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


Introducing our first place winner for the 78th Fraser Highlanders Association of Vancouver prize for Scottish-Canadian History, Lydia Tang! At press time, Lydia was 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.

Tang 1

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.


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.

Tang 2

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.

Tang 3

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.


Tang 4

“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]


Tang 5

(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.


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


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.


[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.






“Gung Haggis Fat Choy”: The Evolution of Burns Suppers in Vancouver


In honour of this being the month of Robbie Burns celebrations around the globe, we are pleased to introduce our second place winner in the 78th Fraser Highlanders prize for Scottish-Canadian history, Georgia Twiss! The competition was open to students of Dr. Katie McCullough’s BC history class in the Fall of 2017 at Simon Fraser University. Georgia is also the recent winner of the George Paris Award for Scottish History. This marks the first in a series of blogs written by students who chose to participate in the competition.

At press time, Georgia Twiss was an Honours student in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the impact of the British Empire on the urban development of Glasgow, and the legacy of imperialism within Glaswegian heritage. As a descendant of Scottish immigrants to Canada she has attended Burns Suppers in both Canada and Scotland, and looks forward to attending a “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” celebration in the future.

By the mid-1890s in British Columbia, the celebration of Burns Suppers were widely held amongst the Scottish population of the province. In 1894, The Daily Telegram noted the celebration of ‘Bobby Burns’ by the Bobby Burns Club of Nanaimo in an invitation ball held at the Institute Hall.[1] In 1898, The Kaslo Morning News also noted the celebration of a Burns supper by local Scots in New Denver.[2] By 1903 the celebration of Burns in British Columbia was prominent enough for The Nakusp Ledge to declare, ‘As long as the Scotchman lives there will be Bobby Burns Suppers.’[3] When exactly the first Burns supper took place in Vancouver is unknown, but it can be presumed to be somewhere around this era.

Why celebrate Burns Supper’s in British Columbia? As a cultural icon, Burns embodies Scottish-ness. Therefore, the celebration of his life took on a dual meaning. It honoured the life and work of Burns, while also acting as a nostalgic link to home. In celebrating Burns, the Scots across the British Empire gathered in their new communities and commemorated their heritage through song, dance, food and poetry. The former British Prime Minister James Ramsay Macdonald summed up the important of Burns to the Scots in his assertion that, ‘In Burns there was that magic that made every Scotsman alive; that made him thrill with the consciousness of his nationality; and made him strong and powerful to do his duty in the world.’[4]


“Crowds at the unveiling of the Burns Statue in Stanley Park, 1928.” Reid, A. Fraser. [Untitled]. Photograph. Vancouver, BC. 1928. From Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns. Accessed November 2, 2017. http://www.electricscotland.com/burns/vancouver_burns.pdf

Vancouver, unlike Nanaimo, did not have an official Burns Club until 1924. The establishment of the club arose from members of the city’s St Andrew’s and Caledonian Society, founded in 1886, who desired a space where “Burnsians” could celebrate and debate the work of ‘the immortal bard of Caledonia.’[5] The first meeting of the “Burns Fellowship” took place on February 20th 1924, led by Mr P. McAuslin Carrick.[6] This first meeting had an attendance of seventeen people, but by 1928 the club membership had risen to 175.[7] The popularity of the club resulted in the successful bid for an erection of a statue of Burns in Stanley Park. The five-thousand-dollar statue was unveiled on August 25th 1928, with Vancouver councilman Henry E. Almond proudly proclaiming, ‘I am satisfied this day will go down in Canadian history.’[8] The event was followed by the celebration of a Burns Supper.


“The Burns Fellowship.” Steffens-Colmer. [Untitled]. Photograph. Vancouver, BC, 1924. From Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns. Accessed November 2, 2017. http://www.electricscotland.com/burns/vancouver_burns.pdf

Seventy-years after the unveiling of the statue of Burns in Stanley Park, Todd Wong held his own Burns Supper. Like the original meeting of the Burns Club, Wong’s dinner was attended by a small group of friends. Yet, unlike the traditional Scottish version of the event, Wong used his Burns Supper to honour the multi-culturalism of British Columbia. In representation of the two dominant immigrant cultures in British Columbia, he called the event “Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.”

As an undergraduate student at Simon Fraser University in 1993, Wong was first introduced to the idea of the Burn’s supper. Wong recalls of his first Burns Supper, ‘I thought it was this weird ethnic tradition. They gave me a kilt to wear, the Fraser hunting tartan. And I was carrying the claymore. We walked around the cafeteria. There was a lonely piper. And the haggis tasted really weird.’[9] The experience stuck in Wong’s head in 1998 upon the realization that Robbie Burns Day and Chinese New Year happened to fall only two days apart he decided to combine the two events.

