By E. Joyce White
`It was announced in last evening’s Free Press that an Indian had discovered the body of a white man on the beach on Gabriola Island. Chief Stewart sent provincial constables McIndoo and Boyd to investigate. They discovered that the report was only too true, for on the beach they found Thomas McGuffie, a pioneer settler of Gabriola Island, sitting in his canoe stone dead.’ This is the story as it appeared in the Nanaimo Free Press, February 16th 1895 under the heading Pioneers Passing Away.
Thomas McGuffie was born in County Galloway Scotland c1831, son of James and Eliza. He immigrated to Canada working first of all in the Cariboo as a miner during the time of the gold rush. In 1860, he moved to Nanaimo to mine for coal.
June of the following year a baby girl, Annie Jane, was born. Her baptismal certificate lists her father as Thomas McGuffie, miner, and her mother as a `Tongas woman’. This certificate; which was dated April 13th 1862, states the child is illegitimate and that Chappel and Grey were in attendance in a private ceremony.
There is a sad ending to this part of the story. Two years later a funeral was held at St. Paul’s Church Nanaimo for two-year-old Annie Jane McGuffie. The remarks on the death certificate, dated September 6th 1863, state, `This little child fell into a vessel sunk in the ground and was taken out dead. Verdict of jury accordingly.’
Six other children followed; John who was born 1865, then George born 1867, Ann 1870, Margaret 1872, Elizabeth 1874 and Thomas Alexander 1877. Elizabeth died in May 1875 of `inflammation of lungs’, two months before her first birthday. Thomas Alexander aged seven years and eleven months died `of consumption’ June 24th 1885 and was buried beside his sister.
Our first record of Thomas McGuffie on Gabriola comes from another Nanaimo Free Press May 1874 report citing McGuffie as `one of the oldest settlers’ and a neighbour of Chappel and Easson.
The Land Act gives the date of McGuffie’s pre-emption record as February 29th 1884, and describes the land as the southeast quarter of section nine
On July 4th 1875 Thomas McGuffie age 41, a farmer, and a resident of Gabriola Island formally married Adeliza Jane Sabiston, aged 26. (Her age given as 26 is questionable; other records would place her in her thirties). Adeliza is listed as being born in Tongas, U.S.A. Witnesses were Captain John and Jane Sabiston
July 7, 1875, the Free Press reported `nearly all the settlers of Gabriola Island attended a meeting called by Mr. Fawcett, Government Agent, at Mr. McGuffie’s residence, yesterday afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was to decide how the $500 government grant for roads, etc. should be spent.
It was duly moved, seconded and carried that one half of the grant be expended at west end and the other half at the east end. Mr.McLay was elected foreman for the west end and Mr. Martin foreman for the east end of the Island. After the customary vote of thanks the meeting adjourned.
In January 1883 fifteen year old George McGuffie made the pages of the Free Press when it was reported that he was brought to court, along with two other youths, and charged with breaking into the house of Mr.W. Hoggan on Gabriola Island and taking a small quantity of apples. The magistrate explained to the boys the grave nature of the offence and, after warning them not to appear again on a similar charge, dismissed the case
Then, in June 1885, the McGuffie name appeared again in the pages of the Free Press with the story of a fire in a Nanaimo house on the hill above Victoria Crescent, known as `White Lights’. The house was owned by Thomas McGuffie and rented to Lillie White. Fortunately no one was in the house at the time of the fire. The building was not insured but, as reported, the fire was suspected to be a work of `an incendiary’ as it was the third one in the vicinity within the last few weeks.
Another accident was reported in the pages of the Free Press Saturday December 11, 1886. Mr A. Summerhayes, bricklayer and stonemason, while at work on the roof of the house of Mr. T. McGuffie of Gabriola Island, yesterday fell to ground and dislocated his ankle. He was immediately brought over to his residence in this city.
1886 seems to have been a busy year for Thomas McGuffie. The Free Press of September 3rd reported that the forest had been cleared and graded, and a one and a quarter mile trail had been constructed to Mr. H. Peterson’s property with Mr. Thomas McGuffie as road foreman.
Then the September 29th issue of the Free Press 1886 gives the following account. `The repairs to the Gabriola Wharf have been completed by Messrs. Chapple, and McGuffie, and it is as good as new. The wharf had been built less than three years ago, and the marine worms had completely eaten through some of the piles.’
Thos McGuffie’s name appears again, this time along with Magnus Edgar as a school trustee, in the Want Ads section of the Oct. 2, 1886 edition. The trustees were looking for candidates to fill the position of schoolteacher for the South Gabriola School.
Tragedy struck the McGuffie family when John McGuffie age 23, Thomas and Adeliza’s eldest son; was killed in an explosion in No.1 shaft of the Vancouver Coal Company mine. (Free Press May 3rd, 1887). He was buried in the Nanaimo cemetery. 148 miners were lost, 96 White and 52 Chinese. Seven men escaped
In August of the same year the Vancouver Coal Company began drilling for coal on the McGuffie property. Drilling continued intermittently through the years, reaching a depth of 1970 ft. In 1889 the project was deemed unsuccessful and terminated.
The Free Press of November 3, 1888 reported that Mr. Thomas McGuffie, on contract to the Dominion Government, was in charge of cutting a boat canal through what was locally known as Biggs Portage. The purpose was to save the residents of Gabriola and adjacent islands the trip around Jack Point, en route to Nanaimo.
Mr. Thomas McGuffie was reported in June of 1889 to be in Chemainus, with a boom of logs; looking well and healthy and in March 1891 his name appeared again in the pages of the Free Press, when he was said to have shown off a large egg weighing four ounces.
It was not all work for Mr. McGuffie though, as in July 9,1892 the paper reported that Mr. Thomas McGuffie, one of the prosperous settlers on Gabriola, leaves tomorrow for Harrison Hot Springs and then to the Old Country. He is suffering a severe attack of rheumatism.
The next time Thomas McGuffie’s name appears in the newspaper is to report the finding of his body in the canoe. His death was attributed to a ruptured aneurysm of the heart. At the time of his death he left a widow, Eliza, a son George and two daughters Anne McGuffie Lewis and Margaret McGuffie.
As Thomas McGuffie died without a will, the probate certificate of March 12th 1895 names George McGuffie administrator of the property, valued at less than $1500
. Of the seven McGuffie children Annie Jane, Elizabeth and Thomas died in infancy, John died in the mine explosion in Nanaimo. Anne married John Lewis on October 31st 1899. George married Emily Jane Hodsen on July 29th 1895. Emily Hodsen disappeared from records after this entry and on George’s 1926 death certificate, his brother in law, John Lewis, lists him as single. We have no record of Margaret marrying. She died in 1911.
This branch of the McGuffie name seems to have become extinct, as the only records we have of Thomas and Adeliza’s’s grandchildren are the three sons of Anne McGuffie Lewis and John Lewis. They are John William, Thomas McGuffie and David Cecil Lewis. We are researching these Lewises, and will create a new Lewis page when we have some information.