Category Archives: Social history

Aren’t Birthday Parties Fun?

By Sandra McHugh

Aren’t birthday parties fun? I was thinking this recently when we celebrated my daughter’s 30th birthday at the Auberge Saint-Gabriel in Montreal. I was also thinking how a birthdate is such an important indicator in genealogy research.

A birthdate and a place of birth places a family member in a period of time and in a location that can tell us a lot about the social context in which the person lived. Buildings and their uses can also tell us a lot about a place.

The Auberge Saint-Gabriel in Montreal is one of the oldest buildings in the city.  It was built by Etienne Truteau, a French soldier in 1688. 1 In 1754, it was the first inn in North America to be issued a liquor license. 2 Over the centuries it has had many vocations, including the Beauchemin printing press operation founded in 1860 and that printed the newspaper Le Patriote.3

And who doesn’t love a good ghost? It is said that the Auberge Saint-Gabriel is haunted by a little girl who lost her life when a fire raged through the ground floor, trapping her and her grandfather upstairs while her grandfather was teaching her to play the piano.4

Today, the Auberge Saint Gabriel is a trendy restaurant and reception centre right in the middle of Old Montreal. If you go inside, you can see that the owners continue to maintain the building as much as they can in the style that it was built. You can appreciate the thick brick walls, stained glass windows, and the many antiques that grace its rooms. If you like, you can go down to the basement to visit the place where there was a fur trading post. Today, this fur trading post is a speakeasy, called The Velvet.5

I am quite confident that almost all of my ancestors who lived in Montreal would have at least walked by or had business in or around the Auberge Saint Gabriel.  And who knows? Maybe our descendants would be pleased to know that we dropped off our car at the door of the Auberge Saint Gabriel for a fun-filled night at the speakeasy.

What buildings are important to your family’s history?

  1. L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel web site. <http://aubergesaint-gabriel.com/historique/>, accessed June 12, 2017.
  2. Wikipedia article on Auberge Saint-Gabriel. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auberge_Le_Saint-Gabriel>, accessed June 12, 2017.
  3. Wikipedia article on Auberge Saint-Gabriel, accessed June 12, 2017.
  4. Benoit Franquebalme, “Garou : Propriétaire d’une auberge hantée !”, France Dimanche, January 1, 2016, <http://www.francedimanche.fr/infos-people/musique/garou-proprietaire-dune-auberge-hantee/>, accessed June 12, 2017.
  5. L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel web site, accessed June 12, 2017.

 

New Book Tells History of Mile End

Hundreds of special events are taking place in 2017 to mark the City of Montreal’s 375th birthday, but the one that means the most to me is the publication last month of a history of the Mile End district of Montreal. Some 200 years ago, that was where my three- and four-times great-grandparents lived.

There, at the intersection of the only two roads for miles around, Stanley Bagg and his father Phineas ran an establishment called the Mile End Tavern. Their landlord and future in-law, an English-born butcher named John Clark, probably came up with the name Mile End. The tavern was at the corner of what is now Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Mont-Royal Avenue, and the whole area eventually acquired the same name.

Mile End has no formal boundaries, but it is essentially just to the northeast of Mount Royal, as far as the railroad tracks. Some of the area’s streets are known far beyond Montreal: Saint-Urbain, for example, was made famous by author Mordecai Richler, and both Saint-Viateur and Fairmount streets have bagels named after them. Other well-known streets include Laurier, Parc, Saint-Joseph and Jeanne-Mance.

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This fire station at Laurier and Saint-Laurent was once town hall of the suburban Ville de Saint-Louis. jh photo.

It is a vibrant neighbourhood, home to musicians, teachers and software developers, trendy restaurants, second-hand shops and rows of triplex and duplex dwellings, often featuring Montreal’s iconic outdoor staircases.

Histoire du Mile End, the first book to focus on the area’s history, was written by former journalist Yves Desjardins. His journalism background shows: he has researched his subject thoroughly in newspaper accounts, archival sources and academic articles, and pulled it all together in clear, concise language. I can attest to how readable it is because, although the book is in French, I have had no trouble reading it. It helps that the book is generously illustrated with historic photos and maps.

Over the decades, Mile End has been home to waves of immigrants, starting with French Canadian job-seekers who moved to the city from the Laurentians, and including Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italians, Portuguese and Greeks. Many of the area’s residents worked in the nearby Peck Building, labouring in low-paying jobs in the garment industry; today, the Peck Building is home to Ubisoft, a major player in the video game industry.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, sometimes it takes a community to write a book. Yves had help from friends and neighbours — many of them members of the local history group Mile End Memories — who gave him access to their own research and expertise. I provided him with information about my ancestors the Baggs and the Clarks, and the collaboration paid off for both of us: I was able to fill in family information he didn’t have, and he helped me understand the historical context of my ancestors’ lives.

I learned that Saint-Laurent Boulevard, the traditional dividing line between the western part of the city, where the majority of English-speaking Montrealers live, and the eastern part, which is overwhelmingly French-speaking, was the only road leading north out of the city in the early 1800s. The Baggs owned much of the land on the western side of Saint-Laurent, and it remained primarily rural until the 1890s. Much of the land on the east side was owned by the Beaubien family, and early residents worked in local tanneries and quarries.

At the end of the 19th century, a group of real estate promoters from Toronto tried to develop a “strictly high class suburb” in Mile End called the Montreal Annex. While they did manage to attract a few professionals and their families, the scheme eventually failed. For decades, most of Mile End’s residents were strictly working class, or worked at skilled trades such as shoe-making and carriage-making.

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Carriages, not cars, once used this entrance between row houses. jh photo.

Meanwhile the area experienced many growing pains as politicians argued over taxes and infrastructure, and promoters battled to provide the public transportation (by electric tram and rail) that was key to the area’s growth.

Today, as the city of Montreal rebuilds its infrastructure and controversy surrounds plans for future residential projects and transportation corridors, it seems that some things haven’t changed much.

Yves Desjardins. Histoire du Mile End, Québec: Éditions du Septentrion, 2017.

See also:

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

Mile End Memories, http://memoire.mile-end.qc.ca/en/ This site includes articles in English and in French, photos, an interactive map that indicates the location of many historic buildings, including the Auberge du Mile End (Mile End Tavern), and a link to summer walking tours of the area.

This article was simultaneously posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t The Internet Wonderful?

For quite a few years, I have been doing genealogy, and although I have found many many family names, I had never actually met any family members associated with my research.

However,  a few years ago I was contacted via ‘Friend Reunited’ a now defunct website, by a second cousin on my Dad’s side. Samantha was my cousin Cheryl’s daughter, and she was looking for members of the Bulford family for her parent’s anniversary genealogy gift. Through Sam, I was united with Cheryl, her mother and my first cousin and from there, more first cousins I had never met.

My parents divorced when I was seven, and after that, I never had further contact with my paternal side of the family. This was SO exciting! There was Diane, my Aunt Sylvia’s daughter, Cheryl, Aunt  Florence’s daughter and Joanna, Uncle Roy’s daughter. All familiar names but people I had never met or even thought I would ever meet. We all contacted each other via the internet in great excitement, and exchanged the information we had all collected, and they sent me photos I had never seen, of my Dad’s family.

After numerous emails, we all decided to meet in the UK when I went over for my annual holiday. As this was the paternal side of my family, we met in Cornwall where my father and my cousins’ mothers and fathers were all born. I met, once again after 68 years my Uncle Roy, the last surviving member of the 11 children born to my father’ family.

We all met at the apartment Uncle Roy lived in with his wife, Aunt Evelyn. They had made us all Cornish Pasties, a local treat. Uncle Roy was 94 then, and Auntie Evelyn was 90 (both still alive today!) and my Uncle looked so much like my father, I became quite emotional. Uncle Roy’s sons David and Jonathan were there too with their sister Joanna and suddenly, just like that, I had five cousins! I had brought photos and they had some too, which we all pored over. I learned so much about the family in that short visit, to add to my family tree.

I showed David and Jonathan a photo of me, aged three that was taken on a beach in Newquay, one of the last visits to my Dad’s family before the divorce, and wondered aloud where it could have been taken. David took me by the hand to the balcony of the apartment opened the door and pointed. David said ‘This is Towan Beach where your photo was taken’ and there before me as in my photo, was the beach and the houses on the cliff behind me, still prominent today. Then I did cry.

The next day, we all had a family reunion Sunday lunch with wives and children, in the local pub. We reminisced we took photos and promised to keep in touch, which we have done so every year for the last 6 years. Every year I visit the UK we have our Bulford reunion usually in the West Country at a local pub, and each year I find out more about my Dad’s family. Photos, war records, marriages, deaths, some researched information I had, that my cousins did not know about were all shared via the internet. PLUS a recently found USA Bulford branch too, which is to be the basis for another story.

The internet, isn’t it just amazing and wonderful?

 

Marian circa 1948

Towan Beach Newquay, Cornwall UK

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Part of the Bagg Family Fonds Now Online

Many people have old family treasures such as letters and albums in the attic. In my family, a collection of 200-year-old business records made their way from the attic to a Montreal museum, and now some them have been digitized and placed online for everyone to explore. Part of the Bagg Family Fonds housed at the McCord Museum, these newly digitized images include records from the store where the workmen who built the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s bought their bread and rum.

The project to digitize these and other documents was financed by Library and Archives Canada to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and Montreal’s 375th anniversary. The McCord Museum in Montreal is posting some 75 000 images from its collection of textual archives to its website (http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/keys/collections/).

The website provides an introduction to the Bagg family and to the scope of the Bagg Family Fonds (P70): http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true.  At the bottom of this page are links to four sets of digitized documents: the Laprairie Brewery (1821-1832), the workmen’s store in Lachine (1822-1823), a child’s scrapbook and a young woman’s autograph book that probably dates from around the turn of the century.

My three-times great-grandfather Stanley Bagg was one of the four main contractors in charge of building the Lachine Canal in Montreal in the 1820s. He also ran the store that supplied the workers with bread, tea, sugar, pork and occasionally fish, eggs and butter, although rum and beer seem to have been the most popular items. Some pages list the names of the customers, the items they purchased and the prices they were charged.

Other images record cash payments related to the canal construction, including planks, nails, wheelbarrows, hay (probably for the horses), blasting powder and wages for day labourers.

Another set of records is related to the brewery owned by Stanley’s brother, Abner Bagg. The LaPrairie Brewery account books list expenses such as barley, charcoal, transportation costs and wages. Both the store and the brewery records contain many names of suppliers and customers.

