Remembering Myrtle Haslam, champion of Cowichan history

Myrtle Haslam, whose yearslong efforts to save local history earned for her the honour of Freeman of the City of Duncan, passed away June 28, 2012, aged 87. Following is the lightly edited and condensed eulogy delivered by Priscilla Lowe, retired curator/manager of the Cowichan Valley Museum/Archives, at Myrtle’s Celebration of Life in Duncan United Church.

To introduce myself and my connection to Myrtle: My name is Priscilla Lowe, and I was the first Curator/Manager hired to oversee the Cowichan Valley Museum for the Cowichan Historical Society. I am here to honour a special lady who gave willingly of her talents to so many causes, while encouraging others to do the same.

Many people here will go back further than I do in Myrtle’s long and active life. It was [about 1979 as a young member of the Nanaimo Historical Society] that I met her [and] I will only touch on some of the aspects of her life.

Pride in the past and the need to preserve artifacts and records for future generations was what drove Myrtle and the legacy of her efforts is today’s Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives. Not only did Myrtle take pride in her own family history but also in that of this beautiful valley where she was born, April 13, 1925, the youngest child of local businessman Roland Thorpe and his wife Ruby. In being given the name Myrtle Isobel Norma Thorpe, the Thorpe family [followed] their tradition of naming children so that the

initials spelt a word. In this case, MINT. If you are a collector, this is a good situation-being in good shape, near-perfect. At least she was more fortunate than her father, Roland Alfred Thorpe-RAT! Myrtle loved to speak of her family story and she had a ready listener in myself. There were her maternal great grandparents, Richard and Harriet Jane Symons, settling on a farm bounded by what we know today as Lakes Road, Stamps Road and Herd Road, in about 1870. Not many of today’s residents who descend from local European settlers can date back to that time. Even her grandmother, Angelina Mufford, arrived in 1880 with her parents; Myrtle’s mother Ruby was Angelina’s daughter.

Myrtle introduced me to the term ‘mud puppy’ as her father was one. He came to Cowichan in 1906 (18 years of age) to work on the farm of a gentleman, Bertram Lloyd-Wallis (near the site of the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre today). Many young men learned to farm in this way and were called ‘mud puppies.’ Myrtle grew up on Ypres St. in a house built by her father, not far from this church of which her family was a major part. Myrtle’s faith stayed with her throughout her life-an important part and I know she was very happy to be able to spend her last years back among her church family.

So many stories she told, too many to list: Working at Overwaitea Store on Craig St.; the young men at the Armouries whistling at her as she rode by on her bicycle as a teenager; graduating from Duncan High School in 1943; then to the Mainland, her first marriage, its ending, returning to Duncan; two children; leading a Cub Scout group (there is a report in the Cowichan Leader of a ‘ramble’ on March 22nd, 1957, of Mrs. M. Dyck taking the Cubs on a ramble by the Cowichan River with pork and beans and spaghetti cooked on a camp fire, returning to her home for an Easter egg hunt; meeting Marshall Haslam, eventually a marriage …and making a home for her two children, his two children and the son born to Myrtle and Marshall.

By 1974, when the current Cowichan Historical Society was incorporated, Myrtle was happily married to Marshall and perhaps ready for more challenges. The Historical Society’s records show that Myrtle, although not at the four earliest recorded meetings, attended her first meeting May 5, 1974, just prior to the official incorporation of the society on May 31st. From then on she is a regular, becoming the second president less than a year later, on April 23, 1975.

This continued through eight very difficult years as a site for a museum was sought and gained. Myrtle did not do this alone, she did have others working with her, some of whom are here today, but there are few left from those times.

Myrtle was always willing to make an appearance at City Hall-or any other gathering to promote the need for a museum. No shrinking violet was our Myrtle! Why did we not have a museum even when Port Hardy and Alert Bay had them? commented the local paper. There were reports in the local press where she was referred to as badgering the Regional District-she had done nothing but knock on their doors for 2 ½ years. Even the mayor of Duncan stated the Historical Society had not worked hard enough and had not approached City Hall in the right way. This must have really hurt her and her fellow members.

Getting the first permanent site, the basement of Duncan City Hall in 1981, was a relief to the Society and to Myrtle. Later, an even more permanent site, the train station, which opened in 1989. Myrtle presided at the opening. She was not president at this time but [President] Jack Green offered to step aside for the day and allow Myrtle to have the stage.

This was the kind of event that Myrtle truly loved but she had worked hard for it.

In later years, she and Marshall enjoyed spending many months in California each year but when she came back, we knew she was in town as she linked up with all her acquaintances. During this time she founded the Duncan History Book Society. There were five of us in this society and it produced an entertaining and well-researched story of Duncan, Small City in a Big Valley by Tom Henry. No one had written a book on her hometown before! In more recent years, Myrtle was also a support to the current Curator/Manager Kathryn Gagnon who replaced me at the end of 2004. Myrtle befriended and supported Kathryn in many ways and especially in her efforts to secure a secure site for the Archives of the Cowichan Valley, on the third floor of City Hall. Myrtle Haslam’s name was given to the gallery of photos at the door of the Archives [and] she also was proud of being placed on the City of Duncan’s Scroll of Honour in 1986.

Myrtle served and strongly believed in the B.C. Historical Federation which she served for many years, rising to the position of president, which she held for three years.

Thank you, Myrtle, for your efforts on behalf of your community and I personally thank you for your push and support of my work at the museum and for Kathryn after me. I might not now be up here today if it were not for you-always pushing forward, encouraging. You had faith in those who shared your dream.

I know you still want your birthplace to have a full and complete museum with room for all that Valley history which you sought to save. We also wish this.

Goodbye for now, Myrtle, and God Bless. Priscilla Lowe.

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