Sunday, 23 October 2016

John Archer Coulson, Adventurer

John Archer Coulson. 

I logged in to Geni, a web-based family tree site, for the first time in months yesterday… my go-to site is, where I pay a sub. On logging in I found I have a couple of unopened messages from way back. One is from Carson Stone, a stranger to me, who writes he is collecting information for book he is writing on the history of Louis Creek. He knows my great grandparents lived there, and requested any information I could share.

Great, this gives me a writing prompt for today. One of my aims is practicing daily writing is to discover the areas of my family story that need more detail and research. There is nothing like being asked to write a resume to help you see the gaps. And hopefully it gives a more coherent arc when family members ask for details for their family’s past.

So I will write a bare-bones story, and try and flesh it out. I know the family lived in Louis Creek, British Columbia, Canada, but not sure where in the chronology their stay there fits.

What I do know about John Archer Coulson makes me wish to have known him. He led a pretty adventurous life through a challenging era, family was paramount, and he didn’t shirk from his responsibilities. Think of this post as a first draft.

He was born in Alston, Cumbria in 1859, the eldest son of a mining family. The area has a long history of mining, dating back to Roman times. The treasure they wrested from the earth was lead. Mining still remains a dangerous job, even in the modern world of health and safety. Back in the 19th century, conditions were dire. The family story says that as his father George lay dying from miners lung at the age of only 56, he made John promise to take the family away from Cumbria and the curse of the mining life. John apparently worked double shifts in the mines to earn their passage, in the process weakening his own health. Seven years later the shipping records show him arriving in Quebec with his mother, brother and four sisters. He was twenty three and his youngest sister was fourteen. The eldest child of the family, Mary Jane, had already married and remained behind in Cumbria. But John had fulfilled his father dying wish. They were well away from Cumbria and now the family had the raw challenges of life in pioneering Canada.

The year of arrival in Canada was 1883. Three years later John marries Jane Jacklin in Howick, Ontario, Canada. His brother Thomas and Jane’s sister Mildred were witnesses.  Jane was a second generation Canadian, her family living in South Elmsley, near Smiths Falls, Ontario. 

Howick is on a spit of land surrounded by the great lakes of Erie, Ontario and Huron.

Their first child Bertha was born at the end of that year in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. That’s 5000km away from Howick. The tales of the endeavours John engaged in show him regularly moving across the vast expanses of Canada, and later the Pacific. 

He was involved in moving the Bastion, a wooden watch tower on Vancouver Island, (1891) he ran an ostelry in Strathcona (now South Edmonton) He had regular trips into Montana to buy horses to supply his business.

My mother marvelled to think of his courage and fortitude in his 50’s when he made another major family move. He was head of a large extended family group which travelled to Western Australia and worked in wheat farming before moving again to New Zealand. It is said that he was advised to go on a sea voyage for the sake of his health. I confirmed this today when I viewed the fascimile of his arrival card when he returned to Canada: reason for leaving Canada: for sake of Health. The family group included his wife, 5 children (the 4 eldest daughters remaining in Canada) his wife's brother Rufus and the man who later married his daughter Rosina, Walter Lindsay.

In 1924 most of the family returned to Canada, and I think this is when they moved to Louis Creek. My grandmother, Jessie Archer Coulson alone remained in New Zealand, having married John Evans, my grandfather. And that as they say, is another story. Or should it be "and they all lived happily ever after" ?

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