Both of these collections provide a window into life in Montreal some 200 years ago. For example, Quebec historian Donald Fyson used these records as a basis for his thesis, “Eating in the city [electronic resource]: diet and provisioning in early nineteenth-century Montreal” Montréal: McGill University, 1989. http://www.collectionscanada.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol1/QMM/TC-QMM-55597.pdf

No one really knows who had the foresight to save these records, or how they ended up at the McCord. According to one of my cousins, these account books were found in the basement of the Redpath Museum at McGill University, but no one knows who put them there in the first place. Clare Fellowes, daughter of Evelyn (Bagg) Davis, gave an additional gift of textual documents to the museum in 2002 and 2003.

Documents in the Bagg Family Fonds that have not been digitized includes copies of letters that Stanley and Abner wrote to each other and to business colleagues, and a ledger belonging to butcher John Clark, Stanley Bagg’s father-in-law. Documents related to another generation of the family date from the final decades of the 19th century when the Baggs were property owners and real estate developers. This includes a ledger showing property sales, and letters between the Bagg siblings as they discussed and sometimes disagreed about business decisions. There are also personal documents such as a list of wedding presents, recipes and several albums of family photos, taken in the early 1900s by my grandmother, Gwendolyn Bagg. More recently, the late Joan Shackell, a descendant of Abner Bagg, donated a number of items related to her line of the family.

Members of the public can visit the archives at the McCord Museum to consult the Bagg Family Fonds and other collections, but they must make an appointment weeks in advance. It is encouraging to see that some of these documents are now available online.

(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca)

See also

Janice Hamilton, “Abner Bagg, Black Sheep of the Family?” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 9, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/04/abner-bagg-black-sheep-of-family.html

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg and the Lachine Canal, Part 2: Rocks and Water,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 13, 2015, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/03/stanley-bagg-and-lachine-canal-part-2.html

The Dovecotes of Tinos

By Sandra McHugh

I have lucked out. My husband comes from the island of Tinos, Greece and we go there every year. I am always struck with the breathtaking beauty of the island. Some villages nestle in the valleys and others perch on the hillsides. The hills are terraced with stone walls and sheep, goats, and cows graze in the fields. Tinos may resemble other islands in the Cyclades, but what is unique to Tinos is the number of dovecotes scattered across the landscape. If you were to visit Tinos, you would be astonished at how many of them there are. While the exact number of them is not known, it is believed that there are over 1,000. This is quite impressive for an island that is 195 square kilometers. 1

They are truly beautiful as you can see in these photographs below.  This dovecote used to belong to my husband’s grandfather.

Antonios' dovecote

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Dovecotes are not just decoration. During the 1900s, dovecotes significantly contributed to the family finances. They were kept in the family and passed on from generation to generation. My husband inherited a dovecote from his father, who had inherited it from his uncle. While very few people eat dove today, my husband remembers his grandmother serving dove, more specifically in soups made with the meat and carcass of the doves. Most importantly, the family also used the dove droppings as manure. The droppings were well known as high quality fertilizer.

Here Is a picture of my husband’s dovecote, nestled in the valley.

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It was the Venetians who originally introduced breeding of doves to the island of Tinos when they conquered the island in 1204. They ruled the island for five centuries until 1715. During Venetian rule, dove breeding was only practised by the noble, or ruling classes. The noble families had ‘le droit des colombiers’ or the right to possess doves. These were concessions bestowed by the Doge of Venice.  In 1715, the Turks ruled the island, but did not inhabit it. The island was returned to Greece in 1821. 2

Most of the dovecotes were built during the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time, dove meat was not limited to local consumption. It was considered a delicacy and exported as far as Smyrna and Constantinople.

When the Venetians ceased to rule Tinos, concessions to practice dove breeding were no longer necessary. The inhabitants started to build their own dovecotes. They were built in areas conducive to breeding, such as rural areas near cultivated fields and where a water supply was available. 4 They were built on slopes that took into consideration the wind and would allow the doves to fly easily in and out of the dovecotes. The doves nest in the square holes built in a single or double row. Small stone slabs that protrude provide perches for the doves. 5

Here is a picture of some doves nesting and some eggs.

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Dovecotes are made out of slate clay and are whitewashed. They are two stories high. The doves live on the second floor and the first floor is used for storing tools and agricultural equipment. They are elaborately decorated with geometric patterns and non-geometric patterns such as cypress trees. It is believed that these patterns attract the doves. 6

Here is a close up picture of my husband’s dovecote. These doves are fed and their only predators are snakes. There are about 30 doves living in this dovecote at any one time. We know approximately how many doves are living here by counting them in a picture.  There is great pleasure in continuing to breed doves, a practice that has lasted centuries.

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1 https://tinos360.gr/paradosi_eng.html

2 Author not identified, PDF document entitled Dovecotes of Tinos in Archnet.org

3 https://tinos360.gr/paradosi_eng.html

4 http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/tinos/tinos-other/tinos-dovecotes.htm

5 https://tinos360.gr/paradosi_eng.html

6 http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/tinos/tinos-other/tinos-dovecotes.htm

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Montrealers really enjoy a parade and this year marks the 194th Saint Patricks Day Parade organized by the Irish Society of Montreal. On Sunday, March 19th people will line St Catherine’s Street, mostly on the sunny side, to cheer the floats, dance to the bands and even have a “little something” to help them stay warm.

