France, Genealogy, Immigration, Montreal, Quebec, Quebec City

La Fermière Louise Mauger

Louise_Mauger_sculpture

Women are rarely commemorated with a statue. There is one, La Fermière, in front of Marche Maisonneuve in Montreal’s East End. It depicts a woman holding a basket of produce. It was sculpted by Alfred Laliberté and he dedicated it to Louise Mauger, as a glorification of traditional rural values. She was one of the early settlers of Montreal and not the only person celebrated with a monument. Louise was my eight times great grandmother.

1024px-Marché_Maisonneuve_3
La Fermiere statue in front of Marche Maisonneuve

Both Louise (1598) and her husband Pierre Gadoys (1594) were born in Saint Martin d’-Inge in Perche, France. They came to New France about 1636 as part of a settlement initiative by Robert Giffard de Moncel, the first Seigneur of colonial New France. Records have them living and farming on the Beauport Seigneurie in 1636 and Pierre employed by the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la Conversion des Sauvages, at Sainte-Foy or Sillery from 1643 to 1645.

Tracing families back is quite easy in Quebec as the church records of births, marriages and deaths, kept from the beginning of the colonies have been well preserved. My maternal grandmother was a Bruneau and her direct male line goes back to Francois Bruneau, my seven-time great grandfather, who arrived in New France in 1659.

The Bruneau family tree is just part of my story. There are all the women back through the tree who were only a name, their families not mentioned. A seventh times great grandfather is one of 256 grandfathers which means there are also 256 grandmothers who have their own stories.

I started with Sophie Marie Prud’homme who married Barnabé Bruneau, my two times great grandparents. Tracing back the Prud’homme line I arrived at Louis Prud’homme who arrived in New France in the 1640s, where he met and married Roberte Gadoys. Roberte came from France in the 1630s with her father Pierre Gadoys, her mother Louise Mauger and her brother Pierre.

Pierre Gadoys (Gadois, Gadoua) my 8th time’s great grandfather moved his family to Montreal shortly after this because of the many attacks by the Huron and Algonquin on settlers around Quebec City. Montreal was fortified. In 1648, he was the first person to be granted land in Montreal (Ville-Marie) by the governor, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. He was known as the “Premier Habitant or first farmer”1. The 40 arpents grant was from the current St Paul Street north to the Petite Riviere between St. Pierre and Bleury. In 1666 he was granted another 60 arpents for helping Charles LeMoyne fight the Iroquois.

Just as important as the first farmer is the first farmer’s wife. Louise had a lot of work to do. The couple had six children, possibly seven. Roberte, Pierre and Etienne (is the question mark) were born in France, while Francois, Jeanne and Joseph on the Seigneurie of Beauport and Jean-Baptiste was born in Sainte-Foy when Louise was 43. Jeanne died at birth, Joseph died in his first month and there is no other information about Francois. According to the 1667 census they had 40 acres under cultivation, six cows and a hired servant.

While Pierre Gadoys died in 1667, Louise lived another 23 years and died in Montreal at the age of 92.

Pierre also has a monument but it is a small trapezoid stone marker in Place d’Youville installed in 1992 as part of Montreal’s 350th celebration. It looks more like a concrete form used to block off a road than a commemoration. It is not a lovely bronze statue in the middle of a fountain.

Bibliography:

1. Dollier de Casson, Francois. Histoire du Montreal 1640-1672. pg 88

Jean-Jacques Lefebvre, “GADOYS, PIERRE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 29, 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gadoys_pierre_1E.html.

Fournier, Marcel. 1642-1643 Les Origins de Montréal Diffusion au Canada, 2013.

Le Bulletin Recherches Historique Vol XXXIII Levis – Mars 1927 Nos 3 Les Colons de Montreal de 1642-1667 pgs. 180,181.

PRDH-RAB; Origine des Familles Canadiennes; Parchemin Ancestry accessed January 2019.

