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Do You Believe in Ghosts?


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!  )

There’s more.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Sister Pilgrimage

Early Sunday morning, dressed in our special t-shirts, we left in plenty of time for the morning church service at St Martin’s-in-the-Woods.  The greeter welcomed us warmly, and we asked if there might be any Haningtons at church that day.  She beckoned down the aisle to her husband who then introduced himself as Allen Hanington. 4-1StMartin-Haningtons (9) Overjoyed, we threw our arms around our surprised distant cousin and snapped a commemorative photo.  And so our journey began.

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My 3x great grandfather, William Hanington, was the first English settler in Shediac, New Brunswick, in 1785.  He was an amazing fellow who emigrated from England at the age of twenty-six, built a whole community, set up lumber exports, built ships, married a PEI girl and had a family of thirteen.   Later in life, in 1823, he donated a piece of land and built St Martin’s-in-the-Woods Anglican Church, where he was buried in 1838.St Martin's in the Woods

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Front: Sister Pilgrimage July 2015 Back: William Hanington – 3x Great Grandfather 1759-1838

This past July, my sister and I decided to go on a one week “sister pilgrimage” to explore our family history in Shediac from 230 years ago.  We ordered our specialized t-shirts and planned our family-and-friends-fun-filled trip to the Maritimes. A very special trip for us both.  We hadn’t travelled together before and my sister, recently widowed, was embracing a “carpe diem” attitude.

Peggy’s Cove was our first  tourist attraction and we enjoyed a stroll around the lighthouse and its spectacular rocks overlooking the ocean. The quaint little shops were charming and the local afternoon tea was delicious.

On our way to Shediac, NB, we visited my sister’s friend Helen who was new to the area and provided us with a hearty lunch.  We checked into our B&B in Shediac, and set off to explore the delightful little town.  On the waterfront, we climbed onto the famous giant lobster to pose for the ultimate tourist photo.  4Shediac (17)Afterwards, while strolling along the boardwalk, we came upon a historical monument dedicated to our 2x great grandfather Daniel Hanington, a famous politician in his time. What a terrific surprise!

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The Anglin Sisters meet the Wallace Sisters.

Hopewell Rocks was our second tourist attraction with its incredible change in tides.  That morning, we walked along the “beach”.  Then we lunched nearby at the Apple Blossom Café, run by three retired schoolteacher spinster sisters.  What a hoot they were!  After lunch, we returned to find high tide had completely transformed the whole bay.  Amazing!

The next morning, our GPS helped us find our way to tiny Clairville, NB, to visit my friends Carol and Bruce.  Their cozy place was beautifully perched up on a hill overlooking a vast field.  After a tour of their house and garden, we had a delicious lunch and then set out for Charlottetown, PEI.

While driving across the spectacular Confederation Bridge, it was difficult to imagine how William and his Indian guides paddled across the Northumberland Strait in 1792 to claim his bride in Summerside, PEI (then known as Ile-St.Jean).

We checked into our B&B in Charlottetown and headed off to meet Anne of Green Gables, our third tourist attraction.  Luckily for us, there weren’t many visitors that day and she was able to personally fill us in on all the latest town gossip.

On our last day, we visited our mother’s best childhood friend. who is living with her son and family just outside Charlottetown.  Our mother passed away when we were very young, and AuntJean“Auntie Jean” has been a precious source of their childhood tales. It was such a thrill to see her again.

Later on that Sunday after the morning service at St Martin’s-in-the-Woods, we visited with Allen’s charming sister Lillian, the family historian who knew our exact location in the Hanington family tree!

And just down the lane from the church, off  Hanington Street, was our grandmother’s summer cottage.  Our grandfather, Canon Lindsay, would fill in as their pastor from time to time over the summers and several people at church that morning remembered him fondly.

Finally, as we drove down the driveway to visit with Allen and his wife Willa, there they were sitting on the porch swing waiting to welcome us into their home. 4-1StMartin-Haningtons (18)The afternoon flew by with lemonade and homemade treats and eventually we bid farewell to our cousins with heartfelt promises to keep in touch.

PS  The August 2015 family newsletter, the Hanington Herald, just arrived by mail! Included in the comments from the President’s Desk (that would be our cousin Allen!), it says: “We just experienced a lovely visit from the Anglin sisters; Lucy (Montreal) and Margaret (Ottawa) who were visiting in the area and attended morning service at St Martin’s-in-the-Woods Anglican Church on Sunday, July 5th 2015.  We had a very nice visit on Sunday afternoon.  They are descendents of Daniel Hanington.”

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