The Scottish-Canadian Life of Jane Murie Peebles: A Loved and Loving Teacher

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Emily von Euw is an SFU undergraduate student majoring in history. They are of German, Dutch, Swiss and English descent. They are interested in histories of gender, power, technology and geopolitics. They enjoy reading, writing, very dark chocolate, spending time with friends, forest walks, documentaries, and listening to records. Emily lives on the unceded, Indigenous territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsweil-watuth nations.

(Jane Murie Peebles was the sister of the famous New Westminster-born actress and opera singer “Brownie Peebles” who was featured in another blog on this site. You can check it out here.)

Jane Murie Peebles was a Scottish-Canadian educator, artist, sister, daughter and wife, and friend to many in the Pacific Northwest and Europe alike. She was motivated in her work, inspired by her relationships and dedicated to her faith throughout her long life in British Columbia.

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Murie with her students in Sardis, Chilliwack, BC sometime in the 1920s [Figure 1]

Murie’s father was Peter Peebles, a Scot who moved to eastern Canada in 1882 and eventually migrated west and met and married Angusta Grant in New Westminster in 1886.[1] Peter was a writer for Vancouver’s Sunday Province in the 1920s and 30s, at least once writing about famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Peter collected articles on Burns, maintained a subscription to The Scotsman, and kept Scottish poetry; suggesting a deep pride in his heritage.[2] It was in this proud environment the Peebles family was raised. He and Angusta had five children, Murie was the eldest daughter and a namesake of Peter’s sister. Occasionally she would be referred to as Jane M., J. Murie, or J. M., but for the most part friends and relatives called her Murie, as did she herself.

Murie was born on November 26, 1887 in New Westminster.[3] In 1908 she became a certified member of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in New Westminster.[4] Presbyterianism – a more democratic, less hierarchical sect of Christianity – came to British Columbia largely thanks to Scottish settlers from Nova Scotia in the late 18th century onward.[5] Thus, Murie’s Presbyterian faith was intimately intertwined with her Scottish identity.

In 1910 Murie began teaching at government-funded public school, a relatively new institution in the province.[6] At this time in Canada, teaching children was thought by many to be a career best suited for women. Due to pseudo-scientific beliefs about the inherent caring, nurturing nature of women; they were presumed to be the best educators for youth and – conveniently – could be paid less than their male counterparts. Most school teachers were in similar situations to Murie’s in these decades: single, young women, eager to work, but not often permitted to occupy higher-paying administrative positions or other jobs, and usually resigning when they married.[7]

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Murie Peebles’ students in Sardis, Chilliwack, BC (circa 1920s) [Figure 2]

In 1912 Murie bought property in New Westminster for $325[8] (just over $10,000 today) and received her deed of land by 1914.[9] In 1915 she attended art classes and kept several illustrations in a scrapbook[10]. They involved delicate sketches of leaves, shells, landscapes, butterflies and still lifes. She also drew a number of geometric patterns and symmetrical designs, as if meant for crocheting or stained glass. She seemed to favour rich greens, purples, and golds for colour. Murie’s younger sister, Angusta Brown (known as “Brownie”), went on to become a successful opera performer, and some family members wrote poetry which they would send to one another, so it appears a taste for artistic creativity ran in the family (albeit more casually for Murie than Brownie).

Sometime before July 1921, and perhaps after, Murie taught school in Sardis, BC (Chilliwack). She would return to visit even after her teaching years in Chilliwack, once when a small earthquake hit[11]. She taught at Herbert Spencer School in New Westminster in mid-January, 1921, and a BC school inspector noted her “skillful class methods… effective organization [and] special aptitude.”[12] Though apparently something happened soon after that resulted in Murie not being able to teach for at least a month. By mid-February she received a letter informing her that the Board of School Trustees “decided to give [her] an opportunity to return to duty” but if she did not return, it would be a sign of her resignation.[13] Whether this was due to an act of Murie’s, or merely teachers being reviewed or classes being cancelled due to weather or some other matter, is not clear. In any case, Murie eventually left Herbert Spencer to be married.

