Category Archives: Social history

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 the 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

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Plymouth Shops before and after the Blitz

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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.

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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.  

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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.*

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(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!

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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. )

The Irish of Frampton, Quebec

Irish immigrants to the province of Quebec arrived at the port of Quebec City from the earliest days of the 19th century. From there, the British authorities began the process of allocating lands to these mostly poor Irish settlers. Some went to Montreal, where many of the men were hired to work on big construction projects such as the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s. Others settled in small hamlets in Portneuf, Lotbinière, Drummond, Gaspé, Huntingdon, Chateauguay, Joliette, Maskinongé, Montcalm, Napierville, Richmond and Deux Montagnes counties, as well as in the Ottawa Valley region. Many Irish Protestants moved further west, to Upper Canada.

Marianna O’Gallagher (1929-2010) wrote numerous books about the Irish of Quebec, and one of her texts inspired Rev. John A. Gallagher to write St. Patrick’s ParishQuebec. This article recalls the communal life of the Irish Catholic families of Quebec City before their final departures to various communities across the province. You can find this article online at http://www.umanitoba.ca/colleges/st_pauls/ccha/Back%20Issues/CCHA1947-48/Gallagher.pdf

The region of Frampton, in Dorchester County, was the site of one of the earliest rural settlements of Irish Catholic families in Quebec. Today, Frampton is in a beautiful area known as the Beauce, south of Quebec City, and the community is almost completely French-speaking, but 150 years ago things were very different. You will find a 62-page text entitled Irish Life in Rural Quebec: a history of Frampton, by Patrick M. Redmond, online at http://www.framptonirish.com/frampton/content/Irish_Life.pdf It includes the names of many individuals, as well as statistics, extensive footnotes and a bibliography.

The Frampton Irish Website, http://www.framptonirish.com/frampton/Whats_New.cfm, written by Dennis McLane, includes a database of more than 12,000 names. This database has also been posted to the public member trees section of Ancestry.com. Irish Needles, McLane’s three-volume history of the Frampton Irish, is available from http://www.Amazon.com. These three books are:

Volume I – Irish Needles: The History of the Frampton Irish – 245 pages – 3,600 families – 13,200 people > $20 US

Volume II – Genealogy Compendium of the Frampton Irish, A-K – 405 pages > $25 US

Volume III – Genealogy Compendium of the Frampton Irish. L-Z – 389 pages > $25 US

The Beautiful Montreal Metro System

By Sandra McHugh

Genealogy is much more than filling in names and dates on a family tree.  It is also about the social history and context in which our ancestors lived.  It is about technological, economic, and social advances and how they affected our ancestors and changed their lives. This is why I love local historical societies and what they bring to local and personal histories.

The Montreal metro system changed everything about Montreal.  It improved the public transportation system and allowed people to go back and forth from work comfortably and quickly.  It also enhanced neighbourhoods and created synergies between different areas of Montreal.

The metro system was inaugurated on October 14, 1966 during the tenure of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau.1 Montreal City council voted to build the metro system in 1961, and a year later, in 1962, Montreal’s bid for the world fair was granted and therefore the push was on to have the system completed in time for Expo 67.2 Expo 67, a celebration of Canada’s centennial, was held from April 1967 to October 1967.3

Montreal’s metro system is renowned for its architecture and public art.  Each station is unique.  Today, more than fifty stations are decorated with over one hundred works of art. Some of the more noteworthy pieces of art include the stained glass window at the Champs de Mars Station by Quebec artist Marcelle Ferron and the Guimard entrance to the Square Victoria Station. This is the only authentic Guimard entrance outside of Paris, although there are other subway systems around the world that have reproductions of Guimard entrances. 4

Guimard entrance

Guimard entrance to Square Victoria Station

In celebration of Montreal metro’s system and its fifty years, Heritage Montreal is offering architectural walking tours of the Montreal metro system that include information on how the metro stations transformed the surrounding neighbourhoods.  These tours are open to all for a modest fee and will run every weekend until September 25.  Heritage Montreal is a non-profit organization that “promotes and protects the architectural, historic, natural and cultural heritage of Greater Montreal.”5 You can find information on these walking tours here:

http://www.heritagemontreal.org/en/activite/architectours/

In 2017, Montreal will be celebrating its 375th anniversary.  Over the centuries, the building of bridges, roads, the railroad, trams, and bus and metro systems have shaped and transformed the economic, social, and cultural aspects of Montreal.  The Montreal metro system is a beautiful and integral part of Montreal’s heritage.  Let’s appreciate it.

