Thursday, December 11, 2014

Postcards #40 - 47th Battalion C.E.F., the Vernon Army Camp, and Dick.


This postcard is particularly meaningful to me - for several reasons.

For one thing, this is the first in a group of 6 postcards that document one man's journey from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, to England in 1915 ... for the Great War.  I don't know who he was or if he ever came back.

Another reason that this postcard is meaningful is because it was sent from Vernon, British Columbia.  The town where I was born and raised.  I lived there, in the same house, until I was 19.  And the Army Camp (which still exists there today as the Vernon Army Camp Summer Training Centre or VACSTC) was a big part of the summer in Vernon - the Cadets would come and parade and train for the summer months - from all over BC.  They would often be seen walking down the hill from the camp to the downtown when they had time off.  A friend of mine married one of them.  So to find a nearly 100-year-old postcard from the Vernon Army Camp in this collection just shows the spiderweb-like connections in our lives.

Here is a shot of the army camp from a different angle in 1915:


This photo is courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.  Please see the link for copyright information.

Here is a satellite shot of the army camp - it may well be larger that what I'm showing (my dad and possibly a few other people reading this will know and likely tell me how big it is) but these are the main structures that are there now.  During WWI, I suspect they used a great deal of the land around Vernon.  I think it's pretty clear that there is a large church and part of a neighbourhood intruding at the top left of the photo, but the rest is mostly army camp:


When I was growing up, we used to have filmstrips in the gymnasium of our school warning us of what to do if we found unexploded mortars from WWII.  I also worked at a heritage site and a live mortar was found behind one of the buildings (many miles from here).  Training for war was a messy business.  As was cleaning up afterward.  It was a good 30 years after the second world war when I was in elementary school.  That war seemed a lot further back to me then.

The training camp opened in 1912 and in May 1915 became a central mobilization camp and training centre.  By 1916, 7000 men were training at the centre - while Vernon barely had a population of 3000.

Yet another reason that this postcard is meaningful is because it is from the 47th Battalion C.E.F.  I wrote an article and had it published in BC Studies this summer - it was about Jack's (my great-grandfather, for those who are new here) training battalion., the 143rd Battalion C.E.F.  I spent 5 years or so researching it off and on.  Well, after he went over to England, the 143rd was split up and he ended up in the 47th.  So another tie with his friend and his battalion.  I wonder if they met up when they were over there.  I also wonder if "Dick" - the author of this postcard - is the same friend that Jack said he watched die during the war.  (I have gone to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and looked for a Richard that died that day, and I have not found one.  I also have not found a reasonable Richard who signed up with the 47th battalion before November, 1915, so I'm nowhere near figuring out who this guy is).

The back of the postcard reads:  "Dear Jack We are leaving there on the 26th (of October, 1915) for New Westminster if all goes well Dick."


So Dick went from Vernon, west to New Westminster and then headed back east on the train to head overseas.  Not knowing his last name, Dick is going to be a difficult person to track down.

This postmark is from the Field Post Office at the Vernon Camp.  The photographic post card was printed by the Vernon Photo Company, which was started around 1910 by Bernard LeBlond - a British bloke from Richmond-on-Thames (a suburb of London) - who partnered with a Mr. J. H. Hunter.  The partnership dissolved in 1919, the name going with Hunter, but LeBlond continued as a photographer in Vernon for some time after (his son took over and ran the business until 1988 - I'm not sure if the business closed down at that time).*

I'll see if I can glean anymore information bout Dick out of the other postcards, but for now he is an enigma.


View next postcard post.

*Okanagan Historical Society annual 75:120

Monday, December 8, 2014

Postcards #39 - Summit Lake and Mount Wapta


From what I can ascertain from Google and other people's photos online, these are now called Wapta Mountain (as opposed to Mount Wapta) and Yoho Lake (instead of Summit Lake), just north of Field.    This is a fabulous area and is in Yoho National Park part of our wonderful National Parks system in Canada.


This postcard was written in a very light pen or pencil.  Parts of it are really not readable, but I'll do my best.  See if you can get more.


"Dear B.  We are having lovely trip expect to arrive Moose Jaw tomorrow morning.  I am sending you 50c when I arrive to as afar to get my umbrella near drug(?) store on Robson St. I was to late on Wed night I did not see ____(?) I waited til nearly ____(?) at main st.  Love from Lizzie"

I don't know who this Lizzie is.  There was a Lizzie Steele, but she lived in Scotland and died in 1912.  This is 3 years later.  She may have been a friend.  I wonder if she is going to Moose Jaw to visit the friends that wrote the previous postcard form there.