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Murie’s cooking class. Murie is at back, right. July 1914 [Figure 3]

Murie was well-liked by her students, their parents, and her colleagues. She kept a number of cards students mailed to her and one letter from a mother who thanked her for her positive influence and caring personality. Humbly, Murie did not even realize her impact and was more in awe of the mother – who had 12 children – than her own skills as an educator.[14] When Murie taught at Herbert Spencer School, a Haida man named Peter Kelly – apparently a “quite good looking” man who some students “fell hard for” – was studying to be a missionary minister for his community. Murie probably taught two of his children (Jimmie and Peter) and was inspired by his and his family’s ambition. Years later Murie was surprised and joyed to see Kelly on the local news being awarded a missionary river boat, something he had aspired to have since first knew each other. Then, thirty-seven years after she taught at Herbert Spencer, she was sent a photo clipping and article of Kelly in the Seattle Times, meeting Princess Margaret.[15] Murie thought of Kelly throughout the decades, and evidently his success brought her much happiness.

Herbert Spencer School

Herbert Spencer School. – [ca. 191-]. [Figure 4]

By 1921 (July 12th, to be exact) she had married William Walker Brown, a man from Abbotsford[16]. The wedding took place at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, which Murie had attended for at least 13 years. A theme in her life was having many friends and loved ones so it comes as no surprise that Murie’s “girl friends” decorated the church, Peter walked her down the aisle, Brownie sang opera, and a friend from Chilliwack, Milly Bell, was her bridesmaid.[17] Choosing to be a teacher to young people for many years, Murie surely had affection for children. Yet she and her husband never had any of their own. In 1925, it appears they were hoping to adopt a baby,[18] but sadly – and for reasons unclear – this hope was never fulfilled. One cannot help but wonder how this may have affected Murie and William.

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Jane Murie’s namesake and aunt (Peter Peebles sister) [Figure 5]

Murie’s family and friends lived across Canada; however, she stayed in touch with many via letters, photographs, clippings and postcards, and they visited one another when they had the time. Murie also kept in touch with friends in Europe, mostly England and Scotland. They were always pleased to receive her letters and with how quickly she replied, showing how much she cared for those around her. Murie and her younger brother, Allon, were close; they exchanged many personal letters and he thought of her “as a second mother.”[19]

Jane Murie Peebles (Brown) passed away sometime before April 30th, 1974[20], though the location and exact date are unknown. She was a hard-working teacher, a loving friend, sister and daughter, and a caring woman who seemed to consistently find joy in the people and places around her. She and her family hold with them the legacy of Scots to explore and celebrate life, dutiful labour, creativity, diversity and family: a legacy that continues in British Columbia to this day.

–Emily von Euw


Collection cited:

Peebles Family Fonds, IH 2007.151. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Notes:

[1] Certificate of marriage, Peter Peebles to Angusta Grant, December 25, 1886.

[2] Article clipping in scrapbook compiled by Peter Peebles.

[3] Certificate of birth, Jane Murie Peebles, November 26, 1887.

[4] Certificate of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Membership, February 1, 1908.

[5] “Historical Vignettes: Snapshots from Our History,” The Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives.

[6] Government document titled “British Columbia Education Department Inspection of Schools,” January 13, 1921.

[7] Jane Gaskell, “Women and Education,” February 7, 2006, The Canadian Encyclopedia.

[8] Textual document of property purchased, 1912.

[9] Textual document of deed of land, 1914.

[10] Various illustrations, 1915.

[11] Postcard from Jane Murie Peebles to Mrs. P. Peebles, Date unknown.

[12] “British Columbia Education Department Inspection of Schools.”

[13] Correspondence from Board of School Trustees to Jane Murie Peebles, February 15, 1921.

[14] Correspondence from student’s mother (Mrs. Teskiy?) to Jane Murie Peebles, January 27, year unknown.

[15] Correspondence from Jane Murie Peebles to Angusta Brown and Allon Peebles, date unknown.

[16] Marriage certificate between Jane Murie Peebles and William Walker Brown, July 12, 1921.

[17] Newspaper clipping titled “Pretty Wedding Solemnized At Royal City,” date unknown.

[18] Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles, September 19, 1925.

[19] Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles, May 20, 1926.

[20] Government record titled “Notice of hearing final report and petition for distribution,” April 30, 1974.

