Tag Archives: Weston

Understanding Mary, My Protestant Irish Ancestor

Can I learn anything about my great great great grandmother’s life, despite having only a name, a birthplace and a rough idea of where she lived as she raised her children?

That challenge led me to a fascinating thesis about the Irish Protestant Identity in Ontario written in 2010 by Brenda Hooper-Goranson. Hooper-Goranson’s research describes how many Irish women of Mary’s time ensured a lasting Irish identity in Canada that differed from that in the homeland.

Thanks to Ms. Hooper-Goranson, I have been able to imagine the life of women like my ancestor in general terms even if her actual life and personality remain obscure.

An Irish Protestant identity was transferred to Canada as solidly intact as any Irish Catholic identity was and it can even be argued that the former outlasted the latter with regard to late nineteenth-early twentieth century Canadianizing influences,” wrote Hopper-Goranson in the introduction of her thesis. “That distinctive presence was changed or softened in only one regard. In time, with the space and distance that Canada afforded, abrading homeland identities might be abridged, and Irish Protestant and Irish Catholic on new soil found opportunities to simply be ‘Irish’.1

People like Mary maintained connections to family in Ireland, helped foster relationships with neighbours, brought recipes, seeds, textiles and furniture from their home country to their new communities and fostered religious practices and apprenticeships in their children.

Whether Mary herself did such things isn’t certain. We do know that she was born in Ireland, thanks to the 1932 death certificate of her daughter.2 That same document mentions her husband’s Scottish roots, the family religion of Brethren, their daughter’s 1856 birth in Orangeville, Canada West and her death in Weston, Ontario.

Those facts allowed me to make several assumptions about my great great grandmother’s life that enabled me to read Hooper-Goranson’s thesis with an eye to imagining more. We know for sure that Mary Willard travelled from Ireland to Canada West at some point, and the decision probably wasn’t hers. A father, a husband—in those days, women didn’t often get to set their own destinies.

Where she lived in Ireland, whether she lived in other places too, whether she married her Scottish husband in Europe or elsewhere, whether they met on a specific journey or after separately travelling to North America isn’t clear. All I know for sure is that Mary Willard identified as Irish; her faith was Protestant; and she and her husband lived in Canada West when her daughter was born. Given that her daughter died in the Grand River region not far from her birth, it’s likely that her parents lived in the same region for most of their lives.

We do know that in the 1800’s, Canada attracted more migrants from Ireland than any other country in the world. When possible, these migrants tended to settle together with others of the same religion, many in Canada West, which became Ontario.

Irish hostilities between Protestants and Catholics became prevalent late in that century. Fenians raided Canada West from Irish communities in the northern states beginning in 1866. Riots broke out in Toronto in 1875, during the Jubilee March and in 1878, when O’Donavon Rossa visited the city to give a speech.

In most Canada West communities, however, Hooper-Goranson argues that the challenges of felling forests, building homes, subsistence farming and mourning the losses from fevers and disease blurred the lines between groups. Often, a general homesickness for Ireland linked Catholic and Protestant settlers together into a common identity.

Class structures brought to the New World from Europe when Mary Willard lived fell apart in a matter of months, primarily to the amount of work required just to stay alive. Women of all stations did everything required to run a household, including helping grow crops for food, making candles, producing soap, grinding sugar, baking bread, milking cows, knitting or spinning clothes and preparing flour or wool. People offering domestic assistance had so many possible positions, they could be choosy.

…the observations of lrish Protestant immigrant James Reford show that he too, took note of a change in the social climate in America when he complained that even Irish Catholic servants “from the bogs of Connoght” expected certain comforts and conveniences far different from Home. “If you want a girl to do housework the first question is have you got hot and cold water in the house, stationary wash tubs, wringer? Is my bedroom carpeted [with] bureau table wash stand and chairs … and what privileges and the wages? … The writer makes the charge that such girls are too ambitious, and deceitful about their previously humble origins.3

Despite the amount of hard work, Irish women in Upper Canada worked hard to match the fashion trends back in Ireland.

After joining her husband in Canada in 1836, Margaret Carrothers wrote several years later from London, Upper Canada, encouraging her mother to make the journey herself with the remittance pay she sent home. Part of her enticement was the reassurance that her mother could look the part of the Irish lady even on the frontier. Although Margaret requested her mother bring the latest patterns of capes, sleeves, cloaks, and bonnets she delighted that ” … Dress of every kind is worn the same here as with you only much richer and gayer …… this has become a very fashionable place you would see more silks worn here in one day than you would see in Maguires bridge in your lifetime and could not tell the difference between the Lady and the Servant Girl as it is not uncommon for her to wear a Silk Cloak and Boa and Muff on her hands and her Bonnet ornamented with artificial flowers and vail.4

Whether hostilities arose or not often depended on whether communities included nationalities beyond Catholic and Protestant Irish. In those cases, rather than differentiating between themselves, Irish settlers saw themselves as a common group against the others.

