Lewis Love Letters

Image: Portrait of the Dick Lewis family: Freddie, Dick, Ursula, Cathy. 1953 (SPRA 195.01.19)

“As I’ve told you before, you’ve always sort of been my dream girl.  From the first night I met you I found there was something about you that was irresistible.  If I were to call you up in about six months time, do you suppose you’d go for a walk with me through Stanley Park?”

These were Richard “Dick” Lewis’s words to Ursula Walker when he wrote to her from Holland on May 10, 1945, shortly after the Allied victory in Europe.

Dick and Ursula had met in the summer of 1941 at a dance in Vancouver, where Dick was stationed with the Royal Canadian Air Force.  When Ursula went to work in Penticton the following summer, the two began a lively correspondence.  It did not take Dick long to realize that he had met the girl of his dreams, and in his letters he made no secret of the fact that he was smitten.

In a letter dated June 23, 1942, Dick proposed to Ursula for the first time.

“You know, I do think an awful lot of you, and even though I have known you a comparatively short time, feel I do know you well.  After this war is over, I would like to talk you into a life-time job.  Is there any chance?  Believe me, you are the only one I have ever talked thus to.”

Ursula, only seventeen at the time (Dick was twenty-six), was less certain, and turned down the proposal.  They continued to correspond, however, as Dick went overseas to serve with the RCAF.

Three years later, after the war ended, Dick returned to Canada.  After not having seen each other for so long, neither was entirely sure how they felt about the other.  As Dick wrote to Ursula on August 7, 1945:

“You say you don’t know exactly how you feel towards me.  I suppose to be quite fair, it is difficult to know.  I’m not exactly sure myself but I think I know and I do want the chance to find out for both of us.”

On October 22, 1945, Dick arrived on Quadra Island, British Columbia, where Ursula was spending two months of rest. As a nursing student, she had been stationed on the tuberculosis ward and had contracted an infection.  They spent two weeks together, taking the opportunity to get acquainted once again after the years apart.

Evidently, Dick found that Ursula was still his “dream girl” and the woman with whom he wanted to share his life, for he proposed the very day of his arrival. Ursula needed more time to be sure of her own heart, but before Dick left on November 5, she said yes.

November 6, 1945

My dearest sweetheart,

I know it is late but I just can’t go to bed without telling the most wonderful girl in the world how much I love her… Thank you so much, Ursula darling, for saying “yes” before I left you; it means more to me than anything else in the world.  I am missing you awfully, darling, but there is such a feeling of comfort to know that you are there and that you love me…

Twenty-eight of the letters Ursula and Dick exchanged during their five month engagement are housed at the archives.  These letters, as well those written during the war years, have been digitized and transcribed.

This article was originally featured in the March 2018 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Ursula Walker by Okanagan Lake, 1942. Dick carried this photograph with him during his time overseas, 1942-1945 (SPRA 195.01.05)

Dick Lewis, 1942 (SPRA 195.01.07)

Richard Lloyd French Lewis married Doreen Ursula Walker April 4, 1946. (SPRA 195.01.08)

Pressing Concerns: Flower Specimens in Archival Records

Image: The garden at the Clough home at Sturgeon Lake. Mr. Sutcliffe, the gardener, was also a forest ranger. (SPRA 175.028.04)

Archival records contain traces of the past, in more ways than one. The practice of pressing flowers as a form of scientific study or art has existed for centuries. In Archives, these organic materials can offer both a pleasant surprise and preservation challenge.

By the time they arrive in the Archives, most pressed flowers are extremely delicate and at risk of deterioration. Rarely, they may pose additional risks to accompanying documents by staining paper, retaining moisture, or even harbouring pests. Therefore, in some cases, we remove these specimens to be stored separately from the original document. Each collection is assessed by our Archivist and handled on an case-by-case basis to ensure its preservation.

When Olwen Sanger-Davies documented her journey from England to the South Peace in 1933, she collected plant specimens and placed them alongside her notes, photographs, and paintings. Climbing Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Olwen wrote: “up & up we wound getting marvelous peeps of the valleys & finding various new flowers, green orchids & a small pink lady slipper orchid, & also nice bits of the Rocky Mountains.” She included three pressed flowers, demonstrating the species she encountered.

In the case of Olwen’s scrapbooks, all pressed flowers were removed for preservation. First, a digitization specialist carefully scanned each page of the scrapbooks, maintaining the flowers in their original position. Then our Archivist gently removed each specimen, marking their location with pencil to document the removal. The flowers are now stored in acid free envelopes, labelled with their original location. Archival-quality scans ensure future users can view the scrapbooks in their original form, while separation ensures their mutual preservation.

