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This Day in History: A Letter from Okanagan Centre

Dorothea Scott-Coward was a British woman who came to Canada in 1912, to visit a cousin, John Stokes, in Oyama, BC. In her first year she taught school in Okanagan Centre. While visiting her terminally ill cousin, she met Robert Allison, and the couple married in December 1913. A number of her letters written to her sister, Emily, between 1913 and 1922 have survived and provide a very informative social history.

Her first letter is dated June 27th, 1913. Below is the typescript as well as a copy of the manuscript:

Dorothea Scott-Coward to Emily McDonnell. 
27 June [1913]

Okanagan Centre    B.C   Canada

June 27th

Dearest Em

I have today received your letter of May 23rd (the quickest any of yours have come!) & the photo of the babies with Robert. I do like it & what a dear old thing Robert looks. Everybody here says “What a nice fellow.” But my dear how determined both your blessed Pledges look. I begin to think you will be bossed in your declining years. You say again you hoped for a letter from me but did not get one. You never seem to get any of my letters. I wonder if the last one via Mother has reached you. I hope Mother has sent off the spoons for the babies’ birthdays — tho I fear they will be late for Peters birthday two years old poor lamb!

It is almost the anniversary of my starting out to this country. Tho I have had some fairly stiff times — I have never a moment regretted coming, the only time I was at all wretched was my first few weeks with John. poor boy his health makes one forgive him everything, he is dreadfully ill really, I hardly think he can recover. You know the people out here don’t look upon him as quite a sane person. Keep this to yourself. I have been careful to say as little as possible about him in my letters. He is far more quarrelsome than Ro & only people like my Bob — (who are very few & far between) & who are too big in body & mind to trouble themselves about his lungs & only pity his unfortunate state — put up with him. He has always meant to be kind to me — but oh how patronizing in his ways!

Yes Judy is growing into a Beauty. She wrote & told me to write quite frankly to her about John but to use my judgement in what I said to his parents. As a matter of fact I have not spoken frankly (all I know about J!!) to any of them tho lately I have written openly to Aunt May about his health. I thought it only fair. I hope he won’t hear I have done so!

It makes me tingle with shame to hear of Ro running up bills & treating them like that & having all the relations (probably) gossiping about the Cowards wanting help. Oh I’m so glad I am independent. But I am rather sorry — tho it is nice of them. Uncle Phil sent me back a cheque as he did not want me to pay back my fare. It is playing the fool to send it again. But I shd [should] have been happier had they kept it under the circumstances.

You are a darling girl to send me a silk kimona. I shall be so glad of it & it sounds so pretty. I think I shall like Peach for a change from blue.

About a Cotton Crepe. I shd [should] love a pretty blue one. Duty on cotton goods not so high. Please under estimate value & put “Not for Commerce.” Your dark one has been & is being so useful. I made it myself of course. I am larger than formerly 
Waist 24 1/2                         Bust 36 
Neck 12 1/2                         Length of skirt 38 in front 
I do like a dress out here to fasten down the front or side & the waist line a little bit raised.

My dear Em, my big Bob has been very insistent & he is such a great Man. He wants to have a ring make out of a nugget he dug himself out of the Klondike in the Great Gold Rush. And he has built his house with his own hands & will put a veranda round it for me if I will marry him. His father was a Doctor in North of Ireland so he is Irish Protestant — tho much too long out in the wilds to have any prejudices. I forgot to tell you his name: Robert Allison. Called Bob. Over 6 foot, light coloured & bone-y. But please keep all this to yourself for the present. I tell him I may want to get out of it yet!

It seems feeble how I am independent & in such a good “posish” to give it up & become a ranchers’ wife? But I know I am lucky for such a “straight” fine manly thing to like me at all. If the crops are good, he wants it to be in November. Everything here depends on the apples, peaches & tomatoes!!

Very much love,

Yr. loving D. S. C.

I have a letter from Lucy Wray to say she was at Fresole. Mrs Mc in her “most talkative mood & gay as a lark.” I have also had a very nice letter form Mrs Mac herself who never once mentioned herself [but?] full of [indistinct] & her illness.

letter_1 BLOG_letter_1.2 BLOG_letter_1.3 BLOG_letter_1.4 BLOG_letter_1.5


















































































These letters (typescripts and manuscripts) were originally published on the Royal BC Museum’s Living Landscapes: Thompson-Okanagan website. The Lake Country Museum has been authorized to transfer them to the LCM website and the full collection will be added as time permits.


  • Thank you, Carol!
    I feel I know Dorothea because we live just off Allison Road (where stood the house Bob built by himself) and I guess it got the porch, for Dorothea did indeed accept his proposal. I have often seen her grave in the Oyama cemetery, where I noted she and her sister-in-law Hettie Bowsher had the longest lives of anyone buried there: 101 years for them both.

    • Interesting commentary Nancy. Thanks for adding to this post.

  • Friends in Oyama have sent me the link to this letter & as you can see by my surname , I am interested in :
    to Emily what surname?
    where/what destination she posted her letter to?…
    I presume to somewhere in the UK?…
    in the event that we are somehow distantly related…
    are there more of her letters to read?…how to access them
    Jan Coward

    • Emily’s last name was Coward (or Scott Coward) and she married Robert McDonnell. We have quite a few of Dorothea’s letters which were written to Emily in Burma. Emily kept the letters and upon her death the letters went to England and were eventually obtained by her son. The McDonnell family in Okanagan Centre (Lake Country) gave the Royal British Columbia Museum permission to publish the letters. The RBCM has given us permission to transfer those letters to the Lake Country Museum website, which we will do in the near future.

      • To lakecountry

        Thanks for the reply & the added info

        I did not expect the answer “Burma”
        I will look forward to future letters, info, & learning what place in England/UK the Scott-Coward women/family originated from, I hope

        (using Roger’s info) a suggested transcription of the postscript:
        I have a letter from Lucy Wray[?] to say she was at Fiesole
        Mrs Mc in her “most talkative mood & as gay as a lark” .
        I have also had a very nice letter from Mrs Mac herself who never
        once mentioned herself but full of Tfr’s & her illness.

        Jan Coward

  • the postscript in the letter mentions Mrs Mac (this would be Mary McDonnell nee Ward and mother of T.F.R. McDonnell who married Em who was the sister of Dorothea) – the reason for this note is that Mrs Mac retired to a convent in Fiesole which famously overlooks Florence.

    • Thanks for the additional information, Roger. It certainly adds to our understanding of these women.

  • If you are still wondering, I think the mysterious words on page 4 are “very insistent” ie “my big Bob has been very insistent.” Sorry if that is old news.

    • Sounds perfect, Don. Thank you so much for informing us.

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