Alfred McNeil

Date died: 
Wed, 1921-01-26
Cemetery block: 
Cemetery plot: 
Plot location: 
49° 12' 56.5416" N, 122° 54' 11.0052" W
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McNeill 1/27/1921


Alfred hínuu díi kya'áang

Alfred hínuu díi kya'áang.
(My name is Alfred)

as told by Lisa Donaldson

Ceremony to mark Alred's graveThis is the history or life story of my Great Great Grandfather, Alfred McNeill. It began a long time ago and really must begin with the history of his father and mother to really be able to share what pioneers my family were in BC.

Alfred McNeill’s father was born in Boston New England in 1801. He was born William Henry McNeill or “the Captain” as he was referred to later on in his life. Captain McNeill was a master mariner at the young age of twenty and arrived on the BC Coast in 1831. Captain McNeill went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company. Originally being an independent trader, he was one of competition for the local company. Instead of competition the Hudson's Bay Company sought him out and in 1831 he began his career with them. However, we must recognize that there are records that show he actually started exploring the coast of BC as early as 1824.

In 1810, a woman only known by her Christian name Mathilda was just coming into this world. From what I am told she was the daughter of a Kaigani Haida Chief and a woman well respected in her own right. Mathilda was born of the Wolf Mother bear-Raven clan. Mathilda’s father was a high ranking Haida Chief and her mother possibly being from the Nass River area. Little is known about her life growing up, but in 1830 she met and married Captain William Henry McNeill.

The union of these people was one of economic idea and one of a true companionship we only hear about these days. The two were married for Twenty years. Mathilda gave birth to a total of 12 children of which 10 lived to adulthood. In 1850, she passed on to the spirit world giving birth to her twin daughters, Rebecca and Harriett McNeill or “the twins.” In a statement made by McNeill after the death of Mathilda he said, she was a loyal and devoted mother and wife”. As well as twin daughters, Captain McNeill and Mathilda had three sons, William Jr. Alfred and Henry. They also had five other daughters, of which four are known, Mathilda, Helen, Fanny and Lucy McNeill.

The journey of learning of my family roots came about 10 years ago while visiting my Auntie one day. I noticed that she was writing a number of names and I asked what it was all about. She began telling me about our history but that it was incomplete with many holes and questions unanswered. Marilyn and I spent the next many years searching for our history and developing and filling in all the blanks.

About a year and a half ago my Auntie passed on, without all the questions being answered. Her one wish was that we find out where we belong and honor those that have since passed. And so began my journey and the discovery of my Great Great Grandfather and his amazing history!

Alfred’s life began in 1838 in Fort Rupert BC. From what I am told, Mathilda and the Captain were often on trading exhibitions up and down the BC Coast. He spent most of his early life on the McNeill Family property in Oak Bay BC. When it came time, he was off to Fort Rupert to meet his brothers and to begin his education. Of course this is remarkable in that during this time in our history, racism was prevalent and often as they were referred to “half Breeds” were not in the position to gain an education. This was reserved for “whites” or those who could afford it.

None-the-less, he was well educated and he eventually finished with the expectation that he would head on into a career with the Hudson's Bay Company like his father William. From what some tell me, he chose not to do so and moved to the mainland along with his brother Henry. In 1870 Alfred is listed on the Washington 1870 census as a packer for Fort Colville on the Columbia River. There from what I can tell, he met his future wife, Susan Jane George, a keeping woman from the Colville Reservation. As in Mathilda’s case, little was known about Jane. What we can decipher is that she grew up in either the interior of BC or in Colville as back then there were no borders and often places had different names and boundaries.

Jane was born in about 1855, so she was significantly younger than Alfred, which was often the norm back then. Alfred and Jane presumably married about 1870 or so and soon had their first child, a daughter, Susan Jane McNeill (named after her mother) in 1872. When the Fort closed around 1872 or so, Alfred and his family moved back to what was then Priests Valley and soon to become Vernon BC. As Alfred was a packer by trade, at some unknown time he worked and his family lived and worked on the famous BX Ranch in Vernon. Before this time he farmed, raising five children, Susan Jane, Rebecca Fanny, William Alfred Henry, Emily May (my Great Grandmother) and George Herbert Wellington.

In his many years and pioneering times in Vernon, Alfred became connected with affluent men such as EJ Tronson and Price Ellison. Both of these men were of European heritage and had married Native wives. In 1885, with his friendships and influences he and the other two men opened the first school house in Vernon and became the first school trustees of what history tells of a “mixed race” school. In the article Lost Okanagan: In Search of the First Settlers Families it states that there were about 20 scholars (all Half-breeds), all in which spoke better Chinook and Indian than English.

