Finding Fred: 3 of 4

Fred's Retirement, In Banff
BankheadDRIVING INTO BANFF was a bit of an ordeal, coming through two mountain ranges, miles of construction, and driving rain. I arrived about five o’clock to a town undergoing what looked like open heart surgery. Banff Avenue was completely fenced off with huge diggy machines and bulldozers hard at work along the center. I made a U-turn and headed for Bankhead, the old CPR ghost town north of town. Once a thriving railroad town, immigrants brought in from all over Europe to dig coal, this little, pristine town was home to several hundred Germans, Ukranians, Italians, Dutch, and others...and Chinese for twenty years: 1904 - 1924.

Main Street ran along a steppe of Cascade Mountain, mountain rising up on the west side, mountain sloping down on the east. The two- to three-block road, utlizing the steppe, connected Holy Trinity Church on a small hill to the descent off a cliff to the valley below and the CPR coal mining operations. 

Bankhead Church StepsI was prepared to find Bankhead overrun by the woods, each year more and more invasvie, but was nonetheless astonished by the relentless reclamation of nature. 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 trees to find the steps to the old Catholic church that I so much love. Ah! But I found it. I stood at the top and looked down, down into a basement where different nationalities hosted their dances for everyone else. Trees grow out of a basement where the Dutch danced with Belgians, Germans with Italians, A town of comraderie and contest amidst their many differences. The exception were the Chinese—relegated to the slag heaps down by the machinary and rumbling coal.

TwoJackCampSpotEvening coming on, I headed down and around the new road that cuts through Bankhead to Two Jack Lake and got myself a camping spot. Bankhead is indirectly part of Fred’s life. When he was stationed in Banff—first in 1887 when Banff was created by an Act of Parliament, and then again in 1890 when he married Lucy May—he 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. I was. But 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.' He didn't have anymore trumpets, so 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 the tress and time, and looking forward to knocking on Louis' door the next day to say hi. Perhaps a dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel, where he still played his trombone, the last of my great-grandfather's hotel band.

I was saddened, though, to learn the next day from the curators at the Whyte Rocky Mountain Museum that Louis had died three years ago, his wife just three weeks ago. Had it been that long since I'd been to Banff? I had to blink a few times. It was my children who first dubbed Louis my “Banff Boyfriend.” They always seemed to be amazed at how easily I picked up old men in my wanderings—men I made strong attachments to and wrote to frequently after getting home. But I hadn’t heard from Louis in awhile, and feared the worst.

The good news, the curators were quick to share however, is that Banff renamed the bandstand for him, and have a lovely plaque in front with a bit of Louis’ fascinating musical history. Fred’s name, I was not surprised to find, is there—mentioned as his mentor and teacher.

Banff RotundaHow rich my life has been by looking for my missing grandmother. First Fred, then Uncle Dale. And then Louis. Banff feels a little lonely for me now, without my friend.

Getting new information on Fred, though, was a little more elusive than getting the sad news on Louis. In the public library I found a huge book called I Live In A Postcard, a collection of histories on the Banff families. Fred Bagley was not listed. At the museum archives next door, they were just as surprised as I to find him missing. Pictures of his funeral show a long line of friends that stretched the length of Banff Avenue, even more stepping into the cortege as they rounded the corner onto Buffalo and out to the cemetery. His hearse was accompanied by six Mounties, three on each side, with Mounties stationed along the way, each one raising an arm in salute as he passed.

My uncle Dale only has black and white photos of this rather momentous event in the life of Banff, but one of the curators found some color slides for me. Goodness. The day was ablaze with autumn orange leaves and riotous red tunics!

Bagley GravestoneI went straight away down to the cemetery and had a picnic supper at his grave, where he’d been interned with a Union Jack draped over his coffin, and had my supper, prepared for me by one of my mum’s many Goodfellow cousins. I’d stopped at Sylvia’s house in Salmon Arm, B.C., on my way up, and she sent me on my way with an egg salad sandwich and other goodies. I munched it all down, perched on the graves’s concrete edging, back to the tombstone, looking up at Sulphur Mt. as it plunged skyward in a blanket of trees that I was happy to see were not yet dead from Pine Beetle—a scourge that is taking out what appears to be most of B.C.’s forests. I kept thinking about the entrapment of time—a terrible inconvenience to any writer and historian. How is that I was sitting there, alive, Fred dead, and my grandchildren having their whole lives ahead of them?

My real goal was to find where Fred lived in Banff, and where the Goodfellows had their summer cabin. How far apart had they resided—not speaking to each other, my mother the bone of contention between the Montegues and Capulets of Alberta?

Bow RiverSo my second day was spent 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 home and property worth $650. Taxes ran from $6 to about $11 or $12. The old phone books were the mother lode, however. Major and Mrs. Fred Bagley lived on the corner of Elk and Beaver; which is now an apartment building. Rats. Walter and Isabella Goodfellow summered at 422 Marten Street, about 3 or 4 blocks away; it, too, is an apartment building. Rats, rats, and more rats. I had my heart set on knocking on the two doors and begging to be let in. I do find it interesting that they lived so close; and that they had also been neighbors in Calgary. I ended my second day at Banff—a glorious sunny day with gentle breezes—researching in the public library across from a man I’d spotted at the hot springs last night.

Banff Hot SpringsMy friend Scott and I used tell each other the 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 one 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 is researching the residential schools in Canada—an online class he was taking. Shows how wrong 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 out to pasture after many years of servce. The tiny town  that grew up around the Mountie horse ranch is nestled in the Rocky Mountan 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.

Me At the Bankhead Train DepotOh! But camping the one night at Two Jack was quite enough for my old bones! 

So last night I stayed at the Banff Hostel, a grand place for little money and all the amenities. I’ll stay there tonight as well. Best yet, the old Bankhead Train Depot has been hauled out of the ghost town and sits right next door to the hostel.

Now that is my cup of tea!