The Story of Charles Hay (1843 - 1924)

as told by his son, William John Hay, in 1969

Picture of Charles Hay and his son, William, circa 1897

This is my grandfather's recollection of his father and his life, that I transcribed from his 1969 handwritten notebook. I don't have the clippings he refers to. I resisted the temptation to edit, except once where I changed the sentence order and where I have inserted hyperlinks - there was no internet in 1969! Any other changes are unintentional.

If anyone is offended by descriptions used, please accept my apology. I feel confident in saying Grandpa did not intend those words to be derogatory; they were just the language of his generation.

Grandpa died in 1971. It seems strange to think of him as William, since I knew him as Grandpa and addressed my letters to W.J.Hay. Transcribing his notebook was a pleasure, not only for the history it revealed, but also to remind me of the letters he wrote to me, always in the same beautiful handwriting.

David Palmquist
Delta, B.C., Canada
January, 2009

CHARLES HAY, the son of JAMES and BARBARA HAY,was born on the island of FLOTTA, ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND, on Oct. 28th, 1843.

His father was a school teacher there for nearly fifty years. I do not have much information about the family but it seems it consisted of four sons and a daughter.

Father's ambition, when leaving the Orkney Islands, was to be the best man ever to leave there. At the age of seventeen he signed a contract with the Hudson's Bay Co. for service in Canada and, after a three month voyage by sailing ship, landed at York Factory on Hudson's Bay.

Under the terms of the contract he was to be paid fifty dollars per year and was to receive the food the country provided which consisted of bread, pemmican and white fish.

Largely on account of poor working conditions, poor food and the outbreak of scurvy amongst the men, he told the factor (manager) at York Factory that he was going to leave the service. The factor said he couldn't leave as he was under a seven-year contract with the Co. but Father told him the Co. broke the contract the day he landed in Canada as he had been hired as a sailor and had done no work of that kind.

I do not know exactly how long he was in the H.B.Co. service but understand it was three years. After that time he went to the Red River Settlements where Manitoba now is. There he engaged in the fur trade with the Indians. This was at the time of the Civil War in the United States.

The custom was to trade goods with the Indians for the furs which they sold to the H.Bay Co. for gold. Some unscrupulous traders traded liquor for the furs but Father, being a man of high moral character, did not do so.

At that time, on account of the war, the rate of exchange was a hundred per cent in favor of British gold so the fur traders would take the gold to an American town and buy goods.

In traveling, they used Red River carts and it was the custom for quite a few of the men to travel together with strings of carts they called brigades. This was not so much for protection against the Indians as against white men who, knowing they had considerable gold with them, might rob and even kill them. As this was before the establishment of the R.N.W.M.P. there was no law in the country.

I do not know how long father continued in the fur trade. He always had a partner and the one he most often spoke about was named "SINCLAIR".

Later he lived in Portage la Priairie which at that time consisted of only two or three houses.

Picture of Annie Munro Hay, circa 1883
Annie in 1883

On Jan. 21st, 1869, he married "ANNIE MUNRO WILD" who was born in old Fort Garry where Winnipeg now stands on Feb. 26th, 1854. They had a family of eleven children, ten of whom were born in Portage while I was born in Vancouver, B.C.

Father was prominent in the early days in Manitoba. I wrote the Manitoba Provincial Archivist for information about him but was unable to get much from him. He wrote that Father was first elected for the constituency of Norfolk to the Manitoba legislature in 1883, that he was a member of the firm of "CAMPBELL, HAY AND BODDY," a justice of the peace, post master and on the council of the municipality of Portage La Prairie.

The family consisted of

Picture of the family in 1897
the family circa 1883
 "JAMES SIMPSON" Born April 18th, 1870
Died April 2nd 1919
 "JOHN GEORGE" Born Feb. 12th 1872
Died Feb. 13th 1889
 "MARY" Born Mch 3rd ,1874
Died Mch 6th,1874
 "ALICE ANNIE"Born July 31st - 1875
Died Oct. 28th - 1951
 "ELIZABETH" Born Dec. 2nd - 1877
Died Sept 9th - 1962
 "ETHEL MARY" Born Mch 5th - 1880
Died Oct. 15th - 1957
 "CHARLES PORTAGE" Born Apl 2nd - 1882
Died Sept. 9th - 1938
 "SAMUEL EARLE NORFOLK" Born Mch 14th -1885
Died Mch 14th - 1949
 "GERALD SINCLAIR" Born June 27th - 1887
Died May 10th - 1950
 "WILLIAM JOHN" Born June 28th - 1890
 "MAURICE STUART" Born Oct. 4th - 1893
Died Mch 2nd - 1910
Picture of the family in 1897
the family in 1897

