Cobb Lake (Kootenay National Park)
“Len was at home with his environment, capable and content with his lot. He was a good companion, full of fun. The life was interesting and challenging. I entertain no regrets.”78
Cobb Lake, located in Kootenay National Park roughly southeast of Sinclair Pass was, in a 1965 letter to BC’s Chief Geographer, “the local name, according to [the] Forest Ranger at Invermere.”1 That Forest Ranger couldn’t say anymore about the name’s origin/significance, but luckily, we can. The lake itself was named after couple Len and Jo Cobb, but we’re going to use this as an opportunity to discuss the broader Cobb family, starting with Len’s parents.
Ernest Robert Cobb was born May 1876 in Northleach, Gloucester, England to parents William Frederick Cobb and Harriet Hart Holman.2
The family moved around somewhat as Ernest grew up, and at age four he was living in Kirkby Fleetham in North Yorkshire, where his father was a coachman, likely working for a wealthy family.3 A decade later, in 1891, Ernest was living with his parents in Chelsea, London, where he held an occupation as junior clerk, and his father was once again a coachman.4
Ernest had three siblings, including both an elder and younger brother (William Frederick and Edwin Thomas), as well as a younger sister (Harriet Alice).5 Ernest was the only one still living at home in 1901, still in Chelsea, at the time of that year’s census.6 At some point, Ernest also served in the 2nd South Middlesex Foot Battalion.7
Sometime is 1902, Ernest came to Canada,8 where he worked briefly for the C.P.R. at Smith Falls, Ontario.9 By the time of his marriage, however, on 9 December 1905 to Martha Neate, his address is listed as being in Brisco.10
Martha (Pat) Neate was born 25 March 1877 in Chelsea, London,11 either to parents Robert Neate and Caroline Buller,12 or John Neat and Amelia Horton (her marriage and death certificates contradict).13
I could find no more information about Pat’s early life, but it is likely that she and Ernest knew each other in Chelsea before Ernest left for Canada. When she got on a boat in Liverpool on 23 November 1905, she listed Golden as her destination,14 and just a week after docking in Halifax, Pat and Ernest were married.
The Cobb Family Farm
Following their wedding in Golden, Ernest and Pat travelled by horse and sleigh, driven by Harry Atchison (who was a witness at their wedding), down to Brisco.15 There, on 24 July 1906, Ernest took out a pre-emption for 160 acres of land (Lot 10546).16 It was, at the time, “an isolated spot with few neighbors, no conveniences and no electricity.”17
The Cobbs began work that summer to build a home, with “material… placed on the ground for a residence, outbuildings, etc.”18 By August 1912, the Cobb farm is mentioned as being one of a number of “highly cultivated and productive properties” in the vicinity of Brisco.19
In 1914, eleven acres of the Cobb homestead was purchased by Archie Wolfenden, which he used to build a store.20 This remains the location of the Brisco store today.
The Cobb family, meanwhile, was expanding with the birth of their son, Leonard Ernest (Len) on 2 March 1909 in Golden.21 Len went on to become a student at the first Brisco school.22 A second child, Margaret Alice, was born in Brisco on 3 May 1915.23
The First World War
When the First World War started in 1914 Ernest, then approaching his forties with a wife and soon to be two children, initially stayed out of it. This changed in spring 1916, when Ernest (described as an “English rancher”) along with his neighbors, Stanley Wolfenden and John Watkins, signed up to join the 225th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.24
Ernest initially went to Vernon for training, and likely returned home for Christmas before, on 5 January 1917, he was examined by a medical officer in New Westminster.25 He then departed Canada for England on 25 January 1917 and, after further training at the military base at Seaford, he was transferred overseas to France with the Second Battalion of the Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) on 21 April 1917. Just six months later, on 30 October 1917, during the battle of Passchendaele, Ernest was reported missing in action.26
Back in Canada, Pat had not just a child and a toddler, but another on the way. Norah Emily was born sometime in 1917 (I can’t for the life of me find a birth date) at the Coronation Hotel (the Tin House) in Athalmer.27 Norah was likely less than a couple of months old when Ernest was reported missing in action, presumed to be dead. He was subsequently was struck off strength from his unit on November 26.28
It wasn’t until December 10 that the Second CMR received word that Ernest was alive and a German prisoner of war. After more than a month, his family could be reassured that he was alive.
Turns out that during the battle of Passchendaele, Ernest had been wounded by a rifle bullet in the right arm and lower right chest, and he lay out in a shell hole, injured, through the night. The next day he was shot in the head by a German patrol, and when he regained consciousness he found that he was in a German hospital at Roulers (in Belgium).29
He coughed blood for a couple of days after waking, and the wound in his head and arm healed, but the wound in his chest became septic. Around 1 January his left leg swelled up and became painful, and between the septic chest wound and his (likely infected) leg, he was bedridden until 1 May 1918.30 Ernest remained a POW until the end of the conflict.
