Online Auction in support of new Kaslo Library surpasses fundraising goal

Leave a comment

by Sam McBride

The Online Auction in April 2022 in support of the New Library Project in Kaslo, British Columbia raised a total of $22,396 – more than 10% above its fund-raising target.

Anne Heard, chair of the Kaslo and District Library Board, said she was thrilled with the response to the auction, as it once again exceeded all expectations.  Special thanks go to a long list of donors who provided an appealing variety of Kootenay-style experiences, services and products to bid on.

Bids came in from many parts of B.C., and from as far away as Quebec, California and Texas.  Items up for bid included adventures like ziplining and historic tours; places to stay or visit in Kaslo and Ainsworth; beautiful art work including prints, paintings, quilts, and stained glass; services from massage to yardwork to ancestry research; and music, including lessons, entertainment, and Kaslo Jazz Fest tickets.  The auction ended with a lively bidding war to win a priceless BC Totem Pole created by Godfrey Hunt – Kwakiutl, of the Thunderbird, Whale, and Chief Women.

The auction was part of an ongoing effort to raise funds to build a new library in Kaslo.  Last year an accessible downtown location at the corner of 5th St and Front Street was acquired via Village of Kaslo support, grants from Columbia Basin Trust and Community Fund of North Kootenay Lake Society (CFNKLS), several donations, and the first online auction in 2021. Since then, an additional $308,000 has been raised to go directly towards planning and constructing a new library.   

Currently the Planning team is working with Carscadden Stokes McDonald Architects to update the design, incorporate energy efficiencies and carbon neutral materials, and acquire more accurate class B costing to prepare for a federal grant application.  Stay tuned!  Updated plans will be presented in an open house this summer. Visit the Kaslo library website for details.

In her comments on the auction, Kaslo Mayor Suzan Hewat said “Congratulations on exceeding your fundraising goal”.  Comments from bidders included “What a wonderful selection of unique items in your fundraising auction,” “Go Kaslo library!”, “I celebrate the new library plans & the board as well as all the community members whose participation will bring it about,” “Happy to support this very exciting project! “, “Good luck with your fund raising!  I love Libraries!”.

Fun Online Auction is Raising Funds for Building the New Kaslo and District Public Library

Leave a comment

by Sam McBride

The Online Auction to raise funds to build the new Kaslo and District Public Library continues this weekend, with bids closing at 7 pm on Sunday, April 10, 2022.

The auction features more than 120 one-of-a-kind experiences, services and products. Check out the auction site at

Among the offerings donated for the auction by local residents and businesses are waterfront accommodation, boat trips, ziplining, and original artwork, as well as botanical, garden and historical tours. I am pleased to be offering 10 hours of family tree research as one of the auction offerings.

The great response to the 2021 Online Auction enabled the completion of purchase of land for the new library at the corner of Front and Fifth streets in downtown Kaslo, B.C. (pictured below). A key goal of the project is for the new building to be carbon emission free.

Proceeds from the 2022 auction will help build the much-needed new library. Donations are also greatly appreciated!

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

Leave a comment

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 (

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

Leave a comment

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

John James Foote and Wilhelmine Edith James and Four Daughters Moved from Perth, Ontario to a New Life in Nelson, B.C. in 1899-1900

Leave a comment

by Sam McBride

Snowbound and virus-wary in January 2022, this seems like a good time to update and share family history info on great-grandparents John James “Jim” Foote and Wilhelmine Edith James (always known by her middle name Edith). Here are some stories and pics of Jim and Edith and their five daughters (never had a son), as well as Nelson Daily News clippings that describe their lives in the young City of Nelson.

Jim Foote was born in 1861 in Morristown in northwest New York state, on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River. The land the farming family saw in the distance across the river was Canada. Jim was an eight-month-old baby when his father John Morris Foote left home to serve as a dispatch rider in the New York 142nd regiment in the U.S. Civil War. After Corporal Foote suffered disabling injuries in the last battle of the war at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865, his children had to step up to work the family farm in the years ahead. The Foote ancestors have been traced back to the early 1800s in New York, and the original Footes are thought to have left England for America in the 1600s.In the mid-1880s Jim ventured into Canada in pursuit of new opportunities.

John James “Jim” Foote (1865-1921)

In Perth (about 100 km south of Ottawa) Jim met Edith James (1865-1941), whose great-grandparents Edward James and Jane Godkin left County Wexford in Ireland after their farm was destroyed by rioters in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. With some compensation from the Crown, Edward and Jane and their children settled several years later in Upper Canada farmland near Perth. Jim and Edith married in 1888, against the wishes of her parents who thought she could do better than the wandering American.

