Saanich archive specialist Suzanne Hervieux handles a 1900s writing box with care to ensure its preservation. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)

Saanich archive specialist Suzanne Hervieux handles a 1900s writing box with care to ensure its preservation. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)

Mysterious 1900s writing box finds a home among Saanich Archives

Wooden chest owned by early Saanich resident Clara Isabelle McCoubrey

The mystery of a small, wooden chest from the 1900s that spent many years tucked away in various Greater Victoria homes has finally unravelled and the box now has a home among Saanich’s archives.

In 2019, Victoria resident Laura Lang retired and decided it was time to get to the bottom of the mysterious writing chest she’d uncovered five years earlier when going through her late sister’s belongings.

READ ALSO: Mysterious box from the 1900s unearths connections nation-wide

The dark-stained box lined with purple fabric contained glass bottles of ink, several old photographs taken somewhere in St. John’s and a letter dated Oct. 14, 1898 and addressed to Clara Isabelle McCoubrey – the presumed owner of the box.

Lang wasn’t sure who the box belonged to or where it came from, so during the summer of 2019, she contacted a journalist in Newfoundland to put out a call for information. Emails from history buffs and McCaubry’s distant relatives alike came flooding in after the article was published, Lang told Black Press Media at the time.

READ ALSO: Damage control underway as flood closes Saanich library, recreation centre

After discovering that none of McCoubrey’s direct relatives were still alive, Lang decided to donate the writing box and its contents to the Saanich Archives. A flood at the Greater Victoria Public Library Saanich Centennial Branch – which also houses the archives – in 2019 followed by the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to put off the donation until Sept. 24.

“We’re absolutely thrilled” to have this “remarkable object” in the collection, said Suzanne Hervieux, the archive specialist. She pointed out that it’s rare to receive photos that are older than the municipality – Saanich was formed in 1906.

Archives staff first learned of the box through local media and reached out to Lang. An employee recognized someone in one of the photos because other photos of the same family had just been donated, Hervieux explained.

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With the help of living relatives and history experts across Canada, nearly everyone in the photos has been identified, Hervieux said, noting that McCoubrey and many of her family members are buried in the St. Luke Anglican Church cemetery.

Hervieux is looking forward to having the box, photos and other material related to McCoubrey’s extended family on display sometime next year for residents to view in person and the photos will be added to the Saanich Archives digital collection shortly.

For now, the box – which is in “fantastic condition” – will be kept in a climate-controlled vault to preserve it forever, Hervieux said. To find out more or to ask about making a donation to the Saanich Archives, email archives@saanich.ca.


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A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCoubrey dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)

A 1900s writing box found in Greater Victoria contained ink, photos and a letter addressed to Clara McCoubrey dated October 14, 1898. (Photo courtesy Suzanne Hervieux)

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