So I want to talk about where William’s and Edith’s children, what it may say about William’s career, the voyage between Liverpool and Canada on Empress of Ireland, and, if we have time, what the Salvation Army has to do with it.
According to the 1901 Census of England and other documents, William was born probably in the Fall 1867 (33 in Summer 1901 but 44 in December 1911), and we can approximate the rest of his expanded household, Brady Bunch style, as follows:
- Edith (Grey) Pearce, born approx 1870 – second wife of William Pearce
- Alice Jane Pearce, born approx 1892 – daughter of William Pearce & Mrs. Pearce #1
- William Pearce, Jr., born approx 1893 – son of William Pearce & Mrs. Pearce #1
- Ellen M. Pearce, born approx 1896 – daughter of William Pearce & Mrs. Pearce #1
- James Pearce, born approx 1898 – son of William Pearce & Mrs. Pearce #1
- Major Leslie Cecil Grey, born 1900 – son of Mr. Grey & Edith (Grey) Pearce
- Phyllis May Pearce, born 1903 – daughter of William Pearce & Edith (Grey) Pearce
- Agnes Beatrice Pearce, born 1905 – daughter of William Pearce & Edith (Grey) Pearce
- Horace Owen Pearce, born 1907 – son of William Pearce & Edith (Grey) Pearce
- Doris Pearce, born 1909 – daughter of William Pearce & Edith (Grey) Pearce
- Leonard Pearce, born 1911 – son of William Pearce & Edith (Grey) Pearce
Tracking the children’s birthplaces, then, gives a record of the family’s movements every couple of years for basically two decades. Using census records, marriage licenses, and death certificates, the timeline ostensibly translates thus:
- 1867 – Hampstead, London, Eng. (William Pearce is born)
- 1870 – Brighton, Sussex, Eng. (Edith is born)
- 1892 – Deptford, London, Eng. (Will, MP#1, Alice)
- 1893 – Woolwich, London, Eng. (Will, MP#1, Alice, Will Jr.)
- 1896 – Islington, London, Eng. (Will, MP#1, Alice, Will Jr., Ellen)
- 1898 – Bethnal Green, London, Eng. (Will, MP#1, Alice, Will Jr., Ellen, James)
- 1900 – Reading, Berkshire, Eng. (Edith, MG, Les)
- 1901 – Greenwich, London, Eng. (Will, Edith, Alice, Will Jr., Ellen, James, Les)
- 1903 – London, Eng. (W&E, Alice, WJ, Ellen, James, Les, Phyl)
- 1905 – (No locality,) England – (W&E, Alice, WJ, Ellen, James, Les, Phyl, Agnes)
- 1907 – London, Eng. (W&E, Alice, WJ, Ellen, James, Les, Phyl, Agnes, Horace)
- 1909 – Millwall, London, Eng. (W&E, Ellen, James, Les, Phyl, Agnes, Horace, Doris – unclear if Alice, Will Jr., or both are gone)
- 1910 – Where is William?
- 1910 – Where are Alice Jane, William Jr., Ellen, and James?
- 1910 – Journey to Canada (Edith, Les, Phyl, Agnes, Horace, Doris)
- 1911 – Baynes Lake, B.C., Can. (W&E, Les, Phyl, Agnes, Horace, Doris, Len)
- 1911 – Who’s in the 1911 Census of Canada? (prob preceded Len’s birth)
- 1911 – Baynes Lake, B.C., Can. (William’s death)
To conceptualize, events in England are almost all in about a 5-mile radius in Greater London:
I don’t have a good answer for 1911 — the family simply isn’t in the 1911 Census of Canada in any form I can find them. But I may have found an answer for 1910. It would seem that a William Pearce, age 42 and a former “fitter,” passed through Quebec, arriving from Liverpool on the Lake Manitoba on 22 May 1910, on his way to a job as an “engineer” in Fernie, British Columbia. Arriving three months ahead of Edith and the kids, this seems likely to be our man, but there isn’t a good way to be sure, really. Still, Fernie is a highly-specific destination that happens to be in the family’s main orbit. In 1921, that’s where the Canadian census-taker found Phyllis’s family. Here, we see Michel (stated destination of Edith and the kids in 1910), Fernie, and Baynes Lake, British Columbia:
If you zoom out, you’ll see Calgary appear long before you see Vancouver — this was far eastern British Columbia, comparatively the middle of nowhere.
But here’s my real point: William was a lifelong rail man, by all indications. A number of organizations had rail lines in Canada, but one of them was the Canadian Pacific Railway, who owned tracks running through, among other places, East Kootenay, British Columbia, with tracks remaining today that cover 2/3 of the distance from Michel, through Fernie, toward Baynes Lake (zoom in on the map). But you know what else Canadian Pacific Railway owned? Canadian Pacific Steamships, including the Empress of Ireland. In other words, it would appear that William Pearce’s wife, kids, and stepson followed him to Canada on a steamship owned by (probably) his employers.
It could be that it was a coincidence. CPR touted their network of rail and ships as the world’s greatest transportation system. For Britain, transportation and industry have always been integral to empire, so to find the tentacles of a rail company wrapped around so many facets of Britons’ movements is not terribly surprising. But you can tell a different story, too. Passage for a woman and five children isn’t cheap. And the fact that the family left some children behind suggests there may have been financial concerns. Was William sent to the middle of nowhere by the rail company, valuable enough to them to pay his family’s passage to join him?