THOMAS JOHN HOPWOOD (1896-1974)

A British Columbia Telecommunications Pioneer

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Thomas John (Jack) Hopwood was born December 24, 1896 at 19 Kilburn Square, in the Hendon District of London, England. His mother Jessie Elizabeth Hopwood (nee Traish) and her husband Thomas Henry Hopwood were married at the parish church of St. James Clerkenwell in East London on December 23, 1895.

This branch of the "Hopwoods" were butchers by trade and lived in London since the 18th century and probably earlier. His paternal grandfather William Edwin Hopwood (1843-1905) and ancestors James Hopwood (1820 - abt.1885) and George Hopwood (ca 1790-1850) were butchers. His maternal grandfather Theodore Fitzroy Traish was a London metal jeweler (engraver) and great grandfather William Traish was an ale brewer and merchant. The Traish family is also rooted in the London area over several generations. Both families were members of the Church of England (Anglican).

From his earliest years Jack Hopwood displayed a happy and generous nature and a positive attitude to life. He was an astute, friendly and gregarious person with a wonderful sense of humor. He loved to share stories about his life and times with his family and friends. He was a great "tease", especially with the women of the family. Everyone liked Jack and enjoyed his open and trusting ways. As one who knew him as much as a loving son can, I never heard anyone ever say a bad thing about Jack Hopwood. He was loved and respected by all who knew him.

 Judging by the birthplaces of his brothers and sisters: Dorothy (1900) Old Hoxton, Laura (1903) Aldershot, Ernest (1904) and Joseph (1907) at Egham, his father Tom moved around London and the south of England frequently and finally settled at Staines, Middlesex, close by the present day London/Heathrow airport. Jack's sister Dorothy tells of periods when mother Jessie was not in good health, and that she and Jack were sent, from time to time, to stay with grandmother Eliza Hopwood. Jack attended Egham Hythe School in nearby Surrey until he was twelve years old.

In 1908 his father immigrated to western Canada. Although his father sent monies home from Canada, over the next five years the family lived through tough times. Jack, as the eldest son, gave up his schooling to obtain work to help meet the family's needs. He told of working a 12-hour day in a very hot linoleum factory and of selling newspapers at Epsom Downs horse race course, where he recalls that the "tips" helped to put food on the table for the family.

<--- Jack and sister Dorothy 1901

Meanwhile in Canada, Tom worked for Pat Burns Meats in Calgary Alberta and at Nelson British Columbia where he eventually established his own butcher shop. Needing help, he sent for Jack in 1912. Traveling alone Jack recalls sailing across the Atlantic and arriving at Montreal. He was met by and stayed overnight with a friend of his father. He then made the long 7-day train trip across the vast regions of Canada to the small city of Nelson in the beautiful West Kootenay region of southern British Columbia. His mother Jessie and the remaining children followed Jack to Canada in May 1913.

In 1913 Jack began work with Canadian Pacific Railway's (CPR) Telegraph Department. He started first as a messenger delivering telegrams, then a clerk serving customers at the front counter, and later as a Morse code telegraph operator. His skill as a telegraph operator started him in what was to become a long and distinguished career in telecommunications. He had a natural gift for interpreting the rhythmic sounds of the Morse code. During his early years as an operator he filled in at nearby towns such as Vernon, Fernie and Trail for telegraphers who were on holidays. In 1916 he served for a short time in the Canadian Army at Vernon BC. Due to his chronic asthmatic condition Jack received a medical discharge after a few months of army service.

His father's meat business did not prosper. Competition from established butchers such as Pat Burns Meats, and others, plagued Tom Hopwood as he sought to open other shops, principally at Silverton BC on the Slocan Lake. Tom apparently became unhappy and tensions rose between he and his maturing children. Jessie suffered from increasing paralysis and was confined to a wheelchair. Unhappily, some time during the years 1918-1920 Tom disappeared leaving Jessie and the family without support.

Jack as the eldest, with a full time job as a telegrapher, took on an additional job at the Nelson Daily Newspaper as a newswire operator. This, along with the contributions of his brothers and sisters, helped to provide a stabile life for the family. His mother Jessie became progressively more crippled and confined. At the news that Tom had been spotted at a butcher shop in Blairmore Alberta, Jack visited his father to encourage him to return home. His father refused. Shortly thereafter Tom left Blairmore and disappeared. Subsequent attempts to find him failed. The family never saw Tom again. Jessie died in 1923 at the age of 51 years. The loss of Jessie was devastating for the family and especially for Jack who suffered greatly over these unhappy events.

