Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Postcards #46 - the awesome power of the Internet

I had an amazing history day Monday.

Two complete strangers contacted me through this blog to share information!  How cool is that?  Thanks to those two men I now have more pieces to fit into my puzzle!

One of them, out of the blue, sent a photograph of the Woodpark Asylum.  If you remember, my great-great-grandmother (Helen Steele, nee McKenzie) worked there as I mentioned in this earlier blog post.

Thank you to Neil Gray (who contacted me and shared the picture) and to Russell at Turriff Printing Services whose pamphlet the photo was in and who got back to me when I asked if he knew where it came from (he did not).  The source of the photo is unknown at this time.  As it turns out, Neil works for the company responsible for The Ladysbridge Village development.  They now own the property and the buildings and are converting them into housing - nice looking housing.

In this photo (which is of the same series as the one I shared in that previous post) you'll see Ladysbridge Asylum, and I've circled the Woodpark building here (sorry it's black and hard to see - top centre):

In this photo, it is the building to the right of the picture in the little patch of woods:

What I had read was that it was about a mile distant.  I think it's closer.  

The other person who contacted me is a long lost relative.  He is the grandson of the child my great-grandmother stayed in Scotland to care for before coming to Canada (read about it here).  His grandmother, Peggy Black, is the reason I exist at all.  If she hadn't been in need of motherly care, my great-grandmother would have died on the Titanic.  

To my knowledge, our family had lost touch with her - apparently after she was married, because they knew her married name.  But here is her grandson (with all the research in hand, I might say) passing along photos and information to me.  Bless him.  Here's a photo of Peggy and her husband Bill Black.

I certainly see a family resemblance.

So not only am I learning about my family history, I feel like the family is being slowly brought back together as well.  How blessed am I?

View next postcard post.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Irene - the Glamazon meets Mickey on her 90th birthday

I've been doing some research for the Royal Alberta Museum.  They are in the process of building a brand new museum and populating it with new displays.  I've been doing some of the research for the displays, looking for the photographs that will help illustrate some of them.  I've been totally blessed to do something that I LOVE to do, and to get paid for it as well.  How lucky am I?

In the process of doing this research, I learned about and got to talk to a fascinating woman, Irene Jewell.  I wrote about her very briefly in this earlier blog post.  When I started the research, I only knew that Irene was a burlesque dancer who was born in Alberta and who performed at the 1959 Calgary Stampede.  She was rather famous due to her height of 6 feet 8 inches.  But I've learned more ...

Irene Jewell was born Irene Siewert on February 26, 1925 in Alberta - on a homestead north of Edmonton.  She graduated high school in Sangudo.  Her parents were not short, but she far outgrew them, continuing to grow well into her 20s.  As a girl she wanted to be a singer and dancer, but didn't have access to the training she would require.  So she became Ricki Covette - "The Glamazon" - the world's tallest burlesque dancer:

Throughout the 50s, 60s (and maybe the 70s?) she wowed them with her performances.  She was always very professional and in charge of her own career.  She made herself the success she was.  She  performed on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and was even on the Gypsy Rose Lee show!

In 1959, she was hired by Royal American Shows - a travelling show out of Tampa, Florida, that brought the Midway to the Calgary Stampede from the 1930s to the 1970s.  So that year she was a performer on the Stampede midway.

She even worked Bourbon Street in New Orleans:

After the world's first sex-change operation happened in 1957, people started to accuse Irene of being a man - this was too much for her and she left burlesque to become a real estate agent.  After some time, she told me, she also worked as a bookkeeper to a man named Chuck Mitchell - who played the title role in the movie "Porky's".  She worked for him, I believe, until he died - she mentioned having to put him into several retirement homes before he found one that would stand for his unique crassness.

At some point (I'm not quite sure when), she met Stuart Jewell.  Stuart was a cinematographer who worked for 7 years for Walt Disney.  He worked several Disney films including the Oscar-winner "The Living Desert" (1953).  He also worked on creating time-lapse photography - being at least one of the cinematographers responsible for the time-lapse footage of Disneyland being built.  They travelled around the world continuing with his photography, but he was no longer working for Disney and nature movies were going out of favour.

When I started doing this research, I told a friend of mine (who happens to do Burlesque in Calgary currently) about Ricki Covette.  She was fascinated and wanted to know more.  The following day, she told me about this article she had found about Irene - and that she was still alive.  The article was talking generally about her life, but also about the fact that she had donated some of her possessions to the Smithsonian Museum.

So I Googled and found an address I thought might work and I sent Irene a letter explaining the research I was doing.  I thought nothing more of it.  These things don't always work, and I'd done my part of contact her, if she didn't get back to me, that would be the end of it.  But a couple of weeks later I got a phone call from Irene.  And we chatted for quite a while.  She told me about Stuart and her life, burlesque, real estate, Chuck ... and how she is still concerned about keeping her weight down (!).  And then I asked her where Costa Mesa, CA (where she lives) is located.  And she mentioned it was in Orange County.

Well, my family has a bit of an addiction to Disneyland, and it's in Orange County, so as a point of reference, I mentioned it and asked if she liked Disneyland.  Well, she had never been there!!  She said she had an opening day ticket from Disneyland (not really sure if it's quite that old, but maybe) and that she was going to take it there on her 90th birthday (about a month later) and see if they would let her in.

Our conversation ended and I mulled over all of the information I had just received.  What a fascinating woman - and what an adventure she had lived.  Even at almost 90 years old, she was still as lively as ever.  She had a nurse and a "wonderful boyfriend" and seemed to still be living a very full life.  Someone to aspire to - if I live that long, I hope I am in the shape she is in!

Later that day, a bolt of lightning hit me (you know those thoughts that are just too brilliant to have come from your own mind? - yeah, one of those).  My husband had recently hired Doug Lipp of G. Douglas Lipp and Associates to come to Edmonton and do some training with some employees here.  My hubby had also been to the Disney Institute to take similar training a few years ago.  He knew people associated with Disney!!  So I asked him to send out an e-mail to a couple of people and see if anyone would be interested in asking if Irene could get in and maybe they could use it for some publicity.

Well, Doug Lipp's wife, Pam, took the bull by the horns and got in touch with the people she knows at Disneyland.  Nothing happened for a couple of weeks.  I sent her several e-mails pestering to see if Irene was going to get to go to Disneyland.  I was a little obsessed - but so was Pam.  And Pam came through - she arranged for a friend of hers, Joanne, who was the 1982 Disneyland Ambassador and who has a silver pass to the park to take Irene!  It was going to happen.

About a week away from Irene's 90th birthday, The Disneyland Public Relations and Fan Club Departments got involved, set up tickets for everyone (so Joanne didn't have to use hers) and an interview (with Erin Glover) and photo shoot.

So on Thursday, February 26th, Irene Jewell's 90th birthday, Pam Lipp (who bought a plane ticket to get down there), Joanne Duner, Irene, and her wonderful boyfriend (I think - still haven't confirmed that -it's either her beau or her nurse, but it looks like her beau) spent a beautiful sunny day at Disneyland.  They enjoyed Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion attractions.  The Dapper Dans even sang her Happy Birthday:


Strangers from Canada and the U.S., all Disney fans, fell in love with Irene's story and pulled together (some at personal expense) to make her 90th birthday a very special one.

Irene ... I hope you had a wonderful day with some great memories.  And I hope you get to go back again sometime.

Pam sent me these photos that night - I know she took at least one of them, but the rest were taken by a photographer - you can see him and an interviewer in two of the photos. She really was a Disney Princess for the day.

Irene getting her "1st Visit" and "Happy Birthday" buttons at the same time - wonder if this is the first time it's happened on someone's 90th birthday?  Probably not, but maybe for an ex-burlesque dancer!

In front of the Candy Store.

The Dapper Dans sang Happy Birthday to her.

Irene handing over her vintage ticket.

Irene loving Goofy!  (from left to right are Pam, the beau (nurse?), Irene, Goofy and Joanne.

Irene being interviewed by Erin Glover.

Irene in the shade out front.

The photographer grabbing one of her in the sun with her shades.

Riding "It's a Small World" (I haven't found out what other attractions they went on).

The gang watching the Tea Cups - this one they didn't ride.


Please check out my postcard series starting here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Postcards #45 - S.N. Leek and Elk!

When I wrote an earlier post about Atlin and the gold rush, I had this particular postcard in the pile to include with the others in that post.  But then I took a closer look at it ....

The postcard is (obviously) of a herd of elk.  And I assumed it was a herd of Elk from Atlin, because, well, that's where my head was.  But when you are doing history, you have to be a little more on the ball than that.  If you take a look, printed on the front of the card is: "COPYRIGHT 1911 BY S. N. LEEK," and on the back is printed:  "Copyright 1911 by S. N. Leek, Jackson, Wyo." as well as: "Portland, Oregon July, 1912."

Now, just because it is copyrighted by someone in Wyoming and has Oregon printed on the back does not mean that it wasn't bought in Atlin - and it may well have been - but I doubt it.  When I looked into S. N. Leek, I expected to find little if no information on a photographer over 100 years ago - the kind of stuff I normally find.  But this time I got a surprise.

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was established in 1912 - in large part due to the actions of S. N. Leek.  I'll summarize, but if you are interested, the whole story can be read here in the is article by Shannon Sullivan:

S. N. Leek homesteaded in South Park, Wyoming, in 1891.  At that time there were around 30,000 elk in the region - no longer migrating through the area because of human development, the herd stayed in the region for the winters.  Leek became a hunting guide with one of his clients being George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak fame) who gave him a camera.  

Three harsh winters put the herd in danger from 1909-1911 when numbers decreased to less than 10,000.  Local residents started to feed the Elk hay as they were dying in such numbers.  Leek took pictures of the problem, publishing them in magazine and newspaper articles and giving lectures around the country - leading to the establishment of the Elk Refuge.

If you take a look at his book found at this link, you'll see the photo that is also this postcard along with many other photos of elk and hunters and such.

(Personally, I find it strange that the people who want to help preserve animals are often the ones who also want to kill them - I mean, I understand it, but they seem like different goals.  They aren't, but it feels like it, you know.)

Anyhow, why is this postcard in this collection??  Well,  I don't know.  Maybe someone went to Wyoming.  

The fact that Portland, Oregon is printed on the back makes me think that someone went to Oregon - which is probably more like it since family members do live in Oregon - and they've been there since 1908.  The fact that 1912 is printed on the back makes me think that perhaps Nellie and Jack headed to Oregon when they got married - or perhaps the summer after.  Why they would have bought a postcard of Elk, I don't know - unless perhaps it was part of a fundraiser for the Elk Refuge.

When I was a kid, several times we went down to Yamhill Oregon to visit Uncle George and Aunty Gladys - two unmarried children of Uncle Alec - an incredibly old, deaf man who scared me (he died in 1973 at the age of 89 when I was 4, so when I knew him I was really little and not used to the elderly - and, well, he was grouchy!).  Alec had come to Oregon from Scotland and was one of my Great-Grandmother's brothers.  He and his wife, Helen (ore Ellen or Nella - depending on which census you are looking at - I bet she had a thick accent and the recorders couldn't understand her) had 7 children, I believe.

I have some wonderful memories of the visits we made to Oregon to see Uncle George and Aunty Gladys.  They had a farm and we got to collect eggs and play on the hay bales.  But the barn is what I remember the most - George had dairy cows and I remember that old, dilapidated barn (you can just barely see it in the photo below).  One year, a distant "cousin" of mine (don't ask his name, I don't know it) were plopped on the back of a rather sedate bull of George's.  Here's proof (and an image of me as a grubby farm kid):

Funny where one old, unused postcard can lead - from Atlin to Wyoming to bull riding in Oregon.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The H.M.C.S. Swansea's mascot, "Townie"

I'm doing some fascinating research right now, and some of it has me trying to find images of H.M.C.S. Swansea (a River Class frigate in WWII).

In looking for these photographs, I've come across a side story that touches my heart - the ship, for some time at least, had a mascot named "Townie."  From the pictures (found here: a story emerges.  I know nothing beyond the photos, so probably best just to show them to you here with their captions:

"Townie - the best mascot any ship ever had." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Robert (Bob) Pearson with Townie on HMCS Swansea K328." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Townie (left) the ship's mascot and Herman, the stowaway on HMCS Swansea K328." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Albert Tomlinson on left.  Unknown sailor holding ship's mascot Herman."  From the Albert Tomlinson collection.

"Townie's pups on HMCS Swansea K328." From the Bob Pearson collection.

"Feeding time for Townie's pups."  From the Bob Pearson collection.

Drawing from a sketchbook by Ken Gray.

And, sadly ... "Burial at sea of Swansea's mascot 'Townie'"
Photographer/Credit: J. McFerran

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Postcards #44 - The rest from the gold mines

As a continuation of the last postcard post:

So before we continue with the story of Dick Grant headed to war, it would probably be better to go back and see the rest of the cards that ended up in our collection from the Atlin area.

Since I didn't know most of the story before, and since these cards are not post-marked, I really didn't know where they fit into the story.  But now I do - before Dick signed up with the 47th.

So here are some postcards from the Atlin and Discover, B.C. area.  None of them were postmarked, and most of them did not have much of a message if any at all, so really I was just dealing with images - except for this first one.  But now that I know who was up there, I have some answers (and way more questions).  For now I am (reasonably) assuming that these cards are associated with the Grant brothers.

Message on back reads:  "Thanks for PC this is what is left of Atlin after the fire.  it was a good thing that it was not Discovery. well how are you always getting along. is Jack done of the garden yet.  we are very busy up here and the weather is very cold yet but we will soon get the summer how is Van looking I just try and come down this winter to see what you are all doing.   __ __ one that I am asking for them  WG"  (I think that's a WG - it could be an RG, but the author mentions "D" whom I assume to be Dick)

The fire that burned Atlin started in May 1914 - it wasn't the first time the town had a major fire.  The town had a major fire in August, 1900 as well, with damages estimated at $43,000.  The 1914 fire, though, took most of the town's buildings and did more than twice the estimated damage at $100,000.  

On the back of this one is written simply "this is one of Atlin."  In the corner it says "Publ. By H.E. Brown, Atlin, BC"

On the back of this one is a note stating:  "what do you think of this lot"

These "real photo" types of postcards were very popular at this time.  A photographer likely had the dogs and sled set up and took pictures for tourists or locals.  These two photos were taken at the same spot from two slightly different angles.  If you look closely, you'll see some snowshoes in the trees behind the last dog.  

I have been in touch with one of Richard Grant's descendants (well, one of his sister's descendants, as he had no children), and am hoping to get a picture of him.  If I do, I want to see if it happens to be the man with the hat and glasses (front in top one, back in bottom).  If it is him, we can see that it was not just two bachelors mining in the wilds.  And it looks like they might be having a grand time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Photographer Jim Cox

I've just come across a photographer from Edmonton and I love what I've seen of his stuff so far.  If you are interested in local artists, please check out Jim Cox at:

He does a wide range of stuff:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ricki Covette

I just got off the phone today with a wonderful 89-year-old woman.  Her name is Irene Jewell - but in the 1950s and 1960s, her stage name was Ricki Covette.

She was a 6'8" tall burlesque dancer who was born right here in Alberta.  She was gorgeous, independent, and she made a good living doing what she loved.

After she quit the burlesque scene, she was a real estate agent for a while and she married a man named Stuart Jewell.

Stuart Jewell was a cinematographer.  He filmed quite a lot of the natural world and Irene travelled with him to some incredibly exotic places - check him out here on IMDB.  Now, he's not credited for it, but Irene told me that he did the time-lapse photography of Disneyland being constructed - which you can see on the Disney and More blog here.

She recently was asked to donate a lot of her burlesque memorabilia to the Smithsonian.  You can read all about her in this article from the Daily Pilot in Cosa Mesa (where she lives). 

Anyhow, it's a really interesting story, and I just thought more people should know about her.