Fonds AM1481 - Neil Gilchrist fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Neil Gilchrist fonds

General material designation

  • Textual record

Parallel title

Other title information

Title statements of responsibility

Title notes

Level of description


Reference code


Edition area

Edition statement

Edition statement of responsibility

Class of material specific details area

Statement of scale (cartographic)

Statement of projection (cartographic)

Statement of coordinates (cartographic)

Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


Physical description area

Physical description

1.3 m of textual records
ca. 437 photographs

Publisher's series area

Title proper of publisher's series

Parallel titles of publisher's series

Other title information of publisher's series

Statement of responsibility relating to publisher's series

Numbering within publisher's series

Note on publisher's series

Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

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.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of 65 diaries written by Neil Gilchrist from 1910-1975. Neil was 16 in 1910 and wrote an entry every day until he died in 1975. There are two diaries for the year 1918 and includes time he spent in the army. The entries reflect Neil's personal and business life while living in Vancouver. The first half of the diaries include his will. Most of the latter half include a retrospect of the year. Some diaries include a "forward glance" for the upcoming year. The majority of the diaries, especially the later ones, include his cash accounts and balances.

The fonds also includes correspondence, 1910-1942, and other textual records related to the School of Ophthalmology and Optometry in Los Angeles, as well as a photographs, 1886-1924, showing family, friends, scenes around Vancouver and British Columbia as well as a travel album from around the world.

Notes area

Physical condition

Many of the diaries have significant water damage.

Immediate source of acquisition

Donated by Jane Gilchrist in 2006 and 2010.


Language of material

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

File list available.

Associated materials

Related materials


General note

Biographical sketch written by Neil Gilchrist's daughter Jane Gilchrist.

Alternative identifier(s)

Standard number area

Standard number

Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Rights area

Accession area

Related subjects

Related people and organizations

Related places

Related genres