Remembering enthusiastic B.C. family historian, Judge R. Blake Allan

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By Sam McBride

Tomorrow, May 18, 2020, will be the 11th anniversary of death of my first cousin (once removed) Robert Blake Allan (1916-2009) in his 93rd year.  He was named after his uncle Robert Blake Allan who was killed in action in 1915 in World War One.   He was known through his life to one and all by his middle name “Blake”.

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Blake graduated from University of Alberta law in 1942

He excelled as a law student at the University of Alberta, then as a soldier in England in World War Two, then as a lawyer in partnership with my dad (his first cousin) Leigh Morgan McBride in Nelson, B.C. for 20 years in the firm of McBride and Allan, and then as a provincial court judge in Nelson and later in Victoria, before concluding  his career as Deputy Judge of the Tax Court of Canada.   But I think his greatest passion was for genealogy.

I have known quite a few “keeners” in my own experience in genealogy since the early 1990s, but nobody as energized and enthusiastic as Blake.

I had long had a casual interest in my family history, as it includes some famous historical names like Cunard and Dewdney, but I don’t think I would have ever become a genealogy buff without the example and inspiration of Blake.

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1970 announcement in Nelson Daily News of appointment as provincial judge

Blake was born in Nelson, BC Oct. 7, 1916, son of Wilfrid Laurier Allan and Lillian Maud Foote.  A year later the family moved to Staveley, Alberta where the Allan family ran a general store.  The family grew there to include brother James Henry Grant Allan (1919-2010), sister Margot Francis Allan (1922-1932) and Alexander Arthur Allan (1925-2010).

The family returned to Nelson in 1931 when Wilfrid was appointed secretary-treasurer of the Wood Vallance Hardware Company, succeeding Alex Leith, who died just a few days before his scheduled retirement.  Blake went to the new Trafalgar Junior Secondary School and then Nelson High School.  From there he went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, along with several friends from Nelson, including Graeme Steed, Leigh McBride and Peter Dewdney.    After three years of war service overseas (primarily in England) he worked as a lawyer in Vancouver for a couple of years before returning to his native Nelson to join his cousin Leigh in the law partnership known as McBride and Allan, with offices at 415 Baker Street on the second floor above where Ted Allen’s Jewellery is today.  After his judicial appointment, Blake served as a judge based in Nelson for several years before transferring to Victoria, BC, where he lived the rest of his life.

He caught the genealogy bug in the late 1970s.  After moving to Victoria he joined the Victoria Genealogical Society, and was a member for about 30 years, including a decade or so as VGS Secretary.

I remember in about 1991 my dad Leigh passed on to me letters he received from Blake about the family tree.  As a history buff, Leigh was interested, but somewhat confused by Blake’s information and inquiries.   Others in the extended family made a joke about Blake’s obsession with family history, but I found it fascinating.  It got me going in family tree work and local history, which continues to be my overriding pastime in retirement years in the West Kootenay region of southeastern B.C.

Earlier in Blake’s life he tried coin collecting and stamp collecting as hobbies, but found them unfulfilling and overly competitive. Later, when he dipped his toe into genealogy while residing in Victoria, he found he really got a kick out of it, as there was always something new to learn, and another generation to pursue. He particularly liked the spirit of mutual support and collaboration with other family historians – much different from his previous hobbies.  His wife Ruth Alm was totally supportive of his genealogy obsession, saying once in amazement “he’s found relatives all over creation!”  Ruth was born in Kaslo, just a couple of sternwheeler stops on Kootenay Lake from Nelson where Blake was born.

What I found particularly remarkable about Blake was that he was as interested and helpful with sides of my ancestry that had no connection to him, as he was with the Foote line of our mutual ancestry. I was also impressed with his determination to learn computer word processing and the internet in his seventies in the early 1990s when they were much less user-friendly than they are today. Most folks in my dad’s generation did not even try, as it was so daunting.

As a former lawyer and judge, Blake knew his way around government offices.  He did not hesitate to complain if he received poor service from archives, libraries and various government authorities.  I recall him making a big stink when he viewed microfilm which was unreadable, even though the originals were quite clear.

from left, Blake Allan, cousin Ken G. McBride and Blake`s brother Alex Allan

The pic at right shows Blake, left, in 1942 in uniform in Nelson beside his cousin (and my uncle) Kenneth G. McBride (1920-1944), and his younger brother Alex Allan at right. Blake would serve in the Canadian Army in England for four years until returning home in 1946 to work as a lawyer until his judicial appointment in 1968.

