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Photo negatives help unlock the story of Brentwood Bay family

Saanich Pioneer Society archivist pieces together Spencer family’s story of love and loss

Uncovering the mysterious history and lives of those who came before modern times is what the Saanich Pioneer Society (SPS) and its volunteer archivists do best.

The non-profit group is dedicated to the keeping of historical records of the Saanich Peninsula.

Sonia Nicholson, a passionate archivist at SPS with a knack for detail, said that while sorting and filing documents one day in the early part of 2021, she came across a 1992 form from the provincial archives.

Nearly 30 years earlier the provincial archives had transferred an extensive collection of photo negatives and a handful of prints to the Saanich Pioneer Society – not to be digitized and researched until 2021 by Nicholson and the society’s volunteers.

The form elusively stated that the images were related to a Mr. Spencer of Brentwood Bay – no other information was provided.

Once the digitization technician had developed the photos, it was up to a team of volunteers to uncover the story behind the man, woman, girl, and boy who appeared in the mysterious images.

After conducting much research, Nicholson began piecing the names and stories together. “I’m really a storyteller at heart and a good researcher, if it’s out there I can find it,” said Nicholson.

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Albert Henry Spencer was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England on May 25, 1876. His wife Marguerite Sylvie Spencer was born in London, England on July 24, 1882. When SPS found Albert’s obituary it was learned that he moved to Alberta in 1916 and ranched there until 1929.

The Spencers moved to Brentwood Bay soon after where they settled on a large property on Verdier Avenue with their two children, Marguerite (also known as Margaret) and Ernest Albert.

Tragedy struck the family a few years after they moved in February 1936 when their son, Ernest Albert, was killed while sleigh-riding on Verdier Avenue hill. While he and his sister were about to sled down the hill, a vehicle approached from behind and hit Ernest Albert. The death was ruled an accident and archived newspapers wrote that the motorist did everything he could to avoid hitting the 10-year-old.

After the devastating loss of Ernest Albert, the Spencer family is shown through archival records to have carried on.

Albert Henry served for 12 years as people’s warden at St. Stephen’s and he and Marguerite later retired, selling the Verdier property and moving to 941 Joan Crescent in Victoria, where they would spend the remainder of their lives.

Margaret earned a master’s degree in art from the University of California, Berkeley in January 1952. There she met John M. Heslep, a PhD graduate from the school, and the couple married in July 1952 at St. Stephen’s in Saanichton.

They returned to California to live and they had one daughter named Rehana. Margaret remained a California resident and died there in 1982.

Albert Henry Spencer died in April 1963 in Victoria and Marguerite Sylvie passed away 10 years later at Gorge Road Hospital in 1973 at the age of 91.

“We wanted to honour the family and highlight the photos and pieces of the story that the public would connect with,” said Nicholson.

To learn more about the SPS, visit

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