Martha Marie Lee married Ole Nelson while still living in Norway. She and her baby son moved to join her husband’s brother in Whonnock. As the small Norwegian community in Whonnock grew, Martha’s brothers, sisters and even her parents came to join them.
Martha Marie Nelson worked hard to help establish a Lutheran congregation in 1895, perhaps the first one in B.C., and a couple of years later, the women formed the Lutheran Women’s Association.
In this period, Martha Marie came to be known as “Mary”. She was a driving force and became the Lutheran Women’s association’s first president. Her first stay in Whonnock and her active participation in the association ended in 1902, when her husband, Ole Nelson, died in April of that year.
Mary Nelson married George West on October 23, 1902, son of Louisa Fallerdeau and Henry West, a well-known builder of the paddle wheelers.
The West family, with Mary’s young sons Aksel and Hoken Nelson, went to Nome, Alaska, where Mary worked as a cook for her brothers and assisted the doctor in the local hospital. Her third son, Henry West, was born there in 1904.
In their absence, the Norwegian congregation had acquired a cemetery and built their own Lutheran church, but when the West family returned to Whonnock in 1910, Mary did not rejoin the Lutheran Women’s Association. Instead, her energy went toward a movement to establish a Ladies Club and construct a community hall in Whonnock. Almost all meetings of the Ladies took place at Mrs. West’s home.
Mary West took charge of the construction project – getting estimates for costs and visiting adjacent communities, like the logging camps of Stave Falls, looking for donations. She sold the Hall Society the land for the hall, later adding another piece for free. She even painted the backdrop for the stage and donated it.
The hall was built in 1912. In 1913, Mary West took offence to remarks made at a Ladies Club meeting and left the group, never to return. Little is known of her later life except that she passed away in March of 1946.
For more on Mary West, see this article by Fred Braches.