Finding Our Way: Kristyn Zakall explores her roots and pays tribute to Dawn Ross

I’m not from here. I’m a transplant. An immigrant. A newcomer, who had the privilege to choose where I wanted to live, and to choose what struck me as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Until my son was born, I was not related to anyone in Pemberton, or even in Canada, except by marriage. I have sometimes wondered if my sense of community-mindedness was really a kind of hunger, to feel like less of an outsider. Or just honest curiosity. Or maybe both: a need to tend roots that are shallow enough I could be blown away in a stiff breeze. So the deep abiding connectedness of the Lil’wat, to this land, and their community, has always fascinated me. It didn’t ever challenge my sense of identity or belonging. When I chatted with Kristyn and discovered she was related to most of “old” Pemberton, I was fascinated by that too. And I saw how people’s sense of belonging might feel challenged or undermined, by who fits in, and who isn’t included, by words like “local” and who gets to call themselves one. By our claims to the land and belonging and home. And I wondered, can we talk about these things without hurting each other? How do we honour each other’s heritage and story and belonging, while also looking across the field/the river/the divide and acknowledging, we are each other’s community too. How do we begin to cross that divide? I think first it begins with listening, mapping, acknowledging, and opening our minds to the idea that sometimes our claims to land and belonging and home have cost other people something dear – and those two realities do not have to cancel each other out. They co-exist. So thank you to Kristyn for sharing her research into her family history, a journey she’s taken to find her way towards a stronger sense of belonging. ~ Lisa

Pemberton; Welcome Home.

by Kristyn Zakall


Like a warm hug, the Mountains open up just enough to pull you in close for an embrace you forgot you needed.

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I’m not one of the lucky ones who grew up, raised by Pemberton. Nor am I one who is to inherit any part of it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a local. You may not even recognize my last name, but if you trace my family history back just over a hundred years, you’ll learn that I am a descendant of one of the original Pioneer families. A few names you’ll surely recognize.

Being born in Pemberton, back in 1989, the town was my family.  And I’m not saying that to be sentimental – it was a fact. There is a photo of the babies born in 1989, a quarter of the named are related. Fascinating? Or border line incest?! “Slim pickings” and “families marrying (non-related) families” are the words my Grandmother used when I couldn’t find the right way to word how my Grand-Uncle was also my half second cousin in law.

A short history: Teresa Mary (nee Ronayne) (Ross) Miller was my Great-Great Grandmother.

Married first to Alexander Ross, who was a distiller in Middleton, Cork, Ireland, where they began to raise Vivian and Alexander [Sandy]. A life cut short without the chance of meeting his third child, Gerald Ross, my Great Grandfather. Teresa’s siblings, John (commonly know as Uncle Jack), Ed (or Edmond), and Joe (or Joseph) Ronayne were match makers in the marriage to William Morgan Miller for they hoped she would join them in Pemberton. Teresa and William had four sons, William Morgan [Morgan], Robert Joseph, Edmond Ronayne [“Ronnie”], and Donald Miller. Officially in 1915, after a few years in Lynn Valley, the family settled, home, in Pemberton.

Of those seven children, all but one bore and sired children who stayed in the Pemberton Valley; Edmond Ronayne Miller, Ronnie, Teresa’s fourth son, left for Italy with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 1944 and did not return, we honour him each year at the Remembrance Day Ceremony.

From those six siblings, over one hundred and thirty of us, children, grand children, great and twice great grandchildren are still here and the list is growing quickly…

There are too many passages to quote from Irene Ronayne in “Beyond Garibaldi” about her father, John, and all that he was. I encourage you find and immerse yourself fully in her words, and travel through the Sea to Sky in her eyes, it’s a journey you won’t forget.

“I think most people vacation in the wilderness only long enough to realize that it doesn’t belong to them, but to the wild things… the wilderness camper, yearning for silent peace, becomes intoxicated with what he sees… the wilderness belongs to him until… the time has come to surrender the wild to the wild animals… and you realize you are the one who is being tolerated, as a visitor.” 

“Beyond Garibaldi”. Edited by Georgina M. Keddell by Lillooet Publishers, printed by the Alaskan Highway News, Fort St. John, 1971

Their history is well written and recorded in “Pemberton; A History and Settlement” which has countless tales full of adventure, exploration, farming and agriculture hardships and successions. And potatoes. The incredible journeys and use of resources are inspiring and it is worth a read. I promise you’ll learn more than you think.

