Category Archives: Social history

Montreal Movie Mysteries

rialto

The Rialto ceiling today from Google Earth.

When I was a little girl in the 1960’s, whenever my family crossed the Cartierville Bridge in Montreal’s Ahunsic area to go to Laval, my mother would claim, “That is Uncle Louis’s bridge.”

Her much older brother, Louis, who died of a heart attack in 1965, had been a civil engineer and it is likely he worked for Dominion Bridge, the company that made that structure in the 1930’s.

The Cartierville Bridge wasn’t much to look at, so I wasn’t at all impressed.

I recently learned that back in the day my mother had a much lovelier family creation to brag about. Her Uncle Isadore’s glass company, Ceramo, had manufactured the beautiful stained-glass panels on the ceiling of the Rialto Theatre, the opulent 1924 movie theatre on Park Avenue decorated to look like the Paris Opera House.1

According to reporter Dane Lanken, who wrote the definitive book on Montreal’s old cinemas, this ceiling is rare, if not unique, among the grand movie houses of the day.*2

My mother’s Mon Oncle Isadore, an Outremont-based insurance broker, was also the VP of the United Amusements Corporation, a company that distributed films for Famous Players and that built the Rialto and dozens of other lavish Montreal movie houses, so it was all very convenient.3

Mummy rarely spoke about her Uncle Isadore during her life-time and she never talked about his many interlocked businesses.

She clearly didn’t know anything about the Rialto Cinema ceiling.  She never mentioned how Isadore had welcomed the audience at the opening of the magnificent Monkland Theatre in 1930, not in-person but from up on the screen in a talkie film.*4

(How cool that must have seemed just a few years after sound technology was introduced.)

In 1930, my mother would have been only nine years old and not entitled to enter movie houses.  Children under 16 had been banned from cinemas in Quebec 2 years before, in 1927, after the infamous fatal Laurier Palace fire.5

And my mom was only 11, in December 31, 1932, when her Uncle Isadore fell to his death from his 7th floor office window at 414 Saint James Street West.

She never ever mentioned that shocking event, either: I suspect no one told her about how her Uncle Isadore died.

Isadore414StJacques

From La Patrie, online.

 

Lanken mentions Mon Oncle Isadore more than a few times in his beautiful book. He doesn’t discuss the manner of Isadore’s death.

However, Louis Pelletier, a Concordia scholar, does mention Isadore’s demise in his PhD thesis about the movie distribution industry in Montreal – with a sly aside.  Was it a suicide? Who knows. *6

Pelletier also says that Isodore was likely brought on as VP of United Amusements in 1921 as a ‘token’ francophone.

The 2012 thesis is brilliant, but here Pelletier (like Lanken) fails to make one key connection. Isadore’s brother was Jules Crepeau, my grandfather, Director of City Services in the 1920’s. Isadore’s appointment wasn’t token: It was tactical.

If you conduct a search of the Digital Media Database which contains many era Hollywood Trade Magazines, Jules’ name comes up more than Isadore’s.*7

Jules also died relatively young, in 1938, about a year after he had been hit by a car driven by a plain clothes policeman on Royal Avenue in NDG.*8

He had retired from his lofty post at City Hall in 1930.*9

Back in 2008, when I asked my mother if the 1937 car ‘accident’ had been a ‘hit’ *10 she replied an emphatic “No.” The policeman in question had been very upset about it, she told me. She died in 2009.

Ten years later, knowing what I now know about my Grandpapa Crepeau’s controversial and scandal-ridden career at Montreal City Hall,*11 I imagine that my mom’s recollection of this very contrite cop was a second-hand memory planted there, perhaps by her older brother Louis.

Uncle Louis. Now, he’s the one I should have been able to talk to.  Had he lived, what twisting tales he might have told me.

  1.  Lanken, Dane. Montreal Movie Palaces. Great Theatres of the Golden Era 1884 – 1938.  Penumbra Press. 1993. This feature is likely why the Rialto has been deemed a National Historic Monument, and why it still stands today. Most other Montreal movie houses were destroyed or left to languish.
  2. Ibid. These United Amusement theatres included the Belmont on St.Laurent, and the Monkland on Monkland Avenue and the fabulous Art Deco Snowdon Theatre where I saw The Sound of Music in 1965 – at 11 years old. We lived on the adjacent street.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid
  5. It’s a ban that stayed in place until 1962. Over 70 children were crushed to death escaping from the balcony of a Sunday showing after a small fire.
  6. Pelletier, Louis. The Fellows Who Dress the Pictures: Montreal Film Exhibitors in the Days of Vertical Integration (1912-1952). Concordia PhD Thesis, Communications Department. 2012. The Montreal Gazette, December 31, 1932. The official story is Isadore fell trying to build a device to hang a flag to signal his chauffeur. This happened after his secretary had left his office. After dark. In the depth of winter. Supposedly, Isadore’s unfinished cigar was found on the sill. The police cited unnamed sources for this report, not the secretary, not the chauffeur, not the wife.
  7. www.digitalmediahistory.org. In 1921, Jules was interviewed by Variety about the controversy over Sunday showings. In 1924, he was interviewed about risqué movie posters. In 1926, during the Coderre Commission into Police Impropriety and Malfeasance, his name is brought up in connection with the police. It is said he forced police on the beat to look the other way when movie houses broke the bylaws by letting children in unattended. The New York Times rehashed this bit in 1926 in a two-page story covering testimony during American Senate hearings into Prohibition. In 1927, Jules is mentioned in relation to the Laurier Palace Fire. Jules was the first to testify at both the initial inquest and the later Royal Commission.
  8. Family lore says his death was due to bone cancer from the X-Rays he received from a broken leg from the accident.
  9. Jules had been forced to retire by new Mayor Camillien Houde. Jules negotiated a huge pension of 8,000 dollars a year that was rescinded in 1937 with an emergency measure due to the Depression, just two weeks before he was knocked down by that policeman on Royal Avenue, a block from the United Amusement Offices on Monkland.
  10. In 2008, I asked my mother to tell me all she remembered about her childhood and my grandfather. She didn’t know much about the political intrigue but she did know that her father and brother received numerous death threats and that on occasion big shots like the Mayor or the Chief of Police visited their home on Sherbrooke Street West in secret meetings.
  11. According his obit in Le Devoir, he had a mind like a bank vault and each drawer was filled by a City Hall by-law or other fact. A Gazette article about Mayor Mederic Martin in 1937 claimed “Jules Crepeau’s hair went gray teaching aldermen their jobs.”
  12. Jules and Isadore were the sons, two of four, of Joseph Crepeau and Vitaline Forget-Depatie who, according to Jules’ marriage certificate on Drouin (1901 – Maria Roy) were from St.Louis de France, which would be Trois Rivieres. Montreal City Hall records (his file) claim Jules was born in Laval and that Joseph was a house-painter. Joseph’s paternal line can be traced back to Maurice Crespeau (curly-haired ones) of Poitou-Charentes, born 1637. Vitaline’s Forget line goes back to Abraham Martin, owner of the Plaines of Abraham, known as “L’Ecossais.” https://www.geni.com/people/Abraham-Martin-dit-l-Écossais/6000000000397138666  Jules and my mother did have very curly hair and this is perhaps due to deep Sephardic Jew and Algerian roots. My mother has some Sephardic DNA, to the tune of 4 percent. Crespeau (Crespin) is understood to be one of the Sephardic French Canadian names. https://www.jewishgen.org/Sephardic/nameorig.HTM  Jules’ wife’s Maria Roy’s MT DNA has traces of Sephardic as well and can be traced back to a Lily Rodrigue in Normandy. Rodrigue (Rodriguez).

 

Love Letters

 

scan

Amy Eagle, Eliza Jane Eagle and Minnie Eagle

A collection of letters that William Sutherland wrote to Minnie Eagle before their marriage has survived. They carried on a long-distance relationship. She was living in Toronto with her mother and sister while William had moved to Montreal for an engineering job with Montreal Water and Power. I do wonder what happened to Minnie’s letters to William. He kept them initially and reread them, “five and six times,” as he often referred to her previous letters. Did Minnie not want her private thoughts around after they were married?

IMG_9237

Little Willie

 

They are very sweet letters showing the developing love between two people and the preparations for a life together. William and Minnie met at Cooke’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto in the early 1900’s. This was the church both their families attended.

William was immediately smitten but Minnie took coaxing. He was thrilled when Minnie finally agreed to marry him. “There was one line in your letter, Minnie that did me more good than all the rest put together and that is saying a good deal. It was “I don’t think I want to wait so long.” These little phrases dropped now and again are the strongest assurances that you are now looking forward to being with me as I have been so long to being with you.”

 

IMG_9226

William, his sister Mary, mother Alice Dickson, brother Wilson and father Donald Sutherland

How often did he ask? His parents thought highly of her. His father, a man of few words said, “ You should marry that girl right away.” His mother was his confidant.

 

Their September 1907 wedding was almost immediately called off, as Will went out to a tavern with his work colleagues. Minnie was part of the temperance movement and totally against alcohol. “I am rather astonished that you felt so deeply about that little question about going into the bars. But you need have no worry on that score. My position is so well known among the boys here, that not one of them ever think of asking me to have a real drink.”

 

Will was full of plans for their life. He and a friend Mr Schwartz owned a couple of lots in Outremont and were designing semi-detached houses they hoped to build. He sent his drawings to Minnie asking for her opinion. “One objection to this plan was the big kitchen. Some people think that it makes more work but Mrs Schwartz says, the bigger the better.” The houses were never built. “Our house building plans may fall through as there is very persistent talk of the company selling to the city and if they do I don’t know whether I would stay in Montreal or not.” The Montreal Water and Power company was later sold to the city but William did stay. He and Clare Dryden started a plumbing company.

 

There was some talk about how soon they should be married. He wondered if she thought she should learn to cook and keep a house first or should they learn together. “The greatest pleasure we get in this life is planning and arranging and looking forward and this I think we ought to do together. We are in the formative period of our lives now and I think we should be together. We have much to learn from each other and much to unlearn if we are to live smoothly and happily in each others company.” I don’t think she ever learned to cook well.

 

Their wedding was postponed from the fall to the summer and then to the next year. Minnie was in hospital April of 1908. He didn’t immediately know she was ill. “Your consideration of me is so characteristic of your own dear self and I love you for it. I should have been terribly anxious if I had known.” He didn’t rush off to Toronto to see her but her mother kept him informed about her progress. He even waited to send flowers as she already had 12 bouquets!

 

 

Further wedding plans didn’t go smoothly as there was a problem with her sister Amy. Exactly what, was never stated but Amy was upset that Minnie was to be married and move away. They both worked at Ryrie Bros. Jewellers but neither worked after the wedding. Will sometimes stayed away while they tried to bring Amy around. “I understand the situation all right little girl; a visit to Toronto would be rather a failure under present circumstances and I am more than tickled to think that you look at it that way also.”

 

The wedding finally took place June 02, 1909. They had a honeymoon trip up the Saguenay River and then moved into an upper duplex on Chomedy Street in Montreal. A friend of Will’s was going to have a border to save expenses but that was not what he wanted. “If it took half my salary for rent I would have you all to myself and nobody else around, for the first year anyway. Yours as ever with best love, Billy”


 

IMG_9239

Minnie, William and son Donald rowing on Boyd Lake abt. 1940.

 

Notes:

Letters from William Sutherland to Minnie Eagle, 69 Seaton Street, Toronto, Ontario. From September 10, 1907, to February 16, 1909. In the possession of the author.

William Harkness Sutherland (1879 – 1942)

Minnie Eagle (1883 – 1967)

Children:

Amy Elizabeth Sutherland van Loben Sels (1911 – 2005)

Dorothy Alice Sutherland (1914 – 1955)

Donald William Sutherland (1917 – 1996)

 

 

A Life Well-Lived

Recently a much-loved member of our family passed away. She decided that she didn’t want a traditional funeral, but preferred to have friends and family gather in her home to celebrate a life well-lived.

Family and friends came from near and far to pay tribute.

Usually at a funeral someone gives a eulogy to honour the deceased. In this case, there was no funeral, so perhaps it would be appropriate to write a eulogy.

Pierrette Laurence Valiquette was born in the small town of La Minerve, Quebec, in the northern Laurentian Mountains, on October 20th, 1932, when the leaves were probably ablaze with dazzling autumn colours. She was one of six children of Laurence Bruneau and Philippe Valiquette.

The family moved to Outremont and Pierrette began working as a pattern maker. Her employer soon realized she had artistic talent. He sent her to New York City where she gathered information about the latest fashions. Her work was awarded first place in one of the local fashion design competitions.

Her marriage to my brother, John, took place in the Sacred Heart Chapel of Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal on January 30th, 1960. It is interesting to note that most marriages took place in the chapel because the long walk down the aisle in the Basilica made young brides too nervous.

The couple started a family while John studied to be a chartered accountant. His career took the family away from Montreal, but it didn’t matter whether they were in Toronto, Calgary or Edmonton, Pierrette always adapted to her environment. She continued to sketch and paint. When Pierrette and John returned east the family was delighted. They settled in Perth, Ontario, a heritage town just beyond Ottawa, much closer to the rest of the family.

Adjusted Stewarat Park.jpg

 

Pierrette learned to play golf, something she continued to enjoy all of her adult life. She also was a member of the Raging Grannies, a golden-age protest group. She was determined to stop smoking. She attended Smoke Enders and later became a spokesperson for the cause.

At Christmas one year she joined a group of bell-ringers.

Pierrette was a member of several art associations in and around Perth. She participated in countless local exhibitions.

Bouquet-1

 Bouquet in acrylic by Pierrette

Although her family came first, she nurtured her passion in art in its many forms. She would sketch people, create pen and ink drawings of local scenes. Acrylics were most likely her favourite medium. “Pitou” as John called her, painted beautiful scenes of the rolling hills of the Charlevoix area beyond Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.

When my sister-in-law was widowed at the age of 67, she decided to travel and pursue her art. One summer she went to Giverny, France, home to the Impressionist Monet, to study. Another year, it was a trip to Florence, Italy to study the Masters.

Other summers, she and some of her artist friends stayed closer to home. They went to Baie St. Paul, a beautiful part of Quebec. There she would truly be in her element.

In her home, the studio and kitchen were her favourite places. She was a good cook and she often had her father-in-law over for a meal. She would hand him his plate and say “Leave what you like” and he who loved to play on words would respond, “Eat what I don’t like?” There was never anything left on his plate at the end of the meal. He liked to tease her. She would give him a big smile.

We will miss Pierrette: her laughter, her smile, her talents, her compassion and kindness. She was a good wife, mother, friend and sister-in-law. We are all better off for having had her in our lives.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Notes: During the celebration in her home, family and friends were treated to an exhibition of many of her works.

 

 

Seigneuries of the Montreal Region

If you had ancestors in Quebec before 1854, chances are they lived on a seigneury. The seigneur (the owner of the seigneury) granted the land to tenants, who were usually called habitants or censitaires. The seigneurs and the habitants owed certain obligations to each other. The system, based on a feudal one, dates back to the mid-1600s when the government of France was trying to ensure its colony of New France would be settled in a systematic manner.

Seigneurs were usually people of noble backgrounds, military leaders or civil administrators, or they were religious institutions. Some seigneuries were well run, other seigneurs were absentee landlords or excessively demanding. In 1854, the seigneurial system was abolished and the tenants were allowed to acquire the land they farmed. The seigneuries had a lasting impact on Quebec society and geography and the names of many seigneuries and seigneurs live on in the names of towns and streets.

