W.G. Fleming of first class……….25

A page from the first annual Mountaineer in 1909……..28

Graduates – 1901 to 1909…..29

Graduates – 1910-1919……..30

Some Recollections, by James B. Curran………38

From the Mountaineer of 1920……39

Honour Roll – World War One…………40

Leslie Vivian Rogers 1886-1946…………42

Parliament and Prime Ministers…….44

Honour Roll – World War Two………….47

A Hundred Pages of History……48

Nelson High School students 1920-1952………..49

Congratulations, and alumni news…………………….57

Ministry of Athletics……………………….58

Ministry of Social Affairs…………………………………60

School clubs……………………….62
Publications Club…………………………………64

Radio Club………………………………………65

Members of Nelson District School Board Since 1914……66

NHS and Junior-Senior High PTA Presidents……….67
First Junior High in B.C (Trafalgar)………………………..67

Most Famous of All Graduates (Hammy Gray)……….68

Nelson and NHS scenes………………..70

Kootenay Forest Products ad………………..71

NHS Grads 1953-1955……………72

Vote Yes on the School Bylaw of November 1952…….74

To Those Who Made This Annual Possible…………75

L.V. Rogers High School – January 195………………76

List of NHS teachers since 1923…………….78

Oldest Graduate and First Major Award Winner……………79

Saying Goodbye to NHS in March 1956……………………………..80

NHS to become Hampton Gray Elementary School………….81

Other Major Award Winners 1940-1955………81

Official Opening of L.V. Rogers High School March 10, 1956 program….82

MLA, Inspector of Schools, PTA President……………83

Board of School Trustees………83

Mr. Lee`s Tribute to L.V. Rogers…………..84

Speech of Minister of Education Ray Williston…….85

Bennett and White Construction Company……..86

NHS/LVR Staff 1955-1956…………….87

Grade Ten……………………..88

Grade Eleven………..90

The Mountaineer……………….92

Senior Matric…………………..93

This Year`s Graduates When They Were in Grade 1………94

The First Graduates of L.V. Rogers High………………95

From the Graduates of Today to the Graduates of Tomorrow (List of Grads 1956-1958)…….102

Thanks from Editorial Staff………..104

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deluxe cover of souvenir Mountaineer

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The McBride Family was prominent in London, Ontario 1830s to 1990s

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By Sam McBride

My great-great-great-grandparents Richard McBride and Elizabeth McCormick left their home in County Down,  Ireland for Canada in 1831, according to later newspaper accounts and family history notes made by their granddaughter`s husband Harry Bapty in the 1920s.

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family tree of my father Leigh McBride going back three generations. His father R.L. McBride left London, Ontario for British Columbia in 1900.

County Down is in Ulster, southeast of Belfast.  At the time of their emigration, the region was in the midst of economic strife associated with the Industrial Revolution, and strife between religions.   The McBrides were Presbyterians who migrated years before to Northern Ireland from Scotland.    They found themselves in a congested, problematic land under the thumb of the established Church of Ireland.  On the other side of society were the Roman Catholics, who rebelled against the authority of England and the Established Church.

Richard McBride was born in 1792 in County Down and died in 1850 in London, Ontario.  The exodus to Canada was a family affairs for the McBrides, as five of his younger siblings left for Canada in the same period.  These siblings (along with spouse), were William McBride and wife Agnes McIllvene, Alexander McBride and wife Jane Shields, Thomas McBride and wife Ann Oswald, Stephenson (also known as Stephen and Steney) McBride on his own, and Elizabeth McBride and husband John G. Boyd.    I will note the children and vital statistics (birth, baptism, marriage, death details, when available) in later posts.   Unfortunately, there is no information on the parents or any other ancestors of these McBride siblings going back in time in Ireland and Scotland.

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Family details of the McBrides in London, Ontario, written in the 1920s by Harry Bapty.

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13127429-504a-471d-ac3c-ed615fba24c9[1]Something new for me in genealogical research involves working from connections made through ancestry.com DNA tests to confirm the family tree details we have from documents and memories.  After submitting a saliva sample in November 2015 I received a report of my ethnic make-up as well as DNA links with others who have participated in the ancestry DNA program.   One of the newly-found distant cousins was a lady in Fort Wayne, Indiana who was a descendant of William McBride and Agnes McIllvene, who settled in Hamilton Township, Northumberland County, Ontario by the mid-1800s.   Our common ancestors would be the unknown parents of Richard and William McBride and their siblings, so we are fifth cousins, as estimated by ancestry.com to be highly likely.

In this post I will focus on the descendants of Richard McBride and Elizabeth McCormick, particularly their son (and my great-great-grandfather) Samuel McBride (1819-1905).

Samuel was just 12 years of age when he joined his parents and siblings in a horrific voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to a new life in pioneer Upper Canada.  They were among 500 passengers crammed into a 300-ton sailing ship which got off course and took an excruciating eight weeks to cross the Atlantic.  Samuel and older brother William, 14, were told by their parents to look after their younger siblings, including John, 10, and Eliza, 8.   Another sister, whose name is lost to history, died during the voyage – not surprising, as many passengers suffered from starvation and serious illness – and was buried at sea.

