Background Notes on the Roedde Family.
By Philip Waddell
Before beginning this summary of Roedde history it is important to identify several areas where incorrect information has previously been provided about the history of the Roedde family.
For many years Roedde House pamphlets and website gave information that the Roeddes had come to Vancouver in 1886 and that Gustav had been the city's first printer. Subsequent research on our part has satisfied us that these previous claims are incorrect.
We have now learned that the Roeddes moved to Vancouver in 1888 not 1886 as was previously thought. We also know that we were in error when we claimed Mr. Roedde was Vancouver’s first printer; that honor belongs to Robert Matheson.
We are indebted to Mr. Stephen Lunsford of Lunsford books for his research which appeared in an online article entitled “A Plague on Plaques” in the Heavenly Monkey Blog in June of 2014. This article prompted us to review our earlier history.
We would also like to acknowledge that earlier documents have mistakenly referred to the Roeddes as being German. Gustav was German but Matilda, who never lived on German soil’ and did not think of herself German was, in fact, not German. The indigenous language of Heligoland is Heligolandic or Halunder, a north Frisian dialect still spoken today by some 500 of the islands 1200 hundred residents. Heligolandic together with English form a part of the Anglo Frisian language group and it is said that 600 years ago Heligolandic and old Saxon English were quite similar.
In 1891, one year after England had given Heligoland to Germany, the Canadian census form was completed at the Roedde home by a door to door enumerator. Gustav’s country or place of birth is recorded as Germany and Matilda’s as Heligoland. Ten years later the census form asked for additional information including country or place of birth, racial or tribal origin, and mother tongue. Gustav answered Germany and German to all questions and Matilda gave her birth place as England and her racial origin and mother tongue as English.
Parliamentarian Douglas Savory said, in speaking of the people of Heligoland, “The population of Frisian natives (in Heligoland), I must insist on this most empathetically, are not German. Frisians constitute one of the oldest races in the north-west of Europe where they lived as a distinct people for over 20 centuries” Hansard July 28th 1950.
Gustav Roedde was born in Prussia in 1860. His childhood came to an early end when, at age 13, he was orphaned. Fortunately, his parents left sufficient funds for his education and he studied in both Leipzig and Magdeburg where he learned the trades of printing and bookbinding. After he completed his apprenticeship he left Germany and emigrated to the United States. Janet Bingham tells us that she understood Gustav choose to emigrate rather than serve a required term of military service with the German infantry. Gustav arrived in New York in October of 1881 and travelled on to Cleveland only to discover that the uncle that he had planned to meet had died of the yellow fever a short time earlier. Gustav lived with his late uncle’s widow for a period and quickly found work and learning the bookbinding business.
On one occasion, he visited a German Turnfrein (similar to a Y.M.C.A.) where he met two brothers. Shortly afterwards he accepted their invitation to come to the family home for Halloween dessert. He enjoyed a good serving of pumpkin pie but more importantly he met their sister, Matilda, who had also baked the pies. Gustav was in the early stages of learning to speak English. Fortunately for him Matilda, who was then twenty, was fluent in German. She had come to Cleveland from Heligoland eight years earlier with her mother, Anna, older sister, Kate and two brothers Adolf and Heinrich. She had left school at age 14 to help earn income for the family and at the time she met Gustav she was working for a tailor sewing button holes on suits. It was a successful meeting and after a short courtship they married. Their first child, Anna, was born in Cleveland in 1884.
Gustav did not enjoy his time in Cleveland. The city was experiencing a prolonged period of labour unrest. Rioting and union militancy which involved the arson of several industrial sites together with a major campaign to unionize the printing trades created an atmosphere that Gustav found intensely troubling. He found the idea of belonging to a union objectionable primarily because he did not believe the shoddy workmanship he felt many printers gave deserved equal pay. He sought relief from this situation by going west to San Francisco shortly after the birth of Anna in 1884. There, he found work teaching bookbinding techniques and marbling but before much time had elapsed he again found himself being pressured to join a union. A solution to this problem appeared when he was approached by a representative of the Queens Printer in Victoria. They had a need for a bookbinder on a short-term basis to deal with a backlog of documents that had been accumulating since the colony’s founding in 1858 and offered Gustav the work. Gustav accepted the offer and shortly after Emma’s birth in San Francisco the Roeddes moved to Victoria. We see that Gustav did not hesitate to begin functioning as a citizen in his new home because in 1887 or early 1888 he was one of many who signed a petition calling upon the provincial government to impose tighter regulations in granting liquor licenses and to ban the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The petition was presented to the provincial government in February of 1888.
