All posts by Barb Angus

Cousins KNown and Unknown

For many children, cousins are their first playmates. Others never get to meet their cousins even as adults. I have experienced both scenarios.

When my father, Ian Angus, and his brother Oswald were discharged from military service following WW II, they returned to their home in Quebec City and the jobs they left when they enlisted. Ian settled in the suburb of Sillery and Oswald in Ste. Foy. Both eventually had three children each.  Although the children did not attend the same schools, they visited frequently and celebrated holidays and birthdays with their parents and grandparents.

Angus cousins with fathers and grandparents

My mother’s Willett family came from New Richmond on the Gaspe Coast. Two of her brothers, together the fathers of four children, remained there. Keith and my grandfather worked the family farm. Ralph, an electrician, built a home across the road from the farm. Every year my father bundled the family into an old Pontiac he named Rebecca and drove eight hours to spend the summer holidays with my Willett uncles, aunts and cousins. The kids picked strawberries, fished in the brook, and swam in the frigid waters of the Baie de Chaleur, a story much like Cynthia Rylant’s in The Relatives Came. “Then it was hugging time. Talk about hugging!” 1

Willett cousins with Aunt Kay on Baie de Chaleur beach

My seven Angus and Willett cousins were playmates as children and we remain close to this day.

But my mother had other siblings, two sisters who never married and a brother who married but died young and childless.

A third sister, Madge, also died young leaving two young sons, David and Paige, aged four and six. Their father owned an apple orchard in Abbotsford south of Montreal. Albert remarried and fathered two more children. He kept in touch with Madge’s family by sending a barrel of apples to each household every Christmas although the families never actually got together.

Paige and David with mother Madge

David grew up to become a notary in Montreal where I finally met him as an adult. He never married. When his father died, his step-mother and half-sister Louise moved into his home in Westmount where they remained until his mother’s death. Louise moved to Whitby, Ontario and later David joined her when he retired.

Paige forever remained a romantic mystery. My mother and aunts spoke about his early career in the Royal Canadian Airforce and a stint with the Canadian Snowbirds, a RCAF demonstration squadron, with adventures in the sky that further romanticised him for me. He later moved to the United States to fly with American Airlines and in 1971 he applied for American citizenship.2 He, too, never married. In 1972 a news article listed him as First Officer and one of the crew of Flight 96 flying from Los Angeles to New York who safely landed a plane load of 56 passengers and 11 in crew in Detroit when the cargo hold burst open in flight.3

A few years ago, David phoned to tell me that Paige had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the disease that has haunted the Willett family. My mother and five of her six siblings died with Alzheimer’s and now Paige was the first of our generation to succumb. David and Louise helped him to move back to Canada and enter a care residence in Ottawa near the home of his half- brother Stephen. In 2014, two years later, David called to tell me Paige had died at age 75. We had never met; we were never playmates; we were not even adult friends.

And what happened to David? I have not heard from him since he called about Paige’s death.  My emails do not bounce back but they are never answered. The message on his telephone says that his phone cannot accept incoming calls. My calls to all the Whitney names listed in Ottawa and Whitby prove fruitless. None of them are the Whitney family for whom I am looking. Ancestry gives me David’s his birth date but not that of his death. Perhaps David, who would now be 86, is still alive but struggling with Alzheimer’s, the curse of the Willett family.

  1. Rylant, Cynthia. The Relatives Came. Scholastic Inc. New York, 1985.
  2. Ancestry.ca, Nevada Naturalization Petitions, 1956-1991
  3. Wikipedia.org. American Airlines Flight 96

Petunias and Brown Betty

A singular memory of my childhood is the summer I spent with my Angus grandparents in Quebec City. I was nine years old.

My family had moved to La Tuque several months before my sister’s birth. The move, a difficult pregnancy, and a three-day labour left my mother exhausted. Caring for a new- born and two school age children set free for the summer was overwhelming. In an effort to help out, my grandmother invited me to come to Quebec.

My grandparents lived in a third-floor walk-up apartment on St. Cyrille Blvd. (now Rene Levesque) at the corner of Maple Ave. During the Depression, they moved from an elegant home on Fraser Avenue while my grandfather fought to save his book store. The store eventually failed but my grandparents remained in the apartment until my grandfather’s death.

A large porch extended the full length of the apartment overlooking the street below. The sun shone down on it all morning so Grandpa planted petunias in boxes that grew into a beautiful profusion of pinks, lavenders and burgundies. My job that summer was to water and deadhead, a responsibility I took very seriously. “A new blossom will not grow until the dead one is removed”, Grandpa explained. “We want lots and lots of blooms.”

