Museum Musings: William McKay Traill

Bill Smiley Archives. The house which William McKay Traill had built in 1910.

As a result of my involvement with the Bill Smiley Archives, and my connection with St. Mary’s church and cemetery, I am often contacted by individuals seeking information about family members who lived in the Prince Albert area during the early years of its settlement.  Over the past two weeks, I have had the privilege of doing research, quite by chance, on two individuals whose families intersected in the 1930s.

Early in August, I had the pleasure of meeting and exchanging information with the granddaughter of Walter Burd, the sixth bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan.  Burd and his first wife, Elizabeth, are buried in the St. Mary’s cemetery.  After Elizabeth died as the result of a car accident, Bishop Burd married Gertrude Traill.

In the middle of July, I was put into contact with Lakefield Heritage Research, an Ontario group who have been researching the history of Peterborough, Ontario, including the families of Catherine Parr Traill, her sister Susannah Moodie, and Samuel Strickland, all authors from that area.  The family of Catherine Parr Traill had local connections through her son William Edward Traill and his family.

William Edward Traill, father of William McKay Traill, was born in the Peterborough district of Ontario in 1844.  His parents were Thomas Traill, a retired British army officer from the Orkney Islands, and Catherine Parr Traill, an early Canadian writer and naturalist.  He entered the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company as a clerk in 1864, rising to the position of Chief Trader.  While working under Chief Factor William McKay at Fort Ellice, William Edward Traill married Harriet McKay, daughter of the Chief Trader, in June 1869 before taking up a post at Fort Pitt.  In 1870, he was placed in temporary charge of Fort Carlton, replacing Chief Factor Lawrence Clarke when Clarke had to be absent for reasons of business.  This led to Traill being chosen to establish the Company’s supply farm near the Prince Albert settlement in 1871.

After serving at several other posts, more westerly and northernly, William Edward decided to leave his employment with the Company, and to farm at Prince Albert, a town where several of his wife’s family had settled.  These relatives included Thomas McKay (the town’s first mayor), James McKay (an up-and-coming lawyer), Archdeacon George McKay, and her sister Kate (Mrs. Lawrence Clarke).

At the time of his retirement, the family’s children, including William McKay, were all at home.  The girls all went to school locally, but the boys were sent away to school.  William McKay Traill received his education in Lakefield, Ontario, residing while there with his grandmother.  After completing high school, he made his initial step into the business world, obtaining employment with John Martin’s Sons & Company, a wholesale fur warehouse in Montreal.  (Hawke’s “Saskatchewan and Its People” indicates that the firm at which Traill worked was a furniture warehouse, but the 1890 Montreal City Directory lists the firm as a fur warehouse).

Four years later, the younger William Traill left his employment with Martin’s Sons and joined his father on the farm, which they operated together for several years.  In 1901, he joined the Strathcona Horse and went to South Africa, serving for a year in the Boer War.  He then returned to Canada and acquired a homestead near his father’s, operating it and improving it for three years, before renting it out.  Traill then moved to Prince Albert, working for a time in George Baker’s general store, and then in 1906 obtaining employment with the city as the assistant city clerk.  Later he was appointed as the city assessor, a position which he held from 1908 to July 11th, 1916, when he enlisted for service in the Great War.

On December 15th, 1909, Traill married Miss Nellie Fortescue, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with Archbishop Matheson officiating at the marriage. Mrs. Traill was the daughter of Joseph and Jane (Mason) Fortescue.  Her father was a factor in the Hudson’s Bay Company, having been stationed for many years at Hudson Bay, before being transferred to Ile-a-la-Crosse. 

 Nellie was born at Norway House, educated from the age of eight at the convent school in Prince Albert before being sent to a ladies’ college in Winnipeg, before training as nurse at the General Hospital in Montreal.  In 1900, she went as a Canadian Army nurse, serving throughout the war there and returning to Canada in 1904.

The Traills became parents of two children: a daughter Evadne Frances, and a son John (he died before reaching the age of two months).  In 1910, the Traills built a home on the west hill of Prince Albert.  It soon became a social centre for their many friends.

It was from this home that Traill’s dog, an Airedale Terrier, would follow him to work each morning.  When they reached the City Hall (now the Arts Centre) the dog would curl up in the hallway, where he would remain until noon time, when he would follow Traill home for lunch.  While Traill was serving in the armed forces, the dog would continue his established routine, waiting for someone to open the door of City Hall, and resting in the hallway until noon time, when the janitor would open the door and allow the dog to return home for his lunch.

Traill was sent overseas in May, 1917 with the 243rd Battalion.  However, he was in England for only ten days before he contracted typhoid fever and confined in hospital for several months.  On being returned to Canada, he was discharged and re-enlisted, becoming active in transport service, serving in that capacity from February 1918 until November, 1919.  When Traill received his final honourable discharge, he had attained a captain’s commission.

Traill returned to Prince Albert, resuming his duties as the city’s assessor until January, 1920, when he resigned to accept the position as second Deputy Registrar of Land Titles.  He was a popular and efficient public official, winning many friends in the district.

In his social life, Traill was a member of the Masonic fraternity, holding the office of master of the local lodge in 1911 and 1912.  A fervent tennis player, he is a member of the Prince Albert Tennis Club.  Traill also enjoys shooting.  Like his father, Traill was active in the Anglican church and for many years was a member of the vestry of St. Alban’s pro-Cathedral.

After their marriage and before her death, Mrs. Traill was an active Red Cross worker, a member of St. Alban’s Women’s Auxiliary (now the Anglican Church Women), and a member of the Daughters of the Empire.  She was also an accomplished artist, winning several awards both locally and provincially. The officiant at Mrs. Traill’s funeral was Canon Walter Burd, later Bishop Burd.