LIVING IN A HERITAGE HOME: CONNECTING WITH ITS PAST
Updated: Jun 11, 2022
I have always loved old houses. I always envied people who got to live in these old houses with their old wood floors, their high coved ceilings, their grand porches, and their antique hardware. And then one day, I was lucky enough to become one of those people.
There’s no denying that Skelton House has an abundance of character, and the quality of the work that went into this house is unmatched by today’s standards. This house has good bones.
And even more than good bones and good character, this house has history. The history of a structure that has seen 108 years of people living, loving, laughing and crying within its walls. I didn’t realize when we moved into this house, how significant and personal this history would become, the connections we’d make, or that it would be, by far, my most favourite thing about living here.
Skelton House in 2021. The porch beam, which spans almost the entire width of the house, is made from one continuous piece of old growth fir. (Image Credit: Author's personal collection)
One of the first things I did when we bought Skelton House was to find out as much as I could about the previous owners. But living in a house that’s 108 years old, and trying to figure out everyone who’s lived in the house can be a bit challenging. I got lucky when we decided to include our house on the 2018 Heritage Home Tour.
The LaBounty’s were the second owners of Skelton House from 1948 - 1955, and their son, Ralph, bought a ticket for the home tour. To say I was thrilled to meet him, is an understatement. In speaking with us, it was evident he had very fond memories of living in this house. In listening to Ralph’s recollections, and in conversations with his daughter Pat, I can see why? He helped his parents, Charles and Dora, buy the house. And when he married Ann, in 1951, they started married life living upstairs in the front rooms of the house. Ralph and Ann left in 1952, but moved back in 1954, this time with two children in tow, to a suite in the basement.
We feel very privileged to have been able to meet Ralph and Ann and to learn, firsthand, what the house was like almost seventy years ago. Ralph’s daughter, Pat, and I keep in touch through Facebook. Ralph will be 94 this March; he and Ann just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. We are tentatively planning for Ralph, Ann, and Pat to come for a visit this Spring.
A photo of the LaBounty's in front of the house during the home tour in 2018. In back: Gordon McDonald, nephew, who apparently, also lived in the house as a young boy. In front L to R: Ralph, Ann, daughter, Pat, and Gordon's wife, Maxine. (Image Credit:personal collection of Pat Schepanowsky)
The following November, I received an email from Kathleen Fry, who is the great grand-daughter of R.G. and Susan Skelton and the granddaughter of Clara, their oldest daughter. Kathleen had gotten my contact information from Laura Reid, at the Royal Hotel. Her family had been sorting through several generations of collectables and century old photos from an aunt who had recently died, and she wanted to know if we were interested in any photos of the house when it was occupied by Skeltons. Of course, I said, “Yes!”...we’d be interested in any photos she had.
She kindly sent me this photo of Clara (her grandmother) at her wedding in Chilliwack in 1924. Shortly after Kathleen contacted me, the world went into chaos, and we haven’t been able to meet in person. But, as with Pat, I keep in touch with Kathleen and hope that perhaps this year, I’ll be able to meet a direct descendant of R.G. and Susan Skelton.
Wedding photo of Clara Skelton, August 6, 1924. She married Alex Jamieson. This photo was taken on the front East side of the house. You can read the very detailed wedding announcement here. (Image Credit: personal collection of Kathleen Fry)
This past summer, I happened to notice a woman who was taking pictures of the house. So, I went out on the porch to investigate and met Janet Forrest, who was visiting with her mom, Shirley, from Williams Lake. Shirley had lived in the house as a child in the 1940’s (along with her two sisters, Dorothy and Laura). Her mother, Bernice Holmes, had rented the house with another family, the Geil’s. Shirley’s family lived upstairs, while the Geil’s (with their two sons) lived in the basement.
Brad graciously took Shirley on a tour of the house. She was most interested in the upper floor and pointed out that the back bedroom had been where she slept, and that the front room was used as a kitchen, where they had a little stove. Walking through the home where she had such good memories, brought Shirley to tears. And while letting perfect strangers into your home isn’t for everyone, seeing the look of gratitude on Shirley’s face and her reaction to seeing her childhood home was so heartwarming, we would do it again.
A photo of the three Holmes girls standing on the front steps of Skelton House. Shirley is in front, with her two sisters, Dorothy and Laura, behind. Circa 1941-42. (Image Credit: personal collection of Shirley (Holmes) Pehota)
I’m keeping in touch with Janet, who provided me with the name of the other family (Geil) who had rented the house. Unfortunately, when I was researching the family, I came across some sad news.
Image Credit: Chilliwack Progress
Recently, we had a lovely elderly lady knock on our door and introduce herself as Gertie. She told us she had been walking by this house every day for a few years now, hoping to catch someone on the porch, with no luck. So, she decided to just “walk up those steps and knock on the door”. It turned out that Gertie had rented a room in the basement of the house around 1950/51. She remembered the two RCMP officers who had rented rooms upstairs. “One of them was just in the paper…Tony Borschneck, he just passed away,” she recalled. “The other gentleman was Bill-something…I think he might have been sweet on me? But I was too shy to do anything about it,” she laughingly remembered. She went on to explain she had to walk all the way to Pacific Stage, where she worked, because she was too poor to own a car.
A photo of Tony Borschneck. He was one of two RCMP officers who rented a room at Skelton house in the early 1950's. Tony later went on to become a medical doctor. He recently passed away at the age of 92. (Image Credit: Dignity Memorial)
A notice posted in the newspaper by Pacific Stage Lines, the company that Gertie Edwards worked for while she lived at Skelton House. (Image Credit: Chilliwack Progress)
Coincidentally, when I contacted Ralph LaBounty’s daughter, Pat, to get permission to use her family’s names, I mentioned to her that I had spoken with a woman who said she’d been a boarder at the house in the late forties. Imagine my delight, when she wrote back to ask if the woman’s name was Gerdie? “Mom and Dad will be excited to know that it was Gerdie you talked to…they remembered her!” How wonderful would it be to invite both the LaBounty’s and Gerdie for a visit?!
Many of the people we have connected with over these past three years are now in their 80’s and 90’s, so the importance of having made these connections and continuing to make them is not lost on me. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to hear their stories firsthand and to share in the ongoing history of this house.
“Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever, not really, people belong to them.”