I have taken advantage of all the extra free time at home over the past year to write a family history book about my father’s ancestors. It has been the perfect pandemic project, but now it is almost time to launch it into the world.
This book brings together the many blog posts I have written about my father’s extended family over the past eight years for my personal family history blog, Writing Up the Ancestors, and for the collaborative blog Genealogy Ensemble. As someone once told me, a blog is a good cousin catcher, and indeed, blogging has allowed me to connect with cousins I never knew I had. Also, I got a lot of the research done and written up in small bites. But the stories about the Hamilton and Forrester families (my paternal grandmother was a Forrester) jump all over the place on the blog; in the book, they are in historical sequence and geographical context.
A book that you can hold in your hands and store on your bookshelf for years also feels more permanent. People read a blog post, then jump to the next shiny object on the Internet. You might only read part of a book, or look at the photos, but you can keep it for a long time and pass it on to the next generation. I’m dedicating this book to my grandchildren, in the hope that one day, maybe 50 years from now, they will sit down and discover all the astonishing things their ancestors risked and achieved.
I have called this book Reinventing Themselves: a History of the Hamilton and Forrester Families. These people reinvented themselves several times. Most male members of the immigrant generation grew up in lowland Scotland where they were weavers, stonemasons, tenant farmers and carpenters. When they landed in Upper Canada around 1830, they had to reinvent themselves as farmers in an unfamiliar climate. Members of the next generation retained most of their Scottish customs and religious beliefs, but moved on to a new landscape as they became grain famers on Canada’s western prairies. Their sons and daughters were the first to give up farming and forge careers in the city.
Many Canadian pioneer families followed similar paths, so what makes this story special? Part of its value is that it does represent the experiences of many 19th century immigrant families.
Luckily, many accounts of my ancestors’ unique experiences have survived. In a letter to his father back in Scotland, immigrant Robert Hamilton (1789-1875) recounted the family’s voyage across the Atlantic. Fifty years later, his granddaughter Maggie Hamilton (1862-1886) wrote a letter from Saskatoon in which she described baking bread for the government soldiers following the North West Rebellion in 1885. Fast forward another eighty years and Charles Forrester (1889-1984) wrote a book about life on the farm near Emerson, Manitoba, from hauling water for the livestock to singing Scottish ballads at family gatherings.
I used to envy people who were members of various ethnic groups. They seemed so exotic, while my ancestors were pretty boring. But writing this book has helped me appreciate the values these Scots brought with them: their deep sense of community and their competitiveness, their love of books and learning, their love/hate relationships with alcohol, and their strong work ethic.
The book also has its share of surprises, from the discovery of my great-grandmother’s illegitimate birth and the story of brothers who were globe-trotting plant collectors to the death of my father’s twin in the 1918 flu pandemic and my grandparents’ subsequent investigations into psychical phenomena.
The research, writing and editing are done. It’s too late now for changes, although I will always be itching to tweak something. The manuscript and many, many photos are in the hands of a book designer. I’ll let you know soon when and how to get a copy.
Write what you know. That is good advice, but it can be hard to follow if you have poor health and seldom travel or even explore your own neighbourhood. This was the case for my mother. Nevertheless, several of her articles about her hobbies and personal memories were published in the local media.
As I write this, snow is falling outside my office window and, in the midst of a pandemic, the government has advised people to stay at home. These restrictions feel much like the limitations my mother experienced, so I dug out some of her articles to see what inspired her.
Joan Hamilton (1918-1994) was a prolific letter-writer: letters to the editor of The Montreal Star, letters to the newspaper’s television critic, and letters to federal and provincial politicians on a variety of topics. But what she really wanted was to write magazine articles, so she was very proud when several of her stories appeared in Montreal Scene, a magazine inserted every Saturday in The Montreal Star. It generally featured four or five articles, along with the weekly television listings, and there was always a painting of a local scene on the cover.
“Feathered Fun” by Joan Hamilton, which appeared in the January 15, 1977 issue, was about her own favourite pastime, armchair bird-watching.
My parents’ house had a sunroom with picture windows overlooking the backyard where a large crab-apple tree, laden with wizened fruit, attracted many birds in winter. “If you are lucky, anytime after mid-January, a group of evening grosbeaks or common redpolls may discover your garden treats,” she wrote, adding, “There is no better pick-me-up for the winter blues than to spot the beautiful yellow, black and white grosbeaks feeding on the snow.” Mother also attached small bird feeders to the sunroom windows and kept them full of seeds so she could watch the chickadees up close.
In another article, “Winters Remembered,” in the March 25, 1978 issue, she suggested that Montrealers were getting soft, no longer able to cope with snow and cold weather. She recalled that the postman called twice a day when she was young, and if there was a time when he couldn’t get through the drifts, she didn’t remember it. Furthermore, “in those days, many deliveries were still made by horse-drawn sleighs, which always seemed to triumph over the highest snowbanks.”
