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.

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“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.