The unsinkable Bessie Lafleur

October 29th, 2020 2 Minutes

Mrs. Isabella (Williamson) Lafleur, universally known as “Bessie,” immigrated from Saintfield County, Northern Ireland, in 1915, during the height of World War I. She was a determined and positive young woman who, undeterred by torpedoes and death at sea, proceeded to cross the Atlantic and travel to Cranbrook, B.C. Her older sister, Mrs. R.W. Edmondson, was a resident.

Arriving on October 3, 1915, Bessie was undeterred despite being a passenger on the steamship Hesperian. On September 4, 1915, the Hesperian sunk following an enemy attack at sea, which spurred the United States to join the allied forces in the First World War.

She quickly secured employment with the CPR as a billing clerk in the Cranbrook freight shed. Perhaps the CPR is where she met Charles Lafleur, who was a brakeman with the company at the time. The two were married after a whirlwind courtship on December 9, 1915.

Bessie and Charles Lafleur (left) celebrate Charles’ retirement #0247.0004
Photo by W.A. Burton – Image courtesy of the Cranbrook Archives and the Columbia Basin Institute of Regional History. 

A son, Stephen Charles Lafleur, followed in 1917, the same year that Charles was promoted to conductor. When Bessie’s billing clerk position was suspended, she moved to an old Cranbrook firm, Parks Hardware, as a stenographer.

Bessie was active in both the arts community and the Knox Presbyterian Church. Everyone knew of her in the small Cranbrook of the first half of the 20th century.

After Charles passed away in 1957, Bessie made a radical change and, in August 1959, joined The Courier newspaper as their social reporter. She reported the local news, showers, parties, and weddings in full detail.

An excerpt from one of her articles reads:

“For tradition, the bride wore her mother’s medal on a gold chain, and for her gown, she chose peau de soi with chiffon overlay.”

She even reported hard news from time-to-time, with a byline on stories such as the 1973 Haney, B.C. fire where a former Cranbrook man named Robert Wills received a heroism award. Bessie continued to report on the growing Cranbrook social scene until a corporate reorganization did away with The Courier in September of 1973.

On February 7, 1978, at the age of 86, Bessie Lafleur passed away, three days before a community banquet in her honour. Her determination and courage, which got her through troublesome times, also helped her compile the “gossip” of history, which allows the researcher to fill in the blanks of yesterday.

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