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Memories of a Ymir May Queen

Thirteenth in a series of pioneer profiles

Evelyn Murray is possibly the only person left born in the old Ymir hospital.

There can’t be many others: the building was erected in late 1903 by the local miners’ union and burned down in 1930.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else,” she says. “I might be the only one.”

Her father, Edward Emilson, came from Sweden and mined in the Lardeau before arriving in Ymir. In 1919, he married Sarah Rankin — a widow with five children.

“I thought he was very brave,” Murray says.

After Sarah’s first husband Dan was killed in a mining accident at Hedley a few years earlier, she and her kids moved back to Ymir to be with extended family. (Sarah’s parents, William and Mary Stewart, are buried in the Ymir cemetery. Stewart Creek is named after them.)

Evelyn, Ed and Sarah’s only surviving child, was born in 1922.

She has no memory of the old hospital at the north end of town, now a vacant lot, but does recall growing up in Ymir, when it was still an active mining town.

Her father and uncle Sonny Burgess participated in double-jacking competitions, where one man held and turned a drill steel while the other pounded it with a sledge hammer — rapid fire.

For a time, her mother cooked at the Ymir Hotel, the only survivor of the four or five then operating.

“I know that hotel quite well,” she says. “We used to play there, running in and out of rooms when nobody was there.”

A trip to Nelson by passenger train was a rarity. Following her first memorable visit as a young child, “I came back and told everybody I bounced on the rubber sidewalks and ate in the eating store.”

Evelyn went to school in Ymir until Grade 10. At 17, she was Ymir’s May Queen — a title she earned by selling the most raffle tickets. First prize was a silver tea service.

“I think my would-be husband bought most of them,” she laughs.

That was George Murray, a Vancouver native who trained as a baker, but didn’t care much for it, and instead went into mining, first in the Bridge River district and then Ymir.

The couple married in 1941 and moved to Vancouver a few years later. George was called up for war, but rejected by the army because he had flat feet and contracted rheumatic fever as a child.

While working as a shipyard welder, he also suffered acute appendicitis.

“He had an operation and the doctor wouldn’t let him go back to work, so we moved back to Ymir,” Evelyn says.

George worked at the Canex and HB mines and was later secretary of the Chamber of Mines in Nelson. He was also the first regional district director for rural Salmo and unofficial mayor of Ymir.

The couple had five children — one of whom, Lorraine, followed in her mother’s footsteps as Ymir May Queen of 1957.

“Ymir was a good place to grow up,” Lorraine says. “We knew every bush and twig and rock and stump. Even as teenagers it was a good place. Parents didn’t worry about kids when they were gone for the day. We always showed up in time for meals.”

George died in 1995. Evelyn now lives in Salmo. All her kids are still in West Kootenay.

She isn’t the only one in her family with an unusual birthplace: her half-siblings John and Katherine Rankin were both born in the Boundary ghost town of Phoenix.

Previous installments in this series

Fritz Koehle

Bernie Czelenski

Agnes Baker

Aya Higashi

Gordon Fleming

Jake Conkin

Walt Laurie

Eric and Peggy Denny

Ray Kosiancic

Lois Arnesen

Cameron Mah

Fran Horan

 

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