Monday, 10 April 2017

Doing One's Best

My father passed away on March 31st.

One of my happiest childhood memories of him is bacon and eggs.  On Sunday mornings he was frequently the first out of bed and he would make bacon and fried eggs for the family. (One of the few meals he could cook well.)

A favourite TV character said that we might think we're the heroes in our own story but the reality is that there are no heroes or villains, just people doing the best they can.  Dad did the best he could with what he had.  He overcame a difficult childhood and applied himself to every decision and career move that he made.

He worked on the Saint Lawrence River Seaway, something he was always proud of despite the menial job that he occupied: cutting and threading steel rods for construction.  He joined the Air Force, but after three years he recognized his limitations and chose to become a teacher instead; a career at which he excelled.

Despite his success he never forgot the people around him.  Family and friends were important.  He went above and beyond for his students, many of whom would in later years describe him as their favourite teacher.

And he would push me to do my best as well.  When I was eleven years old he took me out to the back yard one day and "introduced" me to the lawnmower, giving me precise instructions on how to operate it and how I should care for the yard.  I took that to heart: I mowed the grass regularly right up until the day before I was married.

People who have the ability to bring out the best in others are rare.  My father was one such.  He will be missed dearly.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Past Lives: Nelson Parish

Hugging the south bank of the Southwest Miramichi River in Northumberland County New Brunswick is a lonely stretch of Highway 118 in Nelson Parish.  The parish was established in 1814 and named for Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson for his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Several communities were quickly hewn out of the thick forest along the river, including Doyles Brook, Upper Nelson, McKinleyville, and Chelmsford.

Many such settlements were little more than adjacent strips of property on the river that stretched back into the bush, and depended on farming, fishing, and lumbering for their livelihood.  When the railway was constructed a few became flag stations, connecting them to the rest of the province at large and enabling them to better trade their goods.

One building in McKinleyville that stands out has a sign on it: LOL No. 147, 1906.  This was once the meeting hall for the local chapter of the Loyal Orange Lodge, properly known as the Grand Orange Lodge of British America, which is a Protestant fraternal organization.  John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, was known to be an Orange Order member.

The parish was sparsely inhabited to begin with; although at its peak there were about 1000 people living in the area, during the latter half of the twentieth century the population dwindled.  The railway no longer passes through, and a local photographer who recently drove along Highway 118 commented that there seemed to be more abandoned structures than inhabited ones.

Today Miramichi is the main urban centre of the parish and boasts quite a few natural and historic sites such as the French Fort Cove nature park, the Water Street Historic District, and St. Michael's Basilica.

*Photo courtesy of Paul Dunn, 2016.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Past Lives: Black River

In Simonds Parish of Saint John County, New Brunswick lies the village of Black River.  It was founded in 1853 by some of the first Irish and black families to settle in the area and quickly became known for its shipbuilding facilities at the mouth of the nearby river that bears the same name.

A scandal erupted in 1869 when the remains of a woman and child were found near Black River Road by men who were picking blueberries.  The ensuing investigation found that a respectable architect from the city of Saint John had an extramarital affair with a young woman who had a child by him, and he killed them both in an attempt to keep it secret.  The man was tried, convicted, and executed by hanging.

By 1898 Black River and its surroundings was a thriving farming and fishing settlement with a post office, store, sawmill, two churches and a population of 200.  Prominent business and property owners included families named Matthews, Connacher, Power, and Hawkes.

At the corner of present-day County Road 825 and Duffy Road sits the St. Patrick's Catholic Church and adjoining cemetery.  One of its first priests was Father Andrew Barron who included the church in his circuit from Saint John.  Unfortunately due to the steep decline of the number of parishoners in recent years, the building has fallen into disrepair and is slated to be demolished.

The area has now mostly gone back to forest except for a few farms, gravel pits, and a community club.  A large concrete and stone wharf in the river is a remnant of what was once one of the main industries.

*Photo courtesy of Debbie Hamilton-Bernard, 2016

Sunday, 2 October 2016

A Family Homestead

The town of Montreal South was created from land of the Saint-Antoine-de-Longueuil Parish in 1888, and divided into building lots by developer George Parent.  In 1889 a station house was built for the Grand Trunk Railway tracks, connecting the community to Montreal.  The official incorporation as a town came in 1905 and in 1906 the newly-formed Montreal & Southern Country Railway built a trolley station to transport workers to the factories along the Lachine Canal.

The house at 16 Prefontaine Street was either built or purchased at around 1915 by Andrew Johnson, an immigrant from Stockholm, Sweden who had landed in Montreal in 1883 with his wife and young son.  His jobs as a day labourer and then a night watchman took him and his growing family to several locations around Montreal, until they settled on this quiet residential street in the suburbs.

Andrew's second-youngest daughter Clara was married in 1923 to John William Mayo, himself an immigrant from Manchester, England.  Soon after starting their own family, they bought the house from her father in 1928, and it has remained in the Mayo name since.

Originally the building was a single-story house, but in the early 1930s a second floor was added in order to accommodate the increasing needs of the family.  A long-running story claims that enough wood was used in the construction to build two similar houses.  In the mid 1960s the house was divided into two apartments, upstairs and downstairs.

As with many present-day families, the current generation of Mayo children who grew up on Prefontaine Street now have their own homes and lives.  The old homestead is in need of a great deal of restoration, but sadly there isn't the money to do it.  As of this writing the house has been put on the market, and it's likely that a new owner will decide that instead of fixing it, it would be cheaper to tear the house down and build new.

The home that sheltered four generations might soon be destroyed but it will not be forgotten.

