Hillary Harper Collection
The photographs in this article have been sent to us by the Riondel Historical Society, British Columbia, which is located, some 400 miles from Vancouver Island near to the American border.
They were the property of Mrs P. Hillary Harper who has recently died, and were presented to their local Historical Society for preservation.
Wootton Bridge Historical Society [now www.woottonbridgeiow.org.uk] were contacted by their secretary and asked would we be interested in identifying and displaying these photographs on the village web site, the answer, yes.
We believe these photographs are of Wootton in early the 1900's. Several of the older people in the village have indicated that the farm was Fernhill by the Millpond and the internal pictures were of Fernhill House and people in the splendid limousine being members of the Brodie family.
The information we have concerning Mrs Harper is that she was born on the mainland as Patsy Hillary May, 29th May 1911 and was adopted by Mabel Scott of Letchworth, Herts. Around 1927, Mabel became seriously ill, and Hilary was sent to live with Mabel’s sister Margaret in Canada. In 1930 Hilary moved to the Riondel area. It is believed that the photographs belonged to one of Mabel Scott’s sisters who lived in Wootton (Haydens Farm?).
The area was settled because of a very productive silver, lead and zinc mine, known as the Bluebell Mine. In the 1882 an American named Robert Sproule staked four claims along the peninsula, including the Bluebell. When he left to register his claim and an Englishman, Thomas Hammill, re-staked the claims, this led to him being hung for theft.
By the 1890’s the settlement was known as Hendryx, after Wilbur Hendryx, who had control of the Bluebell and other claims in the mid 1880’s. In 1905 the Canadian Metal Company purchased the mine, and in 1907 the settlement was named Rionel after Count Edouard Rionel, the president of the company.
The Bluebell mine operated from 1895 until 1929, during which the population was stable at around 70. With the closure of the mine the population dwindled until in 1943 there were only 22 people left. In 1950 the mine re-opened, and the population soared to almost 300 within three years. The expansion of the mine required more electricity and in 1952 Cominco built power lines across the lake, thus eliminating the need for generators on the eastern shore.
From 1950, Rionel was a bustling, thriving mining town until 1972, when the mine closed. While some people moved on to obtain work, others liked the area and stayed.
Rionel has become a popular as a retirement community, and at one time had more seniors per capita than any other postal code in Canada. Currently around 400 people of all ages live in this quiet and picturesque community.
Today Riondel is a tidy village, with real streets, lakeshore, camping grounds, beach, community centre, playground, cable T.V. and the normal things of a village.