Tag Archives: McHugh

Montreal Transit

“Eddie! Come on, Ed. Frank forgot his lunch and you have to take it to him.”

Ed’s heart sank. He had no school today but, instead of playing with his friends, he would have to make his way all the way from Verdun to Montreal West so that he could give Frank the lunch he forgot. It was sitting right there, on the kitchen table when Frank left – and he forgot it again!

My uncle, Frank McHugh, worked as a tramway driver and he drove the tram on the 63 or 64 route that went along Sherbrooke Street West in Montreal. The unlucky little boy who always had the job of taking him his lunch was my dad, Edward McHugh.

Uncle Frank’s full name was Francis Strachan McHugh. He was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1904 and emigrated to Canada with his parents and six siblings in 1912. His younger brother, Edward, was born in 1914. So, by the time Frank had found work as a tramway driver in the 1920’s, Edward was old enough to travel across the city and bring him his lunch.

Thomas McHugh with sons, Edward (left) and James (right). Edward was about eight years old in this picture, about the time he would have carried Frank’s lunch to him.

The first public transportation company in Montreal, The Montreal Passenger City Railway Company (MPCRC) was established in 1861 when the first horse-drawn tramway came into service along Notre Dame Street. The horse-drawn tramway had two employees on-board, a driver and a conductor who collected the fares. The passengers simply hailed the tram when they wanted to get on and signaled to the driver when they wanted to get off.1

Horse-drawn winter tramway on St. Catherine Street (around 1877), Société de transport de Montréal (STM) website, Tramways History

The MPCRC eventually became the Montreal Street Railway Company (MSRC). The MSRC introduced the first electric powered tramway, The Rocket, on September 21, 1892. The electric tramways immediately became very popular as they were much faster than the horse-drawn tramways. 2

By the time Uncle Frank became a tram driver, his employer was the Montreal Tramways Company (MTC). The MTC, created in 1911, acquired all the other transit companies on the island at that time. The citizens of Montreal, concerned that a private company had a monopoly over the public transit in the city, put pressure on the city, and the Montreal Transit Commission was created in 1918 to oversee the MTC. 3


Electric trams, Ste-Catherine Street, Montreal, McCord Museum, Wm Notman and Son, 1895

At the time that Uncle Frank worked as a tramway driver in the early 1920s, it was the peak of the operation of the tramway system in city. At that time, the MTC carried nearly 230 million passengers per year. 4 In 1924, the company published this map of the Montreal Transit system.5


Route map of bus and tramways in Montreal, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, collection numérique

By the mid-1920s, the city began transitioning to buses, with the first major replacement of the tramway in 1936 in the city’s east end on Notre Dame Street. 6 Uncle Frank followed suit and drove the bus that went along Sherbroooke Street West. But by that time, if he forgot his lunch, he was out of luck.

When cars became popular in Montreal in the 1950s, Uncle Frank quit his job as a bus driver and became a taxi driver.


Frank McHugh and his wife, Molly Baxter
.
  1. http://www.stm.info/en/about/discover_the_stm_its_history/history/tramways-history#:~:text=Created%20in%201911%2C%20the%20Montreal,quality%20of%20the%20service%20offered, accessed October 18, 2020
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid
  5. Société de transport de Montréal (STM) website, Tramways History, http://www.stm.info/en/about/discover_the_stm_its_history/history/tramways-history#:~:text=Created%20in%201911%2C%20the%20Montreal,quality%20of%20the%20service%20offered,accessed October 18, 2020
  6. http://www.stm.info/en/about/discover_the_stm_its_history/history/tramways-history#:~:text=Created%20in%201911%2C%20the%20Montreal,quality%20of%20the%20service%20offered, accessed October 18, 2020

Good wages, employment guaranteed

Good wages. Employment guaranteed. These words echoed over and over again in Mary McHugh’s head. And only some domestic experience required. Mary thought that she had quite enough domestic experience, thank you, as she was the only daughter still at home.

It was 1910 and Mary had turned 20 in February.1 Old enough to be married. No prospects in sight. She had been working at the jute factory since she finished school at 14.2 Like her older brother, Thomas McHugh, she immediately got a job in the jute factory as soon as she could. Mary’s mother, Sarah McLaughlin, was happy that Mary was working as Sarah was a widow and still had three children at home. Her husband, Michael McHugh, had died of tuberculosis when Mary’s brother, Francis, was just three months old.3  It had been a struggle for Sarah to make ends meet. Even though Sarah had managed to get a job as a charwoman,4 it was not easy. Sarah was exhausted when she got home, too, and it was up to Mary to help with the housework and cooking for her younger brothers. Mary’s older brother, Thomas, was already married with six children. He helped when he could but he had his own worries.

