Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Study in Character

Dr. Henry Portrait.

He looks like one of the clan in the snapshot, with a trim athletic body, a handsome, rugged face, full-lips, sturdy chin, prominent brow over deep set eyes. He is confident in his carriage as well as a snappy dresser. 

He is Dr. Henry Watters of Kingsbury, Quebec and Newton, Massachusetts, first cousin to my husband’s grandmother, Marion Nicholson, the son of her Aunt Christina on her father, Norman’s, side.

That also makes him first cousin to Herbert Nicholson, Marion’s older brother.  And although the two young men resembled each other in build and facial features, they could not have been less alike!

Dr. Henry , by all accounts, was a near-perfect man, a  high-achiever, a man who rose to the top of his profession at the Newton Hospital near Boston, but who remained devoted to family (and that includes his cousins) throughout his life.

Despite his busy vocation, he corresponded with all of his extended family, regularly, with letters than demonstrated uncommon empathy. When writing his youngest cousin, Flora, who apparently had complained of boy troubles in her letter, “I don’t have much experience in these matters, but I can only say, if he doesn’t want you, he isn’t worthy of you.”

Herb, well, what can I say?  As the only son of Norman and Margaret Nicholson of Richmond, Quebec, great things were expected of him. A whopping FIVE dollars was put aside at his birth in 1885 to start a bank account for his future medical career. But, upon graduation from St Francis College in 1905, he went to work as a clerk at the Eastern Townships Bank. 

A ladies man and/or a gambler, Herbert immediately got into debt, borrowing money off all of his relations, until, in 1910,  he got into such a desperate situation that he filched 60 dollars from the till at work.

Herbert didn’t go to jail: The Nicholsons were too well connected for that, but even Norman’s patron, E.W. Tobin, the Liberal MP for Richmond, Wolfe, couldn’t help Herbert’s cause.

  Herbert was forced to skulk out West. His already cash-strapped dad had to come up with the huge sum of 500 dollars to help pay his sons debts and travel expenses.

Herbert was a teeny bit ashamed. “Don’t tell anyone where I am,” he wrote to his parents from Saskatchewan, where he was staying with Norman’s former partner in the hemlock bark business.

Out West, Herbert worked in a series of jobs in, yes, banking, then insurance, and then with a the farm equipment company, Massey-Harris. 

 At one point he devised a scheme to dupe immigrant farmers out of their hard-earned cash. 

"I also made a 100 dollars yesterday in the shape of a man's note due in a year's time. I sold a threshing outfit that I repossessed from a party that could not pay for it.  For 3300 and as there was only 3000 against the rig to the company; I am 300 dollars to the good.  In doing this I had to divide up with two others who assisted me and knew what I was doing so we get 100 each.  Have to keep these things quiet of course."

Herb's letterhead from 1911-12 illustrating his roving ways

His other letters home were full of complaints, about his workload, the weather, etc. – and no shortage of insights into how capitalism works. “You have to already be rich to get rich out here,” he said.

Later, Herbert settled down in ‘real estate’ in Vancouver, got married twice to wealthy women, and then moved on to California.  He died in 1967, childless.

Beside his name in the Nicholson family genealogy it says “Successful Banker.” sic.

Dr. Henry ,whose dad, Alexander Watters,  was a Kingsbury, Quebec farmer, never married.  Henry employed his younger sisters, Christina then Anna, as his housekeeper in his comfortable clapboard Colonial in Newton, Massachusetts. 

Henry may not have been a ladies man in the usual sense of the word, but he certainly had a way with the young ladies in his family. In the 1910 period, he indulged the Nicholson women no end with trips to Wellesley College in his flashy Stanley Steamer, with sea-bathing at Nantucket, box seats at Red Sox games, theatre plays, and dinners at the posh Windsor Hotel in Montreal, when at home visiting. 

His younger sister May got new shirtwaist suits and fancy hats from him as gifts on a regular basis. Henry once used his  vacation time to drive Margaret up and down the E.T to visit old friends.

And much to his Uncle Norman’s admiration, he paid his own father, Alexander, a trip “home” to the Old Country in 1911. “Not many sons would do that,” wrote an envious Norman to his wife.

Unlike Herbert, who found nothing good to say about any of his employers, the banks, the railway or insurance,  Dr. Henry never complained about work as a doctor and surgeon in his letters to family.  

Even when suffering from a fatal disease at a relatively young age. From his obituary: “When stricken with what he knew meant the shortening of his days and the limiting of his activities, he carried on cheerfully and uncomplainingly. He was the friend as well as the associate of those  with whom he worked, the friend and the physician of his patients."