At some point Jim gained experience in building trades that served him well years later when he worked in Nelson. At age 38 in 1899 he came west to southeastern British Columbia to take on a job as mine blacksmith at the Silver King Mine near Nelson. At the time, there was strong demand for tradesmen and miners in West Kootenay mines to replace staff who quit their jobs to join the frenetic Klondike Gold Rush to the Yukon. A year later, in July 1900, wife Edith and daughters Winnifred (age 11) Lillian (9), Gladys (6) and Isobel (3) joined Jim in a rented cabin in the townsite next to the mine, where the three older girls attended classes in a one-room schoolhouse along with about 10 other children of mineworkers.

Wilhelmine Edith James (1865-1941) in photo taken in about 1890 in Perth, Ontario

In 1902, after the birth of a fifth daughter, Marion, Jim got a job as carpenter with the City of Nelson’s construction department, and the family moved to a rented house in Nelson on Hall Mines Road near Cottonwood Creek, not far from where the Alpine Inn is today. According to a civic directory, Jim was in charge of Nelson sidewalks in 1910. At the time of his death from tuberculosis in 1921 he was Nelson’s superintendent of construction. Daughter Marion, who worked as a clerk at Nelson’s Hudson Bay Store along with sister Isobel, caught TB about the same time as her father, and died from the lingering illness in 1923.

Winnifred “Winnie” Foote (right) and her mother Edith

Before marrying my grandfather Roland Leigh McBride in 1914, Winnie worked as a clerk in the Nelson Post Office, which was an opportunity to get to know everyone in town. After attending Normal (teaching) school in Vancouver, Lillian taught in the small, relatively remote communities of Shoreacres, Renata, Ainsworth and Harrop before teaching at Central School in Nelson until marrying Wood Vallance employee Wilfrid Allan in 1915. Gladys was a stenographer with the Brackmen-Ker Milling Company in Nelson where she met Colin Moir, and they settled in Medicine Hat, Alberta after marrying in 1920. Isobel married Eddie Murphy, the sports-minded son of a pioneer Nelson family, in 1921 and subsequently worked with him and his brother Howard at the Murphy Brothers Painting and home decoration business on Baker Street. The only daughters to have living children were Winnie McBride (boys Leigh and Kenneth) and Lil Allan (boys Blake, Jimmy and Alex, as well as daughter Margot who died at age 12).

Edith Foote in about 1910

Edith continued to reside in Nelson until her death at age 76 in 1941. In the 1930s she was a founding member of the Nelson Old-timers Association headed by longtime family friend J. Fred Hume, with membership restricted to residents who had lived in Nelson since the 1890s (which included the year 1900 when she and her children arrived). According to family history notes of her grandson, Judge Blake Allan (1916-2009), “Nana Foote worked hard every day of her life. When she had time to relax, she would play hymns softly on the piano”.

Jim Foote beside construction project, in about 1910 in Nelson, BC
Edith Foote, in about 1925 in Nelson,
Robert Lillie (left, sitting on chair) and Mrs. Lillie (righ;t, above) with the Foote family in about 1908. The Footes and Lillies were friends in Perth, Ontario before both families came west to Nelson, BC. The Lillies were first, arriving in early 1890s.
Death of Jim Foote announced in Nelson Daily News April 25, 1921. Typo in headline, should read “Foote”
Funeral report for Jim Foote in April 1921 Nelson Daily News
Obituary for W. Edith Foote in December 1941 Nelson Daily News

Captain F.T. “Fritz“ Peters, VC is Among Six Former CPR Employees to be Honoured in a new Memorial at Canadian Pacific site in Calgary


by Sam McBride

On Remembrance Day 2021 I was very pleased to participate in the dedication of a new CPR memorial in Calgary, Alberta in honour of six former CPR employees who won the Victoria Cross in either World War One or World War Two.

At the ceremony I represented my great-uncle Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, US DSC, RN, who had been a third engineer with CP Ships off the coast of British Columbia before earning the VC for his valour in leading the naval attack on the port of Oran, Algeria in the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942.

The ceremony followed strict Covid protection protocols which limited the number of attendees, but the event was live-streamed for TV viewing, and later made available on the CP web site.