There were many occasions where Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics found cause with one another enough to march together in support or defiance of Tenants Leagues, Famine Relief, Confederation, Fenianism, Irish politics and personages, and of course, St. Patrick’s Day was held sacred to both.5

Generations of women built up and maintained national communities as religious differences diminished. They married Irish men, stayed in contact with family members in Ireland, collected Irish recipes, crafted Irish patterns onto clothing and household items, learned Irish Dancing and celebrated holidays with neighbours.

Traditionally, Irish families make their plum pudding on the last Sunday in November before the beginning of Advent. Everyone in the household is supposed to stir the mixture, which contains 13 ingredients to represent Christ and his Disciples.

My great granny Charlotte used to make one every year. I remember it being blacker than fruit cake and with a yummy rum topping.

Sadly, her recipe either was never written down or, if it was, it has since been lost. I’ve been trying to duplicate the flavour ever since.

Haven’t managed to get it right yet, but here’s my closest guess so far.

Christmas Plum Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250g) brown sugar
  • Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 cup (250g) dried currants
  • 2 cups (500g) raisins, ideally different colours
  • 1/2 cup (125g) candied cherries
  • 1 can (350ml) stout (I use Buckwheat beer because I can’t eat gluten)
  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsps nutmeg
  • ground cloves
  • 1 cup (250g) butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and shredded

Directions

  1. Grease and line three pudding bowls or the cooking vessels of your choice.
  2. Mix everything together except for the eggs and the stout.
  3. Beat the eggs and slowly add them to the mixture.
  4. Pour the stout in slowly, mixing the whole time. This is a good time to get the family involved.
  5. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight.
  6. The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (130C).
  7. Pour the mixture into the pudding bowls.
  8. Place deeper pans full of water in the oven. Put the bowls into the water so that they are about 2/3rds covered.
  9. Steam for 6 hours.
  10. Set aside in a cool dark place to dry.
  11. On Christmas day, steam the puddings for about 3 hours or until cooked through.
  12. Cut and serve with rum topping.

Rum Topping

Ingredients

  • 1/ cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup rum, brandy or sherry
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Directions

  1. Combine the sugar and butter with a hand mixer until fluffy and light.
  2. Beat in eggs.
  3. Add rum, brandy or sherry and nutmeg.
  4. Cook over boil water for 5 minutes or so, stirring constantly past the curdling point until the sauce looks smooth.
  5. Pour over the Christmas pudding.

Sources

1Hooper-Goranson, Brenda C. 2012. “No Earthly Distinctions : Irishness and Identity in Nineteenth Century Ontario, 1823-1900.” Dissertation, Library and Archives Canada = Bibliothèque et Archives Canada. McMaster University.

2 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database with images, FamilySearch (Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937), Deaths > 1932 > no 3918-5556 > image 1593 of 1748; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

3Hooper-Goranson

4Linen Hall Library, Belfast, Edward N. Carrothers, “Irish Emigrants Letters From Canada, 1839-1870”, (Belfast Northern Ireland, 1951), pp.4-5. Margaret Carrothers, London, U.C. to Mrs. Kirk [Patrick?] Maguiresbridge, Ireland, December 25, 1839.

5Hooper-Goranson

Charlotte and Arthur’s War-Time Wedding

I never asked my great granny Charlotte about her wedding, but the records I’ve found hint at lots of intrigue.

Did they plan a summer wedding and then rush things to avoid conscription? Had they initially hoped to marry in the church next to her home but lost the opportunity due to community infighting?

Probably, but not yet proven.

What I do know is that my great grandparents—then 23-year-old groom Arthur Johnson and his 22-year-old bride Charlotte Charbonneau—chose to marry on Friday, February 9, 1917 in an unfinished church basement blocks away from her home instead of in the church right next door.

The direct information I have about that day appears in an affidavit filled out by Arthur on January 22, signed by the witnesses and solemniser, and turned in to the Registrar on February 17.[1]

When looking at it, I couldn’t help wondering two things: why then and why there?

Why February?

She wasn’t pregnant—their first son wouldn’t be born for another two years.

Money would be tight later, but at that point both had jobs. Arthur worked as a machinist and Charlotte served as a fore-lady, probably supervising women at a factory producing something for the war.

Did the impetus to marry early in 2017 have something to do with federal government musings about conscription at that time? Prime Minister Robert Borden promised publicly that he’d send 500,000 Canadian soldiers to Europe by the end of 1916. Only 300,000 men volunteered by December 2016, and numbers dwindled as horrific details about the Battle of the Somme reached Canada.

