I’m sitting on the fence, myself.
Over a decade ago, I discovered an old trunk of paper memorabilia once belonging to Nicholson family of Richmond, Quebec, my husband’s mother’s ancestors. It contained 1000 letters, 300 from the pivotal 1908-1913 years.
From these missives, I learned a great deal about these Canadian- born Scots, whose parents were Hebridean Scots, cleared from the land in the 1800’s and forced to come to Canada. And, because of a rather weird series of coincidences I learned all about a certain Masonic sword.
One evening back in 2004, about a year after I first found the trunkload of letters, I received an email.It was from Matthew Farfan, editor of Townships Heritage WebMagazine.
It seems that a couple in the Okanagan Valley of BC, we’ll call them the C’s, wanted to get in touch with me. They had Norman Nicholson’s sword! Norman is my husband’s great grandfather.
I had very recently posted an article about the Nicholsons on Matthew’s webmag with a big pic of Norman in Mason regalia front and center. The family papers revealed that old Norman Nicholson was a member in good standing of the Sussex Preceptory No. 9, Knights Templar, Sherbrooke.
I immediately emailed this Mr. C. “How in Heaven do you know it is Norman’s sword?”
He explained. In the early 60’s, his family had rented the Nicholson home, in Richmond, Quebec, from Edith Nicholson, Norman’s daughter. Somehow, Norman’s sword had been swept up in the bustle when the family moved out around 1965.
Mr. C had adored that house with its steep basement stairs and wondrous attic filled with fantastical (see : old fashioned) things. Mr C remembers using the silver sword to ‘terrorize’ his sister.
Tighsolas, built by Norman in 1896, the year Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to power for $2,700.
« Phone my wife, » Mr.C further instructed. « She’ll tell you all about the sword. »
So I did, on the jump, and what a story Mrs. C. related! The sword had been hanging on the BC couple’s wall since the death of her in-laws. Prior to that it had traveled all over North America, as far as California.
In 2004, Mr. C’s sister visited them. She mentioned, out of the blue, that the silver sword on the wall had a name engraved on it. They checked : the name was ‘Norman Nicholson.
A few months passed. Mrs. C had a sudden impulse to return the heirloom to its rightful owners. (What impeccable timing on her part!) Her husband’s childhood stampbook provided some clues. Apart from many stamps, it contained a picture of an old man with handlebar moustache decked out in Masonic garb with said blade at his side, and one envelope addressed to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson, Richmond, Quebec.
Norman in full Masonic regalia. This photo was in the stamp book and returned with the sword in 2004.
Margaret and Norman on Tighsolas lawn. A photo in the Nicholson photo album
Mrs. C googled ‘Norman Nicholson’, but no luck. There were too many people with that name . She then he entered “Margaret Nicholson” into the search engine and, presto, she fell upon the Eastern Townships Heritage website with my story and, plunk in the middle, she saw another picture of Norman in his Masonic regalia.
I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Over 50 years ago, in the age of Beatlemania and go go boots, an imaginative little boy living in Richmond, Quebec, plumbed the depths of that Nicholson treasure chest full of letters and memorabilia – the same one I discovered in 2003 at my in-laws’ – and this little boy snitched some stamps and an envelope for his collection and glued it into a page beside an appealing photograph of a snowy-haired swashbuckler, who was really a down-on-his-luck Eastern Township hemlock bark dealer.
A little later, he took the very sword the old man in the picture was posing with!
(Some Nicholson letters. Many letters in the 1000 envelope stash had the stamps carefully cut out. I now know where these stamps are! )
Norman ’s sword arrived at my house soon after. I showed it to my husband and my sons, Norman’s heirs, then placed it on the mantel.
That very night, as we all watched TV downstairs, we heard a loud thump in the living room.
We went upstairs to find the Nicholson binder I had put on the coffee table had exploded open. Its cellophane pages were strewn on the floor. Atop the pile was Norman’s death certificate. I kid you not.
It was likely the dog nosing around that caused this to happen, right? The binder had been filled to bulging with Nicholson documents. Still, I took no chances. I placed a portrait of Margaret on the mantel beside the Masonic sword.
I like to think that is what Norman was looking for.
PS. Although perpetually cash-strapped due to the crash of the hemlock bark industry in the Eastern Townships around 1900, Norman always found the 3 dollars to pay his monthly fees to the Masons. Norman’s records reveal he paid a hefty initiation fee, too, in 1888. Fifty dollars!
Clearly it was important to be a Mason in the ET. Apparently, the Presbyterian Church frowned up the society, saying Masons were encouraged to keep secrets from their wives. I know because the Nicholsons clipped a bit from a newspaper, likely the Montreal Witness, claiming as much!
In 1912, Margaret and their daughter, Edith, join the Order of the Eastern Star Chapter in Richmond. Edith became the Secretary. This OES was a female version of the Masons.
This is an updated version of a story published on the Eastern Townships Heritage Webmagazine in 2005.