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  • Writer's pictureSheila Willis

A Love Story from the Past

Captain Charles Dufferin Allison Barber arrived in Athabasca in 1904 from Rat Portage (Kenora) Ontario. He was there to build and operate the steamboats that were criticial to travel and transport in northern Alberta at the time.

He may have also been escaping a bit of rather embarrassing family situation in Ontario. His father, who was a well known architect who designed the former city hall in Winnipeg, and his mother were accused of blackmail or fraud. According to the story I heard, she got a wealthy businessman in a compromising position in a hotel room. Barber's father then burst out of the closet and demanded money. The business man wrote a check and promptly reported the situation to the authorities, and Mr. & Mrs. Barber were arrested with the check in hand.

In Athabasca, he would have been acquainted with Leslie Wood, the Hudson's Bay Company factor there. Mr. Wood and his wife, Helen (also known as Nellie) often had their niece, Nellie Young as a guest. Inevitably Captain Barber and Nellie met. It was love!

While the young couple may have been extremely hapy, Nellie's family was not. Mrs. Wood, and Nellie's mother, Elizabeth Young were the daughters of the Reverend George McDougall and his wife, Elizabeth. This was high society in the day, and it would never do to have Nellie marry into a family with such a distasteful reputation. Family stories have it that Nellie was even sent to Europe for a time to get over Captain Barber. It didn't work. The couple were married.

Captain Barber went to work on building and operating steamboats and lived in Mirror Landing, near present day Smith, In the winter of 1913/14 the railroad passed by and the steamboat business died in the area and the Barber's left the area.

Captain C.D.A Barber, with Nellie and baby Monota on the steps of their house at Mirror Landing. Image Credit: Linda Collier, granddaughter of the Barbers.

Several years later, in 1916, Barber served in World War 1 in both Canada and England. By this time the Barber's had two children; Monota and Elizabeth. When he came back from the war, he needed employment. He headed to the United States to find work as a steamboat captain. Here he contracted pneumonia, and passed away on March 18, 1913. He was 38 years old.(1

When he passed, Nellie was pregnant with twins. Seven weeks later, after the birth of twins, Nellie ran into complications, and also passed away. She was 27 years old.

The couple overcame a lot of obstacles in their short lived romance. Yet, in every picture I have seen of the couple they look happy. They, in my opinion, are a good example of facing the roadblocks of life and keeping the fires of romance burning. It is also a good example of appreciating our partners in the time that we have them.

Captain Barber, wife Nellie, one of Barber's sisters, and baby Monota in happy times. Image credit: Linda Collier, Granddaughter of the Barber's.

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