The first written record of Gustav having his own business is to be found in the addenda (page X11) of the British Columbia yearbook for the year 1887 where he is listed as a bookbinder on Johnston Street in Victoria. He placed advertisements for his business, “The Victoria Paper Box Factory and Book Bindery” in the Victoria Times Colonist on a weekly basis from December of 1887 through until December of 1888. That the business could not survive is not surprising given that Victoria already had two established bookbinders and was experiencing a minor business depression at the time.
The first written evidence of the family living in Vancouver is to be found in the newspapers of the day that reported daughter Anna’s death on May the 23rd of 1889. At that time the family was reported living at 225 Harris Street. I suspect that the exact date that the Roeddes moved from Victoria to Vancouver will never be determined but my best guess would be that the Roeddes moved to Vancouver very late in 1888 or at the beginning of 1889 when he closed his Victoria business. We now know that upon Gustav’s arrival in Vancouver, he immediately took employment with the News Advertiser newspaper to become the first bookbinder in their new bookbindery.
1889 was a sad year for the family as 5-year-old Anne took ill and died. The sudden death of Anna was a terrible blow to the Roedde’s and Matilda was not given the opportunity to begin her recovery from this loss before another very stressful event befell her. In Canada, all deaths that are unnatural, unexpected, unexplained or unattended must be reported to the coroner. After the coroner investigates he may write a report or if he feels that further investigation is required he may order that a coroner’s inquest be held. In Anna’s case the coroner was not fully satisfied that the cause of Anna’s death was from eating poisonous berries and a coroner’s inquest was held. A coroner’s inquest is a formal legal procedure. Witnesses are sworn and give testimony. The jurors then deliberate and order to determine the facts of the death. Their goal is to be fact finding not fault blaming.
Matilda found this a very difficult experience and the manner of cross examination prompted Matilda to believe she was suspected of murdering her child. Some family members incorectly believed that charges had been pressed and that her court appearance had been a trial. The coroner’s jury concluded that Anna had “died of convulsions” and the case was closed but the pain that Matilda experienced throughout the whole ordeal was never to be forgotten.
Shortly after Anna’s death the Roeddes took Walter Weidman into their home. His German mother had died several days after giving birth to Walter a few weeks earlier. Early notes on file at Roedde House indicate that it was believed Walter’s mother had been an opera singer and that this had prompted the Roeddes to take Walter in. We have been unable to find any evidence to substantiate this claim. Vancouver had no venues where opera would have been sung at that early date and there is no record of her name in any of the newspapers of the day.
1890 was a happier year for the Roedde. In May of that year Gustav resigned his position with the News Advertiser bookbindery and opened his own bindery at 36 Cordova Street in Vancouver. The occasion was greeted with the following story which appeared in The News Advertisers competition the “Vancouver Daily World” on May 6, 1890.
Those passing along Cordova Street to-day will have noticed a new sign, across the front of the Hayes & McIntosh block, of Mr. G. A. Roedde, practical bookbinder. Mr. Roedde, late of the News-Advertiser bindery, is well- known on this coast, having been on it for the past five or six years."
He was in business for himself before, in Victoria, and the quality of his work may be conceived when it is known that at the last provincial exhibition in that city he carried off the first prize for blank books and general bookbindery. His enterprise has at last induced him to go into business here and for that purpose he has secured the handsome and in every way suitable suite of
apartments over the meat market of Messrs. Hayes & McIntosh. Here he has set up a full complement of machinery of the very latest kind and which he imported direct from leading manufacturers in the United States. He not only intends doing custom work, but has made arrangements to go into the manufacture of blank books as well. Already he has enough orders on hand to keep him going for a long time to come. He will employ a number of skilled hands and his establishment will be a valuable addition to Vancouver's
In the 1891 edition of the Henderson’s directory which would have been compiled in 1890 tells us that the family has moved from their previous residence on Harris Street and are now living at the same address as where the business is located, at 36 West Cordova Street.
I think it possible that Gustav was working with his architect on plans for a new home in the fall of 1892. Janet Bingham was very certain that the Roeddes found money in short supply during this early period but none of the family members who she relied upon for family history were alive during this period and she had access to no first-hand information.
October of 1890 saw the birth of the Roeddes first son William and in December of that year, two months later, Gustav and his former employer, Mr. Carter-Cotton of the News Advertiser, agreed to form a business partnership to operate a single book bindery. This decision seems to have been prompted by practical considerations on the part of both parties. The News Advertiser had a bindery that was well stocked with bookbinding equipment but had been unable to recruit qualified staff and Gustav, who had been in business for a few brief months, was undoubtedly frustrated that he could not afford the range of machinery needed to operate a successful bindery and grow his own small business. The agreement called for Gustav to receive a daily wage of $2.50 plus 10% of the profits. This was a significant increase over the $2.50 a day that a bookbinder employed by a bindery could expect to earn.
