I never expected to find much information about my great-grandfather’s sister, Mathilde Bruneau. I knew her name, dates, the fact she had a twin brother and that she never married. That was all. Then when searching Newspapers.com, Mathilde, born on a farm in southern Quebec appeared on the social page of the Fall River, Massachusetts Daily Herald. It was reported that she had been visiting her brother Aimé Bruneau and then returned to her teaching duties at the Rhode Island Institute for the Deaf in Providence, Rhode Island, only twenty miles from her brother’s home.
Mrs. Mary Ann Lippitt founded the school in 1876. Her daughter Jeanie became deaf after a bout of scarlet fever so her mother taught her daughter to speak and read lips, as no schools for the deaf existed at that time. Mary Ann’s husband Henry Lippitt was the Governor of Rhode Island and had political influence, so he persuaded the state to take over the operation of the school. In 1893 the school moved to a large new building which could hold 60 students. This might have been the time Mathilde began teaching there. The school is still operating today.
I don’t know how Mathilde ended up teaching deaf students. Did she answer a newspaper ad while visiting her brother? Before teaching the deaf, Mathilde had been a French teacher in New York City along with her sister Virginie. Virginie didn’t stay there but returned to Quebec to marry.
Mathilde had not yet moved to Rhode Island 1887 when the social page reported on an earlier visit to her brother Aimé, in Fall River. I don’t know where Mathilde obtained her teaching credentials as I haven’t found records of her training. Her sister Virginie attended McGill Normal School. Did Mathilde begin her teaching career in Montreal before moving to New York?
Mathilde was one of thirteen children of Barnabé Bruneau and Sophie Marie Prudhomme, born in St-Constant, Quebec, south of Montreal, in 1844. She had a twin brother Napoleon, one of very few twins in my family tree. In the 1871 Canadian census, she was listed as living with her parents in St-Constant (and two years older than her twin brother), so she was at least 27 when she moved to New York City. Napoleon stayed on the farm but he also had a career as a veterinarian and a Justice of the Peace.
Although some of her siblings became American citizens, it seems she never did. After Mathilde retired from teaching, she moved back to Quebec. She maintained her independence and didn’t live with her twin brother in St-Constant or even with one of her sisters, instead she was a lodger in John Dooley’s house on Bordeaux Street in Montreal.
She appeared again in a newspaper in April 1912, “Miss Matilda Bruneau 68, 1149 Bordeaux St. fell on the sidewalk corner of Mary Ann and Erables last night and broke her left leg. She was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital” reported the Montreal Gazette. The weather the day before, Easter Sunday, had been very rainy and well above freezing so an icy sidewalk probably wasn’t the cause of her fall.
She died only four months later. PerhapsHer her leg never healed. I didn’t find a death certificate or cause of death, just a certificate of burial signed by two of her sisters. Marie Mathilde Prud’homme Bruneau was buried with her parents in the Baptist cemetery in Grande-Ligne, Quebec.
Mabel Hubbard, who later became the wife of Dr. Alexander Graham Bell was deaf and also taught by Mrs. Lippitt. Jeanie Lippitt later went to Dr. Bell for voice training lessons. Dr. Bell had to discontinue these lessons to devote himself full-time to the development of the talking machine.
Fall River Daily Herald June 30 1898, Page 7. Newspapers.com accessed Jan 12, 2023. Miss M P (Prudhomme) Bruneau was an instructor at RI School of the Deaf.
The Providence News February 21, 1893 Newspapers.com accessed Feb 17, 2023. A new school building was dedicated. 35 pupils enrolled with a capacity for 60.
In the 1911 Canadian census, Matilde was living on Bordeaux Street in the Maisonneuve district of Montreal as a lodger with a Mr John Dooley and his family.
Fell and Broke Leg: Montreal Gazette April 8, 1912, page 3. Newspapers.com accessed Jan 23, 2023.
Her sisters Virginie and Sophie signed her burial record. There is no cause of death April 15, 1912.
Perhaps the only picture of my mother’s cousin, Laura Lacombe, fourth from left in a Crepeau family picture circa 1914.
Genealogy is a gift that keeps on giving. A few years ago, when the 1921 Canadian census came online, I anxiously consulted it to see a Crepeau listing for my mother (4 months old), my uncle Louis, my aunts Alice and Cecile (20 and 17) and my 15 year old Aunt Flo, listed as adopted under the name Florida St-Martin.
Bingo! That’s what I had been waiting to see for 10 years!
In the 1911 census, my Aunt Flo is listed with her birth family, the St-Martins but I wasn’t 100 percent sure the listing was hers. (I had only a vague recollection of her birth family’s name. The family name St-Martin had come to me in a light-bulb moment in the middle of the night!) So this 1921 listing confirmed my subconscious’ powers. I suddenly felt very smart.
Aunt Flo peeking out at my mother in around 1925.
But, I also noticed another name in the Crepeau household on the 1921 census, Laura Lacombe, niece, born 1892. I had never heard this name before, so I took another peek at the 1911 census. Laura Lacombe is listed there, too. I had missed it.