In the days of New France, Montreal was a small city on the shores of the St. Lawrence and the rest of the Island of Montreal was rural farmland. For many years, the priests of Saint Sulpice were the seigneurs of most of the island. The seigneurial system began to disappear from the Montreal region before it did elsewhere because it held back development of the growing city.

The compilation in the PDF below includes links to a variety of articles related to seigneuries and seigneurs who lived in the Montreal region, both on and off the island. Some articles are in English, others are in French. If you cannot understand the French, copy and paste the text into a translation app such as Google Translate.

Included in the compilation are links to articles from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography about some of the leading figures in the history of Montreal, as well as background information about the seigneuries, Catholic parish churches and cemeteries in the region.

The compilation also includes a list of the notaries who handled land transactions, wills and other legal agreements in the Montreal region up to the end of the 18th century. These notarial records are kept in the archives of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal. Finally, there is a list of further resources at the end of the compilation.

Seigneuries Region of Montréal

The Maiden Aunts

Aunt Kay and Aunt Vi. Their names were always said as a unit for as children we saw them as inseparable. Their lives were also lived as a unit, lives devoted to family, career and an insatiable love for travel.

Violet, born 1904 1, and Kathleen, born 1907 2, were the daughters of George Hudson Willett and his wife Isabelle of Caplan, Quebec. George was a farmer and a seasonal guide for hunters and fishermen 3. Money was tight. From the beginning the girls wanted more than a life on the Gaspe coast.

By the time she was seventeen Violet was living in Montreal with her older sister Madge and working as a stenographer 4. Kathleen joined her a few years later. In 1927 Kay signed her first contract with the Lachine School Commission, later to become part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal 5. Kay’s career was that of a teacher, a consultant, a principal and ultimately an adjunct professor at McGill. Violet spent her entire career at the Bank of Montreal retiring as an executive secretary.

Initially the sisters lived in a lodging house in downtown Montreal 6. Early in my childhood they moved to an apartment in Montreal West. The apartment was small: living room, kitchen and one bedroom with twin beds. Beautiful rugs, furniture, and treasures from their travels made the space appear luxurious. Kay kept a meticulous inventory of their possessions 7. The sisters entertained friends and family simply but elegantly. A drop leaf table at one end of the living room opened to seat six with place settings of silver, crystal and fine china. As children we learned to eat with proper table manners when visiting our aunts!

The sisters never married although family legend claims that Violet left a heart-broken suitor in the Gaspe, a man who wrote to her every Christmas until her death. Kathleen had many male friends and colleagues but there were no rumours of love affairs. Both women were slim and beautiful and dressed with style. Vi was a redhead; Kay was a brunette with a distinctive white streak. Later in life she dyed her hair and the streak became blue, an idiosyncrasy that fascinated me.

Both women were devoted to their nine nieces and nephews. They spent time with each one, individually or in family groupings, in the city or at the farm in the Gaspe. Family photos are witness to cousins and aunts enjoying time together at the beach 8.

More than the beach, however, I loved going to lunch with them in Montreal at the Eaton’s dining room on the ninth floor. It always included a shopping trip! Their joint gifts to all of us over the years included clothes, books, educational toys, university fees, and travel experiences. They gave me a piece of the silverware every birthday and Christmas from the time I was very young. You can imagine how excited I was as a four year old opening the gift of a fork! Today that silverware is a treasured memory of their love.

The sisters lived together their entire lives except for the four years that Kay taught in Germany. Even then Vi joined Kay to holiday with her in Europe. In the end it was Alzheimer’s disease that separated them. Vi succumbed first. When Kay could no longer look after her, she was placed in a home where she died in 1983 at the age of eighty 9. As in their youth, Kay followed several years later. She died in a nursing home in 1991 at the age of eighty five 10.

Thus ended the era of the maiden aunts. Their legacy lives on in the achievements of their nieces and nephews, achievements fueled in large part by the values they imbued in us.

 

 Research Notes

This family story is based on my own memories of my aunts and the stories my mother told of her older sisters in conversation with me. Where I can document specific facts, I have used the Evernote Clipper and stored the clips in an Evernote notebook labeled Family History.

  1. Violet Gwendolyn Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
  2. Kathleen MacDonald Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
  3. Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 108; Census Place: St Charles de Caplan West (Parish), Bonaventure, Quebec; Page Number: 1
  4. Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
  5. Teacher’s Engagement document – on file with author
  6. Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
  7. Handwritten inventory of apartment at 7455 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal – on file with author
  8. Family photos – on file with author
  9. & 10. Death announcements, Montreal Gazette – on file with author

 

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

margsword

I’m sitting on the fence, myself.

Over a decade ago, I discovered an old trunk of  paper memorabilia once belonging to Nicholson family of Richmond, Quebec, my husband’s mother’s ancestors. It contained 1000 letters, 300 from the pivotal 1908-1913 years.

From these missives, I learned a great deal about these  Canadian- born Scots, whose parents were  Hebridean Scots, cleared from the land in the 1800’s and forced to come to Canada. And, because of a rather weird series of coincidences I learned all about a certain Masonic sword.