She wrote, “We must have got our first car in the late ‘20s. A Hupmobile with glass flaps for windows, it didn’t have a heater, that’s for sure. Maybe that is why in those days nearly everyone put their car ‘up’ for the winter…. We relied on the trusty old streetcars. We lived near the crest of Côte-des-Neiges, and I don’t remember a time when they were not able to make the hill. They had cowcatchers that acted as snowplows in front, and during big snowstorms, there were special snow plow cars clearing the tracks, trailed by a string of streetcars, power lines crackling with light and windows steamed, but making it up the hill.”
Travel, both short and long distance, was by the invincible train, she recalled. “Trains may have been delayed, but at least you always got where you were going.” She had particularly fond memories of the Laurentian ski train which carried Montrealers to the slopes north of the city in the winter. “The gaiety on board was as much a part of the fun as skiing.”
She continued, “We never worried about freezing or starving during power failures. First of all, we had a coal furnace which, although it had to be stoked morning and night, was not subject to breakdowns…. We cooked with gas, so there was no worry about being unable to have a hot meal if the electricity went off. Lots of people still had wood or coal stoves.”
Towards the end of the article, Mother asked, “Was it really better back then, or has time blocked out the bad memories and left only the good?” Perhaps she did block out some of negative aspects of winter in the 1930s and 1940s, but her memories nevertheless made for entertaining reading.
One of my favourite photos of the ancestors shows a man wearing a top hat, a dog by his side. Sent to me by a cousin about a dozen years ago, the image was identified as “Great-grandfather Robert Hamilton.” That was my great-great-grandfather, the Scottish-born weaver who immigrated with his young family to Scarborough, Upper Canada in 1830.
I thought it would make the perfect cover photo for the book I am writing about the history of the Hamilton family. Most studio portraits taken in the late 1800s were uniformly stiff. Although this man has a serious expression, the image is unusual for its painted background, and dog is appealing.
But was the man in the photo really Robert Hamilton (1789-1875) the immigrant? After all, he had a son named Robert Hamilton (1824 -18731) and his grandson was also Robert Hamilton (1856-1908.) I forwarded the photo to several distant cousins who have researched the family, and to Rick Schofield, archivist at the Scarborough Historical Society, in east-end Toronto.
Rick was the first to reply, probably horrified that I might have already gone ahead with the cover. I speculated that the photo might have been taken in the 1850s, and Rick pointed out that there were no photo studios in Scarborough then, and travel by horse to Toronto would have been quite a challenge. He asked what the original photo looked like (I didn’t know) and pointed out that, in the 1850s, Daguerrotype, Ambrotype (glass) and tintype photos were the most common, as well as albumen type and card-mounted photos.
I then forwarded the image to several other relatives, including cousin Alison in Dallas, Texas. It turned out she has an original carte de visite of this photo that includes the name place where it was taken: J.J. Milliken Photo Studio, Toronto.
A quick search online showed that this studio was in business in the 1890s. Since Robert Hamilton the immigrant died at age 86 in 1875, and his son Robert Hamilton died of typhoid fever in 1871, that left grandson Robert Hamilton, a farmer in Southwestern Ontario.
Case closed, I thought. Until I realized, not so fast. If the photo was misidentified as the wrong Robert Hamilton, how could I even be sure this person’s name was Robert Hamilton? This could be a picture of any family member, perhaps the husband of one of the daughters, a cousin, or even a close friend. All I can say for sure is that this photo was taken in the 1890s, by a Toronto photo studio, and was probably a picture of a member of the Hamilton family.
I recently used the photo of the man in the top hat on this blog. It has now been replaced with a verified picture of Robert Hamilton the immigrant, taken when he was an old man. This photo is included in a history of Scarborough that was published in 1896. At that time, the editor would have been able to check the sitter’s identity with residents who remembered him.
So, who wrote the wrong identity on the photo sent to me years ago? Probably my Aunt Margaret or Uncle Glen Hamilton. Both were proud of their Scottish origins and interested in the family’s history, but neither of them actually did the hard slog of genealogy, looking up and sorting out births, marriages and deaths. They would not have realized that their great-grandfather died years before this photo was taken.
They made an assumption and I didn’t question it for many years. Lesson learned.
The Genealogy Ensemble Banner
Several of the photos in the Genealogy Ensemble banner up top include members of the Hamilton family. At far left, my father, Jim Hamilton, and his twin, Arthur, in 1918; a Catholic church in Quebec, photo by Barry McGee; Gwendolyn Bagg, my grandmother on my mother’s side, on her wedding day in 1916; left to right, three cousins in Winnipeg: Margaret Hamilton, Isabel Hamilton and Olive Hamilton, around 1915; Jim Hamilton’s baby book; Whickham Parish Church, County Durham, England; OPR birth record of Alexander Tocher, Grange, Banffshire, 1754, http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
A few years ago, someone gave me a copy of the Hamilton family tree, starting with immigrant couple Robert Hamilton ((1789-1875) and his wife Elizabeth Stobo (1790-1853) and including up to six generations of their descendants. Dates, places and occupations were not mentioned, however, and I wondered who these distant relatives were. Fortunately, the Hamilton family is well documented on Ancestry.ca, however, the Scottish habit of using the same names over and over makes the task confusing.
