All posts by Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial profiles inspiring Canadians.

private radio inspector

The black-leather-lined plasticized bilingual identity card wacked my arm as it fell from the shelf. Until then, I had never really noticed the card among the many items my grandmother left me.

Luckily, its heavy construction protected the words on the card, which remain as legible as they were when my grandfather received it on January 4, 1936.

The Canadian federal “Department of Marine” issued the card to give my grandfather credibility as a radio inspector. It says:

“The bearer G. Arial is hereby authorized to issue and inspect private radio receiving licences in Edmonton East. He is further authorized to require the production of private radio receiving licences for inspection.”

Turns out that this little artifact hints at a short-lived controversy in Canadian history. The card expired on March 31, 1937, but it would be defunct before then.

The Department of Marine seems like an odd overseer of radio licences until you realize that early broadcasting began in the 1890s when Morse Code was used to enable ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication. The idea of a public broadcaster begin in May, 1907, when the Marconi station in Camperdown, Nova Scotia began broadcasting regular time signals to the public.

The “wireless telegraphy” industry continued to develop with private individuals investing in ham radios with no regulation. By June 1913, the federal government decided to regulate the industry to protect military communication.

When World War I began in August 1914, private licenses were banned altogether. Only the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada, Ltd. kept operating during the war years, in part because it became a research arm of the military.i

After the war, the private industry blossomed, particularly in Western Canada. Many of the new broadcasters came from multiple religious communities, a situation the federal government tried to prevent by setting up a public broadcasting system through the Radio Broadcasting Act of 1932.

That act led to the establishment of a licensing commission called the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission under the leadership of Hector Charlesworth. Charlesworth’s group censored many religious groups and political groups, but none more than the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Norman James Fennema described the controversy in his 2003 dissertation, Remote Control.

…in Canada we find a situation in which the original impetus for regulating radio broadcasting began with the specific aim of putting a rein on religious broadcasting. Originally directed at the radio activities of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, this expanded in the early 1930’s into a policy against the licensing of religious broadcasters, a policy initially justified on the basis of the scarcity of the broadcasting spectrum, but that survived the expansion of the system.ii

By 1935, Clarence Decateur Howe became both the Minister of Railways and Canals and the Minister of Marine,iii the ministry under which my grandfather’s job was created.

Howe favoured private broadcasting, and encouraged new private entities to flourish.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King preferred a public broadcast system however. In February, 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) came into being, and my grandfather’s job ended.

Sources

i https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_broadcasting_in_Canada, accessed May 26, 2020.

ii Fennema, Norman James. REMOTE CONTROL: A History of the Regulation of Religion in the Canadian Public Square, PhD thesis, 2003, https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/bitstream/handle/1828/10314/Fennema_Norman James_PhD_2003.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

iii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minister_of_Transport_(Canada), accessed May 26, 2020.

The Man Behind the Black Cross Temperance Society

What made my ancestor think of using a black cross to mark homes of temperance?

Edouard Quertier (Cartier) launched Quebec’s first official temperance society in 1842 by placing a giant black cross on the top of the escarpment in Saint-Denis-de-Kamouraska. So began an organization that would encompass 400,000 of 900,000 Canadian Catholics eight years later.(1)

The symbol created a tradition that continues in Quebec to this day. If you ever go into a home with a bare black cross hanging in the middle of the living room wall, you’ll know you’re in the house of people who do not drink alcohol.

But what gave him the idea?

1842 Arrival in St Denis

Quertier certainly wasn’t feeling inspired when he first arrived in the tiny hamlet or between 10 and 15 families at the edge of a cliff on the Saint Lawrence’s south shore.

How did I accept this arid rock?,” he wrote. “When I arrived [in October], there was not even a piece of board on which to place a bed or a table. I had to go down the slope and rent a small house, or rather a cabin. No matter! I waited there, until my lodging was acceptable.”(2)

Still, Quertier was no youngster when he arrived in Saint-Denis-de-Kamouraska. At 43 years old, he had had four previous jobs before his priesthood and 12 years of experience serving communities.

Le révérend Édouard Quertier, 1864, Fonds J. E. Livernois Ltée, http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/3114297

Previous Jobs

Both of his previous roles as parish priest were stressful.

As curate and then parish priest of Saint-Antoine in Montmagmy, he argued frequently with his patron, Father Charles Francois Painchaud.

His bishop got him out of that situation by appointing him parish priest of Sainte-Georges of Cacouna. There, a new church and presbytery were required, but building them was difficult due to arguments between residents who wanted religious leadership and those who believed in the strong separation of Church and State. Despite the conflict, Quertier was able to build a new church and presbytery within the village. He oversaw the presbytery stonemasons and carpenters and got the church walls well underway before resigning the post. His departure halted the building of the church for a time, but it resumed in 1845 and opened for worship in 1848. The belfry didn’t get added until 1892 and full consecration delayed until 1897, but that’s another story.(3)

The experience simply makes clear that Quertier knew he had to do something important quickly to make an impact on his new neighbourhood.

He decided to promote temperance as a movement.

Temperance in Quebec

The issue already had some momentum in Quebec. Popular people like Bishop Charles-August-Marie-Joseph de Forbin-Janson and Charels-Paschal-Télesphore Chiniquy had been telling stories about the evils of alcoholism in weekly masses since 1839. Community residents saw that frequent imbibing often led to fighting, lethargy, poverty, spousal abuse, theft and neighbourhood violence.

Unlike his predecessors, however, Quertier decided to formalize the movement with an official association he called “The Society of the Black Cross.” He created statutes, oaths for members and procedures for joining the society, including the requirement that each member display a plain black cross on the wall of the family living room.

