Ethelbert

Mount Ethelbert

Sister Ethelbert, “having undertaken the rough trip to Kootenay … fell sick on the way… and our dear Sister was called home to God.”24


The Mystery of Ethelbert

This post is a rewrite (July 2021) thanks to new information and research. For the original see here: https://inthewindermere.home.blog/2020/08/26/ethelbert_original/

According to the accepted origin story for the naming of Mount Ethelbert, first described in 1910/1911: “Mt Ethelbert [was] named by Captain Armstrong for the first nun to ascend the river. She died on board the Captain’s boat, Ptarmigan, and was buried as Sister Ethelbert.”1 A closer look suggests that this story is only partly true.

Basic Genealogy

The Sister Ethelbert referred to in the story is Sister Mary Ethelbert, born Mary Madeleine Newlin in November 1858 in Iowa to parents Ferdinand Newlin and Beulah Palmer.2 Her father was a schoolteacher, and Mary was the eldest of an eventual nine children (including two sets of twins).

The family moved around somewhat, starting out in Ingraham Township in Mills County, Iowa,3 before moving slightly south to Center Township in Pottawattamie County by 1870. In this second location Mary’s father goes from being listed as a school teacher to a farmer.4 It could be that farming didn’t suit, as just two years later the family moved to Umatilla County in Oregon, and her father was once again a school teacher.5

Religious Conversion

According to a later remembrance, Mary Newlin was raised a Protestant but converted to Catholicism at age 15, shortly after arriving in Oregon. That same source claims that through her “influence”, the rest of Mary’s family also converted to Catholicism.6 Mary became a novice at the age of 19, in about 1877, “and her fervour increased and one could admire in her the virtues of a real Novice.”7

There is not a great deal immediately available online about Mary’s early career as a nun. She joined the Sisters of Charity of Providence, which established and ran a number of missions in western North American, including schools and hospitals.8 By 1886 the sisters had constructed some seventeen institutions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, with a further sixteen institutions built by the end of the century.9

Sister Mary Ethelbert. In Elizabeth Schoffen, The Demands of Rome: Her Own Story of Thirty-One Years as a Sister of Charity in the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Providence of the Roman Catholic Church 2nd Ed. (Portland, Oregon, 1917), p 49.

St Mary’s Hospital

In the summer of 1886, the Sisters of Charity of Providence chose a location in New Westminster for a new hospital, and began to solicit funds to build it. Sister Ethelbert was involved in this effort from the beginning: on 1 September 1886 she, along with Sister John of Calvary, went on a “begging mission” into the interior, working out of the Mission at Kamloops for the next month to collect about $2,000 in donations from Kamloops and the surrounding district (calculating inflation from this period is tricky: safe to say this is over $50,000 in 2020 dollars).10

The new St Mary’s Hospital was blessed by the Bishop of 24 May 1887, with a total of 15 beds.11 The Hospital also provided meals, including to many who could not pay, and the Sisters visited the sick in their homes.12 When the hospital was opened it was staffed with five nuns, including Sister Ethelbert. In 1891, the Canadian census confirms that there were five nuns under the Mother Superior and that, of the six, Sister Mary Ethelbert was the only one not born in Québec.13

As a side-note of local interest, St Mary’s Hospital was built with significant involvement of Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who also oversaw construction of the St Eugene residential school near Cranbrook in 1890.14 The Sisters of Charity of Providence are noted as providing staff to St Eugene’s in the 1890s.15

Fundraising

St Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster had no government funding, so its operating costs had to be raised through other efforts. A major source was through a medical insurance plan, in which tickets were sold for ten dollars each entitling the holder to medical and hospital care for one year from the date of issue.16 This scheme was supplemented by fundraising expeditions to railway and logging camps.17

As the hospital relied so much on fundraising, expeditions to raise money became a regular task of Sister Ethelbert. Already mentioned is her “begging expedition” to Kamloops in autumn 1886. Her name appears again in September 1887 as being in Donald B.C. in order to collect funds for St Mary’s.18

Another trip, in July 1892, is recounted by Sister Ethelbert’s companion in her memoirs, Elizabeth Schoffen (Sister Lucretia). The journey was to logging camps described as being “north… on the islands in the Gulf of Georgia (near Alaska).”19 (This description is confusing: the “Gulf of Georgia” appears to be another name for the waters and islands in the Strait of Georgia, off Vancouver Island, which is nowhere near Alaska):

