Forbes Family Photograph Collection

Scope and Content: The Forbes Family Photograph Collection contains 449 family photos of Dr. Robert E. Forbes and his son, Dr. C.A. Forbes, both physicians who collectively served Bonavista and nearby communities for over 80 years from ca. 1874 to 1955. The photos, most of which are in albums, cover a broad spectrum of activities during that time (predominantly after 1900), from family photos in the front yard of their Bonavista house, outings "up country," the Forbes children swimming and with friends, and sites, buildings and events around town. Many of the photos from the 1940s and 1950s concern the activities of two of Dr. C.A. Forbes' daughters, Kathleen (Forbes) Deir and Vivian (Forbes) Osterhaut. There are numerous photos of Kathleen's time at the McGill nursing school in Montreal and of her husband's (Jack Deir) service in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War II, in addition to their family collection. A small number of images for the Forbes and the Matthews (family of Irene Matthews, wife of Dr. C.A. Forbes) families appear to date from the late 19th century. All of the images have been described at the item level on the MHA photograph catalogue.

Dates: ca. 1874-1955 (predominantly 1914-1955)

Adm. Hist/Bio. Sketch: Robert E. Forbes, born in 1848 at Montrose, Scotland, came to St. John's in the late 1860s as a clerk at McMurdo's Drug Store, Water Street, St. John's. He later went to Harvard University to study medicine where he was taught anatomy by Oliver Wendell Holmes. He graduated from Harvard in 1874 and later that year set up practise in medicine at Bonavista, for a time in partnership with Dr. John Gent Skelton. He married Elizabeth Cowan, only daughter of Peter Cowan, at St. John's, November 13, 1876. They built a substantial house on Church Street in Bonavista, where many of the houses belonging to merchants, clergy, captains and more prosperous artisans were found. Robert and Elizabeth had at least 10 children: Gertrude (ca. 1881-June 18, 1885), David Chesley (May 4, 1883-December 24, 1886), Hugh Malcolm (May, 1884-December 11, 1884), an unidentified daughter (January 3, 1889- ), Mary, John, Edwin Frederick, Walter and Chesley Alexander (December 8, 1890-January 11, 1956) .

R.E. Forbes was active in community affairs, serving on the board of the Methodist Church and as a Sunday school teacher. On his passing, June 8, 1918, Nicholas Ryan, younger brother of the merchant James Ryan, made the following entry in the firm's business diary: Doctor Robert E. Forbes breathed his last at 8 o'clock p.m., comforted by the presence of his wife, daughter (Mrs. Jos. Sellars) and his two sons John, now of Montreal and Alexander, residing here following in the footsteps of his father as a medical practitioner. The deceased was near into 69 years of age, a native of Scotland, and a citizen of the very highest rank.

Chesley Alexander, youngest son of R.E. Forbes, studied medicine at McGill University, Montreal, graduating in 1913. It was there he met Irene Matthews, daughter of William Matthews and Julia Sweetman Matthews, whom he married September 18, 1914. The couple returned to Bonavista, residing in the family home on Church Street. They had four children: Kathleen (1916- ), Vivian (1918- ), Clive (1921- ) and Lloyd (1924- ). C.A. opened a surgery circa 1920 not far from the house in the centre of town where he practised and dispensed medications. In July, 1940, the commission of Government opened Bonavista's Cottage Hospital and Dr. Forbes became the Chief Physician. He served in that capacity until his passing at age 65, January 11, 1956, exactly one month after his wife's death.

Clive, Lloyd and Vivian all joined the military during World War II. Clive, a member of the Royal Air Force, was shot down over Europe, captured and became a prisoner of war, but later escaped and made his way back to England through Norway. Lloyd and Vivian joined the Royal Canadian Air Force but did not serve overseas. Kathleen married Jack Deir of St. John's on June 11, 1936. Jack was a member of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, but seems to have spent a significant portion of his time stationed at St. John's. Vivian moved to Ottawa, either during or after the War, where she met Douglas Osterhaut whom she later married.