For the next 15 years, Quertier’s campaign for temperance spread. So many French Canadian families displayed the black cross, it became a decor tradition. The Quebecois de Souche society includes a photo that shows the once prevalent look.(4)

Growth and Departure as Leader

In the meantime, Quertier continued building his parish. The wooden chapel that originally opened on December 24, 1841 got replaced by a stone gothic church in 1850.

Seven years after that, Quertier retired. By then, the Society of the Black Cross included believers in almost every parish in Quebec and Quertier’s own parish had grown to encompass 100 families containing “625 souls.”(5)

Temperance continued to be a key issue, not only in Quebec but across Canada. In Quebec, however, the secularism movement also had great strength in many communities. To avoid angering these groups, the Province of Canada passed the Canada Temperance Act that allowed any county or city to hold referendums to consider whether or not to forbid the sale of liquor. This would ensure that communities who wanted to stay dry could do so without forcing prohibition on the entire country.

Life after Death

Quertier spent the rest of his life in Saint-Denis-de-Kamouraska, which became Saint-Denis-de-la Bouteillerie in 2013. After his death in 1879 at 73 years old, the church entombed his body under the crypt of the church. A tombstone says in French:

Here lies lord Edouard Quertier, first parish priest of St. Denis, one of the first apostles of temperance. Died July 17, 1873, aged 73 years, 10 months, 12 days. For 15 years, he lived for you. Pray for him.”(6)

Quertier’s remains continued to draw enough visitors that the church got entirely rebuilt after a fire damaged it on March 9, 1886. Initially, they built a belfry to hold a 2027-pound bell that cost $425,000 the following spring, and new walls on those of the former church by October. Later, they’d add two more bells to the tower.

Quertiers’ campaign for temperance didn’t end when he died. Members of his Black Cross Society were among 20% of Quebec’s population that supported a federal referendum on prohibition in 1898.
The movement grew substantially during World War I.

Temperance, not Prohibition

The Quebec Government declared prohibition in 1919. Then it made several exceptions by legalizing the sale of light beer, cider, and wine in hotels, taverns, cafes, clubs and corner stores.

The prohibition law got repealed entirely to enable liquor sales through a government-run commission in 1921.

In many ways, by choosing control over strict adherence to abstinence, the government duplicated the practicality Quertier included within the original functioning of the Society of the Black Cross.
Any household that became a member of the temperance organization could get a special dispensation to serve alcohol during celebrations, such as baptisms, birthdays and weddings. If the parish priest agreed that a special occasion merited an exception, he would temporarily replace the plain black cross in a home with a white one. The white cross hung on the wall during the celebration. After the celebration ended, the priest would visit to exchange the white cross with a black one and return the home to a liquor-free location.(7)

This kind of flexibility enabled temperance to continue growing within Catholic communities in Quebec even after 1921. Some of its proponents resurrected Quertier in the form of a statue in front of his former church in 1925. The statue remains in place today.

Sources

(1) Ferland, Jean-Baptiste Antoine, in a report to the Holy See, 1850 as written in section 8, part 98 of Canada and its provinces, edited by Adam Short and Arthur G. Doughty, Glasgow, 1914, https://archive.org/stream/canadaitsprovinc11shoruoft/canadaitsprovinc11shoruoft_djvu.txt, accessed July 19, 2020.

(2) Julienne Barnard, “QUERTIER, ÉDOUARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–,written in 1972, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/quertier_edouard_10E.html, accessed on July 18, 2020.

(3) Ouellet, Jean-Baptiste, Municipalité de Saint-Denis-De La Bouteillerie. https://munstdenis.com/municipalit%c3%a9/historique/, accessed July 18, 2020.

(4) Fédération des Québécois de souche, https://quebecoisdesouche.info/la-croix-noire-croix-de-temperance/, accessed July 18, 2020

(5) La Corporation de développement de Mont-Carmel, https://www.mont-carmel.ca/histoire/, accessed July 18, 2020.

(6) Généalogie Abitibi-Témiscamingue, https://www.genat.org/cimetieres/photo.php?idPhoto=2c0bf0249a01fd83b57322e7b7cb3362, accessed July 18, 2020.

(7) Fédération des Québécois de souche, https://quebecoisdesouche.info/la-croix-noire-croix-de-temperance/, accessed July 18, 2020.

Living outside city walls

Settlers have long been attracted to Saint Roch, a neighbourhood on the banks of the St. Charles River next to the cliff leading up to Quebec’s walled Upper Town.

My great great great grandparents—Joseph Gabriel Arial Robert Content and Judith/Julie Belleau-dit-LaRose —both grew up in the neighbourhood. They knew it as the Saint Roch parish, which was officially founded in 1829. By then, the swampy neighbourhood housed 20 different shipyards and most of Quebec’s French-speaking families.

The neighbourhood began in 1620 as a small religious community set up by French missionaries known as the Recollets. They built a chapel in 1620. That chapel has long since gone, as were those built in 1811, 1816 and 1841.1 A stone church built in 1923 now sits on the same site as all the others at 160, rue Saint Josephe Est. For some great photos of the area and a discussion in French about all the different churches on the site, refer to Jérôme Ouellet’s 2014 blog post.

Joseph and Judith got married in the 1816 version of the church on September 4, 1832.2 Her parents Joseph Belleau and Marie-Anne Ratté married in a predecessor on November 5, 1808.3

I don’t know exactly where in Quebec Joseph lived prior to their marriage, but his dad Jean Baptiste worked as a day labourer.4

Judith’s family lived at 28 Saint Vallier. Her dad Joseph Bélau (Belleau) worked as a baker.5

Just down from the Bélau home sat an opulent stone house built by businessman Henry Hiché. He built his mansion on the foundations of a farmhouse originally built by Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye in 1679. The building later became known as the “White House” due to a covering of white plaster.

Most of the neighbourhood, including the White House, burned down in the Great Saint-Roche Fire of 1845. A total of 1,200 houses burned down, leaving 12,000 people homeless that year. Another smaller fire swept through in 1866.

