Boy Soldier of the Great War

Every year in Ottawa two weeks before Remembrance Day, virtual poppies rain down the Peace Tower nightly to remember those who gave their life for Canada. This year, the 100th anniversary of World War I, the poppies are especially significant. One poppy falls for Private Lloyd William Tarrant, a soldier of that war and my son’s great uncle.

IMG_3336Private Tarrant was born on January 9, 1896 according to the Attestation papers he signed in Magog, Quebec before joining the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. 1 That made him nineteen years old, the legal age for enlistment. Family legend claims he lied about his age and was actually eighteen. A medical record found in his file supports an 1897 birth date, as does an old scrapbook of family records. No birth certificate was required in order to enlist. 2

Lloyd’s parents were James Tarrant and Mabel Hawley from the farming community of Bury in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. He had a sister Edith and three brothers, Laurence, Kenneth and Nelson. Their father ran a construction company made famous for its dams and bridges. 2 Lloyd listed himself as being employed as a clerk but did not state where. 1

Whether eighteen or nineteen, Lloyd was still a boy, a boy soldier sent off to do the work of a man. Between 15,000 and 20,000 underage youths signed up to fight in Canada’s armed forces in WW I. They served in the trenches alongside their elders and fought in all the major battles: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele. Many were injured; many, many more died. 3

Why did they enlist? Patriotism perhaps, but also adventure, pressure from friends or recruiters, escape from an unrewarding job or a steady paycheque of $7/day. In August 1914, when the fighting started, it was widely thought that the war would be over by Christmas. A short trip overseas might be a lark. 3

Lloyd joined the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles out of Sherbrooke. He trained briefly at Camp Val Cartier before his unit sailed for England on July 18, 1915. His service file states that Lloyd landed in France three months later on October 24th, 1915 but records nothing in-between. The Mounted Rifles joined the 8th infantry brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. From October 1915 to the beginning of June 1916, it would seem Lloyd fought in the trenches of France and Belgium. 1

June 2nd, 9016 found the 3rd Canadian Division at Mount Sorrell, a strategic 30 metre high hill in Belgium’s Ypres Salient. The hill overlooked an important road between the city of Ypres and the town of Menin. Heavy rain and constant shelling left the ground a soggy mess of craters with horses and men blasted apart by artillery and the injured drowning in mud. The Germans also attacked from below, detonating mines they had dug beneath Canadians positions.

The men were nothing but fodder for the enemy. One can hardly imagine the horror and terror Lloyd experienced as he pushed forward through the explosions, flying shrapnel and falling bodies.

German forces soon captured Mount Sorrel and the nearby peaks of Hill 61 and Hill 62. They were then well positioned to attack the city of Ypres itself.

It was not until June 13th that Canadian and British soldiers were able to recapture Mount Sorrel. It came at great cost. Between June 2nd and June 14th, one thousand Canadian soldiers were killed with more than two thousand men missing. Thousands more were injured. Still others were taken prisoners of war and sent to Germany where they endured years of abuse. 4

Lloyd’s story ends here, at Mount Sorrel.

His file, covering less than a year of service, describes his death as “killed in action between June 2nd and June 3rd, 1916, aged 19”. 1 Was he killed instantly or did he suffer while holding unto hope that a medic would reach him before he bled out?

Unlike so many others, his body was eventually found and identified. He was buried, and later reburied, at Bedford House Cemetery (enclosure 4) in Belgium where he lies today. The last few pages of his scant 34 page service file cover the back-pay sent to his mother along with the Mons Star medal for early volunteer enlistment and the star awarded to every dead soldier, man or boy. 1


  1. Tarrant, Lloyd William Digitized service file – PDF format: B9504-SO52. Library and Archives Canada
  2. Family scrapbook compiled by Kim Tarrant Galley, great niece of Lloyd William Tarrant
  3. Black, Dan and John Boileau. Old Enough to Fight: Canada’s Boy Soldiers in the First World War. John Lorimer Company Ltd., Publishers. Toronto, 2013.
  4. Greenhous, Brereton and Jon Tattrie. “​Battle of Mount Sorrel”. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 12 September 2014, Historica Canada. Accessed 24 November 2018.

Collateral Ills

During the First World War, 2,504 nursing sisters served in the Overseas Military Forces of Canada. Unlike the British nursing sisters, Canadian nurses were actually part of the army, not an auxiliary unit. They were given the military rank of lieutenant to ensure the respect of the men. 1

There were forty-six Canadian nursing sisters who gave their lives while serving. Six were killed or mortally wounded on land; fifteen met death from enemy action at sea. Eighteen died of disease. 2 Ella Edna Willett, my great-aunt, survived illness not once but three times during her service in France between 1915 and 1919. 3

Ella was born on January 21st, 1892 in Dimock Creek, Quebec, 4 the tenth and youngest child of Alexander Willett and Susan Barter. She trained as a nurse at the Montreal General Hospital in Montreal. 1 On June 3rd 1915 at age twenty-three she enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. 5 She apparently came from an adventurous family. Three of her older brothers including my grandfather, locally known as the Wild Willet Boys, left home to seek their fortune in the Yukon. Ella may have felt she could match their adventures by going overseas with the army.

Ella served in two Canadian Stationary Hospitals in France, #2 in Outreau and #3 in Boulogne. She also served in two Canadian General Hospitals, #7 in Etaples and #11 in Liverpool, as well as a transport ship sailing between England and Canada. 6

The process to save the wounded began at a casualty clearing station, the patients having been brought from the front by field ambulance. The stations were nearly always situated on a railroad siding. Some patients required immediate surgery, others were moved quickly by ambulance train to better equipped stationary hospitals and still others to general hospitals for long-term care. Some of Canada’s most brilliant and experienced surgeons served in the stationary hospitals. To be one of the nursing sisters who served with them was said to be the highest ambition of most Canadian nursing sisters. 7

The responsibilities of the nursing sisters were long and arduous under grueling conditions: blood and gore everywhere, rats often underfoot, the cries of the wounded, planes soring overhead and the shrieking of dropping bombs.  The sisters had to shorten their skirts to keep them out of the ever present mud. 8

By far the greatest emotional drain on the sisters must have been the huge numbers of casualties arriving day after day and the triage system: deciding who needed immediate attention, who could wait, and who had no hope to survive and had to be left to die. Through all of this the sisters were said to work calmly and remain cheerful and comforting. 9

On September 2nd, 1916 Ella was struck down with appendicitis and underwent surgery herself in Boulogne’s General Hospital. She was given three weeks sick leave to England (at half pay!) before returning to her unit. 10

Two years later, on October 31st, 1918, Ella was again admitted to hospital, this time in Rouen. She was diagnosed with measles complicated by bronco- pneumonia. These were the days before anti-biotics. On November 6th she was listed as dangerously ill and remained on the list for eighteen days. Upon recovery, she was sent to a hospital in the south of France to recuperate (likely once again at half pay). She returned to duty on January 9th, 1919. 11

The final blow for Ella was the Spanish Flu, one of the deadliest diseases in human history.

Spanish Flu attacked young adults and moved with grim speed. Victims’ lungs filled with bloody, frothy liquid and their faces turned blue as they drowned in their own fluids, often overnight. It killed 2.5% of those infected as opposed to roughly 0.1% of previous flu outbreaks. 12

The military provided an ideal incubator for Spanish Flu. The soldiers were in the age group that was particularly vulnerable and they 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 were easy prey. 13 Ultimately they spread the disease to the doctors and nurses who cared for them

Ella was admitted to #4 Canadian General Hospital in Basingstoke, England with Spanish Flu on March 6th, 1919. She was hospitalized a full month but amazingly she survived. 14

Ella returned to Canada in August 1919 under the general demobilization of troops. 15 She married William Boyt, an American, and had one son. William died in in Florida in 1978 at age ninety- one. Ella died in 1985 in Vancouver at age ninety-three. 16




  1. Nicholoson, G.W.L. Canada’s Nursing Sisters. Canadian War Museum, 1975.
  2. Ibid
  3. Willett, Ella. Service File Accession 1992-93-166, Box 10376. Archives Canada
  4. Willett, Peggy. Personal Family Tree
  5. Willett, Ella. Service File Accession 1992-93-166, Box 10376. Archives Canada
  6. Ibid
  7. Nicholson, G.W.L. Canada’s Nursing Sisters. Canadian War Museum, 1975.
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid
  10. Willett, Ella. Service File Accession 1992-93-166, Box 10376. Archives Canada
  11. Ibid
  12. Lorinc, John. “Peacetime Killer.” Canadas History, Oct. 2018
  13. Sharon Adams. “War and the Spnish Flu.” Legion: Canada’s Military History, Sept. 2018.
  14. Willett, Ella. Service File Accession 1992-93-166, Box 10376. Archives Canada
  15. Ibid
  16. Willett, Peggy. Personal Family Tree

The Gray Child

Undocumented. Today that word screams illegal immigrant and deportation. Yet in 1975 my five year old Montreal-born son was classified as undocumented in his birth-province and not entitled to an education in his mother-tongue.