 

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

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Line_(Montreal_Metro)

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expo_67

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Metro

5 http://www.heritagemontreal.org/en/about-us/our-mission/

 

An Ill-fated Social Experiment

Royal Arthur School

80 Canning Street

September 30, 1912

Dear Mother,

I am writing this in school to tell at last taken that long talked of flat and while I think (of it) will tell you the address; it is 2401 Hutchison St. and is almost next door to the McCoy’s which makes it fine for us. We moved in on Sat last (Sept 28) and they have been in cooking and doing all sorts of things for us. Mr. McCoy gave us a basket of peaches to start on.

The flat is completely furnished and is lighted by electricity and we do all our cooking by gas. There are four girls in the scheme, Flora, May, Lena Bullock who is a school teacher, too, and yours truly. We are planning to pay 20 dollars each per month and hope to be able to make ends meet but if we cannot then we will get another girl to come in with us.

The flat itself costs us $40.00 then we will have the rest for running expenses. When you come take an Amherst car up Bleury and get off at St. Viateur. And we will let you see what sort of housekeepers we are.
This is the first part of a missive written by Marion Nicholson, school teacher at Royal Arthur School in the Little Burgundy district of Montreal, to her mother, Margaret, back home in Richmond, Quebec.

By today’s standards, the letter contains nothing earth-shattering: a young working woman has taken an apartment with three other girls and is anxious to tell Mom all about it.

But, it is,indeed, an extraordinary letter.  In 1912, when the correspondence was penned, it was unacceptable, borderline illegal even, for women in the big cities of Canada to move in together to share expenses.

First, there was the problem of prostitution, so any such arrangement was highly suspect.  And then there was the problem of, well, personhood, that is no one would rent to a woman, even a woman with a steady salary, because these women couldn’t sign a lease.

Most women didn’t have a bank account, and those wealthy women who did couldn’t keep more than $2,000. in it.

Marion cashed her paycheque of 60 dollars a month at Renouf’s, a store that sold textbooks to the Montreal Board.

Official records reveal that between September 1912 and May 1913, 2401 Hutchison, in the Mile End district of Montreal, was occupied by another family that had been living there for years.  So, Marion and her friends did not sign any official lease.

Their unusual sublet was no doubt enabled by the McCoys mentioned in the letter.  The McCoys were family friends from a pioneering  Richmond  family.

 

marion margaret

Margaret Nicholson and daughter Marion in Richmond in 1912. Letters reveal that her family was afraid for Marion, she had become so thin.

The earlier letters in ‘the Nicholson collection’ explain why Marion was so excited about getting her own apartment. For a few years, she had boarded at a rooming house on Tower, in Westmount, run by a widow named Mrs. Ellis.  As was likely the custom, this Mrs. Ellis “lorded it over” her female charges, (Marion’s words) making sure they towed the line, especially when it came to male visitors and curfews.

In 1910, in the big bad city, even a well-connected 27 year old women like Marion Nicholson was considered in need of protection.  Besides, no respectable widow wanted to be accused of running a bawdy house.

In late 1911, Marion began seeing a certain Mr. Blair, a very eligible lumber merchant, which made her especially hate her curfew.  In 1912, already bone-tired from managing her class of 50 “very bad” second graders, she ran herself ragged in her spare time looking for a flat to live in.

Then, in late September she found that flat. And it even had electricity, a luxury her lovely family home in the fancy section of Richmond, Quebec wouldn’t have until the next year.

Family letters reveal that Mr. Blair or “Romeo” was a regular visitor at 2401 Hutchison during the fall and winter of 1912/13, not that Marion talked about his visits in her letters home. Flora, her younger sister, was the one who spilled the beans.

