Author Archives: Janice Hamilton

Montreal West Writes

Writing Your Family History

Got a family story that you are itching to write? Presenters Janice Hamilton and Mary Sutherland are two of nine Montreal-area genealogists who write about their ancestors and publish their stories on the family history blog Genealogy Ensemble, and in a new book called Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble. Their presentation will inspire you to write about your own family and provide tips to help you start writing and publishing your stories.

Tuesday  January 16, 2018  7:00pm

Montreal West Public Library,  45 Westminster S,  514-481-7441

Note: if you can’t make this event, Janice and Mary will do the same presentation at the Benny Library in NDG on Feb. 28. Meanwhile, Tracey, Barb and Claire will be talking about writing family history at the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa on Feb. 10, and other presentations are planned for Montreal and the West Island area.

 

 

Great-Aunt Amelia’s Christmas Goblet

Every year at Christmas dinner, my husband toasts our guests with a small antique goblet. His gesture has become a new family tradition. Before he came across this goblet in our kitchen cupboard, it had sat unused at my parents’ Montreal home for decades. I had no idea what it was or how it came into the family.

A pattern of flowers and leaves encircles the metal goblet and the initials and date “MJM to AJB Dec. 25 1852” are inscribed. I realized it must have originally been a Christmas gift, but from whom and to whom?

Amelia's gobletResearch revealed that MJM was MacGregor Joseph Mitcheson (1828-1886), and AJB was his 10-month-old niece Amelia Josephine Bagg (1852-1938). This must have been a gift MacGregor sent Amelia for her first Christmas. A fancy goblet seems like a rather strange present for a young man to give a baby, so perhaps it was a tradition, or his parents’ idea.

Amelia was the second surviving daughter of Montreal notary and landowner Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873) and his wife, Catharine Mitcheson Bagg (1822-1914). Catharine’s family lived in Philadelphia and McGregor J. Mitcheson was the youngest of her three brothers. In 1852, he was age 24 and a law graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who had recently been admitted to the bar of Philadelphia.

Despite the distance between the two cities, Catherine Mitcheson Bagg and her brother seem to have been quite close, so perhaps McGregor and Amelia eventually got to know each other. Amelia was 21 when her father died in 1873, and McGregor was one of the executors of Stanley Clark Bagg’s will, so he may have travelled to Montreal to advise his sister on family matters.

MacGregor J MitchesonMacGregor must have been an unforgettable house guest. His blue-grey eyes and long brown beard give him a rather wild appearance.1 He also had a forceful personality. In a book on Philadelphia lawyers, written some 30 years after MacGregor’s death, a former colleague recalled, “There never was an advocate who fought harder, or who merged his excessively egotistic personality more completely in that of his client. In another important sense was he entitled to great praise. He had a ready and instinctive perception of every essential fact in a case, in all its bearings, and a fine gift of memory for retaining them …..”2

Professionally, he specialized in real estate law. In the community, he was involved in the charity work of the United States Sanitary Commission at the time of the U.S. Civil War, he was president of the Northern Home for Friendless Children and Soldiers’ Orphans for many years, and he was an active member of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.3

MacGregor married at age 41 to Ellen Brander Alexander Bond, a widow with a young daughter, and together they had three children. One died as a child, one did not marry and one married but had no children.

As for MacGregor’s niece Amelia, she also married relatively late at life. She married her first husband, real estate agent Joseph Mulholland, in 1890 and he died seven years later. Her second husband, Rev. John George Norton, Anglican Archdeacon and Rector of Montreal., was a widower.

Amelia had no children of her own, but she was quite close to her niece Gwendolyn Bagg (1887-1963) and Gwen’s husband, Fred Murray Smith — my future grandparents. They probably inherited the goblet when Aunt Amelia died, age 86, in 1938. For them, it would have been a precious reminder of a favourite aunt and a link to a great-uncle who died the year before Gwen was born.

Photo of MacGregor J. Mitcheson by Wm. Notman & Son, Montreal; Bagg family collection.