The 1959 death of Premier Maurice Duplessis ushered in a turbulent period of political and cultural change in Quebec that ultimately led to violence and threats to secede from Canada.1 The new Liberal government of Jean Lasage promised to improve the economic and social standards of the province and to win greater respect and recognition for French Canadians.

The rights to develop many of Quebec’s natural resources – water, forests, and minerals – had been sold off by Duplessis to foreign and out-of-province companies. Management jobs in most industries were largely held by Anglophones leaving French Canadians to feel they were the “water haulers” of the province and not the masters.

In 1974 the Official Language Act, or Bill 22, 2 was passed. It made French the language of civic administration and services, and of the workplace. Only children who could demonstrate sufficient knowledge of English were exempted from receiving instruction in French. No longer could French Canadians and immigrants send their children to English schools to ensure they would eventually find good jobs.

“Testers” were sent out across the province.

In 1975 my family was living in Fermont, a small town in northern Quebec built to service the huge US Steel-owned iron ore mining enterprise at Mount Wright accessible only by rail and air. Anglophones were a minority but they did have an elementary school. Kindergarten was shared with the French school board and provided in French. High school students were bused to English schools in Labrador City 20 kilometers away.

My son Stephen was in kindergarten in 1975 and thus was required to be tested before entering English grade one. His father and I were not concerned. English was his first language. He had spoken early and by age five had a well-developed vocabulary. He was an outgoing, curious, and very chatty child and, although we were not allowed to be with him during the testing, we were confident he would be comfortable with what we were assured would simply be part of his regular school day. He expressed no concerns following the test saying only that he knew the answers to the questions.

Some months later we received the results. Our English son had failed the English test and would not be permitted to attend English school! Imagine our disbelief. What could possibility have happened? When we dug deeper with Stephen, he said he was only asked questions in French and he could answer them. What was the politics behind the French questions? And how was a five year old to know the consequences of using his newly acquired fluency in French?

We made inquiries and petitions everywhere – the Ministry of Education, the schoolboards, a legal firm. The best advice was to stay calm – the testing process was proving to be costly and unmanageable. A new system for determining eligibility for English schooling was being developed.

Meanwhile the English school board accepted Stephen as a “Gray Child”. Their term. They would receive no government funding for him and consequently he would receive no documentation from them. That would ultimately mean no high school leaving certificate, the pre-requisite for any post-secondary education. Still we took the chance. English education was our minority right and we would fight for it.

For three years Stephen was classified as a “Gray Child” saved only by the 1977 passing into Law of Bill 101, The Charter of the French Language.3 According to this new law, one parent had to have been educated in an English elementary school in Quebec. Both Stephen’s parents had.  The English school board reclassified Stephen as being legal and he and his descendants became eligible for an English education. The precious blue eligibility certificate remains in a safety deposit box to this day.







A Coal Mining Heritage

Scottish coal miners in the late 1800s began their 12 hour shifts in the early morning darkness. Slowly they made the long descent into the pit, the only sounds being the drone of the winding gear and the clunking of the open cage carrying the men. The blackness became thicker and thicker as they neared the pit head. Each man carried a safety lamp and wore a token around his neck for identification. A series of tubs carried the men to the coal seams until the roof became too low for the men to stand upright. Then they would begin a crouching walk. Each man carried a simple lunch of water, bread and jam for the crouching position caused indigestion if the stomach was too full.

