All posts by Sandra McHugh

Little Tipperary

When we think of emigration from Europe, we think of crossing the Atlantic to North America or going to Australia. For the Irish, immigrating to Scotland would have been just as difficult as if they had moved to a new continent.

The Irish started to arrive in Dundee, Scotland around 1825, lured by the prospect of regular employment in the growing jute industry. Within 30 years, the Irish community of Dundee had grown to 14,000.3

This quote from James Myles, a local Dundee author, in Rambles in Forfarshire, 1850, gives us a taste of how the Irish immigrants were perceived by the Dundonians:

A great proportion of them are Irish. Drawn hither by the work they obtain at the spinning mills; and it is to be deeply lamented that the vast hordes that have migrated to the Scouringburn are composed of the most debased and ignorant of their countrymen. Their vile slang and immoral habits have seriously injured the poor population of Dundee.2

The first Irish McHughs to move to Dundee, Scotland were brothers John and Patrick McHugh. They both married in Dundee and worked in the jute mills all their lives. And their families continued to work in the mills for generations, almost a century.3 Like most of the Irish immigrants, John and Patrick probably already had experience in the textile industry in Ireland and most likely came from one of the counties that produced linen and yarn.4

The Irish settled where the jute mills were located in Lochee, Dundee, also known as Little Tipperary. 5 The McHughs, like the other Irish immigrants and unlike most Dundonians, were Roman Catholics. The Church of Scotland has been the dominant religion in Scotland since the Scottish Reformation of 1560 and the Roman Catholics would have been looked upon with disapproval and suspicion.

St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Dundee, Scotland, built in 1873

It is not surprising that the Irish Roman Catholics lived in the same area and worshipped at the same Catholic churches in Lochee for decades. I can find registrations of marriages, baptisms, and deaths for the McHughs for generations. The McHughs remained steadfast Catholics during their century of living in Dundee and only branched out into other religions once they arrived in Canada in 1912.

The Irish were also seen as carriers of disease, such as typhus, also known as ‘Irish fever.’ Of course, this was due to unsanitary and crowded living conditions in which they lived.6

In 1904, the Lochee Harp Football team was formed by Lochee Irishmen to provide recreation for the poor immigrants. Even today, Lochee is considered the Irish quarter of Dundee.7

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/scotland/perth_tayside/article_1.shtml#:~:text=Irish%20workers%2C%20lured%20by%20the,Dundonians%20had%20grown%20to%2014%2C000., accessed April 11, 2021.
  2. Google books, Rambles in Forfarshire, Myles, James, Edinburgh, A. and C. Black, 1850. Thanks to Angus Folklore, The Dundee Irish and Other Catholics, Coleman, Keith, September 9, 2017, http://angusfolklore.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-dundee-irish-and-other-catholics.html, accessed April 22, 2021.
  3. It is assumed that Patrick McHugh emigrated to Scotland with his brother, John, as Patrick married in Dundee and died there, as did John.
  4. BBC Legacies, Perth and Tayside, Little Tipperary, The Irish in Dundee, http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/scotland/perth_tayside/article_1.shtml#:~:text=Irish%20workers%2C%20lured%20by%20the,Dundonians%20had%20grown%20to%2014%2C000., accessed April 11, 2021.
  5. Ibid.
  6. John Gray Centre, A brief history of emigration & immigration in Scotland, https://www.johngraycentre.org/about/archives/brief-history-emigration-immigration-scotland-research-guide-2/, accessed April 22, 2021.
  7. Wikipedia, Lochee, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lochee, accessed April 24, 2021.

The Cipher

When I say that my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, worked as a cipher, Bletchley Park, MI5, and Russian spies immediately come to mind. He was neither a Russian spy nor did he work as a cipher during the war. His employer was the Bank of Montreal and it was his first job when he came to Canada in 1912.

The decision to immigrate to Canada was not easy for Thomas. He was in his mid-30s and already had seven children, between the ages of one and fifteen. For over 40 years, the jute manufacturers of Dundee, Scotland had been providing employment for his parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, wife, and for him. However, by the early 1900s, he was facing a precarious future for his children.

By the early 1900s, Dundee had suffered a serious decline in the textile industry and more significantly, the jute industry.  Jute was imported from India, however, the mill owners realized that it would significantly lower the cost of production to open mills in India to prepare the jute and import the finished product to Scotland. Once mills were established in India, the jute production in the mills in Dundee decreased substantially.1

So when Thomas arrived in Canada, a little ahead of his wife and his children, he was eager and prepared to do any job so that he could. The Bank of Montreal had its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. In the early 1900s, the bank had significant dealings with Great Britain and there were correspondence and banking instructions back and forth between Canada and Great Britain daily. These instructions were mainly sent by telegraph overnight. There were two reasons for this. Some of these instructions were confidential and it was preferred that they remain so. Overnight instructions reduced the number of people who would have access to them. Another reason was the time difference between Montreal and the United Kingdom. The banks in London and Edinburgh were open for business while Montreal was still asleep.

