War time letters offer window to the past

dearest-belle letter and headshot

The envelope of a letter sent to Bella from her brother Fred during the First World War. Inset: A portrait of Ed Grant in his service uniform.

Staff at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site is providing people a window into the lives and relationships of a Bella Coola family from a century ago.

Each day, using social media, they have released letters sent by brothers Ed and Fred Grant to their sister Belle in Victoria during their service in the First World War.

The online historical exhibit is called “Dearest Belle.”

“It’s a very interesting look at how people thought back then,” says Dave King, Visitor Experience Manager at Fort Rodd Hill. “You get to see what they were doing, the new things they were seeing and experiencing, how they felt about it, and how much their family meant to them.”

Fred, a member of the 2nd Mounted Rifles, and Ed of the 5th Artillery, were deployed separately to France and Belgium. King says the letters give an intimate look at how this journey affected these two humble farm boys.

“They got swept up in something much larger than themselves,” he says. “This was a time of change, for Canada and Canadians.”

The letters, along with photos of the family, were discovered in a second-hand bookstore in Victoria called Sorensen’s Books. When King and his team discovered the collection, they realized it’s potential.

“We realized there was a potential for interpretation and presentation, to get a look at that part of Canadian history that is so close, but yet so far in the past,” he says.

Fifty letters were chosen from the collection, and are being released through Fort Rodd Hill’s Facebook page and Twitter account, culminating with the final letter Nov. 11.

King says the most illuminating part of the collection is that the two brothers are not so different from the youth of today.

“They were very typical young Canadian men of their day. They probably never strayed that far from the farm, and then they were swept up in this international adventure,” he says. “They were of a generation that saw it as their duty to serve their country.”

More than anything, King says the collection is a spotlight on how the war affected not only Canadians, but Canada as a whole.

“It’s really a microcosm of how this war changed Canadian society forever,” he says. “Canada stepped onto the world stage at that time in no uncertain fashion, and it was because of the efforts of young men and women just like Ed, Fred, and Belle.”

To follow “Dearest Belle” and catch up on the letters, visit Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site www.facebook.com/FortRoddFisgardNHS, and on Twitter at
@FortRoddFisgard.

Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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  1. How may we obtain good quality photos of the Grant families Bella Coola photo collection for our Archives photo collection?
    All but the one of family in front of the barn which was donated by myself.

    Thank you for your time,

    Peter Solhjell – board member and researcher for the Archives

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