Soldier Spotlight: Lance Corporal Cyril Clarke

Image: Beth’s garden included peonies grown by C.M. Clarke from Teepee Creek, 1951-1964 (SPRA 002.01.03.120)

Regimental Number: 760897
Rank: Lance Corporal
Branch: 121st Battalion; 38th Battalion

Cyril was born August 6, 1882 on St. Vincent’s Island in the West Indies. His father was an Anglican minister and his mother West Indian. He attended Oxford University and was said to have been a classmate of Winston Churchill. About 1910 he immigrated to Canada and when war broke out he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He spoke several languages and served as an interpreter in France during World War I. Cyril was awarded the Military Medal on August 16, 1917 for bravery in the field, as well as the Distinguished Conduct Medal on February 21, 1919. He received a gunshot wound to his right arm in August of 1918.

After the war, Cyril took a Soldier’s Settlement Grant in the Teepee Creek area (SE 31-73-3-W6). He soon discovered that farming made his asthma much worse and began concentrating on growing vegetables and flowers instead. As a black, highly educated, lifelong bachelor, and non-farmer, he was not the norm at Teepee Creek.

Cyril soon began specializing in peonies, about which he was passionate. The conservative estimate is that Mr. Clarke tested about 2000 cultivars over his thirty years of collecting. He was a regular contributor to the American Peony Society bulletin and a leading authority on peony hybrids.

As he aged, Cyril began to lose his sight and his gardening friends persuaded him to move closer to Grande Prairie. They packed up his peonies and sent them to various homes. Large collections went to the Beaverlodge Research Station and the Devonian Botanic Garden near Edmonton and his records and 921 specimens were donated to the Department of Horticulture at the University of Alberta. The university grounds are still beautified with Clarke’s peonies.

Cyril himself moved to Dr. Gurth O’Brien’s land, where he had a garden spot of good, well-cultivated soil beside O’Brien Lake. Mr. Clarke passed away at his home on December 20, 1952, at the age of 70 years.

Sources: Wagon Trails Grown Over, p. 993-996, 1147

Cyril Mervyn Clarke. From Wagon Trails Grown Over, Sexsmith to the Smoky Historical Society (1980), p. 993.

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Behind the Name: Charles Spencer

Image: Imperial Bank, former building to the left of the newly constructed one, and Spencer Block, Grande Prairie main street intersection, 1919 (SPRA 2008.080.07, Fonds 295, Rodacker Family fonds)

This is part five of a six-part blog series featuring some of the individuals for whom Grande Prairie schools are named.

Charles E. Spencer was born in England in 1869. By 1901, he was living in Southampton and working as a builder and jointer. At the age of 37, he immigrated to Canada and filed on a homestead in Moose Jaw. By 1909 he was living in Edmonton and became a partner in the Argonaut Company, the development company that founded the Grande Prairie townsite.

As a partner in the Argonauts, Mr. Spencer was one of Grande Prairie’s first real estate agents. He bought and sold land, and rented out a series of “cottages” and an office block. He also formed a partnership with Neil Campbell, another Argonaut, and re-entered the building trade. Charles Spencer designed and/or built many of Grande Prairie’s early public buildings: the first school in 1915; the large brick Montrose School in 1917; the Grande Prairie Hotel in 1917; the Spencer Block in 1919; the first Town Hall, which also included the Fire Hall, in 1920; the new Grande Prairie High School in 1929; and the Donald Hotel in 1937. When the building trade slowed during the 1930s, he traveled around the south Peace building stockyards and loading platforms for the Grande Prairie Cooperative Livestock Association.

It was out of the Spencer Block that Mr. Spencer operated “Prairie City Agency”, which sold all lines of fire insurance. An earlier business venture was the Grande Prairie Electric Light Co., which he encouraged the ratepayers of the town to establish in 1917. They formed a company and sold shares, providing electrical service to the town until Canadian Utilities took over the franchise in 1929.

Besides being a partner in the Argonaut Company and a builder, Charles pursued a number of other interests. As early as 1917, he opened a lending library in the Donald Hotel, cooperating with the Extension Department at the University of Alberta to provide the best possible reading material. Although this library was not in operation long, Spencer continued to promote the need for a public library and was instrumental in forming the first Library Board, of which he was the first chair. He also continued to build his own collection, which was reputed to be one of the most complete in the north. In 1952 he donated his own private collection of 2500 books to the public library.

Mr. Spencer was also a founding member of the Board of Trade, member of the Hospital Board, Chairman and/or Secretary-Treasurer of the Grande Prairie School District 2357, Justice of the Peace, Commissioner of the Juvenile Court, and town councilor.

Mr. Spencer died on February 18, 1952, at the Grande Prairie Municipal Hospital after a lengthy illness. As a mark of respect, all stores in the town closed for his funeral. The Spencer Block was purchased by the Army and Navy Department Store out of Edmonton, and the building razed. In 1955, Macleods was built on the site.

Sources: SPRA finding aid (356)

Charles Spencer, 1940 (SPRA 356.03.01)

Now Hiring: Archivist

The South Peace Regional Archives in Grande Prairie Alberta is looking for a skilled, driven, and adventurous Archivist to join our team. Being part of a small non-profit organization you will not only gain direct experience in a range of archival activities, but take a leadership role in the heritage preservation of our region. You will be able to help guide our work, and have a direct impact on the organization. This has never been more true than now, as we prepare to design, set up, and relocate to our new home. If you want to be part of a small, dynamic, archives team, and help to build and grow your own workspace, we encourage you to apply. Visit our Careers page for the full job description and information about how to apply.

Position Type: Full time; permanent

Hours: 35 hours per week

Location: Grande Prairie, Alberta

Salary Range: $52,000 – $62,000

Position Closing Date: July 3, 2022

Tentative Start Date: August 1, 2022

Soldier Spotlight: Private Norman Johnston

Image: Medical notes from Norman’s military service file (Library & Archives Canada)

Regimental Number: 101234
Rank: Private
Branch: 31st Battalion

Norman was born in Blake, Huron County, Ontario on February 29, 1892. He was farming in Lake Saskatoon at the time of his enlistment in September of 1915. Norman was wounded several times during his time of service in the Canadian army. In August of 1916, he contracted German measles. A month later, in September of 1916, he received a gunshot wound to his right thigh at Courcelette during the Somme offensive. At Passchendaele on November 6, 1917, Norman received shrapnel wounds. In 1918 he received gunshot wounds to his head and face; he suffered from nasal obstruction later as a result of the wound. Norman was awarded the Military Medal for his action at Rosieres (Battle of Amiens) on August 9, 1918; it is possible that this was when he was wounded the final time. His citation reads as follows:

“When man’s section were held up by a strong point in a ruined house he rushed it under the cover of rifle fire and bombed it killing or wounding the entire crew allowing the right half of the section to carry on the advance.”

According to his service file, Norman lived in Dawson Creek/Pouce Coupe between 1919 and 1923. He was married to Beulah Beatrice Vermilyea. Norman died in Vancouver on October 2, 1984.

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Speedy Bird Gets the Worm

Image: Pigeons of several varieties in a pen, part of Vince Durda’s collection of exotic birds, July 1979 (SPRA 002.05.06.524)

There is no lack of exciting stories and extraordinary pieces of history to be found at the South Peace Regional Archives. Nestled among the Sports, Recreation, and Leisure reference files are news clippings detailing the unique story of a group of 10 local pigeon enthusiasts who joined forces in 1987 to create a club fit for sports fans and bird lovers alike: the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club. Pigeon racing is a sport in which trained racing pigeons are released by their owners at a specific location, often ranging from 150 to 950 kilometers away. The pigeons are then monitored using a clocking machine that is placed on their legs and measures the distance travelled per second as they make the return flight home. The bird that arrives home the fastest is declared the winner of that day’s race, and often earns a sum of prize money for their owners. The Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club’s 1987 season ran from May to late August, with races taking place every weekend.

Bob Lange, a Clairmont resident and one of the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club’s founders, had a passion for pigeon racing long before the club was established. In the 3 May 1984 edition of the Daily Herald-Tribune, Lange described his 50-year-long history of training and breeding pigeons for racing. According to the article, Lange owned about 500 pigeons from locations such as France, Belgium, England, Ireland, and the United States: some of which had cost him as much as $1,200. Lange detailed the long process of training a racing pigeon, which he recommends begins when the pigeon is about three months old. The initial training starts by taking the pigeon about 1.5 to 8 kilometers away, and having it return home from each direction. The distance is gradually increased until eventually the pigeon can complete a 480 kilometer trip. At the time the article was published, Lange was breeding pigeons using “proven birds who have flown at least 1,600 kilometers” for other clubs and individuals, however he expressed his hopes for setting up a racing club in the Grande Prairie area (DHT, 3 May 1984). Lange later accomplished this dream with the establishment of the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club.

