Bessie Banham (1900-1969)
I have never owned anything that can produce more food for less money than a family cow, nor have I ever owned anything that gave me more work.
Bessie came to Powell River from Oregon City in October of 1911 with her parents Ferdinand and Marie Miller. Her father had been hired by the Powell River Company as Superintendent of the Electrical Department.
Bessie worked for a time on the local telephone exchange. The switchboard operator was a glorified office boy. She sat on a swivel chair with the switchboard behind her, the wicket to the right and a typewriter in front of her. When the switchboard needed attention, it buzzed and, with a deft kick on the leg of her desk, she swiveled around to push the plug into the number indicated by a red light. In those days you were not given a number, but simply asked to connect to ‘the wharf’, the wife, or to Tom, Dick or Harry.
On July 4, 1920 Bessie Miller married John Robert Banham. Together they worked their pre-emption (i.e., Crown land claimed for settlement and agricultural purposes) and raised their three children; daughters Jean and Judy, and son Jack. Bessie also found time to co-found the Wildwood Welfare League in 1929 and served as secretary until 1933.
Bessie Banham became a prolific writer of stories from the past when she began writing for the Powell River News. From her “Dances in the Early Days Were Primitive But Merry” which appeared in the December 29th 1948 issue of the Powell River News to “Powell River Pioneer Recalls Nursing Days” in the January 25th, 1965 edition Bessie wrote at least 111 Early-Day Stories.
Perhaps the most descriptive tribute to Bessie came from newspaper columnist Gerry Gray in the October 20, 1969 issue of the Powell River Town Crier. “She phoned me complaining that the game warden wouldn’t come up and shoot the bears that were raiding her orchard and breaking down her prize fruit trees. In a crusty voice, that carried the edge of iron, tempered from many years of getting things done, she said ‘I’m just telling you that I’m going to shoot that damn bear and I don’t give a bloody hell if I have to go to jail for shooting within the municipality.’ The next day I went up and sure enough there was a new bear skin hanging on the outhouse door.”