Blytha Copeman Pearkes

George Pearkes and Constance Blytha Copeman on their engagement day,
1924, as painted (from a photo) by her father W.FU Copeman.
Photo Courtesy of Tim Pearkes.

Constance Blytha Copeman Pearkes, who was born at Glenbow on 18 March 1902, led “an extraordinary life” due to “her wit, good humour and positive attitude” — and a bit of good luck.

In 1900, William and Edith Copeman, left England and purchased Waverley Ranch (now in the centre of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park). During a blizzard, which delayed William and the Calgary doctor, Blytha arrived safely thanks to the fortunate assistance of Nurse Marion Moodie. The Copemans remained at Waverley until 1906, then moved to British Columbia.

In 1914, while travelling to England, the Copemans providentially decided to give up their tickets for the Empress of Ireland, and to depart after a visit to New York. As a result, they narrowly avoided the largest peacetime maritime disaster in Canada: 1012 lives were lost when the Empress collided with another ship and sank in only 14 minutes.

When Blytha grew up, she chanced to meet a brave and decorated soldier, George Pearkes, when he was on leave visiting his family. Within nine days they were engaged, and their felicitous marriage a year later put Blytha’s life on a remarkable trajectory. 

George’s advancement in the military brought them into impressive social circles. When stationed in England, they met the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor), the Duke of Connaught, and Princess Patricia. Blytha was even formally presented at court (sponsored by Mrs. Vincent Massey) to the newly-crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother).

During WWII, George attained the rank of Major-General. Blytha’s role was to entertain all levels of society; not merely a hostess, she would also pitch in with the cooking if necessary. Additionally, she conducted her own “war work” — knitting clothes for soldiers and serving in military canteens. After the war, George retired from the army and became a Member of Parliament, eventually serving as Minister of National Defence from 1957 to 1960. Subsequently, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.

Consequently, Blytha became chatelaine of Government House and she rose to the challenge, “[welcoming] with equal ease Canadians from all walks of life and visiting heads of state.” In recognition, Constance Blytha Pearkes was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law by the University of Victoria in 1968. Additionally, she was recognized for using her “abilities and powers of leadership” to serve a wide variety of causes concerned with helping the sick and those in need. In a time when women’s accomplishments were over-shadowed by those of their husbands, Blytha’s abilities were formally acknowledged.

The good fortune that had transformed a ranch girl into a viceregal consort had enabled her to use her natural abilities to help others.

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