Colin MacGregor Stevens may have retired as manager of the New Westminster Museum and Archives but he's got some more work to do at his old stomping grounds.
Stevens, who retired in October 2011, is currently working on a book about Victoria Cross winner Ernest Alvia "Smokey" Smith, a New Westminster native. While Stevens plans do more research for his book at the New Westminster Museum and Archives and New Westminster Public Library, he's also seeking input from people who may have known Smith.
"I'd like to interview people who knew him, especially those who knew him before he became famous, before he won this Victoria Cross," he said. "He was just another New Westminster boy at the time."
Stevens would like to hear from anyone who knew Smith, but particularly those who may have known him in his school years at Herbert Spencer Elementary and Trapp Tech, or while he was growing up during the Depression.
"I am in touch with the daughter and the son. They are being helpful," Stevens said. "As with most of us, we don't know a lot about our parents when they were younger. I'd like to flush it out."
Stevens would like to know more about Smith's school days, sporting pursuits, everyday jobs, work in the Great Depression and shenanigans with his two brothers, who also joined the Army.
"I have heard that he and his brothers were full of energy," Stevens chuckled. "I would like to know more to give a true picture."
Smith, who was born in New Westminster in May 1914, received the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Second World War. King George VI awarded Smith the ultimate honour for bravery in Canada in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, an award in recognition of his efforts in single-handedly defeating an armored German attack on the Savio River bridgehead in Italy and saving the life of a wounded comrade.
"As with most soldiers, he did not discuss the war with his children. He would with soldiers on Remembrance Day," Stevens said. "His family has told me he would only talk about it on Remembrance Day, and then only briefly. He appears to be very modest about the Victoria Cross."
Stevens, who has been working on the book for several months, said many people have done short biographies on Smith but no one seems to have done a complete biography on the Victoria Cross winner.
"He was wounded twice during the war. That is not well known," he noted. "He carried shrapnel in him until the day he died."
When Smith died in 2005 at the age of 91, he was the last-surviving Victoria Cross winner. A state funeral was held in his hon-our.
"The Victoria Cross is part of his life but it's not his whole life. My goal is to tell a true story of this man and his life. Not to idolize him or to vilify him. I'd like to hear it all. I will digest it and try to put it into perspective," Stevens said. "I would love to find stories that are not that well known, to give a three-dimensional character here. What about the person?"
During his research, Stevens has located a photograph of Smokey Smith and Victoria Cross winner Jack Mahoney, another native of New Westminster. Smith's wife Esther Weston, who owned a photographic studio at 753 Carnarvon St., took the photo of the two on Carnarvon Street sometime after the Second World War.
"I believe the friendship probably started after they came home," he said, noting the Victoria Cross winners attended events together.
During Stevens' six-and-a-half years as the manager of New Westminster Museum and Archives and his 40-year career in the museum field, he became acquainted with the legacy of Smokey Smith and helped secure one of his uniforms for the city's archives - one bearing the Victoria Cross ribbon. He also spent more than a decade as the curator and archivist of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Museum.
Anyone with stories or information about Smokey Smith can contact Stevens at email@example.com or 604-341-1917.