Pynelogs Cultural Center (Invermere)
Pynelogs, “is picturesque in the extreme. It is built of rough-hewn logs and faces south, with a glorious prospect of lake and mountain from its windows.”28
It’s a longer read this week, so best be prepared. A hot beverage would not go amiss.
Pynelogs, located in Invermere down by Kinsmen Beach, is a familiar historic building in the Windermere Valley. Many are likely aware of its history, but in the interest of contributing somewhat to what is already out there, here’s my summary.
Construction on what would become Pynelogs began in autumn 1912, when Robert Randolph Bruce oversaw clearing ground for his new residence just outside the recently re-named townsite of Invermere.1
Bruce had long been a Wilmer resident, where he was the local manager of the Paradise Mine, but he was also financially interested in real estate and, later, the driving force behind the Columbia Valley Irrigated Fruit Lands Company (CVIF). The CVIF was the culmination of a series of plans to create fruit farms on the Toby Benches by building a large-scale irrigation system, allowing for the lucrative sale of land that was otherwise not very attractive to settlers. To further raise the appeal of the area, the CVIF had purchased the former townsite of Canterbury, and set about building the luxurious tourist resort town of “Invermere”.
Bruce’s property, consisting of about twenty-three acres, was located just outside the southern border of the CVIF townsite along a quiet bay of Windermere Lake, and around the shores of Dorothy Lake.
In late 1912 Bruce, “completed his arrangements for extensive improvements to be carried out on his newly acquired grounds.”2 He then left to spend the winter with his mother in Scotland, and to tour Europe.
Bruce seems to have had the intention of building not just a home, but something of a country estate. The work he arranged to have done in his absence included landscape gardening and laying out lawns, as well as, “the erection of a large and commodious house of the bungalow type, which will be equipped with every modern convenience, including steam heating, plumbing, domestic water supply, sewarage system and electric light.”3 It was hoped that all of this would be completed and ready for occupation by mid June 1913.
The contract for Bruce’s house was reportedly given to Erdmann F W Sellentin,4 a building contractor out of Athalmer at the time who, in an April 1913 newspaper advertisement, promised, “plain and ornamental work by skilled workmen. … Prices right, promptness guaranteed.”5
I have not been able to find any reports from the time regarding the actual construction of Pynelogs: how it progressed or what exactly was done. Invermere historian Winn Weir later shares that the building was constructed upon beams brought down from the old concentrator at Thunder Hill Mine.6 While Weir probably got her information from some source with knowledge of the actual construction, I have also found no contemporary confirmation of this.
Hopes for the rapid completion of the building, meanwhile, were misplaced, and the residence remained incomplete through until at least the end of 1915. As it was later reported, the “specifications… exceeded the capabilities of local contractors.”7 In a way, this makes sense: few local contractors at the time would have been familiar with incorporating such luxuries as indoor plumbing, a sewer system, steam heating, and electricity into a build.
Bruce Gets Married
In the meantime, Bruce made some significant changes to his personal life. On 6 January 1914, Bruce was married in Devonshire, England to Lady Elizabeth Mabel Northcote (pronounced ‘northcut’).
Elizabeth was born 8 March 1876 in Marylebone, England, to parents Walter Stafford Northcote and Elizabeth Lucy (née Thompson).8 She had both an elder brother (Stafford Henry St Cyres) and an elder sister (Rosalind Lucy), as well as a younger sister (Katherine Cecelia Rachel). The youngest, Katherine, passed away at the age of fourteen, in 1893.9
Their father, Walter, was the eldest son of Stafford Henry Northcote, a Conservative politician who was granted the title of Earl of Iddesleigh two years before his death in 1887. Walter worked for some time in the public service as the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, but when his father died he inherited the title, becoming the second Earl of Iddesleigh. Along with the new title, Walter inherited his family’s manor house of Upton Pyne in Devonshire, and the family moved from Marylebone in London to the country.
