All posts by Sandra McHugh

Tribute to Joan Benoit

With great sadness, we recently learned of the death of Joan Benoit of Pointe Claire, Quebec in late 2022. Joan was a devoted genealogist and volunteered and helped run the Quebec Family History Society (QFHS) for over thirty years. Ever patient, she helped both the experienced and novice genealogist in their research. She was the “go to” person when anyone had a question. In the words of Claire Lindell:

“It was spring of 2012 when I walked in to the QFHS. Joan greeted me with a smile and made me feel welcome. She offered to help me with my quest for ancestors. She took Rene Jetté’s big blue dictionnaire from the shelf and asked me the names of those I was searching. Within minutes I found my mother’s ancestral family … Claude Jodouin who arrived in Ville Marie in the mid 1600s. I was off to the races and have never looked back, thanks to Joan.”

Ruth Dougherty (left) and Joan Benoit (right) chat in front of Earl John Chapman who is seated at the table speaking with Oskar Keller during Military Roots Day, 2012, at the QFHS.

Joan’s extensive knowledge, accompanied by a warm smile, has helped numerous researchers over the years. Many of her fellow genealogists became her friends. As well as being an avid researcher, she also had a vision of what was needed to promote genealogical research and always accepted the challenge to do what was needed. For approximately twenty years Joan was a well-known visitor to the Archives nationales du Québec on Mullins Street in Pointe-Saint-Charles and later the Archives nationales on Viger Square in Old Montreal. She researched hundreds of family lineages.

Jacques Gagné and Joan Benoit enjoyed a friendship of many years, which Jacques says can best be described in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In other words, good friends bring out the best in one another and enhance each other’s strengths.

Joan’s quiet presence, always supportive, will be sorely missed.

My Parents’ Courtship

As a child, I never imagined what life was like before my parents had my brother and me. But once in a while they would talk about their courtship and what it was like to meet right after World War 2.

When war broke out in 1939, my dad, Edward McHugh, signed up right away. He was stationed in Yorkshire, England and only returned home when the war ended in September 1945. He was already 31 and normally would have been considered a confirmed bachelor.

My mom, Patricia Deakin, would often speak about the day the war ended. She worked for the Sunlife Insurance Company of Montreal. The Sunlife Building was located on Dominion Square in downtown Montreal. When word got out that Germany had surrendered, all of the office workers in downtown Montreal just left their offices and walked out into the streets to express their joy. My mom described it as an amazing outburst of pure joy and celebration of the end of a long and painful war.1

Celebrations in the streets of Montreal at the end of WW2

When Edward went to war, he intended to return to work for his employer, the Canadian Celanese located in Drummondville and his employer had guaranteed his employment. However, my dad decided to stay in Montreal.

At that time, my mom’s brother, Jack Deakin, was dating Norine Scott. Norine and Patricia became great friends. The picture below shows them in the Laurentians for a day of skiing.

Norine Scott (left) and Patricia Deakin at the ski hill

Both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific operated trains from Montreal to the Laurentians, known as the “snow trains,” otherwise known as the P’tit train du Nord.2 Below is one of the Canadian Pacific posters.3

Promotional poster for snow trains

It wasn’t long before Norine introduced her young and eligible Uncle Eddie to my mom and that was the beginning of their courtship.

Both Ed and Patricia loved going to the movies and their Saturday night dates were often a meal at Bens Delicatessen, followed by a show. Bens was a well known delicatessen in Montreal that was famous for its Montreal-style smoked meat. In 1908, Benjamin Kravitz and his wife Fanny Schwartz opened a sweet shop on Saint-Laurent Boulevard and then added sandwiches, using Benjamin’s mother’s recipe. In 1929, they moved to 1001 Burnside (now de Maisonneuve), in the theatre and night club district of the city, and then to their final location in 1949.4

Bens Store Front5

My parents were married on May 21, 1949 at St. Columba Anglican Church in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. This church was built in 1920 but has now been sold to a developer.6 My grandparents would have been parishioners of the church as they lived just 10 minutes away.7 The post WW2 period was marked by a housing shortage. Pressure on the housing shortage was due to demobilized soldiers returning home, and the increase in newly created families. My parents, like many post WW2 newlyweds, lived with my grandparents after the wedding.

St. Columba Anglican Church, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Montreal

The wedding announcement in the Montreal Star on May 30 1949, describes the bride as wearing:

“A gown of white slipper satin made with nylon yoke on Grecian lines and with train. Her veil was of tulle illusion, was finger tip length, held with a bandeau of lilies of the valley and orange blossoms. She carried a cascade bouquet of white carnations and bavardia.”8

The wedding announcement goes on to say that the reception was held at the Montreal West City Hall, in the music room. This photograph of the wedding party is probably taken outside the Montreal West Town Hall.

