Walter Draycott’s Life and Times – 1883 TO 1985
By Janet Turner
Walter Mackay Langdale Draycott was born on February 24, 1883 at Belgrave, County Leister, England, the second son of Walter and Catherine Draycott. He had three brothers and two sisters. Educated at Saint Mary’s, West Derby, and St. Thomas School Liverpool, he joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps while still in his teens and learned geology, topography and military sketching. He used these skills during service in the Boer War (1901-1904) in South Africa and World War I (1914-1918, and in different ways throughout his later life in Lynn Valley.
He emigrated to Canada in 1907 aboard the SS “Canada” and bought a 147 acre farm near Fort William, Ontario which he sold in 1910. He distinguished himself as a marksman, and played football and hockey for local teams. The sale of his farm three years later, for $1,000, financed a lengthy holiday in England. Returning to Canada, Walter decided to try the warmer climate of the West, and moved to Vancouver in 1911. He helped establish the short-lived Draycot* and Quirt taxidermy and shoe repair shop at 520 Howe Street, before buying property in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver, in 1912. Lynn Valley, known today for its parks, forests, rivers and creeks, is located at the northern edge of Metro Vancouver between Mount Fromme and Mount Seymour. Of his decision to settle there, he wrote, “Where on this globe would one find such a desirable setting to live, and enjoy the freedom it offered?” After clearing the land, building a house and developing a large garden, he left to serve in the First World War with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Appointed barber, topographer and military sketcher, he saw action in France and Belgium and was gassed twice.
Returning to his home in Lynn Valley in 1918, he published his first history of that community the following year and later designed a war memorial tablet for St. Clements Anglican Church.
He served as a Justice of the Peace from 1923 to 1975 and was a school trustee for 3 years in the 1920s. He conducted nature hikes for students up the Lynn and Seymour valleys and was an informal historical resource for the community for much of his life. A collector of stamps, mineral specimens, fossils and molluscs, he also maintained a large library of books on history and science. He was involved with several community groups and other organizations at various times, including the Lynn Valley Institute and the Boy Scouts. Many of his interests are reflected in the numerous photographs that he took, and files he collected throughout his adult life.
He was a feature writer for the North Vancouver and Vancouver newspapers on an irregular basis, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, and an occasional contributor to scientific journals. A member of the Southern Californian Academy of Sciences, and the Art, Historical and Scientific Association, he was also a Fellow of both the Institute of American Genealogy and the Royal Geographic Society. He wrote and collected data on the Pleistocene geology of southwestern B.C. and was employed by the Geological Survey of Canada to apply his topographical and sketching skills for various field trips from 1949 to 1952.
Some of his activities provided him with an irregular income, but apparently he rarely had a single occupation or regular employment. A life-long bachelor, he lived modestly in the same small house for the last 73 of his 102 years, tending a large fruit and vegetable garden. He once described himself as “…a sort of way-faring scribe, fascinated by the historical past and a lover of Nature’s handiwork in geology, botany and varied subjects. Everything interests me.” The great quantity of material he created and collected is proof of both the accuracy of that assessment and his dedication to learning.
In 1972, as an honorary member of the North Shore Museum and Archives Committee, he was asked to officially open the first Museum and Archives building. Two years later, he was presented with the first Lynn Valley Good Citizen of the Year award. He was also honoured by his community in the names Draycott Road, Draycott Place, Draycott Park and Draycott Gardens. His second history Early Days in Lynn Valley was printed in 1978.
He died October 21, 1985 in North Vancouver at the age of 102. The following year, a sculpture of him was placed in Pioneer Park in Lynn Valley.
The personal papers he bequeathed to the North Vancouver Archives afford a complete chronicle of W.M. Draycott’s life and the community of Lynn Valley where he lived and served for 73 years. His comprehensive diaries (1907-1985) provide the most complete and personal record of his long life. One third of the collection is devoted to correspondence which often includes reference to life in Lynn Valley over those years. His hand-drawn Christmas cards, printed and mailed to numerous friends, are lively commentaries on the encroachments of civilization in Lynn Valley, complete with the observations of cheeky squirrels. Numerous photographs and meticulous drawings provide important supplements to the written records.
Draycott was also an assiduous collector of information on a variety of interests, from local history to geology. He collected records of the early years of local institutions, and wrote with authority on the geology of the North Shore and the attempts of settlers to make a living in the wilderness. His personal history is documented in notebooks on genealogy, letters to family members, essays on life in the trenches of the First World War and memoirs of his experiences as immigrant and soldier.
To survive the carnage of the World War I was a result of astonishing luck, and not a little courage. To then live such a long full life in the Lynn Valley he loved, and to leave behind a remarkable record of his times, was an achievement, on a local scale, matched by few individuals. Walter Draycott is assuredly worthy of remembrance, as we look back 100 years to the terrible years of the Great War.
*Draycott spelled his name variously, leaning to ‘Draycot’ in his youth, and ‘Draycott’ in later years.