From the small supper held in his kitchen for a group of friends, Wong’s event has become the largest attended Burns Supper in Vancouver.[10] Around five-hundred people gather each year and take-part in the festivities. These include amongst other things, rap performances of Burns’ poetry and haggis won-ton. When asked if the movement away from the customary Burns Supper’s format caused any backlash amongst traditionalists Wong responded, ‘On the contrary. People say it’s more Canadian when you’re mixing things up.’[11]


“Todd Wong and Mayor Gregor Robertson at a Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner.” Tam, Patrick. Photograph. Vancouver, BC, 2014. Accessed on November 2, 2017. https://www.straight.com/food/809356/gung-haggis-fat-choy-rings-year-sheep

The celebration of “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” illustrates British Columbia’s multicultural experience in action. The ability of two cultures, who have a problematic historical relationship, to fuse together into a shared celebration is remarkable. Importantly, the event does not wash away the realities of the Chinese Head Tax or the mistreatment of Chinese workers in the construction of the Railroad. Rather, it presents a meeting point where resemblances between the two cultures are exposed. The shared love of New Year (Hogmanay to the Scots) and the importance of song and poetry within cultural celebrations are examples of similarities. In 2011, the event extended its celebration of multi-culturalism in British Columbia to include Indigenous traditions alongside those of the Chinese and Scottish. This special dinner was called “Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner.”[12]

From the “Bobby Burns Suppers” of the 1890s to “Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner,” the evolution of Burns suppers in Vancouver illustrates the growing acceptance of cultural diversity in the province. In a time where the current political climate is ripe with xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric events like this become increasingly significant. If Robbie Burns embodies what it means to be Scottish, then “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” embodies what it means to be a British Columbian.


“Robbie Burns Statue in Stanley Park.” Lindsay, Jack. Vancouver, BC, 1940-48. Vancouver City Archives. Accessed on November 2, 2017. http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/robbie-burns-statue-in-stanley-park

When the Burns Club set out to erect a statue of Burns they ensured that its placement would allow the poet to look onto the city.[13] Once a year, from where he stands, Burns’ statue witnesses people of all different ethnic backgrounds come together and link hands to symbolize the unity of culture in British Columbia and the shared experience of ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

© Georgia Twiss


[1] “Wellington Items,” The Daily Telegram (Nanaimo, BC) January 24, 1894.

[2] “Local Brevities,” The Kaslo Morning News (Kaslo, BC) January 21, 1903.

[3] “Bobby Burns Supper,” The Nakusp Ledge (New Denver, BC) January 29, 1903.

[4] James Ramsay Macdonald quoted in: Vancouver Burns Fellowship, Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns (Vancouver, 1928) p. 28.

[5] Ibid., p. 7.

[6] Ibid., p. 8.

[7] Ibid., p. 11.

[8] Ibid., 41.

[9] Todd Wong quoted in: Sarah Hampson’s, “Haggis Wontons? Robbie Burns Night meets Chinese New Year,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ont.), January 16, 2012.

[10]Hampson, “Haggis Wontons?”

[11] Todd Wong quoted in: “Haggis Wontons?”.

[12] Hampson, “Haggis Wontons?”.

[13] Vancouver Burns Fellowship, Vancouver’s Tribute to Burns, p. 22.


Experiences of an SFU Grad Student: Why Study Scottish history?

At press time, Grant Alexander Gillies was an MA student in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. Grant is the current recipient of the David & Mary Macaree Graduate Fellowship.

When I tell people that I am writing a thesis on the history of “Scotland’s first nuclear station” they often respond with a variation to one simple question: why? Why, in a land of whisky and golf, Jacobite rebels, and Celtic folklore, would you want to study the history of nuclear Scotland? The answer to this question is complex.  Believe it or not, not all graduate students enter their various institutions and programs of study with a clear project or thesis in view. With this post, I hope to not only answer the question, ‘why?’, but speak to some of my own experiences as a graduate student studying Scottish history at Simon Fraser University, which have led to the evolution and development of my project.

While writing a thesis on the history of the Chapelcross nuclear power station was not the prime directive for my undertaking a Master’s degree at SFU, the choice to study Scottish history was.  My original plan was to write a thesis which aimed to explore systems of agricultural production and the cash nexus used under agrarian capitalism in the last quarter of the 18th to the mid- 19th century in Scotland. This very vague thread led me to a moment in Scottish history known as the Highland Clearances, a phase of intense land restructuring that occurred from ca. 1770-1850s, in which a significant number of tenants in the Highlands and Islands were evicted from their homes to make way for increased livestock rearing.  With a time, place, event, and a general theme narrowed down, I felt optimistic about a tenable project to complete for my MA.

ewart library

The Ewart Public Library, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies

However, as many Scottish history buffs already know, the clearances are a well studied period in Scottish history. Admittedly, my encounter with the secondary literature on the topic squashed my initial ambition to undertake it as a topic for my own MA thesis. Instead, I conferred with my supervisors over the decision to take on a project that would be more investigative, thereby reigniting that flame of passion, or at least that sense of discovery I wanted from an MA thesis.

