By Dorothy Isted

Special to the Pioneer

When researching to write a story about people in Columbia Valley settler history, one can spend hours chasing hints, seeking confirmation of guesses based on what used to be, and tracking rumours to find kernels of truth. When people died and left no descendants here it’s a needle in a haystack. Sometimes people can be located elsewhere and if fortune smiles, they know something about their forefathers/mothers. A bonus is when they share pictures or diaries from those times. Not so in the case of Edward and Ruth Carlile. We are left with intriguing questions nonetheless.

Edward Hildred Hanbury Carlile was born in England in 1881 to wealthy parents, the only son with four younger sisters. His father, MP and Baronet Sir Hildred Carlile partnered in a business some who do needlework would recognize: J&P Coats, manufacturers of textiles, including embroidery floss. In 1896 it had over 50,000 employees worldwide and approximately 25,000 shareholders.

In 1888 the family lived at Helme Hall, Meltham, now a nursing home.  

In 1906 the family moved to Ponsbourne Park, now a luxury hotel.  

Edward went to Cambridge University and won an important boxing match against Oxford University, their biggest rival. After graduating as a barrister, he came to Canada to hunt big game. Arriving in the  Columbia Valley, he loved it so much he purchased two properties near Spillimacheen. One, Sunny Bench, had a mail order house from Eaton’s catalogue sent by train from Winnipeg and shipped by riverboat. Known as a gentleman farmer, Carlile hired people to operate his businesses. It was the second property that has remained a recognizable part of the valley’s landscape: Hill Farm. 

Carlile hired tradesmen from Calgary to build the stone Craftsman style house for his fiancé in England; the home was recognizable for its signature large front veranda. Up the back staircase from the kitchen was a small bedroom and sitting room for a married cook and handyman. Separate on the second floor were the three family bedrooms. 

Current owner Michael Mykietyn remembers his aunt, Frances Dunne – for many decades Spillimacheen’s Postmistress – telling him Carlile’s sister came out from England to put finishing touches on the home. She remained for a time to finish up, after he returned in 1914 to fight in the First World War.

Part of the mystique around Carlile is the woman he married — Ruth Milicent Dawson, born in 1885, the same woman he was engaged to in 1912 when he was building the home, as locals remembered? Why did the marriage not take place until 1917? Marriages then were often delayed until people could afford to financially establish themselves. Yet money wasn’t an issue for either of them. He was 36 and she was 32 when they married. 

Women of her class did not have jobs. Census records show one of her English homes was occupied by family and a cook, two housemaids, two ladies’ maids, a foot man, etc. Think Downton Abbey. She was raised with the expectation of marrying well. Societal pressures were enormous and vastly different from now. It was unthinkable for the couple to live together. Given that birth control wasn’t widely used or effective, it is unlikely the couple was intimate prior to marriage. They had their family reputations to uphold. Ruth’s family had an estate of 645,000 pounds in 1904. In Canadian funds today, over 139 million dollars. 

Ruth was presented at the court of England’s George V in 1912, the year she turned 26. Marriageable women from high society were introduced, usually at the age of 18. 

An application would be made by a sponsor, who had herself been a debutante. This big-deal introduction into society – and to bachelors from approved families – had girls practicing their deportment long before the event. They wore what amounts to a debutante uniform – white gown with short sleeves and train, gloves, pearls and three ostrich feathers – and were required to curtsy to the king and leave without turning their back – or tripping over their trains.

Ruth’s presentation portrait resides in the National Gallery in London, England. It was serendipitous that John Culme, an appraiser for Sotheby’s auctions in London, was given two weeks in the 1970s to choose pictures from 1910-1925 slated to be destroyed. His interest was theatre. A friend helped him sort through 20,000 to 30,000 glass negatives. They saved approximately 4500 – among them Dawson’s – of folks who were actors, comedians, etc. He said, “With such a name she may well have been an actress.” Unlikely, as theatre people were frowned upon by the wellborn.

Roger Sharland, of Nairobi, Kenya, a fourth cousin twice removed to Carlile, produced the portrait and the wedding certificate. An avid ancestry genealogist, he responded to the valley rumour that the family felt themselves cursed due to an uncle of Carlile’s having opened King Tut’s grave. He’d never heard the rumour but explained many branches of Carlile’s were social welfare minded Christians and there is a Carlile College in Kenya. To me it is a very blessed family rather than cursed! Roger, who is an Oxford graduate, runs an environmental stewardship charity in Kenya. Look him up at

A marriage announcement in the Vancouver Sun listed Ruth’s homes at Tunbridge Wells and Cannes, France. The large townhouse at Sussex Gardens in London near Hyde Park wasn’t mentioned. The article states Edward had a farm on the prairies and “in the Columbia Valley . . . engaged in making many valuable experiments in fruit growing.” Mention was also made of his father’s appearance at the Canadian Club luncheon in Vancouver the previous year. Sir Hildred, “is a thread manufacturer on a large scale and has given magnificently of his wealth to patriotic and educational purposes.” Ruth carried a bouquet of lilies and white heather and the wedding reception was held at Ponsbourne Park.

Edward had been promoted to Major before his death on 22 March 1918. Dave Pattern, of Huddersfield University in the U.K. noticed that Edward is not listed in home town Meltham war memorials. Nor is he listed on the Invermere Cenotaph, but Windermere Valley Museum recorded his service. He died near Perrone, France, along with his entire company but one. His name appears on the Arras Memorial in France, one of almost 35,000 British – which included Canadian, New Zealand and Australian servicemen with no known grave who had fought in the Arras sector between 1916 and August 1918. 

Ruth remarried but died in 1927. It doesn’t appear as if there were children from either union. Edward’s family donated Hill Farm to the Canadian Soldier Settlement Board. This was an arm of the federal government dedicated to helping veterans of the war. A major thrust was to make farmlands available to men who had served. A comrade in arms, Jim Dunne, acquired the property. He had been left for dead in a pile of corpses but someone noticed him moving and his life was spared. Though no descendants followed, a portrait in London and a house in the valley being lovingly restored by Jim’s grandson Michael bear witness to two whose life together was shortened by unknown circumstances and a tragic war.