This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

Notes and Sources

I have described the goblet as metal because I do not know whether it is silver or pewter. There is no hallmark.

MacGregor J. Mitcheson was born Joseph MacGregor Mitcheson on Nov. 26, 1828 and died at age 57 on June 29, 1886. These dates are according to the cemetery records of St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Philadelphia. The records of St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, say he was baptized on April 17, 1829.

MacGregor eventually lived on Locust Street in downtown Philadelphia in a house designed by architect Frank Furness. See http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMG1GH_MacGregor_Mitcheson_House_Philadelphia_Pennsylvania

  1. “U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” Ancestry.ca [database on-line] entry for MacGregor J. Mitcheson, 1865; National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC. ARC Identifier 56612/MLR Number A1 508, NARA Series M1372; Roll # 127.
  2. Robert D. Coxe, Legal Philadelphia: Comments and Memories, Philadelphia: W.J. Campbell, 1908, p. 140, accessed March 3, 2013.
  3. An Historical Catalogue of the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia with Biographical Sketches of Deceased Members, 1749-1907, printed for the Society, 1907; Google Books, accessed July 19, 2013.

Dr. Joseph Workman, Pioneer in Treating Mental Illness

If you have been watching the miniseries “Alias Grace” on CBC television or Netflix, you may remember a scene featuring a grey-haired gentleman with long sideburns. That character was based on the real-life physician Dr. Joseph Workman, known as the Father of Canadian Psychiatry.

The television show is based on the book of the same name by Margaret Atwood, a fictionalized account of the life of Grace Marks, an Irish-born servant girl convicted in 1843 of a double murder near Toronto. Grace was held at the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto at about the time that Dr. Workman became superintendent of the asylum.

Neither the book nor the television show makes it clear whether Grace was insane, or whether she was guilty of murder. There is little doubt, however, that Joseph Workman was a kind and intelligent man who made important contributions to the treatment of mental illness. In fact, he came from quite an extraordinary family.

Joseph (1805-1894) was born in Ballymacash, near Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland (now Northern Ireland). His parents were Joseph Workman Sr. (1759-1848) and Catherine Gowdie (1769-1872). Joseph Jr. was the fourth of nine children — eight boys and one girl. His only sister, Ann Workman (1809-1882), who married Montreal hardware merchant Henry Mulholland, was my direct ancestor.

The Workmans brought up their children to value hard work, education and Christian charity. Holding liberal views, they were members of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland and they eventually became Unitarians.

The Workmans were not wealthy and they lived in a cozy cottage in the village, surrounded by fields and farmland. Joseph Sr. worked as a miller and as a teacher, then as land steward (manager) for a local landowner.

Joseph Jr. attended school around Lisburn and, after graduation, worked as a land surveyor for three years. In 1819, his oldest brother, Benjamin, immigrated to Montreal, where he became a teacher and newspaper publisher. Over the next 10 years, the Workman siblings, tired of the poverty, poor harvests and religious strife around them, all left Ireland for Canada. Joseph and his parents arrived in Montreal in 1829.

Joseph taught school and studied to become a doctor at the same time, obtaining a medical degree from McGill University in 1835. His thesis focused on the infectious nature of cholera (a radical idea at the time) after he watched the deadly disease sweep through the city in 1832 and 1834.

He married Elizabeth Wasnidge in 1835 and the couple eventually had 10 children, four of whom died young. In 1836, they moved to Toronto, where Joseph ran the Wasnidge family hardware business. For 10 years, he kept up his reading on medicine before finally leaving the business to concentrate on medicine. He built up a busy practice and taught at the Toronto School of Medicine.

He was appointed superintendent of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in 1853 and remained there until 1882. At first, Joseph knew little about mental illness, but it was easy to see that the asylum was filthy and overcrowded, and that the patients were neglected. He improved the institution’s efficiency and made sure the patients had good food and generous amounts of alcohol. His treatment approach focused on moral therapy:  kindness, truthfulness, social entertainment and religious instruction. Although cure rates did not improve, he did make progress in the humane treatment of the mentally ill.