Oh, my!

Still, in the end, this bold feminist experiment didn’t work out, but not because of any sex scandal.

Running a home back then was just too labour intensive for women who worked during the day, even a home with a newfangled gas stove.

That’s why, during the winter of 1913, Marion and her flat mates relied on a series of older female relations, including mother Margaret, to keep house for them on a rotating basis.

In May 1913, the girls abandoned their flat on Hutchison and moved into a hotel room downtown at the Mansions on Guy Street.  Supposedly, they left behind a big fat mess.

 

Flora Mae Watters.PNG

Flora (front) and Mae Watters, around 1908 in Richmond, Quebec. Mae would get married in 1914 but Flora only much later, when in her forties.

Marion Nicholson soon became engaged to Mr. Blair.  She was disillusioned at work because a “mere boy out of school” had been hired over her head and given the much coveted  7th form, a position second only to the (male) principal, is how she described it to her father.

Sister Flora and Mae, a first cousin, returned to Mrs. Ellis’ much despised rooming house on Tower because they simply had no other place to go.

In the 1910 era, there was a dire shortage of accommodation for working women in Montreal.  In fact, Montreal’s leading citizens, including Mssrs. Birks and Reford, Mrs. Molson, Reverend Symonds of Christ Church Cathedral and Miss Carrie Derick of  the Montreal Local Council of Women, were holding public meetings to organize a hotel downtown just for women,  ‘respectable’ women (sic) where the girls could spend their evenings engaged in wholesome activities and presumably not cavorting around town at Vaudeville theatres, motion picture palaces, or at Dominion Park, the enormous thrill park on Notre Dame East.*1

Marion, who enjoyed all of the above activities, didn’t write anything in her letters about this critical community project, but I can guess what she thought about it.

In 1906, while attending McGill Normal School near what is now Place Bonaventure, she roomed at  the YWCA on Dorchester and simply hated it. “Too many rules,” she wrote home to Mom.2

  1. Montreal Gazette. Definite Start to Women’s Hotel. November 18, 1910.
  2. Marion Nicholson would marry, have four children and be widowed in 1927. She would go back to teaching and rise to be President of the Montreal Protestant Teacher’s Union during the WWII years. She fought for higher salaries and pensions for teachers, but died before she could earn one herself.  She was honored with an editorial in the February 16, 1947 Montreal Gazette that began: With the death of Marion A.N. Blair the teaching profession in the province, indeed, the whole Dominion, has suffered a serious loss.

The Cook at the McGill University Faculty Club

by Sandra McHugh

I particularly like the series Downton Abbey.  It portrays the upstairs and downstairs of the upper classes during the beginning of the twentieth century. I like to imagine what it would have been like to work as part of the domestic staff.  In 1922, my grandmother, Grace Graham Hunter, worked as a domestic, probably a cook, in Edinburgh for Dr. W. Kelman MacDonald, an osteopath.1 She was young and unmarried and looking for adventure.

Her experience as a cook in one of the homes of the upper class of Edinburgh surely stood her in good stead when she became head cook at the McGill University Faculty Club in Montreal.  When my grandmother was looking for adventure, Canada badly needed domestic workers.  The Canadian government favoured immigrants from Great Britain to ensure the predominance of British values.  The British Parliament passed the Empire Settlement Act, which entitled my grandmother to free third-class passage from Scotland to Canada.2

Given that the need for domestic workers was acute, government hostels, partially financed by both the Canadian government and the provinces, welcomed these immigrants to the major urban centres of Canada and referred them to Employment Services of Canada who then found them employment.3

The McGill University Faculty Club was established in 1923. I assume that my grandmother was one of the first employees as this is the year she met my grandfather and she used to tell me stories of letting him come in the back door to eat a dessert or two.

My grandmother also used to tell me many stories of the people who were members of the Faculty Club and their guests and of the pressure of preparing the food just right. I used to wonder about the famous people who dined there, who they shared their meals with, and what they discussed.

