“It was a different world,” Wayne Speller likes to say as he recounts the details of his family history.
He is one of 19 grandchildren of Alexander and Melville Speller, an English couple who put down roots in Saanich 100 years ago this month.
Alexander met Melville (née Blackwell) in Toronto in 1908 and two years later they were married and had a son, Alex.
The following year Alex Sr. packed up his wife and baby and headed west, because, “the truth be known, he wanted to get away from his family,” Wayne confided.
So, in April 1911, the Spellers moved into a two-bedroom family home at Tillicum and Carey roads. Between then and 1924, Melville had seven more children. Lewis, Earl, Stanley Maurice (Wayne’s father), Ethel, Lionel, Murray and Roy were all born in the house. Next door to their home, Alex Sr., a locksmith by trade as well as a door-to-door salesman, built the family business: Speller Service Station.
While it was standard for kids to sleep two-to-three in a bed, 10 people in a two-bedroom was a bit much and the family moved next door to live in an addition at the back of the general store. The homes still stand, but are no longer owned by the Spellers.
The family has had a marked presence in Saanich since the early days of the single gas pump outside the service station that sold ice cream and canned good to folks heading way out to West Saanich Road. The Spellers had a reputation for their soccer skills, teaming up with fellow pioneers, the Robinsons, under the name the Spobbins in 1947.
Lionel was perhaps the best known child, as the founder of the B.C. branch of the Hong Kong Veteran’s Association of Canada. Lionel was one of the members of two Canadian battalions sent to defend the British colony in Hong Kong, where he was captured soon after his arrival in 1941. He spent 44 months as a prisoner of war, including labour in an open-pit iron mine in Suwa. He was also an active member of the Social Credit Party of Canada.
Ninety-four years old and still living independently in Saanich, Alex and Melville’s daughter Ethel Loudoun is one of their two surviving children. Recognized as a community pioneer, her youngest brother Roy – now 87 – lives in Victoria.
Unlike some of his many cousins, Wayne lived at various locales across the country, settling back in his hometown in his 60s with his wife Angela for the weather and the gardening, he says. Wayne, a grandfather to one, has two more grandchildren on the way, although none who live in Saanich.
Back in the different world of the 1920s and 1930s – a time Wayne likes to revisit through photos of his parents on Christmas Hill during their early days dating – homes and steady jobs seemed to keep families close.
“They tend to drift more and more as the generations move along.”