The Workman brothers all achieved success in Canada. Alexander Workman became mayor of Ottawa, William was a successful hardware merchant and mayor of Montreal, Thomas became a prosperous businessman, and Benjamin had several careers, including teaching and medicine. Joseph and Benjamin were instrumental in establishing the Unitarian Church in Toronto and Montreal.

But biographer Christine L.M. Johnston considered Joseph to be the greatest of them all “because he radically changed the whole field of psychiatry, and not just in Canada. He influenced as well American superintendents of Lunatic Asylums…. Like most pioneers, he did not claim to be totally original – he introduced the new ideas initiated in Europe. Yet he was constantly exploring new avenues on his own after that.”1

This story is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Henry Mulholland, Montreal Hardware Merchant,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 17, 2016, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/03/henry-mulholland-montreal-hardware.html

Footnotes:

  1. Christine Johnston. “The Irish Connection: Benjamin and Joseph and their Brothers and their Coats of Many Colours,” CUUHS Meeting, May 1982, Paper #4, p. 6.

Other sources:

Christine I. M. Johnston, The Father of Canadian Psychiatry: Joseph Workman, Victoria: The Ogden Press, 2000.

Thomas E. Brown, “Joseph Workman,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto Press/Université Laval, 1990, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/workman_joseph_12E.html, accessed Oct. 23, 2017.

The Digger, One Family’s Journey from Ballymacash to Canada, Lisburn.com, http://lisburn.com/history/digger/Digger-2011/digger-19-08-2011.html, accessed Oct. 20, 2017.

There is an extensive database of the Workman family online called A Family Orchard: Leaves from the Workman Tree, http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~database/WORKMAN.htm

 

 

 

Reading Family History Stories at the Verdun Farmer’s Market

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Tracey Arial, Lucy Anglin, Dorothy Nixon and Janice Hamilton are four of the nine contributors to the forthcoming book Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble. On Sunday, they read some of their family history stories at the Verdun Farmer’s Market as part of a series of cultural events sponsored by the City of Montreal.

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Tracey Arial talked about her ancestors who lived very close to the location of today’s farmer’s market.

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Lucy Anglin read an article about her grandfather who was an Anglican priest in Montreal.

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Dorothy Nixon talked about three generations of women in her husband’s family and what they fed their families.

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Janice Hamilton read about her ancestor who helped build the Lachine Canal in 1821-1824 to circumvent the nearby Lachine Rapids. This story will  be included in Beads in a Necklace.

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The Verdun Farmer’s Market is located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, across from  Nun’s Island.

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Tracey Arial organizes this market weekly. This was the last Sunday market for the season.

Five things we learned publishing our first book

“Someday I’m going to write a book!” How often have you said that, or heard a friend or relative make a similar statement? You probably didn’t hold your breath until it appeared.

So it comes as a surprise to the nine members of Genealogy Ensemble, the family history writing group of which I am a member, that we are actually doing it. In November, we will launch Beads in a Necklace, a book of collected short stories based on our family research.

These real-life stories include a young Scot who immigrated to Canada and became a famous gospel singer, memories of queueing up for food rations in post-war England, and a young girl who was kidnapped from her home in southern Maine by the Abenaki Indians in 1692 and spent the rest of her life in Quebec.

Now that it’s about to be published, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at some of the lessons we learned that might help potential authors.

Grow Organically

The genesis of Beads in a Necklace goes back to 2012 or so when we decided to write about our families and share our stories. Since then, we have met once a month to critique each other’s work, improve our story-telling skills and gain confidence.

After a while, our stories were so good, we wanted to share them more widely. We began taking turns posting them on our blog, Genealogy Ensemble. The book authors among us kept talking about the possibility of publishing something, but the idea always seemed far away.

Last year, we got serious about the idea. With 2017 being the 375th anniversary of the City of Montreal, where we all live, and Canada’s 150th birthday, we decided it was time to publish a collection our stories: a 250-page book, with a proper binding and a beautiful cover, that we will be able to give to friends and relatives for Christmas.