You can still see the third rendition of the home built by Scottish immigrant William Grant on the original vaulted cellars of the previous home at 870 Saint-Vallier East. The stone house gives you a rough idea of the beginnings of the neighbourhood built outside of Quebec City’s walls.

Joseph Belleau appears again in the 1851 Canada East agricultural census in St. Roche, Quebec on line 24.6 Joseph and Judith/Julie don’t appear on the 1851 census, but they and their eight children (one of whom was my direct ancestor “Pete”) appear on the census 10 years later, still living in St. Roche.7

If my grandmother’s notes are accurate, Joseph moved to Manitoba sometime after that. He died in St. Boniface on November 4, 1880.8

At some point, I hope to go on a walking tour of the area and reconnect to the neighbourhood that housed my ancestors 200 years ago.

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To read more about Joseph and Julie’s son Pete and see a photo of him and his children, refer to Original Arial Family of Western Canada

2 Mariage certificate #3816438, The Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH), Quebec, 1621 to 1849.

3 Mariage certificate #2337256, The Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH), Quebec, 1621 to 1849.

4 Mariage certificate #3816438, The Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH), Quebec, 1621 to 1849.

5 Archives de la paroisse de Notre-Dame-de-Québec, CM1/F1, 3, vol. 4, p. 36. Visite générale de la paroisse de Québec commencée le 1er octobre 1805, p 36.

6 Census of 1851 (Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), Item Numbers: 93934, and 93935.

7 Census of 1861 (Canada East, Canada West, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) for Image No.: 4108628_01187, Item Number 2159833.

8 Handwritten notes from my grandmother.

Three sisters: three flu pandemics

As we go through the current pandemic, I wondered how my ancestors coped with similar pandemics in their lives. After all, including this one, Canadians have faced six flu pandemics since Confederation.1 Looking at their lives might help with what we’re dealing with now.

Turns out they faced much worse circumstances than we have so far, particularly during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. Few people living in Canada that year knew to limit contact until the end of the year, and the beginning of 1919. By then, most people saw someone they knew die.

The Spanish Flu killed almost as many Canadians as World War I did, but in a much shorter time.

It took four years of war to kill 51,000 Canadian soldiers and nurses.2

The Spanish Flu took only nine months to kill 50,000 Canadians during the fall of 1918 and the spring and summer of 1919. It killed my great great grandmother’s sister-in-law, Marie Amanda Gauthier Gourdinne.

Oulletteville in 1918

Mrs. Gourdinne lived in a close-knit francophone community called Ouelletteville, near Cluny, Alberta. The village stemmed from a community of 32 families who set up farms there in 1910.

A great many homesteaders from Ontario and Quebec joined them over the next decade, including my great grandmother Marie-Berthe (Martha) Charette, her two sisters, Ida and Eva, with their husbands and their brother Ernest.

Ernest, Ida, Martha, Eva

 

Flu Symptoms

The three sisters probably heard stories about the 1890 Russian flu pandemic from their parents, especially since their little sister Dora was born that year.

Still, nothing could match living through the fear and then reality of someone you love suffering from the disease.

At the beginning of his comprehensive tome about the Spanish Flu in Canada, researcher Mark Osborne Humphries describes the death of an 18-year-old soldier named George William F.

It wasn’t pretty.

“[George William F.] fought his symptoms for two days as he drilled, marched and played sports in the chilly autumn rain. By the 29th [of September], he had grown considerably worse and was forced into a hospital. There his condition quickly deteriorated. Within a couple of days, his breathing grew shallow and more infrequent as his pulse quickened to 112 beats per minute. His temperature climbed above 103 degrees. Blood dripped from his nose. On 4 October, doctors noted that his lips, and earlobes were beginning to turn blue from lack of oxygen. His once slight cough became ‘considerable,’ and he began to complain of chest pain. A mild flu was rapidly progressing into a severe case of pneumonia. Although his doctors still hoped for recovery, his temperature remained high. On the night of 16 October, almost three weeks after entering hospital, his breathing quickened still more, rising above fifty shallow breaths per minute. The young soldier was gasping for air but his lungs were incapable of absorbing oxygen. At five the following morning, Gunner George William F. died from complications of Spanish flu. There was little doctors could do but watch him perish.”3

It didn’t start in Spain

The Spanish Flu got its name from the newspaper reports coming out of that country, which was one of the few places on earth that didn’t censor news reports due to the war.

That fact initially led people to blame immigrants for the virus spread.

Historical research eventually found multiple trigger events on military bases instead.

Military Outbreaks

One strain began with a flu outbreak at a military base in Haskell, Kansas, for example. Researchers traced the transmission through American military camps until Polish troops brought it to Niagara-on-the-Lake in October 1918. It then spread throughout Ontario during the fall of 1918 and from there to new recruits who carried it across the country as they travelled to British Columbia to leave for Russia.4

The Spanish Flu hit Ouellettesville, Alberta on its way west. That’s where my ancestors lived.

Everyone knew everyone else in the town, and they were family, so the three sisters knew the 51-year-old Mrs. Gourdinne. Her suffering and later death must have been a shock.

I have notes from my grandmother saying “1918 was a hard year for the Gourdinne family due to the flu epidemic. Beloved grandmama died.”

Still, the three sisters out west and their family members living near Ottawa all escaped harm.

Limited Mortality from Russian Flu Exposure?

In retrospect, we know that their little sister Dora, who turned 28 in 1918, made the luckiest escape.

A study conducted by researchers in 2013 showed unusually heavy Spanish flu mortality among 28-year-olds.

“We posit that in specific instances, development of immunological memory to an influenza virus strain in early life may lead to a dysregulated immune response to antigenically novel strains encountered in later life, thereby increasing the risk of death. Exposure during critical periods of development could also create holes in the T cell repertoire and impair fetal maturation in general, thereby increasing mortality from infectious diseases later in life.”5

That process may have contributed to all the sisters’ dying soon after the second pandemic they lived through. None of them lived long after that.

