Penrose proves to be a divine woman in Western Canada

Evelyn Penrose was drawn to water. In turn, water was drawn to her.

Which proved to be quite divine.

Born in England, Penrose practised the art of water divining, or dowsing. Initially using a forked hazel stick, she was able to locate underground sources of water.

By the 1930s, she had moved to British Columbia to work as an official water diviner in the province. In addition to water, she was eventually able to determine the location of oil, gas and precious metals.

For Penrose, the talent came naturally.

Rather than a school or class, she learned water divining by watching and working with her father. As a child, Penrose was mocked for participating in what was considered to be an abnormal and unladylike activity.

The death of her father led to a move with her mother. Eventually, the death of her mother led to yet more travel.

While visiting California in her early twenties, she learned that her gift for finding water also worked on oil.

During one quest for oil, Penrose was searching a field when she was overcome by a reaction far more powerful than anything she had ever experienced for water, minerals or metals. Overcome by headaches and nausea, she soon learned that oil divining took a greater toll on her body.

Yet, the strength of the reactions allowed her to determine which oil wells would be the most productive.

Following her journey to California, Penrose ventured to Canada. With the province in the midst of a drought, she headed to the Okanagan Valley where a lack of water was destroying the orchards.

The owners of the orchards were interested in her services, but they did not have enough money to drill for the water she found. Instead, her pitch to the government was more successful.

Penrose was hired as British Columbia?s first official water diviner. She would become one of three diviners employed to help the province deal with the drought.

Due to her job and her gender, Penrose?s hire was not without controversy. While the craft of water divining was firmly supported by some, it was still discounted by many. Her position as a female water diviner only served to cloud the matter further.

Penrose soon proved them wrong.

While walking through an orchard with one owner, she had to grab his arm to steady herself after nearly being thrown off her feet by a powerful force. As the owner looked on in doubt, Penrose used her divining rod to locate an underground stream.

The well she found was able to supply nearly 500,000 litres of water per day.

From the Okanagan she moved on to other locations in the province and around the world, enjoying success wherever she went.

The divining did not stop at bodies of water or oil, as she was reportedly able to find illnesses in the human body. Despite requests from police, she drew the line at using her skills to find criminals due to the dangers involved.

As she gained experience, Penrose?s skills also progressed. In time, she no longer required a divining rod to locate water and relied instead on her hands.

Much like the divining rod, location soon ceased to matter. She was eventually able to divine water and minerals without travelling. Instead, she simply looked at a map to locate water and other resources.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history. Paul can be reached at backtothepast@sasktel.net)