Now I was really confused. (I suddenly didn’t feel so smart.) I rationalized that I might have missed Laura ten years earlier when the 1911 census came online because the Crepeau family listing is at the bottom of one page and Laura’s name comes up on the top of the next. Or maybe I did notice Laura’s presence on the census and just assumed she was one of the many young girls brought in over the years to help my grandmother, Maria, keep house.
Whatever the reason, it did not take long before I figured out who this Laura Lacombe was. She was the daughter of my grandmother’s sister Melina Roy Lacombe who had died in the mid 1890’s leaving behind two young children, Raoul and Laura.
On the 1901 census Laura is living with her grandmother (my great-grandmother) Melina Gagnon Roy and my grandmother, Maria; also Maria’s brother Louis and sister Eugenie who is married to a James Deslaurier. Maria and Louis are mistakenly listed under Deslauriers. (For this reason, I had a lot of trouble finding Maria on the 1901 census at first. ) Melina Gagnon Roy is listed as chef or head of the household.
So, when Maria, my grandmother, got married later in 1901 to the ambitious Jules Crepeau, she took in the twelve-years-younger Laura. Or maybe Laura moved in with them in 1906, after the death of the grandmother.
Now, the real question begs: how come I never heard about Laura before? Was she for some reason a family secret?
Over the decades, I never heard my Aunt Flo or my own mother speak of this cousin – and they both liked to talk about the Crepeau family in the early days.
The answer might lie in another document I found: Laura’s death certificate. You see, she died only a few months after the 1921 Census man came around – and a few months more after my mother’s birth. My grandfather, Jules Crepeau, signed her death certificate. No reason for the death is given, which makes it all very sketchy. (I’m not embarrassed to say, I looked for the name “Lacombe” among my many French Canadian DNA cousins on Ancestry. The name hardly appears at all. Phew!)
Still, I have to ask. Why the silence surrounding Laura’s life. A real mystery, it is.
Page one of the Montreal Star read “Canada is Now Officially at War.” The article goes on to describe the declaration of war on Sunday, September 3, 1939:
“The declaration of war called forth a feverish activity, disturbing the quiet of a mellow Sabbath day on the very edge of autumn. … Thousands of people … heard the roll of bugles and drums, but, this time, with a martial motive. The Army Services Corps were parading with placards calling for volunteers in their vital lines of military service.” 1
Both my dad, Edward McHugh, and my uncle, James McHugh, volunteered to serve in the Canadian military. Edward went into the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and James joined the Royal Canadian Hussars, the armoured car division of the Canadian Armed Forces. Edward was stationed in Yorkshire, England and James saw active duty in France.
While the McHugh brothers were in Europe fighting the war, Canada was being transformed. Madge Angell, James’ wife, worked in one of the many factories that manufactured armaments for the war effort. She was a riveter and one of the one million Canadian women who worked in plants that produced munitions, weapons, and equipment during the Second World War. Veronica Foster, Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl, represented these women and became a Canadian icon. Foster worked for the John Inglis Company Ltd. on the production line for the Bren light machine guns. She was photographed for a propaganda campaign under the direction of the National Film Board of Canada. These pictures were used to encourage Canadian women to participate in the war effort.2
Canada not only needed women to directly support the war and work in the munitions industries; it was also essential that they fill jobs traditionally held by men. Women worked on airfields, in factories, and on farms. They developed a reputation for fine precision work in electronics, optics, and instrument assembly. With the men away from the farms, the women took on the extra work. Lumberjacks became lumberjills. They also drove buses, taxis, and streetcars. Notably, Elsie Gregory MacGill was the first woman in the world to graduate as an aeronautical engineer. She worked for Fairchild Aircraft Limited during the war and in 1940, her team’s design and production methods were turning out more than 100 Hurricane combat aircraft per month.4
Canadian women wanted to play an active role in the military and lobbied the government. As a result, more than 50,000 women served in the armed forces:
The Canadian Women’s Army Corps;
The Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force;
The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens); and
Nursing sisters. 6
For women who did not work or were not members of the military, there were also many opportunities to contribute to the war effort. Women were asked to reduce their consumption of goods that were in short supply and to recycle. Goals were set to collect tons of rubber products to transform them into tires and other needed items for the war. Ration books were assigned.8 My grandmother, Grace Hunter, loved to cook and bake and she would often speak about the challenges of rationing during the war. At that time, all baking was home made, so the rationing of flour, butter, and sugar was difficult.
My grandmother also knit socks, gloves, and other knitted clothing for the troops that were delivered by the Red Cross. Women made warm clothing for the soldiers at the front, as well as quilts and bandages. As well, women groups sent books, newspapers, and treats to military hospitals.10 Nana was also active in organizing the “send off” and “welcome home” parties for the Montreal servicemen. My mom, Patricia Deakin, was a teenager during the war and her mother recruited her to help at these parties. She enjoyed these parties and felt that she was doing something for the war effort. An extra bonus was that she thought that the servicemen were very handsome.