Bibliography:

British Columbia Board of School Trustees. Correspondence from Board of School Trustees to Jane Murie Peebles. February 15, 1921. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Certificate of birth. Jane Murie Peebles. November 26, 1887. New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Accessed at Royal BC Archives. Registration number: 1887-09-080386.

Certificate of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Membership. February 1, 1908. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Correspondence from student’s mother (Mrs. Teskiy?) to Jane Murie Peebles. January 27, year unknown. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Government document titled “British Columbia Education Department Inspection of Schools.” January 13, 1921. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Government record titled “Notice of hearing final report and petition for distribution.” April 30, 1974. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

“Historical Vignettes: Snapshots from Our History.” The Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives. http://presbyterianarchives.ca/2014/06/09/historical-vignettes-snapshots-from-our-history/.

Marriage certificate between Jane Murie Peebles and William Walker Brown. July 12, 1921. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Marriage certificate between Peter Peebles and Angusta Grant. December 25, 1886. New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. Accessed online at Royal BC Archives. Registration number: 1886-09-114575.

Newspaper clipping titled “Pretty Wedding Solemnized At Royal City.” Date unknown. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Allon. Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles. May 20, 1926. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Allon. Correspondence from Allon Peebles to Jane Murie Peebles. September 19, 1925. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Jane Murie. Correspondence from Jane Murie Peebles to Angusta Brown and Allon Peebles. Date unknown. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Jane Murie. Postcard from Jane Murie Peebles to Mrs. P. Peebles. Date unknown. IH 2007.151, Series C, Folder C.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Peebles, Jane Murie. Various illustrations. 1915. IH 2007.151, Series D, Folder D.1. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Textual document of deed of land. 1914. IH 2007.151, Series B, Folder B.3. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Textual document of property purchased. 1912. IH 2007.151, Series B, Folder B.3. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Images:

Figure 1: Photograph. -096, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 2: Photograph. -098, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 3: Photograph. July 1914. -100, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 4: Postcard of Herbert Spencer School. ca. 191-?. IHP2161. Queensborough Photo Collection. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

Figure 5: Photograph. -109, IHP14335. Series E, E.2. Peebles Family Fonds. New Westminster Archives, British Columbia, Canada.

 

 

 

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Reverend Alexander Dunn: Pioneer Preacher and Keeper of Settler History

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Stephenie “Effy” Orton graduated from SFU in the Fall of 2017 with a major in English and minor in History. Her love of analysis and writing led her to pursue English, but her love of culture and interest in what shaped people and communities, led her to the study of History.

In 1875, the Church of Scotland sent out four missionaries to re-establish the Church of Scotland in British Columbia. One of these men was Alexander Dunn. Dunn was born on March 30, 1843 to Peter Dunn and Jean Ritchie in Leochel Cushnie, Aberdeenshire. He received his education at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh[1] and on June 9, 1875, Dunn was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow and assigned to his first missionary posting in British Columbia. On August 31, 1875, Dunn arrived in Victoria. The following day at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Dunn was ordained as a minister, and with this, the Church of Scotland Presbytery of British Columbia was formed.[2]

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Fig. 1 Rev. Alexander Dunn and his wife, Annie (Kern) Dunn. Photo courtesy of Donald E. Waite.

Dunn’s first assignment was a massive undertaking. He was sent to the “Fraser Valley district,” a one hundred mile long and almost thirty mile wide area of heavy forest. The settlements under his charge were Upper Sumas, Matsqui, Mud Bay, South Arm (Ladner), North Arm (Richmond), Maple Ridge, Fort Langley, Langley Prairie, Aldergrove, Jones Landing, Mount Lehman, St. Mary’s Mission, and Johnson’s Landing.[3] Before Dunn’s arrival, the Fraser Valley area had been overseen by Rev. Robert Jamieson, the founder of the first Presbyterian church on the mainland, St. Andrew’s Church in New Westminster.[4] Unfortunately, the Rev. Jamieson had fallen ill and could no longer fulfill his duties in the area, so Dunn was sent as a replacement.

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Figure 2 St. Andrew’s Church, New Westminster, B.C. courtesy New Westminster Archives.

