Window opens on Kaslo pioneer families

A cache of early Kaslo photos has turned up, providing new insight into some of West Kootenay’s black pioneers.

Minnie Brown with Alfred



A cache of early Kaslo photos has turned up, providing new insight into some of West Kootenay’s black pioneers.

The Star recently wrote about Hester Pierre Waggener (1895-1980), who grew up in Nelson in the early 1900s and was the only black high school student at the time.

MaBel Collins of Los Angeles, the youngest of Waggener’s nine children, has since produced some remarkable photographs and explained the ties between three families — the Pierres, Perkins, and Browns — who weren’t related, but regarded each other as kin.

Alfred W. Perkins shows up in the 1893 civic directory as a porter at the Nelson Hotel. By 1895 he’s a bartender at the Kaslo Hotel. One of the photos depicts the Kaslo fire department dragging a hose reel in front of the hotel during an exercise or competition.

Other photos show Alfred’s wife Arvell as a member of the Kaslo Methodist Church ladies aid society, and daughter Lucille as a student at one of Kaslo’s first schools. There are also portraits of Alfred and Arvell taken in Nelson, and of Alfred and Lucile, taken in Kaslo by A. Hugo Albrecht in late 1895.

A curious group photo shows the “Birthday celebration given by Smith and Adams to the Missouri Club, Kaslo, Sept. 1, 1895.”

Concerning the event, the Kaslo Claim wrote: “Last Sunday night the Missouri Club got up on its hind legs and stretched itself. It was the birthday anniversary of two members, Bob Smith and Gus Adams, and it was a season of great joy. Both are shining lights in the club ranks and both were 30 years old the Wednesday before.”

The newspaper didn’t explain the club’s purpose or membership requirements, but Alfred, pictured in the back row, was in fact born in Missouri.

The back of a postcard of Kaslo’s Catholic Church says: “Across the street from our old home,” suggesting the Perkins lived roughly where the post office is today. Another photo shows them standing in front of a log cabin.

Alfred was last listed in the Kaslo civic directory in 1904. Afterward the Perkins moved to Spokane, where Lucile worked in the Davenport Hotel. She married twice before moving to Los Angeles, where she died in 1966, age 75.

The Browns, meanwhile, were John and Ellen and daughter Minnie. Minnie attended school in Kaslo in 1895, where her exceptional singing voice earned the city’s adoration. Citizens helped pay her tuition to a Spokane music school. She returned to visit in 1902 and penned a letter to the Seattle Republican praising Kaslo.

In 1906, Minnie joined the touring troupe of prominent African-American comedian Bert Williams and later moved to New York, where she was a prominent singer, choir director, and music teacher until her death in 1936. MaBel Collins has several very glamorous portraits of Minnie, who kept in touch with the Perkins family over the years.

The Pierre family immigrated in the 1860s from California to Victoria. Sam Pierre came to Nelson in 1897 to establish a tailor shop and was followed in 1900 by his brother John, a recent widower.

John’s daughter Hester was lifelong friends with Lucile Perkins. Collins says her mother didn’t talk much about her childhood, but was frequently asked to model her father’s clothing.

“Being an only child, she had a very strict upbringing because her father was trying to run a business and raise a family by himself. He pushed her hard to be excellent. She had to take French and play the piano and dress just so because that was a reflection upon him.”

Brought up to be prim and proper, she “maintained that persona all her life.”

Although Hester had fond memories of high school, ultimately she found Nelson stifling, “so she was anxious to get away from the humdrum.”

She went to Yakima, Wash., where an aunt lived, and married Charlie Waggener in 1922. She returned to BC when her father died in 1938, but was unable to settle his estate, which included a boat named the Alleas, built at Nelson and named after his sister. Collins has a photo of it, probably taken somewhere on Kootenay Lake.

Collins was too young to know her grandfather, but has a deck of cards he gave to customers as souvenirs, as well as one of his Nelson business cards, which has a long, humorous poem.

His aptitude for tailoring was passed on to her mother, who sewed her family’s clothes. When Charlie’s shirts got to the point where “we would think they were just rags, she would turn the collar and cuffs and they would be brand new.”

Collins’ eldest sister Ann was a fashion designer with ideas far ahead of her time, and had famous clients including Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

Collins has another noteworthy family connection: her husband’s aunt was Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award, for Gone With the Wind.

Just Posted

What’s Up: Things to see and do on Family Day

There’s plenty of fun to be had across the West Kootenay this coming long weekend!

Seven Nelson rec projects granted Columbia Basin Trust funding

Nelson’s baseball and tennis clubs were the big winners

Sanchez leads Leafs to 6th straight win

Nelson held off Spokane 3-2 on Friday

UPDATE: Two-car accident closes Highway 3A at Thrums

Road expected to open for single-lane alternating traffic at 2 p.m.

CHECK THIS OUT: Love and e-Readers

Anne DeGrace on downloading new literary relationships

VIDEO: Historic night in Red Deer as 2019 Canada Winter Games kicks off

Star-studded Opening Ceremony features athletes from across Canada

B.C. students win Great Waters Challenge video contest

Video, mural and song about saving the salmon claims the top prize

B.C. couple attacked with acid, slashed with knife in Vietnam

Warning, graphic images: Man has burns on 80 per cent of his body, slashed with knife

Flying squirrels found to glow pink in the dark, including two from B.C.

Squirrels from Hope and Abbotsford were included in the biologists’ database

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

Names keep adding to vaccine petition started by B.C. mom

Maple Ridge mom started campaign to make vaccination a condition of attending school

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

Archeologists from the Smithsonian Institute estimate one of the stones found dates back up to 3500 years

Wilson-Raybould resignation stokes anger, frustration within veterans community

Liberals have had three veterans-affairs ministers — Kent Hehr, Seamus O’Regan and Wilson-Raybould

Most Read