Banff Triangle: (Peter Ross, Eric Christmas and Mollie Smith)

By Penley, J. Kenneth | Alberta History, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Banff Triangle: (Peter Ross, Eric Christmas and Mollie Smith)


Penley, J. Kenneth, Alberta History


Over the years there have been many romantic triangles and they have, in many cases, contributed to history. We might cite, for example, Cleopatra, Marc Antony and Julius Caesar. Historians might not have known as much about the Egypt of those days had it not been for the courtships of the two men with Cleopatra. A triangle, however platonic, existed in the Banff area from about 1888 to 1892. One of the principals in this triangle was an amateur artist who made sketches of the terrain, some of the town's social activities, and the courtship itself.

The two men involved in this triangle were Peter Ross and Eric Christmas, while the object of their affections was Mollie Smith.

Peter Murray Ross may have been the first of the three on the Banff scene. He was a native of East Zorra township in Ontario, born in 1863 of two pioneer Highland Scottish families. He had a career in pharmacy which started with an apprenticeship with a Mr. Scott of Woodstock. After passing his examinations Ross went West in 1884 and operated what his family believed to have been the first drug store in Banff.(1) This may have been located on the south side of Banff Avenue in a wooden building with a false front. As late as 1951 this was the only such building still standing. On the outside west wall one could make out the words "Drug Supplies."

Ross may have been associated with D.W. Bole in this or another business, as indeed he worked for Bole for several years in later life. The Dawson Bole & Co. was in business on Banff Avenue in those days.(2) Other accounts(3) suggest that Dr. R.G. Brett opened the first pharmacy in Banff, but if so, Ross may have still been the first on-premises pharmacist in the young community. It is said that Ross, Dr. Brett, and the Reverend Charles W. Gordon of Canmore were very good friends and indeed called themselves "The Three Musketeers." Charles Gordon was a Presbyterian missionary assigned to cover the territory around Banff. He later wrote several novels under the pen name of Ralph Connor and went on to win acclaim as an author.

The Reverend F. Granville Christmas was the first Anglican clergyman in Banff. Better known to some of his friends at that time as Eric Christmas, he had a sense of humour and artistic skill which has been preserved for generations by a collection of his sketches, often accompanied with descriptive verse. The likeness of some of the characters he drew might identify a few of the early citizens of Banff but, apart from D.W. Bole, only three are named or indicated, they being himself, Peter Ross, and the object of their affections, Mollie Smith.

Mary Emma Jane Smith, better known as Mollie Smith, was born ca. 1860 in Jackson, Michigan, and came to Banff for health reasons about 1889. She was a clever, cultured lady, an outstanding horsewoman, and a gracious hostess in the early days at Banff. Although she returned to Michigan for visits, she was a Banff resident from about 1889 until 1892.

The two suitors and Miss Smith seem to have been firm friends who are depicted in the Eric Christmas' pen and ink drawings as having a good social life together. The three are depicted as they take a team and sled to Devil's Lake (Minnewanka), play cards, and walk to church together. Christmas depicts himself as a real or imagined presence as Ross and Mollie engage in some embraces, which would indicate that Ross was becoming the more successful suitor of the two. Christmas indeed admitted that he had become the loser in his pursuit of Mollie in one of his cartoons in which he pens these lines:

If you, by my wishes, could be

bound,

You should have "Christmas" all year

round.

Alas! comes the answer Nonsense

and Stuff,

Six months of "Christmas" is more

than enough.

In a letter(4) to Peter Ross, written February of 1891 from Dresden, near Jackson, Michigan, where she was visiting, Mollie makes reference to having been at the sanitarium in Banff as well as one in Jackson. …

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