Ida died of cancer in 1922.

Asian, Hong Kong and H1N1 flu pandemics

Martha and Dora were among 7,000 Canadians who succumbed to the Asian flu in 1957. My great grandmother Martha died in Edmonton on June 6. Her sister Dora died in Ottawa on October 23.

Eva moved back east to join her family in Ottawa. She survived the Asian flu to die a mere two years later.

The following pandemic, known as the Hong Kong flu, killed 4,000 Canadians in 1968, including my grandmother on my mother’s side. Agnes Maria Himphen died on October 13.

Luckily, no one I know died in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, although the outbreak killed 428 Canadians.

With all the research efforts underway across the country, I certainly hope that we’ll discover a vaccine for the current COVID-19 soon.

I’m praying that there won’t be any more deaths.

Sources

1Dickin, Janice, Patricia G. Bailey and Erin James-Abra. “Flu” in The Canadian Encyclopedia. Published September 29, 2009; edited May 1, 2017. Accessed on March 24, 2020, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/influenza/.

2Spanish Flu information kit for students, Ontario Archives, http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/education/pdf/Spanish_Flu_in_Ontario_Lesson_Kit.pdf, accessed on March 24, 2020.

3Humphries, Mark Osborne. The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Public Health in Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2013, p 3.

4Mitchell, Alanna. The outbreak and its aftermath, Canadian Geographic, August 23, 2018, https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/outbreak-and-its-aftermath, accessed March 25, 2020.

5Gagnon, Alain, et al. “Age-Specific Mortality During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic: Unravelling the Mystery of High Young Adult Mortality.” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 8, 5 Aug. 2013, p. e69586, 10.1371/journal.pone.0069586. Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Lancaster Days in Gransden Lodge

Recently, as I read the history of the WWII era on the webpage of the Cambridge Gliding Centre, which operates out of the Gransden Lodge Airfield, I was reminded of my great uncle’s fun-loving spirit. The page read:

“Despite the grim business of the war being waged, there was also a lighter side to life at Gransden Lodge, with many sporting events, parties, concerts and film shows being organised, along with the inevitable pranks carried out by the boisterous Canadians.”1

I don’t know what pranks they were talking about, but its likely my uncle Charlie fell among the pranksters. He served at Gransden Lodge for six months in 1944.

Uncle Charlie, officially known as Sgt. John Charles Mathieu, worked three different jobs from the time he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on January 8, 1940 until he went missing just before Christmas 1944.

Each job got closer to the action, with the first assisting officers, the second serving as a Spitfire flight mechanic and the third as a tail gunner in a Lancaster.

In many ways, his personal development matched the development of Canada’s Air Force.

Canadian Air Force Development

Canada founded its own Air Force in 1920, just after World War I ended. King George V gave it the Royal Canadian Air Force title four years after that. For a while, it controlled civil aviation in the country, but that ended in 1927. It then re-established recruitment and training in 1939, as part of the build-up to the British effort in World War II.

The Royal Canadian Air Force created Squadron 405 in Driffield, Yorkshire, on April 23, 1941. It became operational as part of Britain’s Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command a month and a half later.2

Canadian and British crews tried to hit German and French targets individually as best they could, but the bombs dispersed too widely.

Captain D. C. Bennett came up with a plan to send a small group of bombers ahead of the others. These Pathfinder bombers would drop green and red short-burning flares called “sky indicators” on targets so that a bigger group of bombers would know where to aim.

Just as this new strategy was developed, the Royal Canadian Air Force created its own Bomber Command. It assigned the 405 Squadron to the pathfinder role and moved it to Gransden Lodge. The squadrons originally based there researched the use of radar. As the use of that technology expanded, they had to be moved to larger, more secretive locations.

Uncle Charlie’s Path

Meanwhile, Charlie began training as a tail gunner just before Christmas 1943. His two-and-a-half month journey ended with a mark of 76.1%. I think this is a pretty good grade, but his course instructor P.W.H. Walker clearly expected better. Walker wrote in Mathieu’s log book that he was “a pupil who would have done better had he devoted more time to his work.”3

He worked harder after that, training from March until May in a Wellington in Wellesbourne Mountford and then from the 9th until the 24th of June in a Halifax. For that last training session, his instructor gave him a mark of 91% and assessed him as “average.”

Then it was off to the Navigational Training Unit, which used the new safer, faster bombers known as Lancasters. The Lancasters also marked a vast improvement in technology. After successfully prototyping by the A.V. Roe Company in Chadderton, the manufacture of some Lancasters moved to Canada. Charlie told me that plane saved him and his crew multiple times.

Charlie’s study habits by then had vastly improved; he and his rear gunner came in second and third in the class. Together, they got assigned to the elite squadron 405, something that shocked Charlie.

The rest of the crews were all experienced, some with two tours of ops to their credit; we didn’t even have one flight.4

Arrival at Gransden Lodge

Charlie arrived in Great Gransden, a tiny hamlet in Sandy, which was part of Bedfordshire in Huntingdonshire County, 11 miles west of Cambridge in early July 1944. He got a welcoming pamphlet from his predecessors that said in part:

“We old die-hards, some of whom you will have the pleasure of meeting later in this booklet, began our P.F.F. life just as you are, with few clues but a willingness to learn. We settled down and soon became enshrouded with the spirit, that we not only had a job to do well, but one which was to be done far better than was expected, no matter how small it proved to be. That spirit and responsibility is handed down to you by the older crews as they end their tours.”5

Charlie’s log shows eleven-and-a-half hours of day flying and two-and-a-quarter hours of night flying over a three-day period that ended on July 10, 1944.6

That same day, Charlie got a new “class A” driver’s license that gave him the right to drive “heavy locomotive, light locomotive, motor tractor, heavy motor car, motor car, or motor tricycle equipped with means for reversing”7 for a year.