This is a great time to start researching your ancestors. You never know what stories you will uncover. Some of you may find Irish roots even if your name is Tremblay or Gagnon. Many Irish came to Canada in the mid-1800’s, before and after the potato famine. Sandra McHugh’s great-grandparents left Ireland at this time but moved to Scotland rather than  North America. Read about their journey in Everyone is Irish on St Patricks Day. https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/03/16/everyone-is-irish-on-st-patricks-day/

Most of the Irish immigrants to Canada arrived in Quebec City and then traveled on to Montreal. Some of the Irish Catholics did settle in towns and villages all around Quebec while most of the Protestants moved on to Upper Canada. Jacques Gagne’s The Irish of Frampton Quebec https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/09/11/the-irish-of-frampton-quebec/ and The Irish Catholic Churches of Quebec https://genealogyensemble.com/2014/05/20/irish-catholic-churches-of-quebec/ are great sources of information on the lives of these people who populated Quebec.   

Janice Hamilton shows that persistence pays off in genealogy research in her Breaking Through My Sherman Brick Wall about the Irish origins of her great great grandmother Martha Bagnall Shearman. https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/07/06/breaking-through-my-shearman-brick-wall/ Census, birth, marriage and death records are harder to find in Ireland as a fire destroyed the Public Records Office in1922 but information can still be found. Janice found that aside from Canada the family has spread to the United States and New Zealand. There are Irish everywhere.

My Irish ancestors were all Protestants and more apt to celebrate the glorious twelfth than Saint Patricks Day. The Orangemen would march on July 12th to celebrate the battle of the Boyne when the protestant king, William of Orange defeated catholic James II. Susan Dodds and Alexander Bailey came from County Monaghan in Northern Ireland and their story is told in The Sampler. https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/04/20/susan-dodds-sampler/

So whether you have the ancestors or just want to pretend, have corn-beef and cabbage, drink a green beer and celebrate being Irish!

The Dowry

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Maria Roy Crepeau and three daughters and a granddaughter in front of 72 Sherbrooke West in 1926 or so.

In the Edwardian Age, an ambitious young man, however resourceful, usually needed a solid financial foundation to kick-start his career.  If he didn’t have family money, he had to marry well. Take my grandfather, Jules Crépeau, (1873-1938). The son of a mere house painter, he rose up in 30 years from Messenger Boy in the Health Department to Director of City Services, the top civil servant at Montreal City Hall.

Jules didn’t have the advantage of a superior education; indeed, he completed his regular studies at night. He did have a workaholic nature, an affable disposition, a memory like a steel trap,*1 as well as a connection to the powerful French Canadian industrialists, the Forgets.

New information I found on the Internet reveals that the make-or-break-point for young Jules was in 1901, the year of his marriage. Back then, Jules was making only $600 a year, not a terrible salary for a single man, but certainly not enough to get married on.*2 So, Jules, like so many others, had to choose his wife very carefully.

My grandmother, Maria Roy, the daughter of a master butcher, brought a huge $40,000 dowry to their 1901 marriage, so I’m told. The next year, Jules had a house built for them on Amherst, near Ontario Street, and by a noted architect, at that.*3 Maria’s money!

Lovell’s Directory shows that in 1905 the Crépeau family moved to a tony stretch of St. Hubert Street.  Jules is listed as Head Clerk.  City Hall.   In 1918, they moved to St. Denis Street, just a few doors down from J. A. Brodeur, “Montreal’s Napoleon,” and Head of the Executive Committee. My grandfather was, by then, Second Assistant City Clerk, with a salary of $2,500 -$3,500.

 

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Crépeaus around 1918. My mother wasn’t born yet. Doesn’t Jules, center, look stressed?

In 1921, Jules was promoted to the newly-minted post of Director of City Services*4, almost tripling his salary to $8,000, and soon thereafter, to $10,000. In 1922, his family moved to a three storey greystone at 72 Sherbrooke West.

It’s during this period, the Roarin’ Twenties, that my grandmother, Maria, finally started earning dividends on her dowry, taking  shopping trips to New York City to stock up on bourgeois bric-a-brac like marble urns, porcelain statuary, and art nouveau lamps; a complement to the whole roomful of ‘gifts’ the family received from various community groups, especially at Christmas. Jules and Maria needed a good supply of breakables. Family legend has it that the crockery flew over the stairs throughout their tumultuous 37 year marriage.

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Aunt Flo posing in front of some Crépeau bric-a-brac on Harvard in the late 1940’s. The marble bust of three children actually ended up in my mother’s possession, gracing our upper duplex apartment in the 1960’s, but rather out of place among the melamine furnishings and artwork from Woolworth’s. Today, I own the orange art nouveau-deco Le Verre Francais “Amourettes” vase at top right.

In 1931, Jules Crépeau was forced to resign by the new populist Mayor Camillien Houde, but not before negotiating a huge life pension of $8,000 a year. But, soon,  my grandfather, who had no hands-on business experience, lost all of his savings with bad investments.*5  In 1937, Jules also lost his pension when Montreal City Hall passed an emergency bill to abolish it as a cost-saving measure. *6

Just two weeks later, Grandpapa was hit by a car driven by a plain clothes city policeman. He died the next year from complications. Jules probably threatened someone with a long reach.