In his memoirs, Dunn recalls the feeling of isolation that came over him when he first arrived in the province. The “overwhelming stillness and solitude” of the dense forest struck him forcibly and drew a stark contrast to his busy, noisy and lively city home of Glasgow.[5] However, Dunn did not let the reality of his new life detract from his mission. Over the course of ten years, Dunn oversaw the erection of three churches in the Fraser Valley,[6] and played a central part placing the congregations in debtless positions.[7] However, it was not all smooth sailing for Dunn in the Fraser Valley. The dense forests, heavy rains, and poor road conditions (when there were roads) made Dunn’s constant traveling from settlement to settlement difficult and physically taxing. In 1882, the reverend went to Ontario and married Annie Kern. A year later, Dunn and his bride returned to the Fraser Valley and served the community for another three years.[8] After ten faithful years, the work and land that needed to be covered became too much for the minister, and in April 1886, the Rev. and Mrs. Dunn left the Fraser Valley mission field and went to Ontario for a few months of rest and recuperation.[9]

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Fig. 3 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Fort Langley, one of the three churches Rev. Dunn built in the Fraser Valley. Photo courtesy of Donald E. Waite.

During the Dunn’s time in Ontario, there was a shift in church leadership. The churches in the Fraser Valley that had been under the covering of the Church of Scotland had been absorbed into the Presbytery of British Columbia. In his memoirs, Dunn notes “[in] April I left British Columbia as a Minister of the Church of Scotland. In November I returned a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.”[10] Dunn was in favor of this transition because it made better geographical sense; communication and oversight were much easier to accomplish on a national scale and as the province and country grew, the Presbyterian Church of Canada became better established.[11]

Dunn’s next posting was in Alberni on Vancouver Island. The Alberni settlement was smaller in size and more suited to the abilities of the aging minister. Unfortunately, the settlement was struggling financially, and after two years neither the community nor Dunn could afford to have him and his wife stay. This fact, however, did not lessen the influence the minister had on the Alberni settlement. Over a short period of time, the settlers had come to revere the minister and his wife; their appreciation is evident through the community’s efforts to keep him for as long as they did. Throughout his stay, the Presbytery tried to relocate Dunn twice, and on both of these occasions the community petitioned against the transfer. When the day of departure did finally come, Dunn and his wife were fully aware of their value in the lives and hearts of the Alberni settlers.[12]

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Fig 4 view of Johnston Street, Alberni, B.C. Courtesy the Alberni District Historical Society and Community Archives.

In 1889, Dunn agreed to transfer back onto the mainland and minister to Mount Lehman and Whonnock. He acquired a piece of land from former HBC employee Robert Robertson and resided and ministered in Whonnock and the surrounding areas until his retirement in 1905.[13] Upon retirement, Dunn and his wife moved to New Westminster, and, in 1925, the beloved Reverend passed away.[14]

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Fig. 5 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church manse, the home of Rev. Alexander Dunn. Langley Centennial Museum Photo #0132

Although Dunn’s ecclesiastical work is noteworthy, it does not fully capture the historical value of this man’s life. In September 1913, Dunn was awarded with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree at Westminster Hall in Vancouver.[15] This award was given to acknowledge the minister’s “outstanding work over his thirty years of service in British Columbia.”[16] In the same year, his written work, Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers, was published. It must be mentioned that Dunn’s writing reveals the cultural and social biases of the day. There is little record of Indigenous and settler interactions throughout his work, the only references being an incident between a “half-cast” and a Fort Langley Reeve, and canoe trips.[17] There is also little information given regarding his wife and their marriage. Her name is not mentioned once in the entire work. However, much can be said about Dunn’s efforts in documenting the histories of many Scottish settlers in British Columbia. In a section entitled, “Memoirs of Pioneers: Brief Sketches,” Dunn recalls the lives of twenty nine individuals, twelve of which emigrated from Scotland or had Scottish heritage. These biographical sketches are speeches Dunn gave at the funeral of each individual. On many of these occasions, he was asked to provide accounts of prominent pioneers of the Fraser Valley. Dunn saved and featured many of these articles in his work, along with various letters, sermons, sermon notes, and obituaries. Not only did his writing recall the life and characters of these pioneers, but it also recorded and preserved accounts of what settler life actually looked like for individuals throughout the province.[18]

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Fig. 6 Front page of Rev. Dunn’s published memoirs. Image courtesy of the University of Calgary.