“The hardship and terrors of this trip are indescribable. Crossing the stormy straights in small canoes, camping out at night in the wildest woods, our lives were endangered many times. Arriving at the camps at all hours of the night, tired, wet, cold and hungry; being lifted into bunks by the men when we were so cold, in fact nearly frozen, that we could hardly move; being carried on the backs of the men across muddy and wet places where the water was too shallow for the canoe, or boat, to land. Oh, yes, in the convent we were taught to be so modest—modesty to the very extreme, but it is all right, in the Roman Catholic Church, to send sisters to such places as this, where, as some of the men told me, they had not seen a woman for from three to eight years. It was all right in the Roman Catholic Church because we were getting the money for the fat living of the priests and to enrich the coffers of the Pope of Rome. Believe me, dear reader, no benefit do the sisters ever get from the hardships and indignities imposed upon them on a trip of this nature.”20

Sister Lucretia goes on to express her gratitude in having Sister Ethelbert as a companion on this trip, “because I knew that she was not a trouble-maker, but a truly good and sisterly person.” The two tried to converse with each other, “on some other than the written religious subjects,” but the exchanges were minimal.

“I tried to talk to her, and she would smile at me, and she tried to talk to me, and I would smile at her. It was very apparent that our vocabulary was very limited and simple, when it came to talking on outside subjects. It was not till some years later that I realized why this condition existed. It was from the long silence and suppression, of not only speech, but our very thoughts, having been in bondage so long.”21

According to Sister Lucretia, this was Sister Ethelbert’s seventh trip, “on a mission of this nature,” so it is likely that Ethelbert went on at least one “begging expedition” for the hospital every year from 1886.22

An Early Death

Just over a year after her “begging expedition” to the Gulf of Georgia, in November 1893, Sister Ethelbert went to Portland from where she and her Mother Superior travelled somewhere in the Kootenays. According to her obituary, “It was during this expedition where she took sick.”23 Another remembrance recounts that Sister Ethelbert, “having undertaken the rough trip to Kootenay … fell sick on the way and had to be taken to New Westminster. An absess [sic] to the stomach degenerated in poisoning and our dear Sister was called home to God.”24

Sister Mary Ethelbert passed away on 11 September 1894. Her funeral was held out of St Peter’s Cathedral in New Westminster, and “was the largest funeral held in the city for some time.”25 She was buried at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cemetery.

Ongoing Questions

There is still some confusion about the story of Sister Ethelbert. I have been unable to find information confirming where in the Kootenays Sister Ethelbert was travelling when she became ill, or more detail about the timeline of her trip and illness. The Conrad Kain Society recently made a plaque about Mount Ethelbert, on which it is stated that Sister Ethelbert “fell overboard” one of the steamboats, “took ill and died soon after.”26 This does not match with the account of a stomach abscess, but if this were the case it would have had to occur while steamboats were operating (sometime after April 1894).

Unfortunately I have been unable to find a death certificate for Sister Ethelbert, which might contain more information. I was also unable to find any mention of the Sisters travelling through the Upper Columbia Valley and Golden in the months before Sister Ethelbert’s death (although it is certainly possible that such information was not recorded).

There are other questions remaining about the exact series of events that prompted Captain Francis Armstrong to name the mountain Ethelbert, as the story as it first appears in print remains largely unsupported. It’s still unclear exactly how Captain Armstrong knew Sister Ethelbert. It could be that she travelled through the area in 1894, and/or that she was at some point the first nun to travel on one of the steamboats. It’s evident, however, that contrary to the story, Sister Ethelbert was never a passenger on the steamboat Ptarmigan, which was not launched until March 1903.27 Had she travelled via steamboat through the Windermere Valley during the 1894 season, it would have been on either the Hyak or the Duchess.

There is at least one question that this research might answer. In the 1969 book, 1001 British Columbia Place Names, the authors express confusion about the name “Sister Ethelbert” itself, editorializing that Ethelbert was, “a surprising name for a nun–one wonders if Armstrong got it wrong.”28 In fact, there were a number of Sister Ethelberts at the time. The name “Ethelbert” is important in Christianity as King Ethelbert of England is revered as the first English King to convert to Christianity, which he did sometime at the end of the 6th century (c.597). In this context, and considering what little we know about her early life, it is possible that Mary Newlin chose the name “Ethelbert” as, like King Ethelbert, she was not raised Catholic but rather chose to convert to Christianity as an adult.

Mount Ethelbert

The first mention that I was able to find of Mount Ethelbert by name is in March 1904, a full decade after Sister Ethelbert is known to have passed away. The mountain is then described as, “soaring far above its companions, its turret-shaped head never yet scaled, and owing to its great altitude too frequently hid in mist.”29 This first account does not make any mention of the origins of the name, even as elsewhere in the piece the author describes the naming inspiration for other peaks such as Mount Gilbert (Mount Nelson) and Mount Farnham. The tragic story of Sister Ethelbert’s death does not appear until 1911.