Mary thought ruefully about her job. She was a jute spinner at the flax mill.5 The mill was noisy and crowded. Mary worked twelve hours a day and it was back-breaking work. The women worked hard in the mills but made less wages than the men. The machines were dangerous. Accidents happened often.6 And then there was mill fever or brown lung. Most people who worked in the mill had a dry cough and sometimes even a fever.7

Mill Workers

Photograph from the BBC8

Mary liked the idea of being a domestic. The hours would be long and she would be on her feet all day but the air would be clean and it would be quiet. But Canada? So far away? All by herself? Could she do it?

These thoughts were the beginning of Mary’s plan to emigrate to Canada. Mary McHugh was my great aunt and she arrived on the S.S. Grampion that sailed from Glasgow and arrived in Quebec City in July 1911.9

In the early 1900s the demand for domestic servants in Canada exceeded the number of young Canadian women willing to do this type of work. Governments, employers, and women’s organizations made a special effort to encourage the immigration of household workers.8 More specifically, British immigrants were considered as desirable immigrants to Canada. As of 1888, steamship agents received a bonus for selling the passage of a female immigrant whose intent was to work as a domestic servant in Canada. This was called the British Bonus and it came into effect by an Order-in-Council on September 27, 1890. Its purpose was to offer an incentive to desirable British immigrants. Often the Canadian employer would pay the fare of the immigrant to the steamship company.10 The emigrating domestic would then have to pay it back out to her employer out of her wages. This meant that the young immigrant woman was already indebted to her employer even before she started working. If she was unhappy with her employment, it made it difficult for her to find a better employment as long as she owed money.11

It is probable that Mary’s fare to Canada was paid by her employer. Beside Mary McHugh’s name on the passenger manifest of the Grampion there is a stamp British Bonus Allowed.

Hopefully Mary enjoyed her employment. She was the first member of the McHugh family to arrive in Montreal in 1911. She was probably delighted when her mother, Sarah, and three brothers, Thomas, Edward and Francis, followed her to Montreal in May 1912. And Thomas’ wife, Elsie Orrock, and their seven children, Ann, Elsie, Sarah, Francis, Mary, Adam, and Thomas arrived in October 1912. Mary married John Mervin Porter in June 1913 and her family would have been there to celebrate with her.

 

Notes and sources:

This poster from the Canadian Museum of History is from a 1926 pamphlet entitled Housework in Canada: duties, wages, conditions and opportunities for household workers but there would have been similar pamphlets advertising for immigrants that may have given Mary the idea.  This pamphlet says that “Canada welcomes men and women of the right type who come to seek their fortune in this broad new land … (people) of good moral character, and in good health, mentally and physically.” You can see this on the Canadian Museum of History web site in the section Advertising in Britain in the 1920s, https://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/advertis/ads7-06e.html

Household work

  1. Scotland’s People, Register of Births, Mary Ann McHugh, born February 4, 1890, accessed November 18, 2017.
  2. Wikipedia web site, History of Education in Scotland, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_Scotland, accessed August 17, 2020.
  3. Scotland’s People, Registers of Death, Michael McHugh, died May 16, 1895, accessed November 27, 2017 and Scotland’s People, Registers of Births, Francis McHugh, born February 21, 1895, accessed November 27, 2017.
  4. Scotland’s People, 1911 Census, Sarah McHugh, 1 Tait Lane, Dundee, Scotland, accessed February 15, 2018.
  5. Scotland’s People, 1911 Census, Mary McHugh, 1 Tait Lane, Dundee, Scotland, accessed February 15, 2018.
  6. DD Tours web site, Workers of the mills, September 16, 2014, https://www.ddtours.co.uk/archive/workers-of-the-mills/, accessed August 17, 2020.
  7. com web site, Byssinosis, https://www.healthline.com/health/byssinosis, accessed August 19, 2020.
  8. BBC web site, Tayside and Central Scotland, The history of mills in Dundee, December 2, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/taysideandcentralscotland/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8390000/8390747.stm, accessed August 17, 2020.
  9. Passenger list, S.S. Grampion, July 1911, Glasgow – Quebec City.
  10. British Bonus Paid, British Home Children web site, https://www.britishhomechildren.com/single-post/2014/11/09/British-Bonus-Paid, accessed August 18, 2020
  11. Barber, M.J., Immigrant Domestic Servants in Canada, Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa, 1991, p. 9

Letter to My Grandson

Dear Grandson,

You will be born tomorrow, April 2, 2020. At this time, Montreal has 2,097 cases of the Corona Virus (COVID-19). In Quebec, this flu virus has caused 33 deaths. 1

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Almost every country in the world is currently in some type of lockdown. As governments manoeuvre through this crisis, trying to maintain health care systems and the basic needs of their citizens, families face individual struggles.

