A Century Old Grave at Bold Point, BC
Lily Joy Ward‘s writing still sparkles with vitality and personality in the essays, letters and poems she wrote for the BC coast magazine, The Log of the Columbia, over a century ago. She wanted to be remembered–but until two years ago her grave was lost to even her closest descendants.
Lily opened her heart to her readers, sometimes sharing views that ran contrary to Victorian conventions. She also challenged practices in her rural logging community, at Bold Point on Quadra Island, BC, protesting against the shooting of eagles and the brutal destruction of BC’s forests. She wondered if she alone thrilled to the natural world on this beautiful stretch of coast.
Lily’s Haunted Grave Was a Mystery to Bold Point Residents until 2013
I searched for every scrap of info available about Lily while working on my book Tidal Passages, A History of the Discovery Islands but she vanished from public records in 1911. Lily and her husband Bernard Ward were listed in the census for Bold Point that year—and then there was silence. Bernard remarried a few years later, signing himself as a widower. So Lily had died, but where and when was the mystery. There was no death certificate or grave listing.
I picked up my search for Lily’s story again after the publication of my book and this time found a descendant from an earlier marriage (before Bernard) through Ancestry.ca. The Swensons provided photographs and a heart rending letter about Lily’s death (at the age of forty-six) at Bold Point in the fall of 1911. (See my earlier blog for an excerpt from this letter: http://thescribes.ca/580/) Ancestry.ca also led me to Bernard Ward’s descendant from a later marriage, Jenn Chavez Mueller. We joked in our e-mail exchanges that Lily was orchestrating these connections. She was a Theosophist, an unconventional Victorian philosophy whose proponents believed it was possible to make contact with the dead, so Lily would have liked this idea.
I took Bernard Ward’s descendants (the Currie family) to see Lily’s grave in the fall 2013. Glistening maple leaves were thick on the ground and only the corner pins of the former wrought iron fencing showed through tall yellowing grasses. The intricate fencing that once protected shrubs and flowers within the grave had long since been removed. (Lily’s descendants think her son, Roland Wilson, a romantic like his mother, planted the roses and lilac here.) The grave had a forlorn look in the fall rain. And, indeed, Jennifer Christensen, the current property owner, said it was haunted–though she didn’t know then by whom. The presence was a kindly one, said Jennifer, and when her daughter was a little girl they used to put out an extra cup at their tea parties to include the ghost.
Our gravestone fund quickly gained supporters, including Lily’s California-based family,Catherine Wilson Hallett and her daughter and son-in-law Megs & Ken Swenson. They contacted relatives and that’s when an astonishing coincidence was revealed in an response from a cousin. Nicki McMahan and her husband Mick had lived at Bold Point from 1992 to 2008, having bought property on a whim while boating in this remote area on a trip from California. They’d had to sell their place for health reasons–and they were now learning for the first time that they’d lived for sixteen years on a part of the former ranch where Nicki’s great grandmother was buried.
A Gathering for Lily Joy Ward
And so it was that thirty people gathered around Lily’s grave over a century later, on August 8, 2015, to watch Nicki McMahan and Megs Swenson unveil the new headstone for Lily Joy Ward. Among the assembled crowd were multiple generations of Bernard Ward’s final marriage. Some Bold Point neighbours were on hand too, along with the daughters of the Murphys, who subdivided the old ranch in 1980. Everyone in the circle had a story to share, whether it was to reminisce about their family’s connection to this place or a new resident who has found a cherished home at last.
We laid flowers on Lily’s grave and wished her peace. She has not been forgotten.
We’d like to thank the Museum at Campbell River for managing the gravestone fund and for filming the gathering so Lily’s granddaughter in California, Catherine Wilson Hallett, could see the proceedings. We also thank Mortimer’s Monumental Works in Victoria for the elegant headstone, and give special thanks to Gerry Cote and John Cleasby for preparing the site. Last but not least, we’re grateful for Jennifer Christensen’s hospitality as the owner of Lily’s gave site.
Work on Lily’s grave will continue. Dan Patrick, a long-time resident of nearby Village Bay Lakes, has offered to fabricate a wrought iron fence, with costs covered by Mick & Nicki McMahan. Maybe by the time this is ready to install I’ll have uncovered the story of the mystery couple who are said to also occupy this grave.
For more on this story see my earlier blog: http://thescribes.ca/580/
Gravestone fund contributors: Lily’s descendants: Sharon Wilson Bates, Catherine Wilson Hallett, Megs Hallett Swenson & Ken Swenson, Nicki Wilson McMahan & Mick McMahan. Bernard Ward’s descendants: Jennifer Chavez-Mueller, Deb Currie, Jan & Don Currie. The Ireland family. Community: Jennifer Christensen, The Enns Family, Claire Heffernan, Mortimers Monumental Works Ltd, Museum at Campbell River, Jocelyn Reekie & Jeanette Taylor.