In 1924 he arranged to be transferred to CPR Telegraphs Vancouver office. As a highly skilled Morse telegraph operator he was assigned, along with Ashley Cooper (his soon to be brother-in-law), to the "hot wires" such as the "Press Wires" for Reuters, Associated Press and Canadian Press and well as the important "Stock" broker and "Bank" coding wires. It was during this period that he met Mona Williamson and her sister Phyllis who were operating Morkrum-Kleinschmidt tape teletype machines for sending and receiving telegrams. Jack and Mona courted for several years. Mona's Anglo-Irish ancestors were members of the Roman Catholic faith.  Jack and Mona married on June 11, 1928 at St Patrick's Church in Vancouver.

Jack and Mona lived with her mother in Vancouver for the first five years of their marriage. They were blessed with six children beginning with son Farrell (1929), followed by son Brendan (1930), twin girls Eileen and Mary (1932), and mixed twins Brian and Deirdre (1935). Jack and Mona were a happy couple and their children thrived in the atmosphere of love, of faith, of sharing and of acceptance. As with his own family, Jack cared for Mona's aging mother Ellen and her sister Phyllis during some of the latter years of the great depression and into the early 1940's.

During the 1930's he enjoyed the challenges offered by the exciting growth in telegraphy, telephony and network radio broadcasting. He was promoted as a "Wire Chief" and quickly took on responsibilities operating the expanding national and international communications networks of which the seaport of Vancouver acted as the hub for the pacific coast of Canada. He was assigned as a coordinator of communications during the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to British Columbia.  His role and duties increased substantially with the advent of World War II and the need to provide communication channels for military defense systems.

Jack was promoted to "Inspector of Communications" in 1943 and sent back to Nelson to manage the CPR telecommunication operations in the region that stretched from Midway BC to Crowsnest Pass at the Alberta border. This consisted of the open-wire pole lines and line crews along the railway right-of-way and the equipment offices and operators throughout the Kootenay and Boundary regions of southeastern BC. This region of glacier-covered mountains, swift flowing rivers, heavily forested valleys and countless pristine lakes is one of the most rugged and beautiful in the world. Mona and the children settled and enjoyed happy years in Nelson. Because of the vastness of his territory, Jack was frequently away from home supervising the operation and upkeep of the railroad's telecommunication system.

Jack was reassigned to the south central Kettle Valley region in 1946. At this transfer, he was permitted to settle the family in Vancouver, even though it was outside of his new area boundaries from Hope BC to Midway BC. During the war years the railway experienced a shortage of workers. Jack hired his sons, his nephew and their school chums to repair telegraph poles and wires during the summers of 1944, 45 and 46. Almost every one of his children worked for Canadian Pacific Telegraphs at one time or another.

Jack loved sports, especially fly-fishing, and was a first class 10-pin bowler. He set a record in Nelson for a game one pin short of perfect. He loved playing cards in friendly small stake gambling. He seemed to be naturally lucky. In 1946 he won a Lionís Club lottery on a small 10-acre farm in the Fraser River valley. Jack quickly sold the farm and purchased a house, in the West Point Grey area of Vancouver, which was to become the center of the life and activity for Mona and the children for many happy years.

CPR Linemen Repairing Lines in the Coquihalla Pass - Winter 1949-50

He experienced an unusual challenge during the late 1940's when he supervised the construction and maintenance of the telephone and telegraph lines through the famous Coquihalla Pass in the Cascade Mountains near Hope BC.  At the time, this was the main route for telecommunications between Canada's Pacific coast and the major cites of the rest of Canada.  Keeping the "lines" open to the east was a must!  BC Telephone Company provided the two top cross-arms of open wire carrying long distance multiplexed circuits to eastern Canada via the Coquihalla Pass. The railway and the open wire lines ran through this rugged territory, which is subject to dangerous snow avalanches, falling rocks and mudslides. The railroad was sometimes forced to abandon this route in winter.  Linemen were left at strategic locations in the Pass to travel on snowshoes and skis to repair wire lines damaged by heavy snow and avalanches. On occasion, lives and equipment were lost during extreme winter conditions. Jack was a great forager and kept his men well cared and provided for in the hostile environment of winter in the high Cascade Range. This was years before the introduction of radio microwave and space-satellite communications facilities.

