All posts by Sandra McHugh

Spitfire Service Socks

My grandmother, Grace Hunter, used to knit, read, and watch television at the same time. She sat in her well-worn high-backed armchair, with her Women’s Own magazine or her Harlequin romance flattened open on the wide armrest, and watch her soap opera or a game show. I realize now that she was reading when the commercials were on but when I was a child, it seemed to me that she could follow the television and read simultaneously. Her lips moved silently to the beat of the clicking knitting needles. Every so often I heard her take in a deep breath as she concentrated on her knitting rather than the television or her book.

My memories of Nana knitting were more than thirty years after the end of World War II. She was a volunteer knitter for the war effort. This well-worn knitting instruction sheet for Spitfire Service Socks suggests that it was used often.

Spitfire

It is most likely that Nana learned to knit as a young girl. She came from a modest working class family so knitting would have been a necessary skill. During World War I, Grace’s father, John Hunter, was stationed in France. Knitting for the soldiers was an act of patriotism and is was highly likely that Grace, thirteen when her dad went off to war, would have knitted so that the care package that the family sent overseas would contain some warm socks and other knitted clothing.

My mom told me that when World War II broke out, my grandmother was active in the war effort. She belonged to the women’s auxiliary in the church and they held knitting bees, held fund raisers, and catered parties for the men on the eve of their departure for war. Knitting socks and other clothing was one way, among many, of doing something tangible for the men who had gone to war.

During both World Wars, the Canadian Red Cross issued knitting instructions to civilians so that they could contribute to the war effort.  Below is a picture of a booklet published during World War II. 1

Red Cross

The Red Cross was also in charge of collecting and distributing the knitting. Before sending the knitting overseas, the Red Cross inspected all items. Volunteers also helped with the quality control inspections and some knitters corrected mistakes made by others, such as taking out knots in heels of socks. Some volunteers would take the knitting completely apart and redo it, if needed. 2

The Canadian Red Cross estimated that 750,000 women knitted more than 50 million garments for the military in World War II.3

Even the style of knitting underwent a transformation. Continental-style knitting was popular in Germany but it fell out of favour in English speaking countries during World War II. Knitters changed to English-style knitting. The difference between the two styles is the hand in which the yarn is held. Continental-style knitters hold the yard in the left hand, not the right. Nana always had her yarn in the right hand, as her reading material was on the left armrest of her chair.4 She needed her left hand free to turn the page.

 

 

  1. Canadian Red Cross, WWII Civilian Knitting Instructions, https://www.redcross.ca/history/artifacts/wwii-civilian-knitting-instructions, accessed April 26, 2020
  2. Canadian War Museum, An Army of Knitters in Support of the War Effort, March 10, 2014, https://www.warmuseum.ca/blog/an-army-of-knitters-in-support-of-the-war-effort/, accessed April 26, 2020
  3. Idem.
  4. Weightman, Judy, More Knitting History, World War II, October 9, 2012, https://judyweightman.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/more-knitting-history-world-war-ii/, accessed April 26, 2020

Letter to My Grandson

Dear Grandson,

You will be born tomorrow, April 2, 2020. At this time, Montreal has 2,097 cases of the Corona Virus (COVID-19). In Quebec, this flu virus has caused 33 deaths. 1

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Almost every country in the world is currently in some type of lockdown. As governments manoeuvre through this crisis, trying to maintain health care systems and the basic needs of their citizens, families face individual struggles.

Schools, daycares, and businesses that are not considered essential services are closed.  Public health messages tell people to stay at home, to practice social distancing, a new term that means we do not congregate and that if we do need to have contact, to maintain a two-metre distance from each other. Playgrounds, libraries, sports complexes, cinemas, theatres, and shopping centres are shut down.

But love is not cancelled. We already love you so much. Normally we would be preparing for tomorrow, planning on meeting you at the hospital, with balloons, flowers and other gifts. Right now, no visitors are allowed.

Just a month ago, in what now seems to be a carefree world, I would have been planning to greet you at home, waiting to cuddle you in my arms, and lovingly admire your every feature. At this time, we do not know when we will visit you.