The various rooms of the apartment were strung out along a narrow hallway stretching from the front door to the back bedroom: an elegant parlour with life size china dogs standing sentinel on either side of an artificial fireplace; a very large dining room with several china cabinets and a table for twelve; and a sitting room with three walls lined with books salvaged from the store that were the core of my grandmother’s lending library. There was a bathroom and two bedrooms, the largest of which looked out on the city stables. How I loved to watch the caliche horses going and coming each morning and evening. I imagined them to be my very own and gave each one a name.

Then there was the kitchen tucked into the middle of the flat. It was a very tiny room, only big enough for a stove, a fridge, an ironing board that dropped from the wall, and the food prep table where my grandmother sat to work her daily cross word puzzle. The sink was folded into a back corner beneath a set of cupboards. The dark, cramped room had but one window in the door leading to the back porch and another in the walk-in pantry. How different from my Willett grandparents’ large, sunny farm kitchen in the Gaspe that housed not one but two stoves and a pair of day beds.

Yet it was in this tiny kitchen that my grandmother cooked daily meals for two (three that summer) as well as large family meals for various holiday occasions: Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. She carried dishes of food through the swinging door into the dining room in what I now recognise as priceless Spode and Limoges bowls and platters. Nothing was served onto plates in the kitchen and brought to the table. Glasses and desert dishes were cut crystal. I even ate my morning boiled egg from a silver cup. Such a little princess.

Lazy summer afternoons were spent in the park. A friend and I would meet there, walking by ourselves from our homes, carrying our dolls and their accessories along with several umbrellas. The umbrellas served to demarcate the various rooms of our “doll house”. Who today would allow two young girls to spend an afternoon alone in a park? The caliche drivers came to know us and would wave, pointing us out to their tourist passengers as a quaint part of the old city.

I walked a lot that summer – my grandparents didn’t own a car. I walked with my grandmother to buy groceries on Cartier Avenue or dolls’ clothes at Woolworths on St. John’s Street. I walked with grandpa to Earl Grey Terrace to watch ships sailing the St. Lawrence to and from exotic ports. On Sundays I walked to church with both of them. The Sundays that babies were baptised were the best. As a church elder, Grampa would walk the family to the font and stand, straight and proud, while the minister performed the ceremony.

Evenings were spent reading, doing puzzles, or completing paint-by-number kits. My grandparents didn’t have a television – televisions were still too new and expensive. Sometimes on our walks Grampa and I would stop and watch the news on a TV in a store window. I don’t think Grampa would ever stoop to that if he were alone. I was the excuse for him to take a peek.

I learned to cook that summer in the tiny kitchen. My grandmother must have had the patience of Job. How much faster and easier it would have been to do it herself. Apple Brown Betty became my speciality. Eventually I could peel and slice the apples myself, measure and mix the flour, oats and brown sugar, and work in the butter with my fingers. The final touch was the nutmeg grated by hand over the top before the desert went into the oven. So delicious served with a slice of ice cream!  Remember, Ice cream was purchased in a brick-shape wrapped in cardboard.

The days passed slowly with a pleasant and predictable sameness. I was loved and indulged. Before I knew it, it was time for me to return home.

I would be sixteen when next I lived with my grandparents for my final year of high school. Although I loved being back with them, life was never again as simple as the summer when I was nine.

 

 

 

 

 

Ring Around a Rosie

                                     Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posie.

IMG_3883 (002)

In a video my son posted on Facebook, my granddaughters Evelyn and Marisa, hands clasped, laugh happily as they as they sing and swirl in circles to the nursery rhyme.

                                                       Husha, husha, we all fall down.

The girls tumble to the grass, still laughing. The activity appears to be great fun and certainly a way for them to expend some energy during the pandemic shut- down.

The rhyme dates back to the 1600s and the Great Bubonic Plague. The fatalism of the rhyme is brutal: the roses represent the deadly rashes, the posies are the herbs used in an attempt to treat the disease, and the falling down is the almost inevitable death.

Today we are entering the seventh week of a country-wide shut-down in an attempt to mediate the spread of the world’s most recent pandemic, the Corona-19. As of May 3rd, the total number of cases in just one country, Canada, is approaching 57,148 confirmed cases with the total number of deaths at 3,606. Television ads constantly urge Canadians to wash their hands frequently, wear masks in public, keep two metres apart, and stay at home.

Schools, stores, businesses, restaurants, sports and entertainment facilities, barbers and hair salons are all closed. Borders are shut. Airline flights are cancelled. Streets are all but empty. Only essential workers are employed and they must all wear masks.

The pandemic began in Wuhan, China in December of 2019 and was initially spread by international travellers. Very soon it spread rapidly through community transfer. The first Canadian cases emerged in a Senior’s Home in Vancouver. Seniors, not children, have been the hardest hit by this pandemic, most of them confined to care homes where a single case becomes rampant. Front line workers fall ill and cannot care for their patients. Hundreds of our elderly have died resulting in what has been referred to as geriatric genocide.