I have no information as to when he entered into partnership with "MR. CAMPBELL and BODDY" but in the History of Manitoba there is an item saying that in 1879 the first large real estate trasaction took place when "JOHN McLEAN" sold the bulk of his farm to Campbell, Hay and Boddy for the sum of $30,000. While this does not seem a large amount, at a later date in 1895, Father paid men at the rate of $1.25 for a man and team (this was for 10 hours) and the same amount for carpenters so that it would be a large amount according to present day values.

Re the firm of "Campbell, Hay and Boddy", copies of letters dated Sept. 6th 1887 state that Father had purchased their interests. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Boddy both became millionaires and died in California.

While never becoming that wealthy, Father, who at times drew up a statement showing his financial standing, in 1892 listed assets of $36,800 and in 1901 the amount was $47,000, certainly a large sum at that time. In a letter written Sept. 2nd, 1887 from Portage La Prairie, Father wrote that he had opened an office in Portage La Prairie and was prepared to do business in purchasing wheat, oats and barley. He was the owner of substantial amounts of property, farm land as well as property in Portage, Winnipeg and Vancouver, also farmed extensively.

The family moved to B.C., first to Victoria but I am unable to find any record of the year they moved from Manitoba. However, I remember my sister Elizabeth (Lizzie) saying that she remembered playing in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria as a child, and if she were living now, she would be 92 years of age so it is a very long time ago. I wrote the Provincial Archivist in Victoria for information about Father in B.C. and received the following:

In the Vancouver directory for 1890 he was listed as manager of the B.C. Investment Co., his residence, Alexander St. (where I was born in 1890).

In 1891 he was shown as manager of the B.C. Investment Co. and the Pacific Coast Fire Insurance Co. In 1892 he was listed as Chas. Hay, Financier, 165 Cordova St., house Burnaby and Thurlow.

In 1893 there was no listing either under "Hay" or the B.C.Investment Co., although the Pacific Coast Fire Ins. Co. was listed with "J.W.HORNE," manager. He said it would thus appear that Father and the family came to Vancouver in 1889 and returned to Manitoba in 1892.

Regarding the time we lived in Portage between 1892 and 1897, when we moved to Grand Forks, B.C., I do not have anything to write.

In 1897 the family, consisting of Father, Mother, Alice, Ethel, Charles, Earle, Gerald, Maurice and I, left Portage and moved to Grand Forks. As there was no railroad into the Kettle Valley, where Grand Forks is located, at that time we went via Spokane and Bossburg, Wash. from where we went by stage the balance of the way.

"Elizabeth" (Lizzie) had married "PETER WRIGHT" on Nov. 11th 1896 and they were already in Grand Forks.

James (Jim) had married "ELIZABETH D. STURDY" June 29th 1896 and they remained in Manitoba. In one of Father's books, there is a statement that "All being well I intend leaving for Kootenay or Yale for an indefinite period within the coming week." This was dated Apl 23rd 1896 so that he went to Grand Forks a year or so before we did.

Evidently, shortly after his arrival, he entered into partnership with "NEIL McCALLUM" and "PETER WRIGHT" to form the firm of Hay, McCallum and Wright.

In April 1897, Father bought 320 acres of land from Neil McCallum and the firm established the townsite of Columbia.

In information obtained from the Provincial Archivist, he wrote that Columbia, as the town was known, was incorporated on May 4th 1899. He also stated that the firm of Hay, McCallum and Wright was listed as dealing in real estate, mines and insurance.

On account of having no railroad into the valley at that time, everything had to be moved by freighters with four and six horse teams while people traveled by stages into towns such as Grand Forks, Greenwood, Phoenix and Republic, Wash.

Things were really booming at that time in Grand Forks which had the reputation of being the toughest town in the West. It was a wide open town in every sense of the word. The tough part of Grand Forks was located in the east end and had many saloons, gambling joints, dance halls, etc.