The letter was written to Bella in Vancouver - this was Jack's sister and indicates that she is indeed has moved to Vancouver to be with her brothers.  She has the same address as Jack and Nellie.

The post mark is interesting.  The one on the stamps reads Moose Jaw & Calgary R.P.O.   RPOs were Railway Post Offices, an important part of the Canadian Postal Service.  According to this website:

"Mail began to be sorted on trains in the late

19th century when the railways had developed
an extensive passenger network.



The Railway Mail Service was the elite branch
of the Post Office. It took intelligence, manual
dexterity, strength, endurance and an excellent
memory to qualify as a Railway Mail Clerk.



An annual event was the Case Examination in
which the clerk had to sort 1000 cards with
the Post Office name on them into the slot
corresponding with their correct distribution
point. The time limit was 1 hour and an accuracy
rate of less than 90% meant no salary increase.
Repeated failure led to dismissal.



The Railway Mail Service died with the removal
of the passenger trains. Mail, once sorted on
the trains, had to be brought into Post Offices
to be processed. It was many years before postal
service regained the standards it had once enjoyed
in the days of the Railway Mail Service.



The Canadian Railway Mail Service officially ended
April 24, 1971 with the last R.P.O. ending its run
by returning from Campbellton, New Brunswick to Levis, Quebec"





Thursday, November 27, 2014

Postcards #38 - More on British Columbia's last gold rush

So, as mentioned in a previous post, British Columbia's last real gold rush started in Atlin, B.C. in 1898 (shortly after the Klondike Gold Rush began, and likely because of it).  The mining season with the highest monetary returns from the area was in 1903 (1).  My Great-Grandparents apparently knew people who were in the area at some point (not sure when they arrived) and who were there more than a decade after that peak.  By that time, tourism was very popular, with hunting and sport fishing advertised to draw people to the area (2).  So the various postcard writers/recipients up in Atlin/Discovery may have been up there in relation to that activity (either as tourists or providing services).

The second post I wrote about Discovery was from someone who was up there at Christmastime.  Because of the time of the year and the text, I do assume he was living up there at least semi-permanently, and not simply as a tourist himself.  But because I don't know who the individual was, I cannot confirm that.  That first post may well have been to someone who was in Discovery visiting, but again I can confirm none of it at this point.

And to re-cap, a man named Jimmy Kinnaird, who we know to be a friend of the family and who did some gold mining, may not have been in the Atlin area at all - these postcards might not be related to him.  This is a mystery that may never be solved.  But it's sure fun to try!


This is a lithographed picture of Discovery, BC, probably closer to the time of the early gold rush rather than the tourism boom.  As you can see from the writing below, the sender states: " ... and this is good old Discovery but it is a very old photo."


The photograph was taken by H.E. Brown of Atlin and the card printed in Brooklyn, New York by the Albertype Co.  I was going to say that I suspected the paper stock was provided by that company, but I found this site that has a list of the types of postcards they printed, and I learned that this type of picture (made of dots) is a lithograph and had to be printed commercially, so now I know it the printed cards were ordered from Brooklyn.  Does the fact that it was an old photo mean that they had hundreds of these cards sitting around for a long time?  I can't imagine that they sold too many of them.

Again, here is where Discovery is in relation to Atlin:



This other postcard is also in my collection:


This is a coloured lithograph, and from the back of the postcard you can see that it was made by the Portland Post Card Company, but printed in Germany - where a LOT of postcards were produced during the "golden age of post cards," a time period which varies depending on who you reference, by was mostly 1905-1914.  No photographer is noted on the card.


There were several photographers in Atlin in these years.  I have postcards by H.E. Brown and C.W. Brown, but G.M. Taylor, L.C. Read, C.R. Bourne, Fred Warren Cartmel and the Rev. Louis H. Pederson apparently also all produced postcards in the area (3).

It only makes sense if tourism was a major economic driver in the area that postcards would be popular - not a lot of people had their own cameras, and if people did have them, the photographs were not guaranteed to be good, so postcards were an excellent way to have guaranteed good pictures of an area.




(1) Atlin:  the Story of British Columbia's Last Gold Rush.  By Christine Frances Dickinson and Diane Solie Smith, 1995, Atlin Historical Society, p.301.  If you want to order a copy, please contact the Atlin Historical Society at 3rd St, Atlin, British Columbia V0W1A0. (when I bought my copy in 2006, it cost $25).

(2) Ibid p.302

(3)  http://vancouverpostcardclub.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Postview-May-2011.pdf




Saturday, November 22, 2014

Postcards #37 - Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan!

Wow!  This is a hard one to read.  Join me on THIS particular adventure:


"Dear Friends   We arrived at our destination all very tired  I was sick the first day but the youngsters (thanks to my mother's good interpretation skills, because I couldn't read that word) were fine.  Wallis started to work Monday for the C.P. R. the prairie looks fine the crops are great the mountains were great we went thru the loop and around the principal canyons in day light.  We haven't got our trunks yet but expect to get them this afternoon.  We'll give the guy another dollar I guess he made good on that ___(?) Wallis will write later but I wrote because know you would be looking for a line pfnir2 (??)  Mrs. Arrowsmith"  As always, your expert opinions are welcome in interpreting the unknown words.

NO idea who Wallis and Mrs. Arrowsmith were, how they knew Jack and Nellie, or why they moved to Moose Jaw (actually, we kind-of can assume it's because Wallis got a job with the CPR).

Their address is listed as 170 Lillooet Street, Moose Jaw, Sask, which may be this house:


Or it may not - the one to the right hand side in the picture is #178, and the one to the left has no visible number.  But the one past that is 150.  So I'm guessing that this is 170.

But then there is an online map of Moose Jaw that shows all of the lots, blocks and plans!!  And, yes, this is 170:


So that's where they lived - The style of this house makes me thing is may have been there in 1915 - unless there was another building that burned down around that time and this one was re-built.  I'd have to look up information on it and I don't have the time or inclination to do that right now.  Let's just say we know a Mrs. Arrowsmith and a Wallis moved to Saskatchewan in the late summer of 1915 (post mark is August 24) and moved into this house or maybe one prior on this lot.

We can also see that luggage was lost even on the trains in 1915.  Or perhaps it took a long time to unload and they delivered them later, but I think more likely they couldn't locate the trunks.

But was this a mother and son, a husband and wife?  I am inclined to think husband and wife since she mentions youngsters, but she did sign "Mrs. Arrowsmith" while referring to the man as the much less formal "Wallis," so it could be mother and children.

The "loop" she is talking about is likely the Spiral Tunnels that go into the mountains in the Rockies because the grade is too steep at that location.  It is a rather popular stop on the highway to take a break and admire the technological prowess of our forebears in the early 20th century.  It's really quite amazing.

Click here to go to the website.

They are located just to the east of Field, B.C. (the very pale grey line is the railway, and the two loops go into the mountains):




I'm not sure how the railway opened in 1885 and the tunnels were not completed until 1909 - I'm assuming here, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm thinking that they had problems with the original steep curve and this was built to correct that and allow larger, heavier trains to go through.

The front of the postcard shows wonderful colourized prairie farming scenes from the day:  


So what does this tell us of Jack and Nellie?  Not much.  Aside from the fact that they were living in Vancouver and because it was addressed to both of them, we could assume that they had not yet been separated by the war (although that would be a real assumption if I didn't know they were together at that time).  

We know they had friends who moved to Saskatchewan.  But it tells us a lot about the history of the country and about what people were doing at the time.  And it's just another little piece of a larger puzzle.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Not wanting to brag ... or promote myself!

I gave a talk this week to the Wetaskiwin Genealogical Society.  They were a good group and I think the talk went over well.

Anyhow, beforehand the friend of mine who was introducing me asked if I had copies of the journal where my article had been published.  I had brought both of my copies with me.  He told me I should promote it, but I balked.  He wondered why - he was proud of my accomplishment and thought I should be able to easily advertise.

But that makes me VERY uncomfortable.  And that made me question why ...

Okay ... so I'm going to be completely honest here, and it's going to make me uncomfortable, because it makes me feel like you might think I'm bragging (and that makes me uncomfortable).  But when I was a child in elementary school, I was a pretty smart kid.  I got good grades with putting VERY little work into it (which annoyed my mother no end).  But I soon learned that I would get teased, put down, in a couple of cases physically shoved and pinned down on the playground, and chastised by the other kids when I was proud of what I had done.  I was not popular.  I think I was probably considered a braggart.  You know Hermione from Harry Potter?  Well, I think I was Hermione.

But I didn't like what it did to my ego.  I didn't like feeling like I was different, and I didn't like feeling like I wasn't popular.  I also didn't like people thinking that I thought I was better than them just because I had good grades.

So I learned to hide it.  Sort of.  You can't hide being on the honour roll or winning awards (unless you completely shut down and stop getting the good grades, which I wasn't going to do - until I got into high school, really, and my social life took over from the honour roll), but you can be super humble, not brag about your grades, be humorous and nice, and hope that people don't notice.  You over-compensate with other aspects of your personality.

