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The Nelson-Fredericton connection

Updated: Jul 8

In Canada’s 20th century it became common practice to name a community, a geographical feature, building or institution in memory or honour of a historical event or person. Bonds of friendship often developed between these two entities.


As a Kootenay example of this trend, a rugged mining community clinging to Toad Mountain near today’s Nelson was, in the early 1890s, labelled Fredericton, BC.  Adventurers, investors, business folk, settlers, the simply curious and prospectors from the original Canadian Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, were attracted to its namesake. Mountain-side lots were quickly surveyed and sold.

Silver King mining camp on Toad Mountain, circa 1890s. (Image I-55005 courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives)

(It may surprise some to learn that the City of Nelson, incorporated in 1897, was named after an early lieutenant governor of British Columbia [1887-92], not in memory of Horatio Nelson, heroic 19th century Admiral of the Royal Navy.)


A Fredericton, NB/Nelson, BC connection — often abetted by family, friends or mining ventures — evolved. It is interesting to discover (and speculate further!) on the personal lines of communication that linked these two very unalike communities. Letters, diaries, newspaper entries and general word-of-mouth gossip tell life stories which in many cases are documented by official New Brunswick and BC sources.  

The man who named and owned Fredericton, BC was Aaron Hart Kelly (1846-1911) (pictured in the Nelson Daily Miner supplement of June 30, 1899).

Williams’ BC Directory for 1895 tells us A.H. Kelly, mine owner, resided in Nelson, while Nelson’s newspaper, The Miner of Oct. 17, 1891, reveals the same Kelly “prospector and real estate agent and all around gallant will put in the winter at [his] old house in Fredericton Junction, NB.”


Nelson’s first and principal general merchant and hotelier J. Fred Hume hailed from Fredericton, NB but rapidly gained mercantile and political experience in Revelstoke (then known as Farwell) and Nelson. Throughout the 1890s he was a respected member and cabinet minister in the British Columbia Legislature.

Readers of The Miner of July 11, 1891 were informed of Hume’s marriage to Lydia Irvine of Carleton County, New Brunswick, the couple’s wedding trip to Banff, and their return to Nelson. Home was a stately Victorian residence uphill from Nelson’s lakeside growing city centre. Lydia loved the view of Kootenay Lake but deplored the wretched hike up the hill. Fredericton’s gentle slopes did not compare!

A couple of doors up the street from the impressive Hume residence, the family of barrister Robert Wetmore and his wife Emily (also from New Brunswick) lived. Surely Mrs. Wetmore and Lydia Hume shared tea and news from their home province?


Our own late-Victorian relatives and their companions were frequently posed, propped and then photographed, pen-in-hand, creating rigid, informative tableaux to leave as mementos for distant and foreign relatives. Surely written biographies accompanied these images?


It very quickly became obvious that provisions for mining ventures, transportation and accommodation would be in great demand in the Kootenay. Word of the Kootenays found its way back to New Brunswick. The Phair family of Fredericton, NB followed the Hume brothers’ lead and moved their up-scale hotel and mercantile interests to Nelson, where both families prospered for several generations.

Nelson’s leading hotels, the Hume (still in business, though much changed) and the Strathcona (formerly the Phair, burned down 1955) both had New Brunswick connections.

Even E.R. Atherton’s (miner and storekeeper) return to Nelson from New Brunswick merited mention in The Miner of March 19, 1892. Other former NBers, emerged as figures of significance in Nelson’s road to incorporation: Green (and Hatt), R.W. Hannington, Burchell [or Burchill] — but the most notable was the extended Roberts and Macdonald families … as we will witness in a story line to follow.


Meanwhile, following doctors’ “go-west-for-your-health” orders, a young woman 1896 graduate from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Annie Harvey Ross, was writing letters inquiring after teaching positions in Canada’s vast western provinces and territories. In 1908 Miss Ross accepted a position in Nelson.

Apparently the secretary of the board of the Nelson School District, prominent medical doctor E.C. Arthur, lacked qualified secretarial assistance. Arthur was noted for his “deplorable handwriting” but somehow Miss Ross managed to interpret Dr. Arthur’s letter of appointment and on the strength of that piece of paper was invited to join the antics at Nelson’s Central School in August 1908 and she ventured into the unknown.

However, possibly BC’s Kootenay was not entirely unknown, for it chanced that Ralph Landells a popular, attractive instructor at the high school in Woodstock, New Brunswick from which Annie Ross had graduated (cum laude) in 1892 was now principal of the high school in Golden, just up the CPR line from Revelstoke and Nelson. There could well have been correspondence between these former New Brunswick educators. We do not know if their paths crossed at future mutual school district functions. It is unlikely letters have survived.