Living out her life in the final family home on Harvard in Notre Dame de Grace, Jules’ wife, Maria Roy Crépeau (1879-1951) never complained about her situation as an impoverished widow, and this despite the fact her fat dowry financed the first years of the choppy Crépeau-Roy merger. Still, I suspect her story wasn’t at all unique, especially in the Depression Era.

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Rue Jules Crépeau, Ahunsic, Montreal. Designated in the 1980’s. Funny story. In the late 80’s, when my husband and I were buying our first computer, the ONLY place in Montreal we knew that sold them was in  Ahunsic, where we seldom ventured. We got lost and stumbled upon this road and park. I had to find a phone booth to phone my mother to tell her that a street had been named after her father. Serendipity or what? Jules’ nemesis, Camillien Houde, has the huge road winding through the mountain named after him.

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  1. Le Devoir was the only Montreal newspaper to publish a long obit of my grandfather, in 1938, saying that Jules was the go-to guy for any information about how City Hall ran. Affable is their term.
  2. The 1911 census shows that a $600 a year salary was average/above average for a family. Many era workers were ‘day workers’ with unsteady employment, but, even that $600 salary was not enough for the big families of the era to live on. Terry Copp, the sociologist who wrote An Anatomy of Poverty,claims that $1500. was the minimum salary for a family to live in dignity in Montreal in 1910.  In the Edwardian Era, in England and elsewhere, a working class couple might start out in good shape, with a decent salary for a small family, but as more and more kids came, the family fell into poverty.  Such might have been Jules’ fate, save for this huge dowry.
  3. Louis Zephirin Gauthier specialized in churches. His partner was a Monsieur Roy, so maybe he was a relation. Back then few Montrealers owned their own home, in the 20 percent range. Since 1899, male renters could vote in the municipal elections; women had to be single and own their home to vote. Montreal has long been known as a city of renters, but, just lately, this appears to be changing.
  4. The post of Director of City Services was created in 1921 after much deliberation and input from citizens to ensure an equitable distribution of money among the city districts. The post was a liaison between the seven city departments and the Executive Committee. Newspaper accounts of the time reveal that my Grandfather’s office did everything from organizing events for the visiting Royal Princes to being on the City Clean-Up Committee, to testifying in Quebec with respect to Private Bills. When someone had a beef at City Hall, they wrote to his office. My grandfather was the first to testify at the inquiry in to the fatal Laurier Palace Fire, in January 1927, which was ironic, as I suspect  the fire may have been started by organized crime to get at him. (Just my theory, though.)
  5. Jules’ brother, Isadore, Insurance broker and VP Of United Theatre Amusements, the company that erected many of the famous 1920 era movie houses in Montreal, ‘fell’ out of his 7th floor office while waving for his chauffeur in 1933.
  6. Kristian Gravenor, journalist at Coolopolis.blogspot.ca http://coolopolis.blogspot.ca/2017/01/ndg-coincidence-undercover-cop-slams.html wrote a bit about Jules and dug out the info about the cancellation of his pension.

The Stobos of Lanarkshire

(This story is slightly complicated because of the similar names: generation one was Robert Stobo and his wife Elizabeth Hamilton; generation two was Elizabeth Stobo and her husband Robert Hamilton.)

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Avondale Parish Church, Strathaven, Lanarkshire. jh photo

The story of my two-times great-grandgrandparents’ move from Scotland to Canada is legendary in my branch of the Hamilton family. Robert Hamilton (1789-1875), a weaver from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, moved to Glasgow with his wife, Elizabeth Stobo (1790-1853), and children to earn money for the move to North America. They boarded a ship bound for New York in the spring of 1830, and reinvented themselves as farmers in Scarborough Township, Upper Canada.

In 2012, my husband and I visited Lesmahagow, about 20 miles south of Glasgow. We looked for my Hamilton ancestor’s grave in Lesmahagow parish cemetery, gazed at the sheep grazing on the rolling hillsides and breathed in the cool Scottish air. From Lesmahagow, we drove to Avondale Parish Church in nearby Strathaven, where Elizabeth Stobo was baptized in 1790, “lawful daughter of Robert in Braehead.” We also visited Stonehouse parish, where Elizabeth and Robert were married in 1816.

All I knew about Elizabeth’s background was her place of birth and her parents’ names, Robert Stobo and Elizabeth Hamilton. Recently, I delved into the Stobo family tree and came up with a few surprises, notably that Elizabeth’s father led the way to Canada when he was 60 years old, and that several of her siblings also immigrated.

Robert Stobo was probably born in Avondale parish on July 16, 1764, the son of James Stobo in Braehead. When he married Elizabeth Hamilton in 1789, the marriage proclamations were read at both Avondale Parish Church and at Dalserf Parish Church, the bride’s parish.

Robert and Elizabeth moved several times during their child-rearing years, although they did not leave a relatively small area in southern Lanarkshire. Their children’s baptismal records show they lived in Braehead in Avondale parish, Dalserf parish, and Auchren in Lesmahagow parish. According to a reference letter from their minister that they brought with them to Canada, they also lived in Stonehouse parish for about nine years before leaving Scotland.

The minister who baptized Robert’s daughter Janet in 1792 usually noted each father’s occupation in the parish register. On the page where Janet was listed were a labourer, a shoemaker, a servant and a weaver. Unfortunately, the minister did not mention Janet’s father’s occupation. Robert may have been a tenant farmer, or he may have worked in the lime kilns around Braehead. Lime was quarried in the region and burned in kilns before it could be used to improve soil for agriculture, or in mortar for building.