So far, my family is healthy. My son and his wife are able to work from home and, unlike thousands of others, their income remains intact. The girls are bored and restless with schools closed, parks and playgrounds barred, sports and extracurricular activities cancelled. While child care is not an issue for them as it is for many families, they struggle with home schooling the girls via on-line learning. A simple childhood game of Ring Around the Rosie is a welcome reprieve.

This is not the first time that family members have been impacted by a pandemic. During the Spanish Flu, the disease was formally documented for two ancestors in their military service files.

In June of 1918, my son’s grandfather, Laurence Tarrant, contracted the Spanish flu while convalescing at the Epsom Military Hospital in England from surgery to save an arm badly injured during the Battle of Arras. He survived.

My great aunt, Ella Willett, a nursing sister in WW1, also survived the Spanish flu. She contracted it in June of 1919 during the second wave of the flu and recovered in the Basingstoke Military Hospital, England.

The Spanish flu began in an American army camp in Kansas and moved back and forth across the Atlantic with the troops. The military provided an ideal incubator. The soldiers lived in conditions conducive to its spread. Stressed, dirty, hungry, wet and cold, massed in camps, huddled in trenches and tents or jammed into troop trains and ships, soldiers and nursing sisters were easy prey.

Unlike today’s Covid-19 flu, the Spanish Flu attacked more young adults than those who were elderly and it moved with grim speed. Symptoms experienced during the second wave were far more severe than those of the first wave. Victims’ lungs filled with bloody, frothy liquid and their faces turned blue as they drowned in their own fluids, often overnight.

The first wave of the Spanish flu killed 3-5 million people world-wide; the second wave killed 20-50 million. Without today’s computers, it is difficult to be definitive.

World economies have suffered dreadfully during this corona pandemic. In Canada, the Federal and Provincial governments have poured out billions and billions of dollars to aid of closed businesses and unemployed workers leaving the country with a mountain of debt.

In the last week we have heard much talk of when and how to reopen the economy. In most provinces, the number of those infected has not yet peaked despite all our interventions. The virus will clearly not go away until there is a vaccine.  Our reopening must be done slowly, gradually, and very cautiously or all our efforts thus far will be for naught. We do not want a second wave with the number of dead exceeding that of the first.

Ultimately, we can never return to the way we once were in pre-covid-19. We must instead create a new, safer normal. Test, trace and isolate and treat will be the key strategy.

Look back at the photo of the girls playing Ring Around the Rosie. There is a black hearse very clearly parked in the background. Let that be our warning.

Sources

Tarrant, Lawrence. Service File, Archives Canada

Willett, Ella. Service File, Archives Canada

www.canada.ca/covid-19/coronavirus

Sharon Adams. “War and the Spanish Flu.” Legion: Canada’s Military History, Sept. 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abandoned

My mother-in-law stood on the front porch as two women approached her from a parked car. I could see that they were speaking but I could not hear their words. One reached out to her.

Abruptly, avoiding what she must have the perceived as an embrace, Flora entered the cottage, slamming the door shut and crying, “I have no sisters!”

Flora Tremblay Tarrant did in fact once have a sister. Flora and her sister Lily were born in La Tuque in 1910 and 1912 respectively. Their mother, Mary Mercier, and her third child died during childbirth when Mary was just twenty-two.1

The girls’ father, Ligouri Tremblay, had migrated to LaTuque from the Lac St. Jean area seeking employment when the St. Maurice Industrial Co. opened a pulp and paper mill in 1908. Ligouri met and married Mary in 1909. 2

Following Mary’s death in 1914, Ligouri abandoned his young children to their grandmother, Caroline Mercier, and moved on to the pulp and paper towns of northern Ontario. Lily died of whooping cough shortly after. 3

Caroline Mercier was born Caroline Beads at Rupert House on James Bay north of La Tuque. 4 Her father, Robert Beads, was the grandson of either John or Thomas Beads, brothers from England who, in the early 1820’s, settled in the area while in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company and married into the indigenous Cree community. 5

Caroline married Joseph Mercier from Riviere Ouelle 6, a French-Canadian river-man on the St. Maurice River who delivered mail to the hinterland beyond La Tuque. Any shadow of Indian blood lay heavy over a family at that time and so it was with Caroline’s family. It took another two generations before Flora’s grandchildren would proudly proclaim native ancestry.

Flora was initially raised by her grandmother and later by Elizabeth (Lizzie), a deaf maiden aunt. Fortunately, her cousins Mary, Peggy and Grace Thompson were as close to her as any sibling would be.