Dr. Henry died 1937 and is buried at home, of course, in the clan cemetery in Melbourne, Quebec.  Herbert is buried somewhere in a Long Beach cemetery. His last visit home to Richmond was in the 1920’s.

 Herbert Nicholson 1910ish

The information comes from the Nicholson Family letters of the 1910 period. The Watters clan of Kingsbury, Quebec is written down as Waters on the 1911 Canadian Census. Henry had a younger brother, William, who died in 1910. A photo on Ancestry claims this 21 year old man is an MD too. He must have been a recently graduated one, or still a student.

I have a short obit cut out left by the Nicholsons. It says the family is shocked at Williams' death in Montreal, but little else. A man could catch a cold and die in a day in those days, but this very short obit suggests something else more nefarious.

Below: 1911 census showing Herbert Nicholson living in a boarding house in Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan, with two recent immigrants, one from Germany, one of Scotland (a bartender!) and a female stenographer. His parents would have passed out, if they had known. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Boardwalk Empire Montreal: When my Grandfather got fired from City Hall and Houde's teeth flew out

Jules Crepeau's resignation letter to Council in 1930, demanding a 7,500 a year pension for life. He'd be run over by a City Constable in 1937, dying from complications the next year.


Here's the first part of the debate that took place on September 29, 1930, at Montreal City Hall, over my grandfather's resignation. The opposition filibustered, I guess you can call it. This 'session' has it all: drama, humour, anger, innuendo, indignation, thinly veiled threats... and under it all, a big cover up. Everyone must have known the REAL reason my grandfather was pushed out. Did it have to do with the Laurier Fire, I have to wonder.

This is from the Montreal Gazette. Bravo to the reporter, who seems to be having fun.  Very amusing and very interesting to me, as I write my play Milk and Water about Montreal in 1927.

Crepeaus at Atlantic City in 1927. Hmm. Watching Boardwalk Empire I have to wonder why he vacationed there, considering his position as Director of City Services in Montreal. I can guess.

Here it goes:

It was a hot session. A dozen usually placid aldermen lost their tempers and their ruddy complexions paled in anger. The major lost the main span of this false teeth in the middle of a sentence, caught them on the fly and pocketed them nonchalantly. But nobody lost his voice. His Worship and Ald. Schubert of St. Louis ward put on the main bout, and the alderman asked Ald. Bruno Charbonneau, the pro-mayor in the chair, to have the mayor expelled from the Council Chamber for bad behavior.

 And the pro-mayor threatened to clear the chamber to stop clapping in the galleries where, for the first time since the present administration has been in power, manifestations hostile to the major and his men were apparent.
It was late in the afternoon when the question of Mr. Crepeau’s resignation was reached. From the huge audience, which had sat or stood through a lot of business, it found uninteresting, came a rustle of excitement.

Etienne Gauthier, the city clerk, read Mr. Crepeau’s  letter to the Mayor.
At once, Alderman Savignac proposed the motion to accept the resignation.
It was seconded by Alderman LaMarro.

“Explain” roared several of the opposition aldermen.

“No explanation,” said Alderman Bray to Alderman Desbroches.

Hubbub commenced. Alderman Monette was on his feet. “I would ask the chairman of the Executive to bring Mr. Crepeau before us and have him say whether this resignation was voluntary or forced. He is in the wary of somebody –sure. Here he is with 42 years of service, and to get rid of a man with that length of experience and in good health, the city will give 5,000 dollars for doing nothing and then 7,500 a year for all the while Mr. Crepeau lives –

“That’s cheap,” chirped a backbencher.

“I want Mr. Crepeau to reconsider his resignation.” Ald. Monette went on. “If I can get a seconder I would make an amendment to that effect.”

“After that speech, “ said Ald. Bigar ironically, “is he for or against the resignation?”

“I want him to reconsider that resignation,” replied Alderman Monette. “Oh, I know we will be beaten, but quality counts.”

Ald. Schubert thought a man with 42 years of service was entitled to a pension. “But this is a bargain, “ he commented, reading the conditions put in Mr. Crepeau’s letter. He wanted to know the reasons behind the whole affair, and he thought there was a provocation at the bottom of it. “I want an explanation, “ he repeated. “It is all very well for the chairman of the Executive to say there is no explanation, but I do not believe that the chairman of the Executive was elected by the people to come here and do as he wishes with the people’s money. If there is just reason for this resignation, I want to know that reason, and if there is none, then you will have to stand the consequences. Clapping broke out in one of the galleries. Constables squelched it.