In 1951 Jack was again assigned a new region. This time he managed the wire and cable plant on the railroads main line from Spences Bridge in the Fraser River Canyon to the City of Vancouver and all of Vancouver Island. He was responsible for the under-sea cables crossing the Straight of Georgia and for Trans-Pacific submarine cables off the West Coast of Vancouver Island through the Alberni Canal to the main shore terminal at Bamfield BC. These cables were extended out under the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand. Undersea cables were susceptible to corrosion. Tug boats with sea barges, complete with crews, were hired to lay and raise cables and to support repair work along the BC coast. Jack spent many days with the line and barge crews finding and working on faulty under-sea cables along BC waterways.  These years as a communications inspector were happy years for Jack. He developed a special close relationship with the men and women of the offices and the outside line crews that he supervised.

Above -- Sisters Dorothy and Laura with Jack.

Jack retired in June of 1962. He was just a few months short of 50 years service with the CPR. Shortly thereafter he and Mona traveled to Europe and to England, the land of their birth and early years. Daughter Mary accompanied her parents during this extended holiday. Jack was unable to find or contact any of his Hopwood relatives in the greater London area. The remaining years of Jack's life were spent looking after Mona and sharing in the lives of his children and their families. He truly missed his days with the "CPR".  He loved people and he loved family most of all!

Jack's lifelong chronic asthma, his heavy cigarette smoking and the progression of geriatric diabetes led to his untimely death. He died on February 14, 1974. He was 77 years of age.  The church funeral service was packed to overflowing with loving family and friends. He is buried in the Calvary section of Ocean View cemetery at Burnaby British Columbia.

Home Page    Canada    Wife Mona

To learn about his father click on - Thomas Henry Hopwood


ADDENDUM

Here is a partial list of names of CP Telegraph people that worked with Jack Hopwood over the years.

LINEMEN, CABLE SPLICERS & LINE GANGS

Vancouver & Fraser Valley

Bill Johnson, Olaf Bidal, Dan Farmilloe (aka-Ross Regan), Kingsley Brown, Ian MacInnis,  Brian Hopwood, Farrell Hopwood.

Henry Costain (Line Gang Forman), Line gang members -> Charlie Flamonge, Jack Sharkie, Gordon Banting, etc.

Kootenay's

Basil (Red) Dawes (Nelson), Chris Eng (Cranbrook), Johnny Lusk (Grand Forks), Gus Schucher (Line Gang Foreman), Don Cadden (Line Gang Foreman), Bob Boyd (Cranbrook).

Bob Boyd (Lineman & Summer Students Line Gang Forman - 1945), Howard Manchester (Line Gang Cook) John Hopwood, Farrell Hopwood, Bren Hopwood, George Turner, Dave MacInnis, Pat MacInnis.

Coquihalla Pass

Joe Phillips (Jessica & Portia), Jack Brookwell (Brookmere), Harold Saywell (Line Gang Foreman) Muriel Johnson (Line Gang Cook), Danny Siriani (Iago)

Vancouver Island

Bill Parkes (Qualicum) Eric ? (Nanaimo - Port Alberni)

TELEGRAPH OFFICE STAFF

Vancouver (428 West Hastings Street)

Bert Dettman, Alex Eadie, Ashley Cooper, Cheryl Goss, Madge McConnell, Bob Tombes, Bob Tombes Jr, Vic Tombes, Gordon Tombes, Len Hamson, Franklin Henry, George McNeil, Percy McLean, Bob McLean, Chuck Hunter, Ted Royce, John Young, Al MacLeod, Loyal Branson, Howard Biehl, Shorty Mac, Ralph O'Brien, Ed Smallenberg, Adam (Red) Ramsay, Art Mathews, Art Baker, Brian Mortimer, Byron Sheridan, Bren Hopwood, Eileen Hopwood, Farrell Hopwood, Mary Diceco, Bill Biehl, Percy Kaleen, Jack Hickey, Herb Purchase, Buster Broach, Ted Royce, Bob Tombe, Len Hamson, Percy Mc Lean, Bob Mc Lean, Clare Burnham, Alan Ramsey.

Nelson (SE corner - Baker & Ward Streets)

Harold Lupton, Ralph Scott, Fred Veal, Jack Watson, Mike Mangan


Submitted by John Farrell Hopwood, North Vancouver BC, Canada, January 2002. Revised, March 2003.