October 21, 2018

Finding Fred 3 of 5: Our Bigger Worlds, His and Mind

Frederick Augustus Bagley, colorized by Brenda Wilbee, his great-granddaughter
Fred Bagley
I DON'T RECALL recall the summer I made the trek back to Banff to see my friend Louis and to track down where the Bagleys and Goodfellows had lived and vacationed. All I knew was that Goodfellows owned a summer cabin. My mother ever the bone of contention between them had me wondering how "inconvenient"  it might have gotten for the Montegues and Capulets of Banff when they ran into each other at the grocery store.

I arrived about 5:00 to a town undergoing what looked like open heart surgery. Banff's Avenue had been fenced off. Huge diggy machines and bulldozers were hard at work along the center. I made a U-turn and headed for Bankhead, the old CPR ghost town Louis had made come alive in my mind and heart. Once a thriving community of immigrants brought in from all over Europe to mine the coal, this once-upon-a-time pristine town was home to about one hundred Germans, Ukranians, Italians, and others...and Chinese. A town of Once Upon A Time.

Main Street, Bankhead AB, circa 1910
Main Street, Bankhead AB, circa 1910
ONCE UPON A TIME, Main Street ran along a steppe of Cascade Mountain, chuck full of coal and sole reason for Bankhead's existence. The mountain rose high to the left, where the town sat on another natural steppe before the mountain really took off, a trail going up and up to three portals reaching into the hiding coal. The mountain dropped off Main Street to the right, down to the slag heaps and mining operations. As Main Street headed north, the one-block commercial street narrowed and took a climb to Holy Trinity Church easily seen on the hill.

Trinity Church, Bankhead AB
Holy Trinity Church, Bankhead AB
While it was a Catholic church, Holy Trinity was typical of pioneering days, sharing the space and resources with other village denominations. Sunday mornings saw two or three services, while on Saturday nights the Polish, British, Irish, Russian, Germans, Hungarian, Slovakian, and Czech took turns hosting community dances. One week, it might be the Hungarians with a waltz. The next week, a German polka. Everyone participated except the Chinese, their way of life and religion far too surreal and mysterious to amalgamate.

Trip Adisor image of Bankhead AB church steps
All that's left today
Photo by Trip Advisor
I was prepared to find Bankhead overrun, each year more and more invasive, but I was astonished by the relentless reclamation. Early pictures of me digging around for laundry tubs and cigar cases in open spaces show a stark contrast to today’s crowding trees and underbrush. I had to scrabble up stony deer paths and push through young birch to find the steps to the old Catholic church I love so much. I did find it, and stood at the top, looking down; down into a basement where different nationalities took turns hosting Saturday night dances. Trees grew up from where women's skirts once swirled, ethnic music nothing more now than the wind.

Two Jack Lake
Evening coming on, I headed down the new road that cuts through Bankhead to Two Jack Lake and got myself a camping spot. While roasting a hotdog, I wondered why the draw to Bankhead, perhaps the same draw for Banff--my great-grandfather. When Fred was stationed in Banff—first in 1888 with the first detachment and then again in 1890 when he married Lucy May—he'd started the Bankhead Band. It was in this old ghost town where a kid named Louis Trono met him as a nine-year-old in knickers.
Your granddad came out from Banff to start a band. I wanted to play trumpet, but no matter how many times I asked he kept saying I was just a kid. Finally, to shut me up, I think, he gave me his own trumpet and told me to take it home for a week, see what I could do. When I finished playing for him the following week, he said to the band members, :Now here is how you play music." But he had enough trumpet players. He gave me a trombone. I've been playing trombone ever since, all over the world.
I settled down with a crackling fire under the black pine, content to be “home,” listening to the music of my great-grandfather reaching through time and playing in the trees--and looking forward to knocking on Louis' door the next day to say hi. Perhaps a dinner at Banff Springs Hotel would be fun, where Louis still played his trombone in what was left of my great-grandfather's "Banff Hot Spring Hotel Band."

I was saddened to learn the next day from the curators at the Whyte Rocky Mountain Museum that Louis had died three years before, his wife just three weeks ago. Had it been that long since I'd been to Banff? I had to blink a few times.

