Lives of Adventure
4 July 2017
Ann Dyke has established three funds at Vancouver Foundation to honour the contributions of her industrious ancestors
Ann Dyke is the fourth generation in a long line of adventurous—and often seafaring—Lower Mainland women. Her great-grandmother Rosalia Pittendrigh, for example, arrived in New Westminster in 1874 after sailing around Cape Horn with her husband, British military officer Captain George Pittendrigh, and family. One of the good Captain’s many claims to fame is an incident during the Crimean War in which his bathwater leaked into the apartment of the English founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. “The good lady was not amused,” says Dyke, “though they later became the best of friends.”
Dyke, 83, has a trove of stories about her ancestors, and has created three successive funds at Vancouver Foundation in their memory. The most recent fund, launched this year, is in honour of Rosalia and Capt. George Pittendrigh. Prior to that she set up respective funds in honour of her parents, Lance and Nonie Bissett, and her maternal grandparents, Capt. Frank and Constance Yorke. “Each of these three generations did much to build and contribute to our community and the Lower Mainland over these 140 years,” says Dyke. “I think this is the way they would have wished to be remembered.”
Dyke has decided to allow Vancouver Foundation’s community-based advisory committees to choose how to distribute the grants. “I was inspired by the story of Alice MacKay,” says Dyke. “Almost 75 years ago she donated her $1,000 in savings to a newly established Vancouver Foundation to help women in poverty.” Dyke plans to mark either Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, or the 75th anniversary of the Vancouver Foundation in 2018, with a fourth fund named for her husband and herself.
Her husband Lorne was part of Ottawa’s Trade Commissioner Service, and together they bounced around embassies, high commissions and consulates all over the world—from Greece and Cyprus to Guyana and Surinam. They also lived for stretches in Manitoba and several New England states. In the places they lived, Dyke always looked for ways to give back to the community. Her volunteer work included helping start a preschool and several projects for people struggling with addiction and poverty in Winnipeg.
“This is my way to honour and thank them for providing employment and enjoyment for so many.”
– Ann Dyke
The Lance and Eleanor “Nonie” Bissett Fund
Born in London in 1899, Dyke’s father Lance Bissett became an Eagle Scout whose troop was charged with searching bombed areas of the city for unexploded ordnance after the First World War. Bissett’s father died when he was a baby, and after his step-father died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 he decided to move on. “In those days in England unless you had the right school tie you weren’t going to get very far in life,” Dyke says. “So young men like my dad had a way of getting out.”
He moved to Canada in 1925 to attend agriculture college in Vermilion, Alberta. During one particularly cold winter, the horse-drawn mail coach arrived on schedule, but only because the horses knew the way on their own, according to Dyke. “The driver had frozen to death some many miles back. That made it quite apparent to my father that Vermilion wasn’t where he wanted to settle.” Bissett bought a car and drove to Vancouver, where he later founded Lance Bissett Ltd. Now called Bissett Fasteners, it’s the largest privately held distributor of construction fasteners in Canada, with 11 locations coast to coast. He married Eleanor Yorke the same year he launched the company, 1929. But despite toiling through the decade that followed the Great Crash, says Dyke, he kept his generous disposition. “He was a very honourable person, as was my mother,” she recalls. “Even in those extremely difficult times, I can’t recall my father ever firing anybody. And my mother was a marvel throughout those hard years. It was called ‘making do’ and she supported him in every way.”
In 2006 Dyke honoured her parents by establishing a fund at Vancouver Foundation in their name. “They were people that others really enjoyed working with and being with. I thank both of them for providing fulfilling employment and enjoyment for so many.”
The Capt. Frank and Constance Yorke Fund
Dyke’s maternal grandmother had a whopper of a name: Constance Pessie Pauline Pittendrigh. In 2013, Dyke established a fund in memory of Pittendrigh—whose full name made Dyke and her siblings howl with laughter as children— and her husband, Captain Frank Marie Yorke, also early residents of the Lower Mainland.
Pittendrigh might have fallen for Capt. Yorke because, like her father, he came from a respectably salty background. Born in Galway, Ireland in 1858, he joined his stepfather in living aboard a New Brunswick-built square-rigger called the Governor Tilley. “In those days,” Capt. Yorke once recalled for a Vancouver newspaper, “the master of a ship took along his wife and boys, while the girls were sent to school, often in Europe. My father was the very essence of a shipmaster, so I grew up at sea.”
After they were married in 1894, the Yorkes lived variously in West Coast seaports—Victoria, San Francisco and Vancouver— which was typical in those pre-automobile days for those with the means to book travel by ship. Dyke’s mother, Mary Eleanor Rosalia Yorke, was born in the famously foggy city of San Francisco in 1903. “Her family had moved to Oakland after her birth,” recalls Dyke. “Her first memory was sitting upon her father’s shoulders as a three-year-old and looking across the bay at the great San Francisco fire of 1906.”
They eventually settled in Vancouver, where Capt. Yorke started F. M. Yorke and Son. It became a successful tug and barge company that was eventually purchased by Seaspan International Ltd. While Dyke’s grandmother respected her husband’s business, she “put her fist down” that there were to be no business conversations or disagreements between father and son at the dinner table. “She ruled the roost,” says Dyke with a laugh.
Capt. Yorke passed away in 1932, and his wife Constance lived another 20 years—two decades in which, says Dyke, “she thought nothing of jumping in her car and driving to California to visit relatives. She was not one to be held down.”
Remembering generations of strong women, Dyke again tips her hat to Alice MacKay and other founding donors of Vancouver Foundation. “I thank Alice for the looking glass,” she says, “and may many more women join us!”
A Memorial Fund with Vancouver Foundation is an excellent way to honour a loved one and support your favourite charities at the same time. For more information, call Kristin in Donor Services at 604.629.5186 or visit www.vancouverfoundation.ca/give.
Story By: Tyee Bridge