Robert Randolph Bruce and Lady Elizabeth, meanwhile, had apparently, “known each other for many years,” by the time they were married. The marriage itself raised, “considerable interest… in society circles in Great Britain… for it is not often that daughters of noble families marry self-made men, and Robert Randolph Bruce is proud of the fact that he is in every sense of the word of self-made man.”10 Their wedding took place, “in the picturesque old church of Upton Pynes,” (St Mary’s),11 and, after the ceremony and reception, the newlyweds left on a honeymoon to Algiers.12
The Trip to Canada
Following their honeymoon, Bruce and Lady Elizabeth travelled to Canada on the Empress of Britain, docking in Halifax on 11 April 1914.13 Lady Elizabeth was apparently, “very keen on gardening, riding and music, and she is charmed with the idea of going to Canada and of having a home in the Columbia Valley.”14
A surprisingly detailed newspaper report follows, sharing how the couple made the trip from Calgary to Golden, “in one of the CPR’s most up to date and standard cars attached to one of their most perfect trains” (no information is given as to what makes a “most perfect train” different from an ordinary train). From Golden, the newspaper continues, the couple transferred to the Kootenay Central Railway, then newly opened as far as Spillimacheen, making slow, ten mile per hour (16 kph) progress in, “a very ordinary day coach… hitched on to the end of a collection of freight cars.”15
From Spilli travel south continued via motor car the rest of the distance to Wilmer. Town residents were well prepared, having “decorated for the occasion with bunting and evergreens,” and the couple passed, “under a huge Union Jack which had been stretched across the road, then under an evergreen arch bearing the banner on which was emblazoned the motto “Welcome Home.””16
The elaborate Wilmer welcome continued into that night, when “all the young men of the neighboring villages, including those of Wilmer, assembled… in the rather questionable but still firm standing habit of a chivari.”17
For those fortunate enough not to know, a chivari involved waiting until it was late at night, marching silently on the home of the newlyweds, then letting loose a deafening sound from hitting tin cans, pipes, and whatever else could be found. In this case, the “salute” was “acknowledged in fitting form by the groom,” and the men dispersed to other locations.18 (One wonders what “fitting form” entails. I’ve luckily not taken part in a chivari – what is the appropriate response to these things?)
Life in the Valley
For all that we have an impressive amount of detail recorded about the arrival of the Bruces to the valley, there is not a lot of primary source material for the year or so following.
Bruce’s house at Wilmer was relatively small, and his house on the lake was incomplete, so the couple instead settled on the houseboat the Dorothy M (previously the Isabella McCormick then the Isabell), which was moored in the bay in front of Pynelogs.
It’s unknown exactly when “Pynelogs” received its name, but it obviously came about in honor of Lady Elizabeth’s home of Pyne House in England. Pyne House was home to ten generations of the Pyne family, after which it passed through the ownership of a few more families before being acquired by the Northcotes in 1732. According to Lady Elizabeth’s father, who was an enthusiastic admirer of Jane Austen, Pyne House was also the inspiration for Barton Park in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.19
Lady Elizabeth, meanwhile, stays largely under the historical radar during her time in the valley, although she is later described as being, “beloved by rich and poor alike for her kindly deeds and gentle disposition.”20
Her time here, however, was tragically short, as she died on Monday, 27 September 1915 in Invermere, reportedly of appendicitis.21 The local doctor had previously left due to the outbreak of the First World War, and so Dr Green of Cranbrook had paid several visits to Windermere to attend to Lady Elizabeth.22 She was in poor health, “for some weeks,” and was not strong enough to undergo an operation.23
After her death it was decided, after “frantic cables… back and forth over the Atlantic,”24 to bury her at Invermere, on the shores of the lake, which was done on Saturday 2 October.25 Her effects, totalling just over £4300, went to her husband.26
R.R. Bruce was grief stricken, and reportedly reluctant to finish Pynelogs and live there, although in the end he did.27 Again, it’s not recorded when the house was actually completed, although it would have likely been sometime during the First World War.
As a completed product, Pynelogs was impressive. It is described, in July 1921, as “picturesque in the extreme. It is built of rough-hewn logs and faces south, with a glorious prospect of lake and mountain from its windows.” Surrounding the “charming house” were, “lawns, backed by wide borders of old-fashioned flowers, with delphiniums, sweet Williams, and columbines in profusion. Vegetables too, of every kind are there; strawberries so fine in size and flavor as any… [and] raspberries and other small fruits flourish.”28
Pynelogs remained Bruce’s valley home until 1936, although over time he was there less and less. In 1926, he was appointed to the position of lieutenant governor of British Columbia, a post he held until 1931. That same year (1931), Bruce married again to Edith Bagley Molson, and in 1936 he was appointed as Canada’s Minister to Japan.
The Lady Elizabeth Bruce Memorial Hospital
The same year as Bruce’s Japan appointment, he gave new life to Pynelogs by donating it to the Windermere District Hospital Association for use as a hospital, at the same time offering funds to remodel and equip the building.29 The donation was accepted by the Association’s board of directors, “by unanimous vote”, and including a “sincere appreciation” for Bruce’s generosity.30
The board proposed that the building be named the “Lady Elizabeth Bruce Memorial Hospital,” and Bruce gave his approval for the name that January.31 Bruce would be elected honorary president of the hospital board every year until his death in 1942.32
At the time that Pynelogs was donated, a newspaper article notes that the twenty-three acre grounds included lawns, flower beds, trees, and a kitchen garden. There was also a cow pasture and poultry buildings – both these and the garden are implied to be useful to the operation of the hospital.33
Inside, meanwhile, plans for the new hospital were made for various private, semi-private, and public wards on the ground floor, as well as a physicians’ consulting room, matron’s office, nurse’s room, nursery, utility room, linen closets, staff dining rooms, kitchen and domestic quarters, modern bathrooms and toilets, a large sun parlour, and an open verandah. On the upper floors there would be staff bedrooms and a large recreation room.34
Fitting all of this out took time, and alterations and renovations to the building took place that spring, including installing a new heating system. The move over of the hospital to the new building took place at the end of April,35 followed quickly by the first child being born there. There is a bit of confusion as to who this baby was, with one source claiming it to be the son of Mr and Mrs E McIntosh of Athalmer, on April 29,36 while another implying that it was perhaps instead Baby Joe Eugene of the Shuswap Reserve (of the two babies, one was the last born at the old hospital, the other the first at the new – which is which is just a bit confusing).37
Although the hospital was already in use, the hospital board planned for an elaborate official opening on 12 May 1937 – Coronation Day.38 The formalities were carried out by W Howard Cleland, who had been on the board of directors of the hospital for years. Following this, attendees gathered on the lawn outside of Pynelogs where Cleland’s daughter, Audrey, was crowned May Queen (Audrey had been previously elected by ballot).39 After her coronation, “the queen then spoke to her subjects wishing them health, happiness, and prosperity after which May-pole dances were performed.”40
A Community Affair
The Lady Elizabeth Bruce Memorial Hospital saw to the medical needs of the community for just under two decades, and the community did what it could to provide. At the time of the opening, the local Columbia Lodge of the Masons announced that they were giving the hospital a fully furnished ward, to be known as the Masonic ward, while the Invermere Contracting Company gifted the hospital with a radio.41
Work at the hospital, meanwhile, had its challenges. At first the nurses resided in the loft at Pynelogs, but in time the Carriage House was fixed up instead. The nurse on duty was responsible not only for the patients, but also the cleaning, and she often prepared meals as well. It was reportedly, “commonplace for the nurse to recruit a convalescent patient to peel vegetables or prepare and serve the bedtime cocoa and cookies.”42
Meanwhile, although the hospital had such up to date equipment as an x-ray machine (R.R. Bruce had paid half of the cost43), the only time that scans could be taken were between noon and one pm – electricity production was limited, and during that hour no other citizen in town was allowed to turn on power so that it could all be diverted to the hospital x-ray.44
It would not surprise anyone familiar with Pynelogs that the hospital there was not large. Just eleven beds were reported as of April 1947,45 and the inevitable construction on a new, larger hospital in Invermere began in 1955.46 That building, a frame building over a reinforced concrete basement, opened 17 November 1956, and offered twenty-four beds.47
A New Use
Even as a new hospital was being built, neanwhile, plans were afoot to once again convert Pynelogs, this time into “a very pleasant home for elderly folk of the Valley.” The adjacent grounds were also planned to be fitted up as a park and beach area. These plans were in the early stages in late 1955, with the Lions Club investigating the building side of things, and the Invermere Kinsmen Club considering taking over the park and beach site.48
The Kinsmen Club was the first off the block, although it’s not as if they were starting completely from scratch. Back in 1935 a working bee had been held at Taynton’s Bay to clean up the beach and to build a raft with diving boards.49 In 1939, following Bruce’s donation of the building and grounds to the town, a part of the grounds was further turned into a public bathing beach, complete with a lakeshore park with picnic and camping grounds.50 This original park and beach site seems to have covered around four acres, and was separate from the hospital grounds, which covered another eleven or so acres.51
By 1957, however, the Kinsmen Club was planning extensions to better combine the hospital and park grounds, and their project had the support of the village. Improvements to the park had been chosen by Invermere as the community’s Centennial project – funds were available to every town for a project in celebration of British Columbia’s centennial.
The beach project included filling in a slough with gravel over the course of a couple of years, then covering it with top soil for seeding, an alteration that both extended the park area and dealt somewhat with, “the mosquito menace.” In this way the park was brought back from the shore line of the lake to “the old hospital property line.”52 A pavilion and dressing rooms were also constructed.53 The Village Council of Invermere took over the beach from the Kinsmen Club in 1964, under the stipulation that the name “Kinsmen Beach” be kept.54
The Valley’s First Retirement Home
The abandoned hospital, meanwhile, was also slowly advancing, not under the Lions Club as had been originally planned, but under the newly formed Windermere District Social Services Society (WDSSS). This new society was created around 1958 for the purpose of renovating the hospital for use as a home for elderly residents of the Columbia Valley. There was a recognized need for such a facility – old folks were then required to move to Cranbrook to receive supportive care.
Renovations began in October 1960, including further improvements to heating (an oil furnace), a new well for water, redecoration, and “certain structural alterations” on the lower floor.55 By the time work was complete there was accommodation for around fifteen guests including three private rooms, five semi-private, and one room for three. Rooms were, “attractively decorated in shades of primrose, turquoise and rose.”56
There was also a central lounge for gathering, while the lounge of the former hospital was converted to a sitting room, complete with a portrait of R.R. Bruce. The kitchen now had an electric stove and a refrigerator, while the upstairs was, once again, used for staff quarters, although Mrs Shaw, who initially had charge of the home, also had a room downstairs.57
With the change in decoration also came a change in name, with the building reverting once again to the original name of “Pynelogs”. Guests began to arrive with Mrs Thomas Frater in January 1961,58 followed by others bringing the total to nine by that October.59 In 1964 guest Joe Fordyma was keeping a large (forty foot long) vegetable garden to help feed the twenty-one people then at Pynelogs (it’s likely that this number included the staff as well as guests).60
Once again, the community railed to support some of the costs at the home. The Village donated a green upholstered reclining chair, “in blend with furnishings of the lounge,”61 while communities, organizations, and service clubs were encouraged to sponsor a room for around $200, reimbursing the costs of the Social Services Society for furnishing and maintenance.62 Edgewater was the first to do so, adopting a ward in February 1961, although no doubt others joined as well.
Maintenance work on Pynelogs, meanwhile, also continued, with the building receiving a new roof in 1964 from donated material – as the roof was 5,000 square feet (over 450 square meters), and this was before electric nail guns, it, “t[ook] a lot of laying.”63 A complete renovation of the rest home also took place in 1972, and the following year a major addition was added to the east side of the building, including a new entrance with foyer, a small office, and a dining room doubling as an activity room.64
Meanwhile: The Beach
By this point, ownership of Bruce’s former lands is somewhat unclear. While the WDSSS continued to own the Pynelogs site itself, the Village of Invermere had ownership of the beach, although it’s not clear where exactly the boundary between the two lay. It was shifting, however, as the “beach” part of the bay gained more prominence. For example, the two parties reached an agreement in 1965 to allow for public access to the beach in front of Pynelogs. The beach was leveled, sand was added, the parking area “by the boat ramp” was enlarged, and a fence was built between the beach and Pynelogs.65
It helped the gradual extension of the beach that, as yet another centennial approached – the Canadian centennial – in 1966 the Village Council approved as its community project yet another extension of Kinsmen Beach, this time another acre east onto WDSSS land.66 The project included planting grass, building a spray pool, adding picnic tables and benches, and clearing further park grounds to the east of Dorothy Lake. An old barn on the property was also burned.67
Meanwhile, overlooking Dorothy Lake, on land donated on a five year term to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 71 by the WDSSS, the Pynelogs Little League Ball Park (or just the Pynelogs Ball Park) was opened in June 1964.68 Construction relied entirely on donations and volunteer labour, and the opening ceremonies for the park were duly impressive, “comprising dignity, colour, and due appreciation of the labour and enthusiasm which had made the park.”69 There was a parade, speeches, and dignitary Bill “Red” Hay of the Chicago Black Hawks declared the field open before it was promptly used for three games by junior players.70
The Pynelogs Ball Diamond (as it later seems to have been called) would become a popular recreational spot – in June 1981, for example, not only were there league games, but various teams including the Edgewater Oldtimers, Rotary, Liquor Store, and “The Infamous [Valley] Echo Team” also met. Among these games, the Edgewater Oldtimers met the Rotarians in “a gruelling endurance test” that ended in a score of 41 to 36 in favour of Rotary (one observer reported that they, “did away with the diamond, put a bucket at each end of the field, and played basketball”). There was also a “ferociously exciting match between Addie’s booze slingers and the Echo news flingers,” with the Echo team “scream[ing] their way to a glorious 11-7 victory.” The (Echo) reporter then goes on to suggest that, “the entire layout inside the Liquor Store [might be] changed around, as Addie attempts to find a way to exercise his players and get them in shape for the next encounter!”71
The Ball Diamond remains today – the Columbia Valley Little League was just recently awarded a grant to fix it up again72 – and so it has had a much longer life than other add-ons to the Pynelogs grounds. For example, the WDSSS operated the Pynelogs Campground for a period of time between 1968 and 1974. The service included full hookups for trailers and campers,73 before the property was turned over to the Village to become part of the recreational area around the lake.74
Pynelogs Community Care Facility
Back at Pynelogs, sometime before 1973 the building had shifted to serve not just as a home for the elderly, but also for mentally handicapped adults. By this time, room was tight, with men being housed upstairs.75
Management of the Pynelogs Rest Home, meanwhile, was poised to change. Mr and Mrs Andy Anderson had arrived in about 1962 to manage the home along with their four children and the dog, “Laddie.”76 The WDSSS rented out the Rest Home to them directly for the next thirteen years before the B.C. Government, apparently unhappy with this arrangement, requested that the WDSSS took over operations directly on a one year annual basis starting on 1 August 1974.
The Andersons continued to manage the property until the end of April 1975, after which they were replaced by a Mr and Mrs Logan.77 I was unable to find further context to explain what, exactly, is going on here, but I suspect that the Government wanted the care home’s managers to be held accountable to a Society rather than the somewhat hands off approach as they had been doing.
The WDSSS made some further changes later in 1975, passing a resolution to transfer the Pynelogs property to the Village of Invermere. The Village accepted the property under the terms and conditions given by the Society, which included that the land not be subdivided, that it be used for park and recreational purposes only, and that the buildings on the land be only used “as a community care facility or other uses beneficial to the people of the Windermere area as a whole.”78 The Village also accepted responsibility for major renovations, repairs and maintenance, as well as insurance on the building.
Initially the Village agreed to lease the main buildings and grounds of Pynelogs back to the WDSSS, which would continue to oversee operations at the Pynelogs Community Care Facility. This lease was on a five year renewable term, but my available sources run out at this point, so I’m not sure how long this arrangement lasted.79 It would have likely ended when a larger care home was built elsewhere. (All of these leases and operational agreements are confusing: the WDSSS had an annual agreement with the B.C. Government to oversee operations, and they now had a five year lease from the Village for the property. It’s little wonder the arrangement didn’t last.)
It helped that the Lions Club was even then well on its way to raising funds to construct a new Senior Citizens home. The idea for the project was raised in summer 1974, with plans to build up on Tunnacliffe Flat in Invermere.80 This became The Manor, which remains today. The Manor is explicitly not a nursing home, but once completed it would have taken over at least part of the function of the Pynelogs facility.
There are indications that Pynleogs then stood empty for some time.
The Columbia Valley Arts Council
Our sources reappear in May 1990, when the Columbia Valley Arts Council opened the Pynelogs Cultural Center, making use of the space for art displays, small concerts, and community events. A tearoom in the building became a major fundraiser for the Arts Council to keep up their lease of the building from the Village.81
Pynelogs, however, was also aging and in need of rather extensive repairs. As the century closed, rumours started to circulate that the building would be demolished after one village councilor remarked that, rather than repair it, “We’d do better to burn it down.”82
Meanwhile, the Arts Council was dealt a blow when the Public Health Inspector closed down the Pynelogs tearoom until renovations and repairs could be completed. The Rotary Club stepped in to upgrade the kitchen, but this was really only the tip of the iceberg of what needed to be done. Pynelogs was looking forward to an uncertain future.
A more extensive renovation and restoration of Pynelogs was finally undertaken in 2004-2005 by CV Arts (Columbia Valley Arts) and the District of Invermere, spending over half a million dollars on the project. By the end of it, Pynelogs had become “essentially a 21st [century] building inside a Victorian shell.”83 (From its construction date, Pynelogs was technically neither Victorian nor even Edwardian, and I would argue that it’s not ornamental enough to be considered Victorian anyways, but the point is understood.)
Today, only a small section of R.R. Bruce’s original acreage is still recognized as “Pynelogs”, including the original log building and a small adjacent garden. To my knowledge, all of the other out buildings have been destroyed. The transition between building, park, and beach, however, is relatively seamless – there’s an access road to cross, but the fencing is gone, and no swamps need be crossed!
Thunder Hill Mine
Some quick notes here for regular readers: as this post is a bit longer, and Christmas is coming, this will be the only post for December.
I’ll be back in January, but I’m going to take a three month break from regular research posts. Instead, keeping to the regular schedule, I’ll be sharing some interesting historical resources I’ve come across in my travels. They’re all online, so you won’t even have to venture outside into the cold to read more about the Valley!
See you (after a fashion) in January, or back to the usual at the beginning of April.
This was a wonderful read. It did take a slow cup of coffee to complete. Alexandra, I really appreciate your detail and commitment to providing us with accurate reads about the history of our Valley. Thank you so much.