The men were assigned work positions and began the grueling task of hewing coal from the rock face. The coal was loaded into tubs and pulled by ponies to the bottom of the shaft where they were then hauled to the surface by the crane.  The work was hot, dirty and dangerous in cramped and claustrophobic conditions. Seams were prone to collapse and noxious gases collected. Most colliers suffered from significant breathing difficulties and persistent coughs. The ponies become blind from a life in the dark. Once every summer they were brought above ground for two weeks to graze, their eyes carefully wrapped to protect them against the light. 1

Such a coal miner was Allan Syme of Blantyre, my husband’s grandfather, born in 1882. He was the son of coal miner Hugh Syme and his wife Isabella.2 Allan was said to be fifteen when he first entered the mine.3

What was Allan thinking as he descended into the darkness that first time? Perhaps it was of the Blantyre Disaster of 1877 some twenty years earlier, Scotland’s worst coal mining disaster that had killed 207 miners and left 92 widows and 250 fatherless children. 4 Not a soul in the village was left untouched by the loss. Exploding gas, called firedamp, caused the disaster and firedamp was still ever present in the tunnels. Would this be his fate?

Or perhaps Allan was simply thankful he had a job. Generations of Blantyre men were able to feed their families by working underground, sons following their fathers into the depths time and again. Only a few were able to escape the mine, the most famous being the African missionary David Livingston.

Allan eventually took a wife, Elizabeth Sneddon 5, and raised a family of six: Hugh, Allan, Peter, Isabelle, Mary and Betty. Their home was a two bedroom flat in a four-plex on Bruce Terrace, initially owned by the mine and then by the parish council. It boarded The Dandy, a wooded area leading down to the River Clyde and a view of the ruins of Bosworth Castle. Hugh would follow his father into the mine. Mary would marry a Royal Navy officer and become the mother of my husband.

Slowly conditions improved in the mines, as did Allan’s position with the mining company. The last years of his career were spent above ground as a contractor hiring the men to work in the pit. 6.

At the age of 58, Allan’s life ended tragically in the darkness of night, not the darkness of the mine. He was killed by a car as he crossed a road on his way to deliver a pay packet to an ill employee.  His skull and multiple bones were fractured by the impact and he died at the scene. The driver had not been able to see him in the blackout imposed by WWII. 7

Allan’s widow, bound to a wheelchair by rheumatoid arthritis, would be cared for by his children in the house on Bruce Terrace until her own death.


  3. Allan is listed as a coalminer in the 1901 census.
  6. Personal recollection of granddaughter Elaine Shane
Genealogy, Quebec

The Maiden Aunts

Aunt Kay and Aunt Vi. Their names were always said as a unit for as children we saw them as inseparable. Their lives were also lived as a unit, lives devoted to family, career and an insatiable love for travel.

Violet, born 1904 1, and Kathleen, born 1907 2, were the daughters of George Hudson Willett and his wife Isabelle of Caplan, Quebec. George was a farmer and a seasonal guide for hunters and fishermen 3. Money was tight. From the beginning the girls wanted more than a life on the Gaspe coast.

By the time she was seventeen Violet was living in Montreal with her older sister Madge and working as a stenographer 4. Kathleen joined her a few years later. In 1927 Kay signed her first contract with the Lachine School Commission, later to become part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal 5. Kay’s career was that of a teacher, a consultant, a principal and ultimately an adjunct professor at McGill. Violet spent her entire career at the Bank of Montreal retiring as an executive secretary.

Initially the sisters lived in a lodging house in downtown Montreal 6. Early in my childhood they moved to an apartment in Montreal West. The apartment was small: living room, kitchen and one bedroom with twin beds. Beautiful rugs, furniture, and treasures from their travels made the space appear luxurious. Kay kept a meticulous inventory of their possessions 7. The sisters entertained friends and family simply but elegantly. A drop leaf table at one end of the living room opened to seat six with place settings of silver, crystal and fine china. As children we learned to eat with proper table manners when visiting our aunts!

The sisters never married although family legend claims that Violet left a heart-broken suitor in the Gaspe, a man who wrote to her every Christmas until her death. Kathleen had many male friends and colleagues but there were no rumours of love affairs. Both women were slim and beautiful and dressed with style. Vi was a redhead; Kay was a brunette with a distinctive white streak. Later in life she dyed her hair and the streak became blue, an idiosyncrasy that fascinated me.

Both women were devoted to their nine nieces and nephews. They spent time with each one, individually or in family groupings, in the city or at the farm in the Gaspe. Family photos are witness to cousins and aunts enjoying time together at the beach 8.