Start with Structure

We started discussing the project last September. The first step was to each choose our five favourite stories. Each article had to be about 500 words long and include endnotes citing the sources of our facts. Apart from that, there were no rules.

After considerable debate, we agreed on the title Beads in a Necklace, and we came up with a logical way of organizing the stories into sections.

Collaborate

We all pitched in to help at various stages of the process, depending on our areas of expertise. I did most of the editing, with help from Tracey. I had worked as a journalist, and Tracey and Dorothy are also professional writers. That helped a lot: we know how to tighten a longwinded sentence, spot a good first paragraph and structure a story so it flows smoothly. Several members of our group have natural writing talent that they never knew they had, but they are still learning the skills that come from writing on a daily basis. And sometimes writers have to let go of their egos and allow changes. Of course, everyone could say yes or no to editing suggestions, and we always managed to find compromise solutions.

Sandra, who has experience preparing annual reports in the corporate world, did most of the layout, with Claire’s assistance. Claire also knows her way around digital photography and she cleaned up the often scratched or faded photos we wanted to use.

Ask for Help

We even got friends involved: one friend who is a proof reader is making sure there are no typos or missing punctuation marks, while another friend who is a graphic designer has agreed to do the cover.

There have been many details to consider. The people responsible for the layout had to decide on the size of the book and the fonts to use and get quotes from a local printer. Someone has to look after making a digital version available, and we have to crank up our marketing strategy. Last but not least, we had to find a place that is big enough but not too expensive for our celebratory book launch. We found a church hall that is perfect!

Persevere through glitches

Most of the glitches we have encountered have been computer-related. For example, we tried both Google Drive and Dropbox so we could upload files that everyone could edit. Both did the job, but we found Google Drive to be a bit unstable, while for a reason I still don’t understand, I can’t see many of the changes that Sandra and Claire have made to the layout in Dropbox.

This has been a long process. We were editing in January and the book will be launched in November. But we are all thrilled about it. Furthermore, I hope to apply the lessons I have learned from this experience when I write a book about my own family’s history. Just don’t hold your breath until it appears.

This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

 

 

My Grandmother’s Vacation Photos

Before 1900, photography was the domain of the expert. Cameras were complicated, film was bulky. That year, the Eastman Kodak company introduced the Brownie camera, a simple box with a lens, loaded with a roll of film, and photography became available and affordable to the general public. My grandmother’s family were early adopters of this new technology, and my grandmother, Gwendolen Bagg (1887-1963), became an enthusiastic photographer.

One of her first subjects was her own house in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. She photographed not only the exterior, but also the drawing room (living room), with its ornate mantelpiece and heavy drapes.

The majority of photos were taken during summer vacations with the family. Many Montrealers left the city in the summer, not only to escape the heat, but also to avoid the outbreaks of disease that plagued the city in those years. In the early 1900s, the Bagg family went to Cacouna, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and they also spent time at a lake near Ste. Agathe, in the Laurentians, north of Montreal.

Gwen photographed her father stretched out on the lawn at Cacouna, her mother in a wide-brimmed hat, and her older sister on horseback and in a canoe. Her little brother, Harold, was a favourite subject. In one picture, taken when he would have about five years old, he posed with his two girl cousins. According to the custom of the day, he had long hair and was dressed exactly like the girls in what appears to be a dress. The following year, his blonde hair remained long, but Harold wore a sailor suit.

Harold's sailor suit

Gwendolyn Bagg, “Harold Bagg, Cacouna, 1903”, McCord Museum, Bagg Family Fonds, P070, http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artefacts/M2013.59.1.62

In her late teens, Gwen photographed her friends, wearing elaborate bathing costumes on the beach near Kennebunk, Maine. On the porch at the hotel where they stayed, all the young women wore light dresses that reached the ground and covered their arms to their wrists. They must have been very hot.

In 1913, Gwen photographed her mother, by now a widow and dressed in black, leaning up against a big log at Kennebunk Beach, chatting with a friend. By this time, her sister Evelyn was married, and Gwen liked to photograph her little niece, Clare.