Taking all of this information into account, the original and often repeated story about the naming of Mount Ethelbert can be revised somewhat. Sister Ethelbert, born Mary Newlin, worked for eight years for St Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster under the auspices of the Sisters of Charity of Providence of the Roman Catholic Church. During that time, Sister Ethelbert was regularly sent on trips throughout the province to raise funds for the hospital, including to Donald B.C. in 1887. On her last trip, somewhere in the Kootenays in 1894, Sister Ethelbert fell ill and had to return to New Westminster, where she passed away shortly after at the age of thirty-five. By 1904 Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong had named Mount Ethelbert after her.

It’s very likely that there are some hard copy sources out there that might shed some further light onto the unknown parts of this story. Hopefully one day they’ll be brought forward!

Mount Ethelbert was first climbed in 1915, and there is a fascinating account of the climb in The Canadian Alpine Journal.
W.E. Stone, Sketch Map of the location of Mount Ethelbert, 1915, In WE Stone, “Mt Ethelbert and the Region on the South Fork of the Salmon River [Dunbar Creek],” The Canadian Alpine Journal Vol 7 (1916), p 21.

See Also

Ethelbert (Original)
Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong
Hyak
Duchess

Footnotes

1. T.G. Longstaff, “Across the Purcell Range of British Columbia,” The Canadian Alpine Journal Vol 3 (1911), p 26.
http://library.alpineclubofcanada.ca:8009/book-acc.php?id=CAJ003-1-1911
Elizabeth Parker, “The Upper Columbia,” The Canadian Alpine Journal Vol 3, Issue 1 (Alpine Club of Canada, 1911): p 101. http://library.alpineclubofcanada.ca:8009/book-acc.php?id=CAJ003-1-1911
2. “Sr Mary Madeleine “Ethelbert” Newlin,” Memorial ID 90330284, Find A Grave database. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90330284/mary-madeleine-newlin
Marriage of Ferdenand Newlin and Beulah Palmen, 18 Feb 1858, Mills County, Iowa, United States, p 19. FamilySearch database. Citing: County Courthouses, Iowa, FHL microfilm 1,491,826. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KLW4-LJF
3. United States Census, 1860. Ingraham Township, County of Mills, State of Iowa, p 96, lines 28 to 30. Family of Ferdinand Newlin. Accessed through FamilySearch: last updated 8 February 2021. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M821-6R2
4. United States Census, 1870. Center Township, County of Pottawattamie, State of Iowa, p 1, lines 12 to 17. Family of F. Newlin. Accessed through FamilySearch: last updated 29 May 2021. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MDV5-FZK
5. United States Census, 1880. Milton Precinct, County of Umatilla, State of Oregon, p 4, lines 40 to 49. Family of F. Newlin. Accessed through FamilySearch: last updated 20 February 2021. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNCP-XFV
6. Unknown document, translated from French by Eloi DeGrace, transcribed onto: “Sr Mary Madeleine “Ethelbert” Newlin,” Memorial ID 90330284, Find A Grave database (Accessed 1 July 2021). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90330284/mary-madeleine-newlin
7. Unknown document, translated from French by Eloi DeGrace, transcribed onto: “Sr Mary Madeleine “Ethelbert” Newlin,” Memorial ID 90330284, Find A Grave database (Accessed 1 July 2021). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90330284/mary-madeleine-newlin
8. Sister Margaret Cantwell, “Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart,” In Building the West : The early architects of British Columbia, ed. Donald Luxton (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003), 96. https://archive.org/embed/buildingwestearl0000unse
9. Deborah Rink, Spirited Women: A History of Catholic Sisters in British Columbia (Vancouver: Sisters’ Association Archdiocese of Vancouver, 2000), p 44-45.
https://archive.org/embed/spiritedwomenhis00rink
10. Deborah Rink, Spirited Women: A History of Catholic Sisters in British Columbia (Vancouver: Sisters’ Association Archdiocese of Vancouver, 2000), p 45. https://archive.org/embed/spiritedwomenhis00rink
“Local and Personal,” Inland Sentinel (Kamloops B.C.), 9 September 1886, p 3. https://arch.tnrl.ca/
“Local and Personal,” Inland Sentinel (Kamloops B.C.), 21 October 1886, p 3. https://arch.tnrl.ca/
11. “St Mary’s Hospital,” Daily British Columbian (New Westminster B.C.), 23 May 1887, p 4. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0346339
12. Deborah Rink, Spirited Women: A History of Catholic Sisters in British Columbia (Vancouver: Sisters’ Association Archdiocese of Vancouver, 2000), p 45. https://archive.org/embed/spiritedwomenhis00rink