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Old St. Ninian’s Kirkyard, Stonehouse. jh photo

Meanwhile, the early years of the 19th century were difficult ones. The Scottish economy was experiencing a recession, the weather was poor and, if Robert was a farm labourer, wages were low.  Many families in lowlands Scotland, especially in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, were dependent on charity for survival. The government began offering assistance with travel costs to people who wanted to relocate to Canada. Perhaps Robert decided to take them up on the offer. The Stobo family left Lanarkshire in the spring of 1824.

The Stobos were one of the first families from Lanarkshire to arrive in Scarborough Township, settling on a piece of land near the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. Daughter Elizabeth and her family followed them to Scarborough six years later.

Robert Stobo was 60 when he started his new life in Canada, and his wife was 61. Several of their children were already adults, so some family members remained in Scotland while others left. According to “The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“  (see note below) their children were:

Elizabeth, b. 25 June 1790; m. Robt Hamilton 15 April 1816, Stonehouse; d. 15 April, 1853, Scarborough. They had six children, the youngest of whom, James Hamilton, was my great-grandfather.

Janet b. 3 March, 1792, m. Coppy, d. 30 April 1816.  Her birth in Braehead, Avondale parish, is included on Scotland’s People, but I have not confirmed her marriage or her death.

Barbara, christened 14 March 1794, Dalserf parish; m. Borwick. The marriage information comes from The Stobo Family manuscript. Two genealogy entries on Familysearch.org say Barbara married Thomas Borwick, 22 October 1832, Scarborough Township.

James, b. 7 Feb. 1896, m. Jean Muir, Scotland. His date of birth is confirmed in Lesmahagow parish on Scotland’s People. Ancestry.ca lists James Stobo m. Jean Muir, June 1827, Culter, Lanark.

Robert, b. 3 Feb 1798, according to The Stobo Family manuscript, however, I have not found a church record of his baptism. According to The Stobo Family manuscript and a letter from William McCowan in Lesmahagow to his nephew Robert McCowan in Scarborough, dated 9 March, 1836, Robert Stobo jr. was probably lost at sea.

Helen, b. 6 February 1800, m. 1. James Stobo of Bog, m. 2. Neil McNeil. Her baptism in Lesmahagow is listed on Scotland’s People. Her marriage, 6 April 1823, to James Stobo, Stonehouse, and her marriage to Neil McNeil, 1 Sept. 1839, Stonehouse, are listed on Ancestry.ca. According to The Stobo Family, she had four sons, three whom remained in Scotland.

Margaret, b. 10 May 1805; m. Adam Carmichael. While her birth is recorded in the old parish records of Lesmahagow, I did not find a marriage record. The Stobo Family manuscript says she and Adam had several children. More research is needed.

Jean (Jane) b. 10 July 1807, Lesmahagow; m. 25 April 1834 Archibald Glendinning, Scarborough; d. 2 Sept, 1893, Scarborough. Archibald was a well-known farmer and merchant in Scarborough, and they had a large family.

John, b. 18 May 1811, Lesmahagow; m. 12 July 1836, Scarborough, Frances Chester; d. 16 May 1889, Scarborough. John was a farmer and had a large family.

See also:

From Lesmahagow to Scarborough, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2013/12/from-lesmahagow-to-scarborough.html, posted Dec. 13, 2013, revised Dec. 27, 2016

The Glendinnings of Westerkirk, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/12/the-glendinnings-of-westerkirk.html, posted Dec.3, 2016

The Missing Gravestone of Robert Hamilton and Janet Renwick, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2015/10/the-missing-gravestone-of-robert.htmlposted Oct. 28, 2015, revised Dec. 27, 2016

Notes and sources

“The Stobo Family: Scarborough, 1824 –“  is a typed family tree manuscript by Stobo descendant Margaret Oke. It can be found in the Ontario Genealogical Society collection housed at the Toronto Reference Library. Mrs. Oke said the references used were family recollections, family bibles and census records in the National Archives (now Library and Archives Canada.) This document was originally prepared by Miss Ethel Glendenning (1880-1976), who was a United Church missionary in India for many years. Miss Glendenning gave it to Miss Marjorie Paterson (1901-1980), and Mrs. Oke transcribed it in 1986. I have used this tree as a starting point, checking the names and dates it gives with other sources including the Scotland’s People website, Ancestry.ca, and Familysearch.org.

The Stobo Family says Robert senior’s date of birth was 16 July 1764. Scotland’s People lists two Robert Stobos born in Avondale in 1764: one is the above individual, son of James, and the other was born 5 October 1764, son of Robert, but both index listings lead to the same image: son of James, born in July. The Stobo Family manuscript has proved accurate in all the dates I was able to verify, so the July date is probably correct.

I have not been able to find any information on Robert’s wife Elizabeth. The name Hamilton was very common in Lanarkshire.

This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

 

 

Bomb Sites, School and Rebuilding A City

My first memory as a child born at the end of WW2, was of playing mainly in our streets and neighbouring streets.  I was still very small, but I do remember the barrage balloons still flying high in the sky, floating gently on the breeze, and we would lie on the ground and watch them. It was many years before I realised what they actually were, which was a large balloon anchored to the ground by cables and often with netting suspended from it, serving as an obstacle to low-flying enemy aircraft.

