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Playmates on the border

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

The remarkable postcard seen below shows two friends, Anna Norris of Boundary, Wash., and Velma Shields, of Waneta, who didn’t let a little thing like an international border come between them.

The photo was taken by Frank Palmer of Spokane in 1908, who also published a postcard of the Waneta bridge. He had the girls dress in nearly identical clothing and pose at the boundary marker. The photo appeared in many US newspapers between May 19 and July 20 of that year, including the Quad-City Times of Davenport, Iowa, Tennessean of Nashville, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Indianapolis Star, Louisville Courier-Journal, Billings Gazette, and Daily Enterprise-Leader of New Iberia, Louisiana.


The headlines included “Where the United States and Canada come together,” “One in US, other in Canada,” “Playtimes on the Boundary line,” “Play together in daytime, sleep in different lands at night,” and “Where the eagle and lion meet each other.”


This story went along with it, with a Spokane dateline:

Anna Norris, brunette, and Velma Shields, blonde, are playmates in the daytime, but at night the first named is in the United States (Washington) while her little chum is in Canada (British Columbia), and yet not more than 75 feet of ground separates their homes. They live with their parents near the town of Boundary, Wash., 96 miles north of Spokane, which was one of the richest placer mining grounds in the early days in the northwest. The accompanying photograph shows part of the worked-over gold bed at the confluence of the Columbia and Pend d’Oreille rivers, with the 60-foot wide trail blazed through the forest in the background. The field occupies about 20 acres, and in some places the stones are found at a depth of eight feet. Hundreds of men toiled there in search of gold more than half a century ago, and some made fortunes by panning the sands. The monument between the two little girls marks the survey begun in 1903 and completed four years later. The line was established in 1857-61 as provided by the treaty of 1846 and was surveyed and marked in 1903-07. It extends from the Pacific to the Atlantic with monuments the entire distance. The one shown in the photograph is the 181st between the Pacific ocean and the town of Boundary.

Who were these girls and what became of them?


Velma Gertrude Shields was born in Rossland on Sept. 18, 1897 to Frank and Alice Vickery, who had recently relocated from Alberta. However, the couple soon separated and divorced a few years later. Frank, who had two children from a previous marriage, provided no child or spousal support. Alice and Velma moved to Northport, where Alice married Daniel Henry Shields in 1901. Their son Julius was born later that year.


Alice ran the Fort Sheppard Hotel at Waneta in 1906-07, but the family’s stay in the area was brief.


By 1910, Alice and Daniel separated. On the census of the following year, Velma shows up in Edmonton, living with her uncle and aunt, Joseph and Julia Scott, and her five cousins. Alice subsequently married William Langlands, with whom she had a son and a daughter.


Velma returned to the West Kootenay, for the 1915 civic directory for Nelson showed her, then age 17, working as a maid at the Lakeview Hotel on Vernon Street. She was probably living with her mother and stepfather in the still-standing home at 406 Victoria St., next to the Royal Canadian Legion.


Later that year, she married William Galloway Whitehead, 24, a miner from Silverton. The ceremony took place on Oct. 4, 1915 in the Catholic rectory in Nelson with Father John A. Althoff presiding over the service. Horace and Flora Lapointe were the witnesses.


They had two daughters, both born in Nelson: Alice Isabel, on Oct. 30, 1916, and Gloria Velma, on Feb. 10, 1918.


In 1920, Velma went to Spokane to visit a friend and on a border document listed her occupation as stenographer. The following year she was listed in the Spokane civic directory as residing at S206 Howard and waiting on tables. Sadly, on Oct. 1, 1922, Velma died in Los Angeles, age 25, but I haven’t learned what she was doing there or what caused her early death. 


According to an online family history, Velma’s daughters were taken in by a paternal aunt and uncle, Jim and Jesse Whitehead, who raised them in Kimberley. Their father, William Whitehead, died in Kimberley 1945 at age 53 and is buried there.


Velma’s elderdaughter Alice married Archibald McLachland McGowan on Dec. 16, 1946 in Libby, Montana. She died in Kimberley in 1980, age 64.


Velma’s younger daughter Gloria married machinist Albert Almack in Cranbrook in 1938. Albert died in 1976 and Gloria died in Kimberley in 2010, nine days after her 92nd birthday.


As for Anna Norris, there was an Annabel Norris, 11, the daughter of Frank and Josephine Norris, living in Opportunity, Wash., in the Spokane Valley, on the 1910 census. That might have been her, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. Genealogist Diane Rogers thinks it probably is, though.


She points to online family trees that show Renette Annabel Norris was born on Nov. 2, 1898 in Leavenworth County, Kansas to Frank Baldwin and Martha Josephine Berge Norris. As of the 1900 census, the family lived in Kansas City. Annabel’s father was a painter. She had two brothers: Victor, born in 1900, and Frank, born in Spokane in 1910.


Anna had as many as seven husbands. One family tree indicates she married Norman T. Shrum at Kitsap, Wash., on May 10, 1919, but they divorced by year’s end. A different tree gives her first husband’s name as Earl Howard. She then married Theodore William Dodd at Kitsap in 1924. It is not clear whether he died or they also divorced, but Anna next married Dave Daniel Daneman at Kitsap in 1926. Again, the outcome of this marriage is unknown. Anna then wed a Mr. Schrumm, followed by Leon Walzack, sometime before 1932. They moved to San Pedro, Calif. Her final groom was John R. Souza, before 1957. She died in Bremerton, Wash. on Dec. 17, 1957, age 59. None of her marriages appear to have produced any children.


Boundary and Waneta survive only as border crossings. The former town was moved south in the 1910s to become New Boundary, which has also since ceased to exist, while whatever remained of Waneta was obliterated during construction of the dam of the same name in the early 1950s. 


We may never know whether Anna Norris and Velma Shields kept in touch after being immortalized on a postcard.

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 31, 1908


Updated on May 29, 2018 to include information about Anna Norris. Updated on Feb. 12, 2023 to correct details about Velma Shields’ family and add many others.

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