A little over a hundred years ago, my family lived through the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Montreal. It must have been just as frightening as today’s health crisis. The McHughs were a large family. My grandfather, Thomas, and his wife, Elsie, had eight children living at home. Grandfather Thomas’ mother, his two brothers, and his sister’s family lived close by. Thomas and Elsie’s daughter, Anne, and her husband, Norman Smith, had their first son, Thomas, just a few months before the Spanish Flu outbreak reached Canada.  They must have been terrified.

It is estimated that 20,000 people in Montreal died of the Spanish Flu. This is out of a population of over half a million.2 Many years ago I asked my aunt why no one in the family died during the Spanish Flu and she answered that the family stayed home. Only those who worked went out. They left the house as little as possible to buy food. They didn’t go to church. The children stayed home from school. And they did not visit anyone. In light of today’s crisis, it seems like they did the right thing.

Montreal was hard hit by the Spanish flu as it was a port city.3 Like COVID19 that has today spread quickly throughout the world due to travel, the Spanish Flu also spread rapidly this way. 4

It is believed that the Spanish Flu first came to Canada in two separate occasions, both on September 13, 1918. Polish soldiers coming through the U.S. to a military training camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake arrived with the flu. The same day, a group of Catholic clergy and parishioners arrived, also from the U.S., to attend a Eucharistic Congress in Victoriaville that hosted over 25,000 participants. By Monday, some of the participants were dead and the students who attended the Congress and who were not yet ill, travelled back home across Canada, spreading the virus rapidly.5

So dear Grandson, always remember that, no matter what, love is never cancelled. And, while you will be born in a time of great turmoil, I am optimistic for your future. You are lucky that you will be a citizen of a country with responsible government. Already the crisis has shown that creative solutions to problems can be found. A coat manufacturer is retooling to produce hospital gowns. Manufacturers of auto parts are set to change production lines so that they can deliver ventilators. Many distillers are making hand sanitizers instead of spirits.6 The provincial government has indicated that it will help farms in Quebec to expand so that they can produce more. One drug store chain has donated over a million face masks to the government.7

We will get through this.

Love,

Gran

 

  1. Government of Quebec website, Information about the Corona Virus, https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/2019-coronavirus/situation-coronavirus-in-quebec/#c47900, accessed April 1, 2020.

 

  1. Wikipedia website, Montreal, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal, accessed March 22, 2020, Population in Montreal in 1911 was 533,341.

 

  1. Government of Canada, Parks Canada website, The Spanish Flu in Canada 1918 -1920, https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/res/doc/information-backgrounder/espagnole-spanish, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Global News, D’Amore, Rachael, Here’s How the Spanish Flu is similar and different from the Corona Virus, March 21, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/6707118/coronavirus-spanish-flu-comparison/, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Canadian Geographic website, The Outbreak and its Aftermath, Mitchell, Alanna, August 23, 2018, https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/outbreak-and-its-aftermath, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Ipolitics website, Pinkerton, Charlie, March 19, 2020, Trudeau says wartime production law could be used to boost manufacturing of medical equipment, https://ipolitics.ca/2020/03/19/trudeau-says-wartime-production-law-could-be-used-to-boost-manufacturing-of-medical-equipment/, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Le Journal de Québec website, Gagnon, Marc-André, COVID-19 Pénurie de masques d’ici 3 à 7 jours, March 31, 2020, https://www.journaldequebec.com/2020/03/31/en-directfrancois-legault-fait-le-point-sur-la-pandemie-de-covid-19-au-quebec, accessed April 1, 2020

Far from Home

The news from home gave John Hunter, my great-grandfather, a jolt. Usually letters from home to the troops during WWI were full of the joys of everyday life, encouraging the soldiers that the war would end soon and that the family back home awaited their return with anticipation.

For many months now, John Hunter had been getting bad news. John knew that his wife, Mary Hynd, had become seriously ill. Then John got the news that she was in the hospital, and then that she had died.

Luckily for John, he at least received news regularly from home in Scotland.  All mail going to France, where John was stationed, first had to reach Regent’s Park in England. From Scotland, this would have taken a bit of time. Nevertheless, the government consistently delivered letters to the troops as they felt that the letters helped with the troops’ morale. Nineteen thousand mailbags crossed the Channel every day and arrived at one of three stations in France: Le Havre, Boulogne, or Calais.1

John, a sapper with the 326th Company of the Royal Engineers, worked as a miner by trade back in Scotland. Sappers, sometimes called quarrymen or tunnelers, mined the quarries and built the tunnels essential to the Allies in their battles against the Germans.