The camera must have been a good one, and whoever Gwen shared it with (probably her mother), was also a good photographer. All these photos were in focus, well exposed and tightly composed. Most importantly, Gwen put her photos into albums and identified most of the people, places and years they were taken. She got married in 1916, and after that, although she continued take family photos, the prints ended up in a box, loose and unidentified.

Gwen kept these albums and my mother inherited them and then passed them on to me. Several years ago, I asked the McCord Museum in Montreal whether they would like them. The McCord already had a collection of letters and business ledgers that had belonged to the Bagg family, so these photos shed light on another aspect of their past. The albums are now part of the Bagg Family Fonds, and a few of them have been digitized and can be viewed on the McCord’s website at http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true (go to the very bottom of this page).

This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

Notes:

I cannot say for certain that my grandmother had a Brownie, but she certainly had some type of simple box camera. The square photos in her album are approximately 3 ½” x 3 ½”, corresponding to the Kodak film sizes 101 and 106.  This chart on the Brownie website describes the different sizes of film that Brownie cameras used over the years: http://www.brownie-camera.com/film.shtml. If she did have a Kodak, it was probably similar to the camera described on this website: http://www.historiccamera.com/cgibin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=no2bullet

 

 

 

 

New Book Tells History of Mile End

Hundreds of special events are taking place in 2017 to mark the City of Montreal’s 375th birthday, but the one that means the most to me is the publication last month of a history of the Mile End district of Montreal. Some 200 years ago, that was where my three- and four-times great-grandparents lived.

There, at the intersection of the only two roads for miles around, Stanley Bagg and his father Phineas ran an establishment called the Mile End Tavern. Their landlord and future in-law, an English-born butcher named John Clark, probably came up with the name Mile End. The tavern was at the corner of what is now Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Mont-Royal Avenue, and the whole area eventually acquired the same name.

Mile End has no formal boundaries, but it is essentially just to the northeast of Mount Royal, as far as the railroad tracks. Some of the area’s streets are known far beyond Montreal: Saint-Urbain, for example, was made famous by author Mordecai Richler, and both Saint-Viateur and Fairmount streets have bagels named after them. Other well-known streets include Laurier, Parc, Saint-Joseph and Jeanne-Mance.

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This fire station at Laurier and Saint-Laurent was once town hall of the suburban Ville de Saint-Louis. jh photo.

It is a vibrant neighbourhood, home to musicians, teachers and software developers, trendy restaurants, second-hand shops and rows of triplex and duplex dwellings, often featuring Montreal’s iconic outdoor staircases.

Histoire du Mile End, the first book to focus on the area’s history, was written by former journalist Yves Desjardins. His journalism background shows: he has researched his subject thoroughly in newspaper accounts, archival sources and academic articles, and pulled it all together in clear, concise language. I can attest to how readable it is because, although the book is in French, I have had no trouble reading it. It helps that the book is generously illustrated with historic photos and maps.

Over the decades, Mile End has been home to waves of immigrants, starting with French Canadian job-seekers who moved to the city from the Laurentians, and including Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italians, Portuguese and Greeks. Many of the area’s residents worked in the nearby Peck Building, labouring in low-paying jobs in the garment industry; today, the Peck Building is home to Ubisoft, a major player in the video game industry.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, sometimes it takes a community to write a book. Yves had help from friends and neighbours — many of them members of the local history group Mile End Memories — who gave him access to their own research and expertise. I provided him with information about my ancestors the Baggs and the Clarks, and the collaboration paid off for both of us: I was able to fill in family information he didn’t have, and he helped me understand the historical context of my ancestors’ lives.

I learned that Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the traditional dividing line between the western part of the city, where the majority of English-speaking Montrealers live, and the eastern part, which is overwhelmingly French-speaking, was the only road leading north out of the city in the early 1800s. The Baggs owned much of the land on the western side of Saint-Laurent, and it remained primarily rural until the 1890s. Much of the land on the east side was owned by the Beaubien family, and early residents worked in local tanneries and quarries.

