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Births aboard planes, trains, ferries, and automobiles

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Having examined births, marriages, and deaths aboard sternwheelers on local lakes, we turn our attention to West Kootenay–related births involving other forms of transportation.


Plane


In August 1959, Betty Ector of Argenta went in to labour ten days ahead of her due date, aboard a Delta Airlines flight, 9,000 feet over Malden, Missouri.


Baby Suzanne was born in a compartment at the end of the plane, with two flight attendants and two passengers as midwives. The plane continued on to Memphis, where Betty and Suzanne were taken to Methodist Hospital. One of Suzanne’s siblings, two-year-old David, was also on the flight, but their father Hugh and other siblings Don, 4, and Mirian, 3, were at home in Argenta, where both Hugh and Betty were teachers.

Betty Ector with baby Suzanne and flight attendant Ginger McCoy.

(Courtesy Delta Airlines)


Suzanne was, the airline proudly noted, the first baby born on one of their planes. (I’m not sure how many there have been since.)


Delta’s president, C.E. Woolman, wired congratulations from Atlanta. According to the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, “Woolman also commissioned Suzanne a junior Delta stewardess. With the citation went a miniature stewardess cap and a pair of stewardess wings which can be used as diaper pins.”


Mother and daughter were also presented with travel bags and showered with gifts from flight attendants in Memphis, including a flight suit of the same shade of blue as their uniforms. A birth announcement was printed on Delta stationery that read:

Stowaway discovered, Delta Air Lines Flight 47, 3:25 a.m. CST, Aug. 16, near Memphis, Tenn. Description – noisy, blue-eyed, blonde. Weight – 8 pounds, 4 ounces. Label – Suzanne. Claimed by – Hugh and Betty Ector.

One share of Delta stock was also presented to Suzanne, along with a desk model Convair 440, with an graved plaque bearing her name, vital statistics, and the circumstances of her birth.


The newspaper story noted that Betty was a former Jackson resident, who went on to Auburn University, where she met and married Hugh. “The couple was widely known over the south for a trampoline act and Mrs. Ector was at one time All Southeast Trampoline Champion. She was also listed in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.”

Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, Aug. 20, 1959


For Mother’s Day 2013, the Delta Flight Museum posted the photo seen at the top of this page on Facebook.


Betty died in Fruitvale in 2015. Suzanne worked in recent years for the Selkirk College Geospatial Research Centre.


Trains


On Sept. 23, 1912, a pregnant Jane (Jennie) Hicks of Slocan suffered severe appendicitis and was being rushed to hospital in Nelson by train when she gave birth to a baby boy just before the train reached South Slocan.


“By special arrangement with the despatchers, the train was hurried through to Nelson from the junction without a stop and Mrs. Hicks and the child were taken to the Kootenay Lake General hospital,” the Nelson Daily News reported the following day.


That morning the child was doing well and Jenny was expected to undergo surgery. But there was no happy ending. Two days later, Jenny died at age 33. While the fate of her son was not reported, he must have also died. There is no record of him being named.

Calgary Herald, Sept. 24, 1912


“I don’t have the exact date of death of the baby but he did die around the same time as his mother due to complications from the birth,” says Barbara Coghlan, Jennie’s great-granddaughter. “I expect the baby suffered from the toxins of the ruptured appendix.”


Jennie’s death was registered twice; possibly one should have been for her son. She was buried in the Slocan cemetery, her infant son likely next to her. Their graves aren’t marked.


Nine years earlier, it was a much happier scene as Jennie Woodman, 24, married William (Bill) Hicks, 25, in Slocan. The Slocan Drill of Aug. 21, 1903 reported:

An interesting ceremony occurred at the resident of Mr. and Mrs. Dave McKechnie, Wednesday noon, when Miss Jennie Woodman and William C. Hicks, two of Slocan’s popular young people, were united in marriage. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Mr. Simons, while Joe Doiron acted as best man and Miss McKechnie as bridesmaid. after the wedding luncheon, the newly married couple took the noon train for Spokane, where the honeymoon will be spent, followed by the best wishes of numerous friends. On their return, next week, Mr. and Mrs. Hicks will reside in D. McKechnie’s cottage, during the latter’s trip east.

Jane and William Hicks in their 1903 wedding photo.

(Courtesy Barbara Coghlan)


The Hicks family has been prominent in Slocan for over 120 years. As Coghlan explains, they came from Ontario and New York, but immediately prior to moving to Slocan in the mid-1890s, they built one of the first hotels in Ladner. Patriarch Henry A. Hicks — William’s father — sold the hotel to try his hand at prospecting in the Silvery Slocan. But they ended up going back into the hotel business, at Slocan City and Lemon Creek.


William and Jennie had several children — Wiletta in 1904, Wilbert (Buck) in 1906, True in 1910, and Edmond (Ted) in 1911. But the death of Jennie and her baby came as the family was already grieving.


“It was a very traumatic time as they had lost another son, Lorne Woodman, in 1908 who was just a few months old when he died of pneumonia and William’s father Henry in 1907,” Coghlan says. “After Jane’s death Bill was a widower and was often working out of town as a packman or miner and his mother Mary Durham Hicks was living with him at the Hicks Hotel and was needed to help raise his young children.”