Chapel cross Station

The Decommissioned Chapelcross Works nuclear power station, Annan, Scotland. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies.

The decision to change my research to the history of Scotland’s first nuclear power station was ultimately inspired by one book: Kate Brown’s, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, And the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, an investigative, transnational, historical study which examined workers’ experiences and managing practices in the Handford plutonium plant near Richland, Washington, and the Maiak plant next to Ozersk in the USSR.   Brown argues that in order to entice workers and their families to agree to the risks and sacrifices involved in plutonium production, American and Soviet nuclear leaders created something new: ‘plutopia’, or amply subsidized communities with visions of middle class prosperity.[1]

I wanted to know more about how these American inspired nuclear villages, that as Brown explains, were strictly monitored and segregated into nuclear and non-nuclear zones in which plant managers were free to run up budgets, embezzle, conceal accidents, and pollute. Taking Brown’s work as a model for my own work, I set out to investigate the history of a Scottish nuclear town.


“The Opening of Scotland’s First Nuclear Station,” The Annandale Observer, May 2, 1959. Ewart Public Library, Dumfries and Galloway.

With some quick research, I learned that in the late 20th Century there were 15 nuclear stations in operation in the United Kingdom, 4 of which were located in Scotland. The first in Scotland was the Chapelcross Works nuclear power station, which opened in 1959.  Located 3km north-east of Annan in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, Chapelcross’ primary purpose was to produce weapons grade plutonium for the UK nuclear programme, but it also generated electricity for the national grid.  Despite my minor set-back early in the program, this early discovery sparked an entirely new thesis project.

One of the most important parts of the research was to spend as much time in the street talking with people in the town about the station as I did in the judicial and national archives. Before I left for Scotland, I posted an advertisement in The Annandale Observer asking if people were willing to answer a few questions about their memories or experiences with Chapelcross.  Unfortunately, the response was not as I hoped, and I began my research primarily in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Ewart Public Library in Dumfries and Galloway.


The National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2016. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies

However, my time spent in the archives proved imperative as I dug through over a thousand recently declassified government files pertaining to policies over the authorizations for the disposal of radioactive waste, and letters, correspondence, and meeting minutes between local liaison committees, the Scottish Office, and managers for the station.  Moreover, as locals seemed to be more interested in discussing local landmarks and Robbie Burns, who, as anyone whose visited Dumfries knows, spent his last years of his life writing in a house near the River Nith, I spent many days sifting through old newspapers on a micro-fiche reader that was less than forgiving to use.  It was an experience I think all historians in training can relate with in some way. What might seem as banal or boring work in the archives turned out to be one of the more exhilarating parts of the entire trip.

Devil's porrige

Playing around in the Devils Porridge Museum, Eastriggs, Scotland. Photo Credit: Grant Gillies.

This is not to say that my time in the archives outweighed my persistence to get out into the street and speak to members of the community.  I spent many days biking to the station and snapping photos, siting in cafes and pubs asking people what, if anything, they remembered about the station, and visiting the local war museums such as The Devil’s Porridge Museum in Eastriggs. It was there that I met Edwin Rutherford, a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool who also works for the museum, who is starting an oral history project for the Chapelcross station.  Unfortunately, his luck was as good as mine at the time, and I was forced to be more creative with strategies for finding sources.

Eventually my patience payed off as mid-way into my research trip I received word that the Dumfries and Galloway Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (D&G CND) were holding a demonstration in the Dumfries town centre.  Due to this wonderful stroke of luck, I was able to set up an interview with a man and his brother-in law, both of whose fathers worked at the station. While a few interviews with long time members of the D&G CND fell through, I was lucky to have the time I had to learn a bit more about people’s reactions to the station.


Photo of the Dumfries and Galloway Campaign for Nuclear Armament Demonstration, Dumfries, Scotland. Photo Credit; Grant Gillies.

Of course, all this would not have been possible without the gracious support from the History Department at SFU, and the Centre for Scottish Studies at SFU and its various supporters.  Currently, I am drafting my thesis which I plan to defend by the end of the summer. What I’ve discovered is that there is not a single history to this station. The Scottish people that worked and lived alongside the station were not only pioneers of a new technology, developing safety standards and protocols for the industry, but also grassroots activists, raising awareness to some of the risks and moral dilemmas which came with the use of nuclear technology for military and commercial purposes.  While there is no single reason as to why I chose this topic, it is clear to me now that the story of the Chapelcross Works nuclear power station deserves its place within the annals of Scottish history, and I was more than happy to be a part of this process.