At the end of the 19th century, a group of real estate promoters from Toronto tried to develop a “strictly high class suburb” in Mile End called the Montreal Annex. While they did manage to attract a few professionals and their families, the scheme eventually failed. For decades, most of Mile End’s residents were strictly working class, or worked at skilled trades such as shoe-making and carriage-making.

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Carriages, not cars, once used this entrance between row houses. jh photo.

Meanwhile the area experienced many growing pains as politicians argued over taxes and infrastructure, and promoters battled to provide the public transportation (by electric tram and rail) that was key to the area’s growth.

Today, as the city of Montreal rebuilds its infrastructure and controversy surrounds plans for future residential projects and transportation corridors, it seems that some things haven’t changed much.

Yves Desjardins. Histoire du Mile End, Québec: Éditions du Septentrion, 2017.

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “The Mile End Tavern”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 21, 2013, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2013/10/the-mile-end-tavern.html

Mile End Memories, http://memoire.mile-end.qc.ca/en/ This site includes articles in English and in French, photos, an interactive map that indicates the location of many historic buildings, including the Auberge du Mile End (Mile End Tavern), and a link to summer walking tours of the area.

This article was simultaneously posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fact and Fiction in Family History

The conclusion of one of the stories on Vita Brevis, the New England Historic Genealogical Society blog, demonstrates a typical family historian dilemma.

“We still don’t, of course, know who wrote down the story, when, or how likely they were to know the true facts of the case, but someday the original family version may surface.”

Alicia Crane Williams’ conclusion to her post about a man whose ancestor’s wife allegedly received a dowry equal to her weight in gold (http://vita-brevis.org/2017/01/poor-man-in-london/, Jan 9, 2017) was exactly as it should be. An important part of our job as family historians is to clearly make the distinction between history and story, fact and myth. Williams came across the story while researching a sketch of Henry Lamprey of Hampton, New Hampshire, but as far as she could tell, it was just that: a family story. She read it in an 1893 history of the town and traced an earlier reference, but she was still trying to figure out how much – if any – of the tale was based on fact.

As family historians, we all run across family stories, some amusing, others tragic. We are usually thrilled to find these stories since they help fill in some of the blanks between our ancestors’ birth and death dates. But that does not make them true.

Accounts written at the end of the 19th century are often suspect. Many towns in North America published books featuring profiles of prominent members of their communities. These accounts were usually provided by the families and they tended to emphasize the positive rather than relying on solid research.

My ancestor Stanley Clark Bagg is a good example. After he died in 1873, several Montreal “historians” wrote about his family’s roots. My research has proved that they made an error and this misinformation has been perpetuated until today in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (See “The Biography of Stanley Clark Bagg: Don’t Believe Everything You Read”, Genealogy Ensemble, Dec. 2, 2015, https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/12/02/the-biography-of-stanley-clark-bagg/

Also common is the story about families being descended from royalty, aristocracy or the very wealthy. My MacGregor ancestor was supposedly descended from the clan chiefs and my Hamilton ancestor, a tailor, was – you guessed it – allegedly related to the Dukes of Hamilton. None of my research has showed either claim to be true.

Our job as family historians is not to just to repeat family stories as facts but to try to verify them and to correct the record when necessary, or at least indicate that there is doubt about a story. Many family stories do contain kernels of truth, and it is often helpful to put our ancestors’ lives into historical context. But if we can’t sort out what is fact and what is fiction, we have to be clear that we are recounting an unverified story.

Part of the Bagg Family Fonds Now Online

Many people have old family treasures such as letters and albums in the attic. In my family, a collection of 200-year-old business records made their way from the attic to a Montreal museum, and now some them have been digitized and placed online for everyone to explore. Part of the Bagg Family Fonds housed at the McCord Museum, these newly digitized images include records from the store where the workmen who built the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s bought their bread and rum.

The project to digitize these and other documents was financed by Library and Archives Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and Montreal’s 375th anniversary. The McCord Museum in Montreal is posting some 75 000 images from its collection of textual archives to its website (http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/keys/collections/).