On 29 November 1918, just over a year after Ernest had been injured, he was released and reported to be at a rest camp at Dover. From there he was sent to the military camp at Seaford before embarking back to Canada on 12 April 1919. He was discharged from service on 30 May 1919 at Vancouver.31
Ernest’s injuries were permanent, and they were extensive. He had entered into the army with 20/20 vision, good hearing, and was described as “fit” (he had flat feet, but the medical examiner offered the reassurance that he had, “been a mountaineer rancher for years”).32
Now, following his injuries and slow recovery, he had deafness in his left ear and defective vision.33 He “complain[ed] bitterly of tinnitus which he states is continual and extremely annoying and greatly aggravated by overexertion or noise.”34 In his medical assessment, his memory was also described as “poor with occasional period[s] of acute momentary lapse.”35
Physically, too, Ernest now had barriers to overcome. The function of his right arm was impaired, with an inward displacement of the forearm meaning that he could no longer carry a heavy weight (such as a pail of water), and his grip and power were at about half normal strength. His left leg, too, was “crippled owing to defective circulation,”36 and was consistently larger than his right, gradually swelling through the day.37 This meant that he could, “walk 2-3 miles at [a] leisurely pace [but] cannot run.”38
Although Ernest, “prefer[ed] outdoor life,” and there was hope that his leg would become stronger again in time, he was, in short, deemed to be unable to, “resume [his] former trade or occupation.”39
A Return to Farming Life
Still Ernest returned to his family in Brisco where, on the 1921 census, he continues to list his occupation as a farmer.40 He stepped back into the community as well, continuing his involvement from before the war with the local branch of the Conservative Party,41 for which he was elected secretary treasurer in 1927.42 He also became involved in veterans associations, and could be found on parade in Windermere at the time of a visit from Governor General Baron Byng of Vimy.43
The Cobb family remained living in the Valley until autumn 1929. At a social gathering at the Brisco Community Hall, held in October in appreciation of the Cobbs before their departure, Archie Wolfenden, “referred to the altruism and genial disposition of Mr Cobb, that he never shirked any work that was for the good of the community. Especially of late he had been most generous in time and effort in making it possible to build the Community Hall.”44
Outside of the Valley
Leaving Brisco, Ernie and Pat moved with their two daughters, Norah and Margaret, first to Chilliwack, then in 1942 to Penticton.45
In Penticton, Ernest again became involved with a political league, this time the Labor Progressive Party, and was an active and vocal supporter of the Canadian Legion and of Canadian troops in the Second World War. In June 1944 he wrote to the local newspaper advocating for Canadian citizens to give blood to help the war effort,46 and in 1949 he made a significant donation of books to allow for the creation of a library at the Penticton branch of the Legion.47 In March 1954 Ernest was recognized by the Legion for twenty-five years of continuous membership.48
Ernest was also, in 1950, installed as treasurer at the Penticton branch of the Orange Lodge.49
Ernest and Pat celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Penticton, in December 1955.50 Ernest, however, continued to go in and out of the hospital. He was at the Shaughnessy Military Hospital in Vancouver in 1951 when Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip included a visit there on their itinerary, and was at the Veterans’ Hospital in Victoria in July 1959 when now Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited there as well.51
Ernest was eighty-eight years old when he passed away at the Victoria Veterans Hospital on 8 March 1965. His residence is then listed as being in Victoria for the past nine years and his occupation as a retired bookkeeper.52 A note at the time of Martha’s death suggests that they had moved to Victoria in 1958.53 Ernest is buried at Hatley Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Victoria.
Martha passed away four years later, on 23 April 1969, also in Victoria.54 She, too, was a member of the Legion Auxiliary and the Orange Lodge.55
The Cobb Daughters
There is sparse information about the two younger Cobb children. The elder, Margaret Alice, was a waitress living in Chilliwack when she was married, on 1 December 1936, to miner Frederick E Gamache of Bralorne. Her sister, then living in Bralorne, was a witness.56
Within the decade Margaret and Frederick were divorced, and on 24 November 1945 she was a clerk in a department store in Penticton when she was married again, in Victoria, this time to Robert Davidson of Ladysmith.57
Margaret was living next door to her parents, in Victoria, when her father passed away in 1965.58 She herself passed away on 6 February 1972 in Victoria at the age of 56.59
Norah Emily, meanwhile, as the youngest of the Cobb children, was the first to marry, at age 17, in Chilliwack to farmer John Beaubien on 5 March 1935. John was then residing at Bralorne,60 although sometime after the couple moved to Penticton. They also, at an unknown time, separated.