© Grant Gillies


[1] Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, (Oxford University Press: 2013) pp. 3.

The Lady Aberdeen Scottish Country Dance Club: Dancing and Philanthropy

This week’s blog comes to us from local historian of Scottish Country Dancing in Vancouver, Rosemary Coupe. Rosemary is an active Scottish country dancer and the author of Scottish Country Dancing in Vancouver: A History (Printed by Minuteman Press, Burnaby 2016).

Another blog featuring Lady Aberdeen appeared last October by Professor Marjory Harper of the University of Aberdeen: ‘Pleasure and Pain in the Okanagan Valley: The Adventures of Lord and Lady Aberdeen.’

In both Scotland and Vancouver, energetic women led the early twentieth-century revival of Scottish country dancing [SCD]. Ysobel Stewart and Jean Milligan founded the Scottish Country Dance Society [SCDS] in 1923. Only seven years later, in 1930, Ella Bingham (a recent immigrant from Glasgow) brought this traditional form of social dance to Vancouver, and in fact to Canada. Ella organized public performances and started dance groups throughout the city, traveling throughout the city by electric streetcar to teach them. The first books published by Miss Milligan and Mrs. Stewart drew on the repertoire of nineteenth-century dancing masters in Scotland, and Mrs. Bingham introduced the dances systematically through demonstrations which she insisted should be “perfect.”


Ella Bingham (Photo courtesy of Vancouver City Archives)

One of these Vancouver groups eventually became the longest-running SCD group in Canada. It stemmed from another of Mrs. Bingham’s passions: the Vancouver Council of Women, a confederation of women’s groups which discussed social and political issues. Mrs. Bingham served as president of the council in 1938-39, years during which the council, among other things, passed resolutions urging the establishment of vocational training schools, a cancer clinic, and a degree-granting school of home economics at UBC. Early in 1938, possibly at Mrs. Bingham’s instigation, the Recreation Committee of the Council of Women started its own SCD class. In May 1938, when the Vancouver Council organized the National Council of Women convention at the Hotel Vancouver, Mrs. Bingham seized the opportunity for publicity, arranging a dance demonstration at the reception. Attendees also listened to a broadcast message from Lady Aberdeen, who, as wife of the Governor-General, had founded the National Council of Women.


Lady Aberdeen at Rideau Hall with members of the National Council of Women, 1890s

By 1939 the dance group had become so well established that it became independent of the council. It held its first Tea Dance at the Hotel Georgia on 22 April 1939. A few days later, the death of Lady Aberdeen was announced from Scotland, and so the newly-fledged dance group was named as a tribute from one energetic and practical social activist to another.


Lady Aberdeen group with Mrs. Bingham (centre, dark skirt), and former Presidents Nellie [Forbes] McKenzie (to L of Mrs. Bingham) and Anne Brakenridge (extreme R)

The Lady Aberdeen Scottish Country Dance Club held classes continuously from 1938 to 2010. The group was at first intentionally all-female, and this may have helped SCD in Vancouver survive the dearth of men during World War II. Through the 1950s, the club held Tuesday classes at the Moose Hall on Howe Street. It also sponsored two annual events: a Christmas dance and an Armistice Day Tea Dance, an event which still continues every November 11.

1942 Tea Dance.jpg True to their name, group members followed a tradition of philanthropy. Following World War II, they supported veterans: the proceeds of their open party in 1956, for example, enabled them to donate a ninth wheel chair to Shaughnessy Hospital, and in 1957 their Tea Dance proceeds brought four table radios for the Hospital. Later, however, they supported a broader range of social causes, including “the Poppy Fund, the Salvation Army, rape relief and women’s shelters, cystic fibrosis, leukemia research, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation” (Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun 10 November 2010). Such causes reflected the mission of the Council of Women and the humanitarian concern of Lady Aberdeen herself.

By 1960, the club had 36 members. Mrs. Bingham was succeeded as president by Mrs. Anne Brakenridge, then in 1963 Mrs. Nellie Forbes (later McKenzie) followed. Nellie Forbes was a woman of great vivacity who continued to dance into her 90s; she also taught the Lady Aberdeen class and chaired the Provincial Executive Committee of the SCDS from 1957 to 1961. Her daughter Pat was also a dancer. In 1984, the club had 43 active members taught by Eileen Bennett, who was succeeded by her husband Ken.


