Mount Brewer (between Toby and Dutch Creeks)
Brewer Creek (flowing into Dutch Creek)
The local newspaper noted that, “if there is a more graceful, happy or cheerful couple [than Sam and Helen Brewer] on the crust of this old earth they have not been heard from,” and that, “there is sunshine when they are around.”16
Samuel and Helen Brewer were, if records are anything to go by, a couple of the most colourful characters in the early years of the Windermere Valley.
Samuel Brewer was born on 5 May 1837 either in Indiana or Kentucky. I’ve been unable to confirm much about Samuel’s early life. He later reported fighting in the US Civil War (1861-1865) for the 6th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, and there are a Samuel and Abraham Brewer listed as part of Illinois’ E Company from 2 March 1865 until 5 November 1865.1 From there, I was unable to find any trace of Samuel until the birth of his son, Hope, in Perry Creek B.C. (near Fort Steele) in 1886.2
Sam’s wife, Helen, was only marginally easier to research. Helen was born in Thurne, Great Yarmouth Borough in Norfolk, England on 9 June 1845 to parents William and Mary Bessey (nee Shrieve, Schriever or Shreeve). The family moved to the United States sometime between 1854 and 1862, settling in Oakfield in the county of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Helen had left home by 1870, however I was unable to determine where she went. It was later reported that she was married to Samuel on 5 June 1877 in La Valle, Wisconsin, however again I was unable to find confirmation.3 As with Samuel, Helen went without mention until the birth of her son in Perry Creek in 1886. The couple later reported on a Canadian Census that they had arrived in Canada in either 1883 or 1885.
Sources from the Windermere Valley Museum suggest some further information about the couple’s arrival to Canada. Sam later recalled having come on horseback in 1881 with Paddy Ryan (John Harris) and Tenas Bob (Robert Jackson) to Canoe Creek (likely Canoe River, now Canoe Reach: the north arm of Kinbasket Lake). The three continued up the Columbia River the following year and spent that winter north of Golden. Early in the spring of 1883 they pulled a toboggan up the Columbia River, through the Windermere area, and to what is now Cranbrook. Samuel then wrote a letter to Helen, who had not heard from him in five years, and the couple reunited in Sandpoint, Idaho in 1885 before travelling to Perry Creek.4
Life in British Columbia
Samuel and Helen remained in the Fort Steele area for just a couple of years. After a period of mining at Perry Creek, during which time their son Hope was born, Samuel recalled working briefly for Colonel Baker on his newly acquired farm on St Joseph’s Prairie (now Cranbrook).5
In about 1888, the family travelled north up the valley. William Taynton later recalled watching them arrive on this journey, “approaching on horseback, the little boy [Hope] sitting up front of his mother.”6 Sam went into partnership with George Geary, who was ranching and running a stopping house at Fairmont Hot Springs. In the summer of 1888, the Brewer family was living in, “one large shack with a bar in it and some benches; two little lean-to rooms next to it.”7
When Florence Baillie Grohman, wife of William Adolph Baillie Grohman (of Canal Flats fame) travelled through in 1888, Florence said of Mrs Brewer, “she much impressed me. She was a plain woman with gnarled hands and a weather-worn face. She was dressed entirely in black cretonne with pink roses on it; evidently intended for curtains… She told me a man had come down with a piece of material, and she had taken the whole lot.”8
Of Samuel, Florence was somewhat less charitable, describing him as, “a weakly looking man with a long beard; a pair of blue overalls, and a black cretonne shirt with pink roses on it.” Their two year old son Hope, or ‘‘Opey,’ was dressed in a similar costume (they got their money’s worth out of that fabric). When Hope was eight months old, one side of his face had been burnt and badly scarred in a kitchen accident.9