Norah is mentioned in Penticton newspapers as completing an Industrial First Aid course from St John Ambulance in July 1948,61 and again in October 1951 as receiving the “Label Award”, again in connection to First Aid with St John Ambulance.62
In 1953 Norah became treasurer for the Independent Order of Foresters in Penticton,63 but by March 1955 she had moved to Victoria, although she still described herself as, “a native… of Penticton.”64 It could be that she was in Victoria on an extended visit to her sister as, come December 1955, she was again living in Penticton, and she had re-married to Wendell P Johnson.65
At the time of her father’s death, in March 1965, Norah was living in Victoria,66 and at the time of her mother’s death, in April 1969, she was widowed and living in the same house that Margaret had been living four years before (it’s unclear but very possible that the sisters were living there together).67 I was unable to find a record of Norah’s death.
Leonard Ernest Cobb
The eldest child of the Cobbs, Leonard Ernest did not leave the valley with the rest of his family, but instead, “remained… most of his life [there] as a hunter, fisherman and trapper.”68 It is thanks to Len Cobb that we have the name Cobb Lake.
On 19 May 1936, while living as a truck driver at Radium, Len was married in Golden to Josephine Pearl Graham. Jo, then working as a waitress in Radium, had been born 22 January 1913 in Van Anda B.C. (located on Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia off the West Coast).69 She first came to the valley in 1932.70
Following their wedding, Len and Jo settled in Radium where Len was working as a mechanic at the Government Garage and seasonally as a truck driver.
A Warden’s Life
In spring 1937 the Federal Civil Service advertised a job as warden at Kay’s Cabin, in Kootenay National Park. Len’s application was accepted, and in late April the couple moved out to the cabin, located along Sinclair Creek five miles (eight kilometers) from the hot pools.
It was while the Cobbs were stationed there that, “On one outing we came across a small lake within the country that was within Len’s Patrol area. After he had reported its whereabouts the superintendent had Len and Frank Foyston carry some trout fingerlings into the lake in cans of water strapped to their backs. There was no trail. They travelled in hot weather over windfalls and rough country to get to it. Those transplants grew into large trout eventually. Years later we were surprised and pleased to learn that the tarn we first saw had been given the name “Cobb Lake”.”71
Jo and Len spent the following winter at Kay’s cabin, with Jo noting that, “The social life as observed by the warden’s family in 1937 was limited.”72
After another summer working in the park, Len and Jo were instructed to move to Kootenay Crossing for the 1938/39 winter although, with no replacement at Kay’s cabin, Len would then be in charge of patrols from Vermilion Crossing west to the Park Gate. Their closest neighbors were the Crook family, located about five miles (eight kilometers) south (Crook’s Meadow), and their son, Ray, would sometimes accompany Len. Jo and Len returned to Kay’s cabin the following summer (1939), but Len tendered his resignation in September, leaving the park on 12 October.73
Leaving life as a warden, Len became a miner, first at Bralorne (where his sisters then likely lived), then through the Second World War at Kimberley. After his doctor advised Len to not work underground, he worked seasonally out of Canal Flats as part of the Forest Service,74 and was working at a logging camp in 1947 when he and Jo were advised that a trap-line up at White Swan Lake was about to be given up. At the beginning of March, Len and Jo went up to the lake where they met the owner of the trap-line, Billy Stark, following which Len took it over. From about 1950 to 1957 Len worked for the Forest Service in the summer and he and Jo worked the trapline in the winter.75
With ill health, Len and Jo moved (back) to Brisco in 1960, where they lived for another seventeen years on a small acreage on Lot 351 with “a very fine garden.”76 They sold their property in 1977 and moved to Lakeside Manor in Invermere, where they were living when Len passed away on 1 August 1983.77 He and Jo had no children.
Following his death, Jo recalled, “I accompanied Len wherever we had to go to find work… Len was at home with his environment, capable and content with his lot. He was a good companion, full of fun. The life was interesting and challenging. I entertain no regrets.”78
Jo, meanwhile, became a member of the Windermere District Historical Society. She passed away in 2006, and both she and Len are interred at the columbarium at St Mark’s Cemetery in Galena/Spillimacheen.79
The name Cobb Lake, originating from Jo and Len coming across the tarn while living up at Kay’s Cabin, was officially adopted on 15 September 1966, replacing the former name “Clearwater Lake” on a 1913 survey plan.80
Another fantastic piece of Canadian history! Well done! I wonder if any family members are still living who would like to sponsor a veteran banner for Ernest Cobb. He’s an inspiration.
Agreed, his story is just so fascinating!