The Faculty Club was originally located on University Street.  It was only in 1935 that it was moved to its current location in the Baumgarten House on McTavish Street, the former resident of Sir Arthur Currie. 4 It was only when it moved that the Faculty Club allowed women members.  Notably, Maude Abbott became the first woman member of the Faculty Club.  She was a remarkable Montreal citizen.  She started practising medicine in 1894.  In 1910, McGill University awarded her an honorary degree and a lectureship in the Department of Pathology.5 In 1924, she founded the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. 6 Somehow, it seems fitting that such an extraordinary woman should be the first woman member of the McGill University Faculty Club.

 

1 This is derived from my grandmother’s address on the passenger list of the S.S. Montclare that sailed from Greenock, Scotland to Saint-John, New Brunswick on February 16, 1922.  Her address was listed as 41 Drumshegh Gardens, Edinburgh.  Dr. W. Kelman MacDonald, Osteopath, is listed as the owner linked to architectural drawings of work that was done in 1922. As my grandmother’s job was a domestic, I assume that she worked for Dr. MacDonald.

2Immigration Form 30-A of Grace Graham Hunter.

3 Crawford, Ruth, 1924, “Canada’s Program for Assimilation”, The Rotarian, May 1924, p. 16

4https://www.mcgill.ca/facultyclub/history

5https://www.mcgill.ca/about/history/features/mcgill-women

6https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maude_Abbott

 

Racism on a dance floor

In my last story¹ I recounted my teen years in Plymouth. Our gang of young Royal Navy Apprentices and us girls always went dancing on Saturdays at the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force Institute) Club in Plymouth, Devon.

This particular Saturday the NATO Fleet (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) including the USS Wasp was in town, the largest Aircraft Carrier our city had ever seen.

As we entered the NAAFI imagine our surprise when we saw our very first black men in the flesh (not at the picture house) AND they were doing the twist, the dance craze at the time.

We had never seen black people before, there were none that I had ever seen at that time, in our part of England. In the post-war period in 1950 it is estimated there were no more than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain and almost all born overseas.²

Most migrants who came to Britain after the war, found employment in the textile industries of Lancashire, Yorkshire Manchester and Bradford, cars and engineering factories in the West Midlands and Birmingham and the growing light industrial estates in places like Luton and Slough, near London.

In the South West where Plymouth is located, our economy was based on tourism, agriculture fishing and the Royal Navy Dockyard Devonport, so migration to our part of the country was limited to almost none.

On this particular night, we could not wait to copy these exotic black sailors doing the twist. They started to invite us to dance. One of them asked me onto the dance floor and showed me the ‘moves’ I had such fun and he was a wonderful dancer. The dance ended, and we started to chat.

Suddenly, a large white muscular US sailor inserted himself between me and this boy. ‘You don’t want to be dancing with this n*****’  he said. I was completely shocked, not only by his utter rudeness but his language. I had never heard that derogatory term before. The white sailor then tried to take my hand to dance with me, but I was having none of it, and dodged around him and continued my chat with the black sailor, much to the open disgust of this white sailor. Why was he so disgusted?

The black sailor suggested that perhaps I should not dance with him again, I asked why not? He did not answer but he did become very awkward. We finished our dance but he did not invite me onto the dance floor again.

We girls continued to have fun that night, but we could not understand why the white sailors were on one side of the room glowering at us, and the black ones on the other, and they never mixed or talked to each other.

That night was my first ever experience of racism and segregation and I did not even realise it. We were completely unaware of it, never seen it, and could not understand it. In the rest of the city, the black sailors were treated exactly as any other sailor and apparently, nobody else I knew had any idea of the racism or the segregation they were subjected to, except by their ‘own’ countrymen. I like to think that they at least enjoyed their visit to our city.

Several years later in 1965, after news of racism riots in Watts, Los Angles, my naiveté and innocence was shattered as I suddenly realised what that night out in the NAAFI in my home town had really meant. I had the sudden insight that not all people were equal after all, and racism and segregation had entered my world where it has stayed. A sad commentary on the 21st Century.

¹https://genealogyensemble.com/2016/03/04/my-home-town/

²https://en.wikipedia.org./wiki/Arrival_of_black_immigrants_in_London

 

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