The website provides an introduction to the Bagg family and to the scope of the Bagg Family Fonds (P70): http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true.  At the bottom of this page are links to four sets of digitized documents: the Laprairie Brewery (1821-1832), the workmen’s store in Lachine (1822-1823), a child’s scrapbook and a young woman’s autograph book that probably dates from around the turn of the century.

My three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg was one of the four main contractors in charge of building the Lachine Canal in Montreal in the 1820s. He also ran the store that supplied the workers with bread, tea, sugar, pork and occasionally fish, eggs and butter, although rum and beer seem to have been the most popular items. Some pages list the names of the customers, the items they purchased and the prices they were charged.

Other images record cash payments related to the canal construction, including planks, nails, wheelbarrows, hay (probably for the horses), blasting powder and wages for day labourers.

Another set of records is related to the brewery owned by Stanley’s brother, Abner Bagg. The LaPrairie Brewery account books list expenses such as barley, charcoal, transportation costs and wages. Both the store and the brewery records contain many names of suppliers and customers.

Both of these collections provide a window into life in Montreal some 200 years ago. For example, Quebec historian Donald Fyson used these records as a basis for his thesis, “Eating in the city [electronic resource]: diet and provisioning in early nineteenth-century Montreal” Montréal: McGill University, 1989. http://www.collectionscanada.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol1/QMM/TC-QMM-55597.pdf

No one really knows who had the foresight to save these records, or how they ended up at the McCord. According to one of my cousins, these account books were found in the basement of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, but no one knows who put them there in the first place. Clare Fellowes, daughter of Evelyn (Bagg) Davis, gave an additional gift of textual documents to the museum in 2002 and 2003.

Documents in the Bagg Family Fonds that have not been digitized includes copies of letters that Stanley and Abner wrote to each other and to business colleagues, and a ledger belonging to butcher John Clark, Stanley Bagg’s father-in-law. Documents related to another generation of the family date from the final decades of the 19th century when the Baggs were property owners and real estate developers. This includes a ledger showing property sales, and letters between the Bagg siblings as they discussed and sometimes disagreed about business decisions. There are also personal documents such as a list of wedding presents, recipes and several albums of family photos, taken in the early 1900s by my grandmother, Gwendolyn Bagg. More recently, the late Joan Shackell, a descendant of Abner Bagg, donated a number of items related to her line of the family.

Members of the public can visit the archives at the McCord Museum to consult the Bagg Family Fonds and other collections, but they must make an appointment weeks in advance. It is encouraging to see that some of these documents are now available online.

(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca)

See also

Janice Hamilton, “Abner Bagg, Black Sheep of the Family?” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 9, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/04/abner-bagg-black-sheep-of-family.html

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg and the Lachine Canal, Part 2: Rocks and Water,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 13, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/03/stanley-bagg-and-lachine-canal-part-2.html

Arthur’s Baby Book

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The night before three-year-old Arthur Hamilton became ill, he was reciting a rhyme and joking about lisps and kisses and mistletoe with a family friend who was helping put the children to bed. Someone – his mother or the friend – recorded those words in his baby book.

The following day, Arthur came down influenza. In fact, everyone in the house – his parents, his twin brother and his two older siblings – got sick. The others recovered, but Arthur did not.

When the influenza pandemic reached the Hamiltons’ Winnipeg home in January 1919, it was at its deadly peak. Arthur was among more than 1,200 Winnipeg residents and 50,000 Canadians killed by the pandemic, which was brought to Canada by troops returning from the trenches of World War I.1   Some 21 million people died from the virus worldwide.

Today, Arthur’s baby book, and that of his twin (my father) is in the University of Manitoba Archives as part of the Hamilton Family collection. These cheerfully illustrated booklets include important milestones, such as the twins’ first steps. Arthur’s book is especially moving because of the entry about the jokes he made just before he became ill.2

Archivist Shelley Sweeney has used Arthur’s baby book in the classroom many times. For example, she took it to a religious studies class that was exploring how people react to death by expressing regret and memorializing the person who has passed.

