Category Archives: Social history
Posted by Claire Lindell
Recently a much-loved member of our family passed away. She decided that she didn’t want a traditional funeral, but preferred to have friends and family gather in her home to celebrate a life well-lived.
Family and friends came from near and far to pay tribute.
Usually at a funeral someone gives a eulogy to honour the deceased. In this case, there was no funeral, so perhaps it would be appropriate to write a eulogy.
Pierrette Laurence Valiquette was born in the small town of La Minerve, Quebec, in the northern Laurentian Mountains, on October 20th, 1932, when the leaves were probably ablaze with dazzling autumn colours. She was one of six children of Laurence Bruneau and Philippe Valiquette.
The family moved to Outremont and Pierrette began working as a pattern maker. Her employer soon realized she had artistic talent. He sent her to New York City where she gathered information about the latest fashions. Her work was awarded first place in one of the local fashion design competitions.
Her marriage to my brother, John, took place in the Sacred Heart Chapel of Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal on January 30th, 1960. It is interesting to note that most marriages took place in the chapel because the long walk down the aisle in the Basilica made young brides too nervous.
The couple started a family while John studied to be a chartered accountant. His career took the family away from Montreal, but it didn’t matter whether they were in Toronto, Calgary or Edmonton, Pierrette always adapted to her environment. She continued to sketch and paint. When Pierrette and John returned east the family was delighted. They settled in Perth, Ontario, a heritage town just beyond Ottawa, much closer to the rest of the family.
Pierrette learned to play golf, something she continued to enjoy all of her adult life. She also was a member of the Raging Grannies, a golden-age protest group. She was determined to stop smoking. She attended Smoke Enders and later became a spokesperson for the cause.
At Christmas one year she joined a group of bell-ringers.
Pierrette was a member of several art associations in and around Perth. She participated in countless local exhibitions.
Bouquet in acrylic by Pierrette
Although her family came first, she nurtured her passion in art in its many forms. She would sketch people, create pen and ink drawings of local scenes. Acrylics were most likely her favourite medium. “Pitou” as John called her, painted beautiful scenes of the rolling hills of the Charlevoix area beyond Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.
When my sister-in-law was widowed at the age of 67, she decided to travel and pursue her art. One summer she went to Giverny, France, home to the Impressionist Monet, to study. Another year, it was a trip to Florence, Italy to study the Masters.
Other summers, she and some of her artist friends stayed closer to home. They went to Baie St. Paul, a beautiful part of Quebec. There she would truly be in her element.
In her home, the studio and kitchen were her favourite places. She was a good cook and she often had her father-in-law over for a meal. She would hand him his plate and say “Leave what you like” and he who loved to play on words would respond, “Eat what I don’t like?” There was never anything left on his plate at the end of the meal. He liked to tease her. She would give him a big smile.
We will miss Pierrette: her laughter, her smile, her talents, her compassion and kindness. She was a good wife, mother, friend and sister-in-law. We are all better off for having had her in our lives.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Notes: During the celebration in her home, family and friends were treated to an exhibition of many of her works.
Posted by Jacques Gagné
If you had ancestors in Quebec before 1854, chances are they lived on a seigneury. The seigneur (the owner of the seigneury) granted the land to tenants, who were usually called habitants or censitaires. The seigneurs and the habitants owed certain obligations to each other. The system, based on a feudal one, dates back to the mid-1600s when the government of France was trying to ensure its colony of New France would be settled in a systematic manner.
Seigneurs were usually people of noble backgrounds, military leaders or civil administrators, or they were religious institutions. Some seigneuries were well run, other seigneurs were absentee landlords or excessively demanding. In 1854, the seigneurial system was abolished and the tenants were allowed to acquire the land they farmed. The seigneuries had a lasting impact on Quebec society and geography and the names of many seigneuries and seigneurs live on in the names of towns and streets.
In the days of New France, Montreal was a small city on the shores of the St. Lawrence and the rest of the Island of Montreal was rural farmland. For many years, the priests of Saint Sulpice were the seigneurs of most of the island. The seigneurial system began to disappear from the Montreal region before it did elsewhere because it held back development of the growing city.
The compilation in the PDF below includes links to a variety of articles related to seigneuries and seigneurs who lived in the Montreal region, both on and off the island. Some articles are in English, others are in French. If you cannot understand the French, copy and paste the text into a translation app such as Google Translate.
Included in the compilation are links to articles from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography about some of the leading figures in the history of Montreal, as well as background information about the seigneuries, Catholic parish churches and cemeteries in the region.
The compilation also includes a list of the notaries who handled land transactions, wills and other legal agreements in the Montreal region up to the end of the 18th century. These notarial records are kept in the archives of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal. Finally, there is a list of further resources at the end of the compilation.
Posted by Barb Angus
Aunt Kay and Aunt Vi. Their names were always said as a unit for as children we saw them as inseparable. Their lives were also lived as a unit, lives devoted to family, career and an insatiable love for travel.
Violet, born 1904 1, and Kathleen, born 1907 2, were the daughters of George Hudson Willett and his wife Isabelle of Caplan, Quebec. George was a farmer and a seasonal guide for hunters and fishermen 3. Money was tight. From the beginning the girls wanted more than a life on the Gaspe coast.
By the time she was seventeen Violet was living in Montreal with her older sister Madge and working as a stenographer 4. Kathleen joined her a few years later. In 1927 Kay signed her first contract with the Lachine School Commission, later to become part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal 5. Kay’s career was that of a teacher, a consultant, a principal and ultimately an adjunct professor at McGill. Violet spent her entire career at the Bank of Montreal retiring as an executive secretary.
Initially the sisters lived in a lodging house in downtown Montreal 6. Early in my childhood they moved to an apartment in Montreal West. The apartment was small: living room, kitchen and one bedroom with twin beds. Beautiful rugs, furniture, and treasures from their travels made the space appear luxurious. Kay kept a meticulous inventory of their possessions 7. The sisters entertained friends and family simply but elegantly. A drop leaf table at one end of the living room opened to seat six with place settings of silver, crystal and fine china. As children we learned to eat with proper table manners when visiting our aunts!
The sisters never married although family legend claims that Violet left a heart-broken suitor in the Gaspe, a man who wrote to her every Christmas until her death. Kathleen had many male friends and colleagues but there were no rumours of love affairs. Both women were slim and beautiful and dressed with style. Vi was a redhead; Kay was a brunette with a distinctive white streak. Later in life she dyed her hair and the streak became blue, an idiosyncrasy that fascinated me.
Both women were devoted to their nine nieces and nephews. They spent time with each one, individually or in family groupings, in the city or at the farm in the Gaspe. Family photos are witness to cousins and aunts enjoying time together at the beach 8.
More than the beach, however, I loved going to lunch with them in Montreal at the Eaton’s dining room on the ninth floor. It always included a shopping trip! Their joint gifts to all of us over the years included clothes, books, educational toys, university fees, and travel experiences. They gave me a piece of the silverware every birthday and Christmas from the time I was very young. You can imagine how excited I was as a four year old opening the gift of a fork! Today that silverware is a treasured memory of their love.
The sisters lived together their entire lives except for the four years that Kay taught in Germany. Even then Vi joined Kay to holiday with her in Europe. In the end it was Alzheimer’s disease that separated them. Vi succumbed first. When Kay could no longer look after her, she was placed in a home where she died in 1983 at the age of eighty 9. As in their youth, Kay followed several years later. She died in a nursing home in 1991 at the age of eighty five 10.
Thus ended the era of the maiden aunts. Their legacy lives on in the achievements of their nieces and nephews, achievements fueled in large part by the values they imbued in us.
This family story is based on my own memories of my aunts and the stories my mother told of her older sisters in conversation with me. Where I can document specific facts, I have used the Evernote Clipper and stored the clips in an Evernote notebook labeled Family History.
- Violet Gwendolyn Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
- Kathleen MacDonald Willett – Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-91967
- Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 108; Census Place: St Charles de Caplan West (Parish), Bonaventure, Quebec; Page Number: 1
- Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
- Teacher’s Engagement document – on file with author
- Library and Archives Canada.Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 124; Census Place: Outremont (Town), Montreal (Laurier-Outremont), Quebec; Page Number: 11
- Handwritten inventory of apartment at 7455 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal – on file with author
- Family photos – on file with author
- & 10. Death announcements, Montreal Gazette – on file with author
I’m sitting on the fence, myself.
Over a decade ago, I discovered an old trunk of paper memorabilia once belonging to Nicholson family of Richmond, Quebec, my husband’s mother’s ancestors. It contained 1000 letters, 300 from the pivotal 1908-1913 years.
From these missives, I learned a great deal about these Canadian- born Scots, whose parents were Hebridean Scots, cleared from the land in the 1800’s and forced to come to Canada. And, because of a rather weird series of coincidences I learned all about a certain Masonic sword.
One evening back in 2004, about a year after I first found the trunkload of letters, I received an email.It was from Matthew Farfan, editor of Townships Heritage WebMagazine.
It seems that a couple in the Okanagan Valley of BC, we’ll call them the C’s, wanted to get in touch with me. They had Norman Nicholson’s sword! Norman is my husband’s great grandfather.
I had very recently posted an article about the Nicholsons on Matthew’s webmag with a big pic of Norman in Mason regalia front and center. The family papers revealed that old Norman Nicholson was a member in good standing of the Sussex Preceptory No. 9, Knights Templar, Sherbrooke.
I immediately emailed this Mr. C. “How in Heaven do you know it is Norman’s sword?”
He explained. In the early 60’s, his family had rented the Nicholson home, in Richmond, Quebec, from Edith Nicholson, Norman’s daughter. Somehow, Norman’s sword had been swept up in the bustle when the family moved out around 1965.
Mr. C had adored that house with its steep basement stairs and wondrous attic filled with fantastical (see : old fashioned) things. Mr C remembers using the silver sword to ‘terrorize’ his sister.
Tighsolas, built by Norman in 1896, the year Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to power for $2,700.
« Phone my wife, » Mr.C further instructed. « She’ll tell you all about the sword. »
So I did, on the jump, and what a story Mrs. C. related! The sword had been hanging on the BC couple’s wall since the death of her in-laws. Prior to that it had traveled all over North America, as far as California.
In 2004, Mr. C’s sister visited them. She mentioned, out of the blue, that the silver sword on the wall had a name engraved on it. They checked : the name was ‘Norman Nicholson.
A few months passed. Mrs. C had a sudden impulse to return the heirloom to its rightful owners. (What impeccable timing on her part!) Her husband’s childhood stampbook provided some clues. Apart from many stamps, it contained a picture of an old man with handlebar moustache decked out in Masonic garb with said blade at his side, and one envelope addressed to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson, Richmond, Quebec.
Norman in full Masonic regalia. This photo was in the stamp book and returned with the sword in 2004.
Margaret and Norman on Tighsolas lawn. A photo in the Nicholson photo album
Mrs. C googled ‘Norman Nicholson’, but no luck. There were too many people with that name . She then he entered “Margaret Nicholson” into the search engine and, presto, she fell upon the Eastern Townships Heritage website with my story and, plunk in the middle, she saw another picture of Norman in his Masonic regalia.
I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Over 50 years ago, in the age of Beatlemania and go go boots, an imaginative little boy living in Richmond, Quebec, plumbed the depths of that Nicholson treasure chest full of letters and memorabilia – the same one I discovered in 2003 at my in-laws’ – and this little boy snitched some stamps and an envelope for his collection and glued it into a page beside an appealing photograph of a snowy-haired swashbuckler, who was really a down-on-his-luck Eastern Township hemlock bark dealer.
A little later, he took the very sword the old man in the picture was posing with!
(Some Nicholson letters. Many letters in the 1000 envelope stash had the stamps carefully cut out. I now know where these stamps are! )
Norman ’s sword arrived at my house soon after. I showed it to my husband and my sons, Norman’s heirs, then placed it on the mantel.
That very night, as we all watched TV downstairs, we heard a loud thump in the living room.
We went upstairs to find the Nicholson binder I had put on the coffee table had exploded open. Its cellophane pages were strewn on the floor. Atop the pile was Norman’s death certificate. I kid you not.
It was likely the dog nosing around that caused this to happen, right? The binder had been filled to bulging with Nicholson documents. Still, I took no chances. I placed a portrait of Margaret on the mantel beside the Masonic sword.
I like to think that is what Norman was looking for.
PS. Although perpetually cash-strapped due to the crash of the hemlock bark industry in the Eastern Townships around 1900, Norman always found the 3 dollars to pay his monthly fees to the Masons. Norman’s records reveal he paid a hefty initiation fee, too, in 1888. Fifty dollars!
Clearly it was important to be a Mason in the ET. Apparently, the Presbyterian Church frowned up the society, saying Masons were encouraged to keep secrets from their wives. I know because the Nicholsons clipped a bit from a newspaper, likely the Montreal Witness, claiming as much!
In 1912, Margaret and their daughter, Edith, join the Order of the Eastern Star Chapter in Richmond. Edith became the Secretary. This OES was a female version of the Masons.
This is an updated version of a story published on the Eastern Townships Heritage Webmagazine in 2005.
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.”
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.
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.
*This post was originally published on Writing Montreal, my blog.
Posted by Janice Hamilton
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
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
- 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.
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
Posted by Sandra McHugh
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.
Posted by Mary 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?
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.
Posted by Marian Bulford
‘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…..
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)
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.
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.”
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.
- 4. Here’s a note about the heatwave of 1911 in nearby New England. http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/the-1911-heat-wave-was-so-deadly-it-drove-people-insane/
- 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.