He wouldn’t need the last six months.

For More about WWII

Read my other stories about WWII service at:

Last flight (this is more about Uncle Charlie)

Difficult holiday for two families (this story features the death of a crew member on Charlie’s last flight)

Sad death (this story features one of the women who served)

Kitty Freeman: WWII Heroine and Food Research Pioneer (another story about a woman who served)

Visit Picton for insight into military ancestors from WWII (Charlie trained in Dunville, but the site was similar to this one)

Sources

1https://www.camgliding.uk/about/airfield-history/, accessed January 29, 2020.

2 Skaarup, H. (n.d.). Canadian Wings: The History & Heritage of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Retrieved November 24, 2014, from http://www.canadianwings.com/Squadrons/squadronDetail.php?No.-405-Squadron-64.

3Flying Log book for Navigators, Air Gunners, Flight Engineers, Royal Air Force, Form 1767, Revised October 1943, December 12, 1943 to February 26, 1944.

4Mathieu, John Charlie. All this Heaven Almost, private manuscript.

5 No. 405 Squadron Operational Books, Library and Archives Canada, microfilm reproduction copy number C-12272.

6Log book, Personal documents, John, Charles Mathieu, Flying Log book for Navigators, Air Gunners, Flight Engineers, Royal Air Force, Form 1767, Revised October 1943.

7Huntingdonshire County Council Road Traffic Provisional Driving Licence No. A6430.

Visit Picton for insight into military ancestors from WWII

Imagine turning a corner and seeing rows upon rows of green painted wooden buildings as far as the eye can see. One minute, there was nothing. The next minute, an entire town appeared in front of me.

For just a moment, I shared a bit of the awe my ancestors must have felt on day one of their military training during WWII.

The experience took place while I was touring wineries near Picton Ontario last summer.

A former airfield and military base on County Road 22 operates as the Picton Airport and Loch-Sloy Business Park. It includes 54 historic buildings and six airplane hangars on 701 acres of land.

Local businesses rent space

The Prince Edward Flying Club offers “prior permission required” landing services for pilots.

Fifteen other business tenants rent space there too. I saw listings for carpenters, furniture makers, glass manufacturers, landscapers, mechanics, and stone distributors. There’s even a yoga studio on site.

Driving and walking through the park feels like taking a step back in time.

The Picton airfield originally opened on April 28, 1941 as a bombing and gunnery school for the war effort.

Canada, with the support of Britain, built new or expanded existing fields into more than 100 such facilities in less than four years.

The effort became known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Looking back it is difficult to grasp the BCATP in all its dimensions,” wrote J.F. Hatch, in his 1983 book describing the project. “In themselves, the statistics are impressive: 131,553 [plus 5,296 RAF and Fleet Air Arm personnel trained prior to July 1, 1942] aircrew trained for battle, through a ground structure embracing 105 flying training schools of various kinds, 184 support units and a staff numbering 104,000. When war was declared the RCAF had less than two hundred aircraft suitable for training, many of them obsolete. In December 1943 there were 11,000 aircraft on strength of the BCATP.” [1]

My ancestors Paul Emile Hurtubise, Jean Charles Mathieu and Richard Himphen all trained at Ontario-based military installations just like this one, although the ones they went to were in Camp Borden, Dunnville and St. Thomas rather than Picton.

Camp Borden still operates as an active military training facility. The ones in Dunnville and St. Thomas are long gone.

Picton is probably the last BCATP centre in existence—with original buildings and triangle airfield layout intact—anywhere in the world.

Heritage Structures Intact

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used the buildings and hangars for storage and equipment maintenance after WWII.

After that, the Royal Canadian School of Artillery (anti-aircraft) moved in to train anti-aircraft gunners, gunnery radar operators, technical assistants and artillery instructors. The first battalion Canadian Guards infantry unit also used the site for a while.

During part of that time, AVRO Arrow test models could be found in some of the hangars.

In 1969, the Department of Defense closed down CFB Picton and the H.J. McFarland Company purchased the land and buildings.

Loch-Sloy bought the site from the McFarland family in 1999.

Dreams for a Period Museum

That’s when the company began a slow challenging effort of reconstructing the former buildings into a period museum that they hope will eventually open full-time. They produced a fun video describing their dreams in April 2013.

Until that happens, you can arrange private tours of the site or contact them for upcoming public events.

I highly recommend the experience. It connects you to the past in a way that reading documents just can’t achieve.

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If you want to read more about my WWII military ancestors and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, refer to the following stories:

Fairwell Sergeant Himphen

Evening Serenade

Shot Down Three Times

Vincent Massey and the BCATP

 

[1] Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, 222 pages.

Kitty Freeman: WWII Heroine and Food Research Pioneer

This week, we commemorate the public service contributions of trained dietitian and Montreal philanthropist Mary Catherine “Kitty” Freeman. Freeman was born in Prescott, Ontario 98 years ago Sunday.

During the war years, Freeman helped feed wounded soldiers using limited rations at hospitals in Liverpool, England and Bruges, Belgium . She described her experiences to Bronwyn Chester in 2004 for a newsletter article.

If someone became diabetic, for instance, you’d look after that,” she told Chester. “But mostly you did the best you could with what you had. We had 600 patients at one time, and to break the monotony of meat with a lot of fat in it, along with potatoes and canned and dried food, you’d just go out and buy strawberries.”[1]

Freeman frequently donated to McGill during her lifetime. She also left Macdonald College a million dollar endowment after her death on March 13, 2009. Today, a well-equipped 12-person food laboratory commemorates her contributions. Another $25,000 went to the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research.[2]

Clearly, the study of food and nutrition meant a great deal to her, perhaps because she grew up during the Great Depression.

