After 60 years, a Nelson pioneer’s ashes have finally been laid to rest.
Rowland Spurway died in 1952 at 85 but for some reason no one ever claimed his remains. Turns out that’s not unusual — Thompson’s Funeral Home had 75 sets of ashes on its shelves when it took out ads looking for next-of-kin.
While Spurway has no living descendants, historian Greg Scott recognized the family’s significant association with St. Saviour’s Pro-Cathedral, and suggested the church claim the ashes.
“I felt it fitting that the church recognize the family and do the right thing,” he says.
This week Scott delivered a eulogy to Spurway as part of Sunday’s regular service before the ashes were interred in the church’s columbarium.
Spurway, he learned, was possibly the son of English landed gentry and was sent to Canada in 1884 at age 18 as a remittance man. He attended agricultural college on the Prairies, and then came to Calgary, where he farmed, trapped, and dealt in livestock and real estate.
According to his obituary, Spurway could converse in Blackfoot, Cree, and Sioux. He drove cattle from Calgary to Kamloops via the United States, and once or twice rode a horse back to Calgary through the Rockies.
“He could be called a true frontiersman,” Scott says.
Spurway married Mary Coppock in Calgary in 1899 and two years later came to Nelson and took up residence on the North Shore.
Mary volunteered with the local Red Cross during World War I and did social work through St. Saviour’s. She died in 1933 at 67 after a short illness, and has a stained glass window dedicated in her memory in the church’s west aisle. Scott says the Spurways’ only child, Dick — a noted local photographer, philanthropist, and church benefactor — undoubtedly donated it.
Upon Dick’s death in 1983, he bequeathed $42,000 to the church as well as $94,000 to the City of Nelson for, among other things, the upkeep and purchase of flags on all city-owned buildings.
Scott says one thing continues to bother him: “It’s strange that a wife and mother was remembered by a stained glass window, an imposing grave stone in the Nelson cemetery, and thousands of dollars donated to the church by the son, yet the husband’s ashes were never picked up from the funeral parlour?”
Coincidentally, the man who conducted Spurway’s funeral was there to see his ashes finally interred: Rev. Thomas Leadbeater, 96, remembered the name, but had no answer to the mystery.