Their health also interested me. A number of my direct ancestors died of heart disease, so I wondered whether my great-grandfather James Hamilton’s siblings also suffered from this condition.
In 1829, Robert and Elizabeth immigrated from the town of Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire to Scarborough, Canada West, now a suburb of Toronto, Ontario, where many of their friends and relatives also settled. When they arrived, their children – Elizabeth, Janet, Agnes, Robert, Margaret and James — were still young. Robert continued to practice his trade as a weaver, meanwhile reinventing himself as a farmer.
Elizabeth Stobo died at age 63, while Robert Hamilton lived to the ripe old age of 86. Two of his sisters also came to Canada, and both had long lives. Agnes Hamilton (1791-1878) and her husband Robert Rae and their four young children arrived in Ontario in 1832. Robert Rae was killed by a falling tree within weeks of their arrival, but Agnes and her children eventually purchased their own farm in Lambton County, Southwestern Ontario. According to her death record, Agnes died of “old age” at 87.
Robert’s younger sister, Janet Hamilton (1800-1882), married in Canada. Her husband, farmer John Martin, was originally from Dumfriesshire. John died at age 83 and Janet succumbed to “dropsy from heart disease.” at 81. The Martins had two sons and a daughter.
Scarborough Township had fertile soil and the Hamiltons must have enjoyed their new lifestyle because the next generation were all farmers. The 1861 census – 32 years after the family immigrated – showed that four of Robert’s children remained in Scarborough Township and neighbouring Markham, while the other two settled about 230 kilometers away in Southwestern Ontario. Eventually one branch of the family – mine – became pioneers again, this time moving to Western Canada.
Robert’s and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth (1817-1894), married farmer William Oliver (c. 1814-1904), who was from Dumfriesshire. Around 1842, the couple settled in a part of Scarborough that did not yet have a road. They cleared the trees, built a two-story stone house and established a farm that became known for its beautiful flower garden. When they finally sold the property some 35 years later, it brought them more than $100 an acre! They retired to Agincourt, where Elizabeth died of cancer at age 76. They had no children.
In 1842, Janet Hamilton (1818-1897) married Robert Reid (1810-1880), who also came from Lesmahagow. They raised nine children on their farm in Markham. According to her death record, Janet died at age 79 of “old age and heart disease” and all of her sons and daughters died of stroke or heart disease between the ages of 49 and 89.
Agnes Hamilton (1821-1897) married Scarborough farmer James Green (c. 1816-1872) from Dumfriesshire and raised seven children. Agnes’s many grandchildren called her Nannie. When James and his family left Ontario, Agnes’s son James purchased his uncle’s Scarborough property. Agnes died of bronchitis at age 76.
Robert Hamilton (1824-1871) was a farmer like his father, but he left the Scarborough area for cheaper agricultural land in Bosanquet Township, Lambton County. This part of Southwestern Ontario, near the shores of Lake Huron, was opened to settlement in the 1830s, but development was hampered in the early years by a lack of roads. It remained rural, and farmers there grew primarily wheat and peas and raised pigs and cattle. Robert and his wife, Janet Smith (1824-1899), had five children. Shortly after being counted in the 1871 census, Robert died of typhoid fever at age 46. In the 1881 census, the widowed Jennet was listed as “female farmer,” living with her grown daughter and three sons. In many families, the oldest son would be counted as head of the family, but not in this one. Of their children, only James married, and some of his descendants still live in the area today. Robert, his wife and children are buried in Pinehill Cemetery, Thedford, Ontario.
Margaret Hamilton (1827-1891) married James Gordon (c. 1820-1903) and had seven children. They settled in Middlesex County, in Southwestern Ontario, around 1860 and farmed there for 22 years. After selling that property, they purchased a small garden farm. Margaret died at age 64 of angina. Descendants of this family also remain in Southwestern Ontario.
As for James Hamilton (1829-1885), after farming in Scarborough for more than 20 years, in 1882 he became a founding settler of Saskatoon, which at that time was an alcohol-free community of farms surrounding a tiny hamlet. His wife and family moved West the following year. In 1885, James travelled east to visit his relatives and he died there of a heart attack at age 56. He is buried beside his parents in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Cemetery, Scarborough.
Thus I discovered that the first generation of my Scottish immigrant ancestors were farmers and that most enjoyed long lives, although heart disease made a frequent appearance in their death records. My great-grandfather was the outlier, leaving Ontario for the West long before any other members of the extended family did so. And while his sons went to university and became professionals, the majority of their cousins remained in farming for at least one more generation.
Notes: Here are some suggestions for researching this period of Ontario history.