As a young woman, Freeman pursued a Bachelor of Household Science from Macdonald College and dietitian training at Royal Victoria College.

She signed up for the Canadian Army’s Medical Corp as soon as she turned 21 and became eligible for service.

Freeman told Chester that she travelled from Halifax Canada to Liverpool England as the only dietitian on one of three Army hospital ships.

Hospital Ship Travel

Hospital ships carried wounded soldiers from Europe to Pier 21 in Halifax. There, trained technicians transferred patients to hospital trains sent to hospitals across Canada. Military personnel and soldiers then boarded empty ships, just as Freeman did. The ship then returned to Europe for more patients.

Painted white hospital ships displayed large red crosses on each side to indicate that they should receive safe passage.

You can see a photo of one such ship on Roger Litwiller’s website. We can assume that this photo shows a later probably larger ship than the one Freeman sailed on. The Lady Nelson hospital ship didn’t exist until April 1943. It boasted an operating theatre, x-ray machine and wards for 515 people. The December 1944 Index to British Warships document shows only the Lady Nelson in existence that particular year, only two years after Freeman’s passage.[3] That couldn’t be accurate, however. The Letitia hospital ship was refitted with 200 medical personnel and the ability to ship 1,000 patients in 1943 and continued to sail in 1944.

The Geneva Convention specified that enemy bombers and submarines weren’t supposed to target hospital ships, but there were no guarantees. According to Wikipedia, 25 hospital ships were sunk during WWII.[4]

Military Contribution

The hospital ship Freeman was on arrived safely in Liverpool with its two mates in 1941. There, her expertise became a much-needed commodity. Britain struggled to feed itself. Canadian exports accounted for 77% of the wheat and flour consumed in the country. The following year, rations would be introduced across Canada to ensure that enough food went overseas.

Freeman took charge of the military hospital food service. Later, they sent her to Belgium to perform a similar role in harsher conditions. After five years of service, she returned to Montreal. She immediately joined the staff of the veteran’s Saint Anne de Bellevue Hospital as a dietitian

She moved to Queen Mary’s Veteran Hospital before retiring in 1978.

According to a 2005 Veteran’s Affairs pamphlet, Freeman’s experiences were duplicated by many women of her generation.

No account of military service in the Second World War would be complete without mention of the contribution made by the four special branches of the nursing service – the Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Dietitians and Home Sisters. Also, the sisters who served on the hospital trains returning the wounded to destinations across Canada. The end of the Second World War brought the closure of military and station hospitals across Canada. A total of 80 nurses, 30 RCAMC, 30 RCAF and 20 RCN sisters joined the permanent force and served at military establishments across the country; many more staffed the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospitals to care for hundreds of returning Veterans.[5]

We need to remember the service of these courageous women, including Mary Catherine Freeman.

Sources

[1] Chester, Bronwyn, “Fueling the Forces,” In Focus Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, McGill, Spring 2004, p15, https://www.mcgill.ca/macdonald/files/macdonald/InFocusSpring2004.pdf, accessed September 24, 2019.

[2] “Generous legacy supports dietetic and nutrition research, CFDR Keeping in Touch, Fall 2009, p3.

[3] Index to British Warships, Division of Naval Intelligence, December 1944, http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ref/ONI/ONI-201/ONI-201-I/ONI-201-I.pdf, accessed September 24, 2019.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hospital_ships_sunk_in_World_War_II, accessed September 24, 2019.

[5] “The Nursing Sisters of Canada,” Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada represented by the Minister of Veterans Affairs, 2005. Catalogue No. V32-146/2005 ISBN 0-662-69038-9 Accessed September 24, 2019, http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/women-and-war/nursing-sisters#sisterhist3

Original Arial Family of Western Canada

They sat and stood calmly for the formal portrait. No one smiled.

An accompanying photocopy with names scrawled on each person identifies the people. Four chairs in the middle hold Remi, Sophie, Joseph Gabriel and Pete. Billy, Augusta, Joe, Sophie, Aldous, Lucy and Eddy stand behind the chairs. Jean-Baptiste sits in front.

Notes from my grandmother cram the back, including her title “the original Arial family of Western Canada.”

These notes are useful, but they don’t include some of the basic things Grandma knew, so I’m flailing around trying to understand what she meant.

I’ve always known that Gabriel and Sophie Arial were my great great grandfather and grandmother, for instance, but it took me a while to discover that I’m also the great grandchild of “Pete.”

Combining the notes with an analysis of our family tree led to many other questions too. If these are the first Arial’s who migrated to Western Canada, why did they go? Did they fit within a trend? Were their lives difficult? What made my branch of the family move back east? How did Great Grandpa Pete die when he was only 46 years old?

Perhaps they were homesteaders?

Since I know that most of my ancestors were farmers, my assumption is that the formal portrait includes people who moved west to take advantage of homesteading land grants offered in Alberta under the Dominion Lands Act after 1870. This program surveyed Crown land to make it available for settlement. According to the Alberta Genealogical Society

…individuals could apply to homestead a quarter section (160 acres) of their choice. Then, after paying a $10 filing fee and ‘proving up’ their homestead claim (occupying the land for at least three years and performing certain improvements, including building a house and barn, fencing, breaking and cropping a portion of the land), the homesteader could apply for patent (title) to the land.[1]

Records exist for three Arials: Gabriel, Joseph V. and J.B, so those are the next documents I plan to check out.

Hopefully the Gabriel Arial in the homestead records matches the older Joseph Gabriel on my photo. He and his wife Sophie pioneered Western Canadian for my family. He came from St. Roch, Quebec and Sophie came from St. Paul, Minnesota. Everyone else’s birth took place in St. Boniface, Alberta.

Given my families’ predilection for confusing nicknames, however, Gabriel, Joseph V. and J.B. Arial could be just about anyone.