Sulte, Benjamin: Histoire des Canadiens Français [1608-1880]: origine, histoire, religion, guerres, découvertes, colonisation, coutumes, vie domestique, sociale et politique, développement, avenir January 1, 1882 Wilson et Cie

Senécal, Jean-Guy(senecal@fmed.ulaval.ca); Sep 27, 1998, compilation OCR de trois documents Word disponible en ligne, ses documents se référant principalement au Tome IV & V, Chapitre IV du livreHistoire des Canadiens-Française de Benjamin Sulte, édition 1977.

Notes:

The statue La Fermière was made by Alfred Laliberte in 1915. It was part of a continent-wide city beautification project.

Pierre Gadoys’ sister Françoise was married to Nicholas Godé. They were present at the founding of Montreal.

It is possible but not proven that Pierre and Louise were in Montreal in May of 1642 for the founding ceremony. Their son Pierre, then 11, was said to have attended with his Aunt and Uncle, Francoise and Nicholas Godé. It was thought that Louise was not at the ceremony as she was attending to Jean Baptiste who was only a year old. Pierre first settled in Sillery with his family but had gone to Montreal in the early 1642 and then returned to Sillery as he was there in 1645.

After his death, Saint-Pierre street was named in his honour.

1666 Census – Pierre Gadois the eldest, 72, inhabitant; Louise Moger, 68, his wife; Jean-Baptiste, 25, gunsmith; Pierre Villeneuve, 25, hired servant. 

1667 Census – Pierre Gadoys, 65; Louise Mauger, his wife, 65; Pierre Villeneuve, domestic, 24; 6 cattle, 40 acres under cultivation.  She was buried March 18, 1690 in Montreal. 

Pierre Gadoys: 1594 – Oct 20 1667 Married 1627 de Igé, Saint-Martin, Orne, France.

Louise Mauger: 1598 – Mar 18 1690

Roberte Gadoys: Baptised Sept 15 1628 France – Sept 14, 1716 Montreal

Pierre Gadois: Nov 17, 1631 or 1632 France– May 18, 1714 Montreal

Etienne Gadois: Baptised Nov 17 1631 France – ? Are Pierre and Etienne the same person??

Francois Gadois: Dec 2 1632 Quebec – ?

Jeanne Gadois: June 26 1638 – June 26, 1638 Quebec

Joseph Godois: Sept 28 1639 – Oct 1639 Quebec

Jean-Baptiste Gadois: Mar 1, 1641 Quebec – April 15 1728 Montreal.

The inscriptions on Pierre Gadois Monument In Place d’Youville, Montreal reads, C’est d’ici que Le 4 Janvier 1648 Maisonneuve determina les bornes de la premiere concession accordee a Pierre Gadoys il fixait ainsi l’orientation des rues de la future Ville” and on another side, Stele erigee grace a L’Ordre des Arpenteurs- Geometres du Quebec, a L’Association des Detaillants de Monuments du Quebec, aux Archives Nationales du Quebec, aux Productions D’Amerique Francaise et Au Groupe de Recherche de Raymond Dumais Archivist.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montreal, Quebec

John Clark, 19th Century Real Estate Visionary

Clark Street in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood features two-storey row houses, most of them red brick or grey stone, set back a few feet from the sidewalk. Two hundred years ago, this now densely populated street was just a gleam in the eye of my four-times great-grandfather John Clark (1767-1827), who owned that land. Today, Clark Street looks remarkably similar to the way he envisioned it.

John must have foreseen that his farmland would someday get swallowed up by the expanding city. He wanted to see it developed properly, and he wanted his descendants to profit from it. Thus, he carefully outlined his development vision in his last will and testament.

A native of County Durham in northeast England, John Clark1 immigrated to Montreal with his wife, Mary Mitcheson, and their young daughter around 1797, and he became a butcher and an inspector of beef and pork.