One  evening back in 2004, about a  year after I first found the trunkload of letters, I received an email.It was from Matthew Farfan, editor of Townships Heritage WebMagazine.

It seems that a  couple in the Okanagan Valley of BC, we’ll call them the C’s, wanted to get in touch with me.  They had Norman Nicholson’s sword!   Norman is my husband’s great grandfather.

I had very recently posted an article about the Nicholsons on Matthew’s webmag with a big pic of Norman in Mason regalia front and center.  The family papers revealed that old Norman Nicholson was a member in good standing of the Sussex Preceptory No. 9, Knights Templar, Sherbrooke.

I immediately emailed this Mr. C. “How in Heaven do you know it is Norman’s sword?”

He explained.   In the early 60’s, his family had rented the Nicholson home, in Richmond, Quebec,  from  Edith Nicholson, Norman’s daughter.  Somehow,  Norman’s sword had been swept up in the bustle when the family moved out around 1965.

Mr. C had adored that house with its steep basement stairs and wondrous attic filled with fantastical (see : old fashioned) things. Mr C remembers  using the silver sword to ‘terrorize’ his sister.

tighsolas

 Tighsolas, built by Norman  in 1896, the year Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to power for $2,700. 

 

« Phone my wife, » Mr.C  further instructed. « She’ll tell you all about the sword. »

So I did, on the jump, and what a story Mrs. C. related! The sword had been hanging on the BC couple’s wall since the death of her in-laws. Prior to that it had traveled all over North America, as far as California.

In 2004,  Mr. C’s sister visited them. She mentioned, out of the blue, that the silver sword on the wall had a name engraved on it. They checked : the name was ‘Norman Nicholson.

A few months passed. Mrs. C had a sudden impulse to return the heirloom to its rightful owners. (What impeccable timing on her part!)  Her husband’s childhood stampbook provided some clues. Apart from many stamps,  it contained a picture of an old man with handlebar moustache decked out in Masonic garb with said blade at his side, and one envelope addressed to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson, Richmond, Quebec.

Normanregalia

 Norman in full Masonic regalia. This photo was in the stamp book and returned with the sword in 2004.

normanmargregalia

Margaret and Norman on Tighsolas lawn. A photo in the Nicholson photo album

Mrs. C googled ‘Norman Nicholson’, but no luck. There were too many people with that name .  She then he entered “Margaret Nicholson” into the search engine and, presto, she  fell upon the Eastern Townships Heritage website with my story and, plunk in the middle, she saw another picture of Norman in his Masonic regalia.

I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Over 50 years ago, in the age of Beatlemania and go go boots, an imaginative little boy living in Richmond, Quebec, plumbed the depths of that Nicholson treasure chest full of letters and memorabilia – the same one I discovered  in 2003 at my in-laws’ – and this little boy snitched some stamps and an envelope for his collection and glued it into a page beside an appealing photograph of a snowy-haired swashbuckler, who was really a down-on-his-luck Eastern Township hemlock bark dealer.

A little later,  he took the very sword the old man in the picture was posing with!

 stanps

(Some Nicholson letters. Many letters in the 1000 envelope stash  had the stamps carefully cut out. I now know where these stamps are!  )

There’s more.

Norman ’s sword arrived at my house  soon after. I showed it to my husband and my sons, Norman’s heirs, then placed it on the mantel.

That very night, as we all watched TV downstairs, we  heard a loud thump in the living room.

We went upstairs to find the Nicholson binder I had put on the coffee table had exploded open. Its cellophane pages were strewn on the floor. Atop the pile was Norman’s death certificate. I kid you not.

It was likely the dog nosing around that caused this to happen, right?  The binder had been filled to bulging with Nicholson documents. Still,  I took no chances. I placed a portrait of Margaret on the mantel beside the Masonic sword.

I like to think that is what Norman was looking for.

 

PS. Although perpetually cash-strapped due to the crash of the hemlock bark industry in the Eastern Townships around 1900, Norman always found the 3 dollars to pay his monthly fees to the Masons.  Norman’s records reveal he paid a hefty initiation fee, too, in 1888. Fifty dollars!

Clearly it was important to be a Mason in the ET. Apparently, the Presbyterian Church frowned up the society, saying Masons were encouraged to keep secrets from their wives. I know because the Nicholsons clipped a bit from a newspaper, likely the Montreal Witness, claiming as much!

In 1912, Margaret and their daughter, Edith, join the Order of the Eastern Star Chapter in Richmond. Edith became the Secretary. This OES was a female version of the Masons.

 

This is an updated version of a story published on the Eastern Townships Heritage Webmagazine in 2005.

A Contrast in Character

DrHenry

Dr. Henry Portrait.

He looks like one of the clan in the snapshot, with a trim athletic body, a handsome, rugged face, full-lips, sturdy chin, prominent brow over deep set eyes. He is confident in his posture as well as a snappy dresser.

He is Dr. Henry Watters of Kingsbury, Quebec and Newton, Massachusetts, first cousin to my husband’s grandmother, Marion Nicholson, the son of her Aunt Christina on her father, Norman’s, side.

That also makes him first cousin to Herbert Nicholson, Marion’s older brother.  And although the two young men resembled each other in build and facial features, they could not have been less alike!