It was Alderman Trepanier’s turn. The mystery of the whole business intrigued him. “The mover of the motion has no explanation to offer,” he said. With a smile he added. “It may be that I speak somewhat in the desert, so far as the Council is concerned. But I do not think that will be the case when this comes before the public of Montreal. The Mayor of Montreal has said lately in the  papers that he controlled the majority of this Council. I understand he does. He has just at present, I should say in all justice to the situation, the majority of the Council by the throat –
Cries of “oh, Oh,” came up and there were protests from all parts of the chamber. Some of the Houde Aldermen were on their feet. “Withdraw!” they shouted.

Alderman Bruno Charbonneau was in the chair, Mayor Houde having taken his place in one of the rear seats among thealdermen. He ruled that Alderman must withoudraw.

“I will withdraw the words ‘by the throat’ said Ald. Trepanier, calmly. “And I will pay a tribute of esteem to the extreme loyalty to the Mayor of the majority of the Council, which his worship can force to pirouette on any question he likes.”

Another roar. More cries of “Withdraw.”

The Mayor was up, arm in the air. “We well know who are those  here who pirouette” he yelled.
Ald Trepanier said he would withdraw “pirouette.” He contested the right of the Mayor to come to Council and ‘to impose” the resignation of an old employee like Mr. Crepeau. “What is the reason?” the alderman asked, again and again. “I am not of the select who take of the weekly free lunch at the Place Viger. But we have the right to know who are the aldermen who signed the petition to the Mayor demanding that Mr. Crepeau resign or be put out.”

The Savignac motion, he continued, paid homage to a man who was being forced to resign. A man who had behind him all the papers of Montreal, papers which said that in acting in this manner the administration was treading on dangerous ground. “It is the first time such a thing has happened in the history of the city.” Alderman Trepanier went on.”With a silent and almost mysterious majority in Council, and following a letter which was not written voluntarily – I say it and I know that to be true- and following conversations and intimidations and threats..”

“Oh Oh, “ shouted protesting aldermen. But he alderman stood his ground and continued with a denunciation of the administration’s practice, noting that the majority of those in council were under the control of the mayor “who can play with the council as he wishes.”

Alderman Bray jumped to his feet. “Withdraw that word immediately, “ he warned Trepanier.
“I withdraw it  and will say that he is a man who seems to be able to play with the council  as he wishes, “was the retort.

More handclapping broke out among the public. Again it was silenced.

“If he wants to withdraw, let him withdraw frankly, “ rumbled Ald. Bray.

“Point of order, “shouted Alderman Legault. “One alderman cannot give instructions to another. He can make a request, but he has no right to give instructions.”

Once more the clapping sounded.

This time the pro-mayor in the chair and Ald. Des Roches were on their feet together. “Order!” shouted the Pro-Mayor, “or I will have the chamber cleared.” That was what Alderman DesRoches had been going to say.

The chair accepted the amended declaration of Ald. Trepanier, adding “It may seem to him, but not to others.”
“Now, “Alderman Trepanier proceed,”Two years ago, on the 40th anniversary of the entry of Mr. Crpeau into the city service, the Council had unanimously adopted a motion congratulating him, admiring his devotion and integrity, and wishing him a long service in the same position. Among the aldermen who voted that motion were Ald. Mathieu, Ald. Bray and Ald Biggar, he said.

And today here were the same aldermen, and more with them, forcing the resignation of the same official. He forsaw it would cause fear among all the permanent employees of the city. In this particular case, too , the legislators had deliberately given to the employee holding the post of Mr. Crepeau and standing such as to make him the defender of the  people in the sittings of the Executive Committee.

“We may be ridiculed and crushed,” the alderman conclude, “but the day may not be distant, when the feeling of reprobation among the people may be voiced, and we shall see once more in the saddle an administration which may not have always been perfect, but which was free from taint of autocracy and kaiserism we see here today.”

And Ald Trepanier sat down. Alderman Lamarre rose and asked sarcastically, “May I ask whether that speech was made in preparation for elections?”

“Maybe,” replied Ald Trepanier.

“Or is it a speech specially reserved for Le Canada?” Ald LaMarre pursued. He was ignored.
“Ald Trepanier may be intimate with those who conspire to take away the powers of the aldermen,” was Ald Dupuis’ view.” He may be intimate with those who amended schedule B, which gave us the right, the rare prerogative of having a word to say in the hiring and firing of a major city employee”
“Point of order,” snapped ald Trepanier. “I want the names of those I am supposed to be intimate.”
“The Quebec Government” shouted Ald Dupuis, warming up. “That Government has always tried to take away the powers of the aldermen in Montreal.” He thought the council was exercising a right given tot it and as for Trepanier’s speech: “I wonder whether that is not merely a farce, or for the benefit of the gallery.”

“How could the mayor refuse the demand of the majority of the aldermen in council?” asked Ald. Seigier. That majority had asked him to get rid of Mr. Crepeau and the mayor acted. He thought the best thing was to talk no more, but vote.

Ald. Legault was struck with the utter inability to give any explanation of this affair, but Ald Deguire undertook to fill the bill by saying : “Mr Crepeau has not our confidence; there is no explanation to that.” And the willingness of the city to give him leave and a pension, showed that “we have absolutely nothing against him.”

Ald Gabias gibed at the ‘interior sentiment’ which seemed to be ruling all the Houde men in the moment. “One thing they seem to forget,” he noted “is that we are here to represent the people of Montreal, and not to give way to our personal feelings and to get rid of a man because we do not like the way he wears his hat, or something else.”

“Are you aware that in 1928, the administration of that time conducted a campaign to try to get rid of Mr. Crepeau?” chimed in Ald Dupuis.

“Never did such a thing happen” protested Alderman DesRoches, stoutly.

The former chairman of the Executive said he was not surprised at the motion, but at the mover of it.
“Ald Savignan lacks experience in city affairs, “ he began.

“Well, I don’t’ want to acquire it from you, “ interrupted Ald. Savignac. “You got plenty of experience in the affair of Montreal Water and Power.”

“Yes, I did” admitted Ald DesRoches. “And I have also something you will never possess.”
Clapping in the galleries sounded again. The pro-mayor frowned. Constables got busy and silence was restored.

Ald Des Roches thought that Ald Savignac should have profited from the experience of Mr. Crepau, rather than lend himself to putting the director of Services of out his position.

“I address myself to you, members of the Council,” he went on, swinging round to face the alderman. “You have a right. You are exercising it. But you have to take the responsibility.”

“Sure,” yelled one alderman.

Other dismissals had been made by the Executive, and they would take the responsibility, but this was the Council’s. And there had been dismissals aplenty. Foremen were thrown out and newcomers to the city took their places – all this without the alderman for the ward being consulted. But what was being done now was exceedingly dangerous. The administration was being high-handed. There was the case of where a man earning 1,680 had been replaced by another a 2,000, ‘the brother of Ald Savignac,” said the alderman.

“Let him keep to the motion,” protested Alderman Mathieu.

“I cannot therefore speak of the placing of the sons of Ald Mathieu” replied Ald DeRoches deprecatingly.

He gave way to Ald. Dubreuil, who emphasized that “this is not a dismissal. It is a resignation, asked for.”
“oh. Oh” jeered the opposition.

The north end alderman took up the question of the Crepeau pension and leave pay and thought that was nothing compared with the 15,000,000 dollars which the city had to pay for Montreal Water and Power Company.”

“Point of Order,” shouted Ald Legault. “That purchase has nothing to do with this, and anyway Ald. Dubreuil voted for that purchase.”

“I voted for the princinple.” Growled Ald Dubreuil.

The mayor at last entered the debate.

“There is one thing that struck me,” the mayor said, very gently.

“That is that the alderman for Hochelago should have objected to the employment of the brother of Ald. Savignac, a man who has seven children and is infirm, having had both legs crushed by a tramway.”

There was a pause.

The mayor’s false teeth shot out, he caught them deftly, but them in a pocket, as Alderman Legault interrupted.

“Point of order.”

“There is not point of order, “ yelled the Mayor, swinging around to face the alderman.

“You are not the master of all this Council,” returned Ald.Legault hotly.

“You neither,” retorted the Mayor.

“The Mayor will respect me,” Ald Legault insisted, to the Chair.

“When you deserve it,”corrected his Worship.

Ald. Legault finally got a chance to explain his point. It was that Mr. Crepeau, not the brother of Ald Savignac, was en causes. He was partially upheld.

