1920s Gala Raises Nearly $13,000 for new Kaslo Library

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On Saturday, November 5th the Kaslo Legion was transformed into an enchanted space for a Roaring `20s Gala that raised almost $13,000 towards a new library in Kaslo.

According to Library Board Chair Anne Heard, proceeds from the event exceeded all expectations. The

land for the new library in downtown Kaslo has been purchased and architectural designs have been

developed. The proceeds from this event will greatly help the project going forward, as strong

community support and contributions are critical for securing large government and foundation grants.

Celebrants, most of whom were costumed 1920`s style, were residents of Kaslo and Nelson areas. A

total of 89 of 90 tickets were sold.

As they arrived and settled at their elegantly-decorated tables, guests were treated to charming

background music by harpist Diemm (above). Lucas Myers then provided lots of laughs with a unique telling of

Kaslo history, followed by a Kaslovian skit. After gourmet dinners, dessert featured a memorable

experience for the senses, as music by violinist Natasha Hall and pianist Yoomi Kim was paired with

exquisite chocolates prepared by Aurelian Sudan of Nelson Chocofellar.

Success would not have been achieved without amazing community support. Local businesses, services

and individuals donated 24 products and services towards a silent auction. Activity at the tables was

extensive, with winning bids totalling $5,335.

Heard thanked her fellow Gala Committee members Sabrina Edward, Mayor Suzan Hewat, Eva Kelemen,

Lynn van Deursen, and Margaret Wanke for excellent teamwork in organizing the Gala. The Langham

Cultural Centre, Jazz fest, Kaslo Concert Society, North Kootenay Lake Community Services Society, ACE

Hardware, and Front St. Market supplied the equipment and supplies needed to create ambiance and

reduce costs. Diemm and Lucas Myers donated their performances to the event, as did Cloé Bayeur-

Holland who managed the cash bar. Barb Ryason and her team created a delicious multi-course dinner,

efficiently served by five energetic JV Humphries student volunteers. Mountain Man Mike’s volunteered

as designated driver to ensure guests arrived home safely. Lynn van Deursen, as emcee, kept the

evening running smoothly. Grant sponsorship to cover some expenses was gratefully received through

RDCK’s Community Initiatives Program and the Village of Kaslo.

A special thank you is extended to the attendees who rose to the occasion by purchasing tickets and

responding to the spirit of the event. Guests left the venue with smiling faces and many expressions of

appreciation such as “so happy after such a delightful evening; thanks for everything!” and “sure hope

you do it again!”

Re-built Pioneer-era McBride Hardware Store featured in the Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook, B.C.

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I had not been to the Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook, B.C. for many years. On a visit earlier this month to Cranbrook I was very pleased to see the McBride Hardware Store (as in the year 1900) had been added to the re-created pioneer heritage park since I was last there.

Fun to see the store, as the store owners James D. McBride (1866-1941) and his brother Frank A. McBride (1856-1910) were definitely relatives of ours. My great-great-grandfather Samuel McBride (1819-1905) and Jim and Frank’s father Alexander McBride (1833-1912) were brothers who had a tinsmithing and wood stove business in London, Ontario. In the mid-1880s Alex moved west and established Calgary’s first hardware store on Stephen Avenue in Calgary. Known as A. McBride and Company, the store did a roaring business.

In the 1890s Alex McBride expanded with hardware stores in Edmonton and Red Deer in Alberta, as well as Rossland, Fort Steele and Cranbrook in British Columnia. All of the stores were manned by Alex’s sons, except for Rossland where Samuel’s son G. Walter McBride managed the store and soon bought it from Uncle Alex in about 1897. While all this business expansion was happening Alex served as Mayor of Calgary in 1896. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) decision in 1898 to bypass the well-established town of Fort Steele in its new Crowsnest Railway route resulted in Fort Steele becoming a ghost town, and the small community of Cranbrook housing a key station for the new railway. For a time, the McBride brothers had stores in both Fort Steele and Cranbrook, but soon shut the Fort Steele store down and moved its stock to the Cranbrook store.

My second cousin Bruce McBride Jennejohn (left) and I outside the McBride Hardware Store at Fort Steele in September 2022. He and I are both first cousins, three times removed of Jim and Frank McBride who had the pioneer store.

Frank moved on to another store business in Red Deer, but Jim became a fixture of Cranbrook’s retail scene until moving to the U.S. in 1920. In 1935 he returned to Cranbrook, bought back his store, and ran it until his death in a car crash near Spokane in 1941.  According to the book “Tales of the Kootenays”, James Duncan “Jim” McBride had the distinction in 1905 of owning Cranbrook’s first automobile.

The B.C. government established the heritage town of Fort Steele as a tourist attraction and educational park in the 1960s. Some buildings were moved from the original site of Fort Steele, across the highway to the current location, but the McBride Hardware Store is one of many structures there to be completely re-built on site.

Display and sign in McBride Hardware Store in Fort Steele, B.C.

My grandfather R.L. McBride (1881-1959) had worked for three years as a CPR ticket agent in London, Ontario when he decided in 1900 to leave London (where several McBride families had settled after emmigrating from County Down in Northern Ireland in 1831) in 1900 to get experience in the hardware store business in great-uncle Alex’s Calgary store and then at the Rossland store owned and manager by his uncle Walter and then during the winter of 1903-04 at the Byers Hardware store at Sandon in the Silvery Slocan region. In April 1904 he moved to Nelson to be part of the new Wood Vallance Hardware Company, where he worked for the next 46 years before retiring as President and Manager. Wood Vallance in Nelson would grow to have a huge service and distribution area, an annual printed catalogue, and more than 40 employees until fading out of business in the 1980s.  Our family’s hardware store bent ended with R.L. McBride because son Kenneth Gilbert McBride died in action in World War Two, and the other son, my dad Leigh Morgan McBride, knew from an early age that he wanted to be a lawyer rather than in retail business.

Advertisement in Cranbrook newspaper for J.D. McBride Hardware

Gala Dinner on Nov. 5th in Support of New Kaslo Library

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A century after the vibrant 1920s, the exciting spirit of that era will return with a Roaring 20s Gala of great food and entertainment at the Kaslo Legion on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 beginning at 6 pm.

Participants are encouraged to dress as fancy as they want, joining in the spirit of the night in 1920s style or 2020s style.

There will be enchanting background harp music by Diemm as delectable appetizers are served and guests check out a silent auction of imaginative items. Other entertainment includes a short set by humourist and multi-talented performer Lucas Myers as well as a special dessert feature with violinist Natasha Hall, pianist Yoomi Kim and Aureilean Sudan of Nelson’s Chocofellar. The evening will be emceed by Kaslo’s own Lynn van Deursen.

The multi-course dinner will be a festive seasonal feast with meat, vegetarian and gluten free options.

Tickets at $125 per person are on sale at the library or by email at info@kaslo.bclibrary.ca or phoning 250 353-2942. All proceeds go to the new Kaslo and District Library. More information on the library project, including architectural design illustrations, is on the library website (kaslo.bc.libraries.coop) and at the billboard in the future site of the library at Front and Fifth streets in Kaslo.

Online Auction in support of new Kaslo Library surpasses fundraising goal

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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

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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 https://kaslolibrary.ca

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

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by Sam McBride

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

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

the story of the Nelson Boys Choir in 1964

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Sam McBride

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

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

Colonel John Hamilton Gray of Prince Edward Island, Canada

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

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

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

from British estate record 1900

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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