Dr. Henry , by all accounts, was a near-perfect man, a  high-achiever, a man who rose to the top of his profession at the Newton Hospital near Boston, but who remained devoted to family (and that includes his cousins) throughout his life.

Despite his busy vocation, he corresponded with all of his extended family, regularly, with letters than demonstrated uncommon empathy. When writing his youngest cousin, Flora, who apparently had complained of boy troubles in her letter, “I don’t have much experience in these matters, but I can only say, if he doesn’t want you, he isn’t worthy of you.”

Herb, well, what can I say?  As the only son of Norman and Margaret Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec, great things were expected of him. A whopping FIVE dollars was put aside at his birth in 1885 to start a bank account for his future medical career. But, upon graduation from St Francis College in 1905, he went to work as a clerk at the Eastern Townships Bank.

A ladies man and/or a gambler, Herbert immediately got into debt, borrowing money off all of his relations, until, in 1910,  he got into such a desperate situation that he filched 60 dollars from the till at work.

Herbert didn’t go to jail: The Nicholsons were too well connected for that, but even Norman’s patron, E.W. Tobin, the Liberal MP for Richmond, Wolfe, couldn’t help Herbert’s cause.

  Herbert was forced to skulk out West. His already cash-strapped dad had to come up with the huge sum of 500 dollars to help pay his sons debts and travel expenses.

Herbert was a teeny bit ashamed. “Don’t tell anyone where I am,” he wrote to his parents from Saskatchewan, where he was staying with Norman’s former partner in the hemlock bark business.

Out West, Herbert worked in a series of jobs in, yes, banking, then insurance, and then with a the farm equipment company, Massey-Harris.

At one point he devised a scheme to dupe immigrant farmers out of their hard-earned cash.

“I also made a 100 dollars yesterday in the shape of a man’s note due in a year’s time. I sold a threshing outfit that I repossessed from a party that could not pay for it.  For 3300 and as there was only 3000 against the rig to the company; I am 300 dollars to the good.  In doing this I had to divide up with two others who assisted me and knew what I was doing so we get 100 each.  Have to keep these things quiet, of course.”

 

Herbletterhead

Herb’s letterhead from 1911-12 illustrating his roving ways

His other letters home were full of complaints about his workload, the freezing cold weather, etc. – and no shortage of insights into how capitalism works. “You have to already be rich to get rich out here,” he said.

Later, Herbert settled down in ‘real estate’ in Vancouver, got married twice to wealthy women, and then moved on to California.  He died in 1967, childless.

Beside his name in the Nicholson family genealogy it says “Successful Banker.” sic.

Dr. Henry ,whose dad, Alexander Watters,  was a Kingsbury, Quebec farmer, never married.  Henry employed his younger sisters, Christina then Anna, as his housekeeper in his comfortable clapboard Colonial in Newton, Massachusetts.

Henry may not have been a ladies man in the usual sense of the word, but he certainly had a way with the young ladies in his family. In the 1910 period, he indulged the Nicholson women no end with trips to Wellesley College in his flashy Stanley Steamer, with sea-bathing at Nantucket, box seats at Red Sox games, theatre plays, and dinners at the posh Windsor Hotel in Montreal, when at home visiting.

His younger sister, May, got new shirtwaist suits and fancy hats from him as gifts on a regular basis. Henry once used his  vacation time to drive his Aunt Margaret up and down the E.T to visit old friends.

And much to his Uncle Norman’s admiration, he paid his own father, Alexander, a trip “home” to the Old Country in 1911. “Not many sons would do that,” wrote an envious Norman to his wife.

Unlike Herbert, who found nothing good to say about any of his employers, the banks, the railway or insurance,  Dr. Henry never complained about work as a doctor and surgeon in his letters to family, even when suffering from a fatal disease at a relatively young age.

From his obituary in the New England Journal of Medicine: “When stricken with what he knew meant the shortening of his days and the limiting of his activities, he carried on cheerfully and uncomplainingly. He was the friend as well as the associate of those  with whom he worked, the friend and the physician of his patients.

Dr. Henry died 1937 and is buried at home, of course, in the clan cemetery in Melbourne, Quebec.  Herbert died in 1967 and is buried somewhere in a Long Beach cemetery. His last visit home to Richmond was in the 1920’s.

Herbnicholson1910

 Herbert Nicholson 1910ish

The information comes from the Nicholson Family letters of the 1910 period. The Watters clan of Kingsbury, Quebec is written down as Waters on the 1911 Canadian Census. Henry had a younger brother, William, who died in 1910. A photo on Ancestry claims this 21 year old William is an MD too. He must have been a recently graduated one, or still a student.

I have a short obit cut out left by the Nicholsons. It says the family is shocked at William’s death in Montreal, but nothing  else. A man could catch a cold and die in a day in those days, but this very short obit suggests something else more nefarious.

Below: 1911 census showing Herbert Nicholson living in a boarding house in Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan, with two recent immigrants, one from Germany, one of Scotland (a bartender, no less) and a female (!!!) stenographer. His temperance-minded parents would have passed out, had they known. 

 

quappelle

*This post was originally published on Writing Montreal, my blog.

