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Stalwart volunteer, early columnist, dedicated community member Alice French

How Alice French’s legacy resonates decades after her death
1935 -- Mrs. Alice French pictured on the left, operated Sechelt’s first lending library and gift shop in this building which was behind the present day Shell gas station on the north east corner of Cowrie Street and Trail Avenue. She served in the WAAF in WW1 and married Canadian service man Frank French, coming to Canada in 1919. She helped the Rev. Owen Derby put out The Eagle, Sechelt’s first newspaper, and later wrote articles for The Coast News and Peninsula Times newspapers, served on the first School Board, was a charter member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 140 and a member of the Rebekah Lodge. She died in 1973. For additional photographs see The Betty Twigg Fonds. Photographer unknown See also oversize photograph 6.15.117

Alice French arrived in Sechelt in 1919 from London, England. She had met and married Frank French who served with the First World War Canadian forces overseas. He was born in Orillia, ON, grew up in New Westminster and in 1913 acquired 40 acres in West Sechelt near his father’s property.

Norman Burley took Alice up to Frank’s cabin on Mason Road and later told Helen Dawe he had never felt so sorry for anyone as he watched her climb over logs to get to the cabin, the inside of which wasn’t finished. She stayed and over the years helped Frank build their home, a plumbing business, Sechelt’s first taxi service and first gas station

Alice soon became a volunteer in several Sechelt community organizations. She joined her father-in-law in 1920 on the board of trustees for the recently built West Sechelt School and helped as a charter member to organize the Royal Canadian Legion Sechelt Branch 140, remaining active in it until her death in 1973.

She was corresponding secretary in the Rebekah Arbutus Lodge and was made a life member of the Anglican Women’s Auxiliary in 1966. The Sechelt and District Liberal Association elected her an officer and granted her a life membership.

She found time to submit articles to Sechelt’s first newspaper The Eagle published by the Reverend Owen Derby who boarded with Alice and Frank, as did several of the early school teachers. The Coast News and The Peninsula Times printed many articles by her under the penname Aries. 

For 13 years she managed Herbert Whitaker’s and the Union Steamship Estates hotel dining room and according to Ron Whitaker “made a wonderful job of it.”

In the 1930s, Alice and Frank moved from West Sechelt to a house they had built behind their gas station on Cowrie Streer (today’s Shell Gas Station) and from a small cottage on their property, Alice ran a candy store and Sechelt’s first Lending  Library. In 1967 the Sechelt Public Library was built on  this lot, sold by Alice to the Village of Sechelt. It was reported in 1947 that Alice French was an expert fitter of “Nu-Bone Corsets.” A busy lady of many talents! 

An important part of Alice French’s life was her love of animals: the SPCA and several like organizations benefitted from her concern. She fed and looked after many stray or sick animals and her garden had feeding tables for birds and a water dish outside her fence for passing thirsty dogs. “Alice French was a dedicated member of this pioneer coastal community who knew the history, the people, the politics and problems of Sechelt.” Coast News, May 2, 1973. 

The following is inscribed on her gravestone in St Hilda’s Cemetery: “Not a day passes over the earth but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrow.”

A fitting tribute to Alice.