He probably had a nest egg of cash because he soon bought property here. In 1799, he purchased a property on Montreal’s La Gauchetière Street. Perhaps the Clark family lived there. When he sold it 11 years later, the deeds showed it to be a double lot including two houses and several other buildings..2

Between 1804 and 1814, John purchased several neighbouring farms north of the city limits of Montreal.3 He purchased these properties from French Canadian farmers, then named them Mile End Farm, Blackgate Farm and Clark Cottage Farm.  The land, including several houses, barns, stables and outbuildings, was on the west side of Saint Lawrence Street, now known as Saint-Laurent Boulevard and one of the city’s major arteries. At the time, this was the main road to the countryside, leading past the eastern flank of Mount Royal to the Rivière des Prairies on the north side of Montreal Island.

Mile End Lodge

The area was rural, consisting primarily of fields of wheat, oats and peas, as well as pastureland, fruit orchards and woodlots. Both John and Mary had grown up in rural England, so they preferred to live in the countryside rather than in the crowded city. The Clarks’ grey stone house, called Mile End Lodge, was built around 1815 on Saint Lawrence Street, between what are now Bagg and Duluth streets. They had few neighbours: most Montrealers, especially recent immigrants from Britain like them, lived in town.

Land ownership was important. It conferred social status, it carried the right to vote, and land was a financial tool, commonly used as security for loans. I do not know for sure why John purchased so much land, but even in the short term, it was a smart decision: the soil was fertile and the area was close to the city, where there was a growing demand for meat and produce. John no doubt wanted to graze his own cattle on that land, and to grow timothy hay for them. Meanwhile, in 1816, he placed an advertisement in the Montreal Herald saying he was willing to pasture cattle on his property for between eight and 10 shillings per cow.4

John probably collected rental income from these farms. It was not uncommon for members of the city’s elite, and for skilled tradesmen such as John, to purchase land and rent it to local farmers. He went one imaginative step further and, in 1810, leased a two-storey house on the Mile End Farm to father and son Phineas and Stanley Bagg to operate as a tavern.5 The building was located at a major intersection on St. Lawrence Street, so it was in an excellent location for thirsty travellers.

Phineas and Stanley ran the Mile End Tavern until 1818. The following year, Stanley married John’s daughter, Mary Ann. As a wedding present, John gave them a lot on St. Lawrence Street, including a two-storey house he named Durham House, that he had purchased in 1814.6

John may have had an emotional attachment to the Mile End Farm and Durham House, but he certainly saw his land as a long-term investment. The population of Montreal had increased from about 6000 in 1780 to 20,000 in 1820, and he foresaw this area would eventually be developed.

The names of modern streets have been superimposed on this diagram; computer graphics by Justin Bur. Plan for proposed subdivision of a part of Mile End Farm.

In 1825, at age 58, John wrote his will, leaving his properties to Mary Ann and to his young grandson, Stanley Clark Bagg.7 He added a codicil a few months later that included a plan for housing lots on St. Lawrence Street and on the yet to be created Clark Street, one block west. He specified that the lots should be 44 feet wide by 90 feet deep, and that the buildings should be built of stone or brick and set back from the road.8

John’s codicil also specified that the sale of the lots were subject to a rente constituée, meaning that, in addition to the initial cost of the property, the buyer was to pay the vendor an amount every year, usually about 6% of the property’s value. This was a common practice in Quebec, designed to provide funds to the seller’s family members for several generations. However, when Clark Street was finally developed decades after John’s death, buyers were not interested in this old-fashioned practice and the rente constituée was eliminated.9

Meanwhile, most of the property lines and all of the street rights-of-way shown on the plan in John’s will are still in effect today. Also, the specifications for building quality were respected, and similar conditions were imposed by neighbouring landowners.

 See also:

“Mile End Tavern,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Oct. 21, 2013, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-mile-end-tavern.html

“A Home Well Lived In”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2014, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-home-well-lived-in.html

“John Clark, of Durham, England,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 29, 2014, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2014/05/john-clark-of-durham-england.html

“A Freehold Estate in Durham,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 3, 2019, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com/2019/05/a-freehold-estate-in-durham_92.html

Image Credits:

Mile End Lodge, watercolour by John Hugh Ross, copyright Stewart Museum, 1970, 1847

Codicil to the last will and testament of John Clark, December 1825, BAnQ, CN601 S187.

 Notes and Sources:

  1. John Clark is usually identified as an inspector of beef and pork. There was another John Clark, a master butcher, living in Montreal at the same time. That John Clark made a will in 1804, while my John Clark made a first will in 1810 and a final one in 1825.
  2. Thomas Barron, notarial act #2876, “Deed of sale John Clark to William Scott,” 18 Oct. 1810, BAnQ.
  3. These properties are listed in John Clark’s will, (Henry Griffin, notarial act #5989, “Last Will and Testament of Mr. John Clark of Montreal,” 29 August 1825, BAnQ) and in the inventory of his grandson’s estate (Joseph-Augustin Labadie, notarial act #16733, “Inventory of the Estate of the Late Stanley Clark Bagg Esq.” 7 June, 1875, BAnQ.)
  4. Jennifer L. Waywell, “Farm Leases and Agriculture on the Island of Montreal 1780-1820,” Dept. of History, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, McGill University, 1989, p. 88; https://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item?id=TC-QMM-59553&op=pdf&app=Library (accessed May 14, 2019)
  5. J.A. Gray, notarial act, “Lease for five years John Clark to Phineas and Stanley Bagg,” 17 Oct. 1810, BAnQ.
  6. Records for lot 110, Saint-Laurent Ward, Montreal, p. 395, Registre foncier du Québec online database.
  7. Henry Griffin, notarial act #5989, “Last Will and Testament of Mr. John Clark of Montreal,” 29 August 1825, BAnQ
  8. Clark Street as laid out in the plan attached to John’s codicil ran from just south of the city limits (Bagg St. near Duluth) to Saint Catherine Road (now Mont-Royal Ave). Clark Street was developed in segments throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, with the first part, around Mile End Lodge, subdivided in 1873. In the early days, a section of Clark Street was called Mitcheson Street (Mitcheson was John’s wife’s name), but by 1912, it became Clark Street along its length.
  1. The rente constituéewas often used in France, England and French Canada. In those days, there was no modern money-lending system, so people could rent land for an annual sum. The borrower/purchaser could redeem the rent, however, the capital value of the property was not reduced by previous rent payments. John Clark and his grandson Stanley Clark Bagg complicated things by using testamentary substitutes to require that their real estate be subject to such arrangements far into the future. Their wills specified that the actual beneficiary was three generations down, while the intervening generations were responsible for keeping the estate in good shape for their children. When the Bagg and Clark properties were subdivided in the late 19th century, the Quebec legislature passed an act to end the substitution.

Further Reading:

Justin Bur, Yves Desjardins, Jean-Claude Robert, Bernard Vallee and Joshua Wolfe, Dictionnaire Historique du Plateau Mont-Royal, Montreal, Les Éditions Écosociété, 2017.

Yves Dejardins, Histoire du Mile End, Québec: Les éditions du Septentrion, 2017.

Justin Bur, “À la recherché du cheval perdu de Stanley Bagg, et des origins du Mile End,” Joanne Burgess et al, Collecting Knowledge: New Dialogues on McCord Museum Collections, Montreal: Éditions MultiMondes, 2015.

Sherry Olson and Patricia Thornton, Peopling the North American City, Montreal 1840-1900. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2011.

Alan M. Stewart, “Settling an 18th-Century Faubourg: Property and Family in the Saint-Laurent Suburb, 1735-1810,” Dept. of History, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, McGill University, 1988, http://digitool.Library.McGill.CA:80/R/-?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=64109&silo_library=GEN01 (accessed May 20, 2019).

This article is also posted on https://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.com

 

Genealogy, Immigration, Ireland, Montreal, Quebec

Irish Catholic Churches in Montreal

Every year, the city of Montreal hosts a huge St. Patrick’s Day parade that brings people by the thousands to the downtown streets to celebrate their real or imagined Irish heritage. In fact, many Montrealers do have Irish roots that go back centuries.

In 1700, around 130 of the 2,500 families in New France, or roughly 5%, were Irish, and there was massive immigration from Ireland to North America between 1816 and 1860. By 1871, the Irish were the second largest ethnic group in Canada after the French.