13. Third Census of Canada, 1891. British Columbia; District No 2 (New Westminster); Sub-district 2 (New Westminster City), taken 27 May 1891, p 44, line 14 (Sister Newlin). https://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?app=Census1891&op=img&id=30953_148092-00628
14. Building the West : The early architects of British Columbia, ed. Donald Luxton (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003), 513. https://archive.org/embed/buildingwestearl0000unse
15. Jacqueline Kennedy Gresko, “Gender and Mission: The Founding Generations of the Sisters of Saint Ann and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in British Columbia 1858-1914,” Doctoral Thesis, University of British Columbia, June 1999, p 180. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0055449
16. “St Mary’s Hospital,” Daily British Columbian (New Westminster, B.C.), 23 May 1887, p 4. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0346339
17. Debra J Brown, The Challenge of Caring: A History of Women and Health Care in British Columbia (Victoria, British Columbia: Women’s Health Bureau, 2000), p 10. https://archive.org/embed/challengeofcarin0000brow
18. “Donald Doings,” Calgary Tribune, 2 September 1887, p 9. https://cdm22007.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p22007coll2/id/190811
19. Elizabeth Schoffen, The Demands of Rome: Her Own Story of Thirty-One Years as a Sister of Charity in the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Providence of the Roman Catholic Church 2nd Ed. (Portland, Oregon, 1917), p 48. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37104/37104-h/37104-h.htm#Page_48
20. Elizabeth Schoffen, The Demands of Rome: Her Own Story of Thirty-One Years as a Sister of Charity in the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Providence of the Roman Catholic Church 2nd Ed. (Portland, Oregon, 1917), p 49. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37104/37104-h/37104-h.htm#Page_49
21. Elizabeth Schoffen, The Demands of Rome: Her Own Story of Thirty-One Years as a Sister of Charity in the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Providence of the Roman Catholic Church 2nd Ed. (Portland, Oregon, 1917), p 51. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37104/37104-h/37104-h.htm#Page_51
22. Elizabeth Schoffen, The Demands of Rome: Her Own Story of Thirty-One Years as a Sister of Charity in the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Providence of the Roman Catholic Church 2nd Ed. (Portland, Oregon, 1917), p 50. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37104/37104-h/37104-h.htm#Page_50
23. “Sister Ethelbert Dead,” The Daily Columbian (New Westminster B.C.), 12 September 1894, p 4. Transcribed in: “Sr Mary Madeleine “Ethelbert” Newlin,” Memorial ID 90330284, Find A Grave database (Accessed 1 July 2021). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90330284/mary-madeleine-newlin
24. Unknown document, translated from French by Eloi DeGrace, transcribed onto: “Sr Mary Madeleine “Ethelbert” Newlin,” Memorial ID 90330284, Find A Grave database (Accessed 1 July 2021). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90330284/mary-madeleine-newlin
25. “News of the Province: Westminster,” The Daily Colonist (Victoria B.C), 15 September 1894, p 2. https://archive.org/embed/dailycolonist18940915uvic
26. Interpretive sign for Mt Ethelbert, Brisco B.C. Image: Brian Patton, at: “Sr Mary Madeleine “Ethelbert” Newlin,” Memorial ID 90330284, Find A Grave database (Accessed 1 July 2021). https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/90330284/mary-madeleine-newlin
27. Norman Hacking, “Steamboat Days on the Upper Columbia and Upper Kootenay,” British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol XVI, Nos 1 and 2 (January-April 1952): p 38. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0190669
28. Helen B. and G.P.V. Akrigg, 1001 British Columbia Place Names, (Discovery Press, Vancouver 1969). http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/10654.html
29. C.F. Yates, “100 Miles of the Finest Scenery in B.C.,” The Outcrop (Wilmer), 3 March 1904, p 1. http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers/OTC/1904/03/03/1/Ar00102.html
C.F. Yates, Mountain, lake and river : one hundred miles of the finest scenery in British Columbia ; Golden to Windermere (Golden Board of Trade, 1904): p 23. http://www.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.78497

References

BC Geographical Names, “Mount Ethelbert,” Accessed 8 July 2020. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/10654.html
W.E. Stone, “Climbs and Explorations in The Purcell Range in 1915: Mt Ethelbert and the Region on the South Fork of the Salmon River,” The Canadian Alpine Journal Vol 7 (1916), p 18-23. http://library.alpineclubofcanada.ca:8009/book-acc.php?id=CAJ007-1-1916

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