The bright life of Lillian Mulvany

Barney and Lillian Mulvany washing clothes in front of their hotel, the Cheslatta.

Lillian Mulvany doesn’t get half the credit of her famous husband, Trygarn Pelham Lyster (Barney) Mulvany, but by all accounts, she was a remarkable person in her own right.

Born Lillian Ruth Hill, she hailed from Boulder, Colorado and her arrival here coincided with that of the railroad. Described by her husband as “a big blond woman – good looking and pretty … a very competent sort of person,” she was an accomplished singer and dancer who was reportedly well-liked by those who knew her.

Not much more is known about Lillian’s life before she arrived in Burns Lake. She clearly caught Barney’s fancy, though, because the couple married on June 23, 1914 at the Mulvany homestead on Sanctuary Lake. Because Barney was known throughout the north, newspapers as far away as Prince Rupert reported the wedding. “The bride,” stated one writer, “is charming and popular in a wide district, and Barney is complimented on winning her.”

Lillian might have come from a larger community than the one she settled in, but she was anything but a soft city girl. When Barney was still in the packing business, she ran his hotel (the Cheslatta). At first, she had help from Bob MacDonald, who (as Barney put it) did the “heavy work in connection with the hotel,” but MacDonald quit when his new wife voiced objections to his chosen occupation. After that, Lillian ran the business on her own, but often took time off to accompany her husband on packing trips into the wilderness.

She also made one long pack train trip with a group of land locators who were in the area cruising property and timber. Barney was short staffed at the time, so Lillian rode the bell (lead) mare, did the cooking for the 11-man party, and helped care for the 35 pack and saddle horses. “I paid her regular wages,” Barney later wrote. “She did a good job… She liked that kind of life… It was like a family party.”

Sadly, the Mulvanys’s time together was short. In the fall of 1921, Lillian became ill with an undisclosed ailment. Her condition quickly worsened, as described in the diary of her friend, Mrs. Mabel Hatch:

Oct. 3, 1921 – Mrs. Mulvany down sick in bed. Pretty low.

Nov. 21, 1921 – Mrs. Mulvany, she is pretty low, change for the worse.

Nov. 21, 1921 – Came to see Mrs. Mulvany but didn’t go down there, Bob (Hatch) said it might be contagious and not to take any chances.

Lillian Mulvany died at 5:45 a.m. Nov 21, 1921. Roman Catholic by faith, she was buried in the only consecrated ground in Burns Lake at the time – the Catholic cemetery traditionally used to inter the remains of First Nations people. Father Allard performed the service.

Judging from the tone of his later writings, Barney carried the sadness of her death for the remainder of his life. He never remarried.

© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society

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Lillian Mulvany (left) with her friend Mabel Hatch.

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