The year 1847 was a tragic one as the Irish fled poverty and starvation in their homeland and died of disease before they arrived in Canada. Almost 3900 are buried at Grosse Île, an island in the St. Lawrence River northeast of Quebec City; another 5,000 are buried at the so-called fever sheds near the Montreal waterfront. Many children who became orphans at this time were adopted by French families, but kept their Irish names.

The early Irish of Montreal resided in the central part of the city. Over time, they moved westward, eastward and northward into Saint Ann’s, Saint Mary’s, Saint Antoine’s, Saint James’, Saint Lawrence’s and Saint Louis Wards. They were the primary residents in districts such as Griffintown, Point-St-Charles, St. Henry, Verdun and Ville Émard. Other Irish families eventually moved east into the Rosemount and Hochelaga districts.

Prior to the establishment of St-Patrick’s church in 1847 and St-Ann in 1854, the main churches of the Irish in Montreal were Notre Dame de Bon Secours, the Church of the Récollet Fathers and Notre Dame Basilica.

When I identify a church as being Irish Catholic in this research guide, I do not mean to imply that parishioners were mostly of Irish descent. It does suggest that, at one point in time, a minimum of 10% of the acts of baptism, marriage and death records addressed Irish immigrants or their descendants.

Especially during the early years, acts of baptism, marriage and death that took place at most of the smaller parishes in the Montreal region were registered in the records of Notre-Dame Church. For example, a baptism or marriage might have been held in Griffintown, but the act would have been included in the Notre-Dame-de-Montréal records.

The attached research guide lists the churches in which the Irish presence was appreciable, or parishes that were inaugurated by members of the Irish community. The years in brackets reflect the year I was able to ascertain as being the beginning of the Irish-Scottish-British presence in these Catholic churches. I reached my conclusions following several years of research on more than 3,000 books addressing marriages and baptisms at the Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) in Old Montreal.

This research guide includes descriptions of the parishes where Irish Catholics attended church in the Montreal region, as well as a list of the cemeteries where many of them were buried. It also includes a list of recommended books and articles, and a list of repositories including archives and museums, online resources and other local sources of information. It is part of a series of research guides to Irish family history resources across the province of Quebec.

To access the PDF research guide to Irish Catholic Churches of Montreal, click on the link:

Irish Catholic Churches in Montreal from 1815

Genealogy, Montreal, Quebec

The Decaries and the Prud’hommes

I have driven along Cote St Antoine thousands of times, through Westmount and NDG, without realizing my ancestors in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries also used the same route.

When researching one’s ancestors it is nice to find out where they lived, which city, town or area. In my case, the Decaries and the Prud’hommes can be located by the streets that bear their names. They farmed land in what is now the Notre Dames de Grace (NDG) section of Montreal. The Decaries have a boulevard and an expressway named after them. Prudhomme Ave is only four blocks long just west of Decarie and the street jigs and jags.

Jean Decarie dit Le Houx and Louis Prud’homme, two of my seven times great grandfathers, were some of the early settlers in Nouvelle France. They first obtained land in Ville-Marie as their names are on plots of a 1663 map.

Jean Decarie arrived from France before 1650. He was a stone mason and started quarries. He married Michelle Artus in 1654, after meeting her in Quebec City while there buying supplies. She had just arrived from France. By 1729 they are said to have had 82 descendants.

Louis Prud’homme was a brewer and a captain in the Montreal militia. He was another early inhabitant of Montreal as he married Roberte Gadois there in 1650. He was elected as one of the first wardens by the Sulpicians for the parish of Notre Dame.

The Decaries and Prud’hommes were two of 13 families granted land by the Sulpicians along Cote Saint-Antoine. Jean Decarie bought the first strip of land, concession 615 in 1675. These early roads allowed settlers to move away from the original walled city. The land grants were from the St Pierre River north to the mountain. The men began working the land while still living in Ville-Marie. They all had trades which allowed them to survive while they cleared the land, built houses and began farming. They were neighbours, friends and many intermarriages made them families.

