Left: Dr. William Wilberforce Bell holding Aubrey's brother, Douglas, outside their home in Vermilion. Photo submitted
Right: From left, Dr. Bell's son Aubrey Bell, and granddaughter Deborah Sproule outside the Bell Building on August 2. Photo Angela Mouly
An emotional journey took place as Deborah Sproule, the granddaughter of Dr. Bell, visited Vermilion for the first time from July 31 - August 4. Sproule always thought her grandfather had rented an office and never knew that he had built the Bell Building.
“Just being here brings back all of these memories. Once while visiting Grandpa, my dad (Aubrey Bell) tickled me, and Grandpa called me over to say, ‘You just have to resist. Just don’t let it tickle you, and don’t laugh; decide you’re not going to feel it.’ During the next tickle-fest I never laughed, and I was grateful for him helping me not to be ticklish. I Loved him; he was such an amazing man,” said Sproule.
Dr. William Wilberforce Bell grew up in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan and attended the University of Alberta for engineering before enlisting in WWI. According to Aubrey, at that time, whole classes would join battalions. He served with the 47th Battalion at the Battle of the Somme and was gassed a couple of times but survived.
When the war was over, he re-enrolled at the University of Alberta for medical training and continued at McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Bell then interned in Chicago during the Al Capone years.
Aubrey said that all he would say about it was, “It was interesting.”
Dr. Bell leased an office space in Vermilion above what is now Kin’s Restaurant and built the Bell building next door in 1923, which housed his office in the front, surgery in the back, and a legal office on the side. The Bell Building is on the historic walking tour and now houses the Vermilion Voice. While at the Bell Building in Vermilion, Sproule noticed the decorative corbelled brick cornice and said, “I really love that people haven’t removed the original signs or painted them over.”
Dr. Bell’s wife, Mildred, taught at the Vermilion School of Agriculture, and Aubrey was born in 1928. Dr. Bell was the 3rd president of the Vermilion Legion, a Grand Mason, and Aubrey believes he was also the coroner and on town council.
Sproule said that during the recession he would give so many people service for nothing - maybe a cabbage, and that they ended up with barrels and barrels of cabbage. As a result, her dad was so sick of sauerkraut that he never ate it in adulthood.
In 1937, Dr. Bell came down with tuberculosis and moved to Calgary to stay at the sanitarium.
“When WWII began, he joined up, and mother said she wasn’t going to spend the war in Calgary, so they moved to Victoria where her parents were from,” said Aubrey.
During the war, Dr. Bell served as a medical officer in Camp Vernon and then as the officer commanding the military hospital in Prince George until the end of the war. After his retirement, he served as a medical examiner for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Victoria.
Sproule said that after refusing treatment for cancer, during Dr. Bell’s funeral in a huge church in Victoria, hundreds of people attended, surprising the family with support. She imagined they were past patients with standing room only and people standing outside, and a ceremonial sword arch made by attending members of the military.
From left Dr. Bell's son Aubrey Bell, and graddaughter Deborah Sproule outside the Bell Building in Vermilion on August 2. Photo Angela Mouly