Windermere residents’ century-old letters inspire documentary film

A new documentary will highlight a relatively unknown chapter in the history of the Upper Columbia Valley

A new documentary from a Kootenay-based director due to air later this year will highlight a relatively unknown chapter in the history of the Upper Columbia Valley, telling the story through the voices of those who lived here at the time.

Dreamers and Dissidents: A History of Nelson and the Kootenay, a half-hour compilation of short one- to three-minute films by director Amy Bohigian, will be broadcast on the Knowledge Network (the B.C. public broadcaster) late this fall or early this winter. In one of the short films, the story of one-time Windermere residents Jack and Daisy Philips and the man who convinced them to move here, Robert Randolph Bruce, will be featured.

“The film is a history of who lives here and why they moved here,” said Bohigian, adding that the 11 “shorts” stretch across multiple generations, from First Nations to her own story of how she ended up in the Kootenay region.

The short that focuses on Windermere uses letters written home to the U.K. by Daisy Philips to tell the story of the Remittance Men, or Second Sons — a group of a couple hundred upper or middle class British residents lured to the Kootenay region in general, and Windermere in particular, in the early 1910s by the fantastical tales of men such as CPR agent Robert Randolph Bruce, who — as Bohigian tells it — promised the valley was a British Eden where everybody was bound to make a fortune growing fruit orchards. (Editor’s note: Sir Randolph Bruce is perhaps most famous in the valley for building Pynelogs, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on July 19th.)

“Of course they arrived here and found the reality was a densely forested area,” said Bohigian, adding the Remittence Men and their families were then faced with the challenge of trying to build a life here, at least until the war began and many returned to Britain.

The letters Daisy sent home document the experiences she and Jack had during this time and form the basis for the short, along with archival photos.

“Daisy’s letters just really gave a lot of character to the story,” said Bohigian, adding the process of making the whole documentary has been incredible.

“The research has been amazing. Each story has a life of its own, but all of them relate to how we experience the Kootenay today,” she said, adding that, for the Jack and Daisy Philips short, this includes the themes of misfits from elsewhere finding a home in the region, and of people coming to Kootenay region in pursuit of a dream.

“It (the short) captures the adventurous spirit, of people who are offbeat in the societies they come from, making a home here. It’s kind of a black sheep thing,” said Bohigian. “And also how people come here with a dream that it’s going to be a certain way and when they get here they try to fulfill that dream, but when those dreams and reality meet, it sometimes works and it sometimes doesn’t.”

Bohigian’s documentary is also unique in that all of the dozens of people who helped her create it are from the Kootenay region, making it a completely locally-made production.