Multiple Nicknames

My great grandfather legally went by the name “Joseph Gabriel Antoine Remi Arial.” Only after I read the notes about his burial on the Ariaill family website did I discover his nickname “Pete.” The same notation led to his death certificate, which includes the name “Pete Arial” and the names “Joseph Gabrial Arial” and “Joseph Gabriel Arial.”

Now I know that there are two Joseph Gabriel’s in the photo: great great grandpa in the centre and great grandpa Pete to his left. There are two Sophies also, although the elder sitting woman’s legally went by Marie Sophie.

A source note on the back tells me when and how my grandma got the photo.

This picture was given to Marguerite and Joe (Gabe) Arial on their 50th Wedding Anniversary, April 6, 1992 by Happy and Dot Arial.”

I knew Happy growing up and he made the best barbecue spices I’ve ever tasted. I don’t remember asking about his nickname. He’s probably the fellow called Billy in the formal portrait. Billy legally went by the name of Wilfred, although one of the documents I have also shows a William, which would definitely explain how Wilfred became Billy.

I’m pretty sure Eddy is Edgar, but maybe not.

There’s no hint about when the photograph was taken either. I suspect it was in the early 1930s. Great grandpa Pete seems to be in his forties in the shot, and his birth took place on May 5, 1888 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. He died of acute myocarditis (heart failure) on January 30, 1935[2], so it’s definitely prior to that.

Death Certificate Hints

Pete’s death certificate says he caught rheumatic fever in 1931. Since he’s sitting in a chair in the photograph, I suspect the photo dates from sometime between then and Joseph’s death on December 7, 1933.

When rheumatic fever becomes acute, it not only causes heart valve damage, but it can also lead to skin rashes, swollen joints especially around the knees and ankles, lumps under the skin, a shortness of breath, chest discomfort and uncontrollable muscle spasms. No wonder the poor man needed to sit in a chair!

Rheumatic fever hardly makes the news in developed countries these days. That’s because penicillin and other antibiotics prevent scarlet fever and strep throat (streptococcal) infections from turning into rheumatic fever. All three of these diseases used to kill thousands in Canada every year, however, and a 2005 source shows 15 million, 244,000 deaths around the world. [3]

Dr. W.W. Eadie signed the death certificate placing Pete’s death in Spedden, Alberta. In another pen, someone else wrote that Pete regularly resided at 9632-107a Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta. His race was French. His father came from Quebec and his mother from St. Paul, Minnesota. Connelly and McKinley buried Pete in the R.C. Edmonton cemetery. He had been a bar tender and house painter before he contracted the disease. A third writer crossed out the words bartender next to last occupation and the address Spedden next to the length of time in the town or district where death occurred. That person wrote in “contractor” next to last occupation and specified that Pete had been in Spedden for “1 month” prior to his death.

School Picnic

The only other info I’ve found about my great grandfather’s life dates from a short newspaper article about a school picnic on the front page of the Medicine Hat News on Thursday, July 1896.

That brief mentions that Pete Arial won an “under 12” race at a Gleichen school picnic. He would have been 8 years old at the time. The reporter also listed Aldos, Sophie and Joe Arial winning prizes from other races the same day. Joe won both the three-legged and donkey races.[4]

Arial is an uncommon name. The chances another family with similar names lived in small-town Gleichen is unlikely.

Pete married Leonore Doucet on November 24, 1908, when he was 20 and she was only 16 years old. They had their first child, my grandfather Joseph Isidore Alfred Gabriel, four years minus a week later.

After that, I can find no more traces of Pete until he died.

Grandma’s Notes

Pete’s not mentioned at all in the tiny squished notes grandma made on the back of that formal photo, although her family tree shows him dying in Spedden, Cold Lake, Alberta.

She does identify Billy, Joe, Aldous and Remi as interior decorators, by which I think she meant contractor. Eddy had status as “a maintenance man, interior decorator, etc.”

She identified women by the people they married. “Augusta married Charles Turgeon,” she wrote. “Sophie married Brasseau, then he died and she married Auger.” “Lucy married James or Gibson.”

Only the elder Sophie had a personal identity of her own: “Grandma Arial was a Metis from the USA.”

The notes about Joseph Gabriel contain the most information.

Grampa Arial had a hotel in Saint Boniface where he had many meetings with Louis Riel in the basement in his hotel and in later years, he own the Palace Hotel in Gleichan, Alberta. After his hotel burned, they moved to Edmonton, Alberta.”

There’s no room for anything more.

I recently found the Find-a-Grave memorial page[5] for Pete’s burial place. He was buried with his father in Saint Joachims Cemetery in Edmonton on February 2, 1935. Less than 11 months later, his mother died too. Thanks to Alison for photographing their joint tombstone.

Sources

[1] https://www.abgenealogy.ca/1870-1930-homestead-project?mid=1155

[2] Alberta Vital Statistics Death Index # 402 556 for J Gabriel Arial ~ 30 Jan 1935 ~ Place of death ~ Spedden, Alberta, Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, form 6, February 28, 1935.

[3] Carapetis JR, Steer A, Mulholland E, et al. The global burden of group A streptococcal diseases. Lancet Infect Dis 2005;5:685-94

[4] Medicine Hat News, Thursday, July 1896, p1, https://medicinehatnews.newspaperarchive.com/medicine-hat-news/1896-07-09/, accessed May 21, 2019.

[5] Alberta Vital Statistics Death Index # 402 556 for J Gabriel Arial ~ 30 Jan 1935 ~ Place of death ~ Spedden, Alberta, Find A Grave, digital images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/156782821/joseph-gabriel_antoine-arial  : accessed May 21, 2019), memorial number 156782821.

Charlotte and Arthur’s War-Time Wedding

I never asked my great granny Charlotte about her wedding, but the records I’ve found hint at lots of intrigue.