In his book Dunn noted that: “[f]or a number of years [he] had intended to write some account of the work of laying the foundations of Presbyterianism in British Columbia, and had been collecting and preserving material for that purpose.”[19] In other words, Dunn’s efforts converted his mission into a historical record, and this record has become a primary source in the study of the spread of Presbyterianism and Scottish settlement in the Fraser Valley from 1875 – 1905.

–Stephenie Orton

 

 


Bibliography:

Dunn, Alexander. Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers. Jackson Printing Co.: New Westminster, BC, 1919. PDF e-book. Accessed November 10, 2017.

“Object Description: 0132.” Langley Centennial Museum. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://collections.museum.tol.ca/LangleyCentennialMuseum/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p _AAAF=tab9.

Orr, Brian J. Bones of Empire. LULU Enterprises: Raleigh, NC, 2013. Book Preview. Accessed November 10, 2017.

“Rev. Alex. Dunn Receives Degree,” New Westminster News, (New Westminster, BC), Sept. 27, 1913, accessed November 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-news-sep-27-1913-p-4/.

“St. Andrew’s was First on Mainland.” Daily News (New Westminster, BC), Mar. 11, 1912. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-daily-news-mar-11-1912-p-1/.

“The Weekly Colonist: Presbyterian Churches.” Victoria Daily British Colonist (Victoria, BC), Apr. 3, 1885. Accessed November 10, 2017. https://newspaperarchive.com/victoria-daily-british-colonist-apr-03-1885-p-3/.

Waite, Donald E. The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E. Waite. Waite: Maple Ridge, BC, 2000). HTML e-book. Accessed November 10, 2017. http://www.fortlangley.ca/langley/langley.html.

Images:

Fig. 1 William John Larmon, Reverend and Mrs. Alexander Dunn. Source: Donald E. Waite, The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E, Waite. 2000, Digital image. Available from: The Langley Story Illustrated, http://www.fortlangley.ca/langley/dunn.html (accessed November 10, 2017).

Fig. 2 St. Andrew’s Church, New Westminster, BC. New Westminster Archives.

Fig. 3 Waite Air Photos Inc., St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Fort Langley. Source: Donald E. Waite, The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E, Waite. 2000, Digital image. Available from: The Langley Story Illustrated, http://www.fortlangley.ca/langley/standy.html (accessed November 10, 2017).

Fig 4 view of Johnston Street, Alberni, B.C. Courtesy the Alberni District Historical Society and Community Archives.

Fig. 5 Photograph of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church manse, the home of Rev. Alexander Dunn, April 1968, 0132, Langley Centennial Museum, Fort Langley, British Columbia, Canada, accessed November 10, 2017, https://collections.museum.tol.ca/LangleyCentennialMuseum/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p_AAAF=tab9.

Fig. 6 Dunn, Alexander. “Cover Page.” Print, 1919. University of Calgary. From: Alexander Dunn, Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers. Jackson Printing Co.: New Westminster, BC, 1919. HTML e-book. Accessed November 10, 2017. http://ourroots.ca/toc.aspx?id=1258&qryID=dceeaa7d-c0ff-4bcd-821c-2d6e9c4aec1 1.

Sources:

[1] Brian J. Orr, Bones of Empire, (LULU Enterprises: Raleigh, NC, 2013), 237-238.

[2] Alexander Dunn, Experiences in Langley and Memoirs of Prominent Pioneers (Jackson Printing Co.: New Westminster, BC, 1919), 68.

[3] Ibid, 84-85.

[4] “St. Andrew’s Was First on Mainland,” The Daily News, (New Westminster, BC), Mar. 11, 1912, accessed Nov. 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-daily-news-mar-11-1912-p-1/.

[5] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 4-5.

[6] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 68.

[7] “The Weekly Colonist: Presbyterian Churches,” Victoria Daily British Colonist, (Victoria, BC), April 3, 1885, accessed Nov. 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/victoria-daily-british-colonist-apr-03-1885-p-3/.