The 326th Company was formed at Buxton, England and it landed at Le Havre on May 23, 1917, consisting of four officers, 264 men, and two horses.2 They moved to Marquise on May 27, 1917.  By this time, Mary, back home in Scotland, had been diagnosed with liver and intestinal cancer. Mary died on October 14, 1917 and her death certificate states that her husband, John, was out of the country in Rinxent, France. Rinxent is about 3 km from Marquise. The significant quarrying operations in Rinxent provided the stones for the laying and maintenance of roads by the Allies.3

It was in a document on October 27, 1918 that the request was made to the war office in London to release Sapper John Hunter, 326th Company, Royal Engineers from his war duties and to transfer him to the reserve. Permission was granted:

“…. Provided he can be spared, you will issue the necessary instructions for him to be despatched to the Scottish Command Discharge Centre, East London Street Schools, Edinburgh, with a view to him being transferred to the reserve and returned to his home.”

This permission was based on “compassionate grounds” and “due to his domestic situation.” Mary had left behind two children, my grandmother, Grace, 17, and Thomas, 12.

The Deputy Adjutant General signed off on the transfer of John Hunter to his home. He was transferred to Calais and then shipped to England, and then transferred to Scotland.4

By the time he actually arrived back home in Scotland, the Armistice had been signed, essentially bringing the war to an end. Nevertheless, as part of a quarrying company, he would have still needed permission to return home as the companies continued to mine in France until late 1919.

 

  1. BBC, “How did 12 million letters reach WWI soldiers each week,” http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zqtmyrd, accessed April 21, 2019.
  2. https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/quarry-companies-of-the-royal-engineers/, The Long, Long Trail” or “The Long, Long Trail: the British Army in the Great War” or “Chris Baker’s site The Long, Long Trail” as title in addition to the URL, accessed April 21, 2019.
  3. https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/battlefields/gazetteer-of-the-western-front/gazetteer-of-the-western-front-rinxent/, The Long, Long Trail” or “The Long, Long Trail: the British Army in the Great War” or “Chris Baker’s site The Long, Long Trail” as title in addition to the URL, accessed April 21, 2019.
  4. Document to the Commandant, Scottish Command Discharge Centre, Edinburgh, ref. Z1/B, signed December 13, 1918 by Lieutenant R.E. for Lieutenant Corporal, Troops Base Depot.

Petimezi

We were visiting my mother-in-law in Greece when my husband brought out a blackened cauldron from storage. He placed it on the table with great ceremony and announced that we were bringing it back to Canada. “But first,” he said, “we need to restore it.”

The next day we hauled the cauldron down to the Monastiraki area of Athens. Mainly this area has little souvenir shops and is a great place to go shopping. In the winding roads behind the shops you can find all sorts of workshops. This is where we found a coppersmith who could restore the cauldron to its former glory.

My mother-in-law believes that the cauldron may be around 125 years old. Her grandmother, Maria had gone to Turkey, around 1900. She was a young women then and had gone to work as a domestic in the rich homes of Constantinople. Maria came back to Greece and to her native island of Tinos during the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923. She brought back with her many objects from Constantinople and my mother-n-law believes that the cauldron was one of them.

My husband’s mother remembers her mother making petimezi in the cauldron over a wood fire. Petimezi (from the Turkish word pekmez)1 is made by boiling down the juice of the grapes, after removing the skins and squeezing the grapes through a sieve to extract the juice. The juice, or must, is then boiled down to a thick syrup. There is no fermentation involved.2 It is still made today on the island of Tinos but previously it was widely used by every family as a natural sweetener when there was no other sweetener available.

One can also add marl, a sterile soil. This soil clarifies the liquid and neutralizes the acidity of the must.3 Even today, some of villagers on the island of Tinos will add marl to the grape must.

Another family memory is that sometimes ashes were added to the petimezi when they were making it. Adding the ashes would ensure that the dirt would rise to the surface where it could be skimmed off, a way of sterilizing the must.4

Today this copper cauldron, completely restored, sits proudly in our home.