Lady Aberdeen Tea Dance, 11 November 2015 (Photo by Kerry McDevitt)


Men’s Reel of the 51st Division, Lady Aberdeen Tea Dance, 11 November 1997

While the Lady Aberdeen Club ceased its classes in 2010, the annual Armistice Day Tea Dance tradition continues, with proceeds continuing to be donated to charity and sponsorship rotating among different Vancouver dance groups. The stress is on continuity: favourite dances reappear on programs from year to year. One frequent dance is Nellie McKenzie’s Jig, devised by Ken Bennett. The high point of every program is The Reel of the 51st Division with its formations bravely representing the Saltire. To commemorate its devising by Scottish prisoners of war in occupied France, it is danced by men only before the assembled crowd joins in.

The dancing starts at 1 pm every November 11 at the Scottish Cultural Centre, 8886 Hudson Street. All are welcome. Tickets are $10.

 © Rosemary Coupe


Mellish, Doris. Vancouver’s Women 1894 to 1986: Based on a Brief History of the Vancouver Council of Women. Vancouver: Council of Women, 1986.

Provincial Executive Committee, Scottish Country Dance Society of BC. Minutes, 1954–64.

Vancouver Branch of the Scottish Country Dance Society of BC. Minutes, 1930–41.

Vancouver Council of Women Fonds. UBC Rare Books and Special Collections.

Vancouver Branch RSCDS. Archival scrapbooks.

Vancouver Branch RSCDS. Newsletter, 1965 to present (became The White Cockade in 1996).

Henry Ogle Bell-Irving: ‘Dean of the West Coast Salmon Fishing Industry’, 1856-1931

This week’s blog comes to us from Ray Eagle, FSA. Scot. Ray was the author of many articles on the topic of the Highlands and the military. He was also the author of  In the Service of the Crown – the Story of Budge and Nancy Bell-Irving (Golden Dog Press, 1998). This blog is in honour of the Seaforth Highlanders Highland Homecoming, a celebration of the regiment’s return to the Seaforth Armory on September 24, 2016. Ray Eagle sadly passed away in August, 2017.

Henry Ogle Bell-Irving (1856-1931) and his siblings came from a wealthy, but later impoverished, family whose estate, Milkbank, was near Lockerbie in the Scottish Borders. A financial catastrophe bankrupted their father when a fire destroyed the warehouse on his West Indian plantation and with it his fortune.  In spite of his father’s financial catastrophe putting his family at risk, H.O. (as he became known) was able to establish himself in one of British Columbia’s early major industries, leading to him earning the title ‘Dean of the West Coast Salmon Industry.’

Soon after the fire, H.O’s father died and his young widow Williamina, mother of seven children, faced reduced finances. She took the family to Germany where the cost of living was cheaper, and H.O. eventually enrolled at Karlsruhe University where he received a degree in civil engineering.


H.O. Bell Irving (courtesy the author)

H.O. arrived in Canada in 1882. Like many young men, in order to make his fortune he joined the Canadian Pacific Railway as a surveyor, progressing westward as it was built.  He was an accomplished water-colour artist and his paintings of the Canadian wilderness are housed in the British Columbia Provincial Archives in Victoria. They were painted under the most primitive conditions, but have survived well.

H.O. left the railway and reached Vancouver in October 1885 where, with his drive and energy, he saw enormous possibilities; at first working as an architect ,and later as a land developer in the growing province. In 1886 H.O. returned to Britain to marry Marie Isabel del Carmen Beattie (Bella), daughter of a wealthy Torquay, Devonshire family. She was not at first taken with a city she considered to be primitive, and it is to her credit that she stayed and became a tower of strength to her husband, despite increasing ill-health. H.O. began looking for more business opportunities and the following year he chartered the 879 ton sailing ship Titania to bring a mixed cargo from London to Vancouver.


Courtesy BC Archives

In these years, the principal industries in British Columbia were fishing and forestry. Salmon runs were on every river from Oregon to Alaska and H.O. organized a return shipment of sockeye to Britain. He was certain that he could excite business people there to B.C.’s investment opportunities. On April 14, 1891 he issued a prospectus and by the end of the year he had raised £200,000 capital and formed the Anglo-British Columbia Packing Company (A.B.C.), acquiring options on nine canneries; seven on the Fraser River, and two on the Skeena River. Ever the astute businessman, H.O. established the head office of the A.B.C. in London while he formed H. Bell-Irving and Co. Ltd. to become the selling agent on the west coast. Instead of taking a salary from the A.B.C., H.O. drew large commissions from international fish sales. The A.B.C., eventually became one of the largest salmon packing enterprises on the west coast, shipping salmon to Britain, France, China, India, Australia, and New Zealand.


