Pte. Cecil Samuel Montague Evans (1894-1916)
The Sash Our Forefathers Wore
"Cecil" Samuel Montague Evans was born in June 28th, 1894 in Ottawa, Ontario. He was the son of Samuel Evans and Elizabeth Lees.
Cecil's father passed away in May 1898, leaving Elizabeth with three small children to raise: Grace (1892), Cecil (1894), and David Wesley (1897). She subsequently married Sydney James Webb in 1899 and they had three children: Ethel (1901), Eva (1902), and Harold (1903).
Mr. Webb was engaged in a mixed farming operation when he became interested in the opportunities for land ownership in Northern Alberta after he had read A.M. Bezanson’s book, The Peace River Trail. As circumstances dictated, Mr. Bezanson was in Ottawa during the winter of 1909/1910 to meet with Dr. William Saunders, who was in charge of the Canadian Experimental Stations. Here he met Sydney Webb and as he was in need of someone to assist him with his cattle operation, A.M. Bezanson and Mr. Webb entered into a partnership.
In June of 1910, Mr. Webb left Ontario along with his 16 year old step-son, Cecil, who was also interested in experiencing the “Last Great West” as written about by A.M. Bezanson. Sidney purchased Revillon Frere’s cattle on behalf of Mr. Bezanson and managed the cattle operation that was located on the shore of Bear Lake. Soon thereafter, Mr. Bezanson required Mr. Webb and Cecil to assist in the development of the Bezanson Townsite. As a Land Office had been opened in Grande Prairie, Cecil filed on SW 20 71 2 W6 in November 1912 as soon as he turned 18. He lived with his stepfather, Sidney, while proving up his land. Cecil’s land bordered the Bezanson Townsite to the north and in fact the trail down to the ferry crossed his property. Cecil was kept very busy with his homestead requirements and assisting his stepfather with the improvements being made at the Townsite. As reported by the Daily Herald Tribune in 1914, he became the first unofficial postmaster at the Townsite with his stepfather being the mail courier. In July 1915, Cecil answered the call of duty and enlisted in Edmonton with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He served with the 66th Battalion. His attestation paper listed him as 5’ 4 ½” tall with blue eyes and blonde hair. Cecil wrote a letter home, a portion of which was published in the Grande Prairie Herald:
“We had a very pleasant trip across the ‘pond’ and find much pleasure in visiting these different historic and romantic cities of England. We sailed on the Olympic from Halifax to Liverpool. The Olympic is certainly a most wonderful ship and deserves the name of a ‘floating palace.’ She is very well built and has a capacity over 48,000 tons. There were 7,000 all told aboard, but she has had 13,000 at one time. From Liverpool, we had an eight hour journey by rail to our camp which is situated on a hill at a little village called Otterpool, about 53 miles from London and seven miles from Shorncliffe, the regular army barracks. We are living in tents, but enjoy camp life in England quite well.” Unfortunately Cecil was killed in the advance from Pozieres to Courcelette during the Somme Offensive on September 15, 1916. A letter written home by Fred Smith reported that “Cecil died like a hero with his face toward the foe as all Grande Prairie boys do.” Mr. Smith was one of two soldiers who buried Cecil under fire of German guns. It was noted that a group of soldiers, of which Cecil was one, became cut off from their company and fought to their deaths. Cecil’s name appears on the Vimy Memorial at Pas de Calais, France. This memorial is Canada’s most impressive tribute overseas to those Canadians who fought and gave their lives in the First World War. The Vimy Memorial, which overlooks the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge, is a majestic and inspiring tribute to lives lost, with many bodies never being found. Cecil is commemorated in the First World War Book of Remembrance. Although Cecil’s life was cut far too short, he will always be remembered not only as the first postmaster at the Bezanson Townsite, but also for the contributions he made in regard to the development of the Townsite. That being said, what Mr. Evans will be remembered most for on a global level is the greatest sacrifice of all – answering the call of duty to maintain the country’s freedom and dying in the effort to do so.
His position as postmaster was officially taken over by W.A. Leonard in December 1915. Cecil’s land was inherited by his mother, Elizabeth Webb, with the patent being issued in August 1917.
The plaque below was originally located at the Orange Hall of Loyal Orange Lodge No. 222 in Billings Bridge; at the time, the village of Billings Bridge was a small community near present-day Billings Bridge in Ottawa. With the closure of the Lodge, the plaque eventually came into the hands of the Gloucester Township Historical Society.
With information from the South Peace Archive, the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and Ancestry.ca.