Cauldron

 

 

  1. Wikipedia web site, “Grape Syrup,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grape_syrup, accessed October 16, 2019.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Rafaelli, Lucia, We Love Istanbul web site, “The Healing Syrup of the Turks : Pekmez,” December 28, 2015,https://www.weloveist.com/pekmez, accessed October 16, 2019,
  4. Fonini, Real Greek Recipes web site, “How to make grape molasses – reduced grape must, https://www.realgreekrecipes.com/how-to-make-grape-molasses-reduced-grape-must/, accessed October 16, 2019.

Discovery and Imagination

Historical walking tours are a great way to walk in your ancestors’ footsteps. Even if you know a lot about the place your ancestors lived, you are sure to learn a few new facts. I recently visited Drummondville, where my dad, Edward McHugh, lived for eight years during the Great Depression. He, as well as his brother, Thomas, and his sister, Sarah Jane, had gone to Drummondville in 1933 after being out of work in Montreal. They were employed by the Celanese, one of the biggest employers in Quebec during the 1930s. The Celanese was a textile plant and my dad worked in the Silk Factory as an electrician. The Celanese plant in Drummondville was one of the main reasons why Drummondville hardly felt the effects of the Great Depression.

The walking tour I went on was a free tour offered by the Société d’histoire de Drummond (historical society of Drummondville).1 The tour started at Parc Woodyatt, named after James Blain Woodyatt, Director General and member of the Board of Directors of Southern Canada Power. Southern Canada Power built, owned and operated the hydroelectric complex In Drummondville. The public park Woodyatt opened in 1930 and included sports facilities such as a pool, a skating rink and tennis courts.2

My dad, who loved to skate and swim and was an avid tennis player, would have gone to this park regularly.

My dad also loved to go to the theatre and I can easily imagine him spending his Saturday evenings at the Théâtre Capitol, built in 1937. He would have been excited when the theatre opened. This lovely art deco building is currently a multi-screen cinema complex.

Across from the town square is the impressive Roman Catholic Basilica Saint- Frédéric. When the McHugh siblings lived in Drummondville in the 1930s, this church was not yet a basilica. The first church was a chapel built in 1822 and demolished in 1879 as it became too small to accommodate the parishioners. The second church was situated where the Saint-Frédéric Park is now, just in front of the current church. The second church burnt down in 1899. The third church, built at the church’s current location, was completed in 1907 and was the victim of arson in 1921. The fourth church is the one currently standing and it was completed in 1922. It is truly magnificent. It was named a minor basilica by Pope Francis in 2015.4

Image result for eglise saint frederic drummondville

In 1937, my uncle Thomas McHugh and Simone Cloutier, a young lady from Drummondville, were married in Saint-Frédéric.5  A Casavant organ, built in 1930, would have played at their wedding. Fourteen Stations of the Cross grace the church. Stained glass windows represent the life of Saint-Frédéric, an archbishop in France.6 The McHugh family was a large one, with nine siblings. They would probably have all attended the wedding, and would have most likely travelled from Montreal by train.

McHugh, Thomas with Simone Cloutier (maybe)

Sadly, they returned to visit this magnificent church less than one year later. Thomas McHugh died of an illness in the hospital.7 My father, along with his other brothers, signed the register as pallbearers.8 Thomas McHugh is buried in the Saint-Frédéric cemetery on Saint-Joseph Boulevard, not very far from the church.

From the outside I saw the Hôpital Sainte-Croix where, sadly, my uncle would have died. The current site of this hospital was founded in 1927 and, at the time of my uncle’s death, had 18 beds and one operating room. It was run by the Soeurs de la Présentation de Marie. 9

We finished our day by driving through the working class district of Drummondville where the workers of the Celanese lived. I know my dad lived on the top floor of a duplex. He had no car so he would have lived in walking distance from work.

It was truly a day of discovery and imagination.

 

 

  1. A sincere thank you to the Société d’histoire de Drummond for this walking tour and for all of the valuable work that they do to preserve the history of Drummondville.
  2. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  3. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  4. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  5. Registration of the marriage of Thomas McHugh and Simone Cloutier, July 17, 1937, Paroisse Saint-Frédéric de Drummond, Registres photographiés au Registres de Arthabaska
  6. Church pamphlet entitled Guide – Visite et histoire de la Basilique Saint-Frédéric de Drummondville
  7. The Drummondville Statesman, “Thomas McHugh Passes Away,” May 27, 1938, accessed March 19, 2016
  8. Registration of the death of Thomas McHugh, May 25, 1938, Paroisse Saint-Frédéric de Drummond, Registres photographiés au Registres de Arthabaska
  9. Société d’histoire de Drummond

Lifting Up

“My father will be lifted up soon,” my husband, Georges, said to our dinner guests. I could see the puzzlement and consternation on their faces as his father had been dead over three years. Our guests were obviously wondering what exactly this meant and how to react.