In the dance halls the girls wore little or nothing while putting on their acts and the red light district was prominent.

Statistics state there were twenty two licensed premises there in 1903 but, with the arrival of the railroad things had quietened down considerably compared to the hectic days of the freighters.

There was a great deal of rivalry between Grand Forks and Columbia which eventually resulted in the burning of the Columbia hotel. (Clipping attached re. this).

The C.P.R. built into Grand Forks in 1899 and, when the construction train arrived in the valley, people who had never seen a train came for miles to see it. When the first survey was made it went through our home, however, it was changed and the railroad ran along the side of a hill less than a hundred feet from our house and heavy freight trains would shake our house as they were climbing quite a grade when west bound.

Quite a number of houses were moved as they were located on the right of way. In 1905 the Great Northern Ry built through Grand Forks and later the Kettle Valley Ry, known locally as the Hot Air Line (because it was said to be built on hot air) also started construction.

The Granby Consolidated Mining Smelting and Power Co.'s smelter at Grand Forks began operations in 1900. In 1907 it had 8 furnaces with a capacity of 3,000 tons per day. It operated for 19 years handling in that time 13,000,000 tons of ore. The ore was low grade averaging about one per cent copper which caused the mines and smelter to stop operations whenever the price of copper fell too low and the miners and smeltermen would leave Poenix and Grand Forks for places such as Butte, Montana. It eventually closed down for good in 1919. Two other smelters were built in the valley, one at Boundary Falls and the other at Boundary Creek.

After moving to Grand Forks, Charlie, Earle, Gerald and I attended what was said to be the oldest school in the interior of B.C. It was built in 1892 of logs and cost $1,200 to construct. The pupils came from both sides of the International boundary and there were about equal numbers of Canadian and American children attending. Quite a number came for a long distance and rode or drove horses.

On account of Mother's deteriorating health, Father and Mother moved from Grand Forks to Vancouver in June, 1909, bought a home at 2325 - 7th Ave. West where they resided as long as they lived. She died July 23rd - 1922 and he died Nov. 14th - 1924. She was 68 years of age and he was 81.

My mother, 'ANNIE MUNRO WILD,'was the daughter of 'GEORGE WILD' and 'ELIZABETH JOHNSON' who were married in 1853. Her mother was born in the Orkney Islands on July 15th - 1818 and came to the Red River Settlements in 1848 as an employee in the household of 'MR. PELLY,' chief clerk to the Governor of the H.B.Co.

According to information contained in the clipping at the back of this book, 'GEO. WILD' had seen service in the British Army.
Although an old man at the time of the first Riel rebellion in 1870, he joined the force opposed to Riel and was captured and imprisoned in Fort Garry at the same time as Scott who was executed by Riel.

When our family left Portage in 1897, Father arranged that my grandmother, Mrs. Wild, was to have the use of the cottage on the rear of our property as long as she lived. I believe she lived to the age of 97 years and was considered to be the pioneer of pioneers in that part of Manitoba.


This food of the frontier was prepared by cutting buffalo, reindeer or fish into thin slices which were dried in the sun or over the smoke of a slow fire and pounded fine between stones. Incorporated in the material, and there is no other word for it, was one third part of melted fat. Dried berries were added.

The whole was then compressed into skin bags in which, if kept dry, it could be preserved for periods of time that various sources say ranged from five to thirty years, although the latter figure could have been based on some early travelers's imagination after eating the stuff.

back to narrative

In speaking of the outbreak of scurvy which took place at York Factory, Father said the sick men were always looking for a warm place as they always felt cold.

The bread was cooked in an outside oven built of stones in which fire was placed to heat it and, when hot enough the fire was drawn out and the pans of bread placed in it.

On one occasion, when the cook opened the door, smoke and steam gushed out as a poor man had climbed into the oven and cooked with the bread.

back to narrative

Father had the reputation of being one of the best snow shoe runners in the West after he quit the H.B.Co.'s service and the H.B.Co. also had an expert snow shoe runner. Father was not at all anxious to race with this man, but eventually on an occasion when they were both in an Indian camp at the same time, a race could not be avoided.

They were to run 40 miles down the river on the ice. They would take turns breaking the trail, each man driving his dog team ahead of him. After running a considerable distance they came to a place where the water had overflowed and the other man lay down and drank deeply.

Father said he knew then he had the race won as the man would be unable to keep up the pace with his stomach full of water. He started to crowd his dogs up on the other man's snowshoes, thus impeding his progress.

He won the race and on his arrival home his partner, Sinclair, looked at him and said "My God,man, did you fall in the river?" as he was wringing wet, however, he said he took a good drink of rum, went to bed and had no bad effects afterward.

On one occasion, when he and Sinclair were traveling, they came upon an Indian who was beating up his squaw so Sinclair went to the squaw's assistance. After a very hard struggle he was getting the best of it when the squaw turned on him too. Father said he couldn't do anything for a while as he was laughing so hard but eventually he did join in and help Sinclair.

Once Father and Sinclair were alone in a small house and a real Manitoba blizzard developed. Sinclair bet Father that he couldn't go out a certain distance from the house and put up some kind of a mark and come back. Father went out and at once realized it was impossible for a man to do so but he stayed out in the shelter of the building for a little while then went back in and told Sinclair he had done it.

In the morning he woke up early, the storm was over except for a slight drifting so he took a stick and went out the proper distance and stuck it in the snow which soon drifted in his tracks. When Sinclair got up later, he said he did not think a man could live and do it and Father took the money and didn't tell him till long after how he had fooled him.

On one occasion when Father and Sinclair made one of the trips south to the U.S. to buy goods to trade to the Indians, they had a very narrow escape. They were part of a brigade of Red River carts the speed of which was naturally very slow.

Having a good outfit which was capable of making better progress, Sinclair became very impatient and wanted to go ahead of the brigade.

At last Father agreed and by nightfall they had left the others far behind. They camped on top of a hill where they could see the country round about and saw another camp two or three miles away.

Father suggested that Sinclair ride over and see what they looked like. Sinclair did so and on his return, said there were several men and two or three women and that they were a tough-looking outfit.

So Father said they would keep watch through the night. He took the first watch and sat by the tent flap while Sinclair lay down and slept. Everything was quiet and he woke Sinclair and he lay down and slept. He had a very vivid dream in which a man stood over him with a knife about to plunge it into him. He awoke and there was a man about to kill him. He overcame the man and looked around for Sinclair who was sitting asleep by the tent flap.

They had the man tied up and the problem was what to do with him. There being no law to turn him over to, they either had to kill him or turn him loose, so they waited until they heard the rest of the brigade drawing near next morning and kicked him down the hill.

Once Sinclair went to a dentist in Winnipeg to have a tooth filled. It was a very hard tooth to pull and eventually the dentist had Sinclair out of the chair and on the floor with his knees on his chest in which position he finally pulled the tooth upon which Sinclair chased him around and out of the building, threatening to kill him.

Two men left Winnipeg one day in a cutter to go to a place some miles out of town and a Manitoba blizzard came up.

They knew they must be very close to the house they were looking for so one man got out of the cutter to look for the house and the other man turned the team loose and turned the cutter over and got inside. He survived the storm but the frozen body of the other man was found just a few feet from the house he was looking for. It was a common practice in Manitoba in the early days to string a rope or something of that nature between the house and the barn so that a person could go back and forth in the very bad storms without getting lost.

The conditions existing in Grand Forks in 1898 were well-described in an article written by JUDGE W. R. WILLIAMS who wrote

"When I came to Phoenix in 1898 my trip from the North Star mine in Cranbrook was a roundabout one as it was necessary to go back as far as Lethbridge on a construction train, from there on the narrow gauge, commonly known as the 'Turkey Trail' to Shelby, Mont. Jct. on the Great Northern Ry and thence to Spokane and Bossburg by train. I arrived in Bossburg about noon and had lunch, after which I mounted the front seat of the four horse stage and hit the trail for Grand Forks where I arrived at midnight, cold and hungry. The only delay on the road was a short stop over for supper and to pass the customs.