Members of the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club saw their fair share of races gone wrong. Herald-Tribune staff member Stephen Fletcher once observed that “when your racetrack is in the sky, there’s no telling what an ill-timed air current can do,” leaving lots of unpredictable variables in each race (DHT, c 1990). Between the pigeons losing their sense of direction, taking a break in comfy-looking barns along the route, or the ever constant threat of prey-seeking marauders, there are plenty of opportunities for racing events to go awry. Mike Wright, a founder and former president of the club, knew this all too well. Wright shared various stories of mishaps in his pigeon racing career with the Daily Herald-Tribune. One of these involved a hawk with a very expensive palate. Just weeks after purchasing a very speedy, champion racer for $10,000, Wright learned the hard way that high prices don’t guarantee results. His new prized-pigeon became a lunchtime meal for one of the Peace Region’s many birds of prey. The truly unpredictable nature of pigeon racing means that even with proven winners and well trained racers, there are rarely any certainties when it comes to the sport.

These clippings show years of passion and dedication towards breeding, training, and racing pigeons. Through these records, it is apparent that the Grande Prairie Pigeon Racing Club gave community members in Grande Prairie and the surrounding areas a unique opportunity: to learn and appreciate the many challenges and triumphs that come along with the excitement of pigeon racing.

Daily Herald-Tribune, May 3, 1984

Daily Herald-Tribune, April 15, 1987

Daily Herald-Tribune, ca. 1990

Soldier Spotlight: Russell Theodore “Ted” Chambers

Image: Grande Prairie City Flour Mill, built in 1912. Machinery for this mill was hauled in over the Edson Trail and its generator produced the first electrical power for Grande Prairie. Ca. 1915 (SPRA 1998.8.1)

Regiment: Edmonton Fusiliers

Ted Chambers, born in 1903 in Puslinch ON, was the only son of Mr and Mrs Daniel and Bertha (Cummins) Chambers. He moved to the Peace River country over the Edson Trail with his parents and sister Rhea in 1912. The family settled on a homestead in the Two Rivers district (Southeast of Beaverlodge AB). The children attended a makeshift school in the Halcourt church, and later went to school in Grande Prairie. In the early 1930’s Ted worked for Bob Kranz constructing the Flour Mill. He married Madeline Ada Tyrrell (daughter of Arthur and Marie Tyrrell) on April 21, 1934 in Wembley AB, and the couple farmed in Two Rivers. Ted and Madeline had two children: Joan and Dale. During the Second World War, Ted served with the Edmonton Fusiliers for 5 years. Having a hobby of finding fossils, Ted found a huge hip bone on the banks of the Beaver Lodge River, which was believed to be from a mammoth dinosaur, in September 1938. Ted was an avid hunter and fisherman. He was killed in an accident on the Wapiti bridge on July 5, 1965. Madeline died in December 1992 in Beaverlodge.

Source:
Beaverlodge to the Rockies pp. 549-550
Along the Wapiti – p. 412 (name)
p. 346
Northern Tribune April 26, 1934 p. 5 c. 3 (marries), and September 22, 1938 p. 1 c.2 (fossil)

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Learn About the Peace River Country Land Settlement Database

Image: Mrs. Trelle drives the tractor while Mr. Trelle operates the binder while harvesting their wheat crop. The Trelles were World Wheat Kings when this photograph was taken. The original negative for this image is at the Glenbow Archives. ca. 1928 (SPRA 107.12)

In 2006, the Grande Prairie Regional College undertook a project to glean personal information from the files of each of the 6,800 applications for land in the Peace River Country up to the end of 1914. These files, created by the Department of the Interior, are held on microfilm by the Provincial Archives of Alberta and British Columbia, and are commonly referred to as the “Homestead Files”.

Beginning in 2014, with generous grants from each of the rural municipalities in northwest Alberta, and organizations like the Peace Country Historical Society and the Grande Prairie Branch of the AGS, the project in Alberta was extended to the end of 1930, and includes information on over 33,000 applications for land by about 28,000 applicants.

The project has been administered by the South Peace Regional Archives and supported by generous grants by Alberta Culture.

To learn more about the details of this project, and how to access and use the information on each of the people who took Crown land in the Peace River Country of Alberta prior to 1931, you are invited to attend this presentation and ask question. Details for the presentation are as follows:

Grande Prairie Museum Community Room
Thursday, June 2
8:00 PM

For more information, contact David Leonard at 780-482-2486 or dwlpeaceher@telus.net.

Soldier Spotlight: Nursing Sister Norval McDonald

Image: Medical notes from Norval’s military service file. She suffered from mumps and had a tonsillectomy in 1917. (Library & Archives Canada)

Rank: Nursing Sister
Branch: Canadian Army Medical Corps

Norval was born in Perth, Ontario on March 15, 1891. She enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1917 and served in the following places:

-No. 11 Canadian General Hospital (Moore Barracks, Shorncliffe, England) May 1917 – July 1918
-No. 8 Canadian Stationary Hospital (Charmes, Rouen, and Dunkerque) Aug 1918 – April 1919
-Canadian Army Medical Corps Casualty Company (England) April/May 1919

In August of 1919 Norval returned to Canada. Her father and brothers had come up to Sexsmith during her time overseas, and she joined them here. Here she met and married Gordon McDonald; their land was located at 13-74-5-W6 and 21-74-4-W6. Norval died on May 2, 1988 and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver.