The Montreal Star, 4 September 1939, page 1, Newspapers.com, accessed 4 January 2023.
Virginie Bruneau, born in St. Constant, Quebec in 1840, became a teacher. “She enjoyed the distinction of being one of the group of teachers to receive the first French Canadian diplomas from the McGill Normal School.”
The school was established in 1857 by John William Dawson, McGill’s first Principal with an agreement between the university, the government and the Colonial Church and School Society to educate Quebec’s protestant public elementary and secondary school teachers and produce teachers who could turn young minds into university material. The Colonial Church and School Society had been dedicated to the maintenance and financing of Anglican schools.
Applicants to McGill’s Normal School were examined in reading, writing, the elements of grammar and arithmetic and “needed to produce certificates of good moral character from their clergyman or minister of religion under whose charge they have last been.” The earlier schools judged teachers qualifications only on their common sense and reputation. The one-year course earned an elementary diploma and students attended for two years for a Model School diploma required to teach higher grades. Students had to be at least 16 years old and teach at least three years after graduating. The first class contained 35 women and five men. So Virginie, born in 1840 could have been in the first class.
The school opened at 30 Belmont Street in downtown Montreal. In 1907 it moved to the west of the island and became part of MacDonald College.
After graduating, Virginie first taught in Montreal and then later, of all places, New York City. She was my great grandfather Ismael’s sister, the third child and second daughter of Barnabé Bruneau and Sophie Marie Prudhomme. Like many of her siblings, she looked for a life beyond the farm in St Constant.
I don’t know how or where she met her husband Francois Dutaud. He was from the same region of Quebec, born in Napierville, to Joseph Dutaud and Isabelle Cyr but he also spent time in the United States. He lived in Boston for several years. There, he worked for the Tuft Brick Company. He returned to Canada in 1875, where he farmed and had a successful grain business in Grande-Ligne, Quebec.
Did Virginie give up the bright lights of New York City to teach at the Feller Institute in Grand-Ligne? Is that where she met Francois? Henriette Feller was a Baptist missionary from Switzerland who came to Quebec to convert Catholics to Protestantism. The hostility of Catholics in Montreal forced her to move south. Madame Feller’s first school was in the attic of her log cabin but eventually a large stone building was constructed. She and Charles Roussy her colleague, were responsible for the conversion of Virginie’s parents in the 1850s.
Virginie was 38 when she married and she and Francois had only one child, Gustave Dutaud, born in Grand Ligne in 1879.
The couple moved to Montreal to live with their son when Francois became ill. He died a year later. Virginie continued to live with Gustave until her death in 1926 from arteriole sclerosis. Her obituary said she was of proud Huguenot stock but I don’t think this was necessarily true. Yes, she was a French Protestant but her Bruneau line had been practising Catholics for centuries.
Picture of Virginie by S.A. Thomas 717 Sixth Ave New York. He was a photographer from 1853 to 1894 when he died at 71.
As a child, I never imagined what life was like before my parents had my brother and me. But once in a while they would talk about their courtship and what it was like to meet right after World War 2.
When war broke out in 1939, my dad, Edward McHugh, signed up right away. He was stationed in Yorkshire, England and only returned home when the war ended in September 1945. He was already 31 and normally would have been considered a confirmed bachelor.
My mom, Patricia Deakin, would often speak about the day the war ended. She worked for the Sunlife Insurance Company of Montreal. The Sunlife Building was located on Dominion Square in downtown Montreal. When word got out that Germany had surrendered, all of the office workers in downtown Montreal just left their offices and walked out into the streets to express their joy. My mom described it as an amazing outburst of pure joy and celebration of the end of a long and painful war.1
When Edward went to war, he intended to return to work for his employer, the Canadian Celanese located in Drummondville and his employer had guaranteed his employment. However, my dad decided to stay in Montreal.
At that time, my mom’s brother, Jack Deakin, was dating Norine Scott. Norine and Patricia became great friends. The picture below shows them in the Laurentians for a day of skiing.
Both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific operated trains from Montreal to the Laurentians, known as the “snow trains,” otherwise known as the P’tit train du Nord.2 Below is one of the Canadian Pacific posters.3
It wasn’t long before Norine introduced her young and eligible Uncle Eddie to my mom and that was the beginning of their courtship.
Both Ed and Patricia loved going to the movies and their Saturday night dates were often a meal at Bens Delicatessen, followed by a show. Bens was a well known delicatessen in Montreal that was famous for its Montreal-style smoked meat. In 1908, Benjamin Kravitz and his wife Fanny Schwartz opened a sweet shop on Saint-Laurent Boulevard and then added sandwiches, using Benjamin’s mother’s recipe. In 1929, they moved to 1001 Burnside (now de Maisonneuve), in the theatre and night club district of the city, and then to their final location in 1949.4
My parents were married on May 21, 1949 at St. Columba Anglican Church in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. This church was built in 1920 but has now been sold to a developer.6 My grandparents would have been parishioners of the church as they lived just 10 minutes away.7 The post WW2 period was marked by a housing shortage. Pressure on the housing shortage was due to demobilized soldiers returning home, and the increase in newly created families. My parents, like many post WW2 newlyweds, lived with my grandparents after the wedding.