Schools, daycares, and businesses that are not considered essential services are closed.  Public health messages tell people to stay at home, to practice social distancing, a new term that means we do not congregate and that if we do need to have contact, to maintain a two-metre distance from each other. Playgrounds, libraries, sports complexes, cinemas, theatres, and shopping centres are shut down.

But love is not cancelled. We already love you so much. Normally we would be preparing for tomorrow, planning on meeting you at the hospital, with balloons, flowers and other gifts. Right now, no visitors are allowed.

Just a month ago, in what now seems to be a carefree world, I would have been planning to greet you at home, waiting to cuddle you in my arms, and lovingly admire your every feature. At this time, we do not know when we will visit you.

A little over a hundred years ago, my family lived through the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Montreal. It must have been just as frightening as today’s health crisis. The McHughs were a large family. My grandfather, Thomas, and his wife, Elsie, had eight children living at home. Grandfather Thomas’ mother, his two brothers, and his sister’s family lived close by. Thomas and Elsie’s daughter, Anne, and her husband, Norman Smith, had their first son, Thomas, just a few months before the Spanish Flu outbreak reached Canada.  They must have been terrified.

It is estimated that 20,000 people in Montreal died of the Spanish Flu. This is out of a population of over half a million.2 Many years ago I asked my aunt why no one in the family died during the Spanish Flu and she answered that the family stayed home. Only those who worked went out. They left the house as little as possible to buy food. They didn’t go to church. The children stayed home from school. And they did not visit anyone. In light of today’s crisis, it seems like they did the right thing.

Montreal was hard hit by the Spanish flu as it was a port city.3 Like COVID19 that has today spread quickly throughout the world due to travel, the Spanish Flu also spread rapidly this way. 4

It is believed that the Spanish Flu first came to Canada in two separate occasions, both on September 13, 1918. Polish soldiers coming through the U.S. to a military training camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake arrived with the flu. The same day, a group of Catholic clergy and parishioners arrived, also from the U.S., to attend a Eucharistic Congress in Victoriaville that hosted over 25,000 participants. By Monday, some of the participants were dead and the students who attended the Congress and who were not yet ill, travelled back home across Canada, spreading the virus rapidly.5

So dear Grandson, always remember that, no matter what, love is never cancelled. And, while you will be born in a time of great turmoil, I am optimistic for your future. You are lucky that you will be a citizen of a country with responsible government. Already the crisis has shown that creative solutions to problems can be found. A coat manufacturer is retooling to produce hospital gowns. Manufacturers of auto parts are set to change production lines so that they can deliver ventilators. Many distillers are making hand sanitizers instead of spirits.6 The provincial government has indicated that it will help farms in Quebec to expand so that they can produce more. One drug store chain has donated over a million face masks to the government.7

We will get through this.

Love,

Gran

 

  1. Government of Quebec website, Information about the Corona Virus, https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/health-issues/a-z/2019-coronavirus/situation-coronavirus-in-quebec/#c47900, accessed April 1, 2020.

 

  1. Wikipedia website, Montreal, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal, accessed March 22, 2020, Population in Montreal in 1911 was 533,341.

 

  1. Government of Canada, Parks Canada website, The Spanish Flu in Canada 1918 -1920, https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/res/doc/information-backgrounder/espagnole-spanish, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Global News, D’Amore, Rachael, Here’s How the Spanish Flu is similar and different from the Corona Virus, March 21, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/6707118/coronavirus-spanish-flu-comparison/, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Canadian Geographic website, The Outbreak and its Aftermath, Mitchell, Alanna, August 23, 2018, https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/outbreak-and-its-aftermath, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Ipolitics website, Pinkerton, Charlie, March 19, 2020, Trudeau says wartime production law could be used to boost manufacturing of medical equipment, https://ipolitics.ca/2020/03/19/trudeau-says-wartime-production-law-could-be-used-to-boost-manufacturing-of-medical-equipment/, accessed March 22, 2020.

 

  1. Le Journal de Québec website, Gagnon, Marc-André, COVID-19 Pénurie de masques d’ici 3 à 7 jours, March 31, 2020, https://www.journaldequebec.com/2020/03/31/en-directfrancois-legault-fait-le-point-sur-la-pandemie-de-covid-19-au-quebec, accessed April 1, 2020

Discovery and Imagination

Historical walking tours are a great way to walk in your ancestors’ footsteps. Even if you know a lot about the place your ancestors lived, you are sure to learn a few new facts. I recently visited Drummondville, where my dad, Edward McHugh, lived for eight years during the Great Depression. He, as well as his brother, Thomas, and his sister, Sarah Jane, had gone to Drummondville in 1933 after being out of work in Montreal. They were employed by the Celanese, one of the biggest employers in Quebec during the 1930s. The Celanese was a textile plant and my dad worked in the Silk Factory as an electrician. The Celanese plant in Drummondville was one of the main reasons why Drummondville hardly felt the effects of the Great Depression.

The walking tour I went on was a free tour offered by the Société d’histoire de Drummond (historical society of Drummondville).1 The tour started at Parc Woodyatt, named after James Blain Woodyatt, Director General and member of the Board of Directors of Southern Canada Power. Southern Canada Power built, owned and operated the hydroelectric complex In Drummondville. The public park Woodyatt opened in 1930 and included sports facilities such as a pool, a skating rink and tennis courts.2

My dad, who loved to skate and swim and was an avid tennis player, would have gone to this park regularly.

My dad also loved to go to the theatre and I can easily imagine him spending his Saturday evenings at the Théâtre Capitol, built in 1937. He would have been excited when the theatre opened. This lovely art deco building is currently a multi-screen cinema complex.

Across from the town square is the impressive Roman Catholic Basilica Saint- Frédéric. When the McHugh siblings lived in Drummondville in the 1930s, this church was not yet a basilica. The first church was a chapel built in 1822 and demolished in 1879 as it became too small to accommodate the parishioners. The second church was situated where the Saint-Frédéric Park is now, just in front of the current church. The second church burnt down in 1899. The third church, built at the church’s current location, was completed in 1907 and was the victim of arson in 1921. The fourth church is the one currently standing and it was completed in 1922. It is truly magnificent. It was named a minor basilica by Pope Francis in 2015.4

Image result for eglise saint frederic drummondville

In 1937, my uncle Thomas McHugh and Simone Cloutier, a young lady from Drummondville, were married in Saint-Frédéric.5  A Casavant organ, built in 1930, would have played at their wedding. Fourteen Stations of the Cross grace the church. Stained glass windows represent the life of Saint-Frédéric, an archbishop in France.6 The McHugh family was a large one, with nine siblings. They would probably have all attended the wedding, and would have most likely travelled from Montreal by train.

McHugh, Thomas with Simone Cloutier (maybe)

Sadly, they returned to visit this magnificent church less than one year later. Thomas McHugh died of an illness in the hospital.7 My father, along with his other brothers, signed the register as pallbearers.8 Thomas McHugh is buried in the Saint-Frédéric cemetery on Saint-Joseph Boulevard, not very far from the church.

From the outside I saw the Hôpital Sainte-Croix where, sadly, my uncle would have died. The current site of this hospital was founded in 1927 and, at the time of my uncle’s death, had 18 beds and one operating room. It was run by the Soeurs de la Présentation de Marie. 9

We finished our day by driving through the working class district of Drummondville where the workers of the Celanese lived. I know my dad lived on the top floor of a duplex. He had no car so he would have lived in walking distance from work.

It was truly a day of discovery and imagination.

 

 

  1. A sincere thank you to the Société d’histoire de Drummond for this walking tour and for all of the valuable work that they do to preserve the history of Drummondville.
  2. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  3. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  4. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  5. Registration of the marriage of Thomas McHugh and Simone Cloutier, July 17, 1937, Paroisse Saint-Frédéric de Drummond, Registres photographiés au Registres de Arthabaska
  6. Church pamphlet entitled Guide – Visite et histoire de la Basilique Saint-Frédéric de Drummondville
  7. The Drummondville Statesman, “Thomas McHugh Passes Away,” May 27, 1938, accessed March 19, 2016
  8. Registration of the death of Thomas McHugh, May 25, 1938, Paroisse Saint-Frédéric de Drummond, Registres photographiés au Registres de Arthabaska
  9. Société d’histoire de Drummond

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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

 

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