From left to right: Alistair Lamb, Mary McHugh, Ronald Lamb, John Deakin, James Meikle, Edward McHugh, Patricia Deakin, Melba Jones, Norine Scott, Dorothy Newcombe, Grace Hunter, George Deakin

The wedding announcement continues:

“Mr. and Mrs. McHugh went to Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, for their honeymoon, the bride wearing for travelling a three-piece suit of beige Scotch mist, with white straw hat and green accessories and a corsage of white carnations.”9

Founded in 1897 and located on Lake Massawippi, North Hatley is one of the prettiest villages in Quebec.10 Below is a post card of the Pleasant View Hotel:11

Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, Quebec
Patricia Deakin and Ed McHugh, North Hatley
  1. Courtesy Cadeau, C, All About Canadian History, The End of World War II in Canada, Montrealers celebrate VE Day, https://cdnhistorybits.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/ve-day-vj-day-canada/, accessed 29 November 2022.
  2. Baladodiscovery.com, Saint-Sauveur History, https://baladodiscovery.com/circuits/900/poi/10159/saint-sauveur-history, accessed 27 December 2022.
  3. Pinterest, Kirill Blinov, accessed 26 December 2022.
  4. Wikipedia, Bens De Luxe Delicatessen, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bens_De_Luxe_Delicatessen_%26_Restaurant, accessed 7 December 2022
  5. Stanton, Michael, 2005
  6. Memento Heritage Montreal, St. Columba Church, https://memento.heritagemontreal.org/en/site/st-columba-church/#:~:text=Built%20in%201920%2C%20the%20church,the%20Polish%20and%20Korean%20communities, accessed 27 December 2022.
  7. Lovells Directory, 1949, Deakin, page 1120, accessed December 20, 2022.
  8. Newspapers.com, McHugh-Deakin wedding announcement, 30 May 2022, accessed 22 November 2022.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Eastern Townships, North Hatley, Things to Do in North Hatley, https://www.easterntownships.org/towns-and-villages/45050/north-hatley#:~:text=Founded%20in%201897%2C%20the%20village,village%20centre%20are%20all%20unique., accessed 28 December 2022.
  11. Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, Quebec, Photogelatine Engraving Co. Limited, 19?, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 0002643996, accessed 28 December 2022.

Liquid Gold

Homer said in the 8th century BCE that olive oil was liquid gold. The olive tree reached Greece sometime in the 28th century BCE, introduced by the Phoenicians.1 A staple in Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil has been used for religious rituals , medecines, as fuel in oil lamps, as well as to make soap. Spartans and other ancient Greeks rubbed themselves with olive oil when exercising in the gymnasia.2 Aristotle also described the use of olive oil as a contraceptive. Mixed with either oil of cedar, ointment of lead, or ointment of frankincense, this mixture can be applied to the cervix to prevent pregnancy.3 The olive tree was so important to the ancients Greeks that they awarded an olive wreath to the winners of the Olympic games, symbolizing peace.4

I just came back from visiting my husband’s family in Greece and, as it was October, many of the conversations revolved around when each household would harvest their olives. Obviously, not everyone in Greece has olive trees, but it is common on the islands and in rural areas for each household to have olive trees. The olives are harvested to extract olive oil for family consumption. From the conversations that I listened to, it was important to harvest the olives just before they fell off the trees. This would ensure that the olives were at their greatest weight.  They should also be harvested before they are fully ripe, when they start to change colour to a purple colour, but are not yet fully black. The olive oil will be extracted from the olives at the local mill and it is important to time one’s appointment so that the olives do not sit too long after harvesting and sour.

Family olive harvesting has not changed much over the years. Olives are usually harvested by hand, with a rake that dislodges them gently so that they fall onto a tarp or a net at the bottom of the tree. All stray olives are gathered up and leaves and sticks are sifted out as much as possible.

Olive harvesting on Tinos, 1919 5

An example of the nets used to harvest olives

Olive oil was formerly extracted using millstones. The olives were emptied into a stone basin and ground into a mash. The millstone was harnessed to a donkey. The mash was then scooped out and poured into baskets that allowed the olive oil to drain out into vats. 7

Old stone olive mill8

I had the opportunity to visit a modern mill this olive season and, while mechanized, the process is identical. The purpose is to squeeze the oil from the olives to extract “liquid gold.” Initially the olives are weighed. The first machine separates the olives from any leaves and sticks and washes them. They are then sent to a barrel that crushes the olives and extracts the oil. As the oil is extracted, the machine counts the number of liters as the oil pours into a separate basin. Once this process is finished, the oil is poured into individual containers so that the client can take these containers home. At the mill that I visited, the olive pulp or mash is put into a compost pile.

Liquid gold 9

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_oil, accessed 31 October 2022.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Wikipedia, Olive Wreath, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_wreath, 1 November 2022
  5. Baud-Bovy, Daniel et Frédéric Boissonnas, Des Cyclades en Crète au gré du vent, Geneva, Boissonnas & Co, 1919.
  6. Greece is travel, culture, gastronomy and more, Crete, Olive Oil: The Past, Present and Bright Future of Crete’s Lifeblood, https://www.greece-is.com/olive-oil-the-past-present-and-bright-future-of-cretes-lifeblood/, 3 November 2022
  7. Traveling Classroom Foundation, Making Olive Oil, http://travelingclassroom.org/?p=1379, 3 November 2022
  8. Ibid.
  9. Green Golden Gold, https://www.greengoldengold.de/en, accessed 3 November 2022

The French Republican Calendar

Genealogists love FamilySearch. I have spent many enjoyable hours searching for my ancestors on their free databases. As a way of giving back, I enjoy transcribing historical documents so that others can search for their ancestors. This is called indexing and projects are always available on the FamilySearch web site for volunteers to transcribe.

