Genealogy

A Blacksmith’s Legacy

How does a gardener in a failing economy afford to purchase passage on a ship for a family of four in the hope of bettering his life in Canada? The answer may lie with a blacksmith.

The gardener was my great-great- great-grandfather Charles Brodie, born 1796 in Innerleithen, Scotland. The extended Brodie family lived in three neighbouring villages along the River Tweed: Peebles, Innerleithen and Traquair. The economy of the area rested on raising sheep augmented by wool-weaving. Hand weavers, however, were replaced by machines following the introduction of the steam engine at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Factories were built in cities close to cheap transportation routes forcing workers to leave their farms to find employment. The Scottish border towns fell into economic decline.

The blacksmith was Charles’ great-uncle, Alexander Brodie (1733 – 1811). Alexander was born in Traquair but reached the status of a master blacksmith in London. He designed The Register Stoves and Fire Hearths for Ships. Wood-burning iron stoves were a central feature of ships in those days, essential for cooking and warmth, but at the same time very dangerous. Many ships went to watery graves in flames. Brodie’s design was not only bigger but safer. The Royal Navy placed his stoves in all its ships “to the preservation of many valuable lives” according to a plaque in Traquair’s parish church commemorating his achievement. Alexander was handsomely rewarded for his design.

After the untimely death of his wife and two children, Alexander returned to Traquair. There he put his fortune to work to improve the lives of his fellow villagers. He eventually opened a woolen mill in Innerleithen, ushering in the industrial age. When Alexander died in 1811 his estate, worth over half a million pounds, was distributed, following a twenty-year court feud, among seventeen nieces and nephews. Charles’ father William (1751-1836) was one of the inheritors. Shortly thereafter Charles immigrated to Canada. One can only assume that the money came from his father’s inheritance.

Charles and his wife Elizabeth Kerr (b.1805) arrived in Canada in 1831 with two sons, Charles age twelve (1819-1859), and William age two (1829-1908). They settled in Montreal where the family grew to include two more sons, Robert (1835-1905) and Thomas (1838-1894). Charles was my great-great grandfather.

In 1850 Charles Jr. moved to Quebec City and opened a flour and grocery business. Robert, William and Thomas eventually joined him. Following Charles’ death in 1859 Robert and William formed a new partnership, the W. & R. Brodie Co. This company monopolized flour distribution in Quebec City and was the beginning of what today is the Brodie Flour Company.

In Quebec City’s Mount Herman cemetery, a granite monument stands high on the cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The four sides of the monument detail the life of each Brodie brother. Two sides include the inscription “Born at Innerleithen, Scotland. Died at Quebec“. A blacksmith’s legacy.

Brodie Grave Stone (2)

 

 

Notes and Sources:

Brodie, Peter – ancestry.ca.  Blair Family Tree

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/brodie_robert_13E.html

http://www.pastinnerleithen.com/alexander-brodie

William N. Boog Watson (1968) ALEXANDER BRODIE AND HIS FIREHEARTHS FOR SHIPS, The Mariner’s Mirror, 54:4, 409-412, DOI: 10.1080/00253359.1968.10659464

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genealogy, Quebec

Lead Crystal

My grandmother was seventy-one, barely five feet, less than ninety pounds, and very frail. She lay propped up with pillows as family hovered around her hospital bed. Her eyes were rimmed with purple with the bruise spreading down across her cheeks. Her arm was in a cast and her smashed glasses had not yet been replaced. At nine years old, I could only stand and stare in horror.

I’m sure the mugger had thought Jean was an easy mark – a quick shove, grab the purse and run. But the mugger didn’t know my grandmother. She had fought for years to keep food on the table and she was not going to relinquish her grocery money without a fight.

My grandmother was born Jean Jamison Brodie (1884-1971 , the daughter of wealthy Quebec City flour merchant. She was sickly as a child and, strangely, given into the care of her mother’s spinster sister. In 1902, Jean trained as a teacher at MacDonald College in Montreal. Controlling students bigger than she was proved to be too strenuous and she gave up teaching after only a year.

In 1911 Jean married James Rankin Angus (1878-1964) from Glasgow, a naval carpenter who immigrated to Canada. James opened The Angus Bookstore within the walls of the old city. The couple had two boys a year apart, Colin (1912-1943) and Oswald (1913- 1977), and a third son, Ian (1918-2003), five years later.

Their home was a spacious flat on Fraser Street. Jean’s aunt moved in with them, the boys grew, and the book store prospered. All was comfortable until the stock-market crash of 1929, the year the two oldest boys graduated from high school. James struggled to keep the bookstore afloat, adding a branch store in a more affluent part of town to attract new customers. He downsized his family’s living quarters. Colin and Oswald found jobs and contributed to the household finances. Jean learned to be very frugal. She walked miles to save five cents on a bunch of carrots. My father Ian claimed his mother could create a dinner with five chicken wings and make it look like a feast.

In 1935, the inevitable occurred. Both bookstores were lost. My grandfather joined the ranks of the unemployed.  But not my grandmother!  One would think, given her frailty, she would simply collapse from the weight of the stress. Instead, the desperate situation seemed tgrandparentso galvanize her strength.  She collected the books from the bankrupt stores and set about running a lending library from her home.

It was not easy for Jean to deal with the public – she was a  private person and the family’s financial downfall was very humiliating. How difficult it must have been for her to collect dues, particularly late payments, and suffer petty complaints from  customers who, once her equal, now looked down on her as merely a sales clerk. But she had a family to feed and so she persevered.

Twenty years later, in 1955, Jean was mugged on the way to the grocery store. By then, my grandfather had found employment, the children were grown and had children of their own. Jean no longer had to worry about money for the next meal. Still she refused to give up her purse. Never would she allow herself to become a victim.

 

Notes:

  • Birth certificate of Jane Jamieson Brodie – on file with author
  • Certificate issued to Jean Jamieson from the McGill Normal School – on file with author
  • Wedding Announcement, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph June 1911 – on file with author ; Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621 – 1967
  • Death to the Ashes. A self-published memoir  by Elizabeth Craig Angus, daughter-in-law to Jean Brodie Angus, in which she reminisces  on various incidents in the life of the Angus family.