Turning Back the Pages: Canada promised opportunity for British men and women

The following memories were captured by Robert H. Mann for the 1982 edition of Golden Memories.

It was in June of 1912 that I first saw the town of Golden. At the age of 21, the voyage across the Atlantic from Scotland was a lifetime thrill for me, never again to be duplicated. Equally fascinating was the long journey from Montreal through the forest and prairies and beside the lakes. At last we reached the bastions of the Rocky Mountains where every mile led through a fairy tale world of snowy peaks, rustling streams and deep canyons.

Our little party of four arrived in Golden, which, to us, was a magical town. Our party included Mrs. Annie Beattie; her daughter, Elizabeth (Beta), my future wife, Bessie Wyeth, the maid, and myself. We stepped off the train to be greeted by the enveloping arms of Mr. Alexander Beattie, Senior, and his two strapping sons, George and Alex. A year before, they had emigrated from Aberdeen, Scotland.

Mr. Beattie became manager of P. Burns and Co. in Golden. I had attended Gordon’s College in Aberdeen with George. I had played rugby against the Grammar School where Alex Junior was on the team. I had not come to Canada to settle down at any particular job or profession. Like many other men from Britain, I had been captivated by the publicity originating from the federal and provincial governments of Canada.

This told of the wonderful opportunities for young men and women in almost any capacity, which included the prospect of a free homestead of 160 acres.

No one, in 1912, foresaw that in two years, Britain and Canada would be in the midst of the First World War. Most of the young men from the British Isles wanted the adventure of exploring this vast new territory of Canada. Worries about work would come later.

In 1912, plenty of work was being offered. As I remember, Golden in 1912, had a fluctuating population which varied from 500 to 1,000. The people were employed in the lumber mill, logging camps, or in the mines in the Columbia Valley. There were stores and hotels which catered to this population and to the numerous travellers.

Most of the settlers in the Columbia Valley were young men of British extraction. They were remittance men whose families sent them enough money to fulfill their desires to become “ranchers.” All had their own horses for work and for driving to town and visiting neighbouring farms. Most of these men volunteered for overseas service in 1914. Few returned to their deserted homesteads.

There were three churches: the Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican. Each had about the same number of members. The only minister I can remember is Rev. McRae of the Presbyterian Church. He had been a missionary in India. Rev. McRae was instrumental in starting and keeping alive the Golden Literacy and Debating Society. He persuaded me to take over the old historic church in Field during the absence of the regular minister. At one time this was Ralph Connor’s church (the celebrated western writer). My church activities included a boxing club, a dancing and dramatic society, etc. These proved to be popular and increased membership in our church to a respectable quota.

When the hectic search for gold along the Fraser River and in the Caribou died down, men turned to our natural resources, of farming, lumbering, and mining to exploit the visible and enduring wealth of the land.

After the First World War, which drained Canada of so many vigorous young men, the scene changed. The Kootenay Central Railway had been completed. The gas engine had replaced the horse-drawn vehicle and there was a general mechanization of industry. Some of the romance vanished with the old ways and efficiency took the place of adventure. This did apply to the history of Golden and its surroundings.

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