Miles Henderson, the first manager of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)’s Burns Lake branch, was born in Lochaline, Scotland, in 1890 to parents Henry and Catherine (the latter a descendent of famous African explorer and missionary David Livingstone). He entered the banking business while in his mid teens, and worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland in Lesmahagow (Lanarkshire) for four years.
In 1909, Miles left Scotland for Canada. Not much is known of his life here until July 31, 1915, when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s 62nd Battalion (British Columbia) in Vernon.
Miles served in England and France during the First World War, participating in the bloody Battle of Vimy Ridge and earning two medals. He suffered a shrapnel wound in his left arm in 1918, and while recuperating in England, met Frances Winifred Eustace (or “Winnie,” as she was more commonly known), a young war widow from Chenies, Herefordshire.
Miles was discharged in June 1919. He returned to Canada, and became the first manager of the RBC’s Burns Lake branch (which at the time was located in a small building on the south side of the railway tracks near the Gerow’s hotel). Having secured steady employment, he sent for his betrothed, and the two were married in the St. John’s Anglican Church on June 2, 1920.
While Miles adapted well to pioneer life; he loved fishing (particularly at Kager Lake) and enjoyed picnics. Winnie, however, found the adjustment more difficult. She was dreadfully afraid of bears, hated the cold winters, and detested the black flies that accompanied summer. She didn’t appreciate having to make her own bread, either, and wasn’t fond of living in a log cabin.
The couple’s first child, Netannis, was born on March 19, 1921 in the midst of a late winter blizzard.
The snow was so deep and the weather so inclement that the doctor almost didn’t arrive in time to help with the birth.
In 1920, the Royal Bank started construction on a new bank building on the site of the present RBC branch. The wood frame structure featured offices on the ground floor and living quarters upstairs. “It’s a fine building and nicely finished inside,” Miles wrote in a note to his mother. “Hot air heating, hot and cold water to (sic), and (we) are expected to get an electric unit this winter.”
The Hendersons moved into the new building on Sept 25, 1921. Winnie must have felt she’d died and gone to heaven.
Around this time, the Hendersons bought an automobile. Their Model T was the first registered in the area, but likely saw limited service. There were few roads here, and those that did exist were mostly corduroyed.
Miles was active in civic affairs, serving on the Anglican Church building committee and the Burns Lake Citizens Association. He was known for his patience and polite customer service.
Once, an Indigenous man – a well-known and successful fur trader – deposited money in the bank. The man later came to withdraw it, but hesitated after accepting the bank notes. “Oh, no,” he said, “these are not mine. They have different numbers.” Miles took the time to explain banking to the customer, who went away happy.
We don’t know exactly when the Hendersons left Burns Lake, but by 1926, the RBC’s Burns Lake branch had a new manager: J. Yool. One thing is certain, though: few of RBC’s subsequent representatives have made such a lasting impression on this community and its residents.
© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society