Dr. Joseph Workman, Pioneer in Treating Mental Illness

If you have been watching the miniseries “Alias Grace” on CBC television or Netflix, you may remember a scene featuring a grey-haired gentleman with long sideburns. That character was based on the real-life physician Dr. Joseph Workman, known as the Father of Canadian Psychiatry.

The television show is based on the book of the same name by Margaret Atwood, a fictionalized account of the life of Grace Marks, an Irish-born servant girl convicted in 1843 of a double murder near Toronto. Grace was held at the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in Toronto at about the time that Dr. Workman became superintendent of the asylum.

Neither the book nor the television show makes it clear whether Grace was insane, or whether she was guilty of murder. There is little doubt, however, that Joseph Workman was a kind and intelligent man who made important contributions to the treatment of mental illness. In fact, he came from quite an extraordinary family.

Joseph (1805-1894) was born in Ballymacash, near Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland (now Northern Ireland). His parents were Joseph Workman Sr. (1759-1848) and Catherine Gowdie (1769-1872). Joseph Jr. was the fourth of nine children — eight boys and one girl. His only sister, Ann Workman (1809-1882), who married Montreal hardware merchant Henry Mulholland, was my direct ancestor.

The Workmans brought up their children to value hard work, education and Christian charity. Holding liberal views, they were members of the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland and they eventually became Unitarians.

The Workmans were not wealthy and they lived in a cozy cottage in the village, surrounded by fields and farmland. Joseph Sr. worked as a miller and as a teacher, then as land steward (manager) for a local landowner.

Joseph Jr. attended school around Lisburn and, after graduation, worked as a land surveyor for three years. In 1819, his oldest brother, Benjamin, immigrated to Montreal, where he became a teacher and newspaper publisher. Over the next 10 years, the Workman siblings, tired of the poverty, poor harvests and religious strife around them, all left Ireland for Canada. Joseph and his parents arrived in Montreal in 1829.

Joseph taught school and studied to become a doctor at the same time, obtaining a medical degree from McGill University in 1835. His thesis focused on the infectious nature of cholera (a radical idea at the time) after he watched the deadly disease sweep through the city in 1832 and 1834.

He married Elizabeth Wasnidge in 1835 and the couple eventually had 10 children, four of whom died young. In 1836, they moved to Toronto, where Joseph ran the Wasnidge family hardware business. For 10 years, he kept up his reading on medicine before finally leaving the business to concentrate on medicine. He built up a busy practice and taught at the Toronto School of Medicine.

He was appointed superintendent of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in 1853 and remained there until 1882. At first, Joseph knew little about mental illness, but it was easy to see that the asylum was filthy and overcrowded, and that the patients were neglected. He improved the institution’s efficiency and made sure the patients had good food and generous amounts of alcohol. His treatment approach focused on moral therapy:  kindness, truthfulness, social entertainment and religious instruction. Although cure rates did not improve, he did make progress in the humane treatment of the mentally ill.

The Workman brothers all achieved success in Canada. Alexander Workman became mayor of Ottawa, William was a successful hardware merchant and mayor of Montreal, Thomas became a prosperous businessman, and Benjamin had several careers, including teaching and medicine. Joseph and Benjamin were instrumental in establishing the Unitarian Church in Toronto and Montreal.

But biographer Christine L.M. Johnston considered Joseph to be the greatest of them all “because he radically changed the whole field of psychiatry, and not just in Canada. He influenced as well American superintendents of Lunatic Asylums…. Like most pioneers, he did not claim to be totally original – he introduced the new ideas initiated in Europe. Yet he was constantly exploring new avenues on his own after that.”1

This story is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Henry Mulholland, Montreal Hardware Merchant,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 17, 2016, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/03/henry-mulholland-montreal-hardware.html

Footnotes:

  1. Christine Johnston. “The Irish Connection: Benjamin and Joseph and their Brothers and their Coats of Many Colours,” CUUHS Meeting, May 1982, Paper #4, p. 6.

Other sources:

Christine I. M. Johnston, The Father of Canadian Psychiatry: Joseph Workman, Victoria: The Ogden Press, 2000.

Thomas E. Brown, “Joseph Workman,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto Press/Université Laval, 1990, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/workman_joseph_12E.html, accessed Oct. 23, 2017.

The Digger, One Family’s Journey from Ballymacash to Canada, Lisburn.com, http://lisburn.com/history/digger/Digger-2011/digger-19-08-2011.html, accessed Oct. 20, 2017.

There is an extensive database of the Workman family online called A Family Orchard: Leaves from the Workman Tree, http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~database/WORKMAN.htm

 

 

 

Sundays and the Great Depression

I used to hate Sundays. I had to go to Sunday school. I really didn’t understand why I had to attend because my parents just dropped me off. That’s right. They didn’t even go to church. And no one asked me if I wanted to go.

After they picked me up, things got worse. It was homework time until lunch. Of course, I could have done my homework on Friday night but Fridays were reserved for movies on the television and reading in bed with a flashlight until all hours.

And worst of all, some Sunday afternoons were for Visiting the Elderly Relatives. In my mind, my aunts and uncles were ancient. Plus my brother, being a boy and older than me, was apparently able to take care of himself, as he always seemed to be absent from these visits. So I would sit in the living rooms of my aunts and uncles, with no toys or any other amusements, and listen to the adults talk.