The wedding announcement in the Montreal Star on May 30 1949, describes the bride as wearing:
“A gown of white slipper satin made with nylon yoke on Grecian lines and with train. Her veil was of tulle illusion, was finger tip length, held with a bandeau of lilies of the valley and orange blossoms. She carried a cascade bouquet of white carnations and bavardia.”8
The wedding announcement goes on to say that the reception was held at the Montreal West City Hall, in the music room. This photograph of the wedding party is probably taken outside the Montreal West Town Hall.
The wedding announcement continues:
“Mr. and Mrs. McHugh went to Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, for their honeymoon, the bride wearing for travelling a three-piece suit of beige Scotch mist, with white straw hat and green accessories and a corsage of white carnations.”9
Founded in 1897 and located on Lake Massawippi, North Hatley is one of the prettiest villages in Quebec.10 Below is a post card of the Pleasant View Hotel:11
The old house at the corner of Sherbrooke Street West and Cote des Neiges in downtown Montreal pops up regularly on the internet sites devoted to historical photos of the city, but often the information that accompanies those photos is incorrect. Frequently, people erroneously identify the owner as Montreal landowner Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873). In fact, the house belonged to his son, Robert Stanley Clark Bagg (1848-1912).
The building is prominently located on the corner of Sherbrooke Street West and Côte-des-Neiges, which leads up the hill toward Mount Royal. Thousands of people pass by daily, and it is hard not to notice the four-story red sandstone building with its pink tiled top floor.
It has gone through several reincarnations over the years. When it was built in 1891, it formed the south-west anchor of the Golden Square Mile, the neighbourhood where Canada’s wealthiest businessmen, manufacturers and bankers lived. Today it is a commercial building, surrounded by other small businesses and medical offices.
The original owner, R. Stanley Bagg (I will refer to him as RSB), grew up in a house called Fairmount Villa that was at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Saint-Urbain. His father, Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB), was one of the largest landowners on the Island of Montreal, having inherited several adjoining farm properties along St. Laurent Boulevard from his grandfather, John Clark.
RSB studied law at McGill University and went abroad to continue his studies after graduation, but when his father died of typhoid in 1873, RSB came home. He practised law in Montreal for a short time, but quit to manage the properties belonging to his father’s estate, a position he held until 1901.
He married Clara Smithers (1861-1946) in 1882, and for several years the couple lived just around the corner from Fairmount Villa, where RSB’s mother still resided. Eventually they decided to build a new house in a more fashionable part of the city. When they moved, they had two daughters, Evelyn (1883-1970) and Gwendolyn (1886-1963)—my future grandmother. Their only son, Harold Stanley Fortescue Bagg (1895-1945), was born a few years after the move.
Many houses in Montreal were built of locally quarried grey limestone because it was abundant and cheap, but RSB chose red sandstone, probably imported from Scotland. Originally designed by architect William McLea Walbank, the house was renovated twice in the eleven years RSB lived there, with a major addition constructed in 1902 and other changes in 1906.
It was a large, even for a family of five, but the Baggs employed at least two live-in domestic servants—a cook and a maid—and perhaps a man to do the heavier chores. The interior was ornately furnished, as shown in photos my grandmother took of the drawing room, with a carved mantlepiece over the fireplace, heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes, and pillows and knickknacks everywhere. She also took photos of the interior of the tower on the Côte-des-Neiges side of the building. It must have been a sunny spot for reading and a good place to watch people struggle up the hill during a snowstorm.
RSB died of cancer while on vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1912. Clara (who was usually identified as Mrs. Stanley Bagg) divided the house into two apartments and continued to live there until her death, at age 85, in 1946.
After she died the house was sold and renovated, with a new entrance facing Côte-des- Neiges, and Barclay’s Bank (Canada) moved in. Many of Montreal’s elite families became customers of this British-based institution. In 1956 the Imperial Bank of Canada took over Barclay’s (Canada) and five years later, it became the Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada (CIBC). In 1979 CIBC decided it could no longer upgrade the old Bagg building to the modern requirements of banking and it moved its customers to a branch down the street at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
For the next few years, the building was home to a jazz bar on the main floor and a bookstore upstairs, until a fire destroyed the interior in 1982. It may have been that fire that destroyed the cone-shaped roof of the tower. Many years earlier, my mother noticed that a stained-glass window displaying the Bagg family crest had disappeared.
The building was restored in 1985-86 and two art galleries moved in, but the interior featured bare brick walls, a style that was popular at the time in some older parts of the city, but was not appropriate for this Victorian-era building. An oriental carpet store rented the main floor in the mid-1990s.
Today, Adrenaline Montreal Body Piercing and Tattoos has been located there for many years. I suspect my great-grandparents would not be impressed.