Honestly, I don't know if I did this - you'd have to talk to my friends to find out if I was successful.  But in any case, the lesson I learned from school is that you shouldn't brag about yourself or what you've accomplished, and if you do talk about them, you should make them seem less important than they feel.

And that sticks with me today.  I am horrible at self-promotion.  I will share blog posts, but I find it hard to advertise them - to make them sound better than they are.  I am horrible at asking for money.  I am horrible at writing resumes and cover letters.  This has likely slowed my career somewhat.  I'm not upset about that.  I'm happy where I am.  It was just really interesting to sit down and think about why I am this way.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Postcards #36 - Port Alberni and Beacon Hill Park

I have to say, I was a little stumped by this postcard.



The address on the card is made out to "Mr. & Mrs. McCurrach, Port Alberni."  So what is stumping me?  Well to my knowledge, Jack and Nellie never lived in Port Alberni.

Port Alberni is located on a long inlet on Vancouver Island (a long trip from Vancouver in 1915):


The date on the Postcard is March 28, 1915 - an odd time of the year to embark on any sort of summer vacation on Vancouver Island.  And the 1915 Vancouver city directory has Jack working and living in Vancouver.

So who else lived in BC who might be called "Mr. & Mrs. McCurrach" (and whose postcard would end up in this collection)?  Well, I know that Jack's brother, Alexander, had two wives during his lifetime (not at the same time).  When I started writing this, I knew that his first wife was named Matilda and his second was named Mildred.  I knew that Matilda had died in 1920 and that he had married Mildred in 1923.  I couldn't find Alexander and Matilda's marriage records, though.  I checked Ancestry and Scotland's People and I was confused.

Well, I tried Ancestry again today.  And when I took Alexander's birthplace off of "Scotland," I got a hit.  Turns out that Ancestry spelled it "Soctland" on his wedding entry.  You do have to take possible spelling errors into account.  Anyhow, I found that he and Mildred were married October 24, 1907 in Ontario - turns out Alexander was living in Toronto before he moved to Vancouver.  Surprises happen every time I do this research.

It is quite possible that he and Matilda moved to Port Alberni for some time.  As a matter of fact it looks like Alexander was away from Vancouver from 1915 until 1919 or 1920.  I don't know a lot about Port Alberni, but it is quite possible that there was a bit of a boom with World War I - they were a major source for lumber and they had a western port.  So he and his wife may have gone there because of that.  Again, we may never know.  But I'm quite certain that it must have been them over there.

The postcard itself was sent from Victoria and shows a fountain in Beacon Hill Park - the Central Park of Victoria.  Beacon Hill Park would soon take on a certain significance in Jack McCurrach's life, but not yet.  From what I can find online, this particular fountain is no longer there, but Beacon Hill continues to be a beautiful public park right beside downtown Victoria.  If you every visit the city, you must visit the park.

The writing on the card states:  "I guess you will now be settled in your new quarters.  This is a great town for weather.  It has been simply great since I arrived.  Beautiful sunshine all the time.  Kind regards, B. Johnstone."

I do not know who B. Johnstone is.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Postcards #35 - a sweet little tidbit derived from the 1891 census

When doing historical research, it is sometimes the smallest things that stand out the most.

in 6 previous posts I've talked about Sarah.  At first, I didn't know who she was - a postcard that appeared to be from Madeira was all that I had.  In the next postcard about the Seaforth Highlanders, I found out that Sarah was in Burghead.  After a couple of other postcards, I came across one that narrowed it down to three Sarahs.  Then to one - Sarah Sandeson.

I still didn't have a lot of information on who Sarah was or how she knew the McCurrach family.

So I went back to the 1891 census.  Here we find out that the McCurrach family was living in Burghead.  Is it possible to see if the families lived near to each other?

Indeed it was - the addresses of each family are listed on the census.


The McCurrachs are at 41 King Street.


The Sandesons are at 19 Brander Street.

And in relation to each other, those addresses are like this:


You'll also note that at the time John McCurrach (Jack's father) was a Railway plate layer and Sarah's father was a blacksmith.  They may have worked together, but even if they didn't, the children would have gone to school together (Ann McCurrach being 8 and Margaret Sandeson being 7 - Sarah and Jack both being 3 - and the Burghead Primary school had been built in 1875), and the families undoubtedly knew each other simply through their geography.

At this point I can still do little more than guess, but their proximity in space and age makes it a pretty educated guess as to their friendship.  The McCurrachs moved away after that, but the families obviously stayed in touch.  Jack also had a sister named Isabella - I have no idea if she was named after Sarah's mother, but it is possible.

Such a small thing to look at addresses and look at a map, but it tells a tale.