Not too long ago I chose an intermediate French indexing project on FamilySearch, to transcribe Belgium birth registrations.  I now know that an intermediate level of difficulty may mean very difficult. I was able to decipher the names fairly easily, even the uncommon ones, such as Dieudonné. But I ran into difficulties with the dates.

The records I were transcribing were registered in 1798, smack in the middle of French Republican calendar and therefore the dates needed to be converted to the Gregorian calendar. The French Republican calendar, also known as the French Revolutionary calendar, was used by the French government for twelve years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. It was used in government records in France and other areas under French rule, including Belgium.  The Republican calendar was one of the ways that the French government wanted to do away with the ancien regime after the French Revolution. The new calendar was created by a commission whose members were French intellectuals. Year I (roman numeral) was the first year of the Republic and each new year was set at midnight beginning on the day the autumnal equinox falls at the Paris Observatory. There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called décades. The five or six additional days needed to complete the solar year were called complementary days. This calendar closely resembled the one developed by the ancient Egyptians. 1

Luckily, Family Search has a wiki page that explains how to convert the date on the French Republican calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The twelve months in the French Republican calendar are based the natural events that occur during the year. For example, vendémiaire is the grape harvest month. The Family Search wiki gives an example of how the date would be written out: The 13th of Pluviose in the seventh year. This means that this date is the 13th day of the rainy month in year seven of the French Republican calendar. Family Search then provides four calendars that provides the conversion into the Gregorian calendar depending on the French Republican calendar year.2

I had ten birth registrations to transcribe and it took me two and a half hours to complete.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to understand the French Republican calendar. Looking on the Family Search site, I see that there are more civil registrations to transcribe in French but I will wait until I have a few hours ahead of me as once I start, I like to finish the batch.

Even though it is difficult and painstaking to convert the French Republican calendar dates to the Gregorian calendar, I enjoyed learning about this calendar. And, of course, it is always a thrill to know that you have connected the individuals in the historical records a little closer to their descendants.

  1. Wikipedia, French Republican Calendar, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Republican_calendar, accessed 8 September 2022.
  2. Family Search, French Republican Calendar, https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/French_Republican_Calendar, accessed 8 September 2022

Researching Great-Grandfather Benjamin

Have you seen those ads for Ancestry reminding you that you may be like your ancestors? Logical, isn’t it? My 2X great-grandfather, Benjamin Knight and I have something in common. We did not move very far. Benjamin never strayed further than 20 miles from where he was born, just like me.

Benjamin Knight was born in Lapley, Staffordshire, England in 1835. In 1851, 251 people lived in Lapley. The village included 47 houses.1 In the same year, Benjamin,16, still lived in Lapley, working as a servant at the vicarage, the home of John Rate and his wife. This made me wonder how a vicar could afford a servant. Research tells me that vicars in the 1800s in England were relatively well off. They became vicars by being appointed by a patron and the vicar’s housing was provided by the patron. They also had a “living,” an income for life. This income, although usually not remunerative, was assured and steady. The term describing the right to appoint a clergyman to a living was called an advowson and considered a form of property to be bought, sold, and inherited. In addition to his living and free lodging, the vicar could also increase his income through tithes, teaching or cultivating gardens or the glebe (acreage provided by the parish). Parishioner also paid the vicar for ceremonies such as baptisms, marriages, and burials.2

John Rate’s patron was a member of the Swinfen family that owned Lapley Hall, the manor in the village.3 It is also no surprise that the vicar and his wife would have needed servants as the vicar would have been very active in the community.

Lapley Hall, National Heritage List for England, Listing no. 1178246

The vicarage was attached to the Church of England’s All Saints Church, which has an interesting history. Benedictines established and founded Lapley Priory on the site of the current church at the very end of the Anglo-Saxon period, as a satellite house of their Abbey of Saint-Remi or Saint-Rémy at Reims, France. King Henry V put an end to the priory in 1415.4 It is believed that the current church building in Lapley probably dates from the late 11th or 12th century.5

Church of All Saints, Lapley, National Heritage List for England, Listing no. 1374057

The 1851 census not only shows Benjamin as working as a servant at the vicarage; his future wife also worked there, as a house servant.6 Surprisingly, they only married nine years later, in 1860 and at that time, Jane was 40 and Benjamin was 25.7 Vicar John Rate officiated at the ceremony. Sadly, they were married a little over a year when Jane died on October 31, 1861. Jane’s death certificate states that the cause of death was unknown.8 Surprising, on the registration of her burial in the Parish of Lapley, the vicar writes that the cause of death was an accumulation of fat around the heart. This is the first time I have ever seen a cause of death in a church’s registration of burial but it seems that Vicar John Rate took the time to enter in all causes of death in the parish register. For example, the parishioner who was buried a few days before Jane died of English cholera. Oddly, no one else seemed to die of cholera in the village at that time.

Benjamin recovered quickly from the death of his wife and went on to marry Jane Everall on June 10, 1862 in Wolverhampton, where Jane lived.9 A little twist to the story: Jane Everall was a witness to Benjamin and Jane Watson’s wedding two years earlier.10 Benjamin and Jane Watson had no children but Benjamin and Jane Everall had eleven, one of which was my great-grandmother, Alice Mary Knight, born in 1876.11 Both of Benjamin’s wives were named Jane and they became Jane Knight in the records, adding a layer of complexity to the research.

