Mary Balf - Who Was She?
by Ken Favrholdt
Mary Balf is a name that will be forever associated with the formative years of the Kamloops Museum. As the first paid curator, Mary left her mark on the institution. She worked especially in the area of the archives and the promotion of the written history of Kamloops.
Mary was born in East Anglia, England, in 1920 and graduated from Oxford University with a doctorate in medicine. A major decision in 1955 to leave her practice and emigrate to Canada with her husband, a pediatrician, was a turning point for Kamloops.
She liked the sleepy, dusty wild west nature of the town from the start and the Balf's quickly became involved in the life of the community.
Charles Balf, a few years after their arrival, became the new president of the Royal Inland Hospital medical staff. They had three children.
Mary did not practice her profession in Kamloops but instead became immersed in the history of the city with the Kamloops Museum Association. After working several years as a volunteer, she became a full time employee of the museum in 1966. During her 25 year involvement with the museum she wrote more than 750 articles and 8 booklets as well as volume 1 of the History of Kamloops up to 1914.
One of Mary's most important tasks was the development of a series of indexes for the Kamloops Sentinel newspaper. This formed the basis of many articles that appeared in the paper. The articles were very popular features in the Kamloops Sentinel from 1965 to 1972 and from 1974 until her retirement in 1980. The indexes and articles are still rich sources of information for researchers to the archives today.
Mary was a modest person but won numerous awards of recognition for her community service. She became the first woman president of the BC Museums Association and received the award of merit by the Canadian Museums Association. She was also honoured with the Queen's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, awarded to citizens who made a significant contribution to their community.
Mary was a fervent environmentalist, active in the 1970 pollution probe and with many other projects around Kamloops. Her hobbies, river fishing and gardening, took her outdoors as often as could be. Mary retired in 1980 and moved to Aggasiz and later to Salt Spring Island. She passed away there on July 19, 1996. Her legacy, writing and research has provided the basis for the development of the archives which has been named in dedication to her passion for preserving the history of our city.
Kamloops Museum & Archives
207 Seymour Street
Kamloops, BC V2C 2E7
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