We would play among bricks wood rubble, stones large slate roof tiles and broken water pipes, in a site at the end of our street. The reason for all the rubbish was because it was a bombed site. A house, like the ones in our street had once stood there but no more. We had adventures in those bomb sites especially with the broken water pipes. What young child can resist playing with water? Especially if you can make dams and ponds with all the available stones bricks and wood. It was a sad day when the water was eventually turned off.

We also knew not to play in a bomb site with tape around it, as that likely contained an unexploded bomb. There were parks in Plymouth, but because of the massive damage caused by bombs dropping on this Royal Naval city, these had still not been cleared of the debris and were dangerous.

When I started school, at three years of age that same rubble was negotiated as we walked over it to get to the school building and again, when I was 11 and starting at the ‘big school’ – the same one my mum had gone too – there were still signs of war damage.

Shortages of everything was acute. Years later we had no books in our school. The teacher had one for each subject, which he or she would read aloud to us and then pass it around. We had paper pen and ink, but no copy books to write on, only a sheet of paper. Later, copy books were issued when I was about 14.

School was OK, but all the teachers were old and not very interested in anything new and certainly they did not catch my interest  but I did love History, Geography and reading. English comprehension writing and spelling were favourites too. Sums were completely beyond me, and nobody cared to go over it again if I got lost, or to take the time to explain anything. There were about 45 children in each class so on reflection, there must not have been much time to explain everything again, but just to get the lesson over with.

Re-building our country was a long time coming It was the early 1950’s before the clearing of bomb sites even began, and I grew up in the 60’s watching our city being completely razed and then rebuilt.

Years later as English social history became an interest, I was to learn about the Anglo-American Loan that helped the rebuilding of our country. ¹ ²

¹https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-American_loan

“The Anglo-American Loan Agreement was a post World War II loan made to the United Kingdom by the United States on 15 July 1946. The loan was for $3.75 billion (US$57 billion in 2015) at a low 2% interest rate; Canada loaned an additional US$1.19 billion”

By the way, these loans were eventually paid off in full, in 2006!”

²BBC NEWS | UK | UK settles WWII debts to allies

“It is hard from a modern viewpoint to appreciate the astronomical costs and economic damage caused by this conflict. In 1945, Britain badly needed money to pay for reconstruction and also to import food for a nation worn down after years of rationing.  “In a nutshell, everything we got from America in World War II was free,” says economic historian Professor Mark Harrison, of Warwick University. “The loan was really to help Britain through the consequences of post-war adjustment, rather than the war itself. This position was different from World War I, where money was lent for the war effort itself”

Below are newspaper cuttings that my Gramps saved during the war and gave to me for a project I had to write for school about our ancient city. They show Plymouth before and after the blitz, and were the kind of bombed sites I played in as a child.

These two photos show Plymouth City Centre before, in 1939 and after an enemy raid in 1942. I find the captions very interesting.

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Below, St. Georges Baptist Church a before and after view 1942

george-st-baptist-church-1942

Plymouth Shops before and after the Blitz

plymouth-shops-before-and-after-raids

Credit given for photos from ‘The Plymouth Evening Herald’ Plymouth, Devon UK.

A Beautiful (Terrible) Life

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The Royal Selangor Club and padang today in Kuala Lumpur.  Photo taken by my son.

It is a truth universal for genealogists: If at first you don’t succeed – finding info on an ancestor on the Internet – try and try again.

About ten years ago, surfing the Library of Congress online archive, I discovered that there existed a 1953 March of Time video about the Malayan Communist Emergency.  Even better, the blurb on said website claimed said this particular episode of the iconic newsreel contained a bit about my grandmother and namesake, Dorothy Nixon.

I soon found out that the video was long out of production. I couldn’t even find an old copy on eBay. Then, about two or three years later, a former Malayan colonial posted the video in its entirety on YouTube, Playing Cricket whilst Fighting Goes On. It’s still up there. 

Today, all I have to do is point and click and there she is: my small snowy-haired grandmother, about  55 years old, seated beside a man in a tall turban while scoring a cricket match at the much-storied Royal Selangor Club, on the pedang, or green, in Kuala Lumpur.

My grandmother’s segment is at the end of the piece describing  the decade long jungle conflict, at about the 6 minute mark.  “Mrs. Nixon,” says the announcer, “is a fixture at the Royal Selangor Club” which has just opened up to non-Europeans. It isn’t mentioned, but I know for a fact that, at the time, Dorothy was the only woman who had ever been allowed into the men’s section of the club.*

Before WWII, the green or padang was surrounded by government buildings.  That is why, on Boxing Day, 1941, two weeks after Pearl Harbour, the green was bombed by the Japanese.  My grandmother was at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club, a library nearby, when the bombs hit. According to her family memoir, she hid under a desk until the barrage ended and then got up to help dig out dead bodies from the rubble.

Here’s a post-war picture of Dorothy with the Selangor Cricket team from the 1947 sent to me by a former Colonial.

dorothy-club-big

 

The picture suggests my grandmother enjoyed being one of a few women among a large group of men. And, it’s true, almost everything I have learned about her seems to underscore this point.