Note: Lovell’s Directory of Montreal shows the address of this building changed several times over the years. It was at 1129 Sherbrooke in 1894-97, and 739 Sherbrooke W. in 1908-1910. The attached house, on the right, had a separate address – 737 Sherbrooke West—and belonged to another family. The Bagg house had been divided into apartments 1 and 2 at 739 Sherbrooke W. by 1927-28, and the address had changed to 1541 Sherbrooke W. apartments 1 and 2 by 1935-36.
Edgar Andrew Collard, “A sandstone house on Sherbrooke St.”, The Gazette, October 20, 1984.
Répertoire d’architecture traditionnelle sur le territoire de la communauté urbaine de Montréal. Les residences. Communauté urbaine de Montréal, Service de la planification du territoire, 1987.
Charles Lazarus, “Farewell to Landmark”, The Montreal Star, April 30, 1979.
Gustave Dutaud, a member of the Bruneau family, was my grandmother, Beatrice Bruneau Raguin’s first cousin. I hope they knew each other as both lived in Montreal and from what I have found out, Gustave was worth knowing!
He was well-liked and well-respected as per messages in newspapers after his death. “There is a sense of loss when good men die, something goes from the richness of the world, something we can ill spare. Such is the feeling aroused by the death of Gustave Dutaud.” according to Marguerite Cleary.
“ If he was not conventionally religious he was a fine example of a French Canadian Christian, whom to know was a rare privilege.” said George Hosford.
His mother Virginie Bruneau, was 38 when she married Francois Dutaud and they only had one child. Gustave attended the Feller Institute, in Grande Ligne, Quebec south of Montreal, the school founded by Henriette Feller for French Protestants. She along with Louis Roussy came to Canada from Switzerland as missionaries, to convert the French Catholics. Gustave’s grandparents, Barnabé Bruneau and Sophie Marie Prudhomme heard their gospel and converted in the 1850s along with their children.
Gustave later entered McGill University where he obtained a BA in 1903 and a Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) in 1909. He worked as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette while completing his law degree. He was a KC (Kings Consul), an official interpreter for the Court of Kings Bench and practised from his own law firm.
“He had a lion’s heart for anyone who suffered under injustice.” Much of his legal practice concerned a number of social welfare organizations including the Society for the Preservation of Women and Children. He was interested in the troubles of the poor and used his legal training to help them out of difficulties. Gustave won a case for a woman hit by a car on Sherbrooke Street and McGill College, where the driver blamed the pedestrian for the accident.
He lead a busy life. He was a member of the Montreal Reform Club, the goal of which, according to its 1904 constitution, was “the promotion of the political welfare of the Liberal party of Canada.” Also a member of the Knights of Pythias organization which believed, “It is important to promote cooperation and friendship between people of goodwill. One way to happiness is through service, friendship, charity, benevolence and belief in a supreme being.”
In 1923 Gustave took his first trip to Europe. He accompanied the Montreal Publicity Association to a London convention as their honorary legal adviser. Aside from his time in England he also toured France and Scotland. “He returned to Canada more than ever convinced of the desirability of this country as a place in which to live.” He was amazed at the poor living conditions of the French peasant farmers. He described the French Chateaux as, “picturesque but uncomfortable, much nicer in pictures than as places to live.” The French wanted to replace war-damaged stone buildings with the same and not live in stick-built houses common in Canada.
Europe was still suffering after World War I. The group visited the battlefields of France. Gustave found “Verdun a sinister expanse of horrors surrounding a miserable medieval town, which had been destroyed by shell fire. There were still many ghastly reminiscences of the war. A trench where many of the French troops had been buried alive and where the soldiers still stood buried, with the tips of their riffles and bayonets protruding from the ground.”
“The finest things he saw in Europe were the masterpieces at the Louvre while the beauty of Scotland entranced him, as quite the most lovely country visited, more so even than his ancestral France.”
His compassion for people included his parents. They moved to Montreal to live with him after his father became ill. His mother stayed with him after his father’s death, until she died in 1926. Unfortunately, Gustave never married or had children, so when he died in 1949, another line of the Bruneau family ended.
Montreal Star, 11 July 1949 page 10. Newspapers.com accessed April 22, 2022. George Hosford. George Hosford roomed with Gustave and later was warmly received at his home and office.
Montreal Star July 7. 1949 Letters to the Editor page 10. Newspapers.com accessed April 22, 2022. Marguerite Cleary. She recalled Gustave Dutaud as a man with a mind that was noble, not conventionally religious, a lover of Anatole France, he expected little from humanity and sided by nature with the underdog, a gentleman.
Gustave Dutaud Obituary: Gazette, Montreal Quebec, Canada. June 25, 1949. Page 15. Accessed from Newspapers.com April 19, 2022.
Old World Living Conditions Poor: The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) · 12 Mar 1925, Thursday, Page 6. Accessed from Newspapers.com April 19, 2022. Gustave’s trip to Europe.
The Montreal Reform Club, at 82 Sherbrooke St West, used the building as its city headquarters for half a century. Established on June 17, 1898, the Reform Club was the social wing of the Liberal Party of Canada, and its provincial wing in Quebec. By 1947, the club counted a remarkable 850 members, 670 French-speaking and 180 English-speaking.