Local organizations, such as the Scarborough Historical Society, are an invaluable resource. See http://scarboroughhistorical.com. Several books about the community mention Scarborough’s early settlers by name. See The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896, edited by David Boyle, Toronto, 1896 (http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924028900970/cu31924028900970_djvu.txt) Also, The People of Scarborough: A History, by Barbara Myrvold, published by the City of Scarborough Public Library Board, 1997, gives a comprehensive overview of the community’s history. It is available online as a PDF from the Toronto Public Library.
Scottish baptismal records can be found on Familysearch.org. The image of this church document should be viewed on the Scotland’s People website.
If you find your early Ontario ancestor on Ancestry, you will likely see links to other references to that person, although occasionally the link is to another person with a similar name, or to a son or daughter.
The original marriage documents contain identifying information such as the names of the parents of the bride and groom and occupations.
View census records to see where the family was living every ten years, the name of the current spouse, the names of the children living in the same household, and each person’s occupation. The 1901 census includes the day, month and year of each individual’s birth, although that date may not correspond with other records. (Census informants made mistakes.) City directories are also useful, although they only list the household head.
Ontario death records from this period can be found on Ancestry.ca by searching the database “Ontario Canada, Deaths and Deaths Overseas, 1869-1948.” Some women are listed under their married names, others under their maiden names. These death documents usually include the date and place of birth as well as the date, place and cause of death.
Do you have a photo of Phineas? I am writing a family history book, and would love to include his picture, but I’ve never come across one. If you can help, please contact me at email@example.com.
Farmer Phineas Rixon and his wife Barbara had been out doing errands in town. After they returned home, he was getting ready to do chores when he was stricken by a heart attack. The doctor came, but Phineas never regained consciousness. He died two days later, age 78, on Friday, September 9, 1938, on the farm he had operated for almost 40 years.
The local newspaper, The Colborne Express, reported, “the large number floral tributes and friends present [at the funeral] showed the high esteem in which he was held.”1
These few facts about his last days are the most detail I found about my great-great uncle’s long life. Phineas seldom moved far from his birthplace in rural Northumberland County, Ontario, a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. However, considering that his first two wives and his daughter predeceased him, and that he married a third time at age 76, his home life must have had its ups and downs.
Phineas (also spelled Phinehas, Phenas, and other variations) was born on May 8, 1859,2 the son of Martha Rixon and probably of her cousin Thomas Rixon.3 His unmarried mother moved to the United States when he was about nine, leaving him and his sister Samantha (my great-grandmother) to be brought up by their grandparents, Thomas and Betsey Rixon, on their farm in Cramahe Township.
It is not clear where Samantha and Phineas lived after their grandparent’s deaths; by then they were teenagers, and they likely stayed with relatives.
In 1878, Phineas joined the militia and was listed as a private in the 40th Regiment Northumberland. He next appeared in the 1880 U.S. Census (as “Fenis Rickson,”) working as a labourer in Michigan. He must have stayed in the United States for at least a year as he was not counted in the 1881 Census of Canada.
At age 24, he married 18-year-old Almeda Warner, daughter of John Warner and Harriet Morden. Phineas’s and Almeda’s daughter, Samantha Almeda Rixon (usually known as Mattie or Medie,) was born in June, 1884. Almeda died of typhoid fever in December, 1897, aged 32, leaving Phineas with a 13-year-old to raise and a farm to run on his own.
Within four years, Phineas had remarried. The 1901 census showed Phineas, 41, married to Mary Leslie, 34. With them were his daughter, Mattie, 16, and Mary’s mother and her two sisters, both in their twenties. He had also moved from Cramahe Township to lot 6, Concession 4, Haldimand Township.4 An advertisement for an estate auction held soon after Phineas’s death said the auction would be held on the John Leslie Homestead, about a mile east of the village of Vernonville, so Phineas and Mary must have lived on what had been her parents’ farm.
Phineas and Mary were married for about 30 years. After she died in January, 1931, he remained single for the next five years. In May, 1936, he remarried. His third wife was a widow, Barbara Jemima (Haynes) Cowey.5
Phineas was buried in Castleton Cemetery, Cramahe, Northumberland County, with his first wife and his daughter. Medie, who was married in 1906 to farmer Claude Tweed and had six children, died in 1915. Barbara, died in 1939, age 73.
Photos: courtesy Gabrielle Blaschuk
1. The Colborne Express, Thursday Sept. 15, 1938, p. 1.
2. Year: 1901; Census Place: Haldimand, Northumberland (West/Ouest), Ontario; Page: 3; Family No: 26. Ancestry.ca, 1901 Census of Canada (database on-line, entry for Phineas Rixon, accessed Aug. 9, 2020,) citing Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1901. Ottawa, Ontario, 2004, Series RG31-C-1, Statistics Canada Fonds, Microfilm reels: T-6428 to T-6556.
3. This complex story is recounted in the following two posts:
4. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 74; Census Place: 74, Northumberland, Ontario; Page Number: 7, Ancestry.com. 1921 Census of Canada (database on-line, entry for Phineas Rixon, accessed Aug. 9, 2020,) citing Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Library and Archives Canada, 2013, Ottawa, Ontario. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds.