“It strikes people as so unbearably sad,” she says. “There are always sympathetic expressions and murmurs when I talk about it.”3

The death of a young child like Arthur seems especially sad, but the influenza pandemic traumatized whole communities. Some people lost family members to the flu after having already lost sons and brothers in the war. Many of those who died were between 20 and 40 years old, in the prime of their lives. Children were left without parents, families without income earners, businesses without customers, and manufacturers without workers. Poor neighbourhoods had the highest death rates.

Some people compared the pandemic to the Black Death of medieval times. The government banned large public gatherings to try to control the spread of the virus. Hospitals and physicians were overwhelmed.

My grandfather was a physician and my grandmother had trained as a nurse, but they couldn’t save their son. They tried everything they knew, but there were no effective treatments in 1919.

Their older son, Glen, a future a physician himself, later recalled being taken in to see Arthur’s body. He said, “I can remember on the floor beside his crib there was an enamel basin with boiling water in it – Friars Balsam [eucalyptus oil] – that aromatic stuff you put into body rub, and a little tank of oxygen. And those were the weapons to fight the flu. That was all!”4

My grandfather, Thomas Glendenning (T.G.) Hamilton, was devastated by his son’s death. Not only had he failed as a physician, but, as Glen Hamilton suggested in an interview, T.G. may have felt that he had been too attached to Arthur. “Dad was a very strict Calvinist Presbyterian and he felt that in some way, because he was so fond Arthur …. that he was being punished by the Lord ….”5

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Arthur’s death was a pivotal event for the Hamiltons in a way that seems surprising today, but was typical for the time. Many people were deeply religious and believed in personal survival after death. Grieving families wanted to communicate with loved ones who had passed, so they turned to mediums and séances. Between the two world wars, a strong spiritualist movement developed in Canada and elsewhere.6 Glen suggested that Arthur’s death stimulated his parents’ interest in the psychic field.

What made the Hamiltons unusual was the effort they put into exploring psychic phenomena. For more than 10 years, until T.G.’s death in 1935, they held almost weekly séances with a small group of regular participants.7 T.G. became known across Canada, the United States and England for his psychic research, while Lillian played a key organizing role in the background. T.G. emphasized the “scientific” nature of his enquiry, but his grief must have coloured these experiences.

Around 1980, Margaret (Hamilton) Bach donated her parents’ research notes, speeches and photographs to the University of Manitoba Archives, and a few years ago I added a few items, including the twins’ baby books. Today, many people consult the Hamilton Family fonds. Some are interested in psychics, several have used the collection as inspiration for plays and visual art, and other researchers are using the collection to explore how people cope with trauma.

Although many people, including myself, are skeptical about the authenticity of their experiments, it is wonderful to see that T.G.’s and Lillian’s passion is still contagious in so many different ways.

(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca.)

Notes and Sources

T.G. Hamilton and Lillian (Forrrester) Hamilton had four children: Margaret Lillian (1909-1986), Glen Forrester (1911-1988), and twins James Drummond (1915-1980) – my father — and Arthur Lamont (1915-1919).

To read more about the Hamilton Family fonds, see http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/digital/hamilton/index.html

1 Janice Dickin, Patricia G. Bailey, “Influenza”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/influenza/ (accessed March 20, 2017)

2. Baby book of Arthur Lamont Hamilton. University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections (UMASC), Hamilton Family fond, A10-01, Winnipeg.

3. Personal email communication with Shelley Sweeney, March 23, 2017.

4. James B. Nickels. “Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family: Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton”, Manitoba History, June 2007, p. 5.

5. Ibid.

6. Esyllt Jones, “Spectral Influenza: Winnipeg’s Hamilton Family, Interwar Spiritualism and Pandemic Disease,” in Magda Fahrni and Esyllt W. Jones, editors, Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society and Culture in Canada, 1918-20, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012, p. 195.

7. Janice Hamilton “Bring on Your Ghosts!” Paranormal Review, winter 2016, p. 6. This edition of the magazine, published by The Society for Psychical Research in England, is entirely devoted to the psychic research carried out by the Hamiltons.

 

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