Every child looks forward to the first day they begin school and when Emma, born in 1886 went off to school on her very first day she had a very rude awakening. Apparently the Roeddes still spoke German at home and she was shocked to discover that English, a language she did not understand was the language she was expected to know. Emma remained angry about this day for many years and would not allow either of her children to learn one word of German as a result.
Roedde House writer Janet Bingham refers to Gustav going out of his way to advertise his company’s success by taking part in the Chicago World’s fair parade of 1898, with his prize St. Bernard dog “Rex” harnessed to a small cart containing a very large leather- bound volume. Her book, however, contains a very significant error. The Chicago World’s Fair was held in 1893, not 1898 and if Gustav participated in its parade he would have done so in 1893. (There was a world’s fair held in Omaha Nebraska in 1898 but there is little reason to believe that Gustav went to Omaha rather than Chicago).
Would it have been feasible for Gustav to have accumulated sufficient funds by 1893 to build a new home and also travel to Chicago? We can assume that the partnership between Gustav and Carter-Gordon would not have occurred if Carter-Gordon had not believed Gustav was doing well in the brief period since founding his own business. Given that Vancouver was experiencing tremendous growth at the time the two joined forces and created a monopoly I think it is quite likely that very large profits were earned 1891, 1892 and 1893.
A look at Roedde house itself tells us that the home was built to very high standards when it was constructed. The paneling that was installed in the entrance hall and parlor is far superior to what was found in most homes of its vintage. All in all, the quality of construction in the house is a clear indication there were sufficient funds available to do the job well.
We also know that the Roeddes were able to meet the additional expense of having live in help in the early days. Although this was not a major expense, it is another indicator that funds were available.
I believe we can say that Gustav did attend the Chicago World’s fair in 1893.
There are no documents or plans for the house, but it is our understanding that Francis Rattenbury designed the home for his family late in 1892 or early in 1893. The late Tilly Dupre, the Roeddes youngest daughter, spoke of Rattenbury as having been a family friend and she recalled him being referred to as the architect who designed the house. We also have a letter signed by Madeline Roedde (the wife of Gus jr.) stating that the first day she met Gustav he told her that Francis Rattenbury was the architect who had designed the house. Madeline is also reported to have said that Matilda did not seem to like Rattenbury at all. We understand that Matilda remained angry with Rattenbury because he ignored her request that the home have a basement. She apparently believed that the lack of a basement had made house cold and unhealthy.
In December of 1893 Gustav, after having been denied access to business records and believing that he was being cheated by his business partner, Carter-Cotton, filed a suit in the Supreme Court asking for the dissolution of the partnership and the sum of $1900 which he believed was owing him. Early in 1894 the court delivered a decision and granted Gustav his request by dissolving their business agreement. The court also awarded Gustav the $1,900 he had claimed. This was a significant sum. In 1893 as it was more than a qualified bookbinder could have expected to earn in a two-year period. Gustav immediately re- established his bookbinding and printing business in a new location, at 319 Cambie Street.
In the fall of that year Gustav was recognized by the British Columbia Agricultural and Industrial Society with a diploma recognizing the quality of his bookbinding and embossing workmanship. He had won a similar award in 1991.
1895 streetcar service began on Robson Street.
In 1896 Gustav was the subject of another newspaper story.
A RUN -AWAY ACCIDENT (Daily World August 25,1896 p.8)
. G. A. Roedde, the bookbinder, met with a serious accident when returning from the cemetery on Sunday. He was driving in a two-seated rig in which besides himself were his wife, his mother-in- law and two children. The reins got tangled and the horses which had been restive bolted. The rig struck a stump at the side of the road and Mr. Roedde described a parabola and came down on the stump on his back with the result that he was severely bruised and strained. The horses came to a stop a little further on without causing any injury to the other occupants of the rig but the carriage and harness were badly shattered.
In 1898 the growing business required more space and the firm moved to 414 West Hastings Street. Gustav’s timing in coming to Vancouver had been excellent. The city’s population which had been 14,000 in 1890 reached 26,000 in 1900 and It was to reach 120,000 by 1910.
Vancouver’s first auto accident involving a pedestrian.