When she was sixteen, Flora’s aunt heard from Ligouri. He was remarried with a young family and now wanted Flora to live with them. “You won’t leave here to be a maid and babysitter”, were evidently Lizzie’s words. She demanded that Ligouri pay the cost of Flora‘s room and board over the past twelve years. She never heard from him again. Flora would forever claim that Lizzie saved her from a fate worse than death.7

Flora married Laurence Tarrant from Bury in the Eastern Townships, a WW1 veteran who had spent three years in British hospitals recovering from his injuries (see A Soldier’s Fortunate Care). Like many Quebecers before him, he travelled to La Tuque to find work in the paper mill and settled there 8.

Flora gave birth to four children. She was widowed in 1964 at the age of 54 when her youngest child was only seven.

Ironically, following her husband’s death, Flora found work as a housekeeper and babIMG_3830 (002)ysitter at the Indian Residential School across the road from her home 9. She cared deeply for the children living far from their families and stripped of their language and culture. Likely she empathised with their feelings of abandonment.

Flora never remarried. “I’ll not wash another man’s dirty socks” were her words, perhaps a throw-back to how she believed her father treated her.  And she would never accept Ligouri’s children as her sisters.

 

 

Notes and Sources

  1. Handwritten family tree in possession of the writer.
  2. com. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 20081891
  3. Handwritten family tree in possession of the writer.
  4. Census of Canada, database. Ancestry.com (ancestry.ca: accessed June 5. 2017), entry for Caroline Beads Citation Year: 1891 Census Place: Unorganized Territory, Champlain, Quebec; Roll: T-6390; Family No: 39
  5. George Robertson.” Biographical Sheets, Hudson Bay Company, www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/hbca/biographical/index.html. Accessed 5 June 2017
  6. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967
  7. Personal conversations with Flora Tarrant.
  8. Family Records and documents on file with the writer
  9. https:/www.anglican.ca/tr/histories/la-tuque-quebec/

 

Little Emigrants

Up until recently, I had a vague awareness of the history of child emigration from Great Britain to Canada, Home Children as they were called, but took little interest. I am not descended from a home child so it had nothing to do with my family.

Until I learned that it did.

Shortly after I sent my DNA sample to Ancestry.com, I heard from Shirley Joyce of Toronto. We share the same great, great grandparents, John Angus and his wife, Rachel Martin, from Tulliallan in Scotland and through them there is a home child connection.

John (b. 1813) and Rachel had three children: David (b.1842), Ann (b.1844) William (b.1847). The 1841 census documented John as a labourer and his wife as a homemaker 1.

David, their first born, became a shoemaker in Partick near Glasgow and married Anne Rankine. They had nine children, including my grandfather James Rankine Angus, who emigrated to Canada as an adult in 1901 2.

William, the youngest, became a rope and sail maker. I know little of him.

Shirley Joyce told me more about Ann, the middle child, who became a domestic servant. She had six children between the years 1865 and 1886 fathered by three different men. She only married the father of her last two children, Hugh Stein, in 1881, at age 37. Ann’s daughter Rachel, one of the twins born in Largs in 1876 to Ann and an unknown father, became Shirley’s grandmother. 3

Ann’s mother, Rachel Martin Angus, great, great grandmother to both Shirley and me, cared for the children while Ann worked. Not an uncommon practice. However, Rachel at age 36, found herself widowed in 1880 4 . One can only imagine Rachel’s financial and emotional situation at that point as she tried to raise four grandchildren on her own with little or no income. According to Shirley, in 1882 Rachel gave up on the youngest, the six-year old twins Rachel and James, abandoning them to an orphanage in Glasgow, the Glasgow Union Workhouse.5  Two months later they were put on a ship and sailed to Canada, destined for a home child distribution centre, Marchmont Home, in Belleville, Ontario. 6. 

Why did Rachel feel she must abandon her grandchildren? Why did the orphanage accept them so readily? Did Rachel receive counselling on possible options? Did she know they could be sent to Canada if she left them? Did the orphanage contact the mother of twins about the situation and ask her to take responsibility? Shirley tells me that, according to her grandmother’s records from Quarriers,  Ann’s new partner knew nothing of her previous children.7.

Did no one in the extended family step up to help?

In the defence of my great grandfather, the shoemaker, the twins’ uncle and the father of nine children himself, how could he take on two more mouths to feed. Did he even know of his mother’s and sister’s predicament?

Glasgow (and Par-tick), rough and dirty at the time, suffered particularly poor air quality from industrial pollution and coal fires.  Hundreds of multi-story tenement buildings had been erected to house the workers flooding into the city to feed the rapid expansion of the ship building industry. Overcrowding and primitive plumbing contributed to rampant disease. Life expectancy was low 8. It is understandable that the various agencies responsible for abandoned children would see Canadian farms as a healthier alternative to life in the Glasgow environment.

Between the years 1869 to 1939, an estimated 100,000 children were sent to Canada to be used as indentured farm workers and domestic servants. Believed by Canadians to be orphans, only two percent truly were. Most simply came from destitute and desperate families such as that of twins Rachel and James.