For a time, the area was known as the “Haute Folie,” as those who lived there were fools to have left the safety of the walled city but these families continued to live in the same area for more than two centuries.

The land was on the south side on Mount Royal’s western summit (Westmount Mountain). It was good land for farming with many streams and wonderful views down to the St Lawrence River. They built their houses close to the roads and out of the wind,  not for the views.

The Decaries and the Prud’hommes became successful farmers whose land was passed from father to son and sometimes even to a daughter. In the 1731 survey, their farms were well developed and affluent with a house, barn and stable on all their properties. The Decaries were known for their melons. Musk or Mush melons, also known as Montreal melons, thrived in the perfect conditions of the area. There were also orchards covering much of the properties. Apple trees were common but also cherry, peach, plum and other tender fruit trees survived in the microclimate of the south facing ravines.

Intermarriages continued. My two-time great grandmother Sophie Marie Prud’homme (1812-1892) who married Barnabé Bruneau was the daughter of Jeramie Prud’homme (1766-1846) and Marie Louise Decarie (1769 -1855)

As the city grew, many of the farms were sub-divided and single family homes were built. Not all the owners were happy to sell their land. Although the Prud’hommes had earlier sold land to the church to build Église de Notre Dame de Toutes Grâces. Leon Prud’homme tried to fight expropriation of some of his lands by the Atlantic Railway. It was said to be “the most beautiful orchards in the country,” but the rail line was built. The first Decarie house was sold and demolished in 1912 by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to build a roundhouse.

After more than 200 years the farms were gone.

My great uncle, Sydney Bruneau, used to walk with his children around eastern NDG and tell them that they were walking on their ancestors land, and they were!

 

For a story about Sophie Marie Prud’homme and her husband Barnabe Bruneau https://wordpress.com/post/genealogyensemble.com/1040

 

References:

The Settlement and Rural Domestic Architecture of Cote Saint-Antoine, 1675-1874. Masters thesis by Janet S. MacKinnon 2004. Faculty of Urban Planning, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/80345357.pdf/

https://www.nosorigines.qc.ca/genealogie.aspx?lng=fr accessed Nov 9 2018.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography accessed Nov 9, 2018. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/prud_homme_louis_1E.html

La Patrie, 6 October 1888, page 6.

Notes:

The 13 original settlers were Jean Decarie, Louis Prudhomme, Marin Hurtubise, Jean Leduc, Rene Bouchard dit Lavallee, Joseph Chevaudier dit Lepine, Jean Cousineau, Honore Dasny, Jean Deroches, Simon Guillory, Louis Langevin dit Lacroix, Pierre Verrier dit LaSolaye and Antoine Boudria.

Two Decarie houses remain today, one at 39 Cote St Antoine and the other the “Pink” house at 5138 Cote Sainte-Antoine. The Prud’homme’s house at 967 Girouard near Rue St Jacques is also still standing. It was the first farm along Upper Lachine Road. The other house we can see today is the Hurtubise house at 563 Cote St Antoine. Marie Hurtubise married Paul Decarie in 1686.

Another Prud’homme house stood until around 1900 though then it was known as the Saint-Germain house, originally ceded to Francois Prud’homme in 1708. In 1892 the property was subdivided into 68 lots on each side of Lansdowne Ave above Cote Saint-Antoine. There was another Decarie property that stood until 1912. It was on the property first purchased by Jean Decarie dit Lehoux in 1675 but likely built by his grandson Joseph.

My grandfather, William H Sutherland was looking for a solid stone house before he bought 28 Arlington Avenue in 1922. According to his daughter, “his first choice at that time was a detached stone house on Cote St. Antoine Road but it wasn’t available; it has since become a historical monument.” Was that the Hurtubise house?

I wondered what Janet MacKinnon was doing now after this very detailed thesis and found she had unfortunately died Feb 4, 2011, in Montreal, at 54 years of age. Thank you Janet for your informative thesis.

Genealogy, Immigration, Montreal, Quebec, Scotland

Polio in the Family

My Auntie Elsie McHugh was quite a chatterbox and so were her budgies. When we used to visit her, the budgies filled the room with the sound of their chatter, competing to be heard. Unless it was time to go to bed, or someone was coming in the door, the budgies were free to fly around the apartment. It was quite an adventure to go there.

My Uncle Jimmy Scott was usually sitting in his favourite chair, not saying a word.

Certainly when I remember Elsie, I think about her continual stream of conversation and story-telling. But I also remember that she had a distinct limp.  This didn’t stop her from being a snazzy dresser or wearing fancy shoes.

Scott, Jimmy and Elsie McHugh

Jimmy Scott and Elsie McHugh

As an adult, I learned that Auntie Elsie limped because she was stricken with paralytic polio when she was an infant living in Dundee, Scotland at the beginning of the 1900s.1 While today, polio is almost eradicated, at that time it would have been a frightening disease.

Only Elsie, out of the family of seven children, contracted poliomyelitis, the medical term for polio. Dr. Ivar Wickman of Sweden proved that polio was contagious in 1905. This was probably after Elsie was sick. And it was not until the 1930s that it was discovered that it was an intestinal infection and spread by the oral-fecal route, and not an airborne virus, as previously thought.2

During Elsie’s childhood, the family lived in a tenement in industrial Dundee, near the jute factories. There was overcrowding and poor sanitation.

In children, paralysis from polio occurs one in a thousand cases. Most children are simply sick and consequently develop an immunity to it.3 It is probable that Elsie’s siblings were also exposed to polio, but they suffered from no permanent consequences.

Because young Elsie limped and probably could not run or jump very well, she was considered disabled or “crippled.” As a result, she attended a special school to learn cooking, needlework and housekeeping. The other girls in the family resented the special education that Elsie received.

In Scotland, children had to attend school between the ages of five and thirteen. In addition, the morals and tenets of the Church of Scotland were influential. The church believed that children should be taught to be self-sufficient.4 Therefore, there was considerable pressure on educational institutions to provide for all children, including the blind, deaf and physically disabled.

Throughout the 1800s, institutions for the blind and deaf were opened in the major cities in Scotland.5 It is likely that Elsie attended one of these institutions as some of them expanded to include “cripples.”

The family immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1912. Elsie was fourteen and would have finished her schooling by then. As far as I know she always worked in a department store as a saleslady, but like many women at the time, she quit her job when she married Jimmy Scott in 1926.6 Her daughter, Norine Scott, was born the next year. 7

Many people who have had polio in childhood experience symptoms of fatigue, weakness in the muscles, pain and breathing problems later on in their lives.8 I remember Auntie Elsie used to have difficulty breathing but she always said that it was old age.  Elsie never let anything get in the way of her enjoying life and she lived to the respectable age of 91.9

She did put her skills to good use at home, cooking for the family and sewing. I have inherited her Singer sewing machine, although I don’t sew at all. The machine works by pushing on a lever with your knee. It is a lovely piece of furniture in my home and, more importantly, a beautiful keepsake of my Auntie Elsie.

sewing machine

 

  1. Birth register of Elsie McHugh, November 10, 1898, District of St. Mary, Burgh of Dundee, National Records of Scotland, Scotland’s People web site, accessed December 1, 2017.
  2. Post-Polio Health International, History of Acute Polio, Tony Gould, unknown date, http://www.post-polio.org/edu/aboutpol/hist.html, accessed January 28, 2019.
  3. Wikipedia, History of Poliomyelitis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_poliomyelitis, accessed January 28, 2019.
  4. The Semantic Scholar, Voices from the Past, Early Institutional Experience of Children with disabilities – The case of Scotland, Iain Hutchison, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f5d8/80cd842c518f3bc8a2dd3f5fb4e359eecf7e.pdf, accessed January 28, 2019.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Personal notes of author.
  7. Personal notes of author.
  8. Post-Polio Health International, History of Acute Polio, Tony Gould, unknown date, http://www.post-polio.org/edu/aboutpol/hist.html, accessed February 6, 2019.
  9. Personal notes of author.