The irony, of course, is that since April of 1973 the building has belonged to the nationalist and pro-independence Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal. On May 17, 1976, the SSJB renamed the property La Maison Ludger Duvernay, in honour of the founder of the Society. The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal has never complained of the presence of frightening federalist ghosts within its walls!
Anatole France: French poet, journalist, and novelist with several best-sellers. Ironic and skeptical, he was considered in his day the ideal French man of letters. He was a member of the Académie Française, and won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Literature, in recognition of his brilliant literary achievements, characterized by a nobility of style, profound human sympathy, grace, and a true Gallic temperament.”
The above picture is a digital reproduction of a tintype or daguerreotype portrait of Sarah Marion McLean, my husband’s great great grandmother, taken (most probably) around the time of her marriage in 1849 in Flodden, Quebec. I scanned the metal photograph to computer over 10 years ago.
The pic above is composite montage of Sarah’s 4 times great granddaughter, Nora, my granddaughter born 2018, stored on my cellphone. The collage consists of photos snapped from the moment of her birth until her 1st birthday. These pics are but a fraction of the pictures existing of Mademoiselle Nora, now 4 years old, on various cellphones belonging to family.
I have in my possession only two other photos of Nora’s 4x great granny, Sarah, one where she stands beside her seated husband (Isle of Lewisman John Mcleod ) looking very pregnant. Another cardboard studio photo of her is from her final year. At the back of the photograph someone wrote in her name and dates. Sarah Marion McLean McLeod 1825-1912. She may actually be dead in the photo.
Unfortunately, I have misplaced the metallic originals, so I can’t test whether they are daguerreotypes or tintypes. (Tintypes are slightly magnetic.) They must be in a box somewhere in the garage with the other ‘important’ family photos I am missing. I mean, it has to be, right? I would never have thrown out such precious mementos.
The Macleods emigrated to Quebec in 1838, before so many others in their clan were pushed out in the infamous ‘clearances.’ Sarah Maclean from Coll arrived in Quebec a little later, after her parents and two brothers died back home. She had a sister in the province. Sarah, who was born at the height of the Industrial Revolution, led a long life in southern Quebec before passing away just as the motor car was making life in the Eastern Townships much more exciting. Too bad. Apparently, she loved to travel about.
Sarah is oft mentioned in family letters I have on hand from the 1908-1913 period. The family is feuding over her care in old age. Apparently, she speaks only ‘the Gaelic.’
A few years ago, I digitally enhanced her portrait. There was a white ‘hole’ in her forehead. I scanned the dag/tintype into the computer (afraid that any residue from harsh chemicals on the photo might be harmful to me) and filled in the hole using Photoshop.
Later on I embellished the photo of this Scottish ancestor whose face has passed down through the generations.
So, in the almost 200 years between the births of Sarah and Nora, the photographic world has gone from solid metal daguerreotype to a multiverse of ephemeral digital media – with the act of taking photographs becoming progressively easier.
Photographers in the Victorian Age were well-heeled trailblazers and techno-enthusiasts in possession of a great deal of very expensive -and very cumbersome – equipment. Today taking pictures is, no, exaggeration, mere child’s play. Nora is already pretty adept with a cellphone. I imagine in a very few years she’ll be taking candid photos of me as I crawl out of bed and creating instant animations with my dishevelled image and posting them online. Well, she already is.
Sarah Marion McLean McLeod saw great advances in photography within her very own lifetime.
Although I have only three photographs of Sarah, I have many more of her daughter, Margaret McLeod Nicholson, my husband’s great grandmother 1853-1942 , perhaps 15 in total, and even more, around 75, of her granddaughter Marion Nicholson Blair, my husband’s grandmother, 1887-1947.
According to her 1906 diary, Marion Nicholson (my husband’s grandmother) who was a teacher liked ‘to fool around taking Kodaks’ during her summer vacations. The Nicholson likely purchased their camera at Sutherland’s drug store in their home town of Richmond.
And the family photographs just keep on coming throughout the 20th century. There was that first decade, the era of shirtwaists and silly-looking BIG hats; then the roaring twenties with Sarah’s descendants in home-made flapper dresses sporting crude bobs; then the 30s with the Nicholson women wearing tonnes of movie star makeup to emulate their favourite big screen thespians; then the 40’s with the women in suits with big shoulders or, yes, even military garb; the 50’s ladies in A-line floral sun dresses sporting wing-tipped sunglasses; the 60’s gals reclining in frilly one piece bathing suits at the cottage, all puffing on cigarettes.
Nora will likely have thousands and thousands of photos taken of her in her lifetime. Still, I wonder, will any of these photographs be accessible to HER four times great granddaughter? Or will they have vanished over the years into the Cloud? I have already lost many many valued pics and videos when my ‘ancient” Note 2 suddenly expired.
Should I, as the family genealogist, be printing out all of the best photos on glossy paper with a colour printer with permanent ink, putting them into a giant album – a real album – for these future generations? (Always making sure to put names and birth dates to the pictures.)
