Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Mysterious Disappearance of Albert Edward Lewis

My great-grandparents were quiet, respectable people so when their brother-in-law landed on the front pages of Montreal newspapers for all the wrong reasons, they must have been horrified.

The newsmaker was real estate developer Albert Edward Lewis,1 husband of Helen Frances Bagg. On November 22, 1897, a headline in The Gazette ran, “A PECULIAR CASE. Mysterious Disappearance of A.E. Lewis. …. LARGE REWARD IS OFFERED. Suspicious Characters Seen Loitering Near his Residence on Saturday Evening Shortly Before His Disappearance.”  

 For several days, both English and French-language newspapers reported on the mystery. Evidence of a struggle was spotted near the last place he had been seen, and the police dragged nearby quarries for his body. His wife was afraid he had been murdered. Brother-in-law R. Stanley Bagg (my great-grandfather), who was also a business associate, described Lewis as a gentle man who had no enemies -- and an excellent fighter who could take care of himself. 

Two days later, the tone of the articles changed. La Minerve reported that Lewis had frequently been seen in the company of a pretty young woman. The newspapers now said he had left Montreal of his own accord and was in New York, en route for southern Africa. It became clear that Lewis had staged the mysterious circumstances surrounding his flight.

On November 27, a brief item in The Gazette reported that R. Stanley Bagg had taken out a seizure before judgement against Lewis for $10,000. In 1895, Bagg had sold property to Lewis for $10,000, and Lewis was due to pay $300 in interest a few days after his disappearance. In the intervening two years, the property Lewis had purchased with the intention of selling as building lots had lost value, partly because the privately owned tramway that provided transportation to the area was in serious financial trouble and unable to offer reliable service. Eventually, Bagg recovered some of the money that Lewis owed when 50 building lots that Lewis owned were seized and sold at a sheriff’s auction.

Six years earlier, Lewis’s Montreal real estate business had promised to be very successful, partly because of his links to the Bagg family. They had inherited several adjoining farm properties along what is now St. Laurent Boulevard. R. Stanley Bagg was selling the lots nearest the city center and, a little further afield, the Montreal Freehold Company had purchased a large piece of land from the Baggs with the intention of developing it. Lewis was the sole real estate agent for both parties for the best lots: those facing St. Lawrence Street.3
R. Stanley Bagg must have trusted his brother-in-law to give him this advantage, so what was Albert Edward Lewis’s background? 

The Lewis family had deep roots in Flintshire, Wales. John Lewis (1820-1891) immigrated to Montreal in the mid-1800s and worked as a bureaucrat at the city’s busy port. He married Matilda Snowdon (1827-1902) and the couple had four children: Lansing, Eleanor Ida, Albert Edward and Lily.4

Lewis’s business promotional material5 says he left home at age 17 and “spent four years trading in the South Sea Islands. The cattle boom of 1880 found him on the Texas Trail with cattle bound for northern pastures. Locating in Oregon, he engaged in ranching most successfully and returned to Montreal a few years since.” He went into the general real estate and loan business and married Helen in 1891.6
His disappearance six years later must have devastated her, and she set out to look for him, eventually tracking him down in the Orient. They returned to Canada together, but not to Montreal. Instead, they settled in Vancouver where nobody knew about the scandal.7 There, he became one of Vancouver’s largest property owners, owning some of the best locations in the city’s business district, and the couple also had a busy social life.

Around 1907, Lewis developed health problems and, when he improved, the couple travelled to France. He was never able to return to Canada. 

Lewis died in Paris on 28 June, 1908,8 his wife at his side. He is buried in Caerwys, Flintshire, Wales.9 Helen had a crucifixion window installed in his memory at St. Michael’s Church in Caerwys, and she had a similar window placed in Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver.10

See also Helen Frances Bagg’s story: 

Photo credits:
The Gazette, Montreal, 22 November, 1897, 1.
Albert E. Lewis [image fixe], 1894, 0002733571, Albums Massicotte, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, http://collections.banq.qc.ca/bitstream/52327/2083577/1/2733571.jpg.
Gravesite in Caerwys, Flintshire, Wales courtesy Nelson Oliver; photo by Sylvia Harris.