Sources: Wagon Trails Grown Over p. 310

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Behind the Name: I.V. Macklin

Image: I.V. Macklin with his second wife Tilley and their three oldest children: Irwin, Arthur and Ann, ca. 1950 (SPRA 177.088)

This is part four of a six-part blog series featuring some of the individuals for whom Grande Prairie schools are named.

Irvin Victor Macklin was born in Fenella, Ontario in 1888. He earned a Bachelor of Arts at Victoria College, University of Toronto. Advised by his doctor to “get out into the country” after his graduation in 1910, Mr. Macklin moved west and traveled the Long Trail into the Peace Country that summer. He filed on a homestead east of the hamlet of Grande Prairie on which he would reside until his death 70 years later.

I. V. Macklin has the distinction of being the first school teacher in Grande Prairie. When no qualified teacher could be found for the Grande Prairie School District No. 2357 organized in 1911, Mr. Macklin agreed to fill in temporarily. Classes started in January 1913 and he taught until June 30 of that year.

In 1912, Mr. Macklin married Nellie Cass, from Montreal. By 1914, he was an established dairyman in the area and active in the community as a leader in church affairs as well as in agriculture, economics and politics. He became the first magistrate in Grande Prairie in 1914. He served as a director for the Peace River country in the United Farmers Association movement and instigated the Debt Adjustment Act during the Depression. For three federal elections, he was the candidate for the CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) Party in the Peace River constituency. He was also a well-known radio speaker and writer for the CCF. His articles appeared in papers across Canada, as well as in the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune.

The Macklins had two children, Velma and Victor. Nellie Macklin died in the spring of 1940 and in 1941 Mr. Macklin married Matilda Jantz from Crooked Creek. Four children were born to this second marriage: Irvin, Arthur, Ann, and Linda.

Mr. Macklin passed away in 1980, having lived in the community of Grande Prairie for almost all of his adult life. The Macklin farm was redeveloped as residential lots: the Hillside area at the beginning of World War II, Mountview Estates around 1970, and Ivy Lake Estates around 1980.

Sources: SPRA finding aid (108)

Portrait of I.V. Macklin when he was a federal candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, ca. 1940 (SPRA 108.08)

Soldier Spotlight: Michael Bzowy

Image: Clipping from an October 12, 1944 Grande Prairie newspaper.

Rank: Warrant Officer 2nd (WO2)

On June 13, 1944 during a raid on Cambrai, France, Michael Bzowy’s aircraft (The Thunderbirds) was attacked by a Ju 88 (German combat aircraft) night fighter and went down in flames. Friends thought he was killed, but a week later was found alive.

Michael’s mother in Rycroft received a letter from the mother of one his fallen comrades, Thomas F. How, who mentioned Michael in his diary and had a photo of him. A week later, Mrs. Bzowy received confirmation that Michael was a Prisoner of War.

An article in the December 2016 issue of Telling Our Stories caught the attention of researchers Jean Claude Charlebois and Lloyd Truscott, who shared with us a link to the diary of David Scott, a World War II soldier who served with Mike.  Below is an excerpt from David’s diary, as he describes his journey to a POW camp near the Polish border:

Bankau, August 1944: As soon as I got on board I recognised Mike Bzowy, who was at Linton with me and had been shot down a few weeks previously. The trip was scheduled to take three days to Bankau. The worst was the crowded compartments with hard wooden seats. It was definitely not the ideal form of transportation and at night it was torture trying to sleep. The general feeling of the men was good; all were a little excited, for who isn’t excited on a train journey through a strange country, even if the circumstances are not the best? The guards were not too bad; they got us hot water and gave us plenty of bread so we were well fed…

…At last we arrived at the tiny Bankau Station on Saturday 5th August, 7pm. We walked up the long road from the station preceded by wounded in a farm cart and were amazed to see our new camp. It was in the process of being built; the accommodation was in sheds. There was a goodly crowd watching us entering the camp, for there were quite a lot of us and we formed an entire new section. Mike was put in charge…

…Note. Mike Bzowy was a very interesting character. He was a Canadian of the first generation and his parents were Russian. His particular talent was in languages and he could make himself understood in the majority of European and Slavic tongues. He was also a natural leader and was good friends with everyone; when you talked with him he was always interested in you and what you wanted to say.

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.