(This would be an extremely costly proposition considering the price of colour ink.)
Or, do I merely create an enormous virtual album and put it on a key and into the safety deposit box and hope against hope that it won’t be casually tossed out one day – and that the info on the key will remain accessible?
Maybe all that will be left of the bazillions of photos of Nora, my granddaughter, will be on novelty items like coffee cups and calendars given to me each Christmas.
Or perhaps her image will exist only on this blog post, ready to be extracted from the ether in 2300 by some self-styled cyber-archaeologist.
I’m no fortune teller but I can hazard a good guess…but, first, I have to find that box of precious old photos down in the garage.
Years ago I wrote an essay for the Globe and Mail on the same topic. It was very well received and often reprinted. Gone with the WIndows.
This month a Montreal tradition will resume after a two-year pandemic break: the annual St. Andrew’s Ball will take place at the Windsor Hotel on November 18. The event promises to be “a gala evening of dining, dancing and Scottish pageantry, celebrating Scottish heritage in Montreal,” featuring the Black Watch Pipes and Drums and highland dance performances.
My mother attended this event in 1937, the year that, despite her protests, she was a debutante. Writing under her married name, Joan Hamilton, she recalled that experience 40 years later, and her article, published in Montreal Scene magazine on November 26, 1977, described the endless social gatherings she and her teenage friends attended.
In those days “coming out” didn’t mean what it does today. Then it meant that a young woman of 18 was introduced to society, and to members of the opposite sex, which was important because my mother and most of her friends attended separate private schools for girls or boys.
She wrote, “For a tightly-knit group of Montrealers whose growing up took place in the mid-30s, life consisted of a round of parties that started with events called sub-deb dances and progressed to coming-out balls. Actually, they weren’t as grand as they sound. Life was simpler then, and one lived by a strictly prescribed social code. The sub-deb parties were given at private homes, primarily during the Christmas holidays, and the ages of the future debutantes ranged from 14 to 17.” When the girls became debutantes, the parties became balls.
Although many Canadians were suffering economically during the Depression, my mother recalled that there were dozens of debutantes each season, and there was a ball at least once, and sometimes twice a week from October until February. Many debutantes came out at their own parties, but others were presented at either the St. Andrew’s Ball or charity balls put on by the Royal Victoria Hospital Auxiliary. At that time, most of the balls were held at the Winter Club on Drummond Street, the Hunt Club on Côte Ste-Catherine Road, or the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The St. Andrew’s Ball took place at the Windsor Hotel.
In Montreal the St. Andrew’s Ball was first held in 1848, but some members of the society preferred a dinner for the men only, and the next ball wasn’t held until 1871. When it next took place, it was described as “the social event of the year,” probably because Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise and her husband were the guests of honour. Over the following years, Montreal’s Scots sometimes celebrated St. Andrew’s Day with a banquet or a concert, and the society did not choose a ball as its principal event until 1896.
According to the Montreal Daily Star, more than 900 people—a record—attended the 1937 edition of the St. Andrew’s Ball, including the Governor General of Canada and his wife, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir. “Merriment reigns as sons and daughters of auld Scotia lay aside their cares,” the newspaper headline announced.
In the ‘30s, the debutantes wore long white evening dresses and white, elbow-length kid gloves, while their escorts were in white tie and tails. The evening began with dinner parties, with cocktails and wine served. On arriving at the ball, the guests went through a receiving line so the proud parents of the debutante in whose honour the party was being held could introduce her. Then the dancing began, with music provided by an orchestra. Supper was served around midnight, accompanied by champagne.
“One’s partner at dinner was supposed to, and usually did, have the first and last dance and escort you to supper, as well as take you home,” she recalled. “It was a good security blanket.” My mother was not one of those girls who was so popular with the boys that her dance card for the evening was always full. In fact, she hinted that she spent a fair amount of time in the ladies’ room, pretending to be invisible. Nevertheless, she wrote that her teen years were a lot of fun, going to movies, picnics and corn roasts in the summer and taking the train to the Laurentians to go skiing in winter, after the party season had wrapped up.
Two years later life changed for everyone, and some of the young men who had attended those parties went off to war and never came back. Nor did my mother marry one of the boys she was introduced to as a debutante; my parents met in Ottawa, where they were both working, just as the war was ending.
(little poem etched in pencil in one of Norman’s early ‘store books’)
Norman Nicholson, my husband’s great grandfather liked to keep track of things: Indeed, that was his one extraordinary trait. He kept track of his every expense, business or household, over five decades (right down to 5 cents tossed to a tramp). He kept balances, inventories, invoices and lists from 1881 when he left home to live on his own to 1921 at this death at home in Richmond, Quebec.
He kept all this information in dozens of ledgers, diaries and notebooks and he kept these booklets neatly arranged in a trunk under the window in his daughter’s room. ( I know because it said so in one of the many letters he kept, which the daughter in her turn kept, and which eventually fell into my hands as the wife of his great grandson.)