I hurriedly intervened by saying, “Georges, in Canada, we leave corpses in the ground forever.” Now our guests were really confused.

Georges then explained the funeral rites in his native village of Skalados, on the island of Tinos, Greece.

Skalados is a small village with a population of under a hundred permanent residents. In the summer, the population can more than double as the families who have left the village to live elsewhere, mainly Athens, come back to enjoy their summer break on the island of Tinos.

Skalados is a Roman Catholic village and the cemetery is Catholic. When one of the villagers die, bells ring from the Catholic Church of Saint John to announce the death. The funeral service is held fairly quickly, usually within twenty-four hours, as is the custom in many hot countries. Embalming is not usual in Greece.

While the person is placed in a coffin, the person is not buried with the coffin.  The deceased is wrapped in a shroud and carefully placed in vault that has a dirt bottom, cement sides and a marble covering. There are eight places or vaults in Skalados. This means that, at some point, the person must be exhumed to make way for others.

I remember my mother-in-law explaining that when her father had been ‘lifted up’ (σήκωσε), she was the one who lovingly washed his bones with wine and prepared them to be transferred to a small chapel that is part of the cemetery. The bones are placed in a vault, identified with the person’s name and often the birth and death dates, along with a picture.

Today, though, it is not necessarily a relative who will wash and prepare the bones. One can hire someone to do this.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is considered the prevailing religion of Greece, as 90% of the population belongs to this church. Roman Catholics represent less than 1%. 1 It is no surprise that the Catholics in Tinos hold memorial masses for their loved ones as the Eastern Orthodox Church requires.  A memorial mass is held on the third, ninth and fortieth day after death, as well as three months and six months following the death, and on the first anniversary of the death and sometimes three years after the death.2

After the funeral and the memorial mass, coffee, liqueur, alcohol, and other refreshments are served. These refreshments are provided by the bereaving family and are quite elaborate. My mother-in-law explained that when she was young, relatives and friends came from far, often on donkeys, and would need a meal before the long journey home. This tradition still continues today.

Also, in the village of Skalados, the family gives a loaf of bread to each household. The family in each home will then say a prayer for the deceased’s soul during their evening meal.

The Greek Orthodox Church prohibits cremation, therefore it is not common for the Roman Catholics in Greece to have their loved ones cremated.3 For the moment, the closest crematorium is in Bulgaria, although the Greek government has approved plans for a crematorium in Athens, despite the opposition of the Greek Orthodox Church. There is overcrowding in the cemeteries and people are exhumed after three years to make room for others.4

It is the custom for bereaving women in the Orthodox Church to wear black for at least two years following the deaths of their loved ones. The Catholics of Tinos also follow this tradition.

 

  1. Wikipedia, Religion in Greece, accessed May 20, 2019
  2. Wikipedia, Memorial Service in the Eastern Orthodox Church, accessed May 19, 2019
  3. Everplans web site, Eastern Orthodox Funeral Traditions, accessed May 20, 2019
  4. The Guardian, March 12, 2019, Greece defies church with step towards first crematorium, accessed May 20, 2019

My Husband, a Rare Type of Greek

My husband is funny, thoughtful, generous, and kind.  Is this why he is a rare type of Greek? No, it is actually because of his religion.

The population of Greece is 11 million and the Greek constitution recognizes the prevailing religion of the country as Eastern Orthodox.  In fact, 81 to 90% of the population are practicing Orthodox.1  My husband is Roman Catholic, of which there are only 50,000 to 70,000 in Greece, or less than 1%. 2

My husband’s family comes from the Cyclades Island of Tinos. In 1207, Tinos came under Venetian rule and was ruled by the Venetian overlord Ghizi, a relative of the Doge of Venice.  Constantinople was a significant trading partner with Venice and Tinos is located on the trading route.3 My husband’s great-grandmother’s name was Concepta Ghizi.  This does not mean that she was necessarily a descendant of the overlord. It was common for people working for the overlord to have taken his name.

