Members of a local family recently had the opportunity to gather at the Stettler Town & Country Museum to chat about both the history and the legacy they share.
A set of cousins from here in town and as far away as Victoria B.C. got together to reconnect and also to explore their family’s history which includes being related to Robert Wilson Pyper – the man who built the first hotel in Stettler in 1905 (the Alberta Hotel).
“He sold that, and built the Dominion Hotel,” explained Tammy Menard, adding that Pyper sold that hotel in 1906.
“So we have Verna (Hall), his granddaughter here from Victoria. The other four of us are his great-granddaughters Bobby (Rasmussen) from Barrhead, Norma (McColl) from Calgary as well as my sister Cindy (Nelson) and I from here in Stettler. We have never all gotten together before.”
So the gathering was indeed special – not just through the looking over of early articles and photos housed at the Museum, but also because of the rare chance to catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives.
In the process of reconnecting, the family also discovered more relatives living on Salt Spring Island that Verna will ultimately visit soon.
“It’s been wonderful. These guys went out and met Hall in the spring, and my daughter and I went out and met her in August,” said Menard. “It’s pretty unreal.”
For Hall, who travelled the furthest for the get-together, the experience of reconnecting with family has been an absolute delight.
“I think because I was raised in Vancouver, and we didn’t have much contact, I grew up pretty isolated as an only child,” she explained. “So when Tammy found me last year, the door opened to people I didn’t know. And all of them have since come out to visit me!
“We have also found connections amongst ourselves that are awesomely moving,” she said. “Likes, dislikes – and intense ones at that,” she added with a laugh.
“I think we seek out our own, and I didn’t know I had any,” she said, referring to the folk gathered at the Museum. “It’s wonderful.”
There are, as mentioned, several layers of meaning for Hall to be in Stettler.
To begin with, this visit marks her first to the community.
“This is where my mom (Kathleen Dorothy Pyper) walked,” she said. “This is where she grew up, and I think she was one of the first children born in Stettler.”
Her father was from Ontario, but her parents would ultimately meet and marry out west.
“They would both share their Stettler stories with me,” she recalled. “Even though my dad wasn’t a Stettler native, he still loved this area.”
Still, over the years that she was growing up, her family didn’t make it out for visits. But the area was never far from the family’s thoughts, she added.
“It’s always been in my heart.”
And thanks to a solid interest in letter writing, families ties were kept intact.
“That’s how we have pieced together so much of our family lore – the bits that we didn’t know. Lots of stuff from Grandpa Pyper from when he lived in Vancouver, for example.”
Hall also pointed out how terrific it’s been to bring all the family information to one place to carefully look over and organize.
“We’ve all got pieces, and then when we put them all together it’s like we have this majestic jigsaw puzzle – a tapestry. Every time we find out some new information, it just connects us more. It’s very moving, and it’s a lot of fun!”
Meanwhile, finding family is always a fulfilling and a ‘grounding’ experience.
“I’ve been so moved by the awesome beauty of this town. It’s a beautiful place, and it made my heart just leap. It’s lovely. I feel very at home here. There is a genetic connection – connections of people but also of ‘place’. I could feel it.
“It’s been such a gift to me – a homecoming on so many different levels. I’m exhausted in that way where everything has just been so wonderful that you don’t have room for it anymore!”