Although traditionally dependent on maritime, military and forestry activities, New Brunswick was slowly gaining reputation in academic and education fields. By 1912 Miss Ross was principal of a new elementary school in Fairview adjoining Nelson.

Former Acadian/United Empire Loyalist prospectors and their families came down from the minesite camps, lobbied for the creation of schools, and set up business and administrative offices. Churches and musical groups flourished, as did a gentlemen’s club (Nelson Club), a Board of Trade, and a serious-minded University Club whose primary purpose was to create a reputable technical and academic university on an impressive forest acreage at Vancouver.


Journalism, whether rough-hewn or of a more literati vein was viewed as a social necessity. Any independent newspaper owner was forever packing up his printer or shutting it down or moving to a new town. Competition was keen, but editorial policy was blunt and focused on local issues. In 1911, an early representative of Fredericton’s most revered and extended literati family, Samuel Archibald Roberts MacDonald, bravely took a position as reporter and advertising manager of the Nelson Daily News.


Lloyd Roberts, second son of the family’s most prodigious literary writer (eventually Sir) Charles G.D. Roberts, ultimately eulogized the talented family in his 1923 biography The Book of Roberts. Here Lloyd revealed his admiration for his aunt Jane Elizabeth Roberts, affectionately and widely known as “Nain.” She was a popular New Brunswick story-teller and poet.

Nain married Samuel A.R. MacDonald and in 1912, left Fredericton and Winnipeg along with two children, to join S.A.R. MacDonald on the staff of the Daily News. The extended family now took in the Goodridge-Roberts-Bliss-MacDonald clan (in no specific order!) and retained a Fredericton-Nelson connection by forming friendships in Nelson between New Brunswickers Gretchen (nee Phair) Gibson and schoolteacher Annie Harvey Ross (above and to follow).    

Nain’s days in Nelson were unhappy ones and in 1915 she returned with the children to Fredericton and Ottawa. Letters of friendship were exchanged and no doubt sustained the east-to-west friendships for years to come.

Annie Harvey Ross Garland Foster, circa 1920, in her city hall portrait. 

Although not a New Brunswicker, the editor of the Daily News 1912-15, William Garland Foster hastily married Miss Ross in January 1915. Within days Garland Foster (as he was known locally) embarked for the War in Europe. From the military training camps of Vernon and Britain and the battlefields of France, Garland Foster was in a position to report back to the Daily News with accurate reports of the action of World War I on the western front. Personal letters relaying anecdotes, good wishes and homey messages were reproduced on the front page of the Daily News. Casualties and personal condolences were noted. Activities of support and the efforts of Kootenay folk on the home front were acknowledged.


Once again, the power and immediacy of the written word were of great and lasting significance. These Kootenay newspaper clippings were undoubtedly forwarded or re-directed to Ross, Phair, Hume, Green, Roberts and other families in New Brunswick.


Although not intended as such, war diaries are cherished family treasures. To this day we carry images of haggard young soldiers crouched in muddy trenches, pencil in hand recounting the latest impressions from the battlefield. Bonds between generations and between the living and the passed are made.

Frances Welwood visits William Garland Foster’s grave in France in 2014.

The White Rock Museum and Archives is the envied owner of the wartime diary of Annie Ross Garland Foster. This small booklet is described as Annie’s “one penny note book.” The notebook is a personal 100-page journal of her lighter moments of World War I.  The first entry was recorded April 8, 1916.

Annie’s wartime diary, although now housed separately from other Annie Garland Foster documents, forms only one brilliant chapter in Annie’s very personal (though flawed) real life story — her memoir. It was prophetically titled Passing Through. Although not available in published form, Annie’s memoir is the primary link between Fredericton, NB; Nelson, BC; and the written word. The manuscript along with many other jottings is cared for in the University of New Brunswick’s Museum and Archives.


To complete the story cycle we would do well to follow Annie beyond the diaries, news clips, correspondence, scribbled notes and her memoir. We could investigate 50 years of short stories, stacks of petitions and opinions to governmental agencies and bureaucrats, academic writings and readings from which she drew political and creative inspiration — and her livelihood — in her senior years.


In 2006 the City of Nelson paid its first woman councillor, Annie Garland Foster, the honour of naming a street in a new subdivision, Foster Place. Annie’s name is of course recorded in the hand-written minute book of the City of Nelson for 1921 but despite the recent amazing increase in the number of women seeking (and achieving!) public office, Annie is still relatively unknown in her hometown.


Letters, newspapers, diaries, personal sentimental items, greeting cards, formal portraits, postcards doubling as souvenirs and thank you notes, inferior bread and butter creative stories, boring documents — they all come together in the form of the written word. Invaluable today are letters between Agnes Gibson Baker (daughter of the Daily News’s Gretchen Phair Gibson) and schoolteacher Annie Garland Foster.

These women maintained a life-long friendship. Freeda Hume Bolton’s (Lydia and J. Fred Hume’s daughter) reminiscences are housed at the Nelson Public Library. Their letters unintentionally reach across 80 years of the Fredericton/Nelson connection.

Although she passed away in 1998, Freeda’s last known public correspondence is a typewritten copy of a personal letter of July 1988 to Nelson librarian Ron Welwood (pictured). Ron had recently become enthralled with Nelson and its early settlers and politicos. He enjoyed and shared a happy and appreciative correspondence with Mrs. Bolton for several years (1985-88). These letters are now part of the collection at Nelson’s Museum and Archives.


A more-recent comer, artist Shirley Miller (born in Fredericton 1921) is the daughter of one of New Brunswick’s most treasured artists, Hazel MacLeod. Shirley came to Nelson as the wife of a rural medical doctor. She earned a degree at Nelson’s reputable (and conveniently-located) Kootenay School of the Arts. Her vivid floral portraits and gentle water colours found immediate favour with galleries, art aficionados and exhibitions throughout the Kootenays.

Coincidentally, while holidaying in New Brunswick in 2011 Ron came across a rural signpost near Fredericton pointing in the direction of “WELLWOOD.” Maybe the Fredericton/Nelson connection had taken a new turn and was inviting westerners of the next generation to discover and adopt the counties of central New Brunswick? 

Fredericton and Nelson, files and artifacts, museums and government-issued papers documents and newspapers come together to create our history. However, could it be diaries, journal items, personal letters, shopping lists, copy-books, and the like — the products of cursive style of writing — will be pre-empted by continually advancing digital electronic methods of communication and preservation?


Examples of Canadian name-changers or mimickers: London, Berlin, New Denver, New Westminster, Victoria, Woodstock, Churchill, Cranbrook, Surrey, Richmond. Can you add to this list? Vancouver East established its own Kootenay connection by naming streets Slocan, Kaslo, Kootenay, Windermere, and Rossland. No doubt the current popularity of individual towns or cities adopting sister cities with like-names derives from a newcomer’s loyalty and pride in their heritage.  



Graham, Clara, Kootenay Mosaic, published by author, 1971, p. 108 

Hill, Isabel, Fredericton, New Brunswick, British North America, York-Sunbury Historical Society, 1968   


Welwood/Clay family photos


Welwood, Frances, Passing Through Missing Pages, Caitlin Press: Halfmoon Bay, 2011


Welwood correspondence with Annie Garland Foster Hanley


University of New Brunswick Fond. MG L 10  Charles G.D. Roberts


University of New Brunswick Fond. MG L 5  Lloyd Roberts



Nelson Public Library  LOC REF  971.162   Bolton reminiscences

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My husband is Phair from Limestone Maine- a mere stones thrown over the border into NB. We suspect he is of this Canadaian group who may have been relocated as a result of the new American/Canadian line of division of the Aroostook War. His family was one of 3 original landowners that settled Limestone. The American Legion was named the OBar-Phair Post this we believe there is a connection to Andrew Phair of Benedict Arnold’s American Legion since Andrew was an Adjutant to the Arnold. We have been searching for the link for 15 years. We are so close and yet so far! This story of additional Phairs in Fredericton from NB add sweetness to our search. Thank you


I have heard there were quite a few native New Brunswickers who rose to high ranks with the CPR. One of them was my second cousin (three times removed) Francis White "Frank" Peters (1860-1933). Born in Saint John, N.B., he entered the railway business there at age 13 as a telegraph operator with the Intercolonial Railway. He joined CPR as a clerk in Winnipeg soon after the company's incorporation in 1881. He was transferred to Nelson as freight agent in 1896, and was very involved in the start-up of the Crowsnest Railway service to and from Nelson in 1898. He was a member of the Nelson Club and very involved in local sports and community affairs. He served …


Hi Greg, Gretchen (nee Phair) Gibson had two daughters, Jean Baker and Aggie Baker. They both married the Baker brothers. Jean worked at the Nelson Daily News as a reporter.

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Thanks again Greg. I new Aggie had died but never saw your obit as we were in Arizona. we lived kitty corner to Baker's place and new all the boys.

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