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William McBride, who served as Mayor of London and was active in civic affairs.

The McBrides first settled in Upper Canada at or near Kingston, then Coburg, then Niagra, then Brantford, and finally London, where the McBride name would be prominent for more than a century and a half.

It was in Coburg that the last children of the family were born.  Elizabeth had twins, of which one unnamed boy died.  The boy who survived was Alexander McBride (1833-1912), who married Lucy Munson and in 1886 would be the first of the McBride-McCormick clan to go west as they left for the future province of Alberta due to Lucy`s asma condition.   Alexander turned out to be the most successful businessman in the family, as he partnered with his brother Samuel in a retail business in London and went on to be a dominant force in the hardware store business in Alberta and British Columbia.

Brother William McBride (1817-1881), who married Charlotte Hillier, would gain renown in London as a carriage maker, as the City of London`s sixth Mayor, as the first Secretary of the Western Fair Society, and as a victim in the worst disaster in London`s history, the sinking of the ship Victoria in the Thames River in May 1881.  William and Charlotte`s great-great-grandson Bob McBride of Indian River, Ontario has done a tremendous amount of research on the McBride family over the years, and has greatly inspired me to do further research and writing of the family history.  It was Bob who made the important discovery of Elizabeth`s maiden name as McCormick, which will hopefully lead us someday to learn the names and backgrounds of the parents of the McBride children who left County Down for Canada.

Samuel McBride was also prominent in London, both as a hardy tinsmith (a trade often contracted as “tinker“), and in many capacities as a volunteer, including two decades of service as an alderman, as an officer in the Volunteer Fire Brigade, as Secretary of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery Society, and with a number of church-related activities.  While still a teen-ager, he served in the militia called  up in response to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  Samuel was in relatively good health up until his death at 86 in 1905.  During his later years he was respected as a London pioneer, and was the subject of several feature stories by local newspapers.

Eliza also enjoyed 86 years of life.  She married Alexander Lowrie and had a son Edwin and daughter Eliza Jane.   Family historian Harry Bapty married Eliza Jane Bapty and they had five children.

 

 

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Obituary information on Samuel`s mother Elizabeth McCormick and his first wife Elizabeth Webster in the Christian Guardian publication.

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Bios of William McBride and Samuel McBride written in the 1920s by descendants.

 

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Alexander McBride (1833-1912) was born in Cobourg, Upper Canada, the only child of the original McBride-McCormick family from County Down to be born in Canada. He was the best businessman in the family, starting a hardware store with his tinsmith brother Samuel. He moved west in the 1880s and was mayor of Calgary in 1896. His Calgary-based company established hardware stores in Alberta and British Columbia, including Cranbrook where his son J.D. McBride ran the local store, and Rossland, where his nephew George Walter McBride was manager, and his great-nephew Roland Leigh McBride later worked before joining the Wood Vallance company in Nelson.

 

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In June 1994, soon after I began researching the family tree, I visited George and Jean McBride in London, Ontario. They gave me a wonderful tour of the city, including the Mt Pleasant Cemetery where more than 20 McBride descendants and extended family members are buried. George is a descendant of William McBride, who came to Canada as a 14-year-old in 1831, and his wife Charlotte Hillier. In the photo, George and Jean are beside the tombstone of William and Charlotte. Photo by Sam McBride

 

Boyhood memories of London, Ontario in the 1860s and 1870s by Walter Clement Morgan

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by Sam McBride

Later in life, my paternal great-grandmother Fanny Morgan McBride`s brother Walter Clement Morgan (1861-1940) wrote an excellent seven-page story of his memories growing up in London, Ontario.   Based on correspondence with his niece Edith McBride Munroe, it appears he wrote down his memories in response to her request.   Edith (1884-1965) was the younger sister of my grandfather Roland Leigh McBride (1881-1959), as well as brother George Everett McBride (1877-1954) and sister Fanny Josephine McBride Rollins (1883-1965).

Walter Morgan was born December 14, 1861 in London, Ont., and died in 1940 in Buffalo, New York.  He was the youngest child of the Morgan family.  His eldest sibling, sister Fanny (born in Monmouthshire in 1848, died in London, Ont. in 1919) was a dressmaker and an outstanding soprano who sang as a professional before marrying Richard McBride, and then for many years in London churches.  The other siblings were Fred (born in 1851), Alice (born 1858), Bessie (born 1858) and Margaret (born in 1850 and died young).   They are mentioned in Walter`s memoirs, along with Fred Lashbrook, whose wife Ella McBride was a cousin of Fanny`s husband Richard McBride (1843-1921).   Walter worked as a railroad clerk and moved to the United States in 1881.