The pic below is of Blake in about 1995 in Scotland, where he did extensive research on his Allan ancestors in the Orkneys who came to Canada with the Hudson’s Bay Company.

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I was impressed with Blake’s determination to discover his roots, to the point that he rented cars in Britain well into his eighties, and drove in and out of the large cities, as well as on the scary one-lane roads in the outback.  He also drove fearlessly around Italy, which was his special love even though no family connections were there.

Perhaps the highlight of his research efforts was when he phoned a library in Ogdensburg in upstate New York asking about his great-grandfather Private John Foote who served in the Civil War, and the clerk who answered his call proved to be a second cousin with the same great-grandfather, and lots of documents about him seeking compensation for his war injuries year by year until his death in 1904.

Blake outlived just about everyone else in his extended family, and was as sharp as ever when I stayed with him at his Amblewood house en route to the funeral of our mutual friend Bruce Pelmore at the Royal Colwood Golf Club.  I am quite convinced that Blake’s enthusiasm for genealogy had a large part in extending his life, and still at the top of his game.

I remember Blake as wonderful source of information on our mutual family history, as well as sides of my ancestry not related to him.  I took a different approach to research and came up with other types of sources than his more traditional approach, but it worked well for both of us.

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Annual Children`s Parade was a popular part of July 1st Celebrations in Nelson, B.C. in early 1900s

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By Sam McBride

My paternal grandmother Winnifred Mae Foote (1889-1960) enjoyed photography as a hobby in her hometown of Nelson, British Columbia from the early 1900s until the last years of her life.  As the eldest in a family of five daughters (and no sons), she liked to take photographs of her four younger sisters as they grew up, and they would in turn take photos of her.

The annual Children`s Parade that was part of the July 1st Dominion Day celebrations was prominently featured in her 1908 scrapbook that survives today as part of the Foote-McBride family history files.

The close-knit Foote sisters and their mother Edith James Foote left Perth, Ontario for Nelson in the summer of 1900 to join father Jim Foote (1861-1921) who had arrived the year before to start a job as blacksmith at the Silver King Mine.  After two years living in a rented house in the remote Silver King Townsite outside of Nelson, the girls were thrilled in 1902 to move into the vibrant city of Nelson when Jim got a job as carpenter with the City of Nelson construction department.

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Foote sisters, from left: Lillian, Isobel, Marion, Gladys and Winnie.  Family photo, c. 1904.

Win`s sisters included Lillian Maude Foote (1891-1962), Gladys Edith Foote (1894-1965), Isobel Bessie Foote (1897-1988) and Marion Louise Foote (1902-1923).   Win`s album features numerous photos of her sisters, herself and friends, usually related to a fun community event such as the Dominion Day celebrations or church picnic.

For Nelson children, their time to shine and be the focus of attention was the annual Children`s Parade down Baker Street that was one of the first events in the annual two-day holiday celebrations marking Canada`s birthday.  Here are photos from the album from 1906 and 1908 of the Children`s Parade, as well as a clipping from the Nelson Daily News of July 2, 1908 describing the first day of parades and associated July 1st events.  Also included here are a couple of newspaper ads of other special events, as well as the daily report of who was staying at local hotels during the celebrations.

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1906 Children`s Parade, Winnie Foote photo

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Two photos in Foote album of the 1908 Children`s Parade

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Another Win Foote photograph of the 1908 Children`s parade, identified as such but not included in the album.  Print quality is better, likely because it was not exposed to viewing as much as the album has been over more than a century.  Family photo.

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Ad describes on of the 1908 holiday events.

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Nelson Daily News reported a long list of visitors staying a local hotels during the Dominion Day celebrations.  NDN July 2, 1908.

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This photo in family files is not identified, but it is very likely taken in the civic field with the Gyro Bluffs in the background.  The young ladies have ribbons from winning something, which may well have been during the Dominion Day sports events.   My cousin (once removed) Blake Allan told me he thought the girl in the centre of the front row was his aunt Isobel Foote Murphy.  I am not certain about that, but there must have been either a family member or a good friend in the group for Win to paste it into her scrapbook.  Family photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie and Isobel Murphy were a pioneer couple across the lake from Nelson, British Columbia from 1920s to 1950

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by Sam McBride

I never knew my great-uncle Arthur Edward “Eddie” Murphy (1894-1950) as he died a year before I was born, but I feel a connection to him because my parents gave me my middle name of Edward in his honour.  His wife Isobel Bessie Murphy (1897-1988) was a younger sister of my grandmother Winnifred Mae McBride (1889-1960).

