Every once in a while a donation to the archives makes a connection. A mystery is solved.

This one began with an email. Paulette Briand wrote from Lavoy, Alberta. . .

“About 15 years ago, I acquired an original journal / diary of a farmer residing in Tappen, BC. It covers the period from August 7,1923 to April 17, 1924. It is a 24-page Beaver scribbler written on both sides, 48 pages total, describing his farming as well as his family's daily activities. I’ve attached scans of a few of the pages, to give you an idea as to its contents.

I think the journal would be interesting for someone to transcribe to get a clearer picture of farm life in rural BC one hundred years ago.

Please let me know if you’re interested in adding it to your collections.”

This was the kind of offer which usually gets immediate attention, but the archives was temporarily closed. When I contacted Paulette she was understanding.

Paulette explained that she and her husband had an antique and collectible business and retired in 2019. She did not know when she acquired the journal. Her best recollection was that about 20 years ago they picked it up in an estate sale in the Edmonton area. When questioned, Paulette’s husband thought it had belonged to a fellow who was working on the Alaska Highway during its construction in the 1940s.

Our donor skimmed through the journal and found it interesting. “[I] thought it would be a great tool for learning about life in Tappen in the early 1920s – the people, their daily routines and challenges, events, hardships, and celebrations.

Paulette offered the journal to the Royal BC Museum, but was told it was not voluminous enough for their collections. Luckily, they suggested that she contact the archives at R.J. Haney Heritage Village.

“I’m happy they did because it is closer to home,” Paulette wrote.

“We’ve never visited Tappen, but we occasionally drive through Salmon Arm on our trips to visit family in Penticton.”

Paulette popped the journal in the post and it arrived with the Christmas rush of parcels and cards.

It was indeed a puzzle. The writer hadn’t signed the journal anywhere. I shared the problem with volunteer Lise Ouimet. That’s when the sparks began to fly.

You have to know Lise. She’s been volunteering in the archives room since 2009. She’s French Canadian, fully bilingual, but has a French way about her. She can get excited.

“Let me read it,” Lise offered to make notes. The text was not easy to read, but she got used to the script.

I think I know who it is,” she said. Lise knew the names of the hired help on the author’s farm. We got out the map of farms in the area. We consulted the census and directories. Our author walked to church with Hilda and “the girlies,” Alice and Joyce. We searched the BC Archives website of births, deaths, and marriages.

Lise was almost sure the scribbler was written by Henry Calhoun. She’d run across the name assigning key terms to other photographs in the museum’s collection. Henry was on the board of the Tappen Co-op. He grew potatoes. We had photographs of him. He’d written an article called 50 years ago at Tappen, a piece that begins in 1908.

“This is so neat,” Lise said at lunch one day, raising her hands expressively.

“Nothing happened at Christmas,” she said. “Henry Calhoun only wrote it was a quiet day at home. There’s no talk about presents or a special dinner.”

“Those poor kids,” Lise commented about Calhoun’s children. She is a former elementary school teacher.

One day the author drove Alice and Hilda to the No. 3 train so they could go to Chase to see a doctor to fix Alice’s eyes. New spectacles arrived a few weeks later.

“Did you know there was a solar eclipse in 1923?” Lise asked me. Well actually I didn’t, but Google confirmed the date. September 10, 1923. Mrs. Woollett, a neighbour, had telephoned Henry Calhoun to tell him it was happening.

In February there was an incident worth noting when a neighbour was fined $100 selling bootlegged “Cidar.” Hmm. By this point we knew Henry was a Baptist and often walked to adult Bible Class. He certainly wasn’t going get caught doing that sort of thing!

Lise continued her summary. “He [Henry Calhoun] talks about anything and everything but his family,” she went on to say. “Except for when Joyce had diahoria (sic) or Hilda was suffering with a headache, etc.” That was worth noting!

Using all of her archival resources and honed detective skills, Lise had slowly pieced the puzzle together. We have one year of precious entries. We know there have to be more. We know a dedicated diarist like Calhoun doesn’t just stop writing. We could make up a story about how “our” scribbler was separated from the rest of Calhoun’s journals but we never assume or invent stories. We have to be content, and hope the rest will eventually be discovered and make their way “home” to the Salmon Arm Museum..


Archival photographs from top to bottom:

1. Featured image: Henry Calhoun with his son Harold.   Henry Calhoun is the author of 50 Years Ago at Tappen. This Hector J. Perrier photograph was taken between 1915 and 1918.  
2. Potato harvesting at Sanderson's farm in Tappen. Sanderson's farm was sold to Harold Calhoun in 1943.  This Duncan photograph was taken between 1913 and 1915.
3. Hay bailing at Calhoun's farm in Tappen, circa 1913-1915. Frank Duncan photographer. 
4. Alice and Hilda Calhoun, circa 1936.