James’ Brand New Blog

David Spencer’s trail to Sir Adam Beck’s papers started with E.V. Buchanan

- October 19th, 2012

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E.V. Buchanan, an intimate of Sir Adam Beck, in a classic undated image courtesy of clicksigns.ca

Among the researchers who have inspired JBNBlog’s interest in Sir Adam and Lady Beck is Western information and media studies professor David Spencer . . . as you can you can see from David’s note here, his pursuit of #becktruth has taken him down many trails.

Among the people mentioned here is Marion Beck’s, second husband, a Mr. Holland. The spendthrift Mr. Holland indirectly left many Lady Beck papers to Western Archives via a friend who had been given them, saw some of my Beck pieces & realized the handbag with LB initials, the family photos and letters written by Lilian Ottaway’s father etc. deserved a good home.

David’s work is remarkable & JBNBlog vows to catch up the Victorian editorial cartooning book, the radial lore  & more.

Here, slightly edited, is David’s note . . . I love the way the search starts with the late E.V. Buchanan, who left a v. touching portrait of Beck late in Sir Adam’s life as a coda to a history of the old PUC. David was able to speak to Buchanan who did point him in the right direction.

Over to David . . .

Your Thursday column on Lilian Ottaway (aka Lady Beck) acted as a moment of déjà vu when I read the name Brooke Hunter.

You see, the name Hunter was pivotal to the study I was conducting at the time on Sir Adam Beck’s plans to link up Ontario with a series of radial railways.  After I finished the initial work (more on that later), I will still mystified about the seeming disappearance of the family  from  the Ontario political and cultural scenes.  I was determined to find out all I could about the Becks and what had happened to them.  It is a great story.

The first person I contacted was E.V. Buchanan.  I assumed that he knew Beck since he was general manager of the local utilities infrastructure when Adam was on the loose.  I was right but he was of little help with one exception.  He happened to use the name of Marion Beck’s second husband, one Mr. Holland.  Apparently he liked money a lot and spent tons of Marion’s to keep himself affluent.

I won’t bore you with the step by step investigation but I will give you the sequence. It involves regular Archives, newspaper clippings, a funeral home and an extensive search through Ontario Hydro’s uncatalogued papers.   The Buchanan visit pointed me to Holland and the fact that Marion had died young leaving only one child a daughter named after her grandmother Lillian (or Lilian, James note) Strathearn Hay.

Lillian apparently was quite a gal . . .   she married five times,  one to the actor announcer Austin Willis. . . .   She too died young leaving a daughter named Patricia.  She had a hyphenated  name a bit unusual at the time.  She was Patricia Bryce-Hunter.  I took a chance on the telephone book since the name was not common and ended up with her husband who was divorcing her . . .

Eventually she agreed to talk with me.  She was aware she was descended from the Becks but knew little about them.  But she pointed me to a woman named Diana Bolte who was on one hand the descendant of Adam Beck and on the other to George Drew.  I had exposed the contemporary model of the Family Compact.   Later on I discovered that William Davis was related to this crowd as well.

Now I bring all of this to light because I had been planning to contact you anyway.

I have just completed a fairly extensive study of the Beck radial scheme.  The publisher is RailfareDC  books whose operation is funded among others by the Canada Council for The Arts.  The book is just under three hundred pages but does contain some very interesting early photos as well a historical appendix and maps.  It should be out momentarily and I will get in touch with you when it does .. . I should mention that the books is primarily based on the thought to be lost transcripts of the Sutherland Royal Commission which sat in Toronto in 1920 hearing 103 days of evidence transcribed into 13,376 pages of blow by blow conflict.  It took me a year and a half to find these transcripts and the book is one of the more intriguing political stories in this province.  So, I will leave it at that for the time being.

 

David Spencer

Professor

Information and Media Studies

The University of Western Ontario

 

PS  Ask me about my soon to be released on the history of editorial cartooning in Victorian Canada

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