5. Archives of Ontario; Registration of Marriages 1936; Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1826-1938, online database, Ancestry.ca and Genealogical Research Library (http://ancestry.ca, accessed Aug. 4, 2020,) entry for Barbara Cowey, citing Ontario, Canada, Select Marriages, Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
When Jessie Jean Forrester (1896-1961) married a Presbyterian minister, she committed herself to a very different life from the one she had been accustomed to growing up on the Manitoba prairie. For almost 25 years, the couple lived in India, where he served as a missionary. There they were surrounded by the soaring Himalayas and elaborate temples, they suffered the heat of the central plains and humidity of monsoons, and they enjoyed eating Indian food.
There were some scary moments too. On one occasion, they were staying in a camp, complete with tea service. Jessie got up to go to the bathroom during the night and, as she was passing through the privacy screen, she saw a tiger roaming the camp.
The youngest daughter of farmers Jack and Samantha (Rixon) Forrester, Jessie first left Manitoba as a teenager, accompanying her parents when they retired to Los Angeles around 1911.
The 1920 U.S. census found her at age 24, living with her parents and working as a book keeper for a hardware store. The following year, she and her mother were counted in the 1921 census of Canada, staying with Jessie’s older sister (and my grandmother,) Lillian Hamilton, and her family in Winnipeg. They were probably busy preparing for the wedding.
Jessie’s husband-to-be, Thomas Benjamin McMillan, was born in 1888 in Margaret, Manitoba. The McMillan family eventually moved to Winnipeg. Tom graduated from Manitoba College with a degree in economics, then served as a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. After the war, he returned to Winnipeg and completed a two-year course in theology.
Jessie and Tom were married on August 17, 1921.Three weeks later, the newlyweds left for India. Daughter Hazel Lillian (born 1922) and son Hugh Forrester (born 1924) were both born in India and attended Woodstock School, Landour, a school founded in the 19th century to educate the children of American missionaries. They also attended school in Winnipeg during extended visits to Canada.
Tom went to India as a Presbyterian minister, but after the creation of the United Church of Canada by Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist congregations in 1925, he became a United Church missionary. Much of his work was based in the central Indian cities of Hat Piplia, Neemuch and Indore, in the state of Madhya Pradesh. When the weather in central India became too hot, the family retreated to the twin cities of Landour and Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas. When son Hugh McMillan and his wife visited Mussoorie in 1979, they found the cosmos flowers Jessie had planted many years before still seeding themselves and blooming.1
Besides serving as a pastor, Tom was also active on several committees. In central India, he served as chairman of the building committee for 10 years and secretary of the Evangelistic Commission for three years, and he was a delegate to the General Assembly of the United Church of North India and chairman of the Assembly Business Commission.
Tom and Jessie remained in India during World War II, but 19-year-old Hazel returned to North America in 1941 to stay her uncle and aunt in Los Angeles, and Hugh sailed to California in 1944. Both were accustomed to long sea voyages, having travelled back and forth with their parents every few years to visit friends and relatives in Winnipeg and Los Angeles, but it must have been frightening for them to travel alone in wartime. Tom and Jessie came back to Canada for good after the war ended and before Indian independence.
The McMillans settled in British Columbia, where Tom ministered to several United Church congregations. After he retired in 1960 at age 72, they settled in Victoria, where he continued to visit the sick and served as an associate minister at Oak Bay United Church until 1964.
When Jessie died in 1961, aged 65, her obituary in the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle called her “a woman of great dignity and artistic ability,” adding that the bazaars and festive occasions at the two local United churches where Tom had been minister for four years were made more attractive by her deft floral arrangements.
Tom died in 1965 at age 77 and was buried beside his wife in Royal Oak Burial Park, Saanich, B.C..
Walter Meyer zu Erpen, “Mrs. Jessie Jean (Forrester) McMillan (29 March 1896-16 September 1961), sister of Mrs. T.G. Hamilton (1880-1956), and Reverend Thomas Benjamin McMillan (26 June 1888-25 July 1965), BA (University of Manitoba). Draft research report, 2015/12/26. Note: Walter gathered his research from a number of sources, including telephone interviews with family members and United Church of Canada records.
(This article is also posted on Writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca)
After Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873) and his family returned home to Montreal from a year-long trip through Europe in 1868-1869, he wrote a small book about some of the places they had visited. Published in 1870, he called it Continental Notes for Private Circulation.1 The irony is that, 150 years after this book appeared, it is far from private: it can be found in university libraries, and it is also available on the Internet.
Continental Notes highlights 20 of the places the Bagg family visited, including Paris, Venice, Strasbourg, the Rhine River, Waterloo, the ruins of Pompeii and the French Riviera.
I was excited to find a copy of this little book on an open circulation shelf at McGill University a few years ago. I had read a lot about my great-great-grandfather, but I hoped to get to know him a little better by reading his own words.
At first glance, the book seemed dry and impersonal. This was disappointing, considering that SCB and his wife, Catharine, had made the trip with his sister-in-law and five children, ranging in age from seven to 20. The trip was no doubt considered an essential part of the children’s education. Surely there must have been some surprises or amusing incidents along the way that he could have described. But SCB explained in the introduction that the book was based on his personal notes, some of which were written before they even left Montreal. And this was a man of the Victorian era who had a reputation for being conservative, at least in politics. As a member of Montreal’s elite, his writing style was no doubt appropriately reserved.2
On closer reading, however, it became clear that Continental Notes reflected his personal interests, which included history (especially the Roman Empire and the early history of Christianity) and archaeology.
The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge, is in the Latin quarter of Paris. JH photo
In the two pages he wrote about Paris, he gave more space to the Hôtel de Cluny, which he called “one of the finest remains of the ancient mansions of Paris of the 16th Century” than he did to the Louvre. He added that the Palais des Thermes, once the residence of the Roman Governor of Gaul, was connected to Hôtel de Cluny and housed a collection of antiquities that was open to the public. That museum of medieval art is still there, so when my husband and I visited Paris in 2010, we visited it. One of the treasures it houses today is a famous series of tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn.
One of the other spots SCB visited was Hyères, a town located near the Mediterranean coast of France, between Nice and Marseilles. He mentioned its warm winter climate, which may have been one of its attractions, and went on to write, “The environs of Hyères abound in vineyards and olive gardens.… This reminds me of the good Samaritan who poured oil and wine into the wounds of the man that fell among thieves. Who can walk through these pleasant vineyards without thinking of our blessed Lord when he said, ’I am the true vine, and my Father the husbandman.’”
Forty years ago, long before I knew anything about Stanley Clark Bagg, I spent a month in Hyères, taking classes at a French language school there. Hyères was not the area’s most attractive town and I wondered what my great-great-grandfather would have found of interest there. Then it occurred to me that, besides the weather, he was probably attracted by the ruined medieval castle. SCB noted, “The ruined walls and towers of the Castle of Hyères stand on a hill above the town. It is probable that this Roman fortress dates as far back as the sixth century.” I walked up to the ruins one afternoon, but was not as excited about the castle as he was.
Many years later, I came across some notes that probably referred to that European adventure. Someone had put them in the Bagg family Bible, perhaps so they wouldn’t get lost.3 The notes reveal that the family not only visited France, Belgium, Prussia, Switzerland, Italy and the Papal States, but also Ireland, Scotland, England.
These little reminders probably reveal as much of SCB’s attitude on the road as his book does, and most of them remain good advice 150 years later:
Do not fill trunks, nor take too many. Look after luggage.
Read up references, prepare routine, currency, etc.
SCB’s most personal writing is probably his poetry. The title, Leisure Moments, seems something of a misnomer, however, given that this small collection of poems he had printed in 1871 features melancholic themes such as grief for deceased loved ones and assurances of a beautiful afterlife. Leisure moments [electronic resource] : a few poems, by Stella [i.e. Stanley Clark Bagg], Bagg, S. Clark. Montreal, 1871 https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100248153 (accessed Jan. 5, 2020.)
I found these notes in the family Bible at the McCord Museum, Montreal, and copied them then, but when I looked again a few years later, they were no longer there.
When Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) and his father, Stanley Bagg, of Montreal, visited England in 1842, they were combining business and pleasure. The business involved selling property that SCB’s maternal grandfather had owned in Durham, England, and the pleasure involved a whirlwind tour of London, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as visits with various great-aunts and great-uncles who still lived in England.
It was a good time for a trip: SCB had just finished a four-year apprenticeship with a notary and could now practice as a notary himself. It made sense to travel before he opened his own office.
A few months after his return to Montreal, SCB wrote to his cousin in Philadelphia, outlining the trip. Unfortunately, he did not include any details or impressions of their adventures, but the list of places they visited sounds exhausting. Passenger rail services were expanding in England at the time, but much of their travel would have been done by horse-drawn coach.
Crossing the Atlantic, however, was fast. The age of the trans-Atlantic steamship had arrived in the 1830s, and SCB wrote, “We made the passage to Liverpool from Halifax in the incredible short space of nine days and six hours, which was I believe the shortest passage ever made across the Atlantic. From Liverpool we went to London, thence to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, York Darlington, Durham, Stockton, Sunderland, Newcastle, Shields, Tynemouth, Otterburn …. ”1
As they moved north to Scotland, they passed though many small towns, including Lesmahagow, and they explored both Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the way back to London, they stopped in Carlisle, in the north of England.
After a few days in London, they crossed the Channel to France, where they visited Boulogne, Paris, Versailles, Le Havre and several other spots before returning to London. SCB wrote, “We left London shortly afterwards for Ireland, and having visited Kingstown, Dublin and Kilmainham, returned to Liverpool, where … we embarked on board a steamship and after a boisterous passage of 14 days arrived at Boston exceedingly gratified with our tour.”2
Anchor-maker William Mitcheson, brother of SCB’s grandmother Mary Mitcheson Clark, lived in London, and the Baggs visited him there. While in County Durham, they visited more Mitcheson relations, including Mrs. Dodd (Mary Mitcheson’s sister Margaret) near Ryton, and Mrs. Maugham (Mary’s sister Elizabeth) at Sunderland.