I now cherish the memories of these visits because they provided me with an appreciation of the social history of Montreal, as well as significant events such as the Depression and World War II.

The stories about the Depression are the ones that struck me the most. During the Depression, a quarter of Canada’s workforce was unemployed.1  My dad, Edward McHugh, was a young man out of work in Montreal and he joined his older brother and sister in Drummondville, to work for the Celanese. At the peak of the Depression, the Celanese employed 1,757 workers.2

None of the McHughs had cars in those days so they must have travelled back and forth to Drummondville by train. And Uncle Thomas McHugh married a local girl. I can just imagine the McHughs, from Verdun, arriving in Drummondville for the wedding. I doubt very many people spoke English in Drummondville at the time. The culture shock must have been intense.

My aunts and uncles, even into the 1960s, were thankful that they were able to have some work during the Depression. Uncle Al Scott worked for the Northern Telecom for 40 years, although with reduced hours during the Depression. Luckily Uncle Frank McHugh worked for the Montreal Tramway Company so he was able to keep working during the Depression. He was a tram driver for tram number 24 that started in Montreal West and crossed the city on Sherbrooke Street. His job was safe.

My aunts and uncles loved to have a good time and the Depression did not stop them. My Aunt Elsie used to describe their card parties. There was only one bottle of scotch, some ginger ale, one can of salmon and one loaf of sliced white bread. My aunt was able to spread the salmon so thinly that she could make sandwiches out of the whole loaf of bread.

It was very clear to me that the Depression was a very frightening time in their lives. During this period, the future must have seemed bleak. Life was a struggle to make ends meet.

 

Notes

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression_in_Canada

2 http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=14311&type=pge#.WSNY7Gg1-Uk

 

Mother-in-Law!

IMG_0414

John Sutherland

My great grandfather Donald Sutherland’s brother John was the only sibling I ever heard the family talk about. There were stories, but never any mention of a wife or children so I assumed he never married. I have recently discovered that not only was he married, but he was married twice and the second time to his mother-in-law!

Both my father and my Aunt remembered him as a slim and wiry old fellow, with a shock of white hair parted in the middle. He was hard of hearing but very chatty, unlike many of the other relatives. Words he had encountered since his deafness and had never heard distinctly, he pronounced according to some vague approximation. He drove a Ford sedan, which he referred to as his “sweden”.

I had trouble finding information on John Sutherland. I haven’t yet found his birth certificate and only know his approximate birth year (1864), from an early census. There are a lot of John Sutherlands and so no unusual name to help. The first information I found was his marriage in 1900 to a Mary Jane Gibson, which showed his parents to be William Sutherland and Elizabeth Mowat. I then found them on the 1911 census, Mary G with a Gertrude Sutherland 24 and Roy Sutherland 20. Whose children were they as they were born well before this marriage? Gertrude’s birth certificate from 1887 showed her mother was Elizabeth Gibson as did Roy’s in 1891. I then found Elizabeth’s birth certificate which stated her mother was Mary Jane Ramsey and at Elizabeth’s death she was the wife of John Sutherland.

John had married Elizabeth Gibson the daughter of William Gibson and Mary Jane Ramsey about 1886 and they moved in with her widowed mother. There, their two children were born.

In 1899 Elizabeth died of tuberculosis after several years struggling with the disease, leaving John with two young children. Perhaps it wasn’t seemly for her husband to continue to live with her mother but he needed help raising his children, so on March 9, 1900, he married his mother-in-law. At that time he was 37 and she was 49. In the 1901 census Mary Jane was still listed as the head of the household and John and his children as lodgers, but in 1911 she is the wife, Mary Jane Sutherland.

Interestingly, when his son Roy joined the army in 1918 he gave his next of kin as Mary Jane Gibson, his grandmother. Many questions can be raised about John and Mary Jane’s relationship. Was it merely a marriage of convenience or did they find love living closely together for years?

I have not found a record of either his death or Mary Jane’s. Although he lived for many years in Davisville on Merton Street, which borders on Mount Pleasant Cemetery, I haven’t been able to find if this is his final resting place. Most of his family members are buried in this cemetery. Elizabeth was buried in her father’s plot in the Toronto Necropolis, but John doesn’t appear to be there either. Are John and Mary Jane buried together somewhere, together through eternity?

Notes:

Small, Carol A. The McIntoshes of Inchverry. Denfield, Ont.: Maple Hurst, 2008. Print.

Elizabeth’s death Source Citation: Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 95.

Canada Census, 1901″, index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KHG1-YKN : accessed 12 Mar 2014), John Sutherland in an entry for Mary J Gibson, 1901.

Canada Census 1911″, index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/27XF-XQY : (accessed 10 January 2015), John Sutherland, 1911.

Elizabeth Van Loben Sels, personal recollections sent to her brother Donald Sutherland abt. 1980.

“Canada, Marriages, 1661-1949,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F2KB-76N : (accessed 6 December 2014), John Sutherland and Mary J. Gibson, 09 Mar 1900; citing Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, reference 44; FHL microfilm 230,899.

“Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KH6H-8QC : (accessed 5 December 2014), Elizabeth Sutherland, 20 Nov 1899; citing Toronto, Ontario, Canada, section and lot I 62, line 27564, volume Volume 08, 1891-1900, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,617,041.

%d bloggers like this: