Genealogy

I Remember Maman: Montreal’s Film Row Circa 1940

rkobuilding

The white building is United Amusements’ former address on Monkland, now a lovely condo. My mother’s uncle, Isadore Crepeau, was VP Of this company in the 1920’s and 30’s. 

 

I have only recently discovered that Monkland Avenue in Notre Dame de Grace was once Montreal’s movie Mecca, referred to in industry circles as “Film Row.”

In the 1960’s, as a school girl, I lived in adjacent Snowdon  and I often saw second-run movies at the Monkland Theatre – and yet no one told me this.

On top of that,  my mother, grandmother and aunts all lived on that street during the 1940’s, in a large second story flat at the corner of Oxford and Monkland. My mom worked at RKO Motion Picture Distributing just a few blocks away.

When my Mom and I passed by the building in our tiny Austen Cambridge car on visits to see our cousins who lived on the corner of Monkland and Montclair, she would often tell  me, “You was born right there, over a shoe shop.’

I can see from Lovell’s Directory, online, the place was Eddy’s Shoe Shop, now Patisserie de Nancy.

Over the years, my mother only occasionally mentioned her past employment at RKO and I never asked for more information because I was not at all interested.  In the 1960’s, RKO was out of business, although it had been one the top five studios in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

filmrow

Lovell’s reveals the truth about Monkland in the 1940’s. Movie Distribution Mecca!

In the 70’s, I studied Film and Communications at McGill and still I never asked my mother about working at RKO.

In class we studied Eisenstein’s montage method and D.W. Griffith’s short and long silent films and even deconstructed Citizen Kane scene-by-scene, (a movie made by RKO and Orson Welles who later bought the studio and drove it into the ground) but those other classic RKO Films, Bringing Up Baby, It’s a Wonderful Life, or I Remember Mama* with Irene Dunn were not on the syllabus.

The RKO brand, for the most part, sounded so far away, in the Dark Ages of the 1940’s, when my mother was young and a working woman.

These days, I spend a lot of time watching Turner Classic Movies and I am now very familiar with the RKO ‘radio signal’ logo and their classic and all but forgotten movies. I am also researching more about my mother’s Crepeau family.

I think I know how my mother got the RKO job.

Her father, Jules Crepeau, had been Director of City Services in the 1920’s and her uncle, Isadore, had been VP of United Amusements, the local movie distribution concern that built the grand Monkland Theatre with its ornate plaster work, as well as a score of other Montreal movie palaces , including the Rialto on Park Avenue, the Rivoli on St. Denis and the Strand, where well-known pianist Willie Eckstein tickled the ivories.

My mother was a secretary or ‘stenographer’ as they called it back then, even though she had studied classical literature, Greek and Latin, at College Marguerite Bourgeois and was perfectly bilingual in English and French.

Were my mother alive today, I would ask if it was fun and exciting, or even ‘glamourous’ working on Monkland back in those days. Or was it tedious. Did she have to put up with sexist behavior at work? (I bet she did.)

Her bosses, according to the industry rags, got to party once a year at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City at the annual RKO sales meeting and  Montreal’s Film Row regularly welcomed visitors from all over, including Hollywood.

And the big question I’d like to ask, if I could go back in time: “Did you get free movie tickets?

 

mummyrkodays

Marie-Marthe Crepeau Nixon

filmrow

 

rkoganetakos

From Box Office magazine, 1940. c/o Digital Media Library.

 

  • I Remember Mama is a film about a struggling immigrant couple who raised their children without ever letting on that they are very poor. My mother raved about this film when it came on TV in the 1960’s. The movie was made by RKO in 1948 and she would have worked on publicity.
Genealogy

A Time of Prosperity

Asbestos Part 2

by Claire Lindell.

The Asbestos Strike of 1949 was a major historical event, that touched the lives of many. In a recently posted blog on Genealogy Ensemble, ‘A Turning Point in Quebec History, reflects the turning point through the eyes of a nine-year-old living in the town during the strike”. At the end of WWII created a huge boom in construction. There was a great demand for asbestos fibre products. These products were. fire-resistant. Insulation, outside shingles, roofing tiles, floor tiles and a myriad of other products were being used in construction. The company was thriving and continued to do so throughout the next twenty years.

My Dad, Karl Lindell, played a minor role behind the scenes throughout the five months the workers were off the job. When the strike was over and the workers resumed working in the pit, underground and the mill, management realized that changes in their operations were necessary.

The Canadian Johns-Manville Company (CJM)developed a long-term plan to enlarge the open pit. In doing so, they expropriated large portions of the town and expanded in new directions. Underground operations continued. As part of these changes, in January of 1950 Dad took on a major role and was named Mine Manager of Jeffrey Mine, the largest open pit in the Western hemisphere. His responsibilities within the company were to bring stability between the workers, the union and management while producing enough asbestos to meet customer’s orders.

         Hitachi advertisement for a 200 ton truck 

 Enormous tires                                

Some of the major changes within the operations revolved around phasing out the old railway system that had been in use for many decades. The company invested in an efficient roadway within the pit and purchased several humungous 200-ton trucks to haul the crushed rock, the results of the blasting that took place several times each day. The trucks hauled their loads to the new Mill #5 to be processed removing the valuable veins of fibre in the mill where the company installed a huge dust filtration system that monitored the air quality. The fibre was extracted from the rock, bagged, ready for shipment to factories and countries around the world. The trucks were also used to haul away the residue (leftover crushed rock) often referred to as ‘tailings’, to a site outside of town.

ETRC Townshipsarchives.ca Asbestos fibres

Dad was responsible for the many changes and the daily operations. It was noted in the minutes of a National Employees of the Mining Industry meeting in January of 19501. That at one of his first meetings with the employees after taking on his new position, he assured them that every employee was equal, no matter their position in the company. He noted that there were errors committed by both the company and the union during the strike.

He earned the respect of the workers and the Union. throughout his working days with CJM.

Operations ran smoothly. As time went on, there was a need to develop a specific division relating to the sale of products. The company created the Asbestos Fibre Division and Dad headed that operation. At the time he had an opportunity to move his family to Montreal where the Division had offices. He chose to remain in Asbestos. This permitted him to maintain a good relationship with the workers.

Aerial view of Asbestos circa 1980 Flickr

Dad retired after 25 years (1945-1970) of devotion to CJM and the Asbestos community. He had traveled the world on behalf of the Asbestos industry. His contributions to its growth and development were recognized by the industry and the citizens of Asbestos.

In the latter years of Dad’s time with the company, there were deep concerns about asbestos fibre being a health hazard. By the 1980s the industry declined at a rapid rate. For a time, the Quebec Government was supportive of workers, however, over time there was an outright ban on the production of asbestos fibre. This left may workers without jobs.

How would the town survive? Could the town survive?

Part 3 will highlight some of the ways the community coped with the lost jobs and the numerous strategies that have been used since the 70’s . Did Asbestos become a ghost town? Did it find new ways and means for those who lost their jobs when all operations shut down?

Sources:

1. SAHRA. Fonds de la Federation de la Metallurgie P5. Cahiers des process-verbeau des reunions de la federation Nationale des Employees de l’Industrie Miniere. Janvier 1950, p.99-100, Asbestos filons d’histoire 1899-1999, Lampron, Rejean, Cantin, Marc, Grimard, Elise, Imprimeries Transcontinental inc., Metrolitho 1999

www.mindat.org/loc-581.html Jeffrey Mine, Asbestos, Les Sources RCM, Estrie, Québec, Canada The geological map is copied from Horváth et al. (2013) Local Geology: .

www.ubcpress.ca/asset/13390/1/9780774828413… A Town Called Asbestos – UBC Press

https://www.thefreelibrary.com/%22A+faire+un+peu+de+poussiere%3a%22+Environmental+Health+and+the+Asbestos…-a0315506063

https://carnetsce2015.wordpress.com/category/1950-a-1960/

https://www.townshipsarchives.ca/etrc-p031-photographs-001-jpg      asbestos fibres

https://store.cim.org/fr/application-of-air-to-jeffrey-mill-of-the-asbestos-canadian-milling-johns-at-the-new-manville-company-limited-asbestos-que CIM Bulletin, 1955

http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/docs/asbestos/3r.pdf

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/asbestos-que?fbclid=IwAR0305fX1YrnIFB2qyU0oXBBEQSHZg6JvUFTykpKoFqwYQUn0pSS0uVf8e0

https://www.asbestos.com/news/2016/11/07/asbestos-mining-town-canada-new-identity/

Genealogy

French Canadians in Eastern Ontario 1816-2002

Francophones have been a presence in Ontario since the arrival of Samuel de Champlain in 1615. They settled mostly in Eastern Ontario to work on the railways and in forestry and in Northwestern Ontario to work in the mines.

Their births, marriages and deaths were recorded and are available at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ,) the national library of Quebec. To see what records the BAnQ has, click on the link: French Canadians in Eastern Ontario Rev2

You can also google the ‘family search wiki’ for the Ontario county where your ancestors lived to find a wide variety of records useful to genealogists.

 TABLE OF CONTENTS

Carleton County

Repositories

Catholic Parishes

Frontenac County

Repositories

Catholic Parishes

Glengarry and Stormont Counties

Repositories

Catholic Parishes

Prescott and Russel Counties

Repositories

Catholic Parishes

Renfrew and Perth Counties

Repositories

Catholic Parishes

This post was revised Nov. 14, 2019 to remove links that did not work. 

Genealogy, Montreal, Newfoundland, Newspapers, Volunteering

Miss Lindsay – Part 1

In June 1922, young Marguerite Lindsay travelled from Montreal, Quebec to Cartwright, Labrador, for a summer of volunteer work. Two months later she went for an afternoon walk and disappeared.

Marguerite, aged 25, had volunteered as a teacher with The Grenfell Mission in Cartwright. The International Grenfell Mission is a non-profit organization that was formed in 1892 by British medical missionary Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell to provide healthcare, education, religious services, rehabilitation and other social services to the fisherman and coastal communities of northern Newfoundland and Labrador.1

She taught the older girls sports such as swimming and cricket and ran the recreation program at the Labrador Public School at Muddy Bay, 10 km from Cartwright. Miss Annette Stiles, an American and the other summer volunteer, worked as the school’s nutritionist and cook.

Marguerite was my grandfather’s baby sister. The youngest of six children born to Mary Heloise Bagg and Robert Lindsay, she grew up privileged in a prominent English Montreal family. Her brother, my grandfather, was an Anglican priest in Montreal.The Priest

Marguerite Lindsay and her brother Sydenham circa 1922
Marguerite Lindsay and her brother Sydenham – photo taken in Montreal, Quebec – circa 1922

An article in The Montreal Standard newspaper described Marguerite as being “popular in Boston, London and Montreal Society.” She attended a girls’ school near Boston and, in 1918, actively took part in The Sewing Circle (making quilts for charity) and The Vincent Club (supporting women’s health issues). Later she attended St. Andrew’s College in England. Her fine education and choice of social circles were evidence of not only her elite upbringing but her ingrained kindness towards others.

In June 1921, a year before her departure for Labrador, Marguerite returned home by ship after a three month visit to England. She was only 24 years old at that time and most likely already considered a spinster!

Her marriage prospects were not good, since after The Great War, there was an excess of females over males of about 5,500 in English Montreal alone. 2 The women’s rights movement had already made progress for women’s suffrage, education and entry into the workplace. Might these changes in society have encouraged Marguerite’s decision to pursue her teaching? Perhaps she learned about The Grenfell Mission itself during her last trip to England. But how on earth did she convince her protective parents to allow such an adventure? Did her brother (the priest) approve of the idea, support her calling and aid in her plea?

Marguerite Lindsay 1922
The Grenfell Mission photo of volunteer Miss Helen  Frances Marguerite Lindsay

The two young volunteers, Marguerite and Annette, were under the direction of the Reverend Henry Gordon. He and his wife ran the school in Muddy Bay. Annette, perhaps a little homesick, described the area as “a bay surrounded by spruce-clad hills, resembling Lake George (New York), warmly sheltered from the Arctic winds.”3

Annette wrote an article depicting some of her experiences with Marguerite and the local people. It was published in an issue of the journal Among the Deep Sea Fishers. She described food demonstrations held for the adults and nature outings with the children in their collective care noting that “the children’s enthusiasm was very contagious – a great contrast to the boredom of some in more civilized places.” And then she continued:

Miss Lindsay was a very good swimmer and the older children loved her teaching them this as well as loving to work with her in the mornings … even on cold days they would beg to go in (the water) and the little ones would join in the chorus: “O! Miss, take I in swimmin’ too!”

It was a hot day on August 4, 1922, when Marguerite left her fellow teacher and friend in Cartwright possibly to go for a swim somewhere along the Sandwich Bay shores. She often took walks alone and was known to be a young lady very capable of taking care of herself. However, that evening when she hadn’t returned in time for the evening meal, a search party was organized immediately.

Miss Lindsay was missing!

1FindingGrenfell.ca – accessed October 19, 2019

2Westley, Margaret W. Remembrance of Grandeur–The Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal 1900-1950, p. 126

3 Stiles, Annette – “The Cartwright Expert Cook” – Among the Deep Sea Fishers, January 1923

Genealogy, Wales

Land Of My Fathers….

By

Marian Bulford

Well, the land of my Grandfathers and Greats that is, all the way back to the 1400s.

My maternal Gramps was an O’Bray born, like all his forebears, in West Wales. Pembroke Dock, to be exact.  Welsh is still spoken widely in West Wales and the Welsh name for this area is Doc Penfro, it was originally named Paterchurch and was a small fishing village. Pembroke Dock Town expanded rapidly following the construction of the Royal Navy Dockyard in 1814.

There is some speculation about the original name of my fourth great grandfather, John Barnett O’Bray born in 1792. About this time, the family name was Aubrey but in that century it changed to O’Bray and/or O’Brey. Our ancestors in the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, spell it without the apostrophe – OBray whereas my Grandfather spells it O’Bray.

This September 2019 I went to Pembroke Dock, West Wales and visited Pembroke Castle where the Tudor Dynasty started with the birth of King Henry VII. Next door to the castle entrance was a shop called ‘The Hall of Names’ with a database of most names in the world and, for a price, they will research and print out the name, and it’s origins. [1]

They looked up the name Aubrey for me, and all the variations which are characteristic of Norman. Old and Middle English lack definite spelling rules, and then Norman French was added to the linguistic stew, with finally, medieval scribes who wrote names as they sounded, so no wonder I have such a problem. So, I am still none the wiser as to why the change – this is MY brick wall! [1]

I also went to Queen Street East, where my third great grandfather John Barnett O’Bray (or O’Brey), a shipwright, lived in 1841 with his family. The street is still there but has probably changed a great deal since!

Under the year 1841, our O’Bray/O’Brey family is mentioned in a book called “Pembroke People” by Richard Rose under ‘shipwrights’ but even in this short piece in the book, there are three different spellings of his name!

The heading reads that he was “John Barnett O’Bray or OBrey” A further note in the book mentions a William Aubrey buried at St. Mary’s on 27th September 1817 aged four and the author assumes “He was probably another child of this family” If so, why was he called Aubrey and the rest of the family O’Bray/Obrey? Right at the end yet another mystery as the author states that, when John Barnett O’Bray was buried, also in the register was ‘An Elizabeth Oberry. Buried on 11th April 1841 aged 93.

John Barnett O’Bray was apprenticed on in 1805 at Milford as a shipwright boy. He was earning 2 shillings a day in 1810 and when he was 21 years old in 1812 he became a shipwright and married Eleanor Allen, who’s family also appear as shipwrights in the book.

Their ten children, aged from two years to the eldest aged 25 years include in order of birth, William who  died at age four, Maria, born 1814, George 1815, John 1818, Elizabeth 1820, *Thomas 1821, Robert 1824, *Samuel 1828, Eleanor 1834 and Thomas 1836, who died at age eight.

** Thomas Lorenzo and Samuel William, were baptised into the Church of Latter-Day Saints – the Mormons –  and left West Wales to trek across the plains in 1851 to Salt Lake City, Utah. Two other family members, Maria and George also became Mormon and went to Utah later.

“My Family History” which includes Thomas and Samuels’ stories can be read here:

https://wordpress.com/post/genealogyensemble.com/610

And you can read Samuel’s story here:   https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/08/17/mormon-history/

For some reason, John Barnett O’Bray sued William Allen another Shipwright for 10 Pounds in 1821 and in turn was sued by Allen the next year! If this was one of his wife’s’ relatives I can find no proof yet so more research to do.

In 1823, John Barnett O’Bray took a 60 year lease of one of the Club Houses recently built in the High Street at a rent of One Pound, Ten Shillings a year. His years’ wages in 1828 were 87 pounds, 19 shillings and one penny.

Part 2 will continue with the life of John Barnett O’Bray and his family.

SOURCES

1. https://pembrokecastle.co.uk/eat-shop-discover/hall-of-names

Richard Rose wrote a fascinating book called ‘Pembroke People’ and is described on the flyleaf, as probably the fullest account ever written about life in an early 19th-century community. Flipping through this wonderful book, that seems to be true. Every possible trade in the shipbuilding, mariner,  and associated trades were listed, from accountants to wine and spirit merchants even including the local prostitutes and illegitimate children! And yes, I did look to see if any of my family were listed there, but none were. [2]

 

Genealogy

Petimezi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cauldron

 

 

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

JOHN HAMILTON GRAHAM First Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec

My family is a Masonic Family. My grandfather immigrated to Canada as a Mason. My Canadian-born father was a Mason. My husband is a Mason today. My husband and I are also educators and members of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. The story of John Hamilton Graham resonates with us on several levels. It was thus an honour to be asked by the Grand Lodge of Quebec to research Graham’s history and write his story for the 150th anniversary of his installation as their first Grand Master.IMG_3699[295]

John Hamilton Graham

The Graham family  loved the view from their home on the hill overlooking the town of Richmond and the valley of the St. Francis River: the gently rolling hills, the scattered farms, the foliage ablaze with fall colours at this time of year: reds, oranges and golds. The house was on the campus of St. Francis Academy, a prestigious grammar school for boys where Hamilton Graham was headmaster. Affiliated with McGill University, the curriculum included two years of university courses. It served a vast district extending from Chicoutimi on the Saguenay River to the New England States.

Scottish born John Hamilton Graham and his American wife, Almira Jones, emigrated from Northfield, Vermont when, in 1858, Graham accepted a teaching position at the school. Their first-born, Mira was just a year old. Her siblings, Abigail, George, James and Caroline, were all born in Richmond. I assume the boys attended the grammar school while the girls went to school in the village.

Richmond was largely settled by New England colonists in the late 1700s so the Graham family must have felt at home among their neighbours.  Graham arrived as a Presbyterian and a Mason and soon joined the local church and the St. Francis Lodge. As she grew, Mira likely led her siblings in trying to weasel out various Masonic secrets. “Just show me the secret handshake, daddy”. But off daddy would go to another night at Lodge with none of them any wiser. His Masonic career included becoming the Master of St. Francis Lodge, the Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Townships District and, ultimately, the Registrar of the Grand Lodge of Canada.

In 1862, Graham was made headmaster of St. Francis Academy. His interest in education, however, went well beyond discipline and instruction in his own school. While teaching in Vermont he had taken an active part in the movement to establish normal schools in the state and served at different times as president of three teachers’ associations. He continued to work with teacher  associations in Canada and in 1870, he and Jasper Nicolls, president of the St. Francis Teachers’ Association, established the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers known today as the QPAT, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers. Graham was the first president. As president, he protested the Roman Catholic dominance of education in the province, the underfunding of Protestant institutions, the importation of textbooks rather than the development of Quebec texts, and the separation of church and state in our schools. Clearly a man ahead of his time.

In 1872 Graham resigned as headmaster to run as a Liberal in the federal constituency of Richmond and Wolfe. He was referred to as a “Scotch Radical”. Following his defeat, he found a job as a railroad manager, Richmond being the railroad center of the area, and devoted much of his free time to private teaching, to writing, and to Freemasonry. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Vermont and McGill University.

With the coming of confederation, Graham took the lead in a movement to create a grand lodge in the new province of Quebec. The founding of the Grand Lodge of Quebec aroused a great storm within Canadian freemasonry because the new institution was created out of, and in competition with, The Grand Lodge of Canada. Graham engaged in ongoing disputes with several lodges in Quebec that continued to act under warrants from the grand lodges of Canada, Scotland and England.

In 1869, one hundred and fifty years ago, Graham became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec. Hopefully his wife and children were they proud of his achievement and did not resent the hours and days away from family that it took him to get there.

Graham was widowed in 1881. His eldest daughter Mira was 24 and a teacher, Abigail was 21, George 18, James 14, and little Caroline only 4. Likely Mira kept house for her father following her mother’s death and raised her youngest sister. I suspect, too, that this responsibility limited her chances of marriage.

The 1891 census records Graham as a lodger in a boarding house without any of his children. Later records show all siblings, save for Mira, married and living in various parts of the United States until their deaths. Where Mira ended is unknown.

In August 1899, Graham died suddenly at age 75 in Hartford Connecticut during a visit to New England. His body was returned to Richmond where it lay in state at the Town Hall. The funeral was the largest in the region for many years: local Masons, prominent Masonic officers from all over Quebec, family, friends and neighbours. He was buried beside his wife in St. Anne’s Cemetery and given full masonic rites at the gravesite. Ten years later the Grand Lodge of Quebec unveiled a monument to him.

In the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Graham’s career is described as following a pattern established by many Scots Presbyterians in Canada in the 19th century: hard work and a taste for controversy producing modest success.

Sources:

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography. http://biographi.ca/en/bio/graham_hamilton_12E.html

The Sherbrooke Examiner: http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine,details/52327/2985600?docpos=4

Townships Heritage WebMagazine. http://townshipsheritage.com/aeticle/st=francis-college

Healy, Esther. St. Francis College. The Legacy of a Classical College. 1854-1898. https://openlibrary.org/

Hamilton Graham. Ancestry.ca

Conversations with Jody Robinson, Archivist, The Eastern Townships Resource Centre, Bishop’s University, Lennoxville, QC. www.townshipsarchives.ca

 

Genealogy

The Man of the Family

I was just eight years old when Grampy, my mother’s father, died, so I have few memories of him, only photos. There’s one of him holding me on his lap when I was about a year old, and another that shows him playing a toy musical instrument. A shot of him demonstrating his stone-skipping skills on a Maine beach was probably taken in 1956, during the last summer of his life.

At that time, children were to be seen and not heard; not all grandparents were as involved as he was, and that makes these photos all the more special.

In fact, he was close to all the women in his family, young and old, as he provided moral support and financial guidance to his mother and his three unmarried sisters, as well as to his wife and his daughter.

4-2-1

Frederic Edmund Murray Smith was born in Montreal in 1879 to Jane Mulholland and her husband, John Murray Smith, a bank manager. Fred was the third of their six children. His was a life of privilege, as the family lived in a grey-stone house on McGregor Avenue (now Dr. Penfield Avenue), on the slope of Mount Royal. They also had a summer cottage on the shores of Lake St. Louis, in what is now one of Montreal’s West Island suburbs.

In 1891, Fred’s seventeen-year-old brother, Henry, died of appendicitis. Three years later, when Fred was just 15, his father succumbed to a heart attack, and Fred became the man of the family.

Women supposedly did not understand money matters, so his mother and sisters looked to him for advice. For example, many years later, when his sisters finally sold the house on McGregor, the task of handling the sale and helping them move to an apartment fell on Grampy’s shoulders.

Fred decided not to attend university, but started his career as a messenger. It did not take long for him to move up the corporate ladder. In 1918, he was a manager with the Royal Bank of Canada, and in the late 1920s, he was with Verret Stewart Co., a firm that was an agent for Windsor Salt.  Between 1930 and 1936, there was no profession listed beside his name in the Montreal Lovell’s street directory, but he went to work as treasurer of Champlain Oil after the depression and stayed there until he retired.

He lived at home with his mother and sisters and remained an eligible bachelor until age 37, when he married Gwendolyn Bagg. Their only daughter, Joan, was born two years later, in 1918.

Fred and Gwen were both quiet people, more interested in spending time with family than in enjoying Montreal’s night life. In fact, Fred was a strict Presbyterian who never appeared at the dining table without a jacket and tie, and would not allow my mother to play cards on Sundays, but my cousin who is 10 years older than I am remembers him as kind and having a good sense of humour.

In a 1946 letter to my father, Fred described his view of marriage: “We … hope that you both may have as happy a life together as your future father-in-law had in his married life, keeping in mind that it is a partnership, which means both of you have to give and take, and that in the home, it is the woman’s department.”

musical toy
Fred, Joan, Janice, Gwen.

For the first dozen years of their lives together, the Murray Smiths lived on tiny Selkirk Avenue, near the corner of Cote des Neiges and Sherbrooke streets, two short blocks away from Gwen’s mother’s house and several long blocks from Fred’s mother’s house.

In the late 1920s, my grandparents decided to build a larger house. According to my mother, when they looked at the architectural plans, they did not realize how big it would be. Not only was the house more than they needed, but their timing was bad since Fred lost his job during the depression. Fortunately, Gwen’s Aunt Amelia Norton helped out financially, but this must have been hard for Fred. He was accustomed to helping others. My grandparents lived in that house for the rest of their lives, and he died there, of a heart attack, at age 77.

Grampy is buried in the Murray Smith family plot at Mount Royal Cemetery with his father, mother, brother, three sisters and wife. My mother is buried with them.

This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com

Notes:

Legally, the family name was Smith, however, because Smith was such a common name, the family used Murray Smith as if it were a hyphenated last name.

The row house on Selkirk Ave. is still there, the Murray Smith family home on McGregor was demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment building, and my grandparents’ house on Saint-Sulpice became the Iraqi consulate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genealogy, WWII

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

Genealogy

To the Lighthouse Part 3

myfatherugby

Senior Rugby, St Bee’s School, 1939. Peter Nixon, top row, fourth from left

(To the Lighthouse Part 1: Geological Time, Historical Time, Genealogical Time.)

(To the Lighthouse Part 11: You Don’t Want to be Me.)

To the Lighthouse: Part 111. One Mean SOB

I think, once again, of the thick- legged cads on the colliery team. Tough as nails.  It would be a shame for them to beat us on the rugby field – or on the battlefield.

A pair of kittiwakes soars sand shriek 15 feet over us, just as the eight students approach slowly from the south, at a jogging pace,  two of them cupping their pockets and looking very self-satisfied.

“We got three big eggs,  and one just for you, Nixon,” speaks up Armstrong in a flattering tone.  He’s normally the most belligerent of my young charges. Another with Border Reiver blood. It’s a bribe and a most worthy one.

The Nixon clan was once in thrall to the Armstrong clan, I recall  Grandfather Nixon, a sawmill worker, telling me a few years ago as we walked the well-trod path from his home in Helmsley North Yorkshire to nearby Rievaulx to see the stone quarry where he had laboured as a young man, the famous cathedral ruins and the small thatched cottage, Abbot’s Well, where Mary Ellen Richardson, his wife, my grandmother, grew up. She was a tailor’s daughter.

abbottswellrievaulx

Abbot’s Well Rievaulx, North Yorkshire

“They are falcon’s eggs, we think” interrupts Bell, Armstrong’s sidekick, also of Border Reiver blood. You should have seen the mother. She attacked us with her enormous beak and flapping wings.” Falcon? I now understand this to be a ruse. Or is it?

Can miracles of nature happen? Can schoolboys steal some eggs from a falcon’s nest? Might the war in Europe never really start?

The smirk on the faces of all the young chaps tell me there will be no eggs, gull’s or falcon’s, for luncheon today. It is all a big joke.

“Well, let’s turn around them, we’ll never make to the lighthouse and back with those falcon’s eggs intact,” Armstrong says, stubbornly sticking to his story.  I can taste the savoury most-likely fictitious fried eggs  and it STILL makes my mouth water.

“The headmaster told me to take you to the lighthouse and back,” I say, nonchalantly exercising my power over them as is my right.   The boys groan. I start to run, outpacing them but staying close enough to make sure they don’t delay.

We pass the ruins to the entrance of the old King Pit, once the deepest shaft in the world. 160 fathoms deep built in 1750 by the Lowther family. Or so says a plaque next to it.  I once again think of the boys on the colliery team and their ancestors who worked within these mines. The rise of all the towns around here, Whitehaven, Maryport, Workingham is thanks to the 18th century coal trade with Ireland. The collieries on the coast once covered thousands of acres. I must have read that on another plaque somewhere else.

I have no coal miners in my family tree. We are too tall. I come from farmers, mostly.  My father, Robert Nixon, was a footman at elegant Dunscombe Park in Helmsley before he took the Lutzer ocean liner out of Southampton to Singapore in October, 1912.

He probably already was acquainted with  my mother, Dorothy Forster, as her father, John, was preaching in Helmsley at the time.  Who knows when they got engaged.  Dorothy, a land girl during WWI, a titch of  a woman tasked with leading the enormous Clydesdales through the forests with their loads, followed him to Malaya in December 1921, a mere ten months before I was born.

Robert is  6 foot 4. The gentry like their footmen tall and presentable. Still, Robert preferred to try his luck out in the bug-infested jungle. Perhaps it was Dorothy who insisted, she not wanting to be married to a lowly servant. He started out as a labourer, wielding the whip, but soon rose to be manager of the Batu Caves Rubber Estate in Selangor with almost life and death power over the Indian workers. He was born a servant in England but became a demi-god in Malaya. His imposing height helped him there, too, no doubt. And the fact he is one mean SOB.

Right now, he has the management of two rubber estates in Selangor, just to make ends meet. The economic downturn has made it hard on him and my mother. My mother has taken on a job as the librarian for the Kuala Lumpur Book Club.

BATUACES

Batu Caves Religious Resort, Selangor, Malaya

This war in Europe will not affect them, thank goodness.

I  continue to run into the past, toward Whitehaven on the Cumberland Coast. Sandstone cliffs and igneous outcrops and beaches covered in pebbles. Geologic time, historical time, genealogical time, historical memory, family myth. The rest of the boys follow with Cowen, his cheeks as red as a robin’s chest, slipping behind. I slow down the pace just for him. My little friend.

We pass ‘the candlestick,’ the old chimney of the Wellington Pit.  We’re almost at Whitehaven now.

But an armed guard, an old man in his grey-blue denim LDV jacket, with a gold star on the sleeve, waves at us with his rifle and says, “ Go back!   The lighthouse is off limits. There are motor launches out on the water looking for German subs. Can’t you see?”

The boys gather in a circular group and they all cup their eyes with their hands to look out to sea. A few with very good eyesight, like mine, point in the direction of the boats.

The  old armed guard waves us on.

“Haven’t you St. Beghian’s heard?” he says. “The Huns have attacked Denmark and Norway. The war is on for real.”

And just as he speaks, a lone steel and wood bird buzzes into view. I am the first to see it with my impeccable long range vision, but soon all ten of us stop running and turn our eyes toward the misty sky to gaze into our future.

  1. My father ended up in the RAF, posted at Dorval in Montreal, headquarters of the Ferry Command, where he met my French Canadian mother at a meet-and-greet at the Mount Royal Hotel.

 See  Night Flight, here on this blog

As it happens, one of the St Bees Village boy, a printer’s apprentice, signed up in 1939 and distinguished himself early on. He was then posted in Dorval and died on a flight mission to the Bahamas in 1941. I have no idea whether or not my father knew him, before or after enlistment. He never mentioned this.  There is information on this man, Alan  Rodgers, posted on the St. Bees Village website.

In January, 1941, a few days after Pearl Harbour, the Japanese invaded Malaya, dropping bombs on the ‘green’ in Kuala Lumpur, also hitting the building housing the Kuala Lumpur Book Club.  Four died there in the rubble, but Dorothy, my grandmother, hid under a desk and survived.  She and her husband, Robert, ended up interned at Changi Internment Camp.  Read about it in Beads in a Necklace, our book. Also here at the Globe and Mail. Read  or LISTEN TO a one act play about John Forster’s dementia in A Stranger in his/her Bed.  

Or read the complete story of Dorothy Nixon’s life in the colonies here in my e-book, Looking for Mrs. Peel.