It is clear that the visit to Durham was the highlight of the trip, but not because of the business they finalized there. In fact, SCB did not mention it at all in his letter. When SCB turned 21 in December, 1841, he gained control over the properties in Montreal and Durham that he had inherited from his grandfather John Clark (1767-1827). (He was just 14 when Clark died, so his father acted as executor of the estate until SCB became an adult. The property in Durham was generating rental income, but SCB wanted to sell it. In a notarized document dated after their return to Montreal, SCB’s father listed the sales of three properties in Durham.3
Meanwhile, SCB was interested in ancient legends, old coins, Norman castles and the like, and was enthralled with Durham. More than 20 years later, he presented a lecture to the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal on “The Antiquities and Legends of Durham.”4
He described the legend surrounding the founding of Durham city by 9th century monks. When Danes attacked England’s northeast coast, the monks fled their monastery on the Island of Lindisfarne with the miraculously well-preserved body of their former bishop. Eventually they built an abbey at the future site of Durham city and buried him there. Today, that bishop is remembered as Saint Cuthbert and pilgrims still visit the abbey church, Durham Cathedral.
In his 1866 lecture to the Numismatic Society, SCB opened up about his feelings on the trip. He recalled, “The first time I had the privilege of attending a divine service in Durham Abbey, I was enraptured with the sweet and masterly chanting, unsurpassed in the empire. My father and I obtained seats in the choir. The service was exceedingly impressive, so much so, that …. whenever the portion of the Psalter chanted upon that occasion recurs in the services of the church, it carries me back in imagination to the first service I attended in the venerable abbey of my mother’s native city.”4
This article was also published on Writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com
Letter from Stanley Clark Bagg to Rev. R. M. Mitcheson, Dec. 6, 1842, probably transcribed by Stanley Bagg Lindsay; Lindsay family collection.
Record in a passenger list of Stanley Bagg and S.C. Bagg travelling from Liverpool to Boston aboard the Acadia. Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts, Monday, Sept. 19, 1842, issue 1921;) 19th Century Newspapers Collection, special interest databases, www.americanancestors.org (accessed April 18, 2019.)
Joseph-Hilarion Jobin, “Account and mortgages from Stanley Bagg Esq to Stanley Clark Bagg,” 8 October 1842, notarial act #3537, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
The itinerary of my grandparents’ 1906 honeymoon sounds more like a business trip than a romantic get-away, nevertheless, they both seemed to enjoy their trip to Chicago, Toronto and Montreal.
The bride and groom were Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton 33, a Winnipeg physician (usually known by his initials, T.G.,) and Lillian May Forrester, 26, a nurse. Lillian trained at the Winnipeg General Hospital, graduating in May, 1905, but she resigned from nursing when they became engaged.
The wedding took place at the Winnipeg home of the bride’s uncle, lawyer Donald Forrester, at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, 1906: According to the newspaper, “The bride, who wore a pretty gown of white net over taffeta and carried bride’s roses, was given away by her father, Mr. John Forrester, of Emerson…. There were no attendants, only the immediate relatives of the happy couple being present.” Following the brief Presbyterian service, the bride changed into a red and grey travelling outfit and they left for their honeymoon on the 5:20 train.
Lillian kept a diary of the wedding trip, leaving out any romantic details. They spent their wedding night on the train to St. Paul and reached Chicago late the following evening. Staying at the 16-story Great Northern Hotel, they visited Marshall Field’s department store, viewed the impressive tower of the Montgomery Ward Building and attended a play. They also visited the 1,400-bed Cook County Hospital which, Lillian noted, treated 25,000 patients a year and did an average of 10 operations per day. They then headed to Detroit for a brief stopover, and Toronto, where they began by exploring the area around Queen’s Park and the University of Toronto.
Niagara Falls was on their honeymoon bucket list. T.G. and Lillian spent a snowy day there, seeing both the Canadian and American falls. They dressed in waterproof clothing to access the back of the falls, and took a cable elevator car to view the Whirlpool Rapids.
After several nights in Toronto with T.G.’s Aunt Lizzie Morgan, they boarded a train for Montreal. Lillian noted some of the towns they passed through en route, including Belleville, where she was born.
It was now early December, and there was a heavy snowfall in Montreal, nevertheless they took the street car to Notre Dame Cathedral, which they found to be “as grand and beautiful as we anticipated.” Lillian ordered 50 visiting cards – she would need them in her new social role as the wife of a busy physician – and she visited several stores “and spent her first pin money.” She described Morgan’s department store as “the most beautiful store we have ever seen. The art gallery, glass room, electrical room and furniture department are all exceedingly fine.”
T.G. was planning on running for election to the school board in Winnipeg, so he took advantage of the trip to do some research. While Lillian was shopping, he interviewed the Superintendent of Schools.