The first automobile in Vancouver arrived in 1899. It was a Stanley Steamer. Mr. Benjamin Rogers, the founder and owner of the B.C. Sugar Company, was perhaps the second owner of an automobile in Vancouver when he took procession of a vehicle in the spring of 1900. According to family legend Bill, the Roedde’s 9-year-old son, was playing on a pile of sand at the corner of Nicola and Barclay one day when he looked up and saw an automobile approaching him coming north on Nicola. He apparently stood up in a state of excitement as he had only seen pictures but never a real car before. There are several versions of exactly what happened, but the basic fact is that the car turned to the right to proceed east on Barclay and it struck Bill, knocking him to the ground. Mr. Rogers stopped his car immediately and spoke to the crying lad, then placed him in his car, to bring him home. (One version is that just as Billy was being placed in the car two young friends appeared. They saw Billy and Billy saw them.) When the car arrived at the Roedde home Billy apparently jumped out and ran into the house to announce that he had just had a ride in an automobile. Fortunately, Bill sustained no injuries and was delighted to have two witnesses to attest to his story that he was the first child in the neighborhood to have been in a car. Mr. Rogers continued his career as a motorist and was once fined for speeding. He had been driving at fourteen miles per hour.
1900 This is also the year that a Street car service begins on Davie Street.
1901 Matilda’s mother died aboard a train while on route to Vancouver via the C.P.R. She was discovered dead at North Bay, Ontario. Her remains were forwarded to Vancouver via the C.P.R. and she was buried at Mountain View Cemetery.
1903 This was the year that the Buntzen powerhouse began generation of electricity on Indian Arm and there was Sufficient electricity available for Vancouver homes to go on the power grid. The Toedde home was connected and began receiving electricity in 1903.
In 1906 the firm moved to 485 Richards street where they remained until a custom-built building with elevators was completed in 1916. By this time Gustav had become well known for the quality of his work and printing had become the dominant portion of his business. He had secured a number of prestigious business accounts and had as clients Vancouver’s three department stores, the Vancouver Hotel the Vancouver Yacht Club and the C.P.R. This later account meant that his firm did all of the printing and hand painting of the menus guests saw as the sailed to and from the orient on the C.P.R. Empress route.
Although Gustav had applied for a water connection in 1893 it was not until 1901 that a water connection was made. Matilda must have been very relieved as her family had grown to eight with the addition of a son, “Gus” in 1895 and a daughter Anna in 1897. She was given the same name as the child who died in 1889. In 1900 their last child Tilly was born.
Up until 1901, all of the washing for this family of eight had had been done with water drawn from the family well. Fortunately, the prosperity that the family was now enjoying allowed for the hiring of help with cleaning and cooking. The arrival of running water in 1903 also permitted the installation of a new heating system for the house. A coal furnace was installed in a small excavated basement area at the north-east corner of the house and hot water radiators were placed throughout the house.
We do not know how many employees the firm had at its peak, but a newspaper article reported that some 70 employees attended a summer picnic at Horseshoe bay in 1914.
In 1908 Gustav purchased his first car, a ford, and many Sunday outings to Bellingham were to follow. 1908 also saw the purchase of a larger pleasure vessel, the Adoraine, to replace the smaller craft he had been using since joining the of the Royal Vancouver Yacht club several years earlier. Boating quickly became a family passion and the new vessel was large enough that the whole family could bunk down for weekend cruises. Gustav had a strong dislike for what he called “factory bread” and each day they were at sea Matilda would bake one loaf of bread in the boats small oven.
One day while sailing they made their way into what we know as Horseshoe Bay. At that time the bay had no roads and only one resident. Upon their return to Vancouver, Gustav made enquiries and, soon after, purchased the property where Sewell’s marina is now located. Gustav built several homes on the site and also had a building constructed that served as a dance hall where the young people could play their music without disturbing him. Gus Roeddes memoirs of early Horseshoe Bay can be found at the Roedde house office.
In January of 1913 the Christmas tree, caught fire as its candles were being lit for the final time of the season. The fire quickly spread throughout the room and the nearby fire department responded and extinguished the flames. We now have one of Vancouver’s older renovations as the Roeddes renovated the dining room in the popular style of the day- the Arts and Craft style.
William initially took employment with the family firm as a bookkeeper in 1911 and in 1912 he had become a salesman. William married in 1914, a few months before his parents departed for a European holiday.
Gustav and Matilda were in Germany visiting members of Gustav’s family when W.W.1 began. They immediately decided to return home and Matilda’s British citizenship enabled then to reach Holland where they were able to the HAL SS Potsdam from Rotterdam to New york Sept 5, 1914. Note this is a passenger ship, not a cattle boat. This is an error in Janet Bingham’s book page 21.
Prior to the war Germans had been well received in Canada but as the war continued Germans and German Canadians began to be viewed with increased hostility and suspicion. In 1915 the Vancouver Sun newspaper had advocated that its readers should boycott German owned businesses.
