Category Archives: Social history

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!

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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.

Floods!! Then And Now

‘Here it comes’  Dad yells out and we all rush to the front door with our brooms. Sweeping frantically we try to stop the flood water creeping into the house but to no avail.

With all the news about the Harvey Irma and Jose hurricanes and the resulting floods and damage, I was reminded of our house when I was about 9 years old in 1954. We lived in Watts Cottages, St. Levan’s Road Plymouth in Devon England. There were four cottages situated in a small park, in a pretty grassy ‘dip’. and St Levan’s Road outside the park’s elegant metal railings was the main road for cars and buses. Upon opening our garden gate it led directly to the grass and the park. It was idyllic,  except for one thing…..It flooded when it rained heavily. Plymouth is a very hilly area and our cottages were situated in that dip.

Shortly after my father bought the house, our neighbours could not wait to tell Dad that the four cottages flooded when rain was particularly heavy. Of course, nowadays a sale like that would never happen but this was only 9 years after WW2 and housing in our Naval city were in crisis. Thousands of people lived in prefabs – prefabricated homes built quickly after the war, intending to last for 10 years –  and many families lived together, due to the bomb damage and shortages of homes, so for my Dad to find this pretty cottage, next to a recreation field and a main bus route was wonderful.

Side view of the Cottages in the park from the recreation ground, Our cottage was the third from the left.

We had lived in our home for about a year before it flooded. It had rained heavily all day and suddenly, the garden had a few inches of water in it, which rapidly became two feet. It crept towards the front door. When Dad had heard about the flooding from the neighbours, he had built a waist-high cement wall and a wooden door to slot in place when it rained. He was hopeful that this would keep the water out of the house – it didn’t.

After our frantic efforts to sweep the water out, it was obviously a useless exercise so my Dad made Mum me and my baby sister all go upstairs, whilst he waded out the front door to try and clear the sewer drain, which was outside our gate in the park area. He was over 6 feet tall, but soon, the water had reached his chest. We all watched the drama unfold from our bedroom window. He managed to get the drain cover off, and a huge fountain of water shot up into the air! It kept going for ages and we waited for the flood waters to recede but it did not happen and I must admit that at nine years old, it was kind of exciting to see! All the neighbours across the street were watching too. Buses stopped on the main road to watch the huge fountain of water cascading over the park. Such drama! What excitement!

The aftermath the next day was not so much fun though. No kind of help from anyone in those days. We just waited for the flood waters to subside, and then started the usual clean up. No Fire Engines to help pump out the water, no help from the local city officials, no shelters no home insurance just us, Dad Mum and me sweeping out all the stinking mud and trying to dry everything out.

None of the surrounding homes (pictured below) suffered flooding as those four cottages did, and always afterwards, the place smelled of mould and damp. No wonder I was always sick with bronchitis. It took many years – 18 actually – before those cottages were officially condemned and boarded up.

Long before then the residents including us had just moved out and left behind their dreams and investment. It took another 7 years before they were bulldozed and grassed over. The local council did then, once officially condemned, pay residents a nominal fee but nothing like the money put into our homes.

Front view of the site today, after the demolition of the Cottages, still a pretty site. The bare green area was where the cottages were situated. You can see how the area slopes downwards.

I have to admit that when I went back to England one year and visited the park, it was a shock to see the houses gone and an empty spot grassed over. It did make me sad and although the victims of the recent Hurricanes had a far, far worse time of it than we ever did, I do know exactly what they went through afterwards…..

 

 

Heatwaves and Victory Gardens

 

socialnotespotato

On Sunday, October 1, 2017, some members of Genealogy Ensemble will be participating in the Culture Days event at the Verdun Farmer’s Market, in promotion of Beads in a Necklace, our  book of family stories to be published in November.   My talk will focus on WWI Victory Gardens and the rising cost of living during that period.

The newspaper clipping, above, is from the social notes column of the Richmond-Times Guardian, (Richmond, Quebec) circa 1905. The very silly item about a big potato is probably my husband’s grandfather’s way of poking fun at small town pretentions.  Or is it?