H.O. and Bella Bell-Irving about the time of their marriage (courtesy of the author)

In 1887 H.O. and Bella began to raise a family. In spite of a list of ailments, which included arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease, and neuritis, she gave birth to ten children, four girls, and six boys. The first born boy was christened Henry, the third in as many generations and a family tradition for the first-born boy.

H.O. took a great interest in community affairs in the rapidly growing city of Vancouver. He became an Alderman, chairing the Board of Works, and was also President of the Vancouver Board of Trade. In November 1910, together with other expatriate Scots, H.O. helped to found the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

It was inevitable that a man with such energy would upset a few of his fellow citizens and this occurred with the Seaforth’s foundation. One of the founders, Pipe-Major Hector MacKenzie, was interviewed by Major J. Matthews, Vancouver’s first city archivist. Mackenzie told him: “At a meeting to discuss outfitting the regiment, Henry Bell-Irving – you know how important he thought himself – took it upon himself, much to the disgust of many, to steal the whole show and just rode right over  everybody. He was very domineering!”

Since then, the Bell-Irvings have played a vital role in the regiment. When WWI began in 1914 all six boys joined the armed forces. Henry, the eldest into the navy; Richard, Malcolm and Duncan earned their wings in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps, while Roderick and Aeneas went into the army. Roderick, the only one who remained in a Highland regiment throughout the war, was killed in action in the last few weeks of hostilities. Malcolm and Duncan were both wounded in flying combat and later in flying accidents. Between them, Henry, Roderick, Malcolm, and Duncan won nine bravery decorations.


H.O with his sons in WWI. L-R at the back: Malcolm, Aeneas, Roderick, Duncan. L-R at the front: Dick, H.O., Henry (courtesy of the author)

H.O. continued to mastermind his fishing company and it weathered many critical times, but it paid handsome dividends during most years. Despite increasing age H.O. was reluctant to give up the reins to his sons, preferring to make all decisions himself, which did not sit well with the more ambitious ones. It was a shock to many  when, at age 75, H.O. became ill with cancer and died in February 1931. He remained active
almost to the end and was skating in Switzerland just weeks before he died.


H.O.’s grandson Brigadier the Hon. H.P. (Budge) Bell-Irving and his father Henry outside Buckingham Palace in WWII when Budge received a bar to his Distinguished Service Order (courtesy the author)

In WWII three of H.O.’s sons, Henry, Duncan, and Aeneas rejoined the armed forces, one in each of the three services. The most celebrated of the next generation was Brigadier the Hon. Henry Pybus (Budge) Bell-Irving. Budge commanded the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in Italy and Northern Europe, winning a D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) and bar before taking over a Brigade in the final months of the European Campaign. After the war, Budge established a real-estate company, followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as President of the Vancouver Board of Trade, and, from 1978 to 1983, served as B.C.’s 23rd Lieutenant-Governor. Budge’s son, Roderick, also commanded the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, the third Bell-Irving to command the regiment.

© Ray Eagle


The Vancouver City Archives

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Museum and Archives

The author would also like to thank the Bell-Irving family for providing access to all relevant papers and images.

Lowland Tycoon: Hugh Galbraith’s Story of Success in the West

This week’s post comes from Alex Anderson. Alex is a second generation Scottish-Canadian who at press time was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with a major in History at Simon Fraser University. Growing up with a Scottish father and grandparents, he has always been interested in Scottish culture from a young age. Alex is deeply interested in how Scottish culture has impacted the development of British Columbia, and is looking forward to exploring their rich history in his remaining years at Simon Fraser University.

The rain soaked forests and valleys of British Columbia have been a popular destination for settlers since the demand for valuable furs drove traders west in significant numbers to the Pacific Ocean in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1857 the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush ushered in thousands of Americans hoping to make their fortunes, and the need to control the masses of foreign prospectors urged the creation of the colony of British Columbia in 1858 (the colony of Vancouver Island was created in 1849). The Scottish, a statistical minority in both Great Britain and Canada, dominated the economy and political scene in British Columbia to an unprecedented degree. Thousands settled across British Columbia following the Province’s creation, and the city of New Westminster, stands as a testament to the many thousands who made the journey west both across Canada and by ship. Founded with the purpose of creating a new capital for British Columbia, New Westminster was home to a large contingent of Scottish settlers and was only surpassed by Vancouver in population in the beginning of the twentieth century.