Fast forward about a year to 1889 and the Brewer family were running the stopping house at Fairmont Springs (Sam eventually purchased the ranch at Fairmont from George Geary outright).10 Lady Susan St Maur (Duchess of Somerset) passed through that year, and she records being generally “amused” with Mrs Brewer. St Maur described Sam as, “a hard-working man, and in spite of his wife’s complaints of the effects of British Columbia on his manners, I find they are still much better than her own.” St Maur also made note of what she saw as the “pathetic” side of their story: the couple being married thirteen years with only one child, and he with a scarred face.11
It is curious that in both Baillie Grohman’s and St Maur’s reports Helen Brewer is identified as being Irish, complete with a “brogue.” Another visitor at the same time somewhat more correctly identified her as American. That same visitor asked how she liked living there, to which she replied that she wanted to go back to her own country (America), the writer adding, “she evidently was ruler of that household.”12
The Brewer House
If the Brewers ever thought of leaving the Valley, certainly nothing came of it. The Brewer house became a popular place of welcome with such a high reputation for hospitality that, “many a traveller makes this his special point of call.”13 They hosted a number of dances and gatherings, including an annual Christmas gathering that was well attended by visitors from throughout the valley. 14
Mrs Brewer was noted as a, “first class hostess,” with “fine spread[s]” served in her “inimitable style.”15 The local newspaper noted that, “if there is a more graceful, happy or cheerful couple on the crust of this old earth they have not been heard from,” and that, “there is sunshine when they are around.”16 In anticipation of the annual sports day in Windermere in 1903, the editor notes simply, “Mr and Mrs Brewer will be present – there’ll be fun.”17
Reading through these newspapers, I’ve come to appreciate when the Brewers are mentioned. Somehow their personalities come across the century with impressive clarity. Samuel was described as, “a jovial gentleman,” whose expressions included the enthusiastic exclamation, “Turn her lose!”18 He was somewhat self depreciating, referring to himself at one time as, “an old mossback and a hayseed,” and he seems to have had an engaging sense humour.19 At a social gathering in Athalmer in 1904, Sam “was in for some fun and this time brought down a young owl in a cage which he endeavored to sell to the ladies as a parrot. For once, however, the joke was turned on himself – the market for young owls was declared “over-stocked” by the ladies.”20
The Fairmont Ranch
The Brewer Ranch was not only a stopping place but also a largely self-sufficient farm with a large apple orchard, a dairy, a garden, as well as fields of oats, barley and grain.21 In fact, the Brewer’s success in growing apples was regarded as strong evidence for the viability of the Valley as a fruit growing area, and would be one factor prompting the creation of the Columbia Valley Fruit Lands Company (mainly on the Toby Benches) and the Columbia Valley Orchards Company (in Edgewater).
The Brewers did well enough that, in 1906, they began building a larger “mansion,” quickly dubbed the, “Fairmont Castle.”22 The stone foundation for their new house was built around the old one, the new building rising up around the old.
Fairmont Castle was a two story building measuring 43 by 22 feet, with a large kitchen lean-to, built out of fir logs and plastered throughout. The building stood, “on a little eminence close to a cool mountain creek, the land sloping gentle to the road and on through well cultivated fields to the lake. Behind it the majestic Rocky Mountains tower up many thousand feet in unequalled splendour. On one side the orchard, with its trees loaded with delicious fruit… while on the other the natural park of fine, fir trees.”23 To give a more modern context: Brewer’s property at Fairmont was later turned into a golf course (Mountainside), and I’m fairly certain that some of their buildings remain.