Today, the Island of Tinos has a significant Roman Catholic population, with entire villages being Catholic.  When I was in Tinos two summers ago, I visited the Cathedral of My Lady in the village of Xinara.  This is where a portion of the Roman Catholic records are kept.

What a privilege it was to meet the Archivist, Irini Fyrigou.  Each village on the island maintained and still maintains registers of births, marriages, deaths, and other events and she consulted the register for the natal village of my husband’s family.  She also cross referenced to the register of the main town of the island.  It was such a thrill to see the original entries in Italian, with the older entries in Latin.

The meeting with the Archivist confirmed what we always suspected.  These Roman Catholics are the descendants of Venetians who have managed to maintain their religion for centuries.

Florakis E. Alekos is an historian whose speciality is the Island of Tinos and he has researched the origins of the surnames.  My husband’s last name is Delatolas.  The first time this name was registered on the island, it was written De La Tolla (from Tolla).  Tolla was apparently a village near Venice.  My mother-in-law’s maiden name is Fyrigos.  This name designates someone from the island of Kythera, located south of the Peloponnese Peninsula as this island was known as Cerigo during the period of Venetian domination.  The person from Cerigos would have been designated as o Σερίγος (Cerigos), becoming 0 Φυρίγος (Fyrigos) over time. This island was also on the trading route between Venice and Constantinople. 4

So this is why my husband, a Roman Catholic, is indeed, a very rare Greek.

 

 

 

  1. Wikipedia web site, Demographics of Greece, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Greece#CIA_World_Factbook_demographic_statistics, accessed April 10, 2019
  2. Wikipedia web site, The Catholic Church in Greece, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholicism_in_Greece, accessed April 10, 2019
  3. Tinos 360o web site, 3 http://www.tinos360.gr/istoria_eng.html, accessed April 10, 2019
  4. As explained by Irini Fyrigou, June 2016.

 

Polio in the Family

My Auntie Elsie McHugh was quite a chatterbox and so were her budgies. When we used to visit her, the budgies filled the room with the sound of their chatter, competing to be heard. Unless it was time to go to bed, or someone was coming in the door, the budgies were free to fly around the apartment. It was quite an adventure to go there.

My Uncle Jimmy Scott was usually sitting in his favourite chair, not saying a word.

Certainly when I remember Elsie, I think about her continual stream of conversation and story-telling. But I also remember that she had a distinct limp.  This didn’t stop her from being a snazzy dresser or wearing fancy shoes.

Scott, Jimmy and Elsie McHugh

Jimmy Scott and Elsie McHugh

As an adult, I learned that Auntie Elsie limped because she was stricken with paralytic polio when she was an infant living in Dundee, Scotland at the beginning of the 1900s.1 While today, polio is almost eradicated, at that time it would have been a frightening disease.

Only Elsie, out of the family of seven children, contracted poliomyelitis, the medical term for polio. Dr. Ivar Wickman of Sweden proved that polio was contagious in 1905. This was probably after Elsie was sick. And it was not until the 1930s that it was discovered that it was an intestinal infection and spread by the oral-fecal route, and not an airborne virus, as previously thought.2

During Elsie’s childhood, the family lived in a tenement in industrial Dundee, near the jute factories. There was overcrowding and poor sanitation.

In children, paralysis from polio occurs one in a thousand cases. Most children are simply sick and consequently develop an immunity to it.3 It is probable that Elsie’s siblings were also exposed to polio, but they suffered from no permanent consequences.

Because young Elsie limped and probably could not run or jump very well, she was considered disabled or “crippled.” As a result, she attended a special school to learn cooking, needlework and housekeeping. The other girls in the family resented the special education that Elsie received.

In Scotland, children had to attend school between the ages of five and thirteen. In addition, the morals and tenets of the Church of Scotland were influential. The church believed that children should be taught to be self-sufficient.4 Therefore, there was considerable pressure on educational institutions to provide for all children, including the blind, deaf and physically disabled.

Throughout the 1800s, institutions for the blind and deaf were opened in the major cities in Scotland.5 It is likely that Elsie attended one of these institutions as some of them expanded to include “cripples.”