Early view of New Westminster, 1862-1866, Item IHP0618, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

One Scottish family in particular has cast a long shadow over New Westminster since the 1890s. Born in West Kilbride, Ayrshire in 1832, Hugh Galbraith moved with his parents to New Brunswick during his early childhood.[1] Canada was a popular destination for Scots in this period. Its inexpensive land, growing industry, and the chance for a new start were too good to pass up for many back in Scotland. It is unknown at exactly what age his parents made the trip across the Atlantic, however it’s clear that he spent his formative years in New Brunswick learning to become a carpenter. He married Jane Lindsay in Beldune who gave birth to Margaret, James Lindsay, John Holmes, David Stuart, William Sutherland, Robert Chalmers, Charles, and Hubert over a 19 year period.[2] Aged 42, in 1884 Hugh took his wife and 8 children across the Northern Pacific Railroad to Portland, Oregon. This route would have been typical for the time, as the Canadian Pacific Railroad had yet to be completed. He then sailed to New Westminster and moved in to their new home, a small house on what is now called Eighth street.


Galbraith Files, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

Galbraith began his career in New Westminster working as a factory hand with three of his sons at the Royal City Planing Mills. Skilled and ambitious, and after a period of 7 years Galbraith could afford to open his own carpentry business in 1891 which he named Galbraith and Sons. His company produced a variety of finished woods including cedar, spruce, and hemlock, as well as being suppliers of sash and door material.[1] Galbraith and Sons met with glowing reviews from clients, and his work was considered to be very high quality. Galbraith profited hugely and managed to open his own mill along with a factory on 10th street, firmly making himself the latest in a long line of successful Scottish industrialists.[2]


Galbraith Files, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

Despite his modest working class background, Hugh Galbraith was able to become a preeminent force in the economy of New Westminster at the time, a tale of success which mirrors many other notable Scots in British Columbia, such as Governor James Douglas. Galbraith and Sons was by no means running on Hugh’s efforts alone, however. According to a news report, a directory listing from 1909 shows that Hugh, John, William, Charles, and James were all involved in the running of the business, with different family members active across the various sites which they collectively owned. [3] Close family ties proved to be an invaluable tool for the Galbraith family, a common occurrence among Scottish families involved in business. Members of the family were also active in the local lacrosse community.[4]

A fire would be the end of Galbraith and Sons, burning down their factory in 1932.[1] This was followed by a loss of another one of their factories in Queensborough, effectively ending the company.[2] Though the company has long since been defunct, an enduring testament to the Galbraith family’s legacy is found in the famous Galbraith Manor, situated at 131 Eighth Street in New Westminster. Galbraith Manor was built in 1892 shortly after the opening of the family business.[3] It was intended as a showpiece house that would display their company’s quality design techniques and wood finishing. It has been renovated since this time; however, the original furnishing and style is maintained by the city of New Westminster. Its impressive architecture is unique to its time, and it currently stands as a notable example of New Westminster’s many beautiful old homes.


131 8th Street File, Building Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives.

The legacy left by pioneering early Scottish immigrants such as Hugh Galbraith can still be felt alive and well across British Columbia. Many Scottish social and cultural groups are still active, and Scots and their descendants continue to play a large role in politics. One thing is for certain, that the Scottish story in British Columbia has only just begun.

© Alex Anderson


[1] Document, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[2] Ibid

[3] Article, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[1] Archie Miller, “Our Forgotten Past.” Royal City Record, April 5, 1986

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Newspaper Clipping, September 21st 1949, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[1] Article, Galbraith File, People Files, New Westminster Museum & Archives

[2] Ibid

John Thomas Scott: Adventurer, War Hero, and Public Figure

This week’s blog comes from Jazmin Hundal. At press time, Jazmin was a history major and an International Studies minor at SFU. She has always had a passion for history and travel, often finding that she can travel the world through the lives of those who have made history. Jazmin has some family in Northern Ireland, and on her last visit there, became curious about nearby Scotland. She is immensely excited to have had the opportunity to learn a little about its people through her own research for Scottish history courses at SFU.

John Thomas Scott, a Scottish man born in Dunoon, led a life full of interest. While some of the facts surrounding his life may be questionable, as they come from small-scale newspapers that tended to report local lore as fact, the story that results is that of a real person. While elements may come across as fantastical, most of the events in his story were likely to have happened, and so are worth exploring here in this post.


Scott [n.d.] : New Westminster Archive Subject Files: Scott, File A.

 Born on October 13th, 1821, Scott lost his father at the age of twelve, prompting his mother to leave him under the care of his uncle. With this uncle, he traveled to the West Indies in 1832, returning to Britain two years later. Although there are no available accounts of what Scott did during those years in the West Indies, it is possible that he and his uncle were in some way involved in the sugar or cotton plantation economies that thrived in that area during that time.

Upon his return in 1834, Scott enlisted as a musician in the Thirteenth Argyleshire Rifles, with whom he traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Twelve years later in 1846, Scott moved to Pennsylvania, and enlisted on the American side of the Mexican-American War (a conflict that ran from 1846-1848). Like some of his fellow Scottish volunteers, Scott registered himself beforehand under a different name, as John Thomas Dunoon. This shrewd move allowed him to continue to collect a pension from the American army for the rest of his life, even when he later moved to British Columbia.