Despite the challenges they pose, pressed flowers are a valuable addition to archival records. They can mark a moment of engagement between records, their creators, and users. They can contribute to a historical record of vegetation in a specific location. They can be admired for their beauty and studied for their botanical knowledge. Pressed flowers are treasures for future generations to discover.

This article was originally featured in the June 2019 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Loggers Sports

Image: Still from 1986 Grande Prairie Logging Sports. This video cassette shows various events, competitions, demonstrations and entertainment at the 1986 event. (SPRA 1998.22.03c) The still featured here shows a “birling” demonstration: a game wherein each player attempts to balance on a floating log while each rotate it with their feet.

In 1973, the Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce was searching for ways to promote the city as the “Timber Capital” of Alberta. They approached locally based forest industries and allied companies to put together a timber show to run in conjunction with Muskoseepi Days. The first timber show was held that summer in 1973, with several local competitors.

In 1974, the Logging Sports Committee began negotiations with the County of Grande Prairie Agricultural Society to hold the show in conjunction with the County Fair. As a result of the 1975 show, the committee was accepted into the Canadian Loggers’ Sports Association (CANLOG) and became part of a Canada-wide competition circuit. The local Association began to construct a logger’s sports park— complete with a log house facility, birling pond and climbing poles— and, by 1976, competitors came from as far away as Australia.

From 1976 to the early 1990s, the event continued to be a part of the annual fair at Evergreen Park. However, the association whose job it was to organize the show was having difficulty attracting new members. The Grande Prairie Loggers Sports Association folded in 1994; that year, the last Loggers’ Sports Show was held in Grande Prairie.

Fonds 042: Grande Prairie Loggers Sports Association fonds consists of the rules and regulations of the Loggers’ Sports Association, programs of the yearly events, photographs, news clippings and a video of the 1986 competition. These records were donated to the Grande Prairie Museum by Laura Partlow and Martha Head and later transferred to the South Peace Regional Archives.

This article was originally featured in the March 2020 issue of Telling Our Stories.

“Half-a-Dozen Horses”: Wild Horses in the South Peace

Image: Snapshot of a casually dressed man holding the halter of a horse, with fences, trees and open pasture in background. ca. 1915 (SPRA 1997.45.03, Fonds 052)

There is nothing like an image of wild horses roaming the wide open prairie to conjure up memories of the “Old West.” Several intriguing clues in the Archives’ collections suggest that wild horses played a part in our “Old West” period and beyond.

The earliest mention of horses within the records in our collection comes from the published Dunvegan Post Journals for 1822 to 1830 and —for 1834 to 1845. In the earliest journal entries, horses are an important, if sometimes unruly part of the work force. Entries in the 1834 to 1845 journals contain numerous references to wrangling the horses: “Same work going on except Dubreuil who went in search of the horses…” On Wednesday, 27 September 1828, Archibald McDonald wrote while travelling from Fort Vermillion to Fort Dunvegan: “Towards evening the appearance of a half-a-dozen horses convinced us we were near Dunvegan…”

By the time O. H. Johnson arrived here some sixty years later, wild horses were a feature in the landscape: “September 9 George Stone was here for dinner hunting horses south of creek…
December 2 Glandey[?] came up hunting horses.”

A very blurry 1911 photograph of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco on the open prairie suggests that wild horses may have become a regular source of income for Indigenous people. The original caption claims “Often it was first nations young men who caught and broke wild horses for re-sale to settlers” (SPRA 0155.05.11).

SPRA 155.05.11

In 1918, 19 year old Stanley William Bird wrote in a letter to his family that, besides bear and moose and foxes and a timber wolf, “there’s wild horses here too.”

Frank Stoll, born to local pioneers, George and Theresa Stoll, remembered the family’s first team of horses: Jess and Dolly. They were “Cayuses or Indian ponies.” The picture in this article, from the Frank Stoll fonds, may be these horses.

Don Nelson, interviewed for the Kakwa/Two Lakes Oral History Project (fonds 133) relates stories about hunting wild horses with the Wanyandie boys, two local Indigenous men, well into the forties.

The stories of local rodeos and stampedes illustrate that a local supply of horses would have been very important to the region, for work and for fun.  It seems likely that wild horses played a part in helping to shape our northern communities.

This article was originally featured in the September 2019 issue of Telling Our Stories.

Theresa & George Stoll with their two young boys, John and Frank, perched on horses. c 1920. (SPRA 0140.01.01)