From the Archives: Letter of recommendation

Jenny Seeman

From time to time, the archives at Royal Roads University gets some unusual donations, and last week was no exception. Ms. Dorothy Mathews-Dana, while sorting through some family belongings, found a letter dated 20th June, 1910 and signed by James Dunsmuir, and kindly brought it to Royal Roads' archives for long-term preservation.

The single, water-stained page is a brief letter of recommendation for a Mr. G. Cyril Baker. In the letter, James describes Cyril as “steady, industrious, polite and obliging” and cheerfully recommends him to anyone requiring his services.

From an archival and historical point of view, the timing and the letterhead of this letter is quite fascinating. Having already sold his interests in the E&N railway to the Canadian Pacific Railway by 1905, we know that in early 1910, James sold Wellington Collieries and all his other mining interests to Canadian Northern, who renamed the company Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. This is further confirmed in another letter in the archives’ collection written by James’ wife, Laura to her cousin, in which she says: “James has sold out his mines and all his belongings, he has worked hard all his life and wants to rest. He will by degrees invest all his money and we will just live on the interest.” Laura’s letter stating that the sales were a fait accompli was written on June 22, 1910, and James’ letter of recommendation written on Wellington Collieries letterhead was dated June 20, 1910. He was likely wrapping up the affairs of the colliery even as Laura was writing to her cousin. An amusing note in Laura’s letter is that she then goes on to say: “Neither one of us are crazy for luxurious living. I like everything nice and well done but on the simple side…” The family had moved into the newly completed Hatley Park in May of 1910, so hardly keeping it simple in their choice of retirement home!

As for Cyril Baker, he was employed by the Wellington Colliery Company from February of 1907 and worked as a stenographer. At the time he was hired, he was just 15 years old. He lived at 1331 Pandora Avenue with his widowed mother and six other siblings and was the 4th eldest child. From Cyril’s point of view, the recommendation letter was probably to satisfy the new owners of the colliery. He continued to work for them in their Victoria offices until around 1915 and rose through the ranks of the company from stenographer, to clerk, then district clerk, and by 1913 he is listed as an accountant. On July 27, 1916, Cyril Married a woman named Edna May Hurst who worked as a ‘sales lady’ in Victoria. The marriage certificate states that Cyril was a cashier working in Cumberland. It is most likely that he was still in the employment of Canadian Collieries since there was also a mine in operation there.

The letter is a wonderful addition to our small collection of original Dunsmuir artifacts and documentation. The Wellington Collieries letterhead is great to see and it is also interesting to think that James, the owner of a massive mining empire, was the one to sign these letters of recommendation. Did he really know everyone in his employment?

Can you recommend any Dunsmuir family, Hatley Park, or Royal Roads documentation for donation to the archives? If so, contact Jenny Seeman, ext 4122 to discuss.