Genealogy, Military history, Quebec, Social history

The Canadian Celanese and the Great Depression

“Damn!” My dad, Edward McHugh, cursed to himself. He thought ruefully that his great idea to change his job ten months ago did not work out very well. His first job after school was in the office of Henry Birks & Sons. While he was working there, he decided to take a bookkeeping class at night at Sullivan College and the A.R. Whittell Can Company thought that he showed initiative, was a snappy dresser, and would make a good salesperson. So they hired him. It was now 1931 and he had just been laid off because sales were dropping.1

McHugh, Ed Verdun

Edward McHugh in Verdun, Quebec, in the 1930s

Now what? Edward knew that the prospects of getting a job were bleak. Luckily Edward still lived at home with his parents and his father was a foreman at the Atlas Absestos Company.2 Still, it was worrisome.

It would be two years before Edward would find employment. He spent many evenings with his brothers and sisters, playing cards. During these evenings, their supper was sandwiches, made out of a loaf of white bread, some butter, and one can of salmon. 3

Maybe the idea to go altogether to Drummondville was hatched at one of the card parties. In any event, in 1933, in the depth of the Depression, the McHugh siblings, Edward, Thomas, Sarah Jane, and Sarah’s husband Jack, decided to move to Drummondville, Quebec to find work.

At that time and even though Quebec was hard hit by the Depression, the Canadian Celanese Company in Drummondville was a significant employer in the province, with 1,757 employees. The picture below shows the employees of the Canadian Celanese Company in that year.4

Celanese 1931

Moving to Drummondville would have been equivalent to immigrating to a new country. None of the members of the family would have had an automobile so the trip from Montreal to Drummondville would have had to be by train. As with many immigrants, their motives were financial.

As far as I know, they were all employed by the Canadian Celanese Company. The Celanese Corporation was founded in 1915 by two Swiss chemists, Camille and Henri Dreyfus and enjoyed significant success during WWI because of its development of synthetic fiber. The Canadian plant was built in 1926 in Drummondville. This location was chosen due to its proximity to a large expanse of forest, it was close to Montreal that was the centre of the textile industry at the time, and inexpensive hydro power  supplied by Southern Canadian Power was available.5

This picture of the Celanese, taken in the 1920s, shows that it was a significant manufacturing plant: 6

Celanese 1920s

My dad was hired as an electrician and worked in what was called the silk factory.7 The Celanese required electricians to work full time to ensure that the machines were never idle.

My dad and his siblings settled in and made a life in Drummondville. Both my dad and his brother, Thomas, played on the Celanese football team.8 Thomas married Simone Cloutier in 1937 and then died a year later in 1938 of an illness. Thomas is buried in the cemetery of the St. Frederic Church in Drummondville.9

Edward continued to work for the Celanese until the outbreak of the war. He signed up for duty in August 1940 at the Ste. Hyacinthe recruiting centre. The Celanese agreed to hire him once the war had finished but he did not go back.10

  1. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper. This information was in his employment records. It states that he left Henry Birks and Sons for a better job and that he was let go from A.R. Whittell because of lack of work.
  2. Although Thomas McHugh, Edward’s father, was deceased when the RCAF Attestation Paper was filled out, Thomas’ job at his death was noted. It is an assumption that he was working there in 1933. There is no indication that he was out of work during the Depression.
  3. As told to the author by her aunt, Elsie McHugh.
  4. The Ministry of Patrimoine Culturel, Province of Québec, http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=14311&type=pge#.W6gnEWhKiUk, accessed September 23, 2018.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Eastern Townships Archives Portal, https://www.townshipsarchives.ca/canadian-celanese-ltd 192?, accessed September 24, 2018.
  7. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper.
  8. Death of Thomas McHugh, “The Drummondville Spokesman,” “Thomas McHugh Passes Away,”May 27, 1938, accessed March 19, 2015. This article states that Thomas McHugh was on the Celanese football team. It is assumed that Edward was also on that team as his Attestation Paper said that he played football extensively.
  9. Marriage and death certificates of Thomas McHugh. Drouin Collection. St. Frederic Parish, Drummondville, Quebec.
  10. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper.
Genealogy, Military, RCAF Bombers WW II

The Black Out

On September 15, 1943 Police Inspector James Scales stopped my father, Edward McHugh, on the road between Easingwold and Tholthorpe. It was the middle of WWII and my father was probably in a hurry to get back to the RCAF base in Tholthorpe, Yorkshire, England. As he was part of the maintenance ground crew of RCAF Iroquois Sqaudron 431, he may have had to get up early to prepare the aircraft for an early morning sortie.

Officer Scales stopped my dad while he was riding a bicycle in the dark. He had left Easingwold, a small village about a half hour bicycle ride from the base. More specifically, it was 10:15 p.m.  I have the Summons that he received to report to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction in Easingwold.1

McHugh, Edward Summons.jpg

Dad was riding a “certain pedal bicycle” during the hours of darkness. He had unlawfully failed to attach the “obligatory lights” in conformance with the Lighting (Restrictions) Order, 1940.2

Great Britain, together with France, declared war on Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939.3 By January 1940, the Lighting (Restrictions) Order established a country-wide blackout during the hours of darkness.4 This restricted and forbade public lighting in towns. It required that street lamps be dimmed and that business and private residences black out their windows with blackout curtains so that light could not seep out. It also provided specifications for dimming the lights of motor vehicles and bicycles.5

Here is a poster that gives instructions on how to outfit a bicycle so that the lights are dimmed and facing the ground.6

Look out Black Out.jpg

My father would have known that the blackout was important and all his life he scrupulously followed the law. So he was not stopped because he didn’t care about the blackout. He was stopped because he didn’t have any lights at all.7

Once Britain imposed a country wide blackout through the Lighting (Restrictions) Order, car accidents increased and pedestrian fatalities doubled.8 Citizens were discouraged from nights out at the pub and were told to carry a newspaper or a white handkerchief so that they could be seen.9 Police Inspector Scales had decided to impose the letter of the law.10

I like to imagine that my dad had cycled into Easingwold for an evening out at the pub for a pint and a game of darts. He learned to play darts during the war and he continued to enjoy the game his whole life.  Bicycles were used on the base, so I assume that he borrowed one of them.11

In any event, while he must have been frustrated at being summoned to court for failing to have a light on the bicycle, it does seem a little dangerous to be travelling on a country road with no lights during a total blackout. But surely a smaller risk than fighting in a war that lasted five years.

 

  1. Summons to Edward McHugh, LAC, No. R. 6278 of 431 Squadron, RCAF Station Tholthorpe dated September 21, 1943, in author’s possession.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Wikipedia web site, “Declarations of war during World War II,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declarations_of_war_during_World_War_II, accessed April 22, 2018.
  4. Wiggam, Marc Patrick, The Blackout in Britain and Germany in World War II, Doctoral thesis, University of Exeter, March 2011, page 107.
  5. The Guardian, online edition, “Life during the blackout,” November 1, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/nov/01/blackout-britain-wartime, accessed April 22, 2018.
  6. Used with the kind permission of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. rospa.com.
  7. Summons to Edward McHugh, LAC, No. R. 6278 of 431 Squadron, RCAF Station Tholthorpe dated September 21, 1943, in author’s possession.
  8. Spartacus Educational web site, Blackout World War 2, http://spartacus-educational.com/2WWblackout.htm, accessed April 22, 2018.
  9. The Guardian, online edition, “Life during the blackout,” November 1, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/nov/01/blackout-britain-wartime, accessed April 22, 2018.
  10. Summons to Edward McHugh, LAC, No. R. 6278 of 431 Squadron, RCAF Station Tholthorpe dated September 21, 1943, in author’s possession.
  11. Joost, Mathias (Major), The unsung heroes of the Battle of Britain: The ground crew of No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron, September 11, 2017, Royal Canadian Air Force web site, http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/article-template-standard.page?doc=the-unsung-heroes-of-the-battle-of-britain-the-groundcrew-of-no-1-rcaf-squadron/idw3fd9t, accessed April 22, 2018.

 

 

Genealogy, Scotland

The White Death

Michael McHugh looked at his son, born only minutes before, with sadness. What would become of him? The room was warm and toasty even though it was one of the coldest winters in Scotland1 when Francis McHugh was born at midnight on February 21, 1895.2 Nevertheless Michael shivered in apprehension. The doctor was clear. Michael did not have long to live. He would likely be dead before the year was out.

Michael’s eldest son, Thomas was present at the birth. He was just nineteen and much too young to shoulder the burden of Michael’s family once Michael died even though Thomas was already contributing to the family’s finances. He worked in a jute factory as a yarn bleacher.3 At the age of 19, Thomas should be thinking of starting his own family one day. But how could he do that when he would have his mother and four siblings under nine to take care of?

Francis was the fifth child.4 The family lived in a tenement situated in the overcrowded industrial area near the jute factories. It is unlikely that the flat had a bathroom. The night that Francis was born, the flat would have been crowded. A female relative or two would have been there to help with the birth and the younger children. Thomas would have fetched the midwife or “howdie.”5 She would have stayed until Francis and his mother, Sarah, were comfortable and taken care of.

Michael had worked his 12-hour days at the jute factory6 until he could no longer manage it. He became increasing weak, losing weight at a rapid rate. He coughed up phlegm and sometimes blood. When he saw the doctor, his worse fears were confirmed. He had tuberculosis. The doctor named it phthisis. Michael knew it as “the white death.”

Michael was ashamed. It was known that tuberculosis was contagious, but the stigma remained. It was considered a poor man’s disease because of the unsanitary conditions of the tenements that the poor lived in.7

The doctor was careful to explain to Michael that it was contagious and Michael was careful not to cough or spit when he was with the children. He probably never carried Francis in his arms, out of fear of infecting him.

Michael died at home three months later.8 It would be about six years before Sarah Jane who was eight at the time of Francis’ birth, would be old enough to work and contribute to the family earnings. In the meantime, Thomas took care of them and he continued to do so, even when he immigrated to Canada in 1912, bringing his mother, his two brothers, his wife and his seven children.9

 

  1. Wikipedia web site, “Winter of 1894,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1894%E2%80%9395_in_the_United_Kingdom, accessed November 28, 2017. The British Isles suffered a severe winter in 1894/1895 that ended a decade of harsh winters, sometimes referred to as the Little Ice Age. Because the River Thames froze over, shipping was restricted and the economy suffered. Coal was at a premium.
  2. Birth registration of Francis McHugh, Scotland’s People, Statutory registers, Births, 282/1 384, accessed November 26, 2017.
  3. In the 1991 census, Thomas was 14 and he worked as a yarn bleacher. Scotland’s People 1891 census 282/1 35/48, accessed November 18, 2017.
  4. Scotland’s People 1891 census 282/1 35/48, accessed November 18, 2017. The 1891 census shows the children, Thomas, Sarah and Mary Ann. Edward McHugh was born in 1873, as per the registration of his birth, Scotland’s People, Statutory registers, Births, 282/1 384, accessed November 26, 2017.
  5. National Records of Scotland website. “Safe Delivery, A History of the Scottish Midwife,” https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/features/safe-delivery-a-history-of-scottish-midwives, accessed December 21, 2017.
  6. Dark Dundee web site, “Workers of the Mills,” https://www.darkdundee.co.uk/archive/dundee-landmarks/workers-of-the-mills/, accessed January 18, 2018. A regular working day was 12 hours in the jute mills. Dundee had one of the lowest wages in the country in the 19th century, and the highest cost of living. Low wages meant that there was little for anything that was not a necessity. While the jute mill workers had regular wages, it would have been hard to get themselves out of poverty.
  7. University of Virginia website, “Early Research and Treatment of Tuberculosis in the 19th Century, http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/alav/tuberculosis/, accessed January 18, 2018.
  8. Michael McHugh’s death certificate, date of death May 16, 1895. Scotland’s People, Statutory registers, Death, 282/1 148, accessed November 26, 2017. Cause of death: Phthisis lasting 4 months. It is doubtful that it lasted four months. The four months may have indicated the time that had elapsed since the diagnosis or since he was off work or even bedridden.
  9. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 Database, Ancestry.com, accessed November 14, 2017.
Genealogy, Quebec, Social history

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

 

England, Genealogy, Quebec, Scotland

The Cipher

By Sandra McHugh

When I say that my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, worked as a cipher, Bletchley Park, MI5, and Russian spies immediately come to mind. He was neither a Russian spy nor did he work as a cipher during the war. His employer was the Bank of Montreal and it was his first job when he came to Canada in 1912.

The decision to immigrate to Canada was not easy for Thomas. He was in his mid-30s and already had seven children, between the ages of one and fifteen. For over 40 years, the jute manufacturers of Dundee, Scotland had been providing employment for his parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, wife, and for him. However, by the early 1900s, he was facing a precarious future for his children.

By the early 1900s, Dundee had suffered a serious decline in the textile industry and more significantly, the jute industry.  Jute was imported from India, however, the mill owners realized that it would significantly lower the cost of production to open mills in India to prepare the jute and import the finished product to Scotland. Once mills were established in India, the jute production in the mills in Dundee decreased substantially.1

So when Thomas arrived in Canada, a little ahead of his wife and his children, he was eager and prepared to do any job so that he could. The Bank of Montreal had its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. In the early 1900s, the bank had significant dealings with Great Britain and there were correspondence and banking instructions back and forth between Canada and Great Britain daily. These instructions were mainly sent by telegraph overnight. There were two reasons for this. Some of these instructions were confidential and it was preferred that they remain so. Overnight instructions reduced the number of people who would have access to them. Another reason was the time difference between Montreal and the United Kingdom. The banks in London and Edinburgh were open for business while Montreal was still asleep.

Even in those days, the banks were concerned about security, privacy, and confidentiality. The banking instructions and transactions were submitted by telegraph and were encrypted. It was the job of the cipher clerk to decipher them so that the bank staff could then ensure that the instructions were carried out as required.

To be a cipher clerk, one had to be reliable, meticulous, and honest, and ensure the confidentiality of the bank’s business. The cipher clerk used a cipher handbook to decipher the information. Also, the cipher clerk worked overnight, so it was a difficult job for a man with a family.

So while my grandfather, the cipher, did not work in espionage, I still think that his first job in Canada was rather interesting.2

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

2 As related by my father, Edward McHugh