Walter`s parents — farmer James Morgan (1823-1907) and wife Margaret Hanbury (1818-1896) — emigrated with baby Fanny from Monmouthshire to Canada in 1849 and settled in London, Ontario, where the McBride family from County Down in Ulster had settled nine years earlier.   James Morgan was the son of James Morgan Sr. (1800-1843) and Anne Constance (1800-1845.  Margaret Hanbury was the daughter of Clement Hanbury (1778-1858) and Mary White (1798-?).   The documentation is not solid, but we believe Clement Hanbury was the son of Thomas Hanbury (1745-1819) and Mary Hetherton (1750-1813), connecting to a line of aristocratic Hanburys going back to the 1100s.

Here is Walter Morgan`s story about Life in London.

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Walter Morgan also wrote a letter to his niece Edith which mentions his memories of growing up in London, Ontario.

 

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page 1 of Walt Morgan letter to Edith McBride Munroe

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page 2 of Walt Morgan letter to Edith McBride Munroe

 

 

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Fanny Morgan as a young lady.  Family collection

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At the 1917 marriage in London, Ontario of Edith McBride and Garfield Munroe, her parents Richard McBride and Fanny Morgan pose with the young couple.  Family Collection.

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Fanny Morgan concert poster, 1868

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obituary of Fanny McBride in 1919.

 

Edith with McBrides in Nelson

c. 1956, from left: Winnifred Foote McBride, grandson Sam McBride, Roland Leigh McBride, Edith McBride Munroe, and Dee Dee Dewdney McBride. Photo taken at Nelson, B.C. house with Central School in background. Family collection.

 

 

 

 

 

Dewdney Trail timeline since completion in 1865

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Here is a timeline of significant events and circumstances with the Dewdney Trail since its completion in the fall of 1865.

1865-1898 – Dewdney Trail was the main east-west link between Kettle Valley and Columbia Valley.

nov11 2015 0301905 – West Kootenay Power and Light built a transmission line west of Rossland, using parts of the Dewdney Trail for their access road and right-of-way.

Early 1920s – Cascade Highway built between Christina Lake and Rossland.  The new road crossed the Dewdney Trail many times, but did not follow it for any distance.  Dewdney Trail continued to be used by local ranchers and farmers for moving their cattle and as a horse trail, while the Cascade Highway became important for larger conveyances.

1949 – Completion of Hope-Princeton Highway

1962 – Highway between Christina Lake and Castlegar completed.

Oct. 13, 1963—Ribbon-cutting for Salmo-Creston Highway.

1972 – B.C. Parks Branch did a reconnaissance of the Christina Lake to Patterson portion of the trail and found that 70% of the original trail was still intact.

1972-1975 – Parks Branch in cooperation with the Forest Service works to restore Dewdney Trail section between Christina Lake and Paterson, including interviews with old-timers.

Mid-1970s – archaeological study done on portion of the Dewdney Trail between Grand Forks and Christina Lake by M. Friesinger.

Late 1970s – B.C. Highway installed lines parallel to the West Kootenay Power line, but on a grander scale.

96plan00011985 – A forest fire burned over the 2 km section of the Dewdney Trail along the Wild Horse River, which was the best-preserved section of the trail in the East Kootenays.

1989 – Corridor Plan for the Dewdney Trail produced under the Recreation Corridors program.

April 10, 1991 – Portions of the Dewdney Trail were designated as a Historic Site by provincial Order-In-Council.  Designated portions on Crown Land along the Wild Horse River; near the headwaters of Summit Creek and down to the Kootenay River; and from the Rossland Summit (Record Ridge – Mount Sophia Pass) to Christina Creek.

May 24, 1995 – Memorandum of Agreement on Heritage Trail was signed by the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture.  The trail has also been designated as a forest recreation trail under the Forest Practices Code of B.C., and as an Archealogical Site under the Heritage Conservation Act.

March 1996 – Dewdney Trail Management Plan for Trail Portions on Public Forest Lands in the Nelson Forest Region published and distributed.  The Dewdney Trail Corridor is considered to be 100 meters on either side of the trail centerline.

October 1996 – In line with the Management Plan, the Ministry of Forests commences a procedure of Alteration Permits established under the Heritage Conservation Act, including rehabilitation measures for disturbed parts of the trail.

September 1998 – Mapping and assessment conducted by Champion Contracting for the Forest Service on sections of the Dewdney Trail, including the Santa Rosa Summit, Santa Rosa Creek, Big Sheep Creek to Corral Creek, Corral Creek to Cascade Summit, Cascade Highway Summit, Lost Creek,

closeup of installing dew trail sign1999 – Location of the trail is plotted using a GPS unit.  The GPS plot corresponds to the location found by B.C. Parks in 1972.

September 2015 – incorporation of the Dewdney Trail Heritage Society, focusing on protection and preservation of the section of the Dewdney Trail between Christina Lake and Rossland.

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.

helen cat and father fred

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.

helen with noel and gterald on lawn in victoria with dog and cat

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.

3 fritz at bedford chap 2sm

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.

bertha in victoria 1906

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.

dally new

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.

bertha gray peters 1944

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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