The Nicholson family’s vast vegetable garden behind their charming red-brick house in the Eastern Townships of Quebec was no joke to them, not even in an era when pre-prepared foods, like Heinz Beans, Jello, and Quaker Oats, were fast becoming house-hold names.*(1)

In 1911, with their four children were grown up, the large backyard garden that produced corn, beets, sweet peas, etc., was critical to the diet of this frugal Scottish Canadian family.

The potato patch was a particular concern:

“I put the Paris Green on the potatoes twice. Mrs. Montgomery came over to tell me that the bugs were eating up my potatoes. I was waiting to get someone to do it for me, as that was one thing I never attempted.

“But when she interfered thought we would try it. So one dark night, Flora (daughter) got the lantern and we went out when the bugs were asleep and gave them their dose. We dressed ourselves in the shed. You ought to have seen us. When we got through left our clothes there. Went to bed and dreamed all night that the bugs were crawling over us.”

So writes Margaret Mcleod Nicholson, in a July, 9, 1911 to husband Norman, who was away in Northern Ontario working as a railway inspector.

You have to admire Margaret’s style. Although her letters were often penned in haste and full of household concerns, ‘the local news’  as in gossip, and much high anxiety over finances, she certainly could paint a word picture when she wanted to.*(2)

In the spring of 1911, it was 57 year old Margaret’s job to care for the garden because her two older girls, Edith and Marion, were away teaching in Montreal, and her youngest, Flora, was very busy studying for final exams. Margaret and Flora were living alone for most of the year.

Although her daughters returned to Richmond for the summer, they came and went as they pleased, often in motorcars owned by wealthier neighbours. *(3)

Norman, in his letters home,  warned his wife not to work too hard out in the backyard, especially in hot weather, and the summer  of 1911, as it happens, was very, very hot.*(4)

tighsnapcorn

An ‘old-fashioned’ carriage in front of Tighsolas, the Nicholson home, circa 1910. A hire. The Nicholsons couldn’t afford to keep a carriage, let alone buy an automobile, like so many of their neighbours.

The same  letter continues:

“We have had dreadful hot weather. Just fancy, one night we slept out on the veranda. Took our mattresses down. The Skinners (other neighbours) were sleeping in theirs so that we were not afraid and we had Flossie (the dalmatian) with us but yesterday afternoon it rained so last night was cool.

We all had a good sleep and today is fine. We feel like working. I hope you did not have this extreme heat. We had quite a cold wave about the 24th but no frost.”

This sounds like typical Quebec  weather, doesn’t it?  So up and down.  It’s not easy cultivating a garden in this province. It takes perseverance.

Six years later, in the spring of 1917, most everyone in the west end of the city of Montreal was out on the street digging their wartime Victory Gardens.*(5)

Marion Nicholson, now a mother and homemaker living on York Street in lower Westmount, describes the scene in a letter home to Mom:

“Every vacant lot around the city has been utilized for gardens and I think it is more common to see people out digging and planting in these gardens than in a small town like Richmond. Some I think are making their first attempt.”

Her small family is no exception.  “Hugh (husband) and Willie (cousin) are making a garden. What success they will have I do not know. One thing for sure, the beds are straight (her underline) and square. I myself would prefer more in them.”

Marion (who is six months pregnant) then describes how she has hardly slept all week while tending her very sick toddler. She begs her mom to send as many crates of eggs as she can on the next train.

It certainly was an era of high-anxiety about food, nutrition  – and so many other things.

butterbill1917

Margaret’s 1917 butter bill. Inflation. The price of butter goes up from 30 to 40 cents from September to October.* (6)

Still, Marion closes her letter to her Mom by praising her comfort food:  “So, now to get a taste of your home-made bread. When I eat it, I close my eyes and I feel as if I were home. Thank you for all the good things you sent.”

orchard[1]

Edith, young Margaret, and Marion, far right, in summer of 1918 in an orchard in Richmond, possibly behind the Nicholson home as they had apple trees. (The newborn is in other pics.) This was the year of the Spanish Flu. It was safer in the countryside. Marion stayed an entire month in Richmond, until her husband, Hugh, begged her to come home in a letter. “The ice in the icebox has melted all over the floor, there’s no food in the house, the windows are kept open and it’s hot as Hades in here. Please come home and take care of me!” He was in the care of his sisters-in-law, who had better things to do in wartime Montreal  than to baby their brother-in-law. Edith, a Sun Life employee, volunteered in Soldiers’ Aid for the YMCA and for the Navy League.

  • 1. Most of the famous food brands of the 20th century got their start in 1900-1910 by advertising in magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal with happy-family lifestyle ads with bigger graphics and fewer printed promises. “Pure” was the adjective of the day.

It was understood, even back then, that the home was evolving from a center of production to a center of consumption. Margaret, born in 1853, made everything from scratch, on a woodstove, with recipes she kept firmly locked in her head; Marion Nicholson, born 1886, would cook on a gas stove relying on her Fanny Farmer Cookbook; her daughter, also Marion, born 1917,  living in middle class comfort in 1950’s suburbia, would feed her brood nothing but canned vegetables, even canned potatoes, which she warmed on an electric stove.

  • 2. Norman was tickled by an anecdote from a November, 1909 letter, where Margaret vividly describes a back-and-forth argument she has had with a male relation over woman suffrage. The relation invokes St. Paul as was the custom. She replies “St. Paul has been dead for a long time. I don’t live in those days, milking cows and making fires.” Norman, who is active in local politics, replies in support of his wife: “Too absurd to think that a woman cannot exercise her franchise with as much intelligence as some of the male sex. And when you have to drag some of these supposedly intelligent men to the polls as you would cattle.”
  • 3. Margaret disliked motor cars. From 1909. “Mr. Montgomery is selling his horse and buying a car. Don’t you think he is foolish?” But, she was happy to go on drives when invited.
  • 5.  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/victory-gardens. Apparently, Victory Gardens weren’t only a way to add to the food supply; they were about improving morale on the home-front by making people feel useful.

 

  • 6. A Chicago Agency sent a very fancy direct mail advertisement out to Richmond homemakers in 1916 on behalf of a new product called Crisco Shortening asking, “Do you like the taste of fresh buns in the morning? Try Crisco.” A coupon was attached.

 

THE DRIVING LESSON

I pace the floor nervously. Where IS he? How much longer do I have to wait? He is already 30 minutes late!

It is 23 January 1979 and I have been in Quebec, Canada for all of three months and today is my first driving lesson – EVER. I have never even sat behind the driving wheel of a car. In England, I walked everywhere pushing the children in my Silver Cross upright pram and later, we caught a bus. In Geneva where we had been living previously, we had a small VW Beetle and my husband drove it. Here, we have what to me is a huge car, and I am supposed to learn how to drive it? I am a nervous wreck. My son Owen, aged 5 has to come with me, as I do not know anyone to care for him, and the thought of Owen in the back seat with ME and my first driving lesson has me really worried.  My appointment was for 10 am. At 10:30 I call the school to ask where he is. They tell me he should be there, and to make alternative arrangements when he arrives.

WHAT? All that worry and a sleepless night to make alternative arrangements?! My fear makes me angry. The driving instructor eventually arrives 40 minutes late, claiming to have been ‘ringing the bell’ and I was not answering. I tell him he is very late and I called the school to ask where he was. Then, HE gets annoyed and informs me he has to go or the other client will be ‘tearing his hair out’ plus, I cannot expect him exactly on time in ‘these conditions’ These conditions being heavy snow, wind and ice which is not ideal  for a first ever driving lesson, but what do I know?

I tell him to leave and I am going to cancel future lessons with this school. I shut the door and cry and cry I feel like a failure. I’ll never learn to drive. Eventually, I mop up and call the school and demand a refund. The director was very kind and said the instructor was wrong trying to justify his lateness.  He would make another appointment. ‘Not with HIM’ I rage. No, another person he soothes. I put the phone down, have another cry. I feel so frustrated, angry nervous and very alone. I wept for most of the day. Two days later, after 2 and half hours of snow clearing another strange ritual, I have my first driving lesson.

The instructor this time is a Welsh man and he is very patient telling me to relax. Ha! relax? No way! The sweat is actually running down my back and I can’t stop trembling. How do I work the window wipers in this snow? Put the heater on? Which side of the road am I supposed to be on? Why is there a ‘Stop’ sign at every corner? I manage to get to the next street and it is covered in thick ice. A water main has burst, and the street is like an ice rink or what I would imagine an ice rink to be, having never seen one. Oh! the anxieties and fears of being a newcomer.

Eventually, I do get my driving license, and today I love to drive but those few fraught months of learning is something I will never forget but the bonus is, that driving in snowy icy weather here in Quebec is a breeze for me now! I have no fear.

 

 

Border Raiding Ruffians

Border Raider and Reivers Public Domain

  Border Reivers: They were often romanticized in art.*

 

Growing up in Montreal in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, I was often asked, “Are you related to HIM?”  They were referring to Richard Nixon, President of the United States from 1969 to 1974, also a Vice-President from 1953 to ’61.  To this I would reply an emphatic “No! I’m English.  He’s Irish.” I always wanted to add, “Do you ask everyone named Johnson if they are related to Lyndon?”

My father was the one who insisted we were not related to Richard Nixon. Dick was an Irish Nixon, Daddy said. Our Nixons were English. My father also told me, with a sly self-effacing wink, that our Nixons were sheep stealers.  It all sounded a bit cockeyed to me.

Today, 50 years on, I am engaged in working out my genealogy. I’ve had my DNA tested at Ancestry and I’m growing a tree. It seems that my dad was right on two points, about the sheep and, possibly, about Richard Nixon’s Irishness, but not about our family’s relationship to the late American President.

We probably do come from the same ancient stock.

I’ve just learned the Nixons of Northern England are descended from Border Reivers, families from the lawless, burnt out Scottish/English border regions of the British Isles  (Cumberland and Northumberland) who raided other people’s livestock for a living. If you are a Nixon, Forster, Graham, Armstrong, Bell, Eliot, Armstrong, Robson, Crozier, Kerr, and yes, Johnson, you might be descended from these 13th to 17th century outlaws.  Apparently, the Nixon Administration was full of them.

As it happens, I am both a Nixon and a Forster.  An alleged ancestor of mine, illustrious Border Reiver Sir John Forster of Northumberland, was knighted for his service to Queen Elizabeth I in 1557. Sir John was lucky to be on the winning side of two key battles. His castle was in a strategic location on the “middle march” section of the border, so, apparently, he enriched himself with his share of the spoils from all local cattle raids, in England and Scotland.

The Nixon Clan has an even sketchier reputation. According to some accounts, they were “rude borderers” from Carlisle, Cumberland, who held no allegiances (except to the Armstrong Clan) and felt at home on either side of the border.  They were real baddies who were exiled to Ireland and, then, kicked right back to England. Many in the clan were hanged for their transgressions at Carlisle Castle.

That is likely where my father got the idea that Richard Nixon was an Irish Nixon.  I suspect my great grandfather, Robert Nixon ( 1863-1937), a sawmill worker in Helmsley, Yorkshire in the 1920’s, filled his young grandson’s head with many a grand, romantic tale of their burly, bearded ancestors, skilled light horsemen on  fleet-footed stallions, engaging in strategic, daring cattle raids on the Scottish border.

It appears that these Border Reiver families can be described as reckless ruffians on horseback and/or heroic defenders of the monarchy; scoundrels or heroes; charming rascals or organized crime. It’s only point of view.

Just don’t blame these people for their wild way of life.  In the 13th to 17th centuries, the area around the English/Scottish border was ravaged by warfare and not suitable for farming. Raiding sheep and cattle was just a way to earn a living. Also, the exact location of the border was disputed.

The BBC paid homage to these Border Reiver families with a TV show in 1968 called “The Borderers,” featuring a young and handsome Michael Gambon. The adventure series never came to North America, but I have found it on YouTube. If the BBC series had come to Canada back in 1968, when I was 13, I doubt it would have appealed to me any more than any other small screen horse opera.

But my father would have been mightily impressed.

* Illustration at top from book  Border Raids and Reivers, Robert Borland. Available on Archive.org and in the public domain.

 

Here’s  Sir John Forster’s Wikipedia page.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Forster_(soldier)

You can read more about the Border Reivers on the Historic UK website, where I got some of my info.

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Border-Reivers/

Read about their connection with the Nixon Adminstration here.

http://articles.latimes.com/1996-02-11/news/mn-34692_1_border-reivers

Aren’t Birthday Parties Fun?

By Sandra McHugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

What buildings are important to your family’s history?

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

 

New Book Tells History of Mile End

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

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

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

IMG_8942

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

carriage drive

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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