[8] “Object Description: 0132,” Langley Centennial Museum, accessed November 10, 2017. https://collections.museum.tol.ca/LangleyCentennialMuseum/Portal.aspx?lang=en-US&p_AAAF=tab9.

[9] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 83.

[10] Ibid, 84.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Experiences in Langley, 94-95.

[13] Donald E. Waite, The Langley Stories Illustrated: An Early History of the Municipality of Langley/ Donald E, Waite, (Waite: Maple Ridge, BC, 2000), 117.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Rev. Alex. Dunn Receives Degree,” New Westminster News, (New Westminster, BC), Sept. 27, 1913, accessed November 10, 2017, https://newspaperarchive.com/new-westminster-news-sep-27-1913-p-4/.

[16] Waite, The Langley Stories, 117.

[17] Ibid, 10.

[18] Dunn, Experiences in Langley, 60.

[19] Ibid, 65.

“No Better Place in Which to Live”: John Booth — Landscape Gardener, Poet, Immigrant

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Introducing our first place winner for the 78th Fraser Highlanders Association of Vancouver prize for Scottish-Canadian History, Lydia Tang! Lydia is a student in her final year of study at Simon Fraser University, majoring in History with a minor in Political Science. Having lived in Vancouver all her life, she has always had a personal interest in the history of the Lower Mainland and BC. Through the opportunities provided by SFU through the co-op program and her school courses, Lydia has learned much on local history, and hopes to contribute to the study of BC through this post and future work.

Congratulations Lydia for a job well done!

John Booth lived in many places before New Westminster, but none captured his heart as much as the Royal City. A lifelong gardener and landscaper who quite literally left his mark on cities across British Columbia, John also wrote poetry, considering himself an “amateur poet” who just “writes as the spirit moves me.”[1] He expressed his love for his home through his poetry, with this civic fondness encapsulated in his affection for the dogwood flower.

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John Booth attending a garden in Albert Crescent Park, New Westminster, with the Pattullo Bridge in the background, circa 1950s.

John was born in Marykirk, Scotland, on November 28, 1872 to Elspeth Leith and William Booth. He was born at the private estate of Inglismaldie Castle, where his mother was the business head and his father the head gardener. John attended school in Marykirk before going to a private estate near Montrose to complete a gardener’s apprenticeship, following in his father’s footsteps. Upon completion, he gardened at Moxhull Hall near Birmingham, England. While there, he received a letter from William, informing him that Elspeth was dying. John returned to work at Inglismaldie until her death in 1895.

Inglismaldie was often unoccupied due to its transient owner, Lord Algernon Keith-Falconer, 9th Earl of Kintore and Governor of South Australia (1889-1895), so it was rented out as a fishing and shooting lodge during the summer to wealthy tourists. In 1895, an English family from Alveston rented the estate, bringing with them the Quick family as staff in their employ. John got to know the family well, and married Rosina Quick in 1896. John and Rosina then traveled to Wantage, England where he worked as head gardener and Rosina gave birth to the first of their children.

The_castellated_and_domestic_architecture_of_Scotland,_from_the_twelfth_to_the_eighteenth_century_(1887)_(14782153405)

Drawing of Inglismaldie Castle – wikimedia commons

John and Rosina’s lives changed when Rosina’s father died suddenly. Rosina’s brothers and sister pleaded for the Booths to come to Canada, where they were farming in Manitoba. In 1900, John and Rosina decided to emigrate to Canada, living with Rosina’s sister before eventually taking up their own homestead nearby. After he left Scotland, John never saw or heard from his four siblings and father again.

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Rosina and John Booth, circa 1960.