No visit to Montreal is complete without a trip up Mount Royal. T.G. and Lillian went to the top in a sleigh and enjoyed “a splendid view of city, canal, river and Victoria Bridge.” On the way back downtown, they visited the Royal Victoria Hospital, ”a beautiful, well equipped building” with 300 beds. The next day they explored the Redpath Museum, had dinner at the Windsor Hotel (one of the city’s best) and took the overnight train back to Aunt Lizzie’s in Toronto.
It was a Sunday so, after church, T.G.’s cousin accompanied them to visit relatives. The following day, T.G. met with the Superintendent of School Buildings in Toronto and with a former principal of Wellesley Public School, said to be the most handsome and modern school building in Toronto.
Over the next few days they visited more family members and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Scarborough, where T.G.’s father and grandparents were buried, as well as the farmhouse where T.G. spent his childhood. On their final day in the city, they attended a lecture on new developments in vaccines.
Finally, they headed west to Chicago and Minneapolis. Back in Winnipeg, Lillian’s brother picked them up at the train station and they went to buy furniture.
The last entry of the trip diary was dated almost a month after their wedding: “Dec. 22. Had tea at 8 a.m. in our own house.”
Note: a slightly longer version of this article is posted on my family history blog, writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com.
I was just eight years old when Grampy, my mother’s father, died, so I have few memories of him, only photos. There’s one of him holding me on his lap when I was about a year old, and another that shows him playing a toy musical instrument. A shot of him demonstrating his stone-skipping skills on a Maine beach was probably taken in 1956, during the last summer of his life.
At that time, children were to be seen and not heard; not all grandparents were as involved as he was, and that makes these photos all the more special.
In fact, he was close to all the women in his family, young and old, as he provided moral support and financial guidance to his mother and his three unmarried sisters, as well as to his wife and his daughter.
Frederic Edmund Murray Smith was born in Montreal in 1879 to Jane Mulholland and her husband, John Murray Smith, a bank manager. Fred was the third of their six children. His was a life of privilege, as the family lived in a grey-stone house on McGregor Avenue (now Dr. Penfield Avenue), on the slope of Mount Royal. They also had a summer cottage on the shores of Lake St. Louis, in what is now one of Montreal’s West Island suburbs.
In 1891, Fred’s seventeen-year-old brother, Henry, died of appendicitis. Three years later, when Fred was just 15, his father succumbed to a heart attack, and Fred became the man of the family.
Women supposedly did not understand money matters, so his mother and sisters looked to him for advice. For example, many years later, when his sisters finally sold the house on McGregor, the task of handling the sale and helping them move to an apartment fell on Grampy’s shoulders.
Fred decided not to attend university, but started his career as a messenger. It did not take long for him to move up the corporate ladder. In 1918, he was a manager with the Royal Bank of Canada, and in the late 1920s, he was with Verret Stewart Co., a firm that was an agent for Windsor Salt. Between 1930 and 1936, there was no profession listed beside his name in the Montreal Lovell’s street directory, but he went to work as treasurer of Champlain Oil after the depression and stayed there until he retired.
He lived at home with his mother and sisters and remained an eligible bachelor until age 37, when he married Gwendolyn Bagg. Their only daughter, Joan, was born two years later, in 1918.
Fred and Gwen were both quiet people, more interested in spending time with family than in enjoying Montreal’s night life. In fact, Fred was a strict Presbyterian who never appeared at the dining table without a jacket and tie, and would not allow my mother to play cards on Sundays, but my cousin who is 10 years older than I am remembers him as kind and having a good sense of humour.
In a 1946 letter to my father, Fred described his view of marriage: “We … hope that you both may have as happy a life together as your future father-in-law had in his married life, keeping in mind that it is a partnership, which means both of you have to give and take, and that in the home, it is the woman’s department.”
For the first dozen years of their lives together, the Murray Smiths lived on tiny Selkirk Avenue, near the corner of Cote des Neiges and Sherbrooke streets, two short blocks away from Gwen’s mother’s house and several long blocks from Fred’s mother’s house.
In the late 1920s, my grandparents decided to build a larger house. According to my mother, when they looked at the architectural plans, they did not realize how big it would be. Not only was the house more than they needed, but their timing was bad since Fred lost his job during the depression. Fortunately, Gwen’s Aunt Amelia Norton helped out financially, but this must have been hard for Fred. He was accustomed to helping others. My grandparents lived in that house for the rest of their lives, and he died there, of a heart attack, at age 77.
Grampy is buried in the Murray Smith family plot at Mount Royal Cemetery with his father, mother, brother, three sisters and wife. My mother is buried with them.
This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com
Legally, the family name was Smith, however, because Smith was such a common name, the family used Murray Smith as if it were a hyphenated last name.
The row house on Selkirk Ave. is still there, the Murray Smith family home on McGregor was demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment building, and my grandparents’ house on Saint-Sulpice became the Iraqi consulate.