In his youth, William had made lifelong friendships as a junior member of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and in the spring of 1916, he and four of the young yachting friends, grew increasingly disturbed by the wars progress and decided to enlist together. When Gustav heard of his son’s intent he strongly objected. He knew that family members in Germany were fighting on Germany’s behalf and the thought that members of his family could become engaged in mortal contact with each other was quite unbearable to him. We do not know the quality of the relationship that had existed between father and son prior to this but, I would suspect, it was tentative at best. On this occasion, there was to be no resolution. Gustav’s threatened to disinherit William if he enlisted and William defied his father and proceeded to enlist. I would think it likely that William would have told his four friends of his father threat and, if he had, I would expect that news of Gustav’s threat to his son would have become known to many in the community. Prior to 1914 Germans had been well accepted in Canada and the relations between the two groups were generally very harmonious. With the advent of W.W.1. Anti-German sentiment had grown rapidly. If word of Gustav’s response to Williams plan had reached the congregation of St. John’s Presbyterian, then it is quite understandable that many members would have been very angry. Thirty-seven young members of that churches congregation were to lose their lives fighting overseas during W.W.1.
We do not know all of the factors that may have come to bear but the secure and respected life that the Roeddes had come to enjoy changed dramatically. Gustav thought it necessary to hire a Canadian born floor manager to take his place at the bindery and basically retired from overseeing the day to day operation of his business. Matilda found herself feeling very unwelcome at St Johns Presbyterian, the church she had attended for many years, and moved to one where she was not known.
After the war, Gustav, who had basically retired in 1914, chose not to resume his day to day involvement in the business. Post war photographs taken of him show him looking happy and contented.
At wars end William returned to Vancouver and resumed his marriage, his position with the family firm and his love of sailing. We know little of his war experiences although the newspaper story of his death reported that he had been badly gassed while serving overseas. His niece Gwen Varcoe also thought that her uncle had sustained significant injury when she said “It must have been bad. Uncle Bill never wanted to go back to work after he came back, and he lived mostly on his boat”. Although he and Viola had two children in short succession his family did not seem to offer him satisfaction or joy and William began to spend much more time on his boat.
William was now an equal partner with his brother Gus in the family business (after Gustav’s death in 1930) but he chose to be a very passive partner. His first love, sailing, continued to receive the bulk of his attention. He went on to distinguish himself not only with his sailing abilities but also with his skills in boat design.
As the years progressed the estrangement between William and his immediate family continued unabated. William’s son Dolf(Adolf Roedde) told me that he could only recall only one occasion when his father had expressed positive approval of him. That was during World War 2 when Dolf had announced he was joining the merchant marine. Viola responded to this difficult home situation by becoming very involved with fundamentalist religion. Neither William nor Viola sought a divorce. This was a time when divorces were not only difficult to obtain legally but more importantly, they were viewed by many as unacceptable. Much of Canadian society viewed marriage vows as permanent and thought of divorce as sinful.
When William died in 1955 the newspaper story read “Bill Roedde’s Big Smile Won Him Lots of Friends” and it spoke of his outgoing nature and winning personality. Apart from his love of boating Bill adult life seems to have been rather sad.
Gus jr. did not volunteer for the armed forces but was conscripted in 1917 and served briefly in British Columbia prior to the wars conclusion. Upon being discharged he rejoined the firm and in 1922 married Madeline Gill at a large family wedding. We know that Gus was a wonderful, doting uncle to his two young nieces when they lived in the family home during World War 1. We also learn a bit more about him in reading his reminiscences of growing up and enjoying the family vacation home at Horseshoe Bay. Gus trained as a printer and after his father’s death joined Mr. Graves in running the firm. Gus died at age 59 in 1953.
There is little written about Emma but she seems to have been a strong woman who had a full measure of adversity to bear. Her marriage seems to have been very happy prior to her husband departure overseas to fight in W.W.1. but it became much more challenging upon his return. He returned in poor health and spent his last months in hospital before dying in 1929.
Walter, who had been taken in by the Roeddes shortly after his birth in 1889 remained with the family until 1914. He was the first of the boys to join the family firm. His name appears in the in the 1906 Henderson City Directory as a bookbinder and he is listed on a yearly basis until 1914. We do not know the details of his leaving the firm but in the process, he seems to have shed the name Roedde and reclaimed his birth name, Weidmann. He fathered a child which was born in January of 1916 and the infant died while he was overseas. The museum has one letter sent by him while he was overseas. It was addressed to Matilda only and in it he refers to Matilda affectionally as “Dear little mother.”