Thomas McHugh with Pal

Even in those days, the banks were concerned about security, privacy, and confidentiality. The banking instructions and transactions were submitted by telegraph and were encrypted. It was the job of the cipher clerk to decipher them so that the bank staff could then ensure that the instructions were carried out as required.

To be a cipher clerk, one had to be reliable, meticulous, and honest, and ensure the confidentiality of the bank’s business. The cipher clerk used a cipher handbook to decipher the information. Also, the cipher clerk worked overnight, so it was a difficult job for a man with a family.

So while my grandfather, the cipher, did not work in espionage, I still think that his first job in Canada was rather interesting.2

1 Wikipedia web site, The History of Dundee, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dundee, accessed February 19, 2017

2 McHugh, Edward. Personal knowledge. [Father of writer].

Love in the Jute Factory

Sarah Jane McHugh was the only member of her family who stayed behind in Scotland. I believe she must have stayed to be with her sweetheart, Thomas Adams.

In 1911, Sarah’s sister, Mary McHugh, was ready for adventure. She decided to leave Dundee, Scotland and set out for Canada on her own to work as a domestic. Mary arrived in Montreal in the summer of 1911.1 She must have liked her new home because her widowed mother, Sarah McLaughlin, and her three brothers, Thomas, Edward, and Francis, followed in May 1912.2 Thomas’ wife, Elsie Orrock and their seven children, Annie, Elsie, Sarah, Thomas, Francis, Mary and Adam also came later that year.3

But Sarah? Sarah, a young woman of 24, stayed behind in Dundee. The McHughs had been workers in the jute factories of Dundee for three generations. When the McHughs left for Canada, leaving behind Sarah, the jute mills were the biggest employer in the city. Almost half the city worked in the jute industry. 4 But the working conditions were difficult. The wages were lower for women and children than for men. The constant noise from the machines was deafening and the dust damaged the lungs. Wages in Dundee were the lowest in the country and Dundee had the highest cost of living, possibly due to the pressure on housing, caused by overcrowding. Mill workers had a bleak future ahead of them.5 Only a compelling reason could make Sarah stay and that reason must have been Thomas.

OpenLearn, Open University, Photo courtesy of University of Dundee Archive Services 6

Sarah and Thomas probably met at mill where they worked. As they lived close to each other, they would have worked at the same mill.7 Both Sarah and Thomas would have started working in the mills as soon as they finished school, at age 13. Although it was not uncommon for younger children to work alongside their mothers. Children under nine worked as pickers, cleaning the dust from beneath the machines.8

But Sarah and Thomas did not work in the mills all their lives. By the time they were in their mid twenties and Sarah’s family had left to settle in Canada, Thomas and Sarah had also moved away from Dundee to Glasgow. Glasgow is about 130 km from Dundee, so this would have been quite a move. It is probable that Thomas went first as his parents and siblings also moved to Glasgow. 9

From left to right, Thomas Adams, Sarah Jane McHugh, Ronald Maddocks (cousin)

  1. Ancestry, Canada, Arriving Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, Library and Archives Canada, Mary Ann McHugh, The Grampion, July 1911.
  2. Ancestry, Canada, Arriving Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, Library and Archives Canada, Thomas McHugh, The Grampion, May 21, 1912.
  3. Ancestry, Canada, Arriving Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, Library and Archives Canada, Elsie McHugh, The Grampion, October 1912.
  4. Dundee and the Jute Industry, Natural Bag Co. website, https://naturalbagcompany.co.uk/jute-news/dundee-and-the-jute-industry/, accessed February 23, 2021.
  5. Dundee History Archive, Workers of the mills, September 16, 2014, https://www.ddtours.co.uk/archive/workers-of-the-mills/#:~:text=Constant%20noise%20from%20the%20machines,breathing%20problems%20were%20also%20common, accessed February 23, 2021.
  6. OpenLearn, Dundee, jute, and empire, https://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/dundee-jute-and-empire/content-section-5.2, accessed March 3, 2021.
  7. Scotland’s Places, Ordnance Survey Name Books, Watsons Lane, https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/forfarshire-angus-os-name-books-1857-1861/forfar-angus-volume-34/20, accessed February 23, 2021, and Taits Lane, https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/forfarshire-angus-os-name-books-1857-1861/forfar-angus-volume-33/8, accessed February 23, 2021.
  8. Verdant Works web site, Dundee Industrial Heritage Ltd., Working in the Mills,https://www.verdantworks.co.uk/exploration-article/working-in-the-mills/, accessed March 3, 2021.
  9. Scotland’s People, Death registers, Thomas Adam (father of Thomas), accessed February 23, 2021.
  10. Scotland’s People, Marriage registers, Sarah McHugh and Thomas Adam, January 1, 1915. Thomas is a railway engine driver and both Sarah and Thomas are living with Thomas’ widowed mother in the Possilpark District of Glasgow City, accessed August 21, 2019.
  11. Family Search, History of the Railways, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Occupations_Railway_Employees_(National_Institute), accessed February 23, 2021.
  12. Scotland’s People, Statutory Births, Sarah Jane McHugh, accessed August 20, 2019.
  13. Scotland’s People, Statutory Deaths, Adams, Thomas, accessed February 2, 2021.

Hogmanay

Imagine Christmas being cancelled? As we all face lockdown restrictions, we can easily imagine how the Scots felt in 1580 when John Knox banned the celebration of Christmas.

Except that his ban lasted 400 years.

Knox led the Presbyterian movement during the Reformation when Scotland officially split from the Roman Catholic Church. He saw Christmas as a Roman Catholic celebration and wanted none of it. Parliament backed him. In 1640, an Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the “Yule vacation and observation thereof in time coming.”1 Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958. It took almost two decades more to get Boxing Day, which happened in 1974.2

The celebration of Hogmanay, or the coming of the new year, took on a greater significance.

There are a few theories about the origin of the word Hogmanay.  The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was Hoggonott. The Flemish words hoog min dag mean great love day. Some believe that the origin of the word Hogmanay can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon Haleg monath or Holy Month or the Gaelic words for new morning, oge maidne. Many believe that the source is French, homme est né for man is born. In France, the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged, was called aguillaneuf and in Normandy, this was called hoguignetes.3

 My father, Edward McHugh, was usually the “first-footer.” He stepped across the threshold after midnight, bearing gifts.  Traditionally, to ensure good luck, the first-footer is a tall and dark-haired male.  No one wanted to welcome a fair-haired first-footer, as they were associated with the Viking invasions.4 My father brought gifts of coal and a herring, but some of the other traditional gifts include shortbread, a black bun, and whiskey to toast the new year.5

My Scots grandmother also traditionally cleaned her home from top to bottom, literally sweeping out the old. And if anyone in the family had any outstanding debts, they had to be paid by midnight.

Saining is the practice of blessing your house and livestock for the New Year. Anyone can bless their house, as long as they use magical water from a river that has been crossed by both the living and dead. And you will have to find some juniper bushes to burn throughout your house.6

At Hogmanay parties hundreds of years ago, bonfires would be lighted and tar barrels would be rolled downhill. These fire ceremonies represented rebirth and new beginnings. Sometimes animal hides were wrapped around sticks and lit on fire. It was thought that the smoke would ward off evil spirits. 7

Every year Edinburgh hosts its Torchlight Procession to recreate the fire ceremonies. This year, it will be on-line so we can all enjoy the celebrations.8

Edinburgh’s Torchlight Procession, 20189

Of course, it would not be a party without ceiladh dancing in Scotland. The word ceilidh means simply ‘gathering’ or ‘party.’ So essentially, it is a gathering that features music and dancing. 10

Ceiladh dancing at Edinburgh Torchlight Procession 11

The partying and hospitality that goes on at Hogmanay is a way of wishing family, friends, and strangers a Guid New Year

I wish you all a very Guid New Year.

  1. Scot Clans website, A History of Christmas in Scotland,  December 17, 2013, https://www.scotclans.com/a-history-of-christmas-in-scotland/ttp://www.scotland.org/features/hogmanay-top-facts, accessed December 21, 2020.
  2. Ibid.
  3.  Rampants Scotland website, Did you know? New Year’s Eve – Hogmanay, http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow12.htm, accessed December 21, 2020.
  4. https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/explore/view/a-guide-to-hogmanay-traditions, accessed December 21, 2020.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay web site, A Guide to Hogmanay Traditions, https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/whats-on/edinburghs-hogmanay-goes-online-and-on-screens-for-2020, accessed December 21, 2020.
  9. BBC News, Edinburgh’s Torchlight Procession Recreates Scotland’s Map, Brown, Angie, December 31, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-46721188, accessed December 21, 2020.
  10. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay web site, A Guide to Hogmanay Traditions, https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/explore/view/a-guide-to-hogmanay-traditions, accessed December 20, 2020
  11. Ibid.

Montreal Transit

“Eddie! Come on, Ed. Frank forgot his lunch and you have to take it to him.”

Ed’s heart sank. He had no school today but, instead of playing with his friends, he would have to make his way all the way from Verdun to Montreal West so that he could give Frank the lunch he forgot. It was sitting right there, on the kitchen table when Frank left – and he forgot it again!

My uncle, Frank McHugh, worked as a tramway driver and he drove the tram on the 63 or 64 route that went along Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal. The unlucky little boy who always had the job of taking him his lunch was my dad, Edward McHugh.

Uncle Frank’s full name was Francis Strachan McHugh. He was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1904 and emigrated to Canada with his parents and six siblings in 1912. His younger brother, Edward, was born in 1914. So, by the time Frank had found work as a tramway driver in the 1920’s, Edward was old enough to travel across the city and bring him his lunch.

Thomas McHugh with sons, Edward (left) and James (right). Edward was about eight years old in this picture, about the time he would have carried Frank’s lunch to him.

The first public transportation company in Montreal, The Montreal Passenger City Railway Company (MPCRC) was established in 1861 when the first horse-drawn tramway came into service along Notre Dame Street. The horse-drawn tramway had two employees on-board, a driver and a conductor who collected the fares. The passengers simply hailed the tram when they wanted to get on and signaled to the driver when they wanted to get off.1

Horse-drawn winter tramway on St. Catherine Street (around 1877), Société de transport de Montréal (STM) website, Tramways History

The MPCRC eventually became the Montreal Street Railway Company (MSRC). The MSRC introduced the first electric powered tramway, The Rocket, on September 21, 1892. The electric tramways immediately became very popular as they were much faster than the horse-drawn tramways. 2

By the time Uncle Frank became a tram driver, his employer was the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC). The MTC, created in 1911, acquired all the other transit companies on the island at that time. The citizens of Montreal, concerned that a private company had a monopoly over the public transit in the city, put pressure on the city, and the Montreal Transit Commission was created in 1918 to oversee the MTC. 3


Electric trams, Ste-Catherine Street, Montreal, McCord Museum, Wm Notman and Son, 1895

At the time that Uncle Frank worked as a tramway driver in the early 1920s, it was the peak of the operation of the tramway system in city. At that time, the MTC carried nearly 230 million passengers per year. 4 In 1924, the company published this map of the Montreal Transit system.5


Route map of bus and tramways in Montreal, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, collection numérique

By the mid-1920s, the city began transitioning to buses, with the first major replacement of the tramway in 1936 in the city’s east end on Notre Dame Street. 6 Uncle Frank followed suit and drove the bus that went along Sherbroooke Street West. But by that time, if he forgot his lunch, he was out of luck.

When cars became popular in Montreal in the 1950s, Uncle Frank quit his job as a bus driver and became a taxi driver.


Frank McHugh and his wife, Molly Baxter
.
  1. http://www.stm.info/en/about/discover_the_stm_its_history/history/tramways-history#:~:text=Created%20in%201911%2C%20the%20Montreal,quality%20of%20the%20service%20offered, accessed October 18, 2020
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid
  5. Société de transport de Montréal (STM) website, Tramways History, http://www.stm.info/en/about/discover_the_stm_its_history/history/tramways-history#:~:text=Created%20in%201911%2C%20the%20Montreal,quality%20of%20the%20service%20offered,accessed October 18, 2020
  6. http://www.stm.info/en/about/discover_the_stm_its_history/history/tramways-history#:~:text=Created%20in%201911%2C%20the%20Montreal,quality%20of%20the%20service%20offered, accessed October 18, 2020

Good wages, employment guaranteed

Good wages. Employment guaranteed. These words echoed over and over again in Mary McHugh’s head. And only some domestic experience required. Mary thought that she had quite enough domestic experience, thank you, as she was the only daughter still at home.

It was 1910 and Mary had turned 20 in February.1 Old enough to be married. No prospects in sight. She had been working at the jute factory since she finished school at 14.2 Like her older brother, Thomas McHugh, she immediately got a job in the jute factory as soon as she could. Mary’s mother, Sarah McLaughlin, was happy that Mary was working as Sarah was a widow and still had three children at home. Her husband, Michael McHugh, had died of tuberculosis when Mary’s brother, Francis, was just three months old.3  It had been a struggle for Sarah to make ends meet. Even though Sarah had managed to get a job as a charwoman,4 it was not easy. Sarah was exhausted when she got home, too, and it was up to Mary to help with the housework and cooking for her younger brothers. Mary’s older brother, Thomas, was already married with six children. He helped when he could but he had his own worries.

Mary thought ruefully about her job. She was a jute spinner at the flax mill.5 The mill was noisy and crowded. Mary worked twelve hours a day and it was back-breaking work. The women worked hard in the mills but made less wages than the men. The machines were dangerous. Accidents happened often.6 And then there was mill fever or brown lung. Most people who worked in the mill had a dry cough and sometimes even a fever.7

Mill Workers

Photograph from the BBC8

Mary liked the idea of being a domestic. The hours would be long and she would be on her feet all day but the air would be clean and it would be quiet. But Canada? So far away? All by herself? Could she do it?

These thoughts were the beginning of Mary’s plan to emigrate to Canada. Mary McHugh was my great aunt and she arrived on the S.S. Grampion that sailed from Glasgow and arrived in Quebec City in July 1911.9

In the early 1900s the demand for domestic servants in Canada exceeded the number of young Canadian women willing to do this type of work. Governments, employers, and women’s organizations made a special effort to encourage the immigration of household workers.8 More specifically, British immigrants were considered as desirable immigrants to Canada. As of 1888, steamship agents received a bonus for selling the passage of a female immigrant whose intent was to work as a domestic servant in Canada. This was called the British Bonus and it came into effect by an Order-in-Council on September 27, 1890. Its purpose was to offer an incentive to desirable British immigrants. Often the Canadian employer would pay the fare of the immigrant to the steamship company.10 The emigrating domestic would then have to pay it back out to her employer out of her wages. This meant that the young immigrant woman was already indebted to her employer even before she started working. If she was unhappy with her employment, it made it difficult for her to find a better employment as long as she owed money.11

It is probable that Mary’s fare to Canada was paid by her employer. Beside Mary McHugh’s name on the passenger manifest of the Grampion there is a stamp British Bonus Allowed.

Hopefully Mary enjoyed her employment. She was the first member of the McHugh family to arrive in Montreal in 1911. She was probably delighted when her mother, Sarah, and three brothers, Thomas, Edward and Francis, followed her to Montreal in May 1912. And Thomas’ wife, Elsie Orrock, and their seven children, Ann, Elsie, Sarah, Francis, Mary, Adam, and Thomas arrived in October 1912. Mary married John Mervin Porter in June 1913 and her family would have been there to celebrate with her.

 

Notes and sources:

This poster from the Canadian Museum of History is from a 1926 pamphlet entitled Housework in Canada: duties, wages, conditions and opportunities for household workers but there would have been similar pamphlets advertising for immigrants that may have given Mary the idea.  This pamphlet says that “Canada welcomes men and women of the right type who come to seek their fortune in this broad new land … (people) of good moral character, and in good health, mentally and physically.” You can see this on the Canadian Museum of History web site in the section Advertising in Britain in the 1920s, https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/advertis/ads7-06e.html

Household work

  1. Scotland’s People, Register of Births, Mary Ann McHugh, born February 4, 1890, accessed November 18, 2017.
  2. Wikipedia web site, History of Education in Scotland, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_Scotland, accessed August 17, 2020.
  3. Scotland’s People, Registers of Death, Michael McHugh, died May 16, 1895, accessed November 27, 2017 and Scotland’s People, Registers of Births, Francis McHugh, born February 21, 1895, accessed November 27, 2017.
  4. Scotland’s People, 1911 Census, Sarah McHugh, 1 Tait Lane, Dundee, Scotland, accessed February 15, 2018.
  5. Scotland’s People, 1911 Census, Mary McHugh, 1 Tait Lane, Dundee, Scotland, accessed February 15, 2018.
  6. DD Tours web site, Workers of the mills, September 16, 2014, https://www.ddtours.co.uk/archive/workers-of-the-mills/, accessed August 17, 2020.
  7. com web site, Byssinosis, https://www.healthline.com/health/byssinosis, accessed August 19, 2020.
  8. BBC web site, Tayside and Central Scotland, The history of mills in Dundee, December 2, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/taysideandcentralscotland/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8390000/8390747.stm, accessed August 17, 2020.
  9. Passenger list, S.S. Grampion, July 1911, Glasgow – Quebec City.
  10. British Bonus Paid, British Home Children web site, https://www.britishhomechildren.com/single-post/2014/11/09/British-Bonus-Paid, accessed August 18, 2020
  11. Barber, M.J., Immigrant Domestic Servants in Canada, Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa, 1991, p. 9

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.