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Gilchrist, Neil

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Gilchrist, Neil

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Neil Campbell Gilchrist was born in Woodville Ontario on June 11, 1894, the third son of Margaret and Lauchlin Gilchrist. Neil had two older brothers, Bill and Jack, a younger brother Gordon and a younger sister Anna. The Gilchrist family lived in Woodville until 1899, where Lauchlin had spent nearly twenty-five years as a school principal, when Lauchlin decided to purchase a small cattle ranch near Bolsover, a hamlet fifteen miles away. In 1901 the family moved back to Woodville to a house in town.

On October 18, 1902 Neil's younger brother Gordon died after having his tonsils removed and developing diphtheria. Subsequently Anna suffered from diphtheria and quarantine was imposed for a month. As an adult, Neil wrote about how affected he was by Gordon's death. By the time Anna had recovered and the quarantine had ended, Neil's father had bought a forty-five acre vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley at Livermore California. There Neil entered third grade and was immediately nicknamed "Scotty" by his schoolmates. Baptiste Barthe ("Bap") and Herman Lienau became his closest friends. During his lifetime, Neil's friends were all important, maintaining their affection and loyalty by written correspondence when geographically separated.

In November 1905, the family left California to proceed via Vancouver to take up farming on the prairies. However, cousin Rod Campbell persuaded Neil's father to join him in the real estate business of McGregor and Company in Vancouver. A turning point for Lauchlin as he entered the Assessment Office of the city in 1908 and was Chief Clerk for ten years before retirement.

Life in the city was a constant delight for Neil and his friends. Through various changes of abode (540 Nelson, 1203 Bidwell, 1084 Denman, 1223 Bidwell) he expanded his social network and became completely at ease whether on foot, using public transport, or travelling by canoe to English Bay. In those early years, Neil and his friends built a tree-house which they called "Heaven" beyond Siwash Rock. Due to a near-drowning incident while playing tag on the False Creek log booms (he fell off the log booms into deep water and was rescued by his brother Jack), Neil soon learned to swim taught by Joe Fortes, Vancouver's renowned lifeguard.

Schoolwork was taken seriously and like several of his close friends (Ros Bryson, Russ Davidson, Ab Richards, Jack Orr) Neil went to Normal School and was well ensconced as a teaching principal in Armstrong at the outbreak of World War I. Neil's dilemmas in regard to enlisting were not resolved until late in the war. It was June 23, 1918 when he and two hundred of his regiment, the 5th Co. Royal Canadian Ground Artilery, C.E.F., arrived in Halifax where they were barracked at the Citadel (the fort) and a number were chosen to train on the heavy artillery. Neil wrote in his army diary how he and Ros Bryson tried to find a way over the walls of the fort. Some good friends such as Russ Davidson did survive Passchendaele and other horrific battles. Fortunately Neil's regiment was never sent overseas.

When the war ended, upon his return to Vancouver, Neil realized that were he ever to marry and want to raise a family, his career as a teacher did not provide sufficiently. Having a strong interest in the physiology of the eye, he went off to study at the Los Angeles Medical School of Optometry and Ophthalmology, eventually becoming an optometrist. He met Elsie Appleby Clark while she was in the employ of Strain Optical and although he thought she might not fancy an older fellow (he was nine years older) they began going to theatrical, musical and athletic events together, often in the company of friends. In September 1927 they were married and the following June Elsie gave birth to a daughter, Margaret Ellen. Two other daughters were born, Barbara Appleby (1934) and Jane Elizabeth (1942).

During the early years of his marriage, Neil had an office in Spencer's department store where he went through some difficult times establishing his practice, receiving moral support from Colonel Victor Spencer and other members of that family. By the time Timothy Eaton bought out Spencer's Neil had a loyal following of patients. He then moved his office to the Vancouver Block where he occupied the mezzanine for many years. When he was in his seventies, Neil moved to a smaller office on the fourth floor, keeping a five day a week schedule until Easter week of 1975 when he died from injuries sustained by a fall down the basement stairs.

As a United Church member, Neil attended service regularly, twice a day as a young man. He had an abiding faith in the existence of God and wrote his own memorial service extolling the miracle of life and the bounteous gifts he had received in his own: the love of family and friends, a deep pleasure in the wonders of nature, along with the knowledge that all Creation must be in the care of a power and intelligence far greater than any human mind could conceive.


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