Great Grandfather Benjamin worked in service all his life. He worked as a servant, a groom, and a gardener. After their marriage, Benjamin and Jane, his second wife, moved to Wolverhampton, about eleven miles away from Lapley.12 Later on they moved to West Bromwich, another 10 miles away, but the birth place of Jane. I assume that family living in this village was a factor in their decision to move.

Jane Everall also predeceased Benjamin in 1902.13 Benjamin died in 1908 in the Union Workhouse of West Bromwich.14 People ended up in a workhouse because they were too poor and too ill to take care of themselves and no one from the family would take care of them. Benjamin died of senile decay so he was certainly too ill and probably too weak to live alone. Still, it is surprising that he died in a workhouse as he had eleven children. Benjamin’s youngest son, Benjamin, was present at his death.15

  1. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Lapley in South Staffordshire | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/8383, accessed 19 July 2022.
  2. Grace, Maria, Random Bits of Fascination, https://randombitsoffascination.com/, accessed 19 July 2022.
  3. Genuki, John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales – 1870-2, Lapley in 1872, https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/STS/Lapley/Gaz1872, accessed 20 July 2022.
  4. Wikipedia, Priory of Lapley, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapley_Priory, accessed 20 July 2022.
  5. Wikipedia, Lapley, England, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapley, accessed 20 July 2022.
  6. Findmypast, Census, Lands & Substitutes, 1851 Census of England and Wales, Benjamin Knight, accessed 3 July 2022.
  7. Findmypast, Birth, Marriage & Death (Parish Registers), Registration of marriage of Benjamin Knight and Jane Watson, 28 June 1860, accessed 07 July 2022.
  8. Registration of the death of Jane Watson, Superintendent Registrar’s District of Penkridge, Registrar’s District of Brewood, County of Stafford, ordered from the General Register Office of the U.K. and received 18 July 2022.
  9. Family Search, England, Staffordshire, Church Records, 1538-1944″, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:2:QPSL-KHBC : 8 July 2020), Entry for Jane Everall and Benjamin Knight, 1862, accessed 21 July 2022.
  10. Findmypast, Birth, Marriage & Death (Parish Registers), Registration of marriage of Benjamin Knight and Jane Watson, 28 June 1860, accessed 07 July 2022.
  11. Certificate of birth registration, Alice Mary Knight, Registration District of West Bromwich, Sub-district of West Bromwich North-East, County of Stafford, 04 May 2021.
  12. Registration of birth of Harry Knight (first born in 1863), Superintendent Registrar’s District of Wolverhampton, Registrar’s District of Wolverhampton West, County of Stafford, ordered from the General Register Office of the U.K. and received 07 July 2021.
  13. Assumed from other family trees, Ancestry.
  14. Registration of death Benjamin Knight, Registrar’s District of West Bromich, Registrar’s Sub-district of West Bromwich North East, County of Stafford, ordered from the General Register Office of the U.K. and received 15 May 2021.
  15. Ibid.

Greece, Beautiful Greece

Have you ever been to Greece? Great food, good weather, beaches. I could go on and on. But my favourite part about visiting Greece is staying in the ancestral home of my husband located on the island of Tinos in the beautiful village of Skalados.

My mother-in-law, born in 1932, has lots of stories of growing up in this lovely village. When she was born, the village had no running water, no electricity, and no roads. It is hard to imagine as everyone now has internet, televisions, washing machines, and one or two cars per family.

While she was growing up, the villagers’ took their water from the well located in the village. It was hard work carrying the water that the household needed from the well to the home. They also used the well for washing the clothes. Women would help each other, as washing was heavy and hard work. Everything that they needed had to be carried to the well, including the clothes. To my surprise they used a blue rinse for the whites. 

Well in Skalados, Tinos (courtesy Tinosecret)

The village had two wood ovens and these were also shared. On baking days the families would bring their bread and dishes that needed to be cooked in the oven.

If you have been to Greece, you will have noticed that the stairs in the villages are wide and long, with a small step.  These stairs were designed for donkeys, which explains their design. My husband’s grandfather used a donkey as his means of transportation as there was no road to the village until the 1970s. The whole island is crisscrossed with “donkey paths” that are now either overgrown or used as walking paths.

Stairs – Skalados (courtesy Tinosecret

I am already looking forward to my next visit.

19th Century Tenements in Dundee

The McHugh brothers were just in their early twenties when they left County Sligo, Ireland to try their luck in Dundee, Scotland.1 When John and Edward McHugh arrived in Dundee, they had lodgings on Scourin Burn. Edward was a tinsmith and John, my 2X great-grandfather, was a sailcloth weaver. 2 A burn is a watercourse and the name Scourin Burn, or ‘cleansing burn’ probably referred to the process of scouring (textile term for cleaning the yarn) the yarn before dyeing as the nearby jute factories used the burn for this purpose. Scourin Burn no longer exists in modern Dundee and is now called Brook Street.3

Malcolm’s Pend, from the Scouringburn, Dundee, Photograph James Valentine (1815-1879), created 1877, Courtesy Scottish National Portrait Gallery, no copyright infringement intended

