Part 1

Highway 16 now goes where the largest building is located and then to the top of the lowest point of the ridge beyond, circa 1928. /Photographer unknown

By Llyod Jeck

At the eastern edge of the wrinkled province of British Columbia, lies an ancient valley known as the Rocky Mountain Trench. This chasm, 1,500 km long and from 3 to 20 km wide, has its southern end in the state of Montana, and nudges closely to the southern border of the Yukon Territory in the north. To the east of this Trench lie the Rocky Mountains, nicknamed The Continental Divide, which forces drainage waters to three oceans, the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic. Mount Robson, at 3,954 m (12,972 ft), is the tallest peak in the Canadian section of this rugged range of mountains.

Mount Robson stands guard over the eastern edge of the Trench, southeast of the midway point of the province. It is in the shadow of this great peak that George Middleton Dennison may have first laid tracks as early as the year 1911, “and their homestead was granted in 1913.” George, with his wife Flora Elizabeth Dennison nee MacLaurin, and a nephew named Harold Brittain, established an outfitting business on the serene main valley floor, with the lofty Robson summit towering 2,829 m above them.

Dennison & Brittain Outfitting prospered for twenty-five + years and, in 1927, they hosted a large party numbering eighty-five enthusiasts from the Mountaineers, a group from Seattle, Washington. There will be further coverage of this event a bit later, but first I will introduce the hosts themselves in greater depth.

When a trio of people leave their mark in a pocket of pure raw nature, as these folks did, it peaks one’s curiosity as to what may be hanging on the limbs of their genealogical tree. George Dennison was born 28 October 1870 and Baptism for George took place on 17 January 1872 in Bramley, Yorkshire. During the 1871 England Census, records show wee George as being age 5 months and living with his maternal grandparents and their children. As the early Census spelling shows Dennison, that is the name spelling the author will use throughout this narrative. In this same England Census, it does not show the name of George’s mother, Elizabeth (Middleton) Dennison, and she may have died soon after George was born.

In England’s 1881 Census, George, at age 10, was still with his maternal grandparents, their surname being Middleton. At age 18, the young lad was employed as a factory hand. Whether it was a practical joke, or he was hungry, authorities charged him with stealing two hens which earned him a one-month jail sentence. This little stray from an ethical lifestyle may have frightened him, for nothing traceable, of this nature, showed up again. 

On 10 March 1890 George, according to his Attestation and Military record, enlisted in West Yorkshire Regiment, No. 2661. His twelve + year service record (10 Mar 1890 to 30 Jul 1902), included locations in, or at, Home, East Indies, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Singapore, Home, Reserve, Home, and South Africa. By 14 September 1896 he had qualified for Sergeant but, unfortunately, his personal discipline resolve weakened, and on 26 December 1896 he was awaiting trial for “Drunkenness on duty” and sentenced “To be reduced to the rank Private.” On 9 Oct 1899, the military recalled George to Army Service under Special Army Order 7 Oct 1899; Campaigns: Transvaal (South Africa) 1899-1900.                    

George, at age 32, was back in England in 1904 and active as a boot maker. This is the year when he and Harriet Moorhouse, 23, were married. Witnesses at the wedding were Frederick Moorhouse and Laura Brittain. Research did not reveal further information regarding Harriet and, when George arrived at Halifax Nova Scotia from Liverpool, on the Corinthian, on 22 Mar 1911, he was by himself. On arriving at Halifax, he declared that his intended occupation was farming and that he had two years’ experience as a gardener and thirteen years as Stableman. This qualified him for the British Bonus. There was no evidence to show that George was not alone as he moved on to Edmonton. 

In July 2020, the author received information about the Dennison & Brittain outfitting business at Mount Robson. This information came from the administrator of the Valemount Museum and is an excerpt from a book entitled British Columbia Place Names in the Vicinity of Mount Robson, by James L. Swanson. Here is a part of that excerpt:

“British-born George M. and Florence E. Dennison ran stopping places for the teamsters hauling on the construction of the Grand Trunk and Canadian Northern Pacific railways. They settled in the Mount Robson area around 1910, and (the government granted) their homestead in 1913. With his nephew, Harold Britton, George ran a guide and outfitting business until the 1940s, called Dennison & Britton. The brand for their horses was the Diamond D B. He occasionally worked for the guide, Jack Brewster out of Jasper. George Dennison had been a major in the British Calvary during the Boer War.”

Ranch yard at Robson. Lad in back may be Brittain circa 1928. /Photographer unknown (Lloyd Jeck Collection)

The exact date when George and Florence (Flora) were married is not clear. Marriage records indicate that Florence had been married two times prior to getting married to George; first to Mr. Arline Carver in 1901, and second to Mr. C. E. Warren in 1906. Further, “1910 U.S. Census, Hillyard, Spokane, Washington: Florence Warren 35, divorced, lodger in a boarding house, immigration year 1890.” George and Florence may have been married between 1912-1915, but research found no documentation to verify this.

The nephew, Harold Brittain, was the son of Mary Ann Dennison (sic) and her husband Robert Joseph Brittain. Mary Ann, George Dennison’s sister, was born in 1861, making her nine years older than George. The name Brittain has deep English roots, first appearing in the 11th century. Over the years, people have altered the spelling of the name in diverse ways. In post-1700 Canada, the name George Brittain Dennison showed up in the Toronto area. 

So, we now have the outfitting business set up at Mount Robson and have introduced the three principals involved in the operation of that enterprise. It is now time to bring forward the main point of this writing exercise. That being the outfitters hosting eighty-five members of the Mountaineers group from the Seattle area in Washington, USA. The year was 1927 and the group planned for a camp to be set up in the Berg and Adolphus Lake’s area, where they could spend a week exploring.