The mention of Thanksgiving or Christmas always brings up thoughts and smells of roasting turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes covered with gravy, turnips, bright red cranberry sauce and fizzy cranberry drink with ginger-ale. There are also the family hors d’oeuvres; crackers, often Ritz, with cheese and an olive slice or just an anchovy. This is our traditional holiday dinner and apparently my ancestors also enjoyed turkey.
I am lucky to have a few letters written by my great grandparents, Donald and Alice Sutherland and funnily enough, most of them mentioned turkeys. They might have raised turkeys at one time, on their farm in Bruce County. William Sutherland obtained crown land in Carrick, Ontario in 1855. He and his family cleared the land and began farming but they later realized that farming wasn’t in their blood. Donald and some of his siblings had left for Toronto before William sold the farm in 1876 to his son William. Even this William preferred the big city and by 1879 the farm was sold again and all the Sutherlands were living in Toronto. They still had ties to the country as many cousins remained farmers in Bruce County. Although they preferred urban life, it seems they would rather have farm fresh produce on their table.
The first note written by Donald on January 6, 1899 said, “We received the butter and turkeys alright. They are very nice. We will forward the amount next week.”
On December 17th 1900, Donald writes a long letter about his trip to Scotland and London and in closing says, “I want to know if you can send us three or four good fat turkies for Christmas. If you can please ship them by express early on Saturday before Christmas and I think we will get them on Monday, address to store 288 Yonge Street. We will give whatever price is going.” One can just picture a crate of gobbling turkeys in the middle of the book store. Mail service must have been very reliable at the time! There was no haggling over the price.
The third letter was written by his wife Alice, December 19, 1901. Christmas was again approaching and and she wanted to know, “well what about turkeys if you have any to sell you might send us three or four, they were fine last year, if you have none to sell let us know as soon as you can.” She continues giving a little news about other family members and closes with“hoping you can let us have some turkey I remain your cousin Alice.” It seemed late to place a turkey order but they probably received them.
There was another letter in Carol’s book and of course it also mentioned turkeys. January 7, 1904, “Dear Cousins, I must apologize for delay in answering. The Turkeys came alright and was very acceptable. Thanks for same. We weighed the two largest ones but the smaller one was missed however as the two weighed 9 lbs each and the other not any more we will reckon 27 lbs @ 12 c = $3.24. You will find enclosed a P.O. Order for $3.25 to cover the three turkeys. If you have any more left and could send us other three we could use them. We never get beat eating Turkey although a little more expensive than ordinary meat yet they are good.”
When I received copies of the letters, I sent them on to my siblings. We all had a good laugh and this prompted, in many subsequent emails the mention of turkeys in every way shape and form. We thought these letters were really funny and have continued telling turkey jokes. It’s only a little thing but they bring the ancestors to life.
Small, Carol A. The McIntoshes of Inchverry. Denfield, Ont.: Maple Hurst, 2008. Print.
Sutherland, Donald. Letter to Gordon McIntosh. 06 Jan. 1899. MS. 204 Younge Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Sutherland, Donald. Letter to McIntosh Cousins. 17 Dec. 1900. MS. 288 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Sutherland, Alice. Letter to McIntosh Cousins. 19 Dec. 1901. MS 167 Seaton Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Sutherland, Donald. Letter to McIntosh Cousins. Jan 7, 1904. MS 167 Seaton Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Postcard: The Montreal Standard’s Christmas Greeting card No. 9 printed in Canada