Renowned Nelson, B.C. boys choir director Dr. Amy Ferguson remembered on 50th anniversary of her death on February 20, 1972

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by Sam McBride

On the the 50th anniversary of the passing of Mrs. T.J.S. (Amy) Ferguson on February 20, 1972, many of her singers, colleagues and friends are reflecting on her amazing life and incredible contribution to the music scene in Nelson, British Columbia.

She was born in London, England on November 6, 1884, daughter of Daniel Spencer and Elizabeth Luce. Amy came to Nelson in 1917 with her husband, Rev. T.J.S. “Joe” Ferguson. Soon after Joe became reverend at St. Paul’s United Church in 1930 Amy established the Nelson Boys Choir which would be prominent in the Nelson and around the province and further afield for the next 41 years.

the story of the Nelson Boys Choir in 1964

I joined the choir shortly after Joe’s death in 1960. As a widow with her children grown up and on their own, she may have had more time to devote to the choir than previously. She certainly kept us boy sopranos busy with rehearsals, concerts and tours. I was amazed at how well she controlled the behaviour of choir members. If there was even a hint of talking or goofing around, one glaring stare by Amy would set the offenders straight.

While she was best known for her work with the award-winning Nelson Boys Choir, she also led other choirs of both sexes, and taught piano from her home on Mill Street for many years. Her name lives on today with the Amy Ferguson Institute (www.amyfergusoninstitute.ca).

The motto of the Nelson Boys Choir, meaning Always Faithful
Mrs. Ferguson grieved at the deaths of 7 of her Nelson Boys Choir “boys” in World War Two. A fund-raising campaign resulted in a new organ for St. Paul’s United Church in their honour.

In the 1960s and into the 70s she received numerous awards and honours for her work with the choir, including Nelson Citizen of the Year and an honourary doctorate in music from Notre Dame University. She never retired from the choir, as it was still going strong when she died, and it had recently done an Okanagan tour. A key to the success of the tours was the help of choir alumni in various cities who organized the concerts as well as billets for the choir members. They were among an estimated 800 participants in the choir over the years.

Here is a news clippings about her and the choir, as well as a variety of memorabilia courtesy of the Shawn Lamb Archives at Touchstones Museum in Nelson, and my collection.

Review in Nelson Daily News of 1934 performance,
Mrs. Ferguson receiving her honourary doctorate in music from Notre Dame University in 1970.
Nelson Boys Choir in 1961, photo taken on Mrs. Ferguson’s lawn on Mill Street in Nelson.
Note from Mrs. Ferguson to she sent me with the “Boys. Music and Mrs. F” book

Mystery of Youngest Son of Prince Edward Island Father of Confederation John Hamilton Gray Solved

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by Sam McBride

As a genealogy buff and a great-great-grandson of the PEI Father of Confederation Col. John Hamilton Gray, I have long been curious about what happened to his youngest son, Hamilton Edward Jarvis Gray, who was born Jan. 7, 1880, and his baptism/christening under that name can be viewed among the online PEI records. The mother was the colonel’s third wife, Sarah Caroline Cambridge, who would have been 38 when Hamilton was born, while the colonel was much older, at 69!

Col. Gray, who died in 1887, listed Hamilton in his will as a child to receive a third portion of his estate, along with his mother and older brother Arthur Cavendish Bentinck Gray, born in 1876. I have never been able to find out when or where Hamilton died, or anything else about his life. His mother Sarah’s obituary after her death in Bedford (north London) in 1906 did not mention him at all. Through an Ancestry search, I recently came across online the estate information of Edward Hamilton Gray of Bedford, who died May 12, 1900 at the Royal Albert Asylum. His estate of 56 pounds and change went to Sarah Caroline Gray, listed as his “widow”.

Colonel John Hamilton Gray of Prince Edward Island, Canada

It looks like Sarah moved to England, partly for a facility that could accommodate her son with mental disability, but also to keep his story “swept under the rug” to avoid damaging the general reputation of the Gray family in that era when things like that were felt to be important.

It is likely that Col. Gray decided on the middle names of “Edward Jarvis” for his youngest son in light of his admiration for his nephew Edward Worrell Jarvis (1846-1894), who had a dramatic career in Western Canada as a CPR surveyor, expedition leader, engineer and Royal Northwest Police superintendent.

As family historian, I am pleased to discover this information because it answers a lot of questions, but sad to think of the situation at the time. I know from family letters that my great-grandmother Bertha Gray Peters (1862-1946) took her five Charlottetown-born children (including my maternal grandmother Helen Peters Dewdney 1887-1976) to England some time in 1900 to live in Bedford for about a year and a half, where Helen and her four brothers (including Frederic Thornton Peters VC) went to private school. I think Bertha, who was a staunch Anglophile, thought the schools in England were far better than Canadian schools, so wanted to try them out at least. Ultimately, the cost was too much, so the family returned to Victoria, BC where father Hon. Frederick Peters had a law practice. So I suspect Bertha may have taken advantage of an invitation from her step-mother Sarah to stay at her Bedford house for an extended period. Attached are some images from my research, Sarah’s obituary in 1906, and pics of Col. Gray, Arthur Gray and Edward Jarvis. I have never seen pics of Sarah or Hamilton.

from British estate record 1900

Sarah’s other son, Arthur Gray, was a career soldier, including service in WW1 as an officer with the Royal Canadian Regiment. While stationed in Halifax, Arthur was seriously injured in the Halifax Explosion of December 1916, and went to England for treatment, marriage, and died there in 1924.

Arthur Gray is top right photo
Western Canada adventurer Edward Worrall Jarvis