The McHugh brothers were part of a wave of Irish immigrants to Dundee, a city with a thriving jute industry, which had earned the nickname “Juteopolis.” By 1850 there were 47 spinning mills and eight power-loom factories employing some 11,000 people, as well as 4,000 handlooms. Linen goods, especially canvas, were exported to the Mediterranean, Australia, America, and the West Indies.4 Jute was a versatile fabric and used for everything, including the ropes made by the British Navy, sacking, tents, gun covers, sand bags, and horse blankets.5

Work in the mills was grim with the workday lasting twelve hours, from 6:00 a.m. to 6 p.m., with additional shifts on Saturday. It was not unusual for workers to bring sacks home to sew at night. 6 Three quarters of the workers were women and children, who could be employed at cheaper rates than the men. Injuries and accidents were commonplace. Dust would be everywhere and the machinery produced heat, grease and oil fumes, leading to a condition that was known as “mill fever.” The constant noise of the machinery led to many workers going deaf. 7 The booming jute industry provided plenty of work, but there was a shortage of housing due to the large influx immigrants.  Wages remained low. Overcrowding meant that many migrants boarded with other families in cramped rooms.8

John settled in Dundee and married Mary Garrick, also from Ireland, in 1845. They both worked in the jute factories. It is no surprise that John and Mary raised their family close to the jute mills. In 1861 they still lived very close to Scourin Burn, in Henderson’s Wynd.9

West Henderson’s Wynd, looking towards the Scouringburn [Dundee]. 1877, James Valentine Photographic Collection, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: VGA-122-40a

John and his family lived in tenement housing all their lives. Tenement housing was hastily built to accommodate the rapid growth of the city due to the influx of workers. The construction quality was poor and the living spaces were small. It was not uncommon for families to share flats. As it was not profitable for landlords to build brand new affordable housing for the workers, pre-existing tenements were subdivided into smaller rooms, making living space even more crowded.10

In 1861 with 91,664 inhabitants Dundee had only five WCs, and three of them were in hotels. All water in the city was drawn from wells of which the chief, the Lady Well, was heavily polluted by the slaughterhouse. Of the total housing stock of Scotland 1% had no windows, which meant that 8,000 families were without access to natural light. “11

Tour Scotland website, no copyright infringement intended

In the photograph of the tenement above, people are gathered on the outside staircase and the platforms or “platties.” Outside staircases were a way of saving space inside the building. In the photo, you can see how tiny each of the flats are.

In the 1800s, several cholera epidemics swept Dundee. Poor sanitary conditions were a direct cause of these epidemics. Dundee was a crowded and smelly city and, as in the above photograph, toilets were outside the flats and shared by many families living in the same tenement block. There were very few public facilities available for bathing. Disease was everywhere and it was believed that foul smells carried the disease. Inadequate sewerage and drainage facilities, and poor water supplies contributed to the increasing unsanitary conditions in Dundee and with its rapidly growing population.12

By the early 20th century, housing in Dundee continued to be problematic. Even though houses without windows had disappeared by 1881, overcrowding continued to be a problem. The 1911 census reveals that 72% of Dundonians lived in crowded conditions, in a one or two roomed home. Only 32% of the population of London lived in a one or two roomed home.13  In 1911, my grandparents had seven children and were living in a two roomed flat in Dundee.

My McHugh ancestors lived in Dundee about 72 years, from around 1840 to 1912. During their time in Dundee, every member of the family worked in the jute factories. In 1912, they emigrated to Canada and found jobs in other industries.

  1. Death of brother Thomas McHugh in Sligo, Ireland, 1871. Deduced from Ancestry public member tree. To date, this cannot be confirmed.
  2. 1841 Census, Scotland, Scotland’s People, entry for John McHugh, National Records of Scotland, referenced January 2, 2021.
  3. Leisure and Culture Dundee, Streetwise: Scourin Burn, Dundee Names, People and Places’ – David Dorward, http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/streetwise-scourin-burn, referenced March 24, 2022.
  4. National Library of Scotland, Ordnance Survey Town Plans 1847-1895, Dundee, Background, https://sites.scran.ac.uk/townplans/dundee_1.html#, referenced March 27, 2022.
  5. Dundee Heritage Trust, Genealogy Guide, https://www.dundeeheritagetrust.co.uk/, referenced March 24, 2022.
  6. Whelehan, Niall, History Workshop, Migrant Textile Workers and Irish Activism in Victorian Dundee, April 9, 2021, https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/migrant-textile-workers-and-irish-activism-in-victorian-dundee/, referenced March 24, 2022..
  7. DD Tours, Workers of the Mills, September 16, 2014, https://www.ddtours.co.uk/archive/workers-of-the-mills/, referenced March 24, 2022
  8. Whelehan, Niall, History Workshop, Migrant Textile Workers and Irish Activism in Victorian Dundee, April 9, 2021, https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/migrant-textile-workers-and-irish-activism-in-victorian-dundee/, referenced March 24, 2022.
  9. Statutory death registers, Scotland’s People, entry for Mary McHugh, National Records of Scotland, referenced March 24, 2022.
  10. Kolesnik, Seva, Dundee – Scotland’s Lost Industrial Empire, May 14, 2021, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/89b65e8f684a47bab7ccc058e0bb1570, referenced March 24, 2022.
  11. Knox, W.W., A History of the Scottish People. Urban Housing in Scotland 1840-1940, SCRAN, https://www.scran.ac.uk/scotland/pdf/SP2_4Housing.pdf, referenced March 27, 2022
  12. Leisure and Culture Dundee, Cholera in the 19th Century, http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/cholera-19th-century-0, referenced March 27, 2022.
  13. Knox, W.W., A History of the Scottish People. Urban Housing in Scotland 1840-1940, SCRAN, https://www.scran.ac.uk/scotland/pdf/SP2_4Housing.pdf, referenced March 27, 2022

They Came By Ship

The Titanic Sunk and Loss Feared of Over 1,500 Lives

The April 16, 1912 of the Guardian newspaper screamed this headline.1 Other newspapers around the world had similar headlines.

Just over three weeks later on May 11, 1912, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, his widowed mother, Sarah McLaughlin, and his two brothers, Edward and Francis, boarded the S.S. Grampian in Glasgow, Scotland, to cross the Atlantic to start their new life in Canada.2

They would have been sad to leave their home, excited about their new lives, and definitely worried about hitting an iceberg.

There was a total of 1,638 “souls” on board the S.S. Grampian,3 33 of whom were Saloon or First-Class passengers, and 363 were 2nd cabin passengers. My family was part of the 1,244 passengers in steerage. The crossing took 20 days and the ship arrived in Quebec City on May 21, 1912. Between them, the McHughs arrived with $150 in their pockets. Browsing through the passenger lists, I can see that they had a lot more money than many of their fellow passengers. 4 A Google search tells me $150 in 1912 is about $4,300 in today’s dollars. As they were poor and lived in a tenement in Dundee, Scotland, I can only assume that this meant that they had carefully planned to emigrate.

Steerage accommodations were often divided into three compartments on the ships at that time: one compartment for single men on one side of hold of the ship as steerage passengers certainly did not have an ocean view; one for families in the middle; and a compartment for single women on the other side of the ship. I assume and hope that my family travelled together as a family. These compartments were crowded, with about 300 people in each of them.5 Nor did steerage passengers have a lot of room to move around top deck. They were restricted to a portion of the open deck and prevented from mingling with the Saloon and 2nd cabin passengers by metal gates.

The berths were two-tiered and made of metal frames. Each bed had a mattress and a pillow that could be used as a life preserver. The passengers probably brought their own bedding. Most passengers slept fully dressed.6 The picture below is an example of a four-berth room found in a brochure for the Cunard Line, 1912,7 although many ships had no rooms in steerage and the berths were set up in an open space.

The dining room in steerage had long tables with benches. Steerage passengers were provided with a set of utensils that they used for the entire trip, normally a fork, spoon and a lunch pail. A small dish fit into the top of the pail for meat and potatoes, with an attachment on the lid as a dish for vegetables and a tin cup that fit inside for drinks. The pail also served as a wash basin. 8 The poster below indicates that steerage passengers had to pay 3s 6d per adult for their small pail and utensils (pannikin).9

An example of a dining room for the steerage passengers.10

When the McHughs arrived in Quebec City, they were inspected by one of the medical examiners, either Dr. Drouin or Dr. Dupont, who were tasked with examining all the steerage passengers.11 Each immigrant would have been given an inspection card like the one illustrated below. The ship’s surgeon would have signed that they were vaccinated protected.12

My grandfather, Thomas, his brothers and his mother, were not the only McHughs to arrive on the S.S. Grampian. A year before Thomas arrived, his sister, Mary McHugh also arrived on this ocean liner.13 She came from Dundee, Scotland to work as a domestic. And Thomas’ wife, Elsie, accompanied by their seven children, arrived six months after Thomas, also on the S.S. Grampian. 14

It is no surprise that they all booked their passage on the S.S. Grampian as the Allan Shipping Line, founded in 1819 and whose main shipping line was between Scotland and Montreal, is credited with providing passage for the largest number of Scottish immigrants to Canada.15 In 1907 Sir Montagu Allan of the Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers ordered the building of the S.S. Grampian from the Stephens & Sons Ltd. shipbuilding yards in Scotland.16

When World War I broke out, the S.S. Grampian was used to transport troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) from Canada to Europe. After the war, during the summer of 1919, the S.S. Grampian had left Montreal on its way to Liverpool and struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. Even though the front of the ship was crushed, it managed to reach the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Two of the crew were killed, and two of them were injured. Even though the ship was repaired, two years later, while undergoing a refit, it was gutted by fire and sank. It was then considered a write-off.17

  1. Newspapers.com, The Guardian, April 15, 1912, retrieved December 25, 2021.
  2. “Canada Passenger Lists, 1881-1922,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2HLP-31W : 23 February 2021), Thomas McHugh, May 1912; citing Immigration, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, T-4785, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, retrieved December 25, 2021.
  3. Passengers lists for S.S. Grampian arriving in Port of Quebec, May 21, 1912, Library and Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/image.aspx?Image=e003578022&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fcentral.bac-lac.gc.ca%2f.item%2f%3fid%3de003578022%26op%3dimg%26app%3dpassengerlist&Ecopy=e003578022, accessed February 3, 2022.
  4. Ibid.
  5. GG Archives, Steerage Conditions, https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/Steerage/SteerageConditions-ImmigrationCommissionReport-1911.html, retrieved February 3, 2022
  6. Ibid.
  7. GG Archives, Changes to Steerage Conditions on Steamships, 1912, Third Class / Steerage Four-Berth Room. 1912 Brochure RMS Franconia and Laconia – Cunard Line. GGA Image ID # 118805de77, https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/Steerage/ChangesToSteerageConditionsOnSteamships-1912.html, retrieved February 7, 2022
  8. Parillo, Vince, True Immigrant Tales: Steerage Challenges in Getting Fed, May 14, 2014, https://vinceparrillo.com/2014/05/15/true-immigrant-tales-steerage-challenges-in-getting-fed/, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  9. Image courtesy of Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikipedia, S.S. Grampian, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Grampian, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  10. Image credit: Parillo, Vince, True Immigrant Tales: Steerage Challenges in Getting Fed, May 14, 2014, https://vinceparrillo.com/2014/05/15/true-immigrant-tales-steerage-challenges-in-getting-fed/, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  11. Passengers lists for S.S. Grampian arriving in Port of Quebec, May 21, 1912, Library and Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/image.aspx?Image=e003578022&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fcentral.bac-lac.gc.ca%2f.item%2f%3fid%3de003578022%26op%3dimg%26app%3dpassengerlist&Ecopy=e003578022, accessed February 3, 2022.
  12. GG Archives, Allan Line, Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card – Steerage Passenger – 1912, Wm. Cudly, jgenvik.com, “Immigration Documentation,” https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/ImmigrantDocumentation/1912-06-27-InspectionCard-SteerageImmigrant-Canada.html, accessed February 3, 2022.
  13. Findmypast.com Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, Mary McHugh, S.S. Grampian leaving Glasgow June 24, 1911 and arriving in Quebec City July 8, 1911, retrieved January 23, 2022.
  14. Findmypast.com Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, Elsie McHugh, retrieved December 13, 2017.
  15. Wikipedia, Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Line_Royal_Mail_Steamers, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  16. Wikipedia, S.S. Grampian, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Grampian, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  17. Ibid., retrieved February 7, 2022.

Mary Died of a Broken Heart

I have no doubt that the real cause of my great-grandmother’s death was a broken heart. She had experienced one grief too many and after the death of her daughter, she gave up and her heart gave out.

Alice Mary Knight, my great-grandmother, was born in the small village of West Bromwich, Staffordshire in 1875.1 Mary’s love story started in Birmingham, about six miles away. She went to Birmingham to work and met John Deakin at the rooming house where they were living.2 John also came from a nearby village. They were single, away from their families, and most certainly lonely. They married in 1900 and almost immediately moved to Sheffield, 90 miles away.3

The move to Sheffield would have been difficult. While Mary and John had each other, they would certainly have been homesick. Especially as their son, my grandfather, George Deakin, was born soon after they moved. In a strange city with a newborn, far from her mother and sisters, Mary would certainly have missed living in the village.

John found a mining job in Sheffield and he possibly worked for the Tinsley Park Collieries, situated very close to where John and Mary lived.Mary would have been alone most of the day as miners often worked 12-hour shifts. This young couple could have no inkling that the mine would unravel their lives.

In 1905, their little family was complete with the birth of George’s sister, Alice Gertrude Deakin.4

When George finished school, he went on to apprentice as a fitter, also at a mine, and possibly the one his father worked at.5 Fitters repaired and maintained machinery. George always worked at the surface of the mine. But he knew that it would not be long before he would be asked to work below ground. He was a short man and therefore an ideal size for moving around in the close spaces below ground. “I did not want to work below ground in the mine,” Gramps would say every time someone asked him why he came to Canada.

When George came to Canada in 1922, he had not yet decided whether he would stay.6 As soon as he arrived, he went out west by train to work on the wheat farms, to bring in the harvest. When the work dried up on the farms, he returned east to Montreal and met my grandmother, Grace Hunter. He was content living in Montreal. He married my grandmother and they had two children, Jack and Patricia. He had a job he enjoyed and worked there all his life, even during the Great Depression. George went on with his life but I cannot help but think that his mother must have been sorry he was so far away. Mary must have regretted George’s job at the mine, the catalyst for his emigration to Canada. It is unlikely that George ever went back to England for a visit, possibly because he may have felt that he could not take the time off work. A week to get there, a day’s journey by train to get to his parents’ house, and then the return. My grandparents were not rich, so money would have also been a consideration.

In 1935, John and Mary received more bad news. John had laryngeal cancer. At the time they did not know it, but mining is now considered a risk factor for laryngeal cancer. John underwent surgery to address the cancer, but he had heart failure from the shock of the operation and died on the operating table.7

After the death of her husband, Mary and her daughter, Alice, decided to move back to the village of Smethwick, John’s birthplace. Both John and Mary’s family were in the area. At least Mary would be close to some family members. Mary purchased a house and Alice found a job as a timekeeper at W&T Avery, a spring balance manufacturer.8

Tragedy struck again about ten years later when Alice was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Alice Gertrude died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on November 1, 1951. Alice’s friend and neighbour, Marie Evans, was the informant on the death certificate.9

Within a week of Alice’s death, Mary changed her will.10 She must have already been seriously ill and, although we don’t know for sure, the urgency would have been to dispose of the house. Mary died of a heart attack less than two months after the death of her daughter. She was a widow, her son lived far away, and her daughter had died. The sorrow would have been overwhelming.  Mary died at home on New Year’s Eve in 1951, in the company of her younger brother, Benjamin.10

Mary’s new will left 20£ to her brother, Benjamin, for being the executor of her estate. She left a few bequests of 5£ to some of her friends and to the Firth Alms House in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Mary required that all of her other possessions, including her house, be sold and bequeathed to her son, George, in Canada.11

Mary must have felt that she lost her son to Canada and that when her daughter died in 1951, that the future was bleak. When death gently came to claim her just two months after her daughter’s death, Mary did not fight back.

  1. Certified copy of an entry of birth, Alice Mary Knight, born April 17, 1875, extract dated May 4, 2021.
  2. Certified copy of an entry of marriage, John Thomas Deakin and Alice Mary Knight, November 25, 1900, St. Paul’s Church, Aston, Harwick, extract dated May 25, 2021.
  3. 1901 census, Tinsley, Yorkshire, John Deakin and Mary Deakin, referenced January 1, 2016.
  4. Copy of an entry of birth, Alice Gertrude Deakin, born July 19, 1905, referenced July 27, 2021.
  5. Declaration of passage, George Thomas Deakin, Form 30A, referenced October 2, 2009.
  6. Idem.
  7. Copy of an entry of death, John Thomas Deakin, died July 8, 1935, referenced October 29, 2021.
  8. 1939 Register, Findmypast, Deakin, Alice G. and Deakin, Alice M., Alice is registered as a timekeeper at a balance manufacturer. Mary is registered as unpaid domestic help, referenced June 24, 2017. 
  9. Copy of an entry of death, Alice Gertrude Deakin, died November 1, 1951, referenced August 29, 2021.  The informant was Marie Evans, neighbour and friend. The law is specific about who can register a death in England: a relative, someone who was present at the death, an employee of a public house where the death occurred, or the person making the funeral arrangements. As Marie Evans was not a relative, she was allowed to register the death if she made the funeral arrangements. As such, the death certificate states that Marie Evans was “causing the body to be buried.” This way Marie Evans was able to allow her to register the death.
  10. The Last Will and Testament of Alice Mary Deakin, dated November 1, 1951 and probate, dated February 6, 1952, referenced August 12, 2021.
  11. Copy of an entry of death, Alice Mary Knight, died December 31, 1951, referenced August 8, 2021.

The Harvester Scheme

When I was a little girl, I would spend hours with my grandfather in his home workshop. He would make all kinds of things and I used to love watching him at work. I still have some of the tools he made, as well as a cribbage board and a turntable that swings the Scrabble board around to face each opponent. He crafted a complete house of Barbie furniture for my dolls and, to my delight, he asked me my opinion about every single piece. I felt both the weight of responsibility for deciding what each bed and chair would look like, and pride in participating in this project with him.

My grandfather, George Deakin (1901 -1983,) born in Sheffield, England, learned these skills when he was a young man. His father was a miner and George also worked for the coal mining companies of Sheffield, which were significant employers in the early 1900s. Gramps was a fitter which means that he made parts either for piping or for equipment and machinery.1, 2

I used to ask my grandfather why he came to Canada and the answer was always the same and always emphatic. “I did not want to work in the mine.” Sometimes he would go on to explain that, when he left, he still worked above ground for the mining company. However, he was a very short man and he knew that it was a matter of time before he would be required to work underground. Small men were valuable in the low tunnels of the coal mines, but the work was dangerous and unhealthy. Gramps had no intention of ever working underground.

So in 1923, he came to Canada as part of the Harvester Scheme. That year, Canada had a bumper wheat crop and North America could not provide the labour needed to harvest the crop.  Under the Harvester Scheme, the two major Canadian railway companies entered into an agreement with the British government to transport 12,000 workers out west where they would earn $4.00 per day plus board. 3

He ended up in Manitoba and the Canadian west must have suited him because he used to enjoy talking about his time on the farm. The days were long and the men worked hard but Gramps found it satisfying to work so hard.  And how the workers enjoyed the hearty meals that the women of the farm prepared for them!

He only stayed one harvesting season in Manitoba because, once that bumper crop had been harvested, there was no more work. He took the train to Montreal and easily found work as a draftsman at the Northern Electric plant. He had learned to read and draft drawings in Sheffield and his skills were in high demand. He worked at the Northern Electric plant in Lachine all his life, even during the Great Depression.

When Gramps first arrived in Canada, he was not sure he would stay.4 But after he met and married my grandmother in 1925, they settled in the Montreal suburb of Verdun and raised two children.

Here, he was able to work all his life in a job that he loved. He especially enjoyed the attention to detail that went into designing. And when he wasn’t designing at work, he was making tools, games, and Barbie furniture for the family.

1 Canada. “Immigration Records (1865 – 1935)” Database. Library and Archives Canada.  BAC-LAC, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/Pages/introduction.aspx#d: 2017.

2 http://www.occupationsguide.cz/en/POVOL/148.htm

3 Foster, John Elgin, The Developing West:  Essays on Canadian History in Honor of Lewis H. Thomas, Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983

4 Canada. “Immigration Records (1865 – 1935)” Database. Library and Archives Canada.  BAC-LAC, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/Pages/introduction.aspx#d: 2017.