Some of the Home Children were welcomed into their Canadian placement homes and even adopted. Consequently, they thrived. Most lived outside the family circle in sheds or barns and were treated simply as hired labour. If they did not satisfyIMG_3791 the owner, they were returned to the distribution home and sent out again to another placement.

The children were often poorly clothed, overworked and under fed. Few received the education for which they were entitled under their contracts. The agencies responsible for them, such as Quarriers for Rachel and James, provided little or no oversight.

Public opinion too often shunned these children. Canadians needed their labour but they were seen as diseased urchins, riff-raff, even thieves. They grew up marginalised, lonely and ashamed. As they grew older, they hid their home child background and rarely, if ever, spoke of it. Yet for all of that, most became hard working Canadian citizens as did their descendants.

Today I look at two names on the British Home Child Registry: Rachel Ann Angus and Robert James Angus, twins age 6, and I am appalled. Yes, childhood was not seen then as it is today. Children were viewed as little adults and expected to work. But they were also expected to remain with their families. How frightened these two small children must have been as the ship pulled away from the dock taking them far from anything they had ever known. They were not even kept together in Canada but placed on separate farms.

IMG_3794IMG_3793

Footnotes:

  1. Angus family tree. Owner Barbara Angus (Tarrant). Ancestry .ca
  2. Ibid
  3. E-mail correspondence with Shirley Joyce
  4. Angus family tree. Owner Barbara Angus (Tarrant). Ancestry .ca
  5. E-mail correspondence with Shirley Joyce
  6. British Home Child Registry. https://www.britishhomechildrenregistry.com/
  7. E-mail correspondence with Shirley Joyce
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Partick

 

Background Information:

https://www.britishhomechildren.com/

https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle-2-15039/the-15-000-scots-children-shipped-to-canada-1-4616584

British Home Children: Their Stories. Global Heritage Press, 2010.

Joyce, Sandra. The Street Arab: the Story of a British Home Child. Welldone Pub., 2011

Pettit, Mary. Mary Janeway: the Legacy of a Home Child. Natural Heritage Books, 2009.

 

 

 

A Furious Bombardment: WW 1 Battlefields Tour

Canada did not repatriate its close to 61 thousand dead service men and women during WW1. Throngs of Canadians did not line highways as they do today, paying their respects as hearse after hearse carries bodies home to cities and small towns across the country. The overwhelming number of dead made repatriation virtually impossible.

Initially the dead of the First World War were buried on or near the battlefields where they fell, often in mass graves, marked with simple wooden crosses.

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In May of 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission was established to design and construct cemeteries and memorials. The war dead are now commemorated on white headstones, uniformly and equally, irrespective of military or civil rank, race or creed. Red roses, not poppies, decorate the graves.

In the summer of 2019, my husband and I, together with, my husband’s cousins Elaine and Max Shane , took a coach tour from England to visit the Western Front Battlefields in France and Belgium. Knowing so little of WW I battles, this tour was an eyeopener for me. But any tour to the battlefields inevitably meant visits to cemeteries.

The tour stopped at the largest cemeteries and memorials such as Tyne Cot Cemetery, the Ploegstreert Memorial, Newfoundland Park and even a German cemetery at Langemark. It was the small cemeteries, however, that captured my attention. Hundreds can be found in towns and villages and along the roads and highways we travelled. Some gravestones appear to be right in the backyards of the homes of the living.

My son’s great uncle, Lloyd William Tarrant, is buried in the small cemetery of Bedford House in Belgium, 2.5 km south of Ypres on the road to Armentieres. It was not a scheduled stop but the tour guide kindly pointed it out to me.

Lloyd died at Mount Sorrell sometime between June 2nd and June 3rd, 1916. (see Boy Soldier of The Great War at http://www.genealogyeemsemble.com) The mount was the only high ground retained by the Allies from the fighting of the previous year. It was of strategic importance and a key target for the Germans. On the morning of June 2nd, a furious bombardment was unleashed against the Canadian Third Division defending Mount Sorrell and simultaneously four huge mines were exploded under the mount.

Trenches and their defenders vanished.  Only 76 of the 702 men of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, Lloyd’s regiment, survived. It was not before several more battles over a two weeks period with a total of 8 thousand casualties that, on the 13th of June, the Allies regained their lost positions.

It is assumed that, as the bodies of those slain at Mount Sorrel were found and identified, they were buried nearby, their graves marked with the ubiquitous wooden crosses.  Many bodies, or pieces of bodies, likely shared a common grave.

In 1923, Lloyd’s mother received a letter telling her that her son’s body had been reburied at Bedford House Cemetery.

Bedford House was the name given by the army to Chateau Rosendal, a country house in a small wooded park with moats, that was confiscated to use as a clearing station for men wounded at the front. Those who died at the station before they could be moved on to hospitals for further treatment were buried there. More bodies were added, particularly between 1916 and 1918. Enclosure #4 where Lloyd is buried is the largest of six enclosures. Three thousand bodies were brought in from other burial grounds and from the battlefields of the Yves Salient, battlefields like Mount Sorrell.

Almost two thirds of the graves at Bedford House are unidentified. Lloyd’s family is one of the lucky ones in that they know where his body lies. The saddest words on a gravestone are A Soldier of the Great War Known only to God.

 

Notes:

Remembrance Day drawing by Evelyn Tarrant (age 9),  great great niece of Private Lloyd William Tarrant

Service file of Lloyd William Tarrant

JOHN HAMILTON GRAHAM First Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec

My family is a Masonic Family. My grandfather immigrated to Canada as a Mason. My Canadian-born father was a Mason. My husband is a Mason today. My husband and I are also educators and members of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. The story of John Hamilton Graham resonates with us on several levels. It was thus an honour to be asked by the Grand Lodge of Quebec to research Graham’s history and write his story for the 150th anniversary of his installation as their first Grand Master.IMG_3699[295]

John Hamilton Graham

The Graham family  loved the view from their home on the hill overlooking the town of Richmond and the valley of the St. Francis River: the gently rolling hills, the scattered farms, the foliage ablaze with fall colours at this time of year: reds, oranges and golds. The house was on the campus of St. Francis Academy, a prestigious grammar school for boys where Hamilton Graham was headmaster. Affiliated with McGill University, the curriculum included two years of university courses. It served a vast district extending from Chicoutimi on the Saguenay River to the New England States.

Scottish born John Hamilton Graham and his American wife, Almira Jones, emigrated from Northfield, Vermont when, in 1858, Graham accepted a teaching position at the school. Their first-born, Mira was just a year old. Her siblings, Abigail, George, James and Caroline, were all born in Richmond. I assume the boys attended the grammar school while the girls went to school in the village.

Richmond was largely settled by New England colonists in the late 1700s so the Graham family must have felt at home among their neighbours.  Graham arrived as a Presbyterian and a Mason and soon joined the local church and the St. Francis Lodge. As she grew, Mira likely led her siblings in trying to weasel out various Masonic secrets. “Just show me the secret handshake, daddy”. But off daddy would go to another night at Lodge with none of them any wiser. His Masonic career included becoming the Master of St. Francis Lodge, the Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Townships District and, ultimately, the Registrar of the Grand Lodge of Canada.

In 1862, Graham was made headmaster of St. Francis Academy. His interest in education, however, went well beyond discipline and instruction in his own school. While teaching in Vermont he had taken an active part in the movement to establish normal schools in the state and served at different times as president of three teachers’ associations. He continued to work with teacher  associations in Canada and in 1870, he and Jasper Nicolls, president of the St. Francis Teachers’ Association, established the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers known today as the QPAT, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. Graham was the first president. As president, he protested the Roman Catholic dominance of education in the province, the underfunding of Protestant institutions, the importation of textbooks rather than the development of Quebec texts, and the separation of church and state in our schools. Clearly a man ahead of his time.

In 1872 Graham resigned as headmaster to run as a Liberal in the federal constituency of Richmond and Wolfe. He was referred to as a “Scotch Radical”. Following his defeat, he found a job as a railroad manager, Richmond being the railroad center of the area, and devoted much of his free time to private teaching, to writing, and to Freemasonry. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Vermont and McGill University.

With the coming of confederation, Graham took the lead in a movement to create a grand lodge in the new province of Quebec. The founding of the Grand Lodge of Quebec aroused a great storm within Canadian freemasonry because the new institution was created out of, and in competition with, The Grand Lodge of Canada. Graham engaged in ongoing disputes with several lodges in Quebec that continued to act under warrants from the grand lodges of Canada, Scotland and England.

In 1869, one hundred and fifty years ago, Graham became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec. Hopefully his wife and children were they proud of his achievement and did not resent the hours and days away from family that it took him to get there.

Graham was widowed in 1881. His eldest daughter Mira was 24 and a teacher, Abigail was 21, George 18, James 14, and little Caroline only 4. Likely Mira kept house for her father following her mother’s death and raised her youngest sister. I suspect, too, that this responsibility limited her chances of marriage.

The 1891 census records Graham as a lodger in a boarding house without any of his children. Later records show all siblings, save for Mira, married and living in various parts of the United States until their deaths. Where Mira ended is unknown.

In August 1899, Graham died suddenly at age 75 in Hartford Connecticut during a visit to New England. His body was returned to Richmond where it lay in state at the Town Hall. The funeral was the largest in the region for many years: local Masons, prominent Masonic officers from all over Quebec, family, friends and neighbours. He was buried beside his wife in St. Anne’s Cemetery and given full masonic rites at the gravesite. Ten years later the Grand Lodge of Quebec unveiled a monument to him.

In the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Graham’s career is described as following a pattern established by many Scots Presbyterians in Canada in the 19th century: hard work and a taste for controversy producing modest success.

Sources:

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography. http://biographi.ca/en/bio/graham_hamilton_12E.html

The Sherbrooke Examiner: http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine,details/52327/2985600?docpos=4

Townships Heritage WebMagazine. http://townshipsheritage.com/aeticle/st=francis-college

Healy, Esther. St. Francis College. The Legacy of a Classical College. 1854-1898. https://openlibrary.org/

Hamilton Graham. Ancestry.ca

Conversations with Jody Robinson, Archivist, The Eastern Townships Resource Centre, Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, QC. www.townshipsarchives.ca

 

A Blacksmith’s Legacy

How does a gardener in a failing economy afford to purchase passage on a ship for a family of four in the hope of bettering his life in Canada? The answer may lie with a blacksmith.

The gardener was my great-great- great-grandfather Charles Brodie, born 1796 in Innerleithen, Scotland. The extended Brodie family lived in three neighbouring villages along the River Tweed: Peebles, Innerleithen and Traquair. The economy of the area rested on raising sheep augmented by wool-weaving. Hand weavers, however, were replaced by machines following the introduction of the steam engine at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Factories were built in cities close to cheap transportation routes forcing workers to leave their farms to find employment. The Scottish border towns fell into economic decline.

The blacksmith was Charles’ great-uncle, Alexander Brodie (1733 – 1811). Alexander was born in Traquair but reached the status of a master blacksmith in London. He designed The Register Stoves and Fire Hearths for Ships. Wood-burning iron stoves were a central feature of ships in those days, essential for cooking and warmth, but at the same time very dangerous. Many ships went to watery graves in flames. Brodie’s design was not only bigger but safer. The Royal Navy placed his stoves in all its ships “to the preservation of many valuable lives” according to a plaque in Traquair’s parish church commemorating his achievement. Alexander was handsomely rewarded for his design.

After the untimely death of his wife and two children, Alexander returned to Traquair. There he put his fortune to work to improve the lives of his fellow villagers. He eventually opened a woolen mill in Innerleithen, ushering in the industrial age. When Alexander died in 1811 his estate, worth over half a million pounds, was distributed, following a twenty-year court feud, among seventeen nieces and nephews. Charles’ father William (1751-1836) was one of the inheritors. Shortly thereafter Charles immigrated to Canada. One can only assume that the money came from his father’s inheritance.

Charles and his wife Elizabeth Kerr (b.1805) arrived in Canada in 1831 with two sons, Charles age twelve (1819-1859), and William age two (1829-1908). They settled in Montreal where the family grew to include two more sons, Robert (1835-1905) and Thomas (1838-1894). Charles was my great-great grandfather.

In 1850 Charles Jr. moved to Quebec City and opened a flour and grocery business. Robert, William and Thomas eventually joined him. Following Charles’ death in 1859 Robert and William formed a new partnership, the W. & R. Brodie Co. This company monopolized flour distribution in Quebec City and was the beginning of what today is the Brodie Flour Company.

In Quebec City’s Mount Herman cemetery, a granite monument stands high on the cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The four sides of the monument detail the life of each Brodie brother. Two sides include the inscription “Born at Innerleithen, Scotland. Died at Quebec“. A blacksmith’s legacy.

Brodie Grave Stone (2)

 

 

Notes and Sources:

Brodie, Peter – ancestry.ca.  Blair Family Tree

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brodie_robert_13E.html

http://www.pastinnerleithen.com/alexander-brodie

William N. Boog Watson (1968) ALEXANDER BRODIE AND HIS FIREHEARTHS FOR SHIPS, The Mariner’s Mirror, 54:4, 409-412, DOI: 10.1080/00253359.1968.10659464

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lead Crystal

My grandmother was seventy-one, barely five feet, less than ninety pounds, and very frail. She lay propped up with pillows as family hovered around her hospital bed. Her eyes were rimmed with purple with the bruise spreading down across her cheeks. Her arm was in a cast and her smashed glasses had not yet been replaced. At nine years old, I could only stand and stare in horror.

I’m sure the mugger had thought Jean was an easy mark – a quick shove, grab the purse and run. But the mugger didn’t know my grandmother. She had fought for years to keep food on the table and she was not going to relinquish her grocery money without a fight.

My grandmother was born Jean Jamison Brodie (1884-1971 , the daughter of wealthy Quebec City flour merchant. She was sickly as a child and, strangely, given into the care of her mother’s spinster sister. In 1902, Jean trained as a teacher at MacDonald College in Montreal. Controlling students bigger than she was proved to be too strenuous and she gave up teaching after only a year.