I was interested to see that one of the other heroes honoured in the CP memorial was Captain Ronald Neil Stuart, VC, DSO, RD, who, like Fritz, was an officer with the Royal Navy. It is likely that the two knew each other, particularly in association with Q Ships in World War One. Q ships were Allied ships with hidden weaponry. They would appear to be helpless transport ships that would be an easy target for German u-boats. As soon as the u-boats above the surface of the water were in range, the gunnery would come out and start firing on the vulnerable enemy subs. Stuart`s service on Q ships was recognized in his decorations, while Fritz was captain of a ship that did a dramatic rescue at sea of Royal Navy crewmen whose Q ship had sunk. Stuart served under Capt. Gordon Campbell on a Q ship where he won the Victoria Cross in 1916. A year later, Fritz Peters led the rescue of Campbell and crewmen whose Q ship was sunk by a U-boat.

Fritz Peters in 1942. Family photo.

BACKGROUND and CITATION: “Frederick Thornton Peters was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, on 17 September 1889, son of the Attorney General and the first Liberal Premier of that province. He was educated at St. Peter’s Private School, later went to school in Victoria, British Columbia, and from there to Naval School in England.

He graduated as a midshipman and three years later he received his commission as a sub-lieutenant.

Peters’ military career encompassed three stints of service. After cadet training in 1905, he went to sea as a midshipman with the Channel Fleet, and then service on gunboats and destroyers in the China Station of Weihai before retirement as a lieutenant in 1913.

One of the jobs Fritz had after his first retirement from the Royal Navy in 1913 was as third engineer with Canadian Pacific Railway ships in the interior of British Columbia, including service on the Kootenay Lake sternwheelers.

He left that position when he rejoined the Royal Navy in August 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.

During the First World War he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, the first ever given to a Canadian, and the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action.

VC Action:

Frederick Thornton “Fritz” Peters was 53 years old, and a captain in the Royal Navy during the Second World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC:

Operation Reservist (part of Operation Torch, the Allied landings in French North Africa) was an attempt to capture Oran Harbour, Algeria and prevent it from being sabotaged by its French garrison. The two sloops HMS Walney and HMS Hartland were packed with British Commandos, soldiers of the 6th US Armored Infantry Division and a small detachment of US Marines.

On 8 November 1942 Captain Peters, commanding in Walney, led his force through the boom towards the jetty in the face of point-blank fire from shore batteries, the sloop La Surprise, and the destroyer Epervier. Blinded in one eye, he alone of 11 officers and men on the bridge survived. Besides him, 13 ratings survived Walney sinking. The destroyer reached the jetty disabled and ablaze and went down with her colours flying. Captain Peters and a handful of men managed to reach the shore, where they

were taken prisoner. Hartland came under fire from the French destroyer Typhon and blew up with the loss of half her crew. The survivors, like those of Walney, were taken prisoner as they reached shore.

Captain Peters was also awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross for the same actions.

Citation: “Captain Peters was in the ‘suicide charge’ by two little cutters at Oran. Walney and Hartland were two ex-American coastguard cutters which were lost in a gallant attempt to force the boom defences in the harbour of Oran during the landings on the North African coast. Captain Peters led his force through the boom in the face of point-blank fire from shore batteries, destroyer and a cruiser – a feat which was described as one of the great episodes of naval history. The Walney reached the jetty disabled and ablaze, and went down with her colours flying. Blinded in one eye, Captain Peters was the only survivor of the seventeen men on the bridge of the Walney. He was taken prisoner but was later released when Oran was captured. On being liberated from the gaol, he was carried through the streets where the citizens hailed him with flowers. He won the D.S.O. and D.S.C. in the last war. He was born in 1889.” – The London Gazette, 18th May 1943

Four other VC recipients who previously worked for CPR

In addition to Capt. Peters and Capt. Stuart, the other four Victoria Cross recipients who formerly worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and are honoured at the new memorial are Sergeant Major John Robert Osborn VC, Private Michael James O’Rourke VC, Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, MM, and Private James Peter Robertson VC.

New CP memorial in Calgary in honour of Victoria Cross winners who formerly worked for the CPR. Dedicated Nov. 11, 2021

Six Leitch Family Victims of the 1903 Frank Slide Rest in Old Cranbrook Cemetery

Leave a comment

by Sam McBride

On a recent trip to Cranbrook, British Columbia I took the opportunity to visit the Leitch family graves in the Old Cranbrook Cemetery for the first time.