Borden passed conscription in August the summer after Arthur and Charlotte wed. Had they married after July 6, 2017, Arthur might have been conscripted. I might not exist.

I’m not sure why Arthur didn’t serve. He certainly had close ties with Europe having immigrated to Canada from Lancashire England ten years earlier. He came to Canada with his brother Albert and his parents, Mary Young and William Johnson.

Neither Arthur nor Albert volunteered for the Armed Forces and the family remained close. Albert and his wife Amie served as witnesses at Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding.

I also wonder how they selected the location of their marriage.

Both families worshipped in the Presbyterian faith. At the time, Charlotte still lived with her parents on Cross Street in Weston, right next to a Presbyterian Church called the Old Kirk at 11 Cross Street.

Why didn’t the couple get married in the Old Kirk?

Turns out that the building couldn’t offer a legally-sanctioned marriage between March 2013 and June 2017, despite more than 200 of the 247 congregation members working hard to keep the place open.

The problem began in March 2013, when fewer than 38 people voted to close the facilities and sell the Cross Street building. Given that the snow kept 209 people at home that day, I suspect that the meeting in question took place in the Main Street building purchased for Sunday School services a year earlier.

The sordid affair appears in a wonderful history of the Church in Weston called “From Then to Now.”

At a congregational meeting in March 1913, bad weather kept attendance to 38 out of 245 members. A majority of the 38 voted to hold all future services at the new facility and to sell the Cross Street site. Westminster Presbyterian Church was then fully established on the new site and the Cross Street site was sold.

The church on Cross Street was then re-purchased by some of the old members and services resumed on January 18th, 1914. Presbytery refused to recognize this congregation though, so it operated as an independent Presbyterian Church known as The Old Kirk The group continued to worship steadfastly and endured three failed petitions to Toronto Presbytery asking to be recognized as a second Presbyterian congregation in Weston (one petition was signed by 259 members). They appealed to the General Assembly, held in Montreal in June 1917, and the appeal was sustained. The church was then named The Old Presbyterian Church. From June 1917 to 1925 there were two official Presbyterian Churches in Weston.

In 1925 Westminster Presbyterian voted for church union and The Old Presbyterian Church opted to remain Presbyterian. It was then named Weston Presbyterian Church and Westminster became Westminster United Church. [2]

I haven’t yet found definitive proof that Charlotte and her family took part in the purchase or petitions of the Cross Street building. Given that Arthur and Charlotte married within a completely different congregation, however, it’s likely that they did.

Perhaps the couple hoped to be the first marriage in the renewed building, but then chose to wed rapidly so Arthur could avoid conscription. They needed a legally-sanctioned marriage.

They Chose St. David’s Church in Toronto

Arthur’s affidavit provides the address. It indicates that Reverend Charles A. Mustard presided over Charlotte and Arthur’s wedding ceremony at 38 Harvie Avenue, a building at the corner of St. Clair Avenue.

Information contained within a Presbyterian Museum article[3] about the Church after it was torn down in 1999 gives context. The St. David’s Church congregation purchasing the Harvie site in 1911. They began operations by moving an original frame church from the south side of St. Clair Avenue opposite McRoberts to the new site. That building opened in 1912.

The community grew rapidly. By 1914, they hired Toronto architect Herbert George Paul to incorporate their original wood frame structure into a new larger building. He finished constructing only the basement, however, when the bank pulled the Church loan due to World War I.

A speech by John Barron in June 1918 describes what happened.

In the year 1911 the present site was secured. Seventy-two feet of the frontage being presented by Westminster Church, to which the Church building was moved and alterations made. This building was opened on Nov. 12, 1912.

The congregation outgrew this accommodation, and in the year 1914 plans were prepared and the present building was commenced, but owing to conditions brought about by the war, the basement only was finished and used for services to the present time.

So, instead of getting married in a perfectly good building on Charlotte’s street, community infighting and a war forced the couple to wed in an unfinished basement in St. David’s Presbyterian Church.

[1] Johnson, Arthur. Affadavid, 022461, loose paper, Office of the Registar General Ontario. Rec. Date: Jan 22, 2019. Ontario Canada Select Marriages. Archives of Ontario. Toronto. MS932, Reel 440, Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Ancestry. http://www.ancestry.ca : 2010.

[2] From Then to Now, 1847 to 2007, a history by the Weston Presbyterian Congregation, http://westonpresbyterian.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WestonPCHistory.pdf

[3] http://presbyterianmuseum.ca/files/2014/09/PCC-National-Presbyterian-Museum-Museum-Musings-St-Davids-cornerstone_revised.pdf