The 1914 Nicola Valley was a Steam Age valley

The 1914 Nicola Valley was a Steam Age valley

Who were the first men to go to war in August 1914? Who were the men, women, and children who saw them off?

Firstly they were new to each other. Their valley had been suddenly peopled and industrialized by the introduction of railway service and the start of industrialized exploitation of the “Merritt Coalfield” in the previous 10 years.

Secondly they were an improving people. They built churches and clubrooms. They lit up the night; the City of Merritt owned the power company. They organized a public-safety agency, the Merritt Volunteer Fire Department. They taught and they learned, about coal-mine safety and farming practices and their religious faiths. They read two locally published weekly newspapers.

Thirdly they were a gregarious people. The record of their dances and smokers and concerts and lectures and athletic competitions delights a century later.

The search for a break from workday and household obligations was not the sole motivation for their socializing. They danced the night away because they could not improve their communal circumstances without the proceeds from their gatherings.

For example, until there was a dance there was no fire department. The minutes of the first weekly meeting of the fire department occurred on May 31, 1911, and puts the relationship between socializing and improving this way: “Report was read, of committee appointed at public meeting to hold a dance for the purpose of raising funds to organize a Fire Brigade. Dance being held on May 29th.”

One last observation about the people of the valley in August 1914: The industrialization of the Nicola Valley turned upside down the relationship of the valley’s first peoples and settlers. As the 19th century became the 20th, the valley’s aboriginal residents probably outnumbered settlers three to one. As the first decade of the 20th century became the second, the latter probably outnumbered the former three to one.

Aboriginal Leaders
Chiefs Delegation to Ottawa, May 1916 CANADIAN MUSEUM OF HISTORY 

Aboriginal leaders from B.C. who visited Ottawa in 1916 paused long enough to be photographed by Edward Sapir of the Geological Survey of Canada, an early Canadian anthropologist. Among the nine men in the photograph are three from the Nicola Valley, John Tetlenitsa, standing second from left, and James Teit, standing third from left, and John Chelahitsa, sitting second from left. 

It is no wonder that leaders and organizers of the aboriginal land and rights agitations that occurred in the first two decades of the previous century in British Columbia resided in the valley, or in its vicinity: John Chelahitsa in the upper valley; John Tetlenitsa in the lower valley, across from Spences Bridge, and James Teit in Spences Bridge.

NEXT, AFTER LABOUR DAY: From the fire department to women’s organizations, in small ways and large, the First World War imposed changes on the people of the valley early and quickly. 

The increase in the Nicola Valley settler-count recorded between the 1901 and 1911 Canadian censuses was a big-wave increase that originated mostly in the British Isles. Library and Archives Canada has published the historic Canadian censuses on its World Wide Web site:

The aboriginal-population count in the Nicola Valley may or may not have changed between 1901 and 1911. Valley aboriginals were probably enumerated in 1901, but not in 1911. The Indian agent responsible for the Lytton Agency enumeration quit government service before he enumerated, in 1911, the residents of reserves in the valley. The Kamloops-Okanagan agent may or may not have enumerated the same reserves and settlements in 1901. His returns are lost.

The provincial government has published the historic annual reports of the minister of mines on the World Wide Web. The 1912 report explains the occasion that put the Middlesboro mine-rescue team in front of a camera.

Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919 (G.W.L. Nicholson, 1962, 1964) is here:

Michael Sasges
Nicola Valley Museum
Summer, 2014

Comments (0)

Add a Comment

Allowed tags: <b><i><br>Add a new comment: