TIME WINDOWS: A story behind a photograph

I was intrigued by a set of Edward Stolterfoht photos of three children at play, all taken on the same occasion

Bryan Mahon

I was intrigued by a set of Edward Stolterfoht photos of three children at play, all taken on the same occasion. Some of the negatives were marred by considerable spoilage, but I printed them all the same.

One of the flawed negatives was of Bryan, Edward Mahon’s only child, in the company of a girl with ringlets. It was very badly degraded, but there was a flawless identical pose in a second negative. As I could not explain how Stolterfoht could have obtained such precisely identical compositions, I thought the couplet would be an interesting lead-in to a new album, dedicated to the photographer, on my Trails in Time Facebook page.

The photo I use here is from that set and it is one which shows all three friends at the same setting. It was taken in August 1920. The boy on the left, I knew, was Bryan Mahon. I also knew the boy on the right was his regular playmate. Edward’s family descendants, however, could not identify the girl with the ringlets, so she remained a mystery.

Below: James Findlay’s official portrait as Vancouver’s 15th mayor. (Courtesy of Heather Lapierre)

The puzzle remained unsolved until I posted the images. I was soon surprised by a message from Heather Lapierre of North Vancouver, whom I had never met. She advised me she had a similar photograph in her family album, and she knew who the girl was.

She introduced herself as the only child of Bryan’s best friend, who for some reason always appears rather glum in those photographs of him that I have seen. His name was Jim Virtue, and Heather sent me additional photos of her father as he matured, married and raised a family.

Like his buddy Bryan, Jim was an only child. His mother, Ellen (Nell) Findlay, was a daughter of James Findlay, who served as Vancouver’s 15th mayor in 1912.

Nell married Matthew (Matt) Virtue in January 1912, and gave birth to James Alan on Nov. 30, seven months before Bryan was born to Lilette. Matt was an operator at the Buntzen hydroelectric plant on Indian Arm.

The story of the girl took on a life of its own. Her name was Margaret Woodroofe. Her father, William, married Margaret (Olive) Findlay, the eldest daughter of James Findlay. William Woodroofe was killed by a German sniper at Courcelette on Sept. 17, 1916. He was shot while proceeding to the trenches, and buried at the spot where he fell. His name is inscribed on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

Margaret’s widowed mother, Olive, most likely moved in with her parents. Heather thinks the Findlays were not willing to have a young child in the house as well, and consequently Margaret was taken in by Matt and Nell. Jim, Margaret and Bryan became inseparable childhood friends.

They remained friends as they matured and gravitated to their careers. Bryan Mahon struck out for aviation, and in time would head flight test operations for Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, where he would pass away in November 2005. Jim Virtue obtained employment at the Buntzen plant, like his father, and Heather grew up in a company home that overlooked Indian Arm. He died at a relatively young age in September 1970 in North Vancouver.

Margaret married an American sailor, Frank Fowler, whom she met in Seattle and they eventually settled in California. Heather would drive south with her children and visit her during the March spring breaks. She passed away in December 1997 while Heather was on her way down for another visit.

The connection to James Findlay was fascinating: he was a friend of James Rebbeck, father of Edward Mahon’s future wife. Both were employees of BC Ironworks. Lilette Rebbeck fondly remembered being presented with a black cocker spaniel named Jumbo by the future mayor of Vancouver upon her arrival from England with her mother in October 1893. Their association was also one of near-neighbours: the Findlays and Rebbecks lived a couple of blocks from each other on Vancouver’s Main Street.

That connection was propagated by Lilette as a mature woman — and wife of Edward Mahon — and the Virtues. Heather confirmed that two previously unidentified people accompanying Bryan and Lilette in a photo of a seashore ramble are indeed her grandparents, Matt and Nell Virtue. They acquired a couple of Lilette’s paintings, which Heather inherited. And young Heather herself was mentored by Lilette, who presented her with a set of pastel crayons and sketchbook and taught her to draw.

Who would have thought all that could have come to light from a set of negatives that had been corroded by the passage of time?

I am indebted to Heather Lapierre for her information and photographs.

Previous installments in this series

Tribute to a photographer

Farron summit industry

Farron memories

Ben Shaw: Myth and reality

Lilette Mahon: Art in living

Lilette Mahon: A mentor’s gift

Edward Mahon: Searching for a legacy

Edward Mahon: A stimulating childhood

Ole Skattebo: Fishing legend

Ingenuity: Milking the river

Intrigues: Castlegar’s lacklustre childhood

Perceptions: Adrift on the River of Life

Local history interwoven with rivers

Drawn into the currents of time