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John "Jack" McPhail

Born Born 8 May 1877 Caledonia Mines, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Married Married 20 Feb 1905 Ethel Hood at Hillcrest, Alberta
Died Died 3 June 1945 Blairmore



  1. Stanley McPhail; b. 5 April 1907 at Hillcrest, Alberta; d. 1942
  2. Gordon McPhail; b. 21 Sept 1910; m. to Helen Huchala
  3. John McPhail; b. 4 Oct 1912; m. to Tessie Bagley
  4. Harold McPhail; b. 4 Dec 1913
  5. Marjorie McPhail; b. 30 July 1918; m. to Robert Derbyshire
    1. Robert Derbyshire
    2. Richard Derbyshire

Jack’s Early Years

Andy, Harold, George and Jack John and Ethel McPhail were two of the very early residents of the Crowsnest Pass.

John (known to many as Jack) was born in Caledonia Mines, Cape Breton Island, on May 8, 1877. HIs father, Archie was an engineer and employed in the coal mines. The whole family relocated to Alberta (then known as the Northwest Terrritories) for the new opportunities opening up in the Crows Nest Pass. The Canadian Pacific Railway needed coal for their steam locomotives and the Pass was rich with "black gold" seams.

Jack and Ethel

Ethel was born Ethel Hood, daughter of Andrew and Jessie Hood, Hillcrest pioneers. She was born in Lethbridge, on November 17, 1887, being the second white girl born there. Her parents had come to Lethbridge from Stellarton, Nova Scotia, in 1885.

Jack McPhail came west from the Maritimes with his parents in the late 1880's [in 1901- JB ] to Fernie, B.C. They later moved to Frank, Alberta as did Andrew and Jessie Hood, the parents of Ethel. Both families were residing in Frank at the time of the Frank slide, and fortunately both escaped injury as they lived close to the outskirts.

Jack was working in Fernie at the time of the slide and caught the first train to Frank to see the family. Ethel often told of her father running down the street in his long johns when the slide happened, he was sure that there was an explosion in the mine and one of her brothers, Johnny Hood, was working in the mine at the time. She was often amazed at the stories that were published about the slide, as they were very inaccurate, particularly the one about the bank being buried, which was not true.

Jack and Ethel were married in Hillcrest on February 20, 1905, the first couple married in the hamlet. In 1907 on April 5, Stanley McPhail was born in Hillcrest and was the first child born there. Their first home in Hillcrest was a tent top with wooden sides and then they moved later to a log home, built by Grandpa Hood. In early 1910, they moved to Blairmore, and Gordon McPhail was born there on September 21, 1910. Jack McPhail fired the boilers at the Passburg mine during the early part of their marriage, worked a twelve hour shift and usually walked to work from Hillcrest.

On moving to Blairmore, he was employed by the West Canadian Collieries and continued as a fireman at the boiler house. During the days of Picariello, the famous bootlegger of the South, he was working at the mine one night and a car of booze, being smuggled through the Pass, (the era of Prohibition), was coming down from Lille. Apparently the police had been alerted and were waiting in Blairmore for them. However, they somehow knew this and unloaded the booze and put it under the bridge going to the mine and continued on to meet the police with an empty car. Another car was to follow later and pick it up. Unknown to them, Jack was a witness to this so when they left he helped himself to a supply of liquor. What the final outcome of this was, I am not sure.

John and Family On October 4, 1912, Jack Junior was born and on December 4, 1913, Harold, better known as "Red" was born. Another child, a daughter, was born on May 6, 1916 but passed away at the age of six months. Marjorie was born on July 30, 1918 in the present McPhail home, with Mrs. Archer as midwife. Marge is now Mrs. Robert Derbyshire of Lethbridge.

Just as a note of interest, Marge has in her possession, a number of diaries, kept by Ethel McPhail dating back to 1921, in which she often wrote the temperature of the day, interesting happenings of the district and scores of many hockey games and baseball games of the World Series, as she was an ardent sports fan. Many a hockey game the McPhails attended throughout the Pass and often went from one town in the Pass to another in a hay wagon on cold winter nights with friends, to support the Blairmore team.1

The Final Years for Jack

Jack McPhail became the Master Mechanic and steam engineer for the West Canadian Collieries and continued in this position until 1942 and then assumed a semi-retired position. He was unfortunately struck by the yard engine at the tipple, on June 3, 1945 and killed.

Ethel continued to live in the family home until she passed away on May 28, 1972. They were predeceased by Stanley in 1942. Gordon works in Grand Cache but has his home in Blairmore and has two sons and one daughter and is married to the former Helen Huchala. Jack married Tessie Bagley and has two daughters and one son and he now lives in the family home with Harold who never married. Marge also has two sons and lives in Lethbridge. Up to now there is only one great grandson to carry on the name of McPhail in the Crowsnest Pass.


The extensive personal history was obtained from the book, "Crowsnest and its People" pages 698-699, submitted by Marjorie (McPhail) Derbyshire.

Surname spelling per original article.

Census of 1881

Taken at Lingan, Cape Breton.

Person Sex Age Relation Birthplace Occupation Religion
McPHAIL, Archie M 31 married N.S. Engineer Presbyterian Canada
Agnes F 34 married N.S.   Presbyterian Canada
Alexander M 6   N.S.   Presbyterian Canada
John M 4   N.S.   Presbyterian Canada
William M 4   N.S.   Presbyterian Canada
James M 4m   N.S.   Presbyterian Canada
- 1881 Census for Lingan, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; District #6, Subdistrict I, page 144; microfilm C-13166.


  1. "Crowsnest and Its People" , by Crowsnest Pass Historical Society ISBN 0-88925-046-4, printed in 1979

-- JimBenedict - 30 Dec 2007
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I Attachment sort Action Size Date Who Comment
100.jpg manage 75.1 K 30 Dec 2007 - 07:14 JimBenedict John and Family
jackmacphail.jpg manage 48.0 K 01 Jan 2008 - 02:01 JimBenedict Andy, Harold, George and Jack

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