Anastasia Bird stands outside the middle school building at St. Margaret’s School holding the Sinking of the Iroquois: Fact and Fiction

A tragic, heroic connection helps 11-year-old girl win St. Margaret’s School scholarship

Anastasia Bird's great-grandfather helped pull former St. Margaret's principal from wreckage off North Saanich in 1911

If Anastasia Bird could ask her great-grandfather Leonard Horth one question, it’s this: “How did he climb up those rocks (at Curteis Point)?”

The 11-year-old has spent recent months researching her family history with a special focus on Horth who, along with his father Rufus and brother Brownie, were first responders to the sinking of the SS Iroquois near Sidney on April 10, 1911.

Twenty-one people perished in the disaster, including the original founders of St. Margaret’s School, sisters Edith and Isobel Fenwick.

It turns out the men used ropes and a horse saddle to pull people up the rocky bluffs near the Horth’s family farm in North Saanich. The first person rescued that day was Margaret Barton, principal of St. Maragaret’s.

Bird found out last week she’ll be the first to win the newly created Lakehill Community Scholarship to St. Margaret’s, valued at $22,000 over three years.

The scholarship will carry Bird through Grades 6 (which she starts in September), 7 and 8, at a school she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend.

“Anastasia went to a lot of trouble to research her background to find out as much as she could about her personal connection to the school, and she embodies the all-round student that we’re looking for,” said Kathy Charleson, director of admissions at St. Margaret’s.

Until Bird won the scholarship, there was no certainty that she would attend SMS.

Jennifer Paterson, Anastasia’s mother, initially had reservations about her daughter’s desire to attend the private school.

“Ana was only 10, so I didn’t expect her to understand what it would take. Her marks weren’t strong enough and I also told her I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

But Bird persevered to be a better student at Millstream elementary, became a leader for Girl Guides and Sparks, and upped her commitment to basketball and swimming.

It paid off, but there was still the matter of the tuition.

“Ana was serious so we approached the school and they explained the different scholarships available, including Lakehill. So we looked up the history of St. Margaret’s and saw that the (Fenwicks) died when the Iroquois sank. After a while it hit me, my grandfather (Horth) had a story of saving people from the Iroquois.”

It was game on then, as they visited The Sidney Museum and Archives. The museum didn’t reveal much about Horth, but led them to the major breakthrough they needed, the book The Sinking of the Iroquois: Fact and Fiction, by Joan Neudecker of Deep Cove.

“Right away I remembered (Neudecker), she was a teacher and I knew her when I grew up in Deep Cove,” Paterson said.

Turns out Neudecker had spent several hours with Horth before he passed away to conduct part of her research.

“Leonard and his brother Brownie, and a lot of young men from the area were instrumental in rescuing some of the passengers,” Neudecker said.

“Leonard was always known as Loe (pronounced low). He was quite elderly when I took him around the North Saanich district and he told me about every piece of land, who had farmed it, how many kids were there, the whole history. There wasn’t a great number of families around back then, only farms and farmhouses.”

When Bird and Paterson visited, Bird was reluctant to talk, Neudecker said, but it was clear she’d done a lot of research.

“Ana needed to tie it up, and obviously she did a good job.”

The Sinking of the Iroquois: Fact and Fiction is available at Tanner’s Books in Sidney or through Neudecker at jojoneudecker@shaw.ca.

St. Margaret’s also awarded the Centennial Scholarship to Olivia Burbee, who enters Grade 10 in the fall.

Burbee’s success in academics, leadership, service and extracurricular involvement have won her full tuition until graduation.

reporter@saanichnews.com