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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

#41 - Spuzzum

In the last postcard post, Jack's friend, Dick, was in Vernon, BC and headed to New Westminster to start his WWI journey to Europe.  On this card, we see he is travelling east toward Europe - but he hasn't gone too far, yet.  The card is from near Spuzzum, BC.

"SPUZZUM"??? you may ask.  What kind of word is Spuzzum???  According to Wikipedia, it may be a First Nations ("Indian" for those of you who don't reside in Canada, but First Nations is the term used here) word meaning "little flat."  It is the boundary between the Sto:lo and Nlaka'pamux peoples - just north of Hope, BC - often referred to as "beyond Hope." (Spuzzumites have had quite a sense of humour regarding their size and name).

To put it in the context of my experience, when I was younger, Spuzzum was a stop on the highway - a gas station and cafe.  Before the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) was put through in 1986, the Trans-Canada Highway was the main route we used to travel from Vernon to Vancouver - every year or two.  Here is a picture of what it used to look like (from the cars, I'd say late '70s, early '80s):

If I remember correctly, behind the photographer would be a rather steep hill going up, and behind the restaurant/gas station was a rather steep hill down to the river - but not too close, as there were some houses down there.  As we were driving through, my father would say "there's Spuzzum, don't blink or you'll miss it!"  And, to show their own humour, the hamlet had one sign which on both sides read "You are now leaving Spuzzum."  The other highway being put through must have really killed their business in the mid-80s.

In 2002 the gas station and restaurant burned down.  They were not re-built.  Here is what the spot looks like today:

This postcard was written to Jack's sister, Belle, and the text reads:  "On the train 9th Nov Hello Belle how are you getting along.  we are having a fine time with the girl's all along the line the weather is a bit cold here but every one is happy Dick".  A curious little note.  Not sure why he needed to tell Belle he was having fun with all the girls ...

The postmark is from Regina, Saskatchewan, so from this and the previous postcard, we can see where Dick has been (on a 1915 map of the railroads across Canada):

Remember, he started in Vernon, went to New Westminster (which is part of the Lower Mainland along with Vancouver and several other cities) and then got on the train headed east.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Okanagan Historical Society annual 75:120

Relatively Speaking

I was recently asked to contribute to the Alberta Genealogical Society's publication, Relatively Speaking.

 click here to go to their page

One of the benefits of a membership to the Society is receiving this quarterly journal.  If anyone is interested in Canadian Genealogy, or Alberta Genealogy specifically, I would recommend becoming a member.  You can find their web page here:

The article I wrote is called "It All Started with Dick" - and it chronicles my search for the author of the postcards signed either "D" or "Dick".  If you regularly read my blog, you'll have already read about the story.   If not, you can find it here.