It started with an email from a Vernon researcher.

“I’m looking into the stories behind the people who were imprisoned in Vernon Internment Camp during World War I.  They were thought to be enemy sympathisers because they were born in the Austria-Hungarian Empire."

“Do you know anything about Henry Puff? He and his dad served briefly in Vernon,” Don McNair wrote in an email.

I knew Henry and August but didn’t know they had been interned.  I knew that the son did not serve in the Canadian military like many of Salmon Arm’s young and not-so-young men.  I did know they were Bohemian born, coming to Canada in 1903.  Father was a tailor, according to the ship’s records. He immigrated first with his wife Maria and youngest son Heinrich, landing in New Brunswick. The next month Bertha, Emma and Gustav and a young child Elea arrived. All headed for Winnipeg. August found work at P. Gallagher and Son, meat wholesalers.

Three years later, Bertha and her family were living in Irvine, Alberta, but older sister Emma had relocated to Calgary. The whole family pull up roots and moved to Salmon Arm and the local adventure began. . . 

Archives volunteers Don and Doreen Paterson had a membership with I needed information on Bertha, the dressmaker who set up shop in Salmon Arm in 1907. Don and Doreen filled in my blanks.

The Salmon Arm Observer noted when Miss Bertha Puff opened her shop after her sister, Emma, married Hugo Weber, a Swiss born farmer who had purchased 10 acres of Don Sinclair’s homestead.

Bertha Puff’s Dressmaker Shop at R.J. Haney Heritage Village is based on a real business, a real person and a real history, but Bertha’s story was about to get even more real.

Researcher Don McNair was looking for a book on Amazon. It was titled The Puff and Schimmer families, 1855-1968. He knew it was published in 1987 and was 370 pages long. He knew from the Google description that the family lived in the “area of Salmon Arm” about 1903-1921.

Did I have a copy in the archives? No, my volunteers, the Patersons, hadn’t found a copy of the book in their search.

I sent Don McNair a copy of Doreen and Don’s research, the newspaper references to the family, and the family’s property tax records. 

McNair is an excellent researcher. Luckily he had tracked down the author, Yvonne McCord. McCord is an 83 year old genealogist who has five books to her credit, now living in California.

 “And, by the way, she’s quite willing to send you a book,” Don wrote. “I hope you’ll share the information you sent me with her as well.”

“Give her a call,” Don went on to say, “but be prepared to listen. Yvonne McCord knows a lot of family history.”

 “Of course!” I replied. I started emailing Yvonne the records I’d sent to Don. Then, thinking she might be interested, I sent digital “photos” of the exterior and interior of Miss Puff’s shop at R.J. Haney Heritage Village. I sent her the design plans. I told her about the paint colour and wall paper choices and how the project had been funded by Fabricland owners Denise and Fred Green.

I soon found out the author had a personal interest in the family. Yvonne McCord was Emma Puff’s granddaughter. Her mother was a Weber. Suddenly I had a real connection to Bertha! 

I asked Yvonne if she had photos of Bertha and her parents. Yes! And she offered to get her daughter to send the Museum copies. We’d have them replicated for the dressmaker’s shop. Miss Puff will finally have a face!

 I can’t help thanking Don for his contact information. One researcher’s work looking for help ended up filling the blank spots in our story.

Photographs courtesy of Yvonne McCord
1. Featured photo: Charles and Bertha Fischer. Bertha was our Miss Puff.

2. Top photo Charles, Bertha, and their 5 1/2 year old niece Cecelia Weber. Cecilia was born in Salmon Arm in 1908. The Fischers raised Cecilia after her parents passed away.

3. Emma and Hugo Weber. Emma was Bertha's older sister. Hugo had a farm in Salmon Arm but also worked in China as an interpreter.