The Roeddes granddaughter, Gwen Varcoe, who was born in 1910 and lived with the Roeddes during the latter years of W.W.1 said of Walter “Walter was just a vague person that came once in a while, in my memory. He never lived in Vancouver I don’t think. He was a machinist, a very clever mechanic. He could do anything with his hands, but he was unstable you know, he couldn’t keep a job. And he didn’t have any money. He spent it when he had it.”
In 1925 the Roeddes daughter Anna Catherine was murdered.
A nurse, she was working a night shift at Vancouver General Hospital when a deranged former patient returned to the hospital and attacked her by cutting her throat.
The whole city was shocked at her murder and the murderer was quickly apprehended. In the trial that followed it became evident that the murderer had severe psychiatric problems. He was convicted none the less and subsequently hung.
Gustav was a conscientious man who embodied many Victorian character traits We have seen his earnestness in his notes of 1912 and 1914. He was a very demanding and his children and grandchildren quickly learned that he expected obedience from them. His success in business was in part due to the fact that no he was a perfectionist by nature. He not only demanded perfection from himself on any task he undertook and he also demanded the same from his sons and staff.
All of his employees quickly learned that shoddy workmanship would not be tolerated. And they also came to know that any employee having anything to do with a union could expect to be terminated. (One employee was dismissed for taking a night school course offered by the union).
Son William was quoted as having said about his father and his uncompromising nature--“The partnership did not last long. Both men were to dominant in their character”.
He was also a man who had to be occupied. We are told “Grandfather never went to church. He could not sit still long enough to go to church”
A discussion of the time frame in which the Roeddes lived in Vancouver would be incomplete if reference were not made to the racism which existed in British Columbia through to the 1950’s. From its founding in 1886 until well on into the 20th century Vancouver’s population was primarily British in origin. In 1901 the figure was 75% but it slowly rose until it reached 81% in 1941. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries the belief in progress and in white superiority was taken for granted throughout much of the western world. Many English-speaking Canadians believed that Anglo-Saxon peoples and British principles of government were the apex of biological evolution and that Canada’s greatness depended on its Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Discrimination against indigenous peoples and Orientals was the order of the day for many years. Oriental were prohibited from owning property in many areas and indigenous Canadians faced discrimination with regard to property ownership. Both were denied the franchise as well. These attitudes led to some historic injustices as Alexander Cumyow, the first person of Chinese ancestry to be born in British Columbia was to discover. Born in Port Douglas (on Harrison Lake) in 1861 he cast his ballot for the first time in the election of 1891. In 1895-96 the province passed legislation prohibiting Chinese from voting in provincial elections. He was not allowed to vote a second time until 1948.
Legal discrimination on the part of government was allowed in other areas as well. In 1890 Vancouver’s then Jewish mayor, David Oppenheimer, and his council insisted that the B.C. Sugar refinery sign an agreement promising not to employ Chinese in their new refinery before the city would agree to provide land and water.
The Roeddes adapted to life in Vancouver and the societal rules that were in place with regard to race in Vancouver. Their Chinese employees knew they were not come to the home using Barclay Street. Instead they approached the home via the lane and entered the home only by the back door. Once inside the home they used the back staircase not the front to go to the second floor.
Matilda was a member and in the late 1940’s the president of the Vancouver Post of the Native Daughters of British Columbia. This is the women’s organization that moved the old Hastings Mill Store from its original location on Burrard Inlet to its current location at the foot of Alma Street in 1929. This organization had a strong racist identity and promoted its interpretation that the history of British Columbia only began when Caucasians arrived and began creating settlements. The constitution stated in part that the mandate of the Native Daughters was to advance the interests and promote the welfare of British Columbia, Canada and the empire.
Although British Columbia never had legislation barring blacks from the full rights of citizenship this did not prevent British Columbia society from ensuring that black residents of the province were made aware of the fact that they were not regarded as equal by their Caucasian neighbors. In 1895 Joe Fortes arrived in Vancouver. He had been born a mulatto in the Barbados and at age 17 he had sailed to England. While there he developed his rudimentary swimming skills and received a gold medal for life saving. During the great fire of 1886 he distinguished himself by saving the lives of a mother and daughter. Shortly after the woman he saved became a sister in law to Vancouver’s mayor and this connection enabled Joe to have greater influence as his life progressed. He became an unofficial volunteer life guard at English Bay in the 1890’s as the beach became popular and in 1900 he was officially appointed as the lifeguard and began receiving a small salary. His involvement at English Bay afforded many parents, including the Roeddes. the security of knowing their children were safe under Joe’s watchful when they spent afternoons at English Bay. He also taught Roedde children and grandchildren how to swim. Granddaughter Kathleen (Kay) Cather who learned to swim from Joe went on to become the first certified woman life guard in the province.