The family immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1912. Elsie was fourteen and would have finished her schooling by then. As far as I know she always worked in a department store as a saleslady, but like many women at the time, she quit her job when she married Jimmy Scott in 1926.6 Her daughter, Norine Scott, was born the next year. 7

Many people who have had polio in childhood experience symptoms of fatigue, weakness in the muscles, pain and breathing problems later on in their lives.8 I remember Auntie Elsie used to have difficulty breathing but she always said that it was old age.  Elsie never let anything get in the way of her enjoying life and she lived to the respectable age of 91.9

She did put her skills to good use at home, cooking for the family and sewing. I have inherited her Singer sewing machine, although I don’t sew at all. The machine works by pushing on a lever with your knee. It is a lovely piece of furniture in my home and, more importantly, a beautiful keepsake of my Auntie Elsie.

sewing machine

 

  1. Birth register of Elsie McHugh, November 10, 1898, District of St. Mary, Burgh of Dundee, National Records of Scotland, Scotland’s People web site, accessed December 1, 2017.
  2. Post-Polio Health International, History of Acute Polio, Tony Gould, unknown date, http://www.post-polio.org/edu/aboutpol/hist.html, accessed January 28, 2019.
  3. Wikipedia, History of Poliomyelitis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_poliomyelitis, accessed January 28, 2019.
  4. The Semantic Scholar, Voices from the Past, Early Institutional Experience of Children with disabilities – The case of Scotland, Iain Hutchison, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f5d8/80cd842c518f3bc8a2dd3f5fb4e359eecf7e.pdf, accessed January 28, 2019.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Personal notes of author.
  7. Personal notes of author.
  8. Post-Polio Health International, History of Acute Polio, Tony Gould, unknown date, http://www.post-polio.org/edu/aboutpol/hist.html, accessed February 6, 2019.
  9. Personal notes of author.

 

Auntie Ann’s Second Sight

Second sight has a long tradition in Scotland, more particularly in the Highlands and among Irish Scots.  Scots are a superstitious people and many believe even today in the gift or curse of the second sight. 1 My family was Irish Scots and maybe this is why they believed that they had family members with this gift. The reason it is called the second sight is because the first sight is our normal vision that everyone has. Only some people are fortunate to have inherited the second sight. There are many Gaelic words for the second sight, the most common being An Da Sheallad, meaning two sights.2

My Auntie Ann always said that she had inherited the gift of premonition. She knew things before they were going to happen. She also claimed that she could ‘feel’ things about people.

“Such nonsense!” my mother would snort when we got back in the car after visiting Auntie Ann. Her sister-in-law always had a story or two about the times she could foresee the future or just knew something. I listened in open-mouthed wonder while my father squirmed uncomfortably. My mother held her tongue but I could feel her bristling with indignation.

One time Auntie Ann told a story that scared me for years. She was in her kitchen and she felt a cold shadow pass over her. She knew something terrible had happened and she learned later that a toddler had fallen to his death in the neighbourhood.

Another story that struck me was about Auntie Ann’s son, Tommy Smith, when he was overseas during World War II. He was injured in battle and she claims to have sat right up in bed because she knew he was going to be injured in the leg.  When I was little as I could easily imagine Auntie Ann sitting up in bed, terrified and unable to reach her son.

McHugh, Anne

There are detailed written accounts of incidents involving the second sight since the 17th century in Scotland. They have been collected by modern day folklorists and ethnographers. There are also many detailed descriptions about how the prophecy appeared to the person with the second sight. Sometimes they were able to see exactly what was going to happen. At other times, they saw symbols and interpreted them. Sometimes these visions were accompanied by smells and sounds.3

When I would ask my dad about Auntie Ann’s second sight, he would answer that Scots believe that this ability runs in families and that Auntie Ann was convinced that she had this gift. But I wanted to know whether my father believed it. I realize today that my father didn’t want to hurt his sister so he never really said one way or the other.

Ethnographers are sure that the second sight is an inherited ability.4 However, no one in our family has this ability now. And what would my mother say? “Hogwash!”

 

 

  1. McCain’s Corner, Barry McCain, blogger, The Second Sight Amongst the Scots Irish, July 17, 2015, https://barryrmccain.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-second-sight-among-scots-irish.html, accessed November 26, 2018
  2. Scotclans website, Prophecy, Scottish Second Sight, David McNicoll, February 2, 2012, https://www.scotclans.com/prophecy-scottish-second-sight/, accessed November 26, 2018
  3. Cohen, Shari Ann, Doctoral thesis abstract, Scottish tradition of second sight and other psychic experiences in families, University of Edinburg Research Archive, 1996, https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/9674, accessed November 26, 2018

The Canadian Celanese and the Great Depression

“Damn!” My dad, Edward McHugh, cursed to himself. He thought ruefully that his great idea to change his job ten months ago did not work out very well. His first job after school was in the office of Henry Birks & Sons. While he was working there, he decided to take a bookkeeping class at night at Sullivan College and the A.R. Whittell Can Company thought that he showed initiative, was a snappy dresser, and would make a good salesperson. So they hired him. It was now 1931 and he had just been laid off because sales were dropping.1

McHugh, Ed Verdun

Edward McHugh in Verdun, Quebec, in the 1930s

Now what? Edward knew that the prospects of getting a job were bleak. Luckily Edward still lived at home with his parents and his father was a foreman at the Atlas Absestos Company.2 Still, it was worrisome.

It would be two years before Edward would find employment. He spent many evenings with his brothers and sisters, playing cards. During these evenings, their supper was sandwiches, made out of a loaf of white bread, some butter, and one can of salmon. 3

Maybe the idea to go altogether to Drummondville was hatched at one of the card parties. In any event, in 1933, in the depth of the Depression, the McHugh siblings, Edward, Thomas, Sarah Jane, and Sarah’s husband Jack, decided to move to Drummondville, Quebec to find work.

At that time and even though Quebec was hard hit by the Depression, the Canadian Celanese Company in Drummondville was a significant employer in the province, with 1,757 employees. The picture below shows the employees of the Canadian Celanese Company in that year.4

Celanese 1931

Moving to Drummondville would have been equivalent to immigrating to a new country. None of the members of the family would have had an automobile so the trip from Montreal to Drummondville would have had to be by train. As with many immigrants, their motives were financial.

As far as I know, they were all employed by the Canadian Celanese Company. The Celanese Corporation was founded in 1915 by two Swiss chemists, Camille and Henri Dreyfus and enjoyed significant success during WWI because of its development of synthetic fiber. The Canadian plant was built in 1926 in Drummondville. This location was chosen due to its proximity to a large expanse of forest, it was close to Montreal that was the centre of the textile industry at the time, and inexpensive hydro power  supplied by Southern Canadian Power was available.5

This picture of the Celanese, taken in the 1920s, shows that it was a significant manufacturing plant: 6

Celanese 1920s

My dad was hired as an electrician and worked in what was called the silk factory.7 The Celanese required electricians to work full time to ensure that the machines were never idle.

My dad and his siblings settled in and made a life in Drummondville. Both my dad and his brother, Thomas, played on the Celanese football team.8 Thomas married Simone Cloutier in 1937 and then died a year later in 1938 of an illness. Thomas is buried in the cemetery of the St. Frederic Church in Drummondville.9

Edward continued to work for the Celanese until the outbreak of the war. He signed up for duty in August 1940 at the Ste. Hyacinthe recruiting centre. The Celanese agreed to hire him once the war had finished but he did not go back.10

  1. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper. This information was in his employment records. It states that he left Henry Birks and Sons for a better job and that he was let go from A.R. Whittell because of lack of work.
  2. Although Thomas McHugh, Edward’s father, was deceased when the RCAF Attestation Paper was filled out, Thomas’ job at his death was noted. It is an assumption that he was working there in 1933. There is no indication that he was out of work during the Depression.
  3. As told to the author by her aunt, Elsie McHugh.
  4. The Ministry of Patrimoine Culturel, Province of Québec, http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=14311&type=pge#.W6gnEWhKiUk, accessed September 23, 2018.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Eastern Townships Archives Portal, https://www.townshipsarchives.ca/canadian-celanese-ltd 192?, accessed September 24, 2018.
  7. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper.
  8. Death of Thomas McHugh, “The Drummondville Spokesman,” “Thomas McHugh Passes Away,”May 27, 1938, accessed March 19, 2015. This article states that Thomas McHugh was on the Celanese football team. It is assumed that Edward was also on that team as his Attestation Paper said that he played football extensively.
  9. Marriage and death certificates of Thomas McHugh. Drouin Collection. St. Frederic Parish, Drummondville, Quebec.
  10. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper.