Author Archives: Tracey Arial

Did you know Library and Archives Canada has a podcast?

The latest Library and Archives Canada podcast just came out April 7. It features the rise of the British Flying Service and how that new technology affected the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

In the early days of flight, you had to expect to crash,” says Bill Rawling, historian and author of the book Surviving Trench Warfare and one of the experts interviewed in the podcast. “And the idea was to see how far, how high you could go before the aircraft would fall out of the sky and they’d have to drag you out of the wreckage. Now, you’re talking about something that when it crashes, you’re going 30 kilometres an hour and you’ve come down from 30 feet and it’s all wood and canvas and it just falls apart around you. And in fact, it’s like a big crunch zone in a car. So, but yeah. You have to expect—Billy Bishop, you know, probably Canada’s most famous pilot ever, when they adopt new aircraft—the Nieuport 17—there were hard landings, as they were called, as he’s learning how to operate this aircraft. And a hard landing may well mean damage. So how many of these hard landings were actually crashes?”

If you have an ancestor who served in the British or Canadian military, this episode will give you lots of ideas of their roles during the war. It also features descriptions of some of the other experts who participated in this, the world’s first industrial war.

This is the first of two podcasts featuring Vimy. The Episode is called Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 1.

Library and Archives Canada Podcasts Appealing to Genealogists

The Library and Archives Canada  has been podcasting since 2012. Other episodes that might appeal to genealogists include:

 Sifting through LAC’s Cookbook Collection

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Métis Nation

And perhaps the most useful one for any genealogist,

Digging Into the Past: Family History in Canada

To see the entire collection, refer to the main podcast page.

Four Generations Grow up in Weston

Granny, nanny and my mom on the porch in Weston

Granny, nanny and my mom on the porch in Weston

One of my earliest memories has me travelling by bus to the Weston library with my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. For some reason, the Carnegie Foundation in New York provided a grant to build the stunning structure in 1914 despite its Ontario location along the Humber River.[1]

I’ll always be grateful.

Recent visits to the location feel peaceful somehow, as if several generations of residence in that spot left traces in my DNA.

Our family moved to Weston sometime between the 1871[2]  and 1881[3] censuses and stayed there until the late nineteen sixties.

An Irish ancestor at last!

The 1871 census shows great granny’s mom Kezia Charlotte McMaster, who was then 12 years-old, living with her family in 130 Mono Cardwell. Her mother was a 54-year-old Irish immigrant named Ann McMaster. Other family members included 24-year-old Andrew, 20-year-old Alexander, 16-year-old James and 14-year-old Ann Eliza.

Summer wedding

Seven years later, at the age of 22, Kezia married 38-year-old John Paul Charboneau on a summer day in August. The marriage licence describes him as a Francophone Church of England man working as a cooper building barrels and utensils out of wood.

Their son Paul, my great great great uncle, came along on March 13, 1888.[4]

His sister Charlotte, my direct ancestor, was born in Orangeville seven years later.

Charlotte and Arthur

I don’t know how they met, but great grandma Charlotte married British Immigrant Arthur Johnson in Weston on February 9, 1917.[5] Before the wedding took place, they had to sign a “degrees of affinity” document to confirm that they were not blood relatives.

Like her mother, she was 22 years old at the time.

The wedding took place close to her home on Cross Street. His parents, William Johnson and Mary Young attended, as did hers. Their witnesses were Albert and Aimie Johnson who lived nearby on Fife Avenue.

Given their last names, it’s likely these witnesses were also ancestors.

Charlotte and Arthur remained in Weston from then on. Their daughter, her daughter and I all grew up in the village.

The couple only left Weston in their nineties to move in with their daughter in Midland during the last decade of their lives.



[1], accessed February 22, 2017.

[2] Canada Census, 1871,” database, FamilySearch ( : 13 November 2014), Kezia Mc Master in household of Ann Mc Master, Mono, Cardwell, Ontario, Canada; citing p. 40, line 10; Library and Archives Canada film number C-9959, Public Archives, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm 4,396,686.

[3] Canada Census, 1881,” database, Library and Archives Canada film number C-13249, Public Archives, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm Reference: RG31 – Statistics Canada, Item Number: 3601574.

[4] Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959,” database, FamilySearch ( : 27 November 2014), Keziah Macmaster in entry for Paul Charbonneau, 13 Mar 1888; citing Toronto, York, Ontario, 13 Mar 1888, reference cn 901245; FHL microfilm 1,872,230.

[5] Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database with ages, FamilySearch ( : 10 April 2015), Keziah Mcmaster in entry for Arthur Johnson and Charlotte Charboneau, 09 Feb 1917; citing registration , Weston, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2,130,929.

Profile Your Ancestors 4th Video Released

The fourth video in my Profile Your Ancestor series is now available.

This series is designed to encourage genealogists to write narrative stories about their research, such as those on the Genealogy Ensemble blog.

These kinds of stories:

  • deepen your research by encouraging you to look into tiny details you might not otherwise question;
  • are more widely read, even by people who don’t necessarily appreciate how important family history research can be;
  • are great ways to compile a book about your ancestors; and
  • can be fun ways to reach out to other family members.

This video summarizes the points I made in videos 1,  2, and 3 to get you writing such stories about your ancestors. It also invites anyone struggling to consider joining my upcoming profile your ancestors course. This is a great way to get some assistance getting started.

If you’ve got some stories written, I’d love to see links to them in the comments below.

Why Profile Your Ancestors

I’ve just published a video outlining why I profile my ancestors. In brief, it says that genealogists who take time to write stories about their ancestors ask better questions, are able to frame their research in time and place, and communicate well.

This is the first video in a series. To get them in your inbox, sign up for my Notable Nonfiction list and select the Profile Your Ancestor group.

Final Letter to Mr. Baldwin

The final letter to Mr. Baldwin seems so impersonal, despite a handwritten signature.

The RCAF officer signed only his initials “AAG” on the January 4, 1947 letter to John Ansley Baldwin.

AAG signature on Baldwin letter


May I again, at this time, offer my sincere sympathy at the loss of your son.”[1]

The initials seem to bely the sentiment expressed, but keep in mind that “AAG” had to write many such letters to parents. As casualty officer for Air Marshall Robert Leckie, Chief of the Air Staff from January 1944 until August 1947, AAG had to write to many parents of the 17,397 airmen who died serving with the Canadian Air Force during World War II.

In this instance, AAG was writing to the father of Flying Officer Air bomber John Moody Baldwin, the navigator on a flight flown by pilot William Coates. Baldwin went missing almost three years earlier—on March 25, 1944—when his plane went down during air operations in Germany with the RCAF. At that point, the 23-year-old had been an air bomber for two years.

This letter was the news firmly announcing his definite death to his family.

“The report from the Missing Research and Enquiry Service in Holland states that the aircraft in which they were flying crashed at about 12.30 A.M. on the 25gh March near Luyksgestel which is located approximately 12 miles South South West of Eindhoven.”

The letter, which was sent to 838 Concession Street, Hamilton, Ontario, goes on to say that the remains of the seven airmen were buried in the General Cemetery, Woensel, Eindhoven. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicates that they are now buried in Plot KK. Coll. grave 28-31.[2]

The letter was addressed to John Moody Baldwin’s father. An accompanying death certificate issued by the Province of Ontario identifies his mother as Margaret Moody. Both were born in Ontario.



[1] Baldwin, John Moody; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 24791, letter J24527 (RO, No. 10. Section), dated Ottawa, Canada, January 4th 1947.

[2] Veteran’s Affairs Canada,, viewed on May 23, 2016.

Enjoying the Story of Westmount


I began looking for traces of the Huguenots that my grandmother always told me were in the family. First, I looked for anyone born in Blois, Orléans, Paris, Rouen or Tours France sometime after the Affair of the Placards. These are the towns in which people posted signs questioning Catholic dogma overnight on October 17, 1534. The incident set off the reformation and eventually led to hangings and mass migration of Protestants out of France.

Unfortunately, my genealogical records don’t extend far into France during the 1500s, so that research will be for another day.

My journey through the Hurtubise side of my family, however, led me upon a wonderful history of Westmount called A View of Their Own: The Story of Westmount, written by Aline Gubbay in 1998. The little guide introduced me to several early maps of Montreal I hadn’t seen before, Montreal’s Mohawk name “”Kawanote Teiontiakon” and a hint about how some of my distant ancestors lived. Gubbay describes the geology of Montreal in a way that allows you to really imagine how things used to be.

The western part of the island was distinguished by a little mountain Westmount — some 600 feet high, formed by an outcropping of a larger rise, Mount Royal. Iroquoians had discovered that the slope of the little mountain, facing south-east, was sheltered from the strongest northern winds, a factor which, together with abundant water from the mountain springs, made for a richly fertile soil where they could cultivate their traditional crops of beans and corn. (p 11)

My ancestors get a small mention on page 15:

One by one the families arrived, settling along the Indian trail now given the name of Côte St. Antoine. They included names such as Des Carries (sic), Prud’homme, Leduc, Pierre et Jean Hurtubise, and St. Germain.

(Fascinating how Gubbay missed the French word “et” in her paragraph, something I frequently do in my texts. Bilingualism can be quite troubling sometimes.)

She continues:

Most of the men were artisans, recruited from towns of northern France for their skills as stonemasons, millers, brewers, but they soon acquired the new skills necessary to clear and cultivate the land. In winter, after the land had been cleared, the trunks of the trees were gathered, carried down to the water and lashed together on the rim of a frozen lake, Lac St. Pierre. When the ice melted in the spring the lumber was floated through a short inlet to the St. Lawrence River and rafted along the shore for sale at Ville Marie, now renamed Montreal.

If you have Clarks, Dawsons, Dionnes, Elgins, Enslies, Hays, Hendersons, Lighthalls, Mackays, Monks, Murrays, Newnhams, Ohmans, Parés, Shearers, Smithers or Timmins in your family, you’ll find gems about their lives in this book. If you appreciate reading about the Town of Westmount, the borough of NDG or Montreal history, this is definitely a story you’ll want to discover.

At only 151 pages, A View of their Own: The Story of Westmount is a quick and easy read. Gubbays smooth writing style and her use of many anecdotes make it entertaining as well. I highly recommend it.

Sad death

One of the first Canadian women who enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force committed suicide less than a year later.

miniHazelTen days after her 29th birthday, Hazel Winnifred Webb Seymour left a steady job with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The unit operated under the motto: “we serve that men may fly.”

Ten months later, she swallowed three bottles of cleansers (iodine, cresol and carbolic acid) while in the hospital for hysteria. She died on September 10, 1942.

When she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Webb Seymour seemed like the perfect candidate. She was healthy, high-school educated, the right age and height, and well-trained in administrative duties. She was married, and had been for seven years, but the couple had no children as he was deployed overseas.

Her early days in the Air Force reinforced her aptitude for the job. One test resulted in the comment:

“One of the best on the course – always cheerful and will make a wonderfully reliable and good N.C.O. Suitable for a difficult station.”

An “assessment of character” completed in March 1942 also contained high praise: “industrious, capable, willing worker,” “highly resourceful,” and “merits accelerated promotion.”

Four months later, Seymour was admitted to the Station Hospital with something so serious, she stayed for eight days. From then on, she went in and out of hospitals, both civilian and military, until her suicide.

During an inquest about her death, Flight Lieutenant Allan Campbell Blair described what happened in the final three days of her life.

“It was considered that before she should be discharged on the grounds of this nervous disorder that it would be worthwhile to give her another chance and to this end was admitted to Station Hospital again to be kept under observation and the be employed doing small jobs about the hospital which was thought might be of benefit to her. She was apparently responding and there was, in my opinion, no need to restrict her freedom about the hospital. There was no evidence or intentions from her that she was planning self destruction. On September 10, at 1205 hours as Dr. Williams and myself were leaving the hospital we encountered her in the hall holding an iodine soaked stained towel to her mouth and she stated that she had just drunk three bottles of poison….”[1]

After she died, her mother wrote to the military needing help.

“The funeral refund has not been sent to me and I really need that amount to help with my winters’ coal, if I can get any.”[2]

Despite those pleas, the only cheque to the family reimbursed $154.16 they paid for Webb Seymour’s funeral.


Note: This story is a mini-version of a chapter in Tracey’s upcoming book: Steady Hands, Brave Heart: World War II’s effect on Canada.

[1] Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, testimony, Allan Campbell Blair, C3966.

[2] Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, letter, Pearl Web, August 28, 1943.

John Buchan: Author, Pacifist, Canadian

People often wonder why no one tried to stop Hitler before 1939. One answer is the influence of pacifists, including John Buchan.

His desire to come up with some way to achieve peace in Europe led Buchan to hold secret meetings with Roosevelt on behalf of Chamberlain while serving as Canada’s Governor General, writes Kate Macdonald, in her book  “Reassessing John Buchan: Beyond the Thirty Nine Steps.”

The most obvious constructive outcome of Buchan’s partly secret, partly public approach was a series of high-level meetings and state visits involving Buchan and President Roosevelt during the late 1930s. From Washington, Roosevelt made active use of Buchan as an informal—but high-level—channel of communication with British political leaders in London, doing so, it seems, to circumvent the influence of the American State Department and British Foreign Office. Buchan, as focused as Roosevelt on the vital issue of peace in Europe, was only too happy to oblige the president by acting in this way, even though he should not (as governor-general) have engaged in this subterfuge.”[1]

Buchan’s public popularity made him invaluable as an go-between for British and American interests. The Scottish National’s novel The Thirty-Nine Steps had just become a mystery thriller movie by Alfred Hitcock and he was also he was voted Time Magazine’s man of the year when the The British Government appointed him Lord Tweedsmuir in 1935. The Lordship was a necessary step to allow him to be appointed Governor General of Canada on August 10 that same year.

His appointment as Governor General of Canada was meant to signal a new era. Leaders were buoyant that the depression would end and employment would rebound. The dust bowl storm of the previous spring was over and a new government had taken power. Unemployment was still high and many people were still struggling to feed themselves, but countries that had been closed to exports were opening up.

As Lord Tweedsmuir, Buchan outlined two international trade agreements in his speech from the throne which began Canada’s 18th parliamentary session on Thursday, February 6, 1936.

I am happy to be able to inform you that a trade agreement between Canada and the United States of America was concluded on Armistice Day, 1935, and that the trade dispute with Japan, which had seriously affected the trade of both countries, was adjusted before the end of the old year. The Canada-United States Trade Agreement will be submitted for your approval. You will also be forthwith advised of the basis on which normal trade relations between Canada and Japan have been restored.[2]

In addition to travelling throughout Canada, welcoming the new King and Queen, establishing the first proper library at Rideau Hall, and founding the Governor General’s Literary Awards, Buchan represented three different Kings during his five year reign. George V died in January 1935. Edward VIII abdicated eleven months later. George VI took office in May 1937.

He spent most of his time, however, supporting desperate Canadians and meeting with leaders to convince them not to go to war.

Their efforts to build a European peace failed.

On Thursday, September 7, Tweedsmuir made the following speech:

Honourable Members of the Senate:

Members of the House of Commons:

As you are only too well aware, all efforts to maintain the peace of Europe have failed. The United Kingdom, in honouring pledges given as a means of avoiding hostilities, has become engaged in war with Germany. You have been summoned at the earliest moment in order that the government may seek authority for the measures necessary for the defence of Canada, and for co-operation in the determined effort which is being made to resist further aggression, and to prevent the appeal to force instead of to pacific means in the settlement of international disputes.

Already the militia, the naval service and the air force have been placed on active service, and certain other provisions have been made for the defence of our coasts and our internal security under the War Measures Act and other existing authority.

Proposals for further effective action by Canada will be laid before you without delay.

Members of the House of Commons: You will be asked to consider estimates to provide for expenditure which has been or may be caused by the state of war which now exists.

Honourable Members of the Senate: Members of the House of Gommons: I need not speak of the extreme gravity of this hour. There can have been few, if any, more critical in the history of the world. The people of Canada are facing the crisis with the same fortitude that to-day supports the peoples of the United Kingdom and other of the nations of the British Commonwealth. My ministers are convinced that Canada is prepared to unite in a national effort to defend to the utmost liberties and institutions which are a common heritage.[3]

After both houses voted to support the plan, Canada went to war with Germany on September 9, 1939.

[1] Macdonald, Kate, Reassessing John Buchan: Beyond the Thirty Nine Steps, London: Pickering and Chatte, 2009, , 1851969985 p 113.

[2] Journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, Session 1936, 18th Parliament of Canada, J.O. Patenaud I.S.O., February 6 to June 23rd, 1936, Thursday, February 6, 1936, p 12.

[3] Journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, 5th Special War Session, 18th Parliament of Canada, J.O. Patenaud I.S.O., Thursday, September 7, 1939, p 1.

Difficult holiday for two families

The plane crashed just after one in the afternoon Eastern Time on December 22, 1944. He probably died right then, or soon after.


James Frederick (Fredrick or Federic) Devitt left at least two families mourning for him, one in the United Kingdom and his own in Ontario.

His service file shows that the man was 22 years old when he died. His birth had been a Valentine’s Day gift for his parents. Prior to joining the Air Force, he worked for the Canada Bread Company in Peterborough as a driver and route manager. He played hockey and softball and owned a motor boat.[1]

His last trip as a flight engineer/pilot officer left from Gransden Lodge just prior to 4 p.m. in the afternoon, December 22, 1944, exactly 71 years ago yesterday.

His Lancaster and 13 others were on a Pathfinder mission to mark a small railway freight yard in Germany’s Rhine Valley. He was in Lancaster 405/D, which was seen crashing about three hours later by four pathfinders at 50:02 N. 06:25 E., southwest of Leimbach.

Blind Sky Marker failed to return from this operation and nothing has been heard from any member of the crew since time of take-off. This was F/O Tite’s 35th operation.” [2]

His mother’s notes to the Air Force show how difficult these situations were for families.

The telegram and letter reporting him going missing within a month of the crash was the only official news, but she still had hope that he had lived in May.

Can nothing be done to locate my son Fred? I have waited for days thinking some message would come through. I had word from two of the fathers from two of his crew saying their sons were prisoners of war. This was some time ago. Try and help a heart-broken mother please.”

Henrietta was 65 when her Devitt died, but she had already known great loss. His father Robert Campbell Devitt had already died of complications following a stomach ulcer operation when he was three years old, his older brothers were  five, 15 and 21 and his five sisters were eight, 11, 14, 17 and 19.

When she got news about her youngest son going missing, she was already dealing with the death of his elder brother Alexander, who had died the previous January in the Battle of Ortano, Italy.[3]

She wrote the Royal Air Force a second note three months later:

I have not heard any further word about my son Jas Fredric Devitt except what the three members of his crew who came back told me by letter. They said the plane burst into flames. One bailed out and two were blown out and what happened the rest is not known. Surely some identification marks were found. If he was killed and buried like my other son I wouldn’t take it so hard.

Two of the boys were taken as prisoners and the other wounded and put in a German hospital. All any one says is missing.”

A month later she wrote again.

Surely you can tell me something of my son Pilot Officer Jas Fud shot down over Germany December 22…If I know he was died and his body found my mind would be at rest—as it is I’m afraid of results.”

Another woman who loved him also worried. Eight months after his plane went down, a Mrs. S. Hitchings wrote the Royal Air Force from 111 Connaught Road, Roath Park, Cardiff. She too had heard that two airmen from his plane were taken prisoner and she hoped that perhaps they provided the Red Cross with information about Devitt.