Thank you to Nelson Oliver and Yves Desjardins for their assistance with this article.


1. According to a descendant of the extended Lewis family, family members called him Albert and other people called him Edward. In various documents he appeared as A.E. Lewis, Albert E. Lewis and Edward Lewis. 

2. Several notices appeared in the Gazette officielle du Québec (the official publication of the government of Quebec) announcing that a sheriff’s sale would be held to sell off Lewis’s properties. See http://www.banq.qc.ca/collections/collection_numerique/index.html?language_id=1&categorie=20   Type Albert E. Lewis and click on chercher (search). Two different notices appeared: page 31 on 12 February 1898, and page 29 on 23 April 1898.

3. To learn more about the development of Mile End, the Montreal neighbourhood in which Lewis was selling property, see Mile End Memories, http://memoire.mile-end.qc.ca/en/category/histoire-du-mile-end/.

4. According to the Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 online database on Ancestry.com, Albert Edward Lewis, son of John Lewis Esquire Controller of Her Majesty’s Customs at the Port of Montreal and of Matilda Caroline Snowdon, was born 27 May, 1860.  

5. Lewis took out a half-page ad for his Real Estate and Insurance business in a book that promoted Montreal commercial, manufacturing and financial businesses. His ad was on page 120 of Montreal Illustrated 1894, published by The Consolidated Illustrating Co. Montreal. http://archive.org/stream/cihm_11153#page/n89/mode/2up

6. Albert Edward Lewis wed Helen Frances Mitcheson Bagg at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal on 16 April, 1891. The source can be viewed in the Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 database on Ancestry.com. The signatures of witnesses make we wonder whether members of Helen’s family were pleased with the match. The only signature from the Bagg family was her mother’s. 

7. There was an article about Lewis’s 1897 disappearance in a Victoria B.C. newspaper a few days after his death, and a similar story appeared in the Vancouver World. “Recalls Old Mystery: Late A.E. Lewis, of Vancouver, was Central Figure of a Montreal Drama Several Years Ago”, Victoria Daily Colonist, July 1, 1908, 1, http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist19080701uvic/19080701#page/n0/mode/1up
8. “Lewis, Albert Edward (1860-1908)”, WestEndVancouver, https://westendvancouver.wordpress.com/biographies-a-m/biographies-l/lewis-albert-edward-1860-1908/  This article describes Lewis's life and quotes his death notice in the Vancouver World, June 30, 1908, 16. 

9. The record of Lewis’s burial in Wales can be found on FamilySearch.org.

10. Stained glass window dedicated to Albert Edward Lewis at Christ Church Cathedral, CVA 371-2818, City of Vancouver Archives, http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/stained-glass-window-dedicated-to-albert-edward-lewis-at-christ-church-cathedral

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Helen Frances Bagg: A Happy Exile

My mother never mentioned her great-aunt Helen, maybe because Helen lived in Vancouver, a continent away from the rest of the family in Montreal; or maybe because Helen and her husband moved there after he was involved in a scandal. 

Helen Frances Mitcheson Bagg (1861-1935)1 was the youngest of Stanley Clark Bagg’s and Catherine Mitcheson’s five children. Her father was a wealthy land-owner in Montreal, and Helen grew up in a large house there called Fairmount Villa. She was educated in Canada, England and Europe and, according to her biography, she “excelled in English literature, especially poetry and composition.”2

Helen’s father died when she was 10 years old, and her only brother, Robert Stanley Bagg, took over the management of the family real estate business.3 Helen’s share of her father’s estate meant that, when she turned 21, she was a wealthy woman.4 She must have had an interest in business herself as, in 1890, she purchased a hotel from the estate.5

Helen Bagg, 1882
In 1891, Helen married real estate agent Albert Edward Lewis (1860-1908).6 One evening in 1898, he disappeared, and Montreal newspapers were filled with speculation about his fate. La Patrie reported that Helen was afraid he had been assassinated.7 A few days later, it became clear that he had left Montreal deliberately, and that he owed money to the Baggs.8

The laws of the time made it almost impossible for couples to divorce, so perhaps Helen decided to make the best of a difficult situation. Or perhaps she really loved him. For whatever reason, she set out to find him.  