That’s how history-challenged I came to have a real appreciation for the life of a 1st generation Canadian living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century, that is Norman Nicholson, son of Malcolm Nicolson, he who came to this country in 1841 at age 26 with his parents and 8 siblings after being cleared from the family farm on the nearly treeless Isle of Lewis, Hebrides; who walked from Port St Francis to Flodden and settled on crown land, earning money by burning wood for potash and clearing trails through the forest.
That’s how I’ve come to understand that my husband’s great grandfather, Canadian-born, Canadian schooled Norman Nicholson, successful hemlock bark dealer, turkey salesman, bill collector for a local doctor, Town Public Works Clerk, Inspector for the Transcontinental Railway and The Quebec Streams Commission (I have all the documentation) was a work-a-day sort, devoted husband to the spirited feminist-minded Margaret McLeod, (also a Lewis descendant) doting father to three feisty and ambitious daughters Edith, Marion, Flora and one lost soul of a son, Herb.
He was the kind of ordinary man who lives a full life, with all its joys and sorrows and broken dreams, and dies, the memory of him quickly fading to black until, one day, (with any luck at all) a glimmer, as a great great grandson, flipping through the brittle pages of a photo album, points to one particular picture and asks. “Who’s this ‘sick-looking’ dude with the white moustache and beard?” And the boy’s middle aged father answers: “Oh, that’s Norman Nicholson, your great great grandfather, or at least, I think it is.”
“Was he a general or something, too?” the boy asks referring to the man’s mason uniform – because the boy is related to General Douglas MacArthur on another branch of his family tree.
“No, Norman Nicholson was just an ordinary man.”
Now, after scanning the ledgers and reading all his diaries, that I can confirm: ordinary, in every possible way. Not a hero like Alexander Mackenzie, the Lewis born explorer, for whom a great Canadian river is named, although Norman did have a thing for bodies of water. From his 1912 diary: List of Rivers East of Cochrane, Abitibi River, Sucker Creek, Mistango River, Low Bush Creek
Not a villain like Lewis descendant Donald Morrison, the Megantic Outlaw, subject of Canada’s largest ever manhunt and at least two books and one documentary, although Norman did have a part in the man’s post capture defense.
From an 1889 press clipping: Let it be hereby resolved that Norman Nicholson be appointed by the Richmond Royal Caledonia Society to press the authorities for an interview with Donald Morrison.
Neither famous, nor infamous, neither scoundrel nor saint; ergo NOT the kind of man whose exploits are chronicled for future generations in plodding high school history texts or low budget straight to cable documentaries; just a loyal husband, protective father, dutiful citizen. An ordinary man, the kind of man who reaches a point in life where he feels the need to lay down the law to his kids: November 14, 1902 Future Regulations: All must be up and downstairs by 7:30 o’ clock in the morning, Sunday included, breakfast at 7:30. The kind of man who, lonely on the job in middle age, writes love letters to his wife: “I don’t want a concrete hall or a little birch canoe; just want a place with you by the fireside.”
Very very ordinary. No, not the stuff of history books or even good caricature, although it would be easy to characterize Norman as the quintessential penny pinching Scot (someone who believes his bank book to be the best kind of reading) but that characterization would be totally unfair.
Norman Nicholson may have been a practical man:
Price of ash for 1899: 8 cents for 12 inch;10 cents for 13 inch; 12 cents for 14 inch.
1913 Trip to Boston to see Grand Lodge: ticket to Montreal, 2.55, street car 05, ticket to Newport, 3.25. Dinner on train .60
with a petty side:
number of times Dr. Kellock was away from his congregation in year 1897: 24 January in Boston; 21 March in Spencerville; 24 October in Toronto;
October 18, 1899. Date McMorine had his water cut off in his store by M. McDonald tinsmith.
But he also was a romantic:
Nothing to do Margaret, Dar..ling, nothing to do. Let’s take a trip on memory’s ship back to the by gone days. Let’s sail to the old village, anchor outside the school door. Look in and see, that’s you and me, a couple of kids once more.
See? An ordinary man of conflicting passions, just like you and me, the kind of man who has but one chance to have something flattering written about him and that’s at the end of his life:
From the Richmond Guardian June, 1922:
The death occurred suddenly last Friday morning in Montreal of Mr. Norman Nicholson, one of the most respected citizens of this place…
And then that’s it, finito, no more, except, perhaps, for an epitaph on a tombstone in a far-flung country cemetery no one ever visits.
RIP Norman Nicholson, my husband’s great grandfather. An oh-so ordinary man, except for this one extraordinary trait, this compulsion to keep track of things, to leave a paper trail for posterity – if mostly in list form.
LIST Cost of LIving 1900 Richmond Quebec.
1900 accounts, family of six, children in teens. Wife Margaret got a hefty allowance with her purchases going unnoted, but I see no mention of material or sewing notions in the list and Margaret sewed her daughter’s clothes for the most part. In 1900 the Nicholsons were comfortably middle class with a fine house, but their fortunes would soon fail with the end of the hemlock bark industry.