The Brewers held a dance to celebrate the completion of their new home, attended by over 100 people from all places between Golden and Canal Flats. People arrived by wagons, buggies, horses and canoes from noon on Friday until after 10 o’clock that night: the stables and sheds were full of horses and vehicles lined the road stretching out a quarter of a mile. Dinner was served and an “orchestra” struck up: “Sam shouted, “Turn ‘er loose!” and the merry dance was on. Fun, there was no end to it.” The celebrations continued, “until the sun rose and bathed the distant snow capped peaks in gorgeous beauty.”24
The Brewers enjoyed their new home for less than five years: in 1911 they sold it to F James Bernard Hankey and moved to the Chamberlain Ranch northeast of Windermere (the Swansea Ranch).25 Their son, Hope, had long since attended the Calgary Business College and later bought a livery stable at Athalmer with A.R. White.26 Seeing that automobiles were replacing horses, Hope sold out within two years and instead went in with his father on the ranch.27
In addition to ranching, Sam Brewer was also known as a prospector. He was one of the owners of the Swansea mineral claim, and had also located claims on Dutch and Findlay Creek.28
Sam passed away on 29 April 1921 after a long and painful fight with cancer in his jaw.29 Helen survived him for six years before she too passed away on 5 January 1927.30
Their son, Hope, remained in Invermere, selling the Swansea Ranch shortly before his mother’s death. He became a park warden in Kootenay National Park at Marble Canyon.31 Hope had married in 1916 to Nellie Ogden, and the couple had one son, Carl. The family moved back to Invermere in 1936. Hope passed away on 13 October 1971.
There have been at least two Mount Brewers in the Windermere Valley, although only one has ever been official. In 1911, Charles Ellis wrote an account of his ascent up the mountain behind the old Brewer ranch, which he proposed calling Mount Brewer.32 Although perhaps fitting to its location, the name never stuck: the peak is now officially Fairmont Mountain.
The name Brewer Creek was adopted during the First World War (1915 or 1917), apparently named after Sam who had made a celebrated trip up this creek and was caught by a bush fire and forced to cross to Toby Creek with his pack horses. I’m quite disappointed I did not find any other record of this particular story. Mount Brewer was named at around the same time, also for Sam Brewer.33
Some More Sam-isms
As I said, I’ve very much appreciated reading about Sam Brewer in the local newspaper at the turn of the century. Here are a couple more accounts from and about Sam (you can find another Sam story in the post about Delphine Starke).
“Mr and Mrs Brewer came down from Fairmont on Sunday and remained until Tuesday, cheering up their friends. … While in Wilmer, Mr Brewer started a movement going to petition the Legislature to assist the K.C.R. [Kootenay Central Railway]. Speaking of it he said in his characteristic way: “Things are so dull I can’t keep my axes sharp. We must do something to revive business. I think we ought to do all we can to get a railroad through the valley before we die. If we don’t get a move on soon a whole lot of us will die without knowing about it.” He then jumped up and gave a “Whoop”, just to make sure he was yet alive, so he said.“34
“Editor The Outcrop:
My Dear Editor, – I see in The Outcrop of about two weeks ago that an avalanche struck the good people of Wilmer in the shape of one BIG turnip and one BIG cabbage and a HAT full of potatoes. What the casualties are I do not know, but hope the good people did not perish in a jam pile.
Say, go away back and sit down in the shade of Wilmer, and do like the boy that the calf ran over – say nothing about it.
You may envy the old Liberal of Fairmont Springs, but you cannot compete with him in raising hell or vegetables, fruit, skunks, cold or hot weather, more especially the latter.
When the old woman is at home I can grow more fruit and vegetables in my fine corners than you would know what to do with. In fact my vegetables have grown so fast and large that the inside rows have pushed the outside rows out so far that the fence is pushed out, and while I am digging all the time I cannot get but the outside row dug, when I have to stop and haul in and put them away and by that time the outside row is full again.
Wonder what they are worth? Could I not fix a shoot down to Wilmer and let them gravitate down? Have you any vacant lots or country down there?
Written in haste – got to go beggin’.
Fairmont Springs B.C., Oct 15 “35
So interesting to read about ones relatives.
That’s so awesome!! I hope that I didn’t miss anything important and that I could share something new (I have such a soft spot when I read about Sam). Can I ask how you’re related?
So cool! Apparently these are my great, great, great, great grandparents! Loved reading about them.