I feel sure that if he was alive we would have heard from him, since he became part of our family whilst he was stationed in this country.”[4]

It would take another three years to be sure about what happened to the Lancaster, but Devitt’s service record indicates that:

This 4 engined aircraft fell 60 or 70 yards behind the fam of MARTIN STOMMES in WIERSDORF (L.0357). It was shot down by a German night fighter and was burning in the air, it hit the ground, turned on its back and burned for 3 hours. One engine and the tail unit fell off before it crashed.”

Three bodies and the remains of a fourth were buried in an unmarked grave.[5]

Devitt’s remains have since been moved to Rheinberg War Cemetery in Germany. For more information, refer to his Veterans Affairs Canada memorial page.


[1] Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, General Information.

[2] No. 405 R.C.A.F. Squadron (P.E.F.) Operations Record Book, Gransden Lodge, photocopies of secret book, December 22, 1944, Appendix 212.

[3] Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, National Estates Branch, form C92768FD269, October 29, 1945.

[4] Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, report from Officer Commanding No 2, MR&E Unit RAF, dated January 17, 1947.

[5] Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203, letter from S. Hitchings, received August 25, 1945.

Note: This article was also published on today.

Remembering Ed Johnson, the visionary behind the North Wall

Ed Johnson and Ric Gidner, July 2005

Ed Johnson and Ric Gidner, July 2005

As I watch the memorial service today, I’ll be thinking of my friend Ed Johnson, the visionary behind the North Wall.

Ed and I met first late in 1995, six months or so after the North Wall (officially known as the Canadian Vietnam Vet Memorial) was erected in Windsor, Ontario. We met again the following July and then again ten years later during the tenth anniversary of the monument.RicEdWindsorWall

In our first meeting, Ed told me how a chance meeting with a woman at the Wall in Washington in 1986 led him on a long journey to create the North Wall. The Canadian woman told Ed that she served as a nurse in Vietnam. Later he found out she lied about that, but her comments made him curious about all Vietnam veterans from Canada. He remembered serving with a Canadian in 1969/70 with the 2/47 Mechanized Infantry.

“During that time, it just never registered,” he said. “I didn’t know what that would mean or where it was. I mean, how many American lives did they save? I’m forever grateful for what they did.”

Johnson began looking for information about Canadian Vietnam Veterans. He found out that some associations existed in Canada, but that most veterans in our country were still isolated and on their own. He learned that many had to cross the border multiple times a year to get health treatment for injuries received during the Vietnam War.

“So I organized a committee here in the Detroit area and called it the Canadian Vietnam Veterans’ Welcome Home Committee. We began working to organize a Welcome Home event for them. The event took two years in the planning and I personally went out and signed a contract with the Michigan State Fair Grounds for $48,000.”

The Welcome Home party took place on July 4, 1989, but internal fighting between veteran’s organizations meant that two other similar events took place in Michigan the same weekend. The pressure also caused fighting at home. By Sunday night that weekend, Johnson had lost $12,000, his house, his credit rating and his wife.

Despite the turmoil, Johnson continued his efforts to bring the Canadians home. He, his buddy Ric Gidner and his brother-in-law Chris Reynolds began building a mini-version of the Washington monument for the Canadians. With the help of the associations in Canada, they researched 100 names to inscribe on the granite.

In March 1993, Johnson and Gidner started a non-profit association called the Michigan Association of Concerned Veterans to offer their monument to the Canadians.

Both the National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa refused the offer, as did the ministries of Veteran’s Affairs and Public Works.

That led the Americans to split with the Ottawa and Toronto groups that wanted an Ottawa site and look for an alternate site instead.

In the end, the City of Windsor offered land in Assumption Park, right next to the Ambassador Bridge. The monument was dedicated on July 2, 1995 and continues to be dedicated annually every year.

Ed attended all of those dedications until he died from cancer on August 24, 2010. He was only 61 years old. There’s a neat memorial postcard in his memory.

I tried to find an official death notice for my friend, and found one for Edward George Johnson IV, who also lived in Farmington Hills and was born and died on the same dates as the Ed I knew. The picture looks like Ed to me. If this is indeed Ed, it’s nice to see that he built a strong relationship with family before dying despite his commitment to leaving a legacy for Canadian Vietnam Veterans.

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