The infamous Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass in the early morning of Wednesday, April 29, 1903 smashed into the Leitch home, immediately killing the parents Alexander and Rosemary Leitch, and their sons John Alexander Leitch (born in 1890), Allan Roy Leitch (born in 1894), Athol Osbourne Leitch (born in 1896) and Wilfred Jamieson Leitch (born in 1898). The three daughters — Jessie, May and Marion — were all extremely fortunate to survive the slide.

The story of two-year-old Marion, who had been sleeping in her parents’ bedroom, miraculously ending up outside the house unhurt on a pile of hay caught the imagination of people throughout the world, including some who distorted and sensationalized her story claiming there was no identification associated with her, “so they called her Frankie Slide”. In truth, most Frank residents survived the slide, including Marion’s sisters. There was never any doubt about Marion’s identity — except among people who believed the myths associated with the slide, most notably the Frankie Slide distortion. Marion was raised by her uncle Archibald Leitch and his family in Cranbrook in the East Kootenay region of BC, then pursued music studies in Vancouver and settled in Nelson in the West Kootenay. She taught piano in Nelson for almost 50 years, and I remember her well as one of her students. In 2015 I recorded my memories of Marion in a story for the Nelson Star newspaper which won a provincial history writing award.

Seeing the gravestones of Marion’s relatives who died in the slide was a moving experience for me. There are three gravestones: one for the Leitch parents, one for the two older boys and one for the two younger boys. The graves are in the Leitch family section of the cemetery that includes their cousin Emma Leitch, who had died from tuberculosis at age 21 on April 15, 1903, just two weeks before the Frank Slide, and her father Archibald Leitch, who was prominent on the Cranbrook logging industry, and died in 1911. Marion (1900-1977) and her husband Larry McPhail are buried in Nelson Memorial Park.

Here are pics I took of the Leitch gravestones, as well as a poignant report in the Cranbrook Herald of the funeral at the Cranbrook Presbyterian Church on Sunday, May 3, 1903. Today, Frank in southwest Alberta is about a two-hour drive from Cranbrook, but in 1903 the only way to travel in that area was by rail. and the Frank Slide crossed and covered the CPR line. In retrospect, it is remarkable that all of the funeral, casket and burial arrangements could be completed in just a few days. Train arrangements were greatly hindered by the slide which crossed and covered the rail line. The bodies of the parents and two older boys were quickly found, but it took the team of rescuers several hours to recover the bodies of the two younger boys.

The gravestone for the parents is in the middle, with the two older boys buried together on the right, and the two younger boys buried on the left.

Moss is getting onto the gravestones.
. Stone for the two older boys buried together. Note the words “killed at Frank”
Gravestone for two younger boys Athol and Wilfred Leitch

Report in the Cranbrook Herald, May 7, 1903, of the Leitch family funeral on Sunday, May 4. 1903.

these three photos are from the tourist display at the Leitch Collieries provincial historic site in the Crowsnest Pass, named after Alexander’s brother Malcolm Leitch..
The best-preserved and most stylish gravestone in the Leitch plot at the Old Cranbrook Cemetery is the one for Alex Leitch`s brother Archibald Leitch and his wife Louisa Leitch. They raised their niece Marion Moore Leitch (1900-1977) at their home in Cranbrook after her family was decimated by the Frank Slide. Archibald was prominent in the community in lumber and railways. Sadly, Marion was teased as a young girl growing up in Cranbrook because of the Frankie Slide myth and song. The notoriety bothered her for the rest of her life. By the 1960s when I knew her as a piano student she was still bitter about the Frankie Slide nonsense.

The gravestone of Marion and Larry McPhail in Nelson Memorial Park. Marion was always proud of her Leitch ancestry, as is made clear on this memorial.

Marion Leitch as a young girl. By this age, she may have moved from Cranbrook to Vancouver where she received advance training in piano and music generally. Provincial Archives of Alberta photo

Editor note: For reference, here is the text of the article I wrote in 2015 for the Nelson Star about my long-ago piano teacher Marion Leitch McPhail, titled `The Nelson Woman Who Hated Being Famous`

`Don`t ever ask Mrs. McPhail about the Frank Slide!“

That was the warning my mother Dee Dee gave me as I left home to walk a half mile to Marion McPhail`s house at 808 Carbonate Street for my first piano lesson with her. Earlier that day my father Leigh and grandmother Helen separately told me not to mention the Frank Slide in the presence of Marion McPhail. It was September of 1960 and I was an eight-year-old apprehensive about what was going on.

I remember finding it hard to imagine the large, red-haired lady with horn-rimmed glasses in her sixties as the baby who miraculously survived unhurt after Turtle Mountain crashed down on the coal-mining town of Frank in 1903. The story I heard from family and friends was that everyone in Frank except Baby Marion died in the Frank Slide. The topic would inevitably come up in our annual drives from Nelson through the Crowsnest Pass to visit relatives in Alberta. Someone would always comment on the enormous boulders on each side of the road, and that bodies of victims of the slide – perhaps Mrs. McPhail`s relatives — were entombed directly below us.

I learned later that Marion`s older sisters Jessie and May Leitch also survived the slide, as did about 90 per cent of the residents of Frank, as their homes were safely away from the slide path. The Baby-Marion-As-Sole-Survivor story was one of several myths about the Frank Slide that would bother Marion for the rest of her life.

For her, the most annoying nonsense was “The Ballad of Frankie Slide“, a simple rhyme of unknown origin that told of the little baby discovered alone on a pile of straw with no identification, “so they called her Frankie Slide“. The line about calling the baby Frankie Slide was used again in the Stompin` Tom Connors 1968 song “How the Mountain Came Down“.

As it turned out, I managed to get through four years of weekly piano lessons with Marion without ever mentioning the Frank Slide. However, it instilled a curiosity in me that continues to this day, almost 40 years after she died in Victoria at age 76 in 1977.

In recent years, I have visited the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre several times and corresponded with their staff and fellow researchers. Most of their information on Marion and the extended Leitch family came from Marion`s daughter Sheilah, who was driving by in September 2003 and decided to visit the Interpretive Centre. She provided a wealth of information on the Leitch family, and what really happened to them in the Frank Slide, and after.

Marion`s parents Alexander and Rosemary Leitch were born in Quebec and settled in the late 1880s in Manitoba where Alex joined his three brothers in flour milling at Oak Lake. By 1899 Alex had moved to Killarney, Manitoba where he operated a grain elevator. Government records show that Marion Moore Leitch was born December 29, 1900 in Killarney in the sub-district of Turtle Mountain – ironically the same name as the mountain in the southwest corner of the future province of Alberta that would collapse into the Frank Slide at 4:10 am on April 29, 1903.

Marion Leitch McPhail and daughter Sheilah in Nelson, BC in about 1940. Provincial Archives of Alberta photo.

In 1901, after the Killarney grain elevator burned down, Alex bought a general store in Blairmore. A year later, after bringing his family from Manitoba, he saw that the new town of Frank just a few miles away was booming, so they moved there and established the Leitch General Store. He bought a cabin and renovated it for his large family. They were a musical family who regularly gathered around the piano to sing songs. “We had brought a great many books with us, and were a happy, congenial family,“ Jessie Bryan wrote in a 1950 Winnipeg Free Press article on the Frank Slide.

Jessie, age 15 in 1903, wrote: “Falling asleep on that quiet, moonlit night, I awoke to the sound of a rumbling roar transcending description. “ She and sister May, 10, were unhurt because the iron frame of their bed shielded them from the weight of debris from above. Ironically, one of the first rescuers on the scene was Rev. Andrew MacPhail, the same name (though with different spelling) as Larry McPhail who Marion married in Nelson 24 years later.

“Someone heard a baby crying nearby, and found the infant daughter of the family lying in a pile of debris, partly sheltered by the angle of a broken roof,“ according to Jessie. Marion was 27 months old and definitely not a newborn baby as depicted in the Frank Slide myths.

The three girls were taken to an undamaged home and given other children`s clothes to wear. A stranger told them their parents and four brothers were dead, and their uncle Archibald Leitch was coming from Cranbrook to take them back with him. Archie Leitch had moved west in 1897 to establish Cranbrook`s first sawmill, and in 1903 was president and managing director of the East Kootenay Lumber Company.

The funeral at the Cranbook Presbyterian Church for the six members of the Leitch family on May 3, 1903 was packed to overflowing with mourners, according to the Cranbrook Herald. The six bodies were laid to rest in the Cranbrook cemetery.

The extended family decided that Marion would remain in Cranbrook to be raised with Archie`s family, and Jessie and May would go to Manitoba to be raised by uncles Angus and Malcolm. In 1907 Malcolm Leitch moved to Passburg, Alberta, on the east side of the Crowsnest Pass, to start the coal-mining venture that became known as Leitch Collieries, which today is a provincial historic site.

Today, the Frank Slide is a tourist attraction with an excellent interpretive centre.

Marion grew up in Cranbrook, and later went to stay with other relations in Vancouver where she attended high school , UBC, and received advanced piano training before settling in Nelson to make a living teaching piano and, to a lesser extent, French. The 1924 Wrigley`s B.C. Directory lists her as a music teacher residing at the Strathcona Hotel in Nelson. She married Lawrence Alexander McPhail, son of a pioneer Nelson family, in Nelson on January 11, 1927. Larry became Registrar of Titles at the Land Registry Office and was active in many Nelson charities and civic organizations, including the Nelson Little Theatre where he was stage manager for a number of shows. Marion was much less involved in community groups, aside from the local branch of the Registered Music Teachers of B.C. and the Soroptomist Club. Marion and Larry enjoyed going to parties and entertaining friends at the house.

My mother told me that she and other longtime friends of Marion were often apprehensive about what new acquaintances would say when they met Marion. She was offended when people would jokingly say “Oh, I know how old you are!“, counting back the years to the Frank Slide. Marion lost her temper when people argued with her about the Baby Marion/Frankie Slide stories they had heard and believed to be true.

In an interview with Vancouver News Herald writer (and future Member of Parliament) Barry Mather in 1949, Marion said “I was found outside near where our house had stood. No, I don`t know how I got there. The stuff they write every now and then about the Frank Baby makes me so angry. And there was no mystery about what happened to me after the slide. My uncle, Archie Leitch, looked after me. I was brought up in Cranbrook. And later in Vancouver. And my two sisters who lived were looked after by an uncle in Manitoba.“

A few years later Marion arrived home from an outing and found writer William Worden waiting beside her front door with questions on the Frank Slide. “That thing again! Won`t it ever stop? All my life people have been looking at me as if I belonged in a zoo, just because of what happened to our family,“ she said in Worden`s four-page feature story in the January 1, 1955 issue of the popular Saturday Evening Post magazine.

Marion continued: “Have you ever heard the song? It’s a mountain ballad of the worst sort – and about whom? About ‘Frankie Slide,’ the poor little baby who never knew her own name. Leitch is a good Scottish name, and I’ve known it was mine all my life. But every year, on the anniversary at least, they put that horrid thing on the radio again – and people start ringing my telephone.”

“That isn’t all. There was a radio play written, all about Frankie Slide again – and they’ve repeated it two or three times. People keep talking about me being the only survivor – but nobody seems to know how that story started. Of course, I don’t know anything about the slide or remember anything. I was a baby then – and I’m not a hundred years old now, although most people seem to expect me to be. Come inside now. I want to put on my shoes. I can’t get mad properly with my shoes off,“ she told Worden, who described Marion as a “charming matron“. According to Sheilah, her mother regarded the Worden article as the most accurate telling of the Frank Slide story.

The 1979 book “Crowsnest and Its People“ by the Crowsnest Pass Historical Society describes Marion in her Nelson years as “very crusty“. I chuckled when I read that because that was how I remembered her. As a piano teacher, she was a tough, no-nonsense taskmaster who had strong opinions and was blunt in letting you know about them. My sister Eve remembers Marion rapping her knuckles with a pointer during her piano lessons. I don`t remember that happening to me, but she often looked as if she was about to explode at me in anger, usually for not practicing as much as I was supposed to. She could tell very soon in each session how much I had practiced since she last saw me. Her displeasure was communicated by the loudest sighs I ever heard, and the most extreme eye-rolls.

She took the piano training extremely seriously and expected her students to as well. Her most effective tactic in getting students to work hard was to schedule them to perform in public recitals and

in the annual West Kootenay Music Festivals, where the fear of making a fool of yourself and losing to Trail competitors was a powerful motivator.

I never saw Marion play the piano in a public performance, but often towards the end of my lessons she would play for a few minutes beside me on the piano bench in hope that I might benefit from seeing how she did it. She would close her eyes and flawlessly play by heart some complex classical music (usually Bach, her favourite composer) that used just about every key on the keyboard. As a pianist, she had the great advantage of long fingers, made strong and supple through many thousands of hours of piano scale exercises (which I neglected to do because they were so boring). I could sense how much she loved the music, and thought perhaps it eased the pain of being falsely known as Baby Marion and Frankie Slide all her life.

I never knew how good a piano teacher Marion was because she was the only one I encountered. I recently talked to Tom Shorthouse of Vancouver who was a student of Marion`s in Nelson in the 1940s, and he had nothing but the highest praise for her as a person, musician and teacher.

My other music involvement at the time was the Nelson Boys Choir led by Amy Ferguson, whose career as a music teacher in Nelson largely coincided with Marion`s. Choir practices and performances were extremely relaxed and enjoyable compared to piano ones.

Sheilah Lawrence McPhail was a medal-winning skater with the Nelson Figure Skating Club and graduated from the new L.V. Rogers High School in 1956. She married Peter Yorke in 1966 and settled in Victoria, where daughters Jenny Lynn and Melinda Leitch were born.

Larry McPhail had a heart attack and died in 1965. In 1971 Marion retired after nearly half a century of teaching piano and moved to Victoria, where she died November 11, 1977.

Marion is buried alongside Larry in Nelson Memorial Cemetery. The name on her side of the tombstone is Marion Moore (Leitch) McPhail – one last reminder that she knew her name and was proud of it.

Copy of application for Canadian Old Age Pension was a great source of information about grandfather E.E.L. “Ted“ Dewdney


by Sam McBride

A document that has been very valuable to me as family historian is my maternal grandfather Ted Dewdney`s application for Old Age Pension in 1951, with payments to begin in 1952.

This was well before the age of photocopying, so he just filled out the application with signatures twice, and kept one copy as reference in case there were problems in receiving pension payments. Also perhaps as a model for his wife Helen subsequently applying for her OAP.

first page of Ted Dewdney pension application
insert in OAP application including details of Ted Dewdney`s transfers by his employer Bank of Montreal
final page of Dewdney OAP application

As a history-minded fellow, he may also have thought his descendants might be interested to see where he lived and worked over the years. He moved several times as a boy, as his father Walter received appointments as provincial agent and gold commissioner in the Fraser Valley and Okanagan regions of B.C. He began a 43-year career with the Bank of Montreal in Victoria a month before his 17th birthday in 1897, and retired as BMO branch manager in Nelson in the West Kootenay region of southeastern B.C. in 1940.

Pics here are of him as a young bank clerk, and more than half a century later holding me as a baby, a few months before his death in Nelson in July 1952.

I doubt that application forms of other Canadians in that era would have been kept by the government after the person died, but perhaps they were, and could be a valuable source of information on ancestors for other family historians.

If nothing else, the design and content of the OAP application form reflect the deep concern the government had that someone might claim the pension who did not meet the residence criteria. Also interesting to see the line in French in very small print at the end of the document — a far cry from the fully bilingual government forms of the current era.

Ted Dewdney holding baby grandson Sam McBride in late 1951, about the time he applied for Old Age Pension

Here are some other photos of Ted and his relatives over the years.

Ted with his family in about 1925 in Rossland. From left: son Peter, wife Helen Peters, daughter Dee Dee, and daughter Eve.
Ted (right) with older sister Rose and older brother Walter, September 1891, Vernon, BC
Ted with daughter Dee Dee in front of 820 Stanley Street house in Nelson, BC, 1942.
Ted in his office at the bank in Nelson, in about 1938.

Ted with a bank colleague, in about 1898.

Looking forward to a new Kaslo Library!

Leave a comment

By Sam McBride

I am a big fan of libraries, and also a big fan of the small, but vigorous and amazingly scenic, community of Kaslo, on the west coast of Kootenay Lake in southeastern British Columbia.  That is why I am a strong supporter of the campaign to build a new Kaslo Library in downtown Kaslo to better serve the needs of the community for years to come.

In my ongoing research into my family tree, as well as my continuing interest in general stories of West Kootenay history, I often visit the existing Kaslo Library, which has a Local History section second to none in the region.   But it is obvious that they are cramped for space in aging quarters, which restrict the library’s ability to put on programs and special events in response to community needs.

Downtown Kaslo site currently reserved for a new Kaslo Library. Hard to beat the magnificent setting, and handy location across from the Kaslo Hotel, and between Front Street Park and the Post Office. The kiosk has a selection of books, as well as information on the library proposal.

The project has secured a terrific site for the new library.  It is right where the action is on Front Street, in land next to the Post Office, and across from the Kaslo Hotel and Front Street Park.  Details of the new Kaslo Library are at

I am looking forward to participating in the big fund-raising Auction coming up in the last week of April.  I will be offering 10 hours of my service as a genealogist and family historian, as one of the items up for bidding in the auction.  I offer expertise from 30 years of experience of family history writing and research, as well as full subscription access to the records of,, ancestryDNA,  and other sources.  As a fourth-generation resident of the West Kootenay region, I regularly make postings in Facebook groups devoted to nostalgia and history.  For information on the auction —

Here are other photos I took recently of the site for the new library, which now has a kiosk with books as well as illustrations and details of the new library.

