This is the story of Bryan Mahon’s grandmother, told in five installments.
(In the previous instalment we witnessed Elizabeth’s efforts to raise her children in Victoria, and her dedication to nurturing their artistic abilities. Lilette, especially, was enriched by being mentored by Emily Carr. An extended visit to her French relatives saw Lilette torn between her natural attraction to her cousin, Edouard, and the advances of a kind benefactor who was much older, Edward Mahon. The death of James Knight Rebbeck brought Edward Mahon to the rescue: he encouraged Elizabeth to move with her children to North Vancouver, to manage the Capilano Suspension Bridge property for him.)
Elizabeth’s responsibilities as manageress were formidable. As Gundrid relates:
You see, what we were up against was the weather. If you didn’t have fine weather you didn’t have anybody at the bridge — and you didn’t have anybody at the teahouse. And that was the nightmare of it. … The food angle was very difficult. We didn’t have a proper way of keeping things cool. Mother had only a little icebox. Then we also had the difficulty of getting ice for the icebox. You had a tiny little box for three hundred people, if they came, and if they didn’t come you had it all going bad. It was no bed of roses let me tell you.
Edward and Lilette were married on April 26, 1911. As Gundrid would remain in the Victoria boarding school until 1913 and Waller until 1915, Elizabeth’s isolation grew on her. Winters, especially, were long and lonely. We can imagine her getting out James’ letters and allowing memories to flood over her. She became a grandmother on June 29, 1913 when Lilette gave birth to Bryan. He was often brought to Capilano to be with his ‘grannie’, and her flocks of goats and chickens and the resident dog opened up lively opportunities for play. When he would be older, Bryan would help out with ice deliveries in his pedal car, which Edward had made for him.
In 1914 Edward had the bridge rebuilt to a better standard. The onset of war put a damper on the tourist operations as food rationing took effect. Prices rose and licensing requirements for food outlets were implemented. These all handicapped Elizabeth’s operations; in 1917 they were closed most of the season.
Elizabeth’s lonely life took a dramatic turn when she met Archibald MacEachran some time after the war. He was a fire warden for the Capilano valley and dropped in at the tea house occasionally. They were secretly married on June 20, 1921 and Lilette was able to tell Gundrid:
At present, in the companionship of Mac and of the happiness of jaunting off with him on their days off and having someone with her at the Canyon, she looks fifteen years younger and very well. … Mother has been remaking her own life quite cheerfully. … Mac is only 26 or 27 at the most, very nice, most unselfish and kind. Bryan adores him, Edward, Waller and I like him very much.
As co-manager, MacEachran improved the property as a tourist attraction. A pergola was built to serve light refreshments and the tea house was utilized only on weekends. He also approached Chief Mathias Joe to erect two totem poles on the grounds. Business dropped off dramatically when the Depression set in. Mac took advantage of the 1932/33 winter doldrums to take on work in the South Pacific, leaving Elizabeth in the isolation of the Cliff House.
As Elizabeth would soon discover, Mac was hiding a secret. He had been previously married in Scotland to Isabella Carlaw (“by warrant of Sheriff of Lanarkshire”); this 1916 marriage was enforced to pave the way for the impending arrival of a child, to be named Irene. His secret was out when a letter from Irene arrived at Capilano in April 1933. Mac wanted to bring her to Canada, a decision Elizabeth supported.
She urged him to help his daughter finish her education and to find a place for her to live as the Cliff House would be too small for all three. Irene set out for Canada and Mac surprised her by picking her up at the Kamloops train depot, most likely so he could prepare her for the reality of his marital situation. He was married to a much older woman: in 1933 Mac was 35 and Elizabeth was almost 70.
To be concluded next month
Walter Volovsek’s website can be found at trailsintime.org
Previous installments in this series