One man’s mission to solve a neighbourhood mystery has been solved – and it took just a little more than a week.
Earlier this month, Ocean Park resident Bill Field reached out to the Peace Arch News in an attempt to find out more information about two long-deceased people whose names are engraved on a headstone found by work crews redeveloping a property in the 12900-block of 13 Avenue, just west of Field’s home.
The memorial lists two people – Frank D.B. Johnson (1891-1955) and Louise L. Johnson (1880-1967).
Work immediately stopped at the site, Field said, while more information could be tracked down.
Field, who has lived about a half block east of the site since 1986 – “We’re the last of the reverends’ cottages from Camp Kwomais, and the last (property) with any trees,” he said – had never heard of the Johnsons before. He told PAN that three generations of the Tuttle family had lived there, dating back to the 1930s, until the last member of the family sold the property and moved out “in about 2004 or ’05.”
The flat memorial stone is close enough to the road that Field believes it lies on part of the property that used to be owned by the city, until, he says, Morley Tuttle purchased part of the road allowance from the City of Surrey in the 1970s.
There are two homes currently on the property, Field said. One is occupied, while the second one is the site of the re-development work.
An email to the City of Surrey’s planning and development department last week was not returned.
Field heard about the headstone when another neighbour, whose house overlooks the under-development property, emailed him to tell him what the crew had found. In an effort to help, the 73-year-old Field said he wandered over to the property, where RCMP were now on site, thinking that the headstone was, in fact, something entirely different.
‘There used to be a set of small markers – not headstones, but markers – that were closer to 13 Avenue on that same property. You used to be able to see them from 13th Avenue, and I’d see them when I’d go for a walk,” Field explained.
“But I can’t find them now because a cedar hedge has grown so tall. I believe those markers were Tuttle-related, so when I heard, I was thinking, ‘Oh, I know all about that’ but when I got there, the RCMP led me to this one, which was different.”
Field suspected the headstone was either marking the spot that ashes were spread, or simply a remembrance stone with no ashes or other remains underneath.
His interest piqued, Field decided to try to track down information on the Johnsons himself, though early in his research, he told PAN that finding anyone who knew of them was difficult, because all the neighbourhood’s longtime residents have either moved away or died.
“When I moved here in ’86, we had a neighbour on one side in his 90s, another one in his late 90s… two or three doors down we had (a woman) who was 101. And back then, you could talk to them and they’d tell you all kinds of stories about the neighbourhood,” he said.
“But I seem to be the go-to guy for that now, I guess.”
Early in his search, he also called every Tuttle he could find in B.C., but the effort turned up no new leads.
As well, he searched old records from the Ocean Park Community Association, without any luck.
Field also reached out to the BC Genealogical Society for help, thinking they may have records of the pair.
And that’s when he finally had some luck.
“We struck gold,” he said.
From the BCGS, Field received – in exchange for a small donation to the non-profit society – a copy of the official death certificate for Frank Johnson, as well as, from ancestry.com, photos of both Frank and Louise who, it turns out, also went by Harriett, or Hattie, which was her first name.
“You can see on Frank’s death certificate that he was cremated and it is possible that Hattie/Louise was also cremated and that the headstone you have found is a memorial for these people,” a note from the BCGS reads.
After combing through the new documentation, Field discovered that the Johnsons were friends with one member of the Tuttle clan, Aubrey, through education in Calgary, and the pair rented the tiny cottage on the property for a time.
“They obviously enjoyed the Tuttle property so much that they decided to make it their final resting place,” Field said.
On April 8, Field told PAN that a Surrey utilities crew was back on the property, but told him the intent is to leave the headstone in place.
“Where it deserves to be,” Field added.
If the new owner of the property is uncomfortable with that arrangement, only then would it be moved, Field said he was told.
Just over a week ago, Field also finally made contact with a Tuttle relative, who was going to work with other relatives in an attempt to track down a child of the Johnsons, if possible.
“(They) may not know about their parents’ grave site. They may wish to take possession of the marker.”
In the days since, Field has managed to learn more about the Johnsons through communication with Tuttle family members who have started to contact him. Frank, it turns out, was a popular teacher and vice-principal in the Calgary area before moving to Ocean Park. Originally born in Dartmouth, N.S., he was also heavily involved in sports – one newspaper article calls him “a leader in high school athletics and the YMCA for many years” – and also once earned a newspaper mention for getting a hole-in-one on a local golf course.
He retired from teaching due to ill health, one article notes.
“I’m getting to know the Johnsons pretty well,” Field said in an email to a Tuttle family member that was also sent to PAN.
Field said that, with regard to the headstone, he and his wife would “gladly have it placed on our property” as a way to keep it in the neighbourhood, should removal from the neighbouring property become necessary.
Regardless of where the quest goes from here, Field was happy to simply know a little bit more about the marker, which had sat unseen and forgotten so long.
“Mystery solved,” he said.