The surviving Hicks children produced 18 children of their own. Over 200 descendants resulted from the 1877 marriage of Henry and Mary Hicks.

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In September 1947, Leah Munch of Retallack was returning home from a trip that took her somewhere west of Midway via a Nelson-bound train when she went into labour.


Fortunately, as the baby came near, the train reached Castlegar and Dr. H.H. Smythe hurried on board. Keep in mind the hospital in Castlegar had not yet been built.


With the help of an unidentified nurse on board (who had presumably been providing care to this point), a healthy baby girl was born within half an hour. I’m not certain of the baby’s name, but her father was Paul Munch. When he died in 2000, his daughter in Clearwater signed the registration, but I don’t know if she was the one born on the train.


The train crew recalled that something similar had happened four or five years earlier, but the Nelson Daily News did not report who was involved or where it happened.

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Another birth aboard a train didn’t take place in West Kootenay, but involved two former Kootenay residents. Early on the morning of Feb. 13, 1927, aboard a westbound Canadian Pacific passenger train between Moose Jaw and Mortlach, Sask., Mrs. C.E. Turnley of Winnipeg gave birth to a son.

Also on board were D.C. Coleman, vice-president of the CPR’s western lines, and his wife, Dr. S.S. McEwan (or McKeown) of Medicine Hat, and F. Endersby, a nurse. When the train reached the Fraser Canyon, the child was baptized on board by Rev. M.E. West, vicar of Sorrento, and given the name George Coleman, in recognition of the kindness shown by Mr. and Mrs. Coleman.


D.C. Coleman was a former superintendent of the CPR’s Kootenay section, while Rev. West was a former vicar of Nakusp. The passengers took up a collection for little George. Mrs. Turnley was en route to Vancouver to visit her mother.


The circumstances of George’s birth seem to have influenced his entire life: He worked for the Canadian National Railway for 36 years, then retired into service with the CN Veterans Association, who honoured him as a lifetime member. He died in Winnipeg on Dec. 9, 2011, age 84.


His obituary noted: “With a life begun on a train, George will be laid to rest after one final train journey through the Rockies.”


Ferries


This item appeared in the Nelson Daily News on Feb. 28, 1956:

Baby Born on Ferry
Many babies have come into the world in taxis, but an unusual variation of this situation occurred Monday morning when a baby girl was born in a car on the Nelson ferry.
The eight-pound baby daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. John Borowski in the Borowski car. Mrs. Anker Johnson was called from a bus to assist Mrs. Borowski.
Mother and daughter are both doing well in Kootenay Lake General Hospital.

I don’t know the girl’s name. Elsewhere in the same edition a birth announcement appeared, giving the parents as Mr. and Mrs. Karl Borowski of Crawford Bay and claimed the birth happened at the hospital. I don’t know what happened to the family.

Nelson ferry, ca. 1940s. (Greg Nesteroff collection)


Meanwhile, Michael Cone shares the story of what could have been another birth aboard a ferry:

In the early 1950s, veteran Captain John (Jack) MacLeod was on the Anscomb’s wheel when he ran into trouble “making the turn” shortly after leaving the Balfour dock. The Anscomb sometimes had trouble keeping on her turning path if the current was strong, especially during high water, or if there was a stiff breeze blowing from the east. He managed to escaped plowing into the Procter wharf but smashed into one of the Procter boathouses, completely demolishing it.
Meanwhile, on the car deck, a young, pregnant woman was sitting in a car, because she was feeling too uncomfortable to walk upstairs to the lounge or the coffee shop. The car she was in was at the very front of the line, near the center lane. She saw the collision unfold right in front of her and the commotion that followed as deckhands scurried about. In all the excitement, she went into labour. Captain MacLeod was promptly advised of her condition and he immediately turned the Anscomb around and headed back to Balfour. An ambulance was called and in short order the patient was on her way to Nelson.

Automobile


In his autobiography, Lumpy Porridge Memories, John Keough wrote that on Feb. 16, 1926, his sister Joan “was born in a car en route to the hospital in Nelson” from South Slocan. I checked the Nelson Daily News, but could find no announcement about this unusual birth in the following few days.

• 

Alan Potapoff’s birth in a car en route from Salmo to Nelson in 1962 was reported in the Salmo Sentinel, below. Even though his father was racing at upwards of 70 miles per hour, Alan still arrived before they reached Kootenay Lake Hospital.

Story from Salmo Sentinel, Sept. 6, 1962, reprinted in Salmo Home Coming Special Edition, Aug. 4, 2006.


Alan grew up to be a diamond driller, logger, and equipment operator. He died on May 20, 2022 at age 59, and is survived by his wife, two daughters, his mother, and a brother.


Updated on Aug. 21, 2022 to add Joan Keough’s birth; on Nov. 13, 2022 to add Alan Potapoff’s death; and on April 25, 2023 to add the train birth at Castlegar and add details about the ferry birth.

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