September 22, 2013

Banff and my Great-Grandfather

Frederick Augustus Bagley
Fort Battleford, circa 1880
My connection to Banff goes back to 1886 when a detachment of Mounties was sent to police Canada's very first national park. My great-grandfather, Major Frederick Augustus Bagley, was amongst that group. He fell in love with this town and retired here. That love has been passed down to me.

The family mythology surrounding my great-grandfather was limited and unpleasant when I was growing up. His daughter was a missing grandmother in my life—a woman who had, it was said, abandoned my mother when she was just six weeks old, leaving Mum to be rescued by the Goodfellows, Mum’s paternal grandparents. Where Leona Bagley might have gone no one knew and none cared. And while judgment against her wasn’t particularly harsh (her actions explained away as depression), her father (my great-grandfather), came under a much harsher light. The story goes that when Leona asked her dad if she could leave her husband and come home, Frederick Augustus Bagley had said, “Yes, but leave the brat behind.”

And so while I loved and missed my missing grandmother, and grew up yearning to find her, I secretly resented my great-grandfather. If he’d been more understanding of whatever the plight may have been in 1928, my mother would have never been an orphan of sorts and my missing grandmother would not have gotten lost. Who was this man who thought my mother a brat? I didn’t care. I just wanted my grandmother.
I was fourteen when my family drove into Banff for the first time. I was sitting in the back seat between my two sisters. I had a straight-on view as we came in—the Rockies climbing up the sky all around me, just ahead the stone bridge and stately old hospital. I scooted forward with an exuberance new to me. In my fourteen years we’d moved a lot; any sense of home had dissipated, leaving me with a feeling of transience. But driving into Banff I recognized home. Here, I belonged. Here was an energy source I’d never experienced. Why?

At that time I didn’t know my great-grandfather had been a Mountie, that he’d been stationed here, that Banff, in fact, was where he’d chosen to retire, and that he was buried here in the little cemetery left of the bridge. I didn’t know that he’d started the Banff Springs Hotel band, or that he’d started the little band in Bankhead, the CPR ghost town just north of Banff—another magical place I wouldn’t discover until I was in my thirties. Nor did I know that my missing grandmother had at some point taught school here. I didn’t know any of these things. But surely my DNA did. For the part of me that is my great-grandfather, and to a lesser extent my grandmother, was joyous to be home again.

I’ve written about finding my great-grandfather (and hence my grandmother) elsewhere*; and this blog isn’t necessarily about Fred. I begin with him, yes, but it wasn’t just my great-grandfather who loved Banff. The Goodfellows did, too—my mother’s paternal grandparents and "kidnappers." (The story was not so simple and while my mother's mother, whom I found her six months before she died at 93, was reluctant to "speak ill of the dead," I did learn that my mother had not been abandoned and that Fred had done everything he could to get her back.)

The Goodfellows had a summer cottage in Banff and when Mum was a little girl in the ‘30s she remembers coming into the train station from Calgary and being entranced by the handsome old man conducting Souza marches out of the Banff Springs Hotel band. And being disappointed, too, because Granny and Granddad Goodfellow never let her dilly dally on the platform but hurried her along, away from her other grandfather—a man she’d never met or known about.

Did Fred ever happen to see her? A pretty little girl with red hair and freckles, merry green eyes, jumping off the train and dragging her heels, turning her head to better see him as she was hustled off? I find it interesting (and sad) that these two families co-existed in a silence that echoed down through time until finally I heard it.
So my roots go back to Banff from its inception and on up through the years, on both sides of my mother’s family. I’ve never lived here, though, until the summer of 2012 when I applied to drive summer tour buses for Brewster Transport, the same company my great-grandfather once worked for. After greeting guests at the train station with his band, he’d drive the Hotel guests up to the hotel in a Brewster Brothers tourist car. I now drive for Brewster, escorting Banff guests around town and beyond. There is something quite satisfying in this for me. I’m a gal who’s moved innumerable times, crisscrossing the continent, bee bopping back and forth across the 49th parallel between the US and Canada. It’s the satisfaction of roots. And sharing an eternal love for Banff with my ancestors—and with tourists seeing Banff for the very first time!