During the course of his long career it is estimated that he had saved over 100 people from drowning. At news of his death the whole city went into mourning and the funeral that followed was the largest the city had ever seen. Every city school observed a moment of silence in his honor and a fountain was erected in his honor. It still stands at Alexandra Park across from English Bay and reads “Little Children Loved Him”.
Vancouver owes Joe Fortes a great debt because, in spite of the discrimination he faced in his daily life, people came to see him as a very caring man. His very presence and generous nature played a significant role in helping Vancouverites begin to overcome their racist view of blacks and thus the healing process was begun.
Joe Fortes was named Vancouver’s citizen of the century in 1986.
Archbishop David Somerville
After the Roeddes moved away it served as a single-family home for a years. In 1929 a Mrs. Somerville, a widow, was living in Salmon Arm Salmon Arm when she became convinced that the local school could not provide for the academic needs of her fourteen-year-old son, David. She then moved to Vancouver and rented a boarding house to support herself and her son. The house she rented was Roedde House and our turret became his bedroom while completed his high school at King George High School. David was a tall lad, and it was his job to wash the dishes after the boarders had eaten their evening meal.
The principal of the Anglican Theological college had been so impressed in meeting David that when David had completed high school he found that bursaries and student employment opportunities awaited him while he attended U.B.C. After David became a priest his career was marked with many achievements and he is thought by many to have been one of British Columbia’s most outstanding 20th century theologians. He was made the Archbishop for the Diocese of New Westminster and went on to play a very creative role in prompting the worldwide Anglican communion to agree to the ordination of women.
Shortly after Roedde house reopened as a museum David who still stood 6’4’ tall paid us a visit and while looking at our very low kitchen sink he remarked wistfully how well he remembered that sink.
He is the subject of a most readable book "Fishing with John"
John Daly lived in Mrs. Summerville’s boarding house in the 1930’s as well. John, who went on to become an early ecologist and commercial fisherman in Pender Harbour. He is the subject of a delightful book entitled “Fishing with John” by B.C writer Edith Iglaurer.
John Daly was born in Vancouver in 1912 and was a border at Roedde House for several years prior to 1934. He came from the upper strata of British society and he could trace his family history back to 1066. His childhood was quite protected as his mother was successful in limiting his childhood social circle to that of the gentrified English community in the Duncan /Chemainus area of Vancouver Island where he grew up. He mother had plans for him and he was sent to an appropriate and proper British school and then fate intervened. John became very ill while at school in England and as he recovered family money ran out and the proper English education his mother had planned for him was never completed. After several years in Toronto he moved to Vancouver, obtained work in the accounting department of B.C Electric and became a boarder at Roedde House. After his mother death on Vancouver Island (she had filled her coat pockets with Rocks and walked into the ocean and drowned) he received a small amount of money from his late mother’s estate in 1934 and used it to purchase a fishing boat. When he was in his 60’s Edith Iglauer, a former employee of Eleanor Roosevelt during W.W.2, asked to come aboard his fishing boat for a period so that she could do a feature story on west coast fishing for the “New Yorker” magazine. She came aboard and the two of them fell in love. John died a few years later while still in his 60’s and Edith wrote a very readable book entitled “Fishing with John” about him. He is remembered in his adopted community of Garden Bay as a gentle and thoughtful political radical. He was as an early environmentalist and a strong advocate for conservation.
There are several versions of family stories and it seems we will never know with absolute certainty which is correct.
Kay, the second oldest grandchild said that Matilda stood 4 feet and 11 inches tall.
Her daughter and several other cousins also made similar statements. If majority wins we should accept the 4’11” height but there is one lone voice that said otherwise. The oldest grandchild, Gwen, claimed that Matilda was even shorter standing only 4 feet and 8 ½ inches tall. I think we should think seriously before disregarding her statement because of the reason she gave when making it. She said “my grandmother was 4 feet 8 1/2 inches tall, she prayed me up because I was exactly one foot taller than she was “.
Another story which will never be settled is how often and for how many people Matilda served cooked large noon lunches too. Great granddaughter Katherine Reeder (B.D.1945) tells us “that Grandpa Roedde came home for lunch every day with all of the staff from his company and grandmother would serve up to 12 people a full meal with meat and potatoes and fresh bread and pie every day. Katherine’s mother, Gwen Varco, provided a less onerous version of Matilda’s luncheon duties when she said “Grandfather came home for lunch every day and brought with him several members of the office staff. We understand that Gustav used to take clients to the Hotel Vancouver for business lunches. He chose not to become a member of the Terminal City Club or the Vancouver Club.
There are a number of stories that have been repeated over the years which can be disregarded. Among them are
1) Gustav did not move to Vancouver prior to 1888.
2) He was not Vancouver’s first printer.
3) He was never in charge of the printing of the Vancouver News Advertiser. His involvement with them was working in their bindery only.
The Roeddes lived in their Barclay Street home until 1924 when they moved to a new home on Drummond Drive above Spanish Banks.
The Barkley St. home was used as a family home for several years and then in 1930 it became a boarding house and some years later a rooming house.
By the 1970’s the house was looking very shabby as it had received very little maintenance since the Roeddes had left fifty years earlier. Its interior walls, ceilings and paneling were coated with layers of paint, varnish and peeling wallpapers but it was recognized as being salvageable and in 1976 the City of Vancouver gave it a Class A Heritage designation. This designation ensures that the house could not be moved, demolished, or have its exterior altered. The Roedde House Preservation Society was formed in 1984 to restore the interior of the house, furnish it in the style of the 1890s and operate it as Vancouver’s first house museum. The City of Vancouver restored the exterior of the house to how it had looked in 1893. After the plumbing and wiring were upgraded the interiors were refinished with paints and original wall paper patterns to match its earlier Victorian/Edwardian style. The Roedde House collection made up of donations, purchases and loans. Roedde House continues to be owned by the City of Vancouver and is run by the Roedde House Preservation Society.
The design of Roedde House is attributed to the early B.C. architect Francis M. Rattenbury, notable for his work on the Parliament Buildings and Empress Hotel in Victoria and for Vancouver’s Art Gallery (formerly the Court House). The house is conceived in a simple Queen Anne Revival style with a cupola, bay windows, an upstairs porch and a downstairs veranda.
Roedde House is located in Barclay Heritage Square, a unique park site developed by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. The park includes nine historic West End houses dating from 1890 to 1908, retained in their original settings and complete with period landscaping and gardens.
More on Matilda’s place of origin. HELIGOLAND.
During the middle ages most of Europe lived in a feudal system where lords ruled and serfs obeyed. Feudalism never took hold in Heligoland which had a population of less than 2,000, because the land itself generated no wealth. It was the sea which provided islanders with their livelihood and lords could not rule the sea.
For centuries some 200 islanders, a domestic oligarchy of men, met as a group, and decided what the rules of conduct and laws governing the island and its residents should be. This group decided who amongst them should be elected or dismissed from positions of governance. In general, the islanders were quite autonomous and only answerable to themselves. They also collected money and developed a social security system which provided funds to the islands infirm and elderly.
In the 14th century the Island lost its foreign autonomy first to Germany, then in 1714 to Denmark and in 1807 it became a British protectorate. The population of Heligoland adapted quite well to the benign role that England played in Heligoland’s internal affairs during this period. England’s interest in Heligoland was primarily to maintain a presence because of Germany’s growing military might and it was quite happy to provide a wide degree of latitude in how the islanders chose to govern themselves. During this period the population of Heligoland continued to earn their livelihood from fishing and marketed much of their catch in Germany. Increased shipping on the high seas also meant that the number of ships running aground on reefs near Heligoland increased and salvaging became a more significant source of income. A number of Heligolanders also saw another opportunity based upon their knowledge of the ocean. They established a stringent certification process to license locals as pilots and by 1843 some 350 Heligolanders were self-employed guiding ships to the ports of Bremen and Hamburg.
When Matilda was born, Heligolandic the indigenous language, was already falling into disuse. Many residents learned both English and German but we have been assured by Matilda’s granddaughter Kay that “Grandmother was brought up British”.
After 1890, when Britain traded Heligoland to Germany in exchange for Zanzibar, the day to day life of many Heligolanders changed dramatically. Germany began a very disruptive process of building military fortifications on the small island which greatly affected local life. German laws were imposed replacing the centuries old methods of local governance, the local population was forced to learn German and those born after 1890 were obliged to serve in the military the German military. During this period the islands indigenous social assistance program no longer had access to adequate income. Prior to W.W.1 Matilda sent monies to several sets of aging relatives still living on the island
The population of Heligoland had to be removed from the island during both World Wars because Germany had militarized the island to such an extent that the isolated island was now a conflict zone and civilians were no longer safe. Britain resumed control of Heligoland at the end of each World War and each time former residents of the island, fearful that Heligoland would be returned to Germany again, petitioned the British Government, and asked to be returned to Denmark, adding that if that was not possible they would prefer to come back under British rule. There pleas fell upon deaf ears, and Heligoland remains part of Germany today.