Unfortunately the school house burnt down and another was built at a time not clear. All of Alfred’s children were educated, to what degree is unknown. However, with Alfred’s education I am assuming that it was a significant education given his influence and background.

From then on Alfred has been noted as working for Alexander Vance on the BX Ranch. Alexander Vance was a man from San Fransico, and I can only deduce that Alfred had met him in his time spent in Colville. Unfortunately as Alfred was a “half breed” the history on his many contributions to the history of Vernon is limited. EJ Tronson and Price Ellison are immensely noted and I can assume that with the friendships that these men had, Alfred was a part of whatever pioneering the others did. However, along with his family back in Victoria, they are noted in many books and articles such as "The Five Founding Families of Victoria" by Sylvia Van Kirk and a "Pour of Rain" by _______.

In 1887, while living on the BX Ranch, Jane passed on. The reason or cause is unknown, but she was the fourth person buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Vernon BC. Some of Vernon’s earliest pioneers are buried there. At this point Alfred’s oldest daughter Susan Jane, had married a man named William Smith and Rebecca Fanny had married ------ and Emily May had married James Pickering. The boys William Alfred Henry and George Herbert Wellington stayed with Alfred and there is little history about the boy’s future lives. In 1901, Alfred and George went to live with Susan and William on Blue Nose Mountain farming with his family. He spent some years on Blue Nose and when his senior years were upon him he was a resident of the Kamloops home for old men. Again, a lot of Vernon’s pioneers spent their last years there.

After the old mans home closed, Alfred was on in age and he was transferred down to New Westminster’s “Mental Hospital”. Unfortunately at this time the term “mental hospital” had a much different meaning than it does today. Alfred became old and developed dementia. With no other place for him to be taken care of, I am assuming, this became the only option.

Alfred lived there for a number of years. He lived a long life, passing in 1921 of Hypostatic Pneumonia and outliving his wife by 34 years. Alfred never re-married, it seems to me that his marriage to Jane was one of devotion and connectedness. Often in these times it was the norm, especially if you had younger children and were male, to remarry.

Alfred spent his last years without his family around him. It saddens me to think that it took us two generations of family to find him and acknowledge his contributions to the development of Vernon and the interior of BC. I am reminded of a quote:

Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind and spirit. The man who preserves his self-hood is ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence ... What are the fruits of silence? They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.

~Ohiyesa, Santee Sioux~

In my mind, my Great Great Grandfather is the embodiment of this quote. He spent his life, from what I can tell in silence. Silence of who he was, what he contributed and how important his family was to the development of our beautiful coast! He was a true family man, hard worker and major pioneer in our past history. He came from a long line of strong and patient people and he endured a hard life but did it with dignity and courage.

Now it is our turn, his relations, to honor him and break a silence to put him at rest and to remember the legacy that he leaves us today. He has many Grandchildren and Great grandchildren and Great Great Grandchildren to carry on the legacy that he so rightly passed on from one generation to the next. And so I write this story and say:

Alfred hínuu díi kya'áang.
(My name is Alfred)

i found this story both

i found this story both inspiring and humbling. I am inspired by the respect and conviction of the women who knew the importance of both knowing their ancestors and sharing, to the best of their abilities, their ancestors' story. I am humbled and awed by the people I met in this story; by their heart-felt, straightforward, hard-working, diligent lives; by their acceptance of life with its ever changing circumstances and challenges. I was deeply touched by truth in the quote from Ohiyesa, Santee Sioux about the potency and nature of Silence.

Thank you for this.

I just came across this story. I am also related to you.

I just came across this story. I am also related to you. My name is Ann my mother was raised in Vernon(Lumby). Her name is Maryanne Traviss her parents are Firman VanDamme and Anna(Hanna)
VanDamme. She moved to Burnaby and stayed with her Auntie Polly and Uncle Alf which are Marilyns parents in 1960 while she went to Nursing school. I grew up spending summers on Bluenose mtn with my Grandfather on his farm. My mother has recently passed away. Do you know which of the children I would be decended from?


Greetings Ann, good to hear from family!

Greetings Ann, good to hear from family! Oh my gosh, didn't realize Maryanne passed away, I am so sorry! I spent time with her and Marylin on occasion and I knew she was ill but hadn't heard of her passing. My mom also passed four years ago and about a year before Marylin passed so I know it can be a difficult time. I will have to let my dad (richard Pickering) know.

You are descended from Anna (Hanna pickering) the youngest of the 12 siblings. She is still alive in Vernon in a full care fasciltiy as I understand. Our G Grandparents are Emily Mcneill and James Pickering. Emily's parents are Jane George (nee Mcneill) and Alfred Mcneill. Jane was native from head Lake or near Coleville (I am still finding out about her) and Alfred was Haida and American. Alfred was from Boston and very high up with the HBC. My grandfather is your uncle Alf in which your mom stayed with. I have heard many stories about your grandfather Vandam and am quite envious you got to spend time on Blue Nose!lol

please feel free to call me, your mom shared a few stories with me:)


I also had a relative who was in the Westminster Asylum

Hi Lisa,
In researching one of my great Uncles I came across Michael de Courcy's website and the story of Alfred. I found this to be very poignant and I share your passion for finding out what happened to our long lost family members.

I would like your permission to have Alfred's story re-printed in the Journal of the Victoria Genealogical Society (a non-profit group dedicated to family history and BC history). I'm sure our members will enjoy reading about your family and what you did to bring Alfred back into the folds. With the McNeill family connection to Victoria I know the local aspect will captivate many of our members.

Please visit our website,, to find out a bit more about us. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Alfred Mcneill

Hi Melanie, Thank you for your kind words and I would be more than happy to share my Grandfather's story in your journal. I have done a better edited version, and would be happy to send it to you. I thinks its important for us to know where we came from and our families history. It helps us figure out where we are going in life!

Do you have an email address? Or you can email me, ill at dccnet dot com



I just found my great-grandfather, Charley Adams


I can't tell you how moved I am by finding and reading your story tonight. Just this morning, I found my great-grandfather, Charley Adams, of Sliammon First Nation, died 1932, amongst the Woodlands graves. This past week, I had found his death certificate at the BC Archives in Victoria, which listed his death in Essondale of "senile dementia". Reading your family's story raises many questions! I would love to meet you! I'm at

Thank you for sharing a piece of my history

I was glad to find this story, I have been trying to piece together my family history. Emily May was my Great Great Grandmother. Most of my family has passed except for my mother and uncle so the only source I have had to work with has been BC archives. I just wanted to say thank you.

Hugh George Bell Essondale 17th Mar 1928

This is such a fantastic resource. It is a very generous to family history resources.

According to his death certificate, my gg uncle, Hugh George Bell, died at Essondale Hospital on 17th March 1928 and was buried in the hospital cemetery. Other notations on the certificate say he was buried on 21st March 1928, the funeral directors were Colombia Funeral Service and there is also a notation for New West. I presume this is New Westminster. Hugh does not appear in this cemetery. Would anyone have an idea where else I could look?

Thank you very much
Lyn Evans, Australia

William and Susan Jane

Hi...our family is also related as William and Susan's daughter Thelma Nellie married 2 of my great uncles. She married Wilfred Berry on Oct 21 1933 and then they divorced June 19 1945 and she later married Uncle Harry in about 1948...couldn't find the actual record. Uncle Wilf was missing in action during the war and story goes that he was presumed dead and Thelma and Harry became a couple during that time. Not sure if the story is true or not but Wilf was actually captured by the German and in a war camp from which he and others escaped. He returned to the battle fields and was captured again and when the war ended he was released. Thelma died Sept 10 1962 and is buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Vernon (Vernon Cemetery) Section G, Block 39A, Plot 32. Uncle Harry died Jan 21 1970..he was 52. They had a son Richard Way Berry born May 1962


Hi Maureen, I would love to connect!


Greetings Melissa, I would love to connect!

Alfred McNeill & Alexander Vance?

Hi Lisa. The information you have provided is so interesting. I have been researching Alexander Vance for a number of years trying to understand his connection to McNeill and how he found his way to Vernon in the 1860s. Do you have any other info that led you to believe they connected in Colville? Searching through HBC account books in Kamloops last week I found Alfred McNeill had been employed as a packer for the company in 1863. I'd love to connect if you have found any more clues on the links between these two men. Thanks

Great history of my 3rd Great-Grandfather, Alfred McNeill

Wow, I just came across your page and I'd like to thank you so much for sharing! I am the 3rd Great Granddaughter of Alfred McNeill and Susan Jane George. Susan Jane and William Smith were my Great-Great grandparents and Katherine Smith was my Great-Grandmother. I was about 9 years old when Katherine passed away in the 80's, so I didn't really get to know her well. I'm 43 now and I'm very interested in genealogy.

By chance, have you found out any more details of Susan Jane George, like where she was born? Thanks again, this is great info!

My email is angela.selden at gmail dot com.