Here's an article about the history of Montreal South.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Past Lives: Waterside

Times change, and when faced with adversity or dwindling communities, rural dwellers frequently move to more urban areas and leave their homes, schools, and churches behind.  Eventually most abandoned buildings fall prey to vandals and nature.

Waterside is a tiny community of farms and cottages on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Harvey Parish, Albert County, New Brunswick.  First settled in 1805, by 1898 Waterside was a farming community with one store, three sawmills, one church and a population of 255.  Major landowners included families by the names of Anderson, Ackerley, Chandler, Downey, and Copp.

On present-day County Road 915 is the Waterside United Baptist Church Cemetery.  The original building was constructed in 1854 as the Baptist Meeting House of Roshea.  Later the United Baptist Church was built on the site in 1899 and dedicated in 1900 with a membership of 154.  In January of 2012, the church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  Its foundations are still visible but it's unknown as to whether it will be rebuilt.

A short way down the road is the boarded-up Waterside School.  At one time it served the communities of Waterside, Little Rocher, Anderson's Hollow, Roshea, and Dennis Beach.  However as the "consolidation" movement gained momentum and enrolment declined due to families moving out of the area, many rural schools were closed.  Waterside School closed its doors in 1967 and students now attend Riverside Consolidated School in the town of Riverside-Albert.

The area is now sparsely populated with fewer than 100 people but is known for its local wineries, scenic beaches, and the Cape Enrage Nature Preserve.

Photo courtesy of Phyllis and Melven Dewolfe, circa 2010

Thursday, 15 September 2016

It's Who You Know

My father's stories of his youth in the small city of Cornwall Ontario had an undercurrent of his parents' savvy in how they dealt with people.  His mother was able to get him into a French school when normally it was against the rules, because she knew someone at the school board.  And she also got him a job working as a machinist for the company that built the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the mid-1950s.

Due to a shortage of trained workers, men were brought in from elsewhere and they stayed on site or at the homes of many local folks.  One of the men who boarded with my grandparents was Peter Gauthier, who ended up being Dad's boss on the job as well as a good friend.

Early in the construction phase, a large building was erected near the Moses-Saunders dam site for storage and maintenance of machinery, as well as the fabrication of steel rebar supports.  Dad was a member of a group who were responsible for measuring and threading the rebar supports to order.  He worked at this for one and a half years until construction was completed.

Afterwards Dad's father found him a job at the Cortaulds chemical plant where he worked, to do quality testing on cellophane at a new facility next door.  In this job there were four teams that worked six-hour rotating shifts: three on, one off.  The shift schedule wreaked havoc with a young man's social life - he was unable to pursue much of a relationship or hang out with his friends.  So after less than a year Dad decided to quit and join the Royal Canadian Air Force with hopes of becoming a pilot which would provide him a steady job and income.

For almost two years he trained on various aircraft at Centralia Ontario, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, and Gimli Manitoba.  One summer he had some leave time, and offered to drive home with one of his fellow students who was Dutch and wanted to see some of Canada.  The man found it hard to believe that it would take three days to drive from Moose Jaw to Cornwall, but Dad gave him a tour that he wouldn't soon forget.

Despite Dad's best efforts he failed an advanced flying course on jets, which disqualified him from the pilots' program.  However he retained fond memories of the experience and later in his life he often spoke of the first plane he flew, which was a yellow DHC-1 Chipmunk.

After his stint in the Air Force he returned home to Cornwall and made plans to marry and settle down, but that is another story.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Rural Mysteries

This is not related to my family but I found it intriguing nonetheless.  Recently I came across a post in a New Brunswick genealogy forum by someone asking for help with a mystery.

The rural community of Pokiok - from the Maliseet "a narrow place" - is located on the west bank of the Saint John River in Dumfries Parish, 60 km west of Fredericton.  A stream of the same name empties into the Saint John nearby and was known for its waterfall and gorge before it was flooded as a result of construction of hydroelectric installations in the 1960s.

Approximately three kilometers west of Pokiok is the intersection of Allandale Road, which leads south past Brown Lake to the former farming settlement of Allandale that at the turn of the 20th century had a population of 125.  On the east side of the road is a little cemetery with only two visible stones.  The larger stone is relatively recent and reads:

Site of Saint Dominic's Catholic Church
circa 1864 - 1979
In Memory of the Souls Interred Here
May They Rest in Peace
Erected and Maintained by Woodstock Council #2234 K of C

The other stone is much older and reads:
In Loving Memory of Our Children

Who were these people, and what happened to the site?

The only record concerning this site that seems to be available is a single mention in the New Brunswick Provincial Archives, where the cemetery is referred to as Saint Dominic's Catholic.  Despite exhaustive online seaching and attempts to contact the Catholic Diocese in New Brunswick I've been unable to find any other information on this now-defunct church.  If there were other stones here once, they are now missing or buried.

Archival maps and land grant indices show that there were four grants around Brown Lake to families with the name Simmons; most likely brothers.  According to census and burial records, they were Anglican of Scottish descent and many were buried in Barony which is 10 km away, so why would some be interred in a Catholic cemetery?

Possibilities include: 1. If they died from a communicable disease, burial would have to be swift to minimize the risk of passing the disease to others, and the Catholic cemetery was the closest burial ground available.  2. At that particular time the family was unable to travel the distance to Barony to bury their dead.  3. Some of the Simmons men married Catholic women, their children were christened in the Catholic church and so were eligible for burial in the Catholic cemetery.

Whatever the case, two stones and a few remote cottages are all that now remain of a community that housed families who were determined to make a living in the forests of New Brunswick. (Forests which, at the time of this writing, are in the process of being clear cut.)

Photo courtesy of Tim Scammell, 2016