First Nations Baskets at the Langley Centennial Museum
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Kathleen Edith Pearson (1887-1975)
Basket Collector

Research by Irene Bjerky

Kathleen Edith Pearson was born on July 6th, 1887 in Cache Creek, BC. Her parents were James Edwin Pearson and Elizabeth Bartholomew McCarthy, both of English birth. The Pearsons lived in North Bend. (1)

Kathleen attended All Hallows in the West School for Canadian Girls, which was a later addition to the original All Hallows School for Indian Girls. (2) The Anglican nuns who ran the school had such a good reputation for their teaching skills that the European settlers wanted to send their daughters to be educated there, and the 'Canadian' school was born.

Miss Pearson's name does not appear on the Canadian School register in the AH Digests of 1900-1911, but a Miss Catherine S. Pearson is entered on the waiting list, along with another girl, Mabel M. Pearson, probably her sister. (3) Another possible sister on the register is Gwendolyn Pearson. (4) All are from Vancouver. It is unknown at this time if these girls are related to Kathleen, or if her name was perhaps misspelled as Catherine. It is more likely that Kathleen attended All Hallows before the 1900 Digest was begun.

Basketry was part of the curriculum for the aboriginal girls at All Hallows, (5) and most likely where Kathleen acquired her interest for them. It is also likely that here was where she made her contacts with the families of the makers whose baskets she collected, as many of them either attended All Hallows or had daughters who did. However, it appears that of the recorded makers of the baskets that she collected, most of them came from the North Bend area, so she likely collected baskets made close to her home.

Kathleen collected her baskets before or during the early 1920s in North Bend, and in 1993 her daughter, Mrs. Aida Freeman of Port Coquitlam donated a number of them to the Langley Centennial Museum, and the remainder the following year to the Historic Yale Museum.

Miss Pearson married Frederick William Southwell on February 20th, 1912. (6) Southwell was a locomotive engineer on the CPR, and also a resident of North Bend. He was born February 20th, 1886 in Norfolk, England to William Southwell and Mary Jane (Polly) High Makins.

After North Bend, the Southwells moved to Revelstoke, BC, (7) most likely because the CPR transferred Fred there. My recently discovered distant relative, Warren Ogden of Salmon Arm, remembers them well, along with her daughter Aida Freeman.

It is really interesting because I used to call Kay 'Grama Southwell' when they lived in Revelstoke. When I was about 14, I spent a weekend with the Freemans at their home using their lapidary equipment to make my mother and grandmother brooches and my grandfather a belt buckle. I have all three.

I remember the baskets that she had in the house at Revelstoke. Somewhere I also have a picture of the room that they were in. It may take awhile to find it. I'm not sure if the baskets are in the picture. Kay's husband worked for the CPR and when they phased out the old steam locos he retired.

There was some kind of connection between Kay and my grandmother Millie (Mildred) but I'm not sure what it was. It could have been just friendship, but it seemed like more. I will have to talk to Colleen **** my first cousin and see if she can remember what it was.

Pat found the pictures of the Southwell's living room but no baskets are showing. They did love the outdoors, as there are three bear rugs on the floor. I can also remember going hunting with her and my grandmother. They were interesting ladies and could shoot very well.

I believe that Bill Freeman worked for the CPR. I'm not sure but I think Aida was a registered nurse. I think that Kay Southwell only had the two girls, Aida and Ida. It has been 40 years since I last seen Aida and Bill and they lived somewhere in the greater Vancouver area. If you can find an address from when she donated the baskets I would like to make contact with the Freemans again not just for the baskets but on a personal level. Bill and Aida would be getting on in years they may possibly be in their 80s.

Kay Southwell was an outdoors person from the word go. She loved to hunt, fish, rock hound or go berry picking. She had one bad leg and always walked with a cane. When you went on an excursion with her you did not know when you were coming back because if she found something interesting she would just set up camp. She always had a pack board and it had everything she needed for living in the bush. She could put up a shelter for two or three people in a matter of minutes and have something on the fire and cooking at the same time. When Kay and my grandmother Mildred got together, it was like being in a dream world the way they worked together. I can recall these two ladies skinning and cutting up and stowing away a deer faster than my father and grandfather could skin out a deer. Kay's favorite gun was an old double barreled 410 shot gun which she was an expert shot with.

The baskets in the picture you sent do not look familiar but it has been roughly 50 years since I last saw the baskets in Revelstoke. I have not seen any baskets like the ones that they used for berry picking. They looked more like woven mats that were folded over with handles. (I do not remember seeing that type of basket in the house.) When you filled these they would use smaller bowl-like baskets to sort in and these were the ones like the first picture from Colleen's but most of them had no pattern markings on them. I do not recall ever seeing any of the baskets from the one room in the house ever being used to pick berries in. I do remember something about the baskets having to be sprayed with water once in awhile. Does that make sense?

When we come down I will bring the few pictures that I have of the grand old house that the Southwells used to live in at Revelstoke.

I wish I could be of more help but when I was 5 or 6 years old packing the 410 was much more interesting than packing the baskets.

I am looking forward to see more of the baskets. This kind of thing sure brings back a flood of memories." (8)

The Southwells moved to Vancouver later in their lives, and Frederick died of heart disease on January 19th, 1973. Kathleen followed him two years later of cerebral vascular disease. She died on November 29th, 1975, and is buried with her husband in the Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, BC.


1. BC Vital Statistics
2. Information on Accession Register, Historic Yale Museum, from daughter Aida Freeman, basket donor
3. All Hallows Digest, Canadian School, 1909; 1910, pp. 16-17 4. All Hallows Digest, 1906-1910
5. All Hallows Digest, Eastertide, 1909, p. 25-26
6. BC Vital Statistics
7. Personal Communications, Sonny Campbell and Warren Ogden. (According to property tax rolls at the Revelstoke Museum, the Southwells purchased a home there in 1923).
8. Personal Communication, Warren Ogden.