My grandfather1, John Brixton, was called The Colonel. No one really knows why, but it is likely because he resembled the picture of the sailor on “Players Tobacco” tins.
Actually, the Colonel’s birth name was Mark Joseph Ellis. He was born in Islington, Middlesex, England in 1870, one of eight or nine children, born to E. W. Ellis (a professor of music) and his wife, Mary Anna Meson Jackson.
The information about the Colonel’s early years is sketchy. He apparently sailed the “old sailing” ships and came out from England on a merchant ship, then deserted from San Francisco. He was then only perhaps 15 years old. He hunted “wild animals” in the Dakotas, but there was little work so he joined the U. S. Army in the 1890s.
More speculation is that he went AWOL from that army and came to Canada, to Calgary. At some point, Mark Joseph Ellis became “John Brixton” and he moved to Vernon.
On February 10, 1899 the Colonel enlisted in Vernon with the Lord Strathcona Regiment to go to the Boer War in South Africa. He was then 29 years old.
After serving for one year and 35 days he came back to the Okanagan and pre-empted land [at Nahun] on the west side of Okanagan Lake. A person could pre-empt 160 acres if he built a cabin on that land.
During the next few years, the Colonel moved around, working on survey crews and building government wharves. The workmen lived in a bunkhouse right on the pile driver. The last wharf which the Colonel helped to build was at Ewing’s Landing.
On September 24, 1909, in the manse at Kelowna, the Colonel [now 39 years old] married Bertha Louise Redsull. A son, Robert (Bob) Edward, was born the following year.
The Colonel joined the Strathcona Horse in April 1915 to serve in the First World War. When he didn’t go overseas he transferred to the Canadian Mounted Rifles and he spent 24 months in Flanders….
When the Colonel returned to the Okanagan from the First World War, he was able to resume working on a 16-foot steel boat which Mr. [Northcote] Caesar had given him. They worked all winter, putting new wood all around the top. It was run by a single cylinder inboard motor.
The peaches, pears and apples … planted by Bertha’s brother, as well as the fish the Colonel caught and sold to the butchers in Vernon, provided a little income. The “Sicamous” and other boats plied Okanagan Lake, not only taking the fruit and fish, but also bringing the weekly mail…. [For many years the Colonel operated the lighthouse on Whiskey Island (Nahun Wenox)].
[The Brixtons lived at Nahun], until 1938, when they built a house at Okanagan Centre for their “retirement”.
That same year, Bob married Marjorie Dale from Mara, B.C., and they moved to Okanagan Centre….
The Colonel died at Vernon on April 4, 1956 (aged 86 years). Bertha Redsull Brixton died at Kelowna on May 11, 1991 (aged 91 years).”2
1 Eleanor Geen, of Okanagan Centre, the author of this article, is the granddaughter of the “Colonel”, John Brixton and his wife Bertha, and daughter of Marjorie and Bob Brixton. Eleanor is a Director, and Vice-President, of the Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society.
2 Geen, Eleanor. “The Colonel was a fighting man.” The Daily Courier.