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“Pemberton: The History of a Settlement.” Edited by Gordon R. Elliott, Pemberton Pioneer Women, 1970.

But this was just one branch. This inspired me to dig deeper and, after consulting some rather confusing (not to mention secretive) notes, I sat down with my Grandmother, whom I’m sure you all know.

I learned about the Menzels, and the McEwans and their ties to Pemberton and the people in it.

The two families made their way to Pemberton in 1934 (Menzel) and roughly 1949 (McEwan).

My Grand-Uncle, Derry McEwan opened a Chain Saw Sales and Repair Shop for the inevitable boom of the logging industry around 1951 where he lived and worked until moving further into the Valley.

My Grandmother, Dawn (nee McEwan) Ross spent as much of her time as she could in Pemberton, moving to and from Kitamat and Port Coquitlam during her childhood, until officially setting her roots in 1961. She opened the first hair salon in the Village, she was the first dispatcher for Squamish Frieghtway in Pemberton, working along side her husband, Hugh Ross, who delivered product around the Valley. They bought the first Garbage and Recycle removal and Septic service from Gordy Ferguson, then sold to Carney’s. She volunteered wherever she could, including in the Women’s Institute, Girl Guides, Gym Cana and 4H among many others. She opened the first Flu Shot Clinic for Seniors, and continues to run it every year since (from around 1984). She opened one of the first Laundry Mats with Marilyn Ross. She worked as a home-care nurse for 22 years, retiring in 2008 while opening Bog Fabrics in 2004, which she runs religiously Monday to Saturday 9-5. She has been an active member of the Legion for 40 years, carrying the Legion Flag for 28 years in the Remembrance Day Parade. This incredible woman has shared with me her memories of Pemberton when there was a right and wrong side of the tracks, when there was little to do in Pemberton except embrace life with family and friends. She has taught me more in the last few months than I could have ever imagined, there is still so much more.

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The Menzels have a long history of being in the Military both in Canada and the Untied States, a few are still active today. During WW2, those that couldn’t fight overseas, were volunteers in the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers from 1942 – 1945 in Pemberton. Those that stayed and returned to Pemberton after the War efforts were unlucky in the hardships they had encountered while trying to farm in the Valley. As Veterans they were able to find odd jobs building roads, working for the Fisheries and the Dyking District as well as shop workers, nannies, and volunteers with the Women’s Institute, Girl Guides and other opportunities based in the community, they were lucky enough to fully embrace the family lifestyle that was, and still is Pemberton. Raising a little more than fifty children in the Pemberton Valley, a list that is growing rapidly its self. My (bare with me here) second cousin once removed (aka Uncle) Bob Menzel, a man that needs no introduction, shared two names with me which have made my bucket list a little longer (how many of you can say that their ancestor was “one of Berlin’s greatest artists”?).

I was asked by Lisa if she could be invited to a family reunion and I couldn’t think of the last time I had been to one. It is joked about that I am related to most of the residents in Pemberton, I did not understand what that meant but, now I am proud to be connected to this place in ways that I would not have dreamt of. I can still walk into my Great-Great Grandparents original home, it’s a part of the Pemberton Museum. I can walk a flight of 108 Stairs and learn more about my family history on each step. I can’t say very many people can say that. (Well, apart from my Pemberton family)

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In doing research, I’ve found out that my ancestors truly made this entire area home. They built the original cabin on Tenquille (later rebuilt by many family members), they had a hand in straightening the Lillooet River, in turn expanding the land of Mt Currie, and Lillooet Lake as well as diverting the Pemberton Creek and runoff from the guardian Mountain, Mount Currie to temporarily make One Mile Lake less stagnant and assisted in building the road to Squamish.

My roots run deep in this Valley as they say, and I welcome the chance to open my home to the rest of the World, as heartbreaking and bittersweet it is to see this Paradise, paved.

“It takes a Village to raise a child”, in this case, it took a family to raise a Village. Welcome Home.

Disclaimer; with ignorance comes an understanding that my ancestors did not work alone in raising the Village of Pemberton. There are many left unnamed and unrecorded, which is why I encourage further research; Perhaps you’ll find that your roots run deeper than you know.