In 1911 Jean married James Rankin Angus (1878-1964) from Glasgow, a naval carpenter who immigrated to Canada. James opened The Angus Bookstore within the walls of the old city. The couple had two boys a year apart, Colin (1912-1943) and Oswald (1913- 1977), and a third son, Ian (1918-2003), five years later.

Their home was a spacious flat on Fraser Street. Jean’s aunt moved in with them, the boys grew, and the book store prospered. All was comfortable until the stock-market crash of 1929, the year the two oldest boys graduated from high school. James struggled to keep the bookstore afloat, adding a branch store in a more affluent part of town to attract new customers. He downsized his family’s living quarters. Colin and Oswald found jobs and contributed to the household finances. Jean learned to be very frugal. She walked miles to save five cents on a bunch of carrots. My father Ian claimed his mother could create a dinner with five chicken wings and make it look like a feast.

In 1935, the inevitable occurred. Both bookstores were lost. My grandfather joined the ranks of the unemployed.  But not my grandmother!  One would think, given her frailty, she would simply collapse from the weight of the stress. Instead, the desperate situation seemed tgrandparentso galvanize her strength.  She collected the books from the bankrupt stores and set about running a lending library from her home.

It was not easy for Jean to deal with the public – she was a  private person and the family’s financial downfall was very humiliating. How difficult it must have been for her to collect dues, particularly late payments, and suffer petty complaints from  customers who, once her equal, now looked down on her as merely a sales clerk. But she had a family to feed and so she persevered.

Twenty years later, in 1955, Jean was mugged on the way to the grocery store. By then, my grandfather had found employment, the children were grown and had children of their own. Jean no longer had to worry about money for the next meal. Still she refused to give up her purse. Never would she allow herself to become a victim.

 

Notes:

  • Birth certificate of Jane Jamieson Brodie – on file with author
  • Certificate issued to Jean Jamieson from the McGill Normal School – on file with author
  • Wedding Announcement, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph June 1911 – on file with author ; Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621 – 1967
  • Death to the Ashes. A self-published memoir  by Elizabeth Craig Angus, daughter-in-law to Jean Brodie Angus, in which she reminisces  on various incidents in the life of the Angus family.

Aunt Madge’s Quilt

IMG_3441

The incomplete quilt, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, had been shunted from pillar to post for almost eighty years during the many household moves my parents made. Rarely did it see the light of day, stuffed away as it was in linen closets and basement trunks, so none of the colours faded. My mother could quilt but she never finished it. Perhaps she felt the memories would be too painful. Mum finally gifted it to me during one of her downsizing periods. I couldn’t quilt but I did collect antique linens. Once again it was stored away in a box.

With the quilt came the story of its beginning. I remember few of the details and my mother is no longer here for me to ask. It was evidently begun by Madge, my mother’s oldest sister. My mother and my Aunt Vi helped her. There were two Violets in the family, a sister and a sister-in- law, but whether one or both helped is unclear.

I never knew my Aunt Madge. She died in 1941 before I was born. I. heard the tragic story again and again growing up. She was only thirty-nine and left behind two small boys, boys I finally met when we were adults.

Madge, born in 1902, was the first of George and Isabella Willett’s seven children to leave the farm overlooking the Chaleur Bay on the Gaspe Coast. She earned a teaching certificate at MacDonald College in Montreal and took her first job in Abbottsford in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. There she met Albert Whitney, an apple farmer. They married in 1934 and she happily settled into a familiar life as a farmer’s wife. The family quickly grew with the births of my cousins, David and Paige.

Then illness struck. Madge was diagnosed with cancer. My mother, now a surgical nurse working at the Veteran’s Hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, traveled to Abbottsford on her days off to help with her sister’s care and with the two lively boys. Both Violets were also living in Montreal and they too were able to help. During this time, the last months of Madge’s life, they worked on the quilt together, faithful doulas accompanying her on her final journey.

Today the quilt has been completed. Two women from the Victoria Quilts branch in the Laurentian Mountains village of Arundel did the work. The Victoria Quilts organization makes beautiful lap quilts and gives them to cancer patients to keep them warm during their chemotherapy. Elizabeth Wood selected and purchased the backing and border fabric along with the batting. Pat Thomas did the hours of hand quilting. She claimed that the original stitches on the quilt were the tiniest she had ever seen and said she did her very best to match them.

The quilt fits the queen size bed in our guest room. The simple motif, repeated twenty times, is a flower pot made of brown triangles pieced together and appliqued to a beige background. Each pot holds a single brightly coloured flower with green leaves, all pieced and then appliqued. It has a modern, stylized look yet with a feeling of fresh growth.

Aunt Madge 001 (2)