"Grand Forks was booming and the city was alight with all the colors of the rainbow with the accent on red. There were all kinds of liquid refreshment in sight but very little solid food to be found. Blackjack and roulette were as plentiful as wild oats. Hundreds of freight wagons had stopped overnight on their way into the Boundary. The crowd on the streets would make Broadway on a busy night look like a piker. The room I was lucky enough to get was over the bar room in the hotel. The negro piano player had removed the soft pedal from the piano. The sweet strains of "Hit it and take it" - "Double O and the green"   "Hit me again" and "That's good" were wafted on the chill Sept night air until about 5 30 A.M. when the porter knocked at my door and in a loud voice said "Last call for the Phoenix stage."

"I got up, put on my coat and vest, went downstairs and had a kind of a wash in an old tin basin. After breakfast,I again mounted the four horse stage and started for Phoenix. It was a long, hard, slow climb but we finally arrived in Phoenix about noon and went into Graf's hotel where I think I had the finest meal I ever ate in my life. Those were the good old days. The latch string was always hung on the outside and welcome in large letters on the door mat. Every cabin had a good supply of grub and a little booze in case of snakebite and the stranger as welcome as the flowers in May. The brotherhood of man was a reality and there wa not an old-timer in the camp that would not go fifty fifty with anything he had."

Further about the burning of the Columbia Hotel. You will note in the newspaper clipping re. this that it was stated in the evidence given in the trial, that Royce and Cameron hired a team and drove to the woods about a mile above Columbia to test the fuse and alcohol with which they were going to set the hotel on fire. This would be not far from the log school we attended and my brother, Earle, while playing in the woods, found a piece of fuse and, as a result, was a witness in the trial at Kamloops. At this trial I understand Cameron received a sentence of 14 years for arson and Mr. John Manly left the country and didn't return. Mr. Escalet, the lessee of the hotel, later opened a hotel called the 'Escalet Hotel' across the street from where the Columbia hotel was burned and one day fire broke out which destroyed it and about twelve other buildings including the Presbyterian church. When we moved to Grand Forks, this church was located a half mile or more away from our home. It was in the cemetery and had a dilapidated old manse near it which during the frequent smallpox epidemics which broke out, was used as a pest house for people with that disease. I feel sure Father was instrumental in having the church moved to a location just across the steet from our home.

As I remember, our family were at that time one of the mainstays of the church. There is no doubt Father was generous in his financial support, some of the family played the organ and sang, helped to clean the church and I remember ringing the bell at times.

At the time of the Escalet hotel fire, there was a very strong wind blowing and, eventually, a burning board or something of that nature, blew unto the roof of the church. Unfortunately, the minister had taken the ladder away to some other burning building and, before one could be obtained, the fire had a bad start.

The wind was blowing directly across the street towards our house and pieces of burning stuff were landing on the roof of the house and barn where men were stationed with wet cloths, etc. to put them out.

Eventually, 1/2 box of dynamite was placed under the church and it was blown up. Children in town said, "They blew up God's house to save Hay's house." The heat of the fire had destroyed many of our fruit trees and ornamental shrubs and, when the explosion took place, it broke windows and cracked plaster in the house and Mother said the house might as well have been burnt down. There was never any suggestion that this fire was not a natural fire.

When living in Grand Forks we all slept upstairs except Father and Mother whose bedroom was downstairs. One night a burglar or burglars entered the house and stole a few dollars. There were several places robbed about that time and, in one house a club was found alongside the bed next morning which indicated that probably one man stood over the bed with the club, while the other man did the robbings. Father had formed the habit of sleeping with a loaded revolver under his pillow in the early days and we were glad he did not wake up and try to use it on this occasion as it might well have proved fatal. When he was an old man in Vancouver, he gave up the revolver but had a hammer on a chair by his bed. It was rather pathetic as he didn't want to be without a weapon.

As a boy, I do not remember our heating or lighting arrangements in Portage La Prairie but do know that, during the first years in Grand Forks, we had no electricity, and , of course, there were no automobiles, telephones, redios or T.V. sets.

I understand that in Portage Father kept a driving team in order to get around the country and we always had a cow and, of course, in both places a large garden. Our home in Portage had a large grove of trees which were planted by my parents. I know there were lots of maple trees but do not know what other varieties there were.

In Grand Forks we had a large house located on a large piece of property in which were many fruit trees, apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot, peach, etc. also raspberry bushes and strawberry plants also many rose bushes and other flowering shrubs. I do not remember our home in Portage as to how many rooms, etc. but recall the fact that there was no central heating in those early days necessitating having stoves in different rooms as the Manitoba climate was and still is severe in the winter. I remember that in Grand Forks we burnt a lot of wood as well as coal. The house had downstairs a parlor, dining room , kitchen and an outer kitchen into which the kitchen stove was moved during the hot weather in the summer. There was quite a large hall with the stairway from it to the upstairs. Father and Mothers's bedroom was also downstairs. Upstairs was a large hall, three bedrooms and a bath room which was never equipped with bathroom facilities. The toilet was in the back yard. There was a furnace in the basement and a heater in the hall.

In the backyard was a barn and wood-shed as well as the toilet.

As Mother became older and my sisters having married and left home, it became necessary to have help in the house and, as it was practically impossible to hire girls, we had several Chinamen at different times. Sometimes an older Chinaman would come around to give a younger one pointers about what to do as the older one would be experienced in what was required. As I remember them, they were pretty good cooks but not very good at housework.

JAMES married ELIZABETH D. STURDY June 29th-1896 - They had no family,. He was practically a stranger to me being twenty years older. They lived in Neepawa, Man., later in Revelstoke, then in Vancouver. He worked at the Land Titles office but was in very poor health owing to an enlarged heart. He fell dead on the street on Apl 2nd-1919 in Vancouver. We always called his wife "LIZ STURDY" to differentate between her and my sister, Lizzie. She married again after Jim's death. I do not know the date of her death.

JOHN died before I was born, on Feb. 13th - 1889 - He was going to be a lawyer, was working in a lawyer's office and went to an Indian camp near Portage on some legal business. They evidently had black measles which he contracted and died.

ALICE had a wonderful soprano voice and it was always thought, in our family, that if her voice had been trained she would have become famous but Father wouldn't hear of a daughter of his going on the stage. She married 'DUNCAN D. MUNRO' on Nov. 29th -1898. They had no family. D.D. Munro had been a traveler for the Kelly Douglas Co., manager of a dept. store in Grand Forks and was then proprietor of a gents' furnishings store. He sold that and moved to Terrace. B.C.where he was the Provincial Representative of Agriculture in Northern B.C. ALICE died in Vancouver Oct. 28th - 1951. I have no record of the date of his death which took plance in Eastern Canada.

'ELIZABETH' married 'PETER WRIGHT' Nov. 11th - 1896. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister, 'REV. DR. WRIGHT.' They had one son, 'LEROY CHARLES', who was born in Grand Forks and died in Vancouver of emphysema. He served overseas in the first world war. When they started talking of having an armistice, Liz kept saying how wonderful it would be if it was signed on her great day, the happiest of her life, the day of her wedding and Leroy's birth, and so it was.

When she was married she had hardly been away from home before and on the way from Portage to Grand Forks, Pete got sick in Spokane and they were delayed several days. When they left Bossburg on the stage she sat on the seat beside the driver and one of the four horses picked up a bit of frozen earth in its hoof and threw it back hitting her in the mouth and knocking out some teeth. In an outlying place such as Grand Forks, there was no dentist and she had to wait for a traveling dentist to come around to have them fixed.

ETHEL married LEON M. HALE, June 28th,- 1905. They had one son GERALD. Her husband was Ass't. Chief Engineer on the G.N.Ry during construction through the Kettle Valley. They lived in Portland, Ore. for many years, where she died on Oct. 15th - 1957 and he died Dec. 13th - 1959.

'CHARLES' married 'ALICE CARTER' Nov.8th-1909. They had no family. She died June 1st-1913. He then married ISABEL SOPHIA ALLWOOD. They had a family of eight children.


She died Dec. 12th- 1945.
He died Sept. 9th- 1938.

EARLE married OLIVE ODETTA HOUGH Apl 15th - 1915. They had no family. He died Mch 14th- 1949 on his 64th birthday. Have no record of her death. She is proably still living.

GERALD married JESSIE I. ANDERSON - Jan. 30th - 1918. They had no family.
He died May 10th - 1950.
She died Jan. 19th - 1957.

WILLIAM married JANE BARBARA CALVERT O'NEILL on June 6th - 1910. They had 3 children, ALICE ROSE, WILLIAM and DAVID RICHARD.

Maurice was born Oct. 4th - 1893.
Died Mch 2nd - 1910.