The good news, the curators were quick to share, was that Banff had renamed the bandstand for Louis and installed a lovely plaque with a bit of Louis’ fascinating musical history. I was not surprised to find Fred mentioned as his mentor and teacher. How rich my life has been by looking for my missing grandmother. First Fred, then Uncle Dale. Louis. Banff feels a little lonely for me now, without my friend.

Banff Rotunda
Getting any information on where Fred and Lucy May might have lived, though, was a bit elusive. In the public library, I found a huge book called I Live In A Postcard, a collection of histories on Banff's families. Fred and Lucy May weren't listed. Next door at the museum archives they were equally surprised, but pictures of his funeral show a long line of friends stretching all down Banff Avenue, many of them stepping into the cortege as the hearse rounded the corner onto Buffalo and out to the cemetery. His hearse was accompanied by six Mountie, three to the left, three to the right, Mounties stationed all along the way, each raising an arm in salute as my grandfather passed for the last time.

A curator found some color slides. Goodness. The day was ablaze with autumn orange leaves and riotous red tunics! I hadn't yet been born but I could smell the day deep inside.

Bagley GravestoneI went straight to the cemetery and had a picnic supper at his grave, where he’d been interned with a Union Jack draped over his coffin. I’d stopped on the way up to see one of Mum's many Goodfellow cousins in Salmon Arm, BC. Sylvia was exactly half way between home and Banff, a convenient stopover. After some lunch she'd sent me on my way with an egg salad sandwich and other hand baked goodies. Now, perched on the Bagley plot's concrete edging, with the chilly granite of the tombstone at my back, I munched it all down, looking up at Sulphur Mt. as it plunged skyward in a blanket of trees. I got to thinking about the entrapment of time—a terrible inconvenience for writers and historians. How is that I was sitting here, alive, with Fred dead and my grandchildren having their whole lives ahead of them? Weird.

My second day it was back in the archives, where Lena, one of the curators, pulled out the old tax records, heavy tombs of boring information like lot and block and assessed value. I learned that Fred never owned his house—there are no records of him ever paying taxes. The Goodfellows, however, had a cabin and property worth $650. Taxes ran from $6 to about $11 or $12.

a Banff cabin
Craig Cabin
perhaps similar to the Goodfellows
The old phone books were the mother lode. Major and Mrs. Fred Bagley lived on the corner of Elk and Beaver; which is now an apartment building. Rats. I couldn't go knock on the door and charm my way in. It turns out Walter and Isabella Goodfellow lived only 3 or 4 blocks away at 422 Marten Street, also an apartment building.

Rats, rats, and more rats. I had my heart set on being snoopy. I did find the answer, though, as to how awkward it might have been for the families--one trying to see their granddaughter, the other determined they not. Answer: Very awkward.

Banff Hot Springs
I ended my third day at Banff—a glorious sunny day with gentle breezes—researching in the public library across from a man I’d spotted the night before at the hot springs.

A friend and I used tell each other stories of complete strangers we’d see. So there I was the night before, reveling in the hot springs that's made Banff so famous, making up stories about the various people I saw. I had this guy pegged for a banker, widower, living in his head and trying to pull himself out of it. At the library we started to chat. Turns out he's researching residential schools in Canada for an online class he was taking. Shows how remarkably creative I can be.

In the morning I was to head down to Pincher Creek to meet my mother’s “missing” cousin, Doug Connelly. By the way, Pincher Creek is where the Mounties raised their horses and where Old Buck, Grandfather's horse, was put to pasture after many years of service. The town that grew up around the Mountie horse ranch is nestled in the Rocky Mountain foothills, and I am quite fond of the rolling, dry countryside, caught as it is between the mountains and plains. I look forward to meeting more Bagley kin, and to learn what memories Doug may have of his grandfather.

For a treat, I stayed my last night at the Banff Hostel, a grand place for little money and all the amenities. Best yet, the old Train Depot hauled out of Bankhead in 1922 sits right next door.

I can't believe it. I'm right back to Once Upon A Time!

Bankhead Train Depot, now in Banff AB. Brenda Wilbee on porch
Yup, that's me!

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