A Forgotten Grave at Bold Point, Quadra Island, BC
The little community at Bold Point, on Quadra Island, BC, doesn’t have an official cemetery, but there are a few random graves. One is at a crossroads above an old steamship dock. Its granite headstone, enclosed within iron palings, is in memory of a couple of dogs and a horse. The other is to the west of this, on private land that was once part of a large cattle ranch. This grave has no headstone, just the corner pins of a former enclosure hidden by tall grasses and a lilac bush.
This grave has been the subject of intrigue and speculation for decades. It sits at Jennifer Christensen’s garden gate. When Jennifer bought the place her neighbours said Moses Ireland, Bold Point’s first rancher, was buried there. They said he was murdered and haunts his grave. Research, however, proved this false. Moses Ireland died from a heart attack when he was an old man, in 1913, and his family sent his remains to Vancouver for burial. So who was buried in this unmarked grave?
Roland Woolsey, a jockey who worked as a ranch hand at Bold Point during the Great Depression, solved part of the riddle. I had accompanied Roland on a return visit to the former ranch in 1978. An attractive wrought iron fence still surrounded the grave then, protecting a rambling rose within. Woolsey said an old couple was buried there—their names gone from memory—beside a Mrs. Ward.
Shortly after our visit the ranch was subdivided into acreage lots, the roads were changed and someone removed the grave’s wrought iron fencing. No wonder I was never able to find it again, and worse still the notes I made with Roland drifted into an obscure file. Three decades later, when I put together a profile of Lily Ward for her descendants, I found my notes and realized she was buried in the field at Bold Point.
Lily was an intriguing woman, a painter and a prolific writer of poetry and prose for local journals. Her writing provides a glimpse into the mind of a soulful woman with a rebel’s heart. She broke free of the Victorian constraints of her sex to achieve a measure of self-determination and explore new ideas.
Circumstance played a part in the elements of emancipation she achieved. She was born “Lilly” Dale Grow in Seattle, Washington in 1865. Lily’s early years were troubled. Her parents separated, which was seen then as a disgrace, and for reasons unknown she and an elder brother moved out on their own. At the age of 18 she married but, like her parents, it ended in divorce and Lily moved to California with her daughter, leaving her son to be raised by her in-laws. Lily’s descendants think the little girl died shortly thereafter and she took a job in a mining camp hospital in the Mojave Desert in Arizona. This may have been when Lily had a second failed marriage that’s hinted at in family story.
New Ideas for a New Age
Perhaps it was these tough life experiences and a thirst for answers that led Lily to Theosophy, a philosophical practice based on eastern religions. Theosophy was embraced by leading intellectuals like Vita Sackville West for its pacifism, vegetarianism and controversial beliefs like female emancipation, séances and the repudiation of marriage.
Lily had returned to Seattle when Bernard Ward of Bold Point arrived there in the fall of 1902, in an attempt to dodge a bootlegging charge. They fell in love and in doing so tossed social conventions of the time aside. Lily was eight years Bernard’s senior and, either because she was not yet divorced or because of her Theosophy beliefs, they didn’t marry.
Yearning for Contentment
When the couple arrived at Bold Point about a year later Bernard was promptly fined $300 for bootlegging, the equivalent of about half a man’s annual wage at that time.
For their first few years together Bernard ran small logging camps in the Bold Point area and Lily wrote poetry and essays for an Anglican hospital mission newsletter The Log of the Columbia, under the name Lily Joy Ward, or Sister Ward. She promoted prohibition to the many loggers in the region and Bernard’s camps became alcohol-free. She railed against the wanton destruction of logging and the senseless shooting of eagles. She wondered, in one of her essays, if she alone was moved by the beauty of nature.
“My little cabin is a quarter of a mile from the camp now,” wrote Lily, “and I never see anyone but husband during the twenty-four hours, and then only at night when he returns from his work. … I have a lovely view of the channel from my windows, and amuse myself by sewing, painting, and making rag rugs… In the evening while husband is resting on the homemade lounge, I sit before the fire and read out loud to him, while he smokes.”
In 1907 Lily and Bernard were officially married and a year or two later they moved to a cottage near the hay barn and corral at the Bold Point ranch. Bernard took over much of the ranch work from his aging stepfather Moses Ireland, who may have run as many as 100 head of cattle.
Life was good for Lily and Bernard. “Although we are poor in this worlds goods, we are rich in love and content,” she wrote. But in 1911 Lily got breast cancer, at the age of 46. There were few treatments to arrest this disease or ease the pain at that time and, in any case, the Wards lived at a great distance from the nearest hospital. The cancer metastasized and spread throughout her body, including her lungs. When Lily’s son Roland Wilson visited in October she was near death, as he wrote home:
I arrived here Saturday about 9 a.m. Mother had been quite bad but has been resting a little easier since. I cannot possibly come home this week. There is no one here to take care of her but Bernie and one of us must be close by all the time. She is almost helpless; I cannot write how awful it is. … She can talk but little you know and is so hard to understand… It is terrible to be waiting; waiting for the end, for there is no hope left. Bernie realizes it and I guess poor mother does too… Since beginning this letter, Mrs. Ireland has been over and fixed things up a bit. Mother said this afternoon, once when I was in, ‘Don’t leave!’ She thought I intended to go tomorrow.
Roland may have still been on hand to help prepare Lily’s grave. Bernard cut off Lily’s thick auburn braid and stowed it in his trunk of prized possessions. Then they lowered her coffin into her grave near their cottage. A neighbourly blacksmith made a wrought iron fence and someone planted a lilac, roses and bulbs within.
The Story Comes Full Circle
Two years after Lily’s death Bernard’s stepfather Moses Ireland died and in 1917 his mother passed away too, leaving Bernard and a niece on their own at the Bold Point Ranch. Bernard remarried just before his mother died, this time to a much younger woman, but she “ran off” within months, as a neighbour wrote in her diary. Bernard, who was not to be deterred, was lucky in his third marriage in 1920. He and Irene had three daughters before they sold the Bold Point Ranch on the cusp of the Depression to move to Vancouver.
Thereafter Bernard put his past life behind him. He did not, for instance, tell his daughters he had been married before, until the day one of them found a mysterious auburn braid in his trunk. And even then he said nothing more than that he had been married before—and that was all. His past was a private matter and not open for discussion. And so things remained until I began a search for details about Lily Joy Ward decades later and found both she and Bernard’s descendants.
On a crisp fall day in 2012 I joined Bernard’s granddaughter Debbie Currie and her sisters-in-law Laurie and Jan to visit Bold Point and Lily’s grave. The laneways were slick with fallen maple leaves and the tall pasture grasses were fallen and tangled. We were directed to Lily’s grave, at Jennifer Christensen’s cottage gate. We chatted there quietly for a time. Each of us brought Lily Joy—and the mystery couple she shares this plot with—kind thoughts and a sense of closure. We had found Lily’s grave and we had pieced together the story of her life.
Postscript: We’ve raised the funds to pay for a headstone, which will be unveiled on August 8, 2015. On hand will be some of Lily’s direct descendants (from California), some of Bernard Ward’s family from a later marriage, and a member of the Moses Ireland family with us–along with neighbours and project sponsor The Museum at Campbell River. Watch for a blog post in the fall about this event.
If you enjoyed this history tale you may also like my post called Disturbing the Dead, about the fallout of a love triangle in the 1890s: http://thescribes.ca/disturbing-the-dead-a-read-islandbc-tale/