A few days after the bombing, when Kuala Lumpur was overrun from the North by Japanese soldiers riding on bicycles, all rubber planters’ wives were told by telephone  to leave the city.  My grandmother removed herself only reluctantly, taking a dark and noisy night train to “safety” in Singapore.  When, a few days after that, and much to everyone’s surprise, Singapore fell, Dorothy simply refused to get on a boat to Batavia like most other British women, so she was interned at Changi Prison.

For a 6 month period in 1943, Granny, as we kids called her, was elected Women’s Commandant, where she had repeated run-ins with the mostly hands-off Japanese Commandant. Soon after she relinquished her leadership post, she was arrested by the Japanese Kempetai for allegedly spying (and colluding with the Men’s Camp) in an infamous ‘radio’ incident called the Double Tenth.  

dorothycell

Dorothy: Self-portrait. The relative luxury of her Changi cell. At first, the Japanese Commandant was hands-off and even helpful, but that changed over time with a new man put in the position.  The women’s camp population grew large, to over 300, over the span of the war and soon there were three women to a cell. 

Dorothy spent a month in a tiny windowless room in the bug-infested basement of the Singapore YMCA with 17 desperate male suspects who were taken out nightly to be tortured. Their screams and a bright light kept her from sleeping.  Then she was put in solitary confinement for five long months and starved to an inch of her life on two cans of condensed milk a day.  Apparently, she much preferred the buggy room.*

double-tenth-diary

(A page from her ‘memoir’..Double Tenth is 10th of October)

My father, a classic “Child of the Raj” hardly knew his own  British ‘mater’, so much of what I knew about my grandmother before my recent Internet forays was mere family myth.

Using Ancestry.co.uk, I recently discovered that my Granny travelled by boat from Yorkshire (well, Liverpool) to Malaya in December, 1921 to meet up with her new husband, Robert, also from the North of England, who was working on a rubber plantation near the beautiful Batu Caves.

(She had been a Land Girl in WWI, in forestry, leading the giant Clydesdales that pulled the logs through the woods.)

She gave birth to my father, Peter, but ten  months later, and this despite the fact my grandfather refused to give up his Asian girlfriend. Anglo rubber companies forced their employees to marry British wives, which provoked a lot of resentment against these interloping women, who were considered too high maintenance and parvenus of a sort.

Still, colonial life wasn’t all terrible. In the twenties, Dorothy attended polo matches with sultans and hosted formal dinners for British dignitaries, some of these men living legends, at her airy bungalow on her husband’s rubber estate.

“We had fun in those days,’ she told a journalist in the 1970’s, who put it in a book about Colonial Malaya. The journalist described my grandmother, in her dotage, as very weak and ‘somewhat vague.’

It was later, in the 1930s that Dorothy became Head Librarian at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club, a turn-of-the-century institution that also provided a mail-order book box service for Brits isolated in the remote jungle.  I don’t know if she took on this job out of sheer boredom (since her children had been sent to England early on, and she had the usual quota of servants) or because the Depression forced her to.

Then came WWII and her near-death experience at the hands of the Japanese.  Eventually, in the fifties and sixties, she was anointed the “Grand Dame of Cricket” in Malaya.  For a while they were giving out a Dorothy Nixon Trophy.

My grandmother died in 1972 at age 77, shortly after that interview, in her rooms at the Majestic Hotel in KL surrounded by her precious personal collection of books which were later donated to the Malaysian National Library, but not before meeting her name-sake granddaughter.

Upon her retirement from the KL Book Club, in the summer of 1967, she flew in to visit us for six months in the Snowdon area of Montreal.

Dorothy Senior was not impressed, I can tell you, with our bilingual island city, our ‘exotic’ World’s Fair, or her pimply, pubescent string-bean of a granddaughter.

And all I saw in her was a bad-tempered old crone, always pacing the narrow halls of our cramped upper duplex apartment with a Rothman’s cigarette in one hand a tall tumbler of gin in the other, criticizing almost everything, including my mother’s decadent pound-of-butter, six egg French Chocolate Pie.

So closely confined and besieged by a band of unruly Canadian grandkids, she must have felt as if she were back at Changi!

grannylll

Granny, in picture, visited us for Expo67.

She did, indeed, tell my mother about her WWII experience and my mother did mention it to me. “Try to be nice to your grandmother,” I recall Mummy saying. “ During the war she had to sit cross-legged for days in a room with many men.”  But, that plea made no impression on me.

My grandmother and I hardly spoke,that sweet Expo summer, even though I gave her breakfast in bed every morning, one hard-boiled egg and a tiny container of a strange food called ‘yogurt’, and we both preferred it that way.

After all, the  very first week of her visit she had told me I could never visit her in Malaysia, as she would ‘lose face’ in front of her Chinese friends.

Oh, well. I’m making it up to her now.

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*The Royal Selangor Club, founded in 1884 by British colonials, has a long history reaching back to Victorian times. The story goes the club was knick-named the Spotted Dog because, from the beginning, people of all races were allowed to join, although this March of Time piece suggests that happened only in the 50’s. Still, no question, Malaya  in the 1920’s and 30’s was a bustling multi-cultural society – but with a distinct pecking order.

*Luckily, she wasn’t horribly tortured like the men or a  certain young Chinese  woman, who suffered all kinds of indignities including electric shock and, yes, even, waterboarding.*(IF you have seen the brilliant BBC series Tenko, you’ll know all about her Changi experience. That fictional mini-series was bang on from what I can see. )

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