HELEN WELSH YOST
1918 – 2012
Almost unique today in its significance, the passing of Helen Mary, a granddaughter of one of our founding families, was marked on Aug. 30 at one of Victoria’s most stately and ornate edifices, St Andrews Presbyterian Church.
Helen’s grandfather Jamie Welsh wed Mary Ellen Flynn on July 6, 1869 at Woodside. After her arrival in Victoria from Ireland, Mary Ellen had travelled by native cargo canoe, carrying her muslin bridal gown to Sooke. Married by Reverend Edward (later Bishop) Cridge, Jamie and Mary Ellen Welsh began their family life at Moss Cottage, built for them on land adjacent to the John and Ann Miller Muir home of Woodside. (A century later, this historic little cottage was dismantled and rebuilt at Sooke Region Museum.)
Jamie Welsh had arrived in the new colony a few years after the founding Muir family from Scotland had taken up land in Sooke in 1851. Jamie’s hard work and skills quickly became invaluable to the Muirs. He worked in the steam sawmill, felled the giant Douglas-fir and hauled them to the mill with oxen, plowed and harrowed the fields, again with oxen.
Back in County Meath, Ireland, his sister Matilda, lured by her brother’s tales of the new land, came out to Sooke, becoming the bride of Michael Muir. Before long, the remaining Irish sister Annie Welsh sailed across the ocean as well, becoming wife to John Muir Jr. One can imagine the camaraderie and fellowship (whenever the work let up) of these young couples, sharing a world of adventures in a new frontier.
Six children were born to Jamie and Mary Ellen Welsh. Sadly, the last two babies lie with Mary Ellen in the Muirside Cemetery, where childbirth took her in 1880. The blow of his loss left Jamie Welsh unable to care for his children.
The family was split up, with the eldest son William raised by the Muirs. One of the girls, Anne, brought up at St Ann’s Academy, joined the Order, becoming Sister Mary Mildred, and eventually rising to serve as Mother Provincial.
It was William Welsh who carried on the pioneer name. Inheriting his father’s innate pioneer work ethic, he became a carpenter and businessman as well as a farmer. He married Emma Way and the couple were blessed with four children. The family ran a large farm situated on the western side of Maple Avenue. Their sons Ernest, Harold, Patrick and their families all took part in the life of, and service to, their community.
Their treasured only daughter, Helen, born in 1918, attended Sooke Superior School when it had three classrooms to accommodate all the youngsters of the village. Helen’s lifelong appreciation of music was first demonstrated at the school’s Christmas concerts as well as by singing in the choir of Knox Presbyterian Church. She also enjoyed the basketball games at the old Charters Hall and the dances that followed.
In the 1930s when the Glinz family owned Woodside Farm and were serving chicken dinners on Sundays, Helen got a job helping out. In 1941 romance called, and she married Joe Yost, an electrician. Joe had a job at the Premier Gold Mine in the remote town of Stewart on the BC/Alaska border, and Helen joined him there.
When war threatened the coast in 1942, Joe Yost joined the army, serving in the Signal Corps. When he went overseas, Helen returned to Sooke, where their daughter Marilyn was born. When their daughter was in school, Helen went to work at Gibson’s Shopping Centre, where she was a popular staff member. Postwar, when Joe switched his electrical career from his Sooke business to BC Forest Products in Victoria, Helen was employed in a supervisory role at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
While Helen’s home was now in Victoria, her heart never left Sooke. Through the years, the family would get together for summertime reunions, often at Sunny Shores. She joined the congregation at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, where she sang in the choir and was also a member of the Bell Choir.
For 37 years she played the piano weekly for the patients at Mt. Tolmie Hospital and frequently at Oak Bay Lodge as well. Helen’s sense of humour, her positive, warm and welcoming nature brought an atmosphere of friendship and laughter wherever she went.
When Joe retired, the couple travelled each year, exploring many exotic places in the world. Still keeping her commitments to her pioneer family’s roots, Helen assisted in recording history for the Sooke Region Museum, and when her brother Ernie donated Moss Cottage to the museum to be restored, her knowledge of the historic little house was invaluable.
After she was widowed in 1986, Helen continued to travel on group tours, when perhaps her most memorable experience was riding a camel in Egypt. A much shorter trip close to home took place in 1989 when Helen joined with board members of the Sooke Region Historical Society in a delegation to an Agricultural Land Commission hearing in Vancouver.
The Historical Society had been engaged for some years in trying to acquire the Maple Avenue land that held the historic Muirside Cemetery. Without ownership of the land, it had become impossible to accomplish effective restoration of the important historical site, which held not only Muir graves, but those of Helen’s parents and her grandmother, Mary Ellen Flynn Welsh.
The application was successful, with the land commission allowing the property to be released and subdivided, so that a separated park/cemetery acreage could be purchased. All those on the excursion felt it was the eloquence of Helen Yost, as she described her family’s history and her childhood home that swayed the decision of the commission.
While the Sooke Lions Club carried out the major cleanup to restore the important cemetery, Helen too was a generous contributor. Together with her Muir cousin, Diane Acreman Alexander, Helen shared the honour of unveiling the historic markers at the Millennium Memorial Park at the opening in 2001.
During the past year illness had curtailed Helen’s activities and she had been a patient at the care home where she had played the piano for so many years. Almost 94 at her passing, she leaves her daughter Marilyn (Jerry Moss) grandchildren Brenda (Andy), Mike (Michelle) four great grandchildren, her brother Pat Welsh (Miriam) many nieces, nephews, cousins and a host of friends.
Sooke Region Museum