Did they plan a summer wedding and then rush things to avoid conscription? Had they initially hoped to marry in the church next to her home but lost the opportunity due to community infighting?

Probably, but not yet proven.

What I do know is that my great grandparents—then 23-year-old groom Arthur Johnson and his 22-year-old bride Charlotte Charbonneau—chose to marry on Friday, February 9, 1917 in an unfinished church basement blocks away from her home instead of in the church right next door.

The direct information I have about that day appears in an affidavit filled out by Arthur on January 22, signed by the witnesses and solemniser, and turned in to the Registrar on February 17.[1]

When looking at it, I couldn’t help wondering two things: why then and why there?

Why February?

She wasn’t pregnant—their first son wouldn’t be born for another two years.

Money would be tight later, but at that point both had jobs. Arthur worked as a machinist and Charlotte served as a fore-lady, probably supervising women at a factory producing something for the war.

Did the impetus to marry early in 2017 have something to do with federal government musings about conscription at that time? Prime Minister Robert Borden promised publicly that he’d send 500,000 Canadian soldiers to Europe by the end of 1916. Only 300,000 men volunteered by December 2016, and numbers dwindled as horrific details about the Battle of the Somme reached Canada.

Borden passed conscription in August the summer after Arthur and Charlotte wed. Had they married after July 6, 2017, Arthur might have been conscripted. I might not exist.

I’m not sure why Arthur didn’t serve. He certainly had close ties with Europe having immigrated to Canada from Lancashire England ten years earlier. He came to Canada with his brother Albert and his parents, Mary Young and William Johnson.

Neither Arthur nor Albert volunteered for the Armed Forces and the family remained close. Albert and his wife Amie served as witnesses at Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding.

I also wonder how they selected the location of their marriage.

Both families worshipped in the Presbyterian faith. At the time, Charlotte still lived with her parents on Cross Street in Weston, right next to a Presbyterian Church called the Old Kirk at 11 Cross Street.

Why didn’t the couple get married in the Old Kirk?

Turns out that the building couldn’t offer a legally-sanctioned marriage between March 2013 and June 2017, despite more than 200 of the 247 congregation members working hard to keep the place open.

The problem began in March 2013, when fewer than 38 people voted to close the facilities and sell the Cross Street building. Given that the snow kept 209 people at home that day, I suspect that the meeting in question took place in the Main Street building purchased for Sunday School services a year earlier.

The sordid affair appears in a wonderful history of the Church in Weston called “From Then to Now.”

At a congregational meeting in March 1913, bad weather kept attendance to 38 out of 245 members. A majority of the 38 voted to hold all future services at the new facility and to sell the Cross Street site. Westminster Presbyterian Church was then fully established on the new site and the Cross Street site was sold.

The church on Cross Street was then re-purchased by some of the old members and services resumed on January 18th, 1914. Presbytery refused to recognize this congregation though, so it operated as an independent Presbyterian Church known as The Old Kirk The group continued to worship steadfastly and endured three failed petitions to Toronto Presbytery asking to be recognized as a second Presbyterian congregation in Weston (one petition was signed by 259 members). They appealed to the General Assembly, held in Montreal in June 1917, and the appeal was sustained. The church was then named The Old Presbyterian Church. From June 1917 to 1925 there were two official Presbyterian Churches in Weston.

In 1925 Westminster Presbyterian voted for church union and The Old Presbyterian Church opted to remain Presbyterian. It was then named Weston Presbyterian Church and Westminster became Westminster United Church. [2]

I haven’t yet found definitive proof that Charlotte and her family took part in the purchase or petitions of the Cross Street building. Given that Arthur and Charlotte married within a completely different congregation, however, it’s likely that they did.

Perhaps the couple hoped to be the first marriage in the renewed building, but then chose to wed rapidly so Arthur could avoid conscription. They needed a legally-sanctioned marriage.

They Chose St. David’s Church in Toronto

Arthur’s affidavit provides the address. It indicates that Reverend Charles A. Mustard presided over Charlotte and Arthur’s wedding ceremony at 38 Harvie Avenue, a building at the corner of St. Clair Avenue.

Information contained within a Presbyterian Museum article[3] about the Church after it was torn down in 1999 gives context. The St. David’s Church congregation purchasing the Harvie site in 1911. They began operations by moving an original frame church from the south side of St. Clair Avenue opposite McRoberts to the new site. That building opened in 1912.

The community grew rapidly. By 1914, they hired Toronto architect Herbert George Paul to incorporate their original wood frame structure into a new larger building. He finished constructing only the basement, however, when the bank pulled the Church loan due to World War I.

A speech by John Barron in June 1918 describes what happened.

In the year 1911 the present site was secured. Seventy-two feet of the frontage being presented by Westminster Church, to which the Church building was moved and alterations made. This building was opened on Nov. 12, 1912.

The congregation outgrew this accommodation, and in the year 1914 plans were prepared and the present building was commenced, but owing to conditions brought about by the war, the basement only was finished and used for services to the present time.

So, instead of getting married in a perfectly good building on Charlotte’s street, community infighting and a war forced the couple to wed in an unfinished basement in St. David’s Presbyterian Church.

[1] Johnson, Arthur. Affadavid, 022461, loose paper, Office of the Registar General Ontario. Rec. Date: Jan 22, 2019. Ontario Canada Select Marriages. Archives of Ontario. Toronto. MS932, Reel 440, Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Ancestry. http://www.ancestry.ca : 2010.

[2] From Then to Now, 1847 to 2007, a history by the Weston Presbyterian Congregation, http://westonpresbyterian.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WestonPCHistory.pdf

[3] http://presbyterianmuseum.ca/files/2014/09/PCC-National-Presbyterian-Museum-Museum-Musings-St-Davids-cornerstone_revised.pdf