According to a Lewis family story,9 Helen, accompanied by a detective and perhaps a friend, went to the Far East to track him down. As her ship steamed into one port, she spotted Albert on the dock, awaiting the arrival of the mail from overseas. 

Her biography mentioned that she spent several months in 1899 travelling in Siberia, the northern islands of Japan and remote parts of Korea, and that she wrote about these experiences for magazines such as the London Sphere, Wide World, and Canadian Magazine.10 The article added that she lived in Shanghai for a time, although it does not say whether she was there with Albert.11 

According to the Lewis family, Helen “took Albert by the ear” and brought him back to Canada. The couple could not face returning to Montreal, so they settled in Vancouver,12 a port city that, two years earlier, had seen thousands of people pass through on their way north to the Klondike Gold Rush. Vancouver must have seemed pretty unsophisticated compared with Montreal, but a friend from Montreal, Julia Henshaw, lived there and probably helped Helen adjust.

Helen purchased a lot at 1960 Robson Street and hired an architect to build a house that she called Fairmount, after her childhood home. The couple quickly developed a social circle, and friends organized a party in honour of their 10th wedding anniversary.13 Albert worked as a real estate agent, Helen hosted croquet tournaments, they joined the tennis club and attended Christ Church, and no one appears to have known about Albert’s scandalous past.

In 1907, Helen and Albert went to France. They planned to return to Canada before Christmas, but Albert became ill and could not travel. Helen was with him when he died in Paris in June, 1908.14 She later arranged for a large stained glass window to be placed in Vancouver’s Christ Church and dedicated to his memory.  

Crucifixion Window, Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver
In 1911, Helen remarried at a quiet ceremony.15 Her second husband was Vancouver real estate broker Herbert Charles Drummond (1864-1938), a descendant of an aristocratic Scottish family who had worked for a time as a police constable in Telegraph Creek in northern B.C. Helen and Herbert also travelled the world. They went to India in 1911 to attend the Durbar, an event that marked the proclamation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India, and they visited England and California.

At home, Helen busied herself with philanthropic and social activities, which often overlapped. Her name appeared frequently in the society page of the Vancouver Province. She hosted visiting family members from Montreal. She played leadership roles in local, municipal and provincial chapters of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE) during World War I and through the early 1920s, and she was involved with the Vancouver General Hospital and the National Council of Women. After the war, she and Herbert resumed their travels to Europe, spending two years, 1929 to 1931, abroad.16

Mrs Herbert Drummond, c. 1930
Helen died in 193516 after spending almost half her life in Vancouver, and she is buried there in Mountain View Cemetery. Herbert died three years later.17

Thank you very much to Nelson Oliver, Yves Desjardins and Karyn Huenemann for research assistance. 

Photo credits:

“Miss Helen Bagg, Montreal, QC, 1882” Notman and Sandham, II-64197.1, McCord Museum, http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/II-64197.1
Crucifixion Window, Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, B.C., photo courtesy Nelson Oliver
“Seated portrait of Mrs. Herbert Drummond” c. 1930, Major Matthews Collection, AM54-S4-N527.20, City of Vancouver Archives, http://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/seated-portrait-of-mrs-herbert-drummond-4


1. Helen was born 16 September, 1861 and was baptized on 27 November, 1861 at Christ Church, Montreal. See the Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 on Ancestry.ca.

2 A one-page biography of Helen in Women of Canada, Montreal, QC: Women of Canada, 1930, page 73, described her childhood, her world travels, her writing and her volunteer activities. 

3 To learn more about the development of Mile End, the Montreal neighbourhood in which Helen’s family owned property, see the history section of Mile End Memories, http://memoire.mile-end.qc.ca/en/category/histoire-du-mile-end/. Chapter 3.1 focuses on Helen’s grandfather and great-grandfather, Stanley Bagg and John Clark: http://memoire.mile-end.qc.ca/en/le-boucher-john-clark-et-le-marchand-stanley-bagg/ (the text is in English). Chapter 3 looks at the role of Helen’s father, Stanley Clark Bagg: http://memoire.mile-end.qc.ca/en/chapitre-3-deuxieme-partie-stanley-clark-bagg/ (currently in French, with an English version coming soon.)

4 Most women in Helen’s day had to rely on their husbands to support them, however, Helen’s father had made provisions in his will to ensure that not only his son and his widow, but also his daughters, would receive income from revenues and interest generated by his estate. 

5 This transaction appears in a ledger of property sales kept by Helen’s sister Amelia (Mrs. J. Mulholland), held in the Abner and Stanley Bagg Fonds at the McCord Museum in Montreal. 

6 She married Albert Edward Lewis on 16 April, 1891. This record can be viewed in the Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 on Ancestry.ca. Helen likely had a marriage contract that kept her property separate from Albert’s, a document that is likely in the records of the notary who wrote it and stored at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) in Montreal. 

7 “Une étrange disparition. D’un agent d’immeubles de cette ville. A-t-il été assassiné? Les circonstances extraordinaires qui entourent cette mystérieuse affaire. La police fait des recherches.” La Patrie, Montreal, 22 November 1897, 1.

8 “Know That He Lives. Police Sure That A.E. Lewis Was Not Kidnapped.” The Gazette, Montreal. 25 November, 1897, 4.

9 Telephone conversation with Cynthia Lewis, 19 December, 2015.

10 Helen may have enjoyed photographing her travels as well as writing about them. Or maybe they were both photographers. On 12 November, 1903, the Vancouver Province reported that members of the Vancouver Photographic Society enjoyed a show of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis’s photos taken in Shanghai, Korea, Japan, Ceylon, India, the Nile River and Venice. Do these photos still exist?

11 A post on the blog Canada’s Early Women Writers, https://ceww.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/women-of-canada-1930/, describes the book Women of Canada 1930 and lists the women who are included in it. Helen was listed under her married name, Mrs. H.C. Drummond. I would love to read Helen’s articles about her travels, but she probably would have written under a pseudonym and so far I haven’t been able to find any of them. To confuse matters slightly, there was another writer named Helen Frances Bagg. She was born in Chicago, the daughter of a businessman. That Helen wrote several well-known plays, novels and short stories between about 1905 and 1920.

12 Edward Lewis and his wife Helen were counted in Vancouver in the 1901 Census of Canada.

13 Society, Vancouver Province, 20 April 1901, 4.

14 Edward Lewis, death notice, Vancouver World, June 29, 1908, 13. 

15 Herbert Charles Drummond was born 4 May, 1864. This record can be found in the India, Select Births and Baptisms, 1786-1947 collection on Ancestry.ca. The record of his marriage to Helen Frances M Bagg on 7 August, 1911 is included in the British Columbia, Canada, Marriage Index, 1872-1935 on Ancestry.ca.

16 More stories about Helen’s husbands can be found on WestEndVancouver,  https://westendvancouver.wordpress.com/. This site focuses on the streets, houses, businesses and people of the city’s west end from the late 1800s to 1920. The site includes extensive references to newspaper articles, passenger records and other resources. See the story of Albert Edward Lewis, https://westendvancouver.wordpress.com/biographies-a-m/biographies-l/lewis-albert-edward-1860-1908/                                                                                                                                                                     and the article about Herbert Charles Drummond, https://westendvancouver.wordpress.com/biographies-a-m/biographies-d/drummond-herbert-charles-1864-1938/

17 The death in a Vancouver hospital of Helen F M Drummond on 19 April, 1935 is listed in British Columbia Death Registrations, 1872-1986 on FamilySearch.org. The Certificate of Registration of Death indicates she was buried four days later at Mountain View Cemetery. Her death certificate and an article about her funeral in the Vancouver Province gave her age as 72, but she was actually 73.

18 Vancouver Province, 14 July, 1938, 18.