More than the beach, however, I loved going to lunch with them in Montreal at the Eaton’s dining room on the ninth floor. It always included a shopping trip! Their joint gifts to all of us over the years included clothes, books, educational toys, university fees, and travel experiences. They gave me a piece of the silverware every birthday and Christmas from the time I was very young. You can imagine how excited I was as a four year old opening the gift of a fork! Today that silverware is a treasured memory of their love.

The sisters lived together their entire lives except for the four years that Kay taught in Germany. Even then Vi joined Kay to holiday with her in Europe. In the end it was Alzheimer’s disease that separated them. Vi succumbed first. When Kay could no longer look after her, she was placed in a home where she died in 1983 at the age of eighty 9. As in their youth, Kay followed several years later. She died in a nursing home in 1991 at the age of eighty five 10.

Thus ended the era of the maiden aunts. Their legacy lives on in the achievements of their nieces and nephews, achievements fueled in large part by the values they imbued in us.


 Research Notes

This family story is based on my own memories of my aunts and the stories my mother told of her older sisters in conversation with me. Where I can document specific facts, I have used the Evernote Clipper and stored the clips in an Evernote notebook labeled Family History.

  1. Violet Gwendolyn Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
  2. Kathleen MacDonald Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
  3. Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 108; Census Place: St Charles de Caplan West (Parish), Bonaventure, Quebec; Page Number: 1
  4. Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
  5. Teacher’s Engagement document – on file with author
  6. Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
  7. Handwritten inventory of apartment at 7455 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal – on file with author
  8. Family photos – on file with author
  9. & 10. Death announcements, Montreal Gazette – on file with author



Family Diaspora

Since time immemorial parents have lost children to the far flung reaches of the globe. They left home to serve their country, to preach the Word, to better their own lives or to simply seek adventure.

Today, advances in transportation and modern technology allow families to keep in close touch no matter how far apart they find themselves. Not so in the time of my great grandfather. When five of his seven sons left Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century he knew he would likely never see them again.

My great grandparents, David Angus (1842-1929) and Ann Rankine, had themselves left their families to seek employment elsewhere. David was a shoemaker. They settled in the Glasgow district of Partick a short day’s journey from their home village of Kincardine. Of the nine children born to them in Partick only two were girls, the younger dying in infancy.

By the end of the nineteenth century Glasgow had become a heavy industry and shipbuilding center. The influx of workers into many Scottish cities was so rapid that housing, city planning and provisions for health care couldn’t keep up. This unplanned growth created squalor and over-crowding on a massive scale. Two-thirds of Scots were living in one- or two-roomed houses compared with only 7 per cent in England. Poverty was widespread, wages were low in comparison with other parts of the UK and infant mortality rates were alarmingly high. (1)

Two of David’s sons, David and Ebenezer, escaped this desperate social situation when they immigrated to Australia, David to Melbourne and Ebenezer to Sydney. They both raised families the descendants of which live in Australia today. Both brothers are buried in Australia

Thomas settled in Malaysia as a missionary. He was likely inspired, as were many others at the time, by the legendary African exploits of David Livingston from nearby Blantyre (2). Although the family lived in Kuala Lumpur, Thomas sent his daughters, Kathleen, Joan and Margery, to a missionary boarding school in southern India, the same school I attended years later when my own father worked in East Pakistan. Typically missionaries went on furlough every five years so Thomas may have seen his homeland again.

Andrew did not stray far from home. He lived and died in East Bourne, England and we can presume he returned to Scotland frequently.

My grandfather James (1879-1964) immigrated to Canada and settled in Quebec City. It was many years after his father had died before he was able to return home. He took his Canadian “bride” to Glasgow for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. His only sister Rachel, with whom he had faithfully corresponded over the years, suffered from dementia at the time of their visit and hid from him. A sad ending to their long distance relationship.

The two sons who remained in Scotland, John and William, died in middle age. It was Rachel who cared for their widowed father in the last years of his life. My father and his two brothers spent time with their aunt at her home in Steppes when they were stationed in England during World War II. Their visits were too late for their grandfather.

Today there are more people of Scottish descent living in countries around the world than there are Scots in Scotland. My family is part of this diaspora.

  1. 1939_tcm4-571546.doc








By Barb Angus


Kathleen Willett, my mother’s sister, was the first of the Kathryn line. She appeared to have been born with a wanderlust, leaving her Gaspe village in her teens for Montreal and points beyond. She trained as a teacher and the summer vacation allowed for lots of travel time .She combined that travel with study opportunities: education courses at Columbia in New York and French lessons at the Sorbonne in Paris to name but two. She taught at an armed forces base in Germany for four years and added a third language. Her travels continued well into her eighties. A photo shows her sitting on the Great Wall of China on one of the last trips of her life. In her will she left an elegant red oriental china dragon to my son who had stared at it for hours as a child.


Kathleen never married. Her nieces and nephews were her children. When my mother was held up London on route to East Pakistan to join my father, Aunt Kay crossed the Channel from Germany, stuffed mum and three kids into her Volkswagen and toured us around the country side. Years later I found her slides from that summer neatly filed and labeled among dozens and dozens of slide trays.


My sister, Kathryn Angus, was named for Aunt Kay. She, too, had a wanderlust. She was born on May 29th, 1953, the day Hillary and Tensing were the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest. Certainly an auspicious date for travellers. Kathy was only four when the family went to East Pakistan, five when my parents took her to Darjeeling in the Himalayas. Tensing was so charmed with this child and her birthdate that he took her on a pony ride! Kathy loved to travel – to places in Europe, Japan, Newfoundland, New Mexico and most of all to the sun soaked beaches and tropical waters of the south. She claimed that life was meant to be spent on vacation. Just being in airports thrilled her with the promise of new adventures!


Kathy’s daughter is Annah Kay Michaud, a name derived from the Joanna Kathryn I named my own still-born daughter, each a homage to our Aunt Kay. She will be our shared daughter, promised Kathy, when I held Annah for the first time. Annah was raised in two languages, the English of her mother and the French of her father. Today she is married to a Montrealer with strong Italian roots. When Annah was fourteen, Kathy and I took her to Japan to visit my son Stephen. He and his Japanese girlfriend Madoka (now his wife) drove us to a variety of both famous and little known towns and sights across the country all the while sleeping and eating in local inns. That trip clinched Annah’s wanderlust. She has since worked in Australia and China and vacationed in Europe, Viet Nam, Thailand and Costa Rico. Like her mother, she too believes that life is meant to be spent on vacation.


Today the most recent member of the Kathryn line is Marisa Kei (pronounced Kay) Tarrant, Stephen and Madoka’s second daughter. Only two years old, she has already travelled from Vancouver to Japan twice with her big sister Evelyn Haruka. Both girls speak English and Japanese and at times can certainly be the fiery little dragons of Stephen’s childhood fascination! I suspect a good deal of travel is in their blood!


Summers Across Time

Upon seeing the farm after so many years the first words out of my mouth were, “I remember it being much bigger!”

“You were much smaller when you spent childhood summers here”, was my husband’s response.

Yes, I had been smaller but there were certainly changes. The perimeter of the property has been slashed. The trans-Canada highway now cuts through the apple orchard behind the house. That night I watched the lights of the big transport trucks where once there were only fireflies lighting up the darkness. The barn is gone, its aged wood sold off as reclaimed wood for trendy furniture. The big vegetable garden is gone, too. No one has time anymore to preserve vegetables. The trees and bushes along the brook are thickly overgrown. There is no sign of the headstones in what was a small family cemetery.

The lilac tree, however, still stands as it has for decades. Beside it now is a large sign: La Gite des Lilas, Caplan, Quebec. It was at this B&B that I had made reservations for two nights.

My grandfather, George Hudson Willett, bought the farm in 1900 following  his return from the Klondike Gold Rush. My grandmother, Isabella Maria Gilker, came here as a bride in 1901. Seven children were born and raised in the house, the youngest being my mother. This was where my grandmother died in 1933 when my mother was only fifteen.

My grandfather raised pigs and chickens along with beef and dairy cattle. His eldest son Keith became a butcher, slaughtering the animals and those of their neighbours.  Father and son worked together until my grandfather’s death in 1961.

Various siblings left their city homes each summer to return to the farm with their families. The cousins spent sun-filled days playing in the barn, riding the hay wagon, catching brook trout, picking big juicy strawberries, and splashing in the jelly-fish infested waters of the Bay de Chaleur.

Little has changed inside today’s B&B. The four guest rooms were once the family bedrooms. A second bathroom has been added. The original bathroom (missing the large “footed” tub), the fifth bedroom, and a section of the hallway has been closed off to form a small suite. Vintage furniture and quilts evoke the end of 19th century when the house was first built. The tilting hardwood floors are testament to the two hundred years the house has stood overlooking the bay.

The upstairs was once warmed, through grates in the floor, by a huge wood stove in the kitchen. My cousins and I would huddle by these openings straining our ears to hear the adults’ conversation long after we should have been in bed. Today the house is heated by electricity and all the rooms are comfortably warm. Guests are free to watch television with the owners in the “parlor” and are served breakfast in the dining room.

The kitchen has undergone the most change. Gone is the big wood stove.  Gone are the chairs and the long table where my aunt would serve a full noon meal to any number of farm hands. Gone are the two cots where my uncle and grandfather napped before returning to the fields. Gone is summer kitchen off to the side where each day the milk was separated from the cream. The summer kitchen is now the owners’ bedroom.

As I drifted to sleep each night in a bedroom where I had once slept as a child, memories emerged, memories all but forgotten. Layers of summers unfold in my mind to be enjoyed once again in the telling.

My husband was an appreciative listener.

Today my own grandchildren are collecting summer memories at a lake in the Laurentions. I had a farm, they have a cottage, but both embody the enduring history of family.






Tears of Remembrance

Remembrance Day services always bring me to tears.
My childhood was spent in the shadow of World War II. My father, Douglas Ian Rankin Angus, and my uncle, James Oswald Stewart Angus returned home from overseas but they left an older sibling in a grave in Germany 1. My grandparents grieved for the rest of their lives.
My earliest memory of Remembrance Day is of my father parading down Quebec City’s Grand Allee to the cenotaph with his head held high, so handsome in his RCAF uniform. No tears then, just a stiff upper lip.
The first tears I remember were shed when I was fifteen. On the way home to Canada from a contract in East Pakistan, my father took his family to Hong Kong. At the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery, my dad stood by the graves of many of his high school classmates who had served with the Royal Rifles of Canada in the defense of Hong Kong and sobbed. It was the first time I had seen my father cry and I was shocked. 2
In school that September my history teacher was one of the men who survived the horror of a Japanese POW camp. “He was never the same”, claimed my grandmother. Was my father also not the same man who joined the air force in 1940?
Dad never spoke of his war-time experiences. When discharged from service he returned to his old job at Price Brothers in Quebec City, bought a house and started a family. I often wonder how he and my mother were able to resume a marriage after four years separated by war. Dad spent additional periods of time in a military hospital following his discharge. All I knew is that while hospitalized, he made wonderfully big stuffed felt rabbits for my brother and me.
Every year without fail Dad took part in Remembrance Day services. He joined the Canadian Legion and sold poppies; he presented scholarships to the children and grandchildren of veterans at graduation ceremonies ; he attended squadron reunions and, following several medical procedures, convalesced at the Veteran’s Hospital in St. Anne de Bellevue .
I struggled to push my father’s wheelchair over the bumpy lawn at the Field of Honour in Pointe Claire on what would be his last Remembrance Day. Tears streamed down his face throughout the entire service and he sobbed uncontrollably during the Last Post. At his funeral seven months later, at age eighty- three, friends and colleagues who had also served overseas hobbled up to the altar in tears and laid poppies on his urn.
It was only after his death that I learned of dad’s war time service. I found his Pilot’s Flying Log Book, his service file, his discharge papers, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings my mother had complied, various certificates and a bundle of letters.3
Dad began his military service as a Wireless Air Gunner and was discharged to the Reserves as a Flight Lieutenant. He was trained to fly Hampdens, Elbacores, Wellingtons, Tiger Moths, Ansons and the Link C. He served in the Swordfish Squadron #415 and, when deployed oversees, he was assigned first to the RAF Costal Command and then to Bomber Command. He flew out of air force bases at Thorney Island, North Coates and St. Eval in England, Tain and Leuchars in Scotland, and Sumburg in the Shetland Islands.

The average expectation of life for nine crews out of ten was less than six months.
In one of the articles my mother clipped from the Quebec Chronicle Telegraph, Dad was listed as a Dambuster having participated in the 1943 bombing of the Mohne Damn and the Eder Damn which destroyed the heart of Industrial Germany in the Ruhr Valley: the factories, roads, railroads, mines, bridges and power stations.4.
One journalist attempted to interview a returning Dambuster and was told that the men had been ordered not to talk about it. It would seem that Dad never disobeyed order. In the his book Bomber Country, Daniee Swift refers to the “forgetting” by the bombers, “For in the place of a full record of the bombing, there is a curious absence.” 5
More than 500,000 German civilians were either killed or drowned in the raids on the damns. Immediately following the war the politicians of the day argued that to honour Bomber Command for their enormous contribution and sacrifice towards defeating Hitler was too politically charged because of the deaths. It was not until 2012, sixty-seven years “too late” that a memorial to Bomber Command was unveiled in Green Park, London. By then, Dad had been dead for nine years and with him the loss of the stories he never told.
And of the Remembrance Tears? They are shed for the bombers and for the bombed.

1. Service Record of Sergeant David Colin Brodie Angus, Library and Archives Canada
3. Documents on file with author
5. Daniel Swift. Bomber Country: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot’s War. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010


The Jamieson Sampler

There’s a mystery behind the sampler I inherited from my great, great grandmother.
The sampler itself is quite lovely and very detailed, most of the colours still vibrant today. It is edged with a border of stylized red roses. Inside are the traditional bands of letters and numbers in various stitches, along with a large two-storied house, trees, birds, animals, two baskets of flowers and a verse about the challenges of life. The creator’s name is written clearly: Jane Jamieson, Her Sampler, Quebec and a date. 1819? 1844? The numbers are unclear and therein lies the mystery.
Jane Jamieson was born in 1818 in Drum, Ireland to Samuel Jamieson and Jane Stewart. A sampler date of 1819 is therefore not possible, Jane would have been an infant.
Jane’s father was a tenant farmer and according to family legend, had at one time belonged to the Irish Constabulary. He was also a Protestant and a Loyalist. After suffering a series of irritating incidents at the hands of his Irish landlord, Samuel decided to quit Ireland and take his family to where he could farm his own land. In 1836 he, his wife, and their six children immigrated to Canada.
The Jamiesons, along with twenty-six other families, settled in the “highlands” of Megantic County south of Quebec City. Samuel was given Lot 5 S.W. on the First Range of Inverness Township in what was to become known as South Ireland (now Saint-Jean-de-Brebeuf). Their first home was an old cabin that an earlier squatter had left behind.
The land grants were part of a complex government scheme, beginning in 1791 and now known to be largely unworkable, to settle the vast wilderness between Quebec City and the American border. It took until 1869 before Samuel’s 100-acre grant was finally legalized in his name.
Life in Inverness was not easy. The settlers were expected to cut down the forest and unearth rocks to build their homes and to farm. The winters were long and brutal.
They were also very isolated. Craig’s Road, the dirt road to and from Quebec City, was mountainous, narrow, and heavily rutted with the only means of transportation being by foot, by ox cart or, in winter, by sleigh. It could take three days to reach Quebec or up to a full week when hauling a load of wood or charcoal to sell.
Two of Samuel’s daughters eventually left Inverness to find employment in the city. Both Jane and Sarah went into service. Jane worked two jobs, house maid and parlour maid, for a cash total of $3.00 a month.
In 1846 Jane married William Kelly, a wealthy coal merchant from Quebec City, and became mistress of her own home. There is no record of how they met and courted. Perhaps Jane worked in his family home. Jane and William had five children: James, Eliza, Samuel, Annie and Emma, my great grandmother.
If the date on the sampler is actually 1844, then Jane made the sampler as an adult, two years before her marriage, and not as a child as was the norm at the time. She perhaps learned the various stitches from a fellow domestic, or even her mistress, and created the sampler in her free time, likely something to be tucked away in her hope chest until the day she married. The large house in the sampler may have been the one in which she was employed. One might even suggest that the trees, the birds and the animals were reminiscent of her earlier life in Inverness. So too might have been the reference to the challenges that she “would overcome in the by and by”.

Jamieson Harper, Helen. The Jamieson Family, 1995 (part of a research project by Gwen Barry Rawlings)
Barry Rawlings, Gwen. The English 180 years in rural Quebec-Megantic. The Canadian Genealogist, Vol. 3, No.2, 1981
The Kelly Family Bible – now owned by the writer