In the mid1980s, I was researching the early history of Prince Rupert for the new Kwinitsa Railway Station Museum exhibits. As with most who start to delve into this history, I was fascinated by the tent towns of the early 1900s and the ingenuity of the people who came here with next to nothing but spirit and grit and looked in the faces of politics and big business and said ‘we are not going anywhere’.
I learned how Vickersville, a residential tent town, was started by William Vickers, the local policeman in the face of the refusal by the GTP to allow anyone to settle on core GTP lands, and the downtown Knoxsville started by John Knox, when he filed a mining claim there where he invited businesses to join him.
I was particularly drawn to a photo of the Bakery tent in Knoxville, and decided to find out more. The proud owner was Mr. Bailey who sold fresh baked goods and apple cider. He had moved here with his family – his wife and his two little girls, Maya and Jean. I learned that the youngest daughter, Jean, was still alive and living in Victoria. Soon after, I was going there on other business, so I contacted Jean Bailey, now Mrs. Beesley, and asked if I could meet with her about her early years here. I was invited to lunch.
I was excited to step back in history but a tad nervous about going into the unknown. I found their modest and immaculate home and was welcomed with warmth and old fashioned Victorian hospitality. There I met a small delicate woman so crippled by osteoarthritis that her husband had to carry her from place to place in their home. For all my interest in their past, I was in awe of this couple who were facing such adversity with such grace and dignity. He was devoted to her – there was no sense he felt burdened – and she was grateful to him with no sense of bitterness at her fate. He had made a formal lunch and we sat at the dining room table and ate and talked.
In searching out the history of a place I was only then beginning to know I had added a deeply moving experience to my own past. While I did find out the facts, the living history for me is the story of this family who came here with little, but managed to start a new life in a tent in Vickersville.
When I was planning the exhibit I had visions of an oven inside the bakery tent, but it was Mrs Bailey who baked the bread, in their tent in Vickersville! Mr. Bailey would load his skiff every morning with crates of fresh bread, and, with his two daughters, row from Vickersville – near the now Cow Bay – along the waterfront with its hustle and bustle of construction – and dynamite – to Knoxsville – centred at what we now call Five Corners – and there, from his Bakery he would make fresh homemade bread and apple cider available to the population of mostly men, setting up and running their businesses in Knoxville. It can’t have been easy with wind and rain – they had to go by boat – they were not allowed even to traverse GTP land, but Jean remembered her early life here as a happy time with her mother and father and sister.
On special occasions, the Baileys would set up a stand on the wharf and provide refreshments to the celebrating crowds. Here in Jean’s handwriting are the names of the people in the photo.
Mr. and Mrs. Beesley, Joseph and Jean, were very interested in the exhibit we were planning and offered to help by donating domestic artifacts for the displays. I left feeling in awe of their spirit – the same spirit that overcame adversity to create Prince Rupert – and their dignity, very grateful that they had brought a living spark to what was already a fascinating hstory.
When the parcels arrived with the artifacts, I also received an envelope from Mrs. Beesley with a handwritten note and a crocheted Christmas ornament that has hung in my office ever since.