Upon selling the homestead in Manitoba, the family moved to British Columbia to live in the towns of Wattsburg and Three Valley Gap along the CPR line as John worked on contract, living in Vancouver by 1907 and moving to Pitt Meadows in 1910. Eventually the family found a more permanent home in New Westminster, where John worked as head gardener at Woodlands Psychiatric Hospital for 20 years. As an employee of the BC Civil Service, he also worked at other Provincial mental hospitals.[2] Struggling with the monotony of that work, John resigned and worked in semi-retirement, building a garden rockery on Columbia St. in 1935, where patients from Woodlands worked as labourers. In 1938, John landscaped the areas around the Pattullo Bridge and Peace Arch Park for some time until he began working with the City of New Westminster in 1950. For four years, he landscaped the grounds of the Irving House Historic Centre, the Pioneer House, the No. 1 Fire Hall, and Vincent Massey Junior High School. He finally retired in 1954, with the grounds of the New Westminster City Hall as his last landscaping project. In retirement, John dedicated his time to civic and provincial events, continuing to help with annual May Day decorations and writing poetry.

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Copyright certificate for “My Home Town”, 1955.

In 1955, John wrote his most famous poem, “My Home Town”, praising New Westminster and the dogwood trees of the area. During this time, the Native Sons and Daughters of BC were campaigning for the designation of the dogwood as the province’s floral emblem. John strongly supported this, believing that the dogwood was appropriate because “anyone can grow them, rich and poor alike.”[3] “Strange thing about the dogwood,” John said in an interview, “is that the poorer the soil, the better it likes it.”[4] He hoped that his poem would encourage the BC government to adopt the flower as a provincial symbol.

 

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“My Home Town” by John Booth, 1955.

“My Home Town” begins:

“There is a valley, ‘way out West,

Where grand old Fraser flows,

And there’s a city on a hill

Where white flowered Dogwood grows.

That’s my home town, that’s home sweet home,

The only place for me.

There’s where the Fraser wends its way

In silence, to the sea.”[5]

 

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(L-R) Kathleen Dashwood Pearson (also known as Mrs. Ernest G. Pearson), John Booth, and Ethel Louise Homer, 1956

John was hesitant to show anyone the piece at first as he considered himself a hobbyist poet, but upon reading it, Kathleen Dashwood Pearson, appointed head of Post No. 4 of the Native Daughters, worked to put the words to song. Kathleen found local music teacher and composer Ethel Louise Homer. Kathleen, Ethel, and John and worked together to publish and copyright the song “My Home Town” in 1955.

After a copy was sent to Premier W.A.C. Bennett by the Native Daughters of BC, the Premier’s office replied in a 1956 letter with Bennett’s “sincere appreciation”—he was “particularly pleased to note that the dogwood, which is to be adopted … as the floral emblem of our wonderful Province, is not only mentioned in the song, but is very conspicuous in the cover design.”[6] In a letter to friends, John wrote, “After 42 years residence in New Westminster, I am convinced there is no better place in which to live. For that reason, I have been inspired to wax poetic in praise of little old New Westminster, and nature’s matchless gift to us of the glorious white flowered Dogwood.”[7] The dogwood was adopted as BC’s flower in 1956.

Cornus_nuttallii_08549

Pacific Dogwood Flower by Walter Siegmund – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1724799

In later life, John remained an active member of the community, being described at the age of 92 to be as “chipper as a man half his age”.[8] In his words, John said that it is “hanging on to the spirit of our pioneers that does the trick”, though “you’re as good as dead when you ignore the present.”[9] His wife Rosina passed away in 1962, and after living in New Westminster for 55 years, in BC for 61, and Canada for 68, John died on August 13, 1968 of old age in Saint Mary’s Hospital. He was survived by his 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren.

–Lydia Tang


Sources:

All images New Westminster Archives, “My Home Town” copyright campaign and John Booth fonds.

City of New Westminster. Community Heritage Commission. Minutes of Proceedings. 22 September 2016.

John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

“My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

Notes

[1] Forrest, Al. “Music Composed for Booth’s ‘My Home Town’ Poem Classic.”  John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[2] City of New Westminster. Community Heritage Commission. Minutes of Proceedings. 22 September 2016.

[3] Forrest, Al. “Music Composed for Booth’s ‘My Home Town’ Poem Classic.”  John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[6] R. B. Worley to Kathleen J. Watson, 6 February 1956. “My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[7] John Booth to Mr. and Mrs. Young, 14 March 1955. “My Home Town” copyright campaign. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[8] “Pioneer celebrates birthday.” John Booth fonds. New Westminster Archives, New Westminster, Canada.

[9] Ibid.