Friday, 8 August 2014

Beginnings & Endings of Miss Edith Fanny Kirk

Edith Fanny Kirk began her life in July 16, 1858 in the residence attached to the Crookes Endowed School where her father was the head master (the residence is to the right of the main building, it has a large chimney on the near side). Crookes is now a suburb of the city of Sheffield.  I went to see the area in June 2014 while on a research trip to England.  The current owners of the buildings, St. Thomas Church, generously allowed me to have a brief look inside the school and the residence.  

I stood in the main room of the three room home.  One of the two other rooms was very likely her parent's bedroom and so the room in which Edith was born.  The residence had a yard surrounded by a stone fence in which she and her brother John could play.  After all the years of research getting know Edith through newspaper articles, historical records and her art, it was humbling to actually stand in her first home.

I also visited what is now called Sheffield Cathedral where baby Edith was baptised.  This is located in central Sheffield and is a very impressive High Anglican church.
Edith's mother died when she was only 3 years old and her father moved the family to Altrincham shortly after their loss.  There he remarried to Elizabeth Gresty and a half brother was added to the family unit.

Edith Kirk trained as an artist from an early age and travelled through the United Kingdom and France to paint watercolour land and streetscapes. When she was 46 years old, she emigrated to Canada and lived in several places in British Columbia from 1905 to 1913 where she taught art and continued to create her own art.  After a year's visit back in England, Kirk returned to the east coast of Canada where she spent a couple of years before moving to Lethbridge, Alberta.

In Lethbridge, she was well known for her art and her dedication to teaching young people.  She settled in Lethbridge but didn't stop travelling and having more adventures.  At the age of 60, she joined the Alpine Club of Canada and spent weeks in camps in the National Parks where the spectacular scenery was reflected in her watercolours.  Miss Kirk, as everyone knew her, lived until she was 95 years old.  She died December 30, 1953 and was buried in Mountain View cemetery.

In July this year, just days before her birthday, I visited her last resting place and found her small white headstone nestled at the roots of a line of spruce trees.  Knowing her love of nature and her skill at painting trees I found this to be a perfect place for her to be.  For me, it was like coming full circle in her life.

But my task in learning about Miss Kirk continues as I am still searching to fill in a few gaps in her travels and as I plan an exhibit about her life and write a book about her travels, her art and her teaching. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Virtue Diary

The centenary of the start of the First World War is being commemorated this week, and it is appropriate to highlight a related archival holding: the 1918 Virtue Diary.

During the First World War, a young local lawyer, Abner Gladstone Virtue, became an officer in the 61st Battery Canadian Field Artillery, established on April 3, 1916 in Lethbridge. Overseas he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and received the Military Cross for keeping up with the need for ammunition during a tense onslaught. He wrote almost daily in a little German-made diary while on duty in 1918.

Virtue was a devoted writer, usually only writing little fragments of script, capturing the essence of his day in only a few words.  “Took 1,700 shells up to the guns today.” “Ugh.”  “Got notice going on leave. Slept in a real bed for the first time in a year.”  “Wordy war between Steele and Maj. Greene, the latter winning.” 

Soon after his return from active duty A.G. Virtue got married and resumed his career in law in Lethbridge.  He was among the first members named to the board of directors of the YMCA, and was instrumental in establishing the Lethbridge Municipal Hospital. Virtue passed away August 3, 1960 at age 69 following a lengthy illness. He was head and senior partner in the firm of Virtue, Russell, Morgan and Virtue at the time of his death.

In March 2013, the Galt acquired A.G. Virtue’s WWI diary. It had somehow become part of a private Canadian military collection. The collector’s son sold it to The Command Post of Militaria & Antiques in Victoria, British Columbia following his father’s death. The Command Post then put it up for sale on eBay, and it was brought to the attention of the Galt Archivist, who placed a successful bid. 

To get a first-hand glimpse into the war experience, stop in to the Archives to have a look at the diary – it has been transcribed by a volunteer for easier reading. The Archives is open Monday-Friday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, and until 9:00 pm Thursdays. For details visit