View of the site looking back to the historic Langham Hotel

I started this blog in 2011 to help in communications associated with my book “The Bravest Canadian: Fritz Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, RN — the Making of a Hero of Two World Wars” that was published in 2012 by Granville Island Press. After the marketing campaign for the book concluded, I have continued to do postings in the blog on family history and local history, which in my case tend to intersect over time.

The Finglands of California related to Dewdneys of West Kootenay are likely also related to the pioneer miner the Fingland Cabin in Silverton is named after

Leave a comment

By Sam McBride

I have long been curious about a possible family connection between my uncle John Archibald “Jack” Fingland (1907-1997) and the historic Fingland Cabin in Silverton, which is just south of New Denver, and about 20km from the mining ghost town of Sandon where Jack was born. 

The information I have from family files is that Jack’s father John James Fingland (who was also known as Jack, as well as JJ, born in Hawick, Roxburgh, Scotland  in 1878 and died in Trail, BC in 1945) came from Scotland with wife Ethel Andrew (1880-1962) and young daughter Dorothy (born in Spain where her father was working in July 1902) to Sandon in 1906, where he established an assaying business.  The family was in Sandon for a short while before moving to Kaslo, and then to Trail in 1917 where JJ Fingland worked for the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company (abbreviated as CM&S, later known as Cominco and now Teck), rising in the company to be superintendent of refineries. 

In the early 1920s, the father John Fingland built a house for his family at 102 Ritchie Avenue in Tadanac, which was later the home for many years of Eve’s brother Peter Dewdney and his wife Maxine and family.

obituary in the Trail Times newspaper of February 5, 1945

In the 1920s son Jack studied mining engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was captain of the Bears hockey team.  After returning to the Kootenays for mining work Jack met my mother’s older sister Evelyn Mary Lawrence “Eve“  Dewdney (1913-2002).  They married in Nelson in 1933, and settled in Kimberley where Jack worked for CM&S.

Eve was born in Vernon in 1913, and moved with her family to Greenwood, New Denver, Rossland, Trail and then Nelson as her father E.E.L. “Ted” Dewdney (nephew of the trail-builder Edgar Dewdney) was transferred by his employer, the Bank of Montreal.  Her mother was Mary Helen Peters (born in Charlottetown, PEI in 1887 and died in Trail, BC in 1976) who was a daughter of Frederick Peters (1852-1919) and Bertha Hamilton Susan Gray (1862-1946).  The family lived in quarters above the BMO bank in New Denver when Ted was branch manager there between 1916 and 1920.  In May, 1917 son Frederic Hamilton Bruce “Peter“ Dewdney was born in New Denver.  Then in Rossland in June 1924 the third and last child, my mother Rose Pamela “Dee Dee“ Dewdney was born. 

John James Fingland, assayer in Sandon and Kaslo and later Cominco executive in Trail. Family photo.

After retiring from CM&S JJ Fingland moved to Victoria, where he died at age 67 in 1945.  In the early 1950s my uncle Jack, aunt Eve and their children Suzanne, Jim and Diane moved to California where Jack established a construction contracting business. 

In the 1980s Suzanne and husband Buzz Feldman bought a summer cottage at Woodbury.  Among their guests over the years was her father Jack, who remembered growing up in nearby Kaslo, where photos were taken of he and sister Dorothy tobogganing.  He did not know of any family connection to the pioneer Fingland Cabin in Silverton, but enjoyed at least one visit to it and was quite interested in the story described in signs at the cabin and in tourist literature.

JJ Fingland and wife Ethel, about 1925. Family photo

From my own visits to the Fingland Cabin as well as online searches, the cabin got its name from longtime resident Alfred “Fred” Raymond Fingland, who was born in Ontario in 1865 and died in Vancouver in 1952.  Fred Fingland’s father William Fingland (1832-1906) was born in Ontario, son of George Fingland, who was born in the small community of Dumfries in southwest Scotland in about 1800. 

Jack and Eve Fingland on California coast, about 1980. Family photo
Eve and Jack Fingland beside their longtime home in Moraga, California

JJ Fingland’s father Samuel Fingland and grandfather Walter Fingland are also listed as being born in Dumfries, Scotland, which suggests there was likely a family connection between the two Fingland families years ago. Hopefully, a genealogist with expertise in Scottish ancestry will someday investigate this question. 

Fingland Cabin at Silverton is a tourist attraction.
Fingland cabin at Silverton
A.R,. Fingland obituary in Vancouver Province, October 24, 1952

Older Entries