Scott in military uniform. New Westminster Archive Subject Files: Scott, File A.

However, in terms of his military career in the American army, Scott was better known for his time spent as a Mexican prisoner of war. Injured at the Siege of Acapulco, he was taken prisoner by the Mexicans. It is not clear how long he was a prisoner of theirs, but it is clear what he claimed to have happened during that time. According to the reports of the newspapers, Scott learned the “Mexican language” (otherwise known as Spanish) from his captors, and quickly gained their trust. After having gained this trust, he led them into an ambush by the American army, through which he was freed and subsequently promoted to the title of sergeant.

While this last part of his story should be taken with a grain of salt, the next few decades of his life were likely to have happened. Scott is reported to have traveled to California to take part in the gold rush there in 1848 (after the Mexican-American War had ended). He didn’t find any gold; however, he did find a wife, a local woman named Elizabeth Ann Williams. Scott would have been thirty-six years old at the time, and his wife nineteen.

In 1858, after having their first child together, Scott and his wife traveled north to pursue the Cariboo Gold Rush along the Fraser River. After arriving in Victoria en route to the gold fields, Scott found employment at the Victoria Hotel before sending for his family to join him (today currently on the corner of Government and Courtney streets).


Col. J.T. Scott’s “Caledonia” Hotel in Port Moody [1886]. Courtesy City of Vancouver Archives AM54-S4-: Hot P19

After having their second child in Victoria in 1859, Scott chose to move his family once again, this time to New Westminster. He set up the Pioneer Saloon there, which was rumoured to have begun as just a tent over a stump. Whether or not this was true has yet to be proven, however, it seems that Scott found success in the saloon business, as he set up another one in Barkerville three years later, named the Scott Saloon. He had moved there to follow the Cariboo gold rush, where he acquired forty thousand dollars.

After making this significant profit, the avid entrepreneur returned to New Westminster and invested a portion of this money into steam boating on the Fraser River. In 1863, he also found a calling in public office, as he was elected the to first New Westminster Health Board.

In 1865, tragedy struck the Scott family, as they lost three of their young children to premature deaths. Their seventeen month old, five year old, and six year old died of spasmodic croup, and were buried in the Douglas Road Cemetery. The drainage was apparently so poor in this area that the coffins had to be stood upon to keep them down while the soil was being shoveled onto them.

Five years later, in 1870, Scott was back in the public eye when he founded the May Day Celebrations in New Westminster. He was a key part in these celebrations, and was until he died.

May Day

Scott presiding over the May Day celebrations [n.d.]. New Westminster Archive Subject Files: Scott, File A.

 In 1884, John moved his family again, this time to Port Moody. In partnership with his son-in-law, Robert Brenton Kelly, he set up the Caledonia Hotel. This was his last business venture, as he died in 1908. His wife, Elizabeth, survived him by three years, passing on in 1911. John and Elizabeth left forty-eight living direct descendants, seven of those being their children, and thirty-six being their grandchildren.


Funeral procession in New Westminster, down Columbia Street, on February 16th, 1908. New Westminster Archive Subject Files: Scott, File A.


Gravestone. New Westminster Archive Subject Files: Scott, File A.

By the time of Scott’s death, he was a well-known public figure in New Westminster. Shown here are images of an invitation to his funeral procession, and of the lengthy procession itself, which went down Columbia Street on February 16th, 1908. His story was well known by the locals there, and he was regarded as an individual who had traveled the world and contributed greatly to the establishment of New Westminster. While it is likely that some elements of his story had been fictionalized (such as the tale of him gaining the trust of his Mexican captors and using it against them), his life tells us how ordinary men became local heroes in the mid to late nineteenth century. In the larger context of Scottish migration to B.C., he represented the adaptability and work ethic of Scottish emigrants to other settlers in the area. In addition, these newly formed communities clearly loved a good story, and were eager to accept one when it came their way. John Thomas Scott is proof of that, and was celebrated for the things he had done and may have done during his North American travels.

© Jazmin Hundal


New Westminster Archive Subject Files: Scott, File A.

“Col. Scott Passed Away Yesterday: Pioneer Resident of Lower Valley Died After Month’s Illness- Funeral Will Take Place Tomorrow.” Vancouver Daily Province, February 17th, 1908.

Green, George. “Early History of Burnaby and Vicinity.” The Advertiser, August 4th, 1939.

McCaig, Mark. “J.T. Scott and the Pioneer Saloon.”

Story, Wanda. “John Thomas Scott: 1821-1908.” December, 1992.