From British Columbia to New South Wales - A Family History - My Father
From the manor house born to a sod hut in the Qu'appelle Valley on the Canadian Prairies my great grandfather married and raised a family and contributed much to the early settlement and development of my beloved British Columbia. Suffering hardship and terrible losses, both financial and personal this is a tale of how one man's dream of coming to Canada in 1882 at the age of seventeen determined the lives and the fates of all who would come to follow, including myself.
Reading in between the lines of the names and the dates a story comes to life along with a deep appreciation for what we, at the hands of our forefathers, enjoy today. Peek through a window in time through the Canadian Prairies, New Denver, Slocan, Ashcroft and beyond to the world of the renowned Gang Ranch and the infamous Whalachin woven through what could have only been arduous trips home to Great Britain and Europe.
We continue our journey here in my Aunt's words with the story of her father, my grandfather, Gerald Moffat Christie.
My Father, His Brother And His Sister
There were five children of my grandparent's marriage, but two children died in infancy. The survivors were Uncle Reggie (Harold Reginald Munroe b. 1887), my father Gerry (Gerald Moffat b. 1888), and Aunt Phyllis (Phyllis Mary b. 1892).
It seems that Uncle Reggie as the elder son was very much my grandparents' favourite and was, besides, of a sunny Christie personality. My father on the other hand, as a middle child, secured less of his parents' attention and with a more intense Robinson personality was perhaps more difficult to rear. Aunt Phyllis had her place as the youngest and only daughter. Fate was to give an ironic twist to this as my father later became the only survivor of these children.
The family lived first in primitive conditions, in a log cabin with a sod roof but later built better housing. It was at the time of the Riel Rebellion and just after - a bitter struggle between the Meti (people of mixed first nation and white blood) and the government over land rights and self-determination on the prairies. Louis Riel, the leader, was hanged when government forces won but resentments lingered on. During this time many Indians roamed the area and on one occasion, when my grandparents were in town, an Indian in full war dress came to the cabin and surveyed the interior and the children. The children feared for their lives but after helping himself to a meal, he departed. Apparently, this was a common experience.
A few years ago my brother, Don, went to Regina and was able to locate old land registrations and then went to stand on what was once the Christie property on the rolling prairie. My grandparents raised horses and beef cattle for export back to Britain. In those days, before refrigeration, the animals had to be shipped live, accompanied by their owner, and sold at auction upon arrival which sounds a hazardous venture at the best of times. It seems on one of these occasions the animals contracted an illness and became a disastrous financial loss.
As my father's narrative explains, it was because of these reverses that the family moved to British Columbia in 1896 first to New Denver and then to Slocan. It seems that this was made possible through the good offices of the aforementioned cousin Randolph Bruce. My grandfather joined the provincial government civil service, serving first as a policeman in New Denver. His first arrest was of a "lady of the night" whom he had to escort through the town to his makeshift facilities. After this noble beginning, he became a Mining Recorder. In 1905, he was appointed B.C. Government Agent in Ashcroft. The family moved into a house at 612 Brink Street where they lived until after World War 1. In those days Ashcroft was the administrative centre and railhead for a large area in Central British Columbia - up into Caribou country and down into the Nicola Valley. If one stops off at the Quilchena Hotel, just north of Merritt in the Nicola Valley today, one can feel very much in touch with the spirits of those times - especially as the hotel has been maintained in nineteen century decor.
Uncle Reggie and my father were lively, naughty little boys. For instance, on the prairies they trapped gophers by pouring hot water down their burrow holes. The gophers were thus forced out through other holes, were speared and set up as a butcher shop. When the family was at Slocan, there was no proper jaoil and my grandfather, as a policeman, would have to tie prisoners to a tree with their boots off. The two boys would come along and tickle the prisoners' toes.
612 Brink Street, Ashcroft, British Columbia
These escapades came to an end in 1900 when Uncle Reggie and my father were taken 'home' to England to school. The McLorg boys had a relative in Bedford so the two eldest McLorg boys and the two Christie boys attended Bedford Grammar School. The Christie boys were day pupils, living first with great-grandmother Christie, and upon her death, with great-grandmother Robinson who died in her turn. My father maintained they killed off both their grandmothers. Sometime during this period, as stated previously, they took a trip to France and sought, without success, to find great-grandfather William Christie's grave in Boulogne. In 1904 Uncle Reggie finished school and unfortunately my father was dragged back to Canada with his brother, with no regard for the fact that he was just getting into his own in England.
Aunt Phyllis remained at home with her parents and may have been educated by my grandmother. However, there is one newspaper clipping in my possession announcing the 1908 departure of Aunt Phyllis and my grandmother for England and the continent as Aunt Phyllis was to complete her education in Belgium.
Uncle Reggie attended McGill University and graduated with a BSc Degree in Engineering in 1908. After serving his articling, he set up a partnership with two McGill classmates, F.L. "Fred" Dawson and E.P. Heywood - (Christie, Dawson and Heywood) - with offices in Kamloops and Ashcroft. They must have been enterprising young men. They carried out surveys in the North Thompson area, on the Columbia River north of Revelstoke and in the Princeton area and what is now Manning Park.
Meanwhile, my father after working for awhile in a bank in Ashcroft, studied and became a B.C. land surveyor. He later became a Dominion and then an Alberta surveyor also. In 1911 he became articled to Uncle Reggie and they engaged in a number of joint survey projects. In 1913 he sustained a severe injury to his right leg - receiving an axe cut while out on survey.
We come now to the history of Walhachin. The romantic and sad story of Walhachin has been written up many times, both accurately and inaccurately. Because my father was there at the time, he found some of these accounts very irritating and beside some passages he has written "rot" or "also rot", particularly against passages which exaggerate the social side of the venture at the town of Walhachin. So I have to be careful! Well, over to my brother, Reg, the fourth generation engineer.
"In 1907 an american civil engineer, C.E. Barnes, thought to establish a fruit-farming community on the dry benches on each side of the Thompson River between Ashcroft and Kamloops Lake. The land appeared ideal for orchards. Barnes obtained backing from the B.C. Development Association Ltd. which was already supporting cattle ranching to the north in the Cariboo. they formed a subsidiary company, B.C. Horticultural Estates Ltd. In addition to English financing, the parent company undertook the sale of 5 and 10 acre orchard blocks to well-to-do English families in the United Kingdom. Many blocks were sold and eventually 107 men, some with families, immigrated to Walhachin at this time. (Of these 97, men returned to England at the outbreak of World War 1.)"
"Water for irrigating the orchard lands was to come from Deadman Creek which flows into the Thompson river to the east of the site. a control dam was built on Deadman Creek approximately eight miles upstream from the confluence to divert water into a six foot wide wooden frame. The flume conveyed the water seven miles to the orchard benches below. By 1911 some 3,000 acres were under irrigation. Engineering for this work was done by Christie, Dawson & Heywood."
Although accounts of these years may be exaggerated, especially in the description of fine houses and a gracious Walhachin Hotel, these must have been years of much energy and enthusiasm, with many social events taking place in both Ashcroft and the newly established little town of Walhachin, drawing people in from ranches and thereabouts. And, of course, many had business with our grandfather as government agent. The largest spread was the Gang Ranch northwest of Clinton. Its overseer for the Gaplin family company was Lionel Stobart, who became a great friend of the Christie family and thus established an association between the Stobart and Christie families which remains in existence to this day.
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