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T.W. Paterson: Mayea family made mark on Valley history

Looking through your book, Tales the Tombstones Tell, I came across my cousin’s name, Ernest Francis (Frankie) Mayea
Uncle Abe made the first log driving trip down the Cowichan River in 1893 with ‘B.C. toothpicks’ like these.

Today’s Chronicle is courtesy of reader Len Mayea.


Looking through your book, Tales the Tombstones Tell, I came across my cousin’s name, Ernest Francis (Frankie) Mayea, p. 57, and thought you might be interested in some info about him as well as a couple of other people you mention in your book.

As you can see from the dates on his headstone (1940-1942), Frankie was only two when he died. I was born a few months after his death so don’t have any recollection of him but my mum told me about how he died. She said he and a 13-year-old mentally challenged boy were playing in a sandbox when for some reason, the older boy hit Frankie on the head with a hammer and killed him. He had been named after his father, Ernest (my Uncle Ernie) and my grandfather, Francis Xavier (Frank) Mayea.

My grandfather came to Duncan in 1908 with his wife, Sofia, and his two sons, Albert and Walter (my dad) and at first stayed with his Uncle Abe until he built a house on Second Street which is still there today. He was a master carpenter and helped build several buildings such as Providence Farm and Queen Margaret’s Chapel. He also built the school’s swimming pool and is mentioned in a book about QMS but his name is spelled Mayer which is how it once was spelled many years ago. (It’s a French Canadian name and was pronounced Ma- yea so thus the change in spelling when it was anglicized.)

I was told by my dad that my grandfather made some of the early headstones at St. Ann’s Catholic Church. He made them out of cement and would write an inscription on galvanized tin, place it in the cement and put glass over it. Unfortunately, over the years the glass might break or water get behind it and then the tin would rust. This is what happened to my grandma Mayea’s headstone. Many years ago I could read the inscription but now the tin is so badly rusted I can’t read it at all. She died in childbirth and was buried in January 1921.

My grandfather obviously had a lot of affection for her because he made a beautiful grave which is now in poor condition — I think it has been damaged by age and the soil settling rather than vandalism. He also built a headstone for his Uncle Abe who was buried on May 3, 1919 not far from my grandmother’s grave.

I understand Abe came to the Cowichan Valley from near Ottawa about 1890 because of his expertise in taking logs down a river. He went to Lake Cowichan and helped organize the log drives down the river to the mill at Genoa Bay. Abe is mentioned in John Saywell’s [book] Kaatza: “The first trip down the Cowichan River was reported as being made in 1893 by a French Canadian, Abraham Mayea, ‘Big Abe,’ Feb. 1, 1894.” Abe is also mentioned in the Feb. 1, 1894 Colonist.

He later owned the Riverside Hotel...and when my grandparents came to Duncan in 1908, he was living near the end of Marchmont Road where my dad said he owned 50 acres.

Another interesting story my dad told about his great-uncle was that Abe once fought John L. Sullivan. I don’t know the outcome of the fight but as Sullivan was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world I must assume Abe came out second best.

My dad also told me the pews in both the chapel at Providence Farm and in St. Ann’s Church were made by my grandfather.