Eddie played and excelled at just about every team sport going on in Nelson, including hockey, baseball and lacrosse.  He was perhaps best known as an expert rower who led Nelson team to victory in regattas in Kootenay Lake, the Okanagan, Vancouver and Portland.  He and his brother Howard were prominent in Nelson with their Murphy Brothers Painting and Decorating business, which continued a business started in the 1890s by their father William James Murphy.  Isobel had a key role in the operation as interior decoration consultant.

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Gathering of family and friends in 1925 at Murphy beach across the lake from where the Prestige Inn in Nelson is located today.  Eddie Murphy is the the man on the left, and his wife Isobel is lady second from the right.  At bottom left are their nephews Leigh and Ken McBride.  Man in dark suit is Wilfrid Laurier Allan, who was secretary-treasurer of the Wood Vallance Hardware Company in the 1930s.  Family photo.

I remember Isobel well from growing up in Nelson, where she was a popular member of extended family.  She was a smart businesswoman who was renowned as an interior decorator with extensive knowledge of paint, colours, wallpaper, antiques, rugs, carpet and other aspects of home furnishing and decoration.  By the early 1970s she had largely retired, but still ran the Murphy Signs business in Nelson which included a variety of signs and billboards.  She was in top form until suffering a stroke in late 1974 that resulted in substantial dementia.  The last 13 years of her life were in the Mount St. Francis long-term care home in Nelson.

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Another photo of the group of family and friends in 1925 near the Murphy beach, looking back towards the city of Nelson. Family photo.

Isobel was one of four Foote sisters who arrived in Nelson in July 1900 with their mother Edith James Foote.  They joined their father John James “Jim” Foote who had arrived in Nelson in 1899 to start a job as blacksmith at the Silver King Mine.  The family lived in a rented cabin on Silver King townsite for two years until moving to Nelson when Jim began working in construction for the City of Nelson.  Their home by Hall Mines Road and Cottonwood Creek was rented from former Nelson alderman Thomas Slader.

The story of the lives of Eddie and Isobel Murphy are told well in their obituaries below.  The Eddie Murphy obit, likely written by his widow Isobel, was in the Nelson Daily News in March 1950.  The submission for Isobel’s obituary was written by her nephew Judge Blake Allan.  Eddie and Isobel never had children of their own, and were almost like second parents for the children of her sisters Winnie and Lillian.

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obit in Nelson Daily News, March 1950, after Eddie died at age 56.

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Isobel Murphy obit January 1988, written by nephew R. Blake Allan

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Isobel Murphy with her nephew Leigh McBride, about 1970.  Family photo.

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Eddie Murphy with a prize catch, late 1940s.  Family photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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By Sam McBride

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Welcomed by local residents.  Family photo.

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

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

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Posing for photo with local residents.  Family photo.

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

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

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Remembrance ceremony under way.  Family photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ceremony at Coriano Ridge Cemetery.  Family photo.

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Cemetery ceremony.  Family photo.

 

 

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

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by Sam McBride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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float in Nelson parade, about 1930.  McBride Family Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wood Vallance share certificate. Touchstone Archives.

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

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

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

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Nelson Daily News June 8, 1972.  Touchstone Archives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1972 long-service staff photo display.  Touchstone Archives.

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

List of Wood Vallance shareholders in 1972. Touchstone Archives.

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

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first page of 2-page Wood Vallance corporate history

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second page of 2-page corporate history

 

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

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By Sam McBride

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

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

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

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R.L. McBride in Rossland, c. 1902

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

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

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Second from right, enjoying tea party on Nelson beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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R.L. as a young father

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

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

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

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

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With older son Leigh and his brother Ken

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with Ken in 1932

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

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

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

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

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from Nelson Daily News, August 1950

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from Nelson Daily News, August 1950

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Win with camera beside Kootenay Lake c. 1907

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Win with Nelson as backdrop c. 1907

 

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Win c. 1907

 

 

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

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Win (top) with friends in a fun pose.

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Win on horseback c. 1907

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Win with friend Wilmot Steed c. 1907

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

 

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

 

 

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Win Foote, in middle of ice hockey teamates 1910

 

 

 

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Win c. 1910

 

 

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Win at far right with friends in Nelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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Win with baby Leigh 1918

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

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Win with son Leigh and baby Ken 1920

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

From left, Ken, RL, Win and Leigh

 

 

 

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

 

 

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