“I will try to discuss this question to the satisfaction of all those whose virtue is recognized by everybody,” the Mayor continued in honeyed tones. There was laughter. “I will do it before the public, and right here I ask Ald. Savignac to accept my apologies for what has happened. But what I find funny is that the Alderman for Hochelaga should forget that only a few days ago he was in my office pleading for a job for his brother in law.” The Mayor folded his hands.”Where oh where will virtue find a niche for repose?” he asked.

“Point of order. Always on the same,” came from Ald. Legault.

“Yes,” agreed the Mayor acidly. “We know that.”

“And now we have another  virtuous individual, the defender of the working classes, Mr. Schubert. That alderman, he said, had voted for the purchase of Montreal Water and Power Company, and the spending of 5,000,000 above the original price, with which the city could do much these days.

Ald. Trepanier had asked for the names of the aldermen who demanded the head of Mr. Crepeau. “That was done privately, outside of City Hall,” the mayor went on. “And I would no more deliver the names than would Ald Trepanier deliver the names of those who subscribed to his LaSalle Automobile.”

There was more uproar, with the opposition protesting.

 “I am merely picking up the glove.” Commented His Worship who proceeded: ”The gesture we make today is rational and consequent. What attitude did we take before the public at the elections last April? We condemned the transaction of the Montreal Water and Power Company, and to be consistent by sending home all those responsible in the highest degree for the situation that led so regretfully to the purchase of the company under the conditions which held. We had Mr. Crepeau and Mr. Terreault condemned by the population of Montreal. We received a charge from the people. We have the mandate. We have the prerogative of Council. Recently, twenty two aldermen said they had no confidence in Mr. Crepeau who despite his forty-two years of service, allowed the perpetration of that deal, and Mr. Terreault who employed himself in passing that odious transaction condemned by the population.

“Now, you want the names of the aldermen who signed the petition to me about Mr. Crepeau. Call the vote and you will see who they are.”

To be post

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How to Self-publish a Book, Collectively. The Beads in a Necklace Model

We came together in 2012 with one common goal: to write our family stories and to make these stories the very best they could be. We ended up by publishing a book.

We are nine women, living in and around Montreal’s west end, most of us, but not all, born-and-bred Quebecers.

Among us are seasoned genealogists with decades of experience, the kind of people who travel far and wide to traipse through over-grown cemeteries and who are meticulous about paper trails and sources.

Others, in the beginning, couldn’t name their great-grandfathers without stealing the information off someone else’s online tree.  

For five years now, we have been meeting monthly for a Writing Your Family History workshop, guided by two journalists, Janice Hamilton and Tracey Arial, two dynamic ladies who have proven to be enthusiastic mentors.

It has been a real team effort. Few of us ever missed a meeting (except when travelling). At the monthly meetings, we shared writing tips and offered each other constructive criticism. We entertained ourselves with witty and warm family anecdotes and many fascinating bits of social history.

Between the meetings, we worked on improving our stories by combining the fiction and non-fiction techniques that we’d previously discussed.  And we handed in our assignments on time, as befits a group with two retired teachers.

No surprise then that our stories got better and better. We started a blog,, to showcase the best of them.

Over the past five years, our group has explored that fascinating place where the personal and the political meet in Canadian society (and beyond,) writing down the lives of voyageurs and air force pilots, merchants and industrialists, society ladies and filles du roi, reverends, surgeons, beggars and bigamists -- a motley collection, but all of them somehow related to us.

In our research, we made use of libraries and museum archives as well as the Internet. The deeper we delved, the better our stories got. We decided to publish the very best of our family stories in a book, Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble, in part to commemorate Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

It has taken a full year to assemble Beads in a Necklace and it has been a stimulating experience. A humbling one, too.  We are proud of our accomplishment and want our all of our readers, whether new to genealogy or not, whether new to creative writing or not, to be inspired enough, upon reading our book, to want to write about their own intriguing ancestors.

A self-published hold-in-your-hands edition of Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble was launched on November 15, 2017.  It was a great evening.  At the same time, an e-book version became available on Amazon Kindle. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

RKO in Montreal and DNA Delights

My mother always said that I was born on Monkland Avenue, over what is now the Patisserie de Nancy. In my childhood, in the 60's, if we were taking the bus up Monkland, she would point it out.

The bakery was a shoe store back then,in the 50s, she told me.  I was actually born in December, 1954 at the Catherine Booth Hospital, nearby, but I knew what she meant.  That is where my father and mother lived when I was born.

As it turns out, this is all wrong!

I'm a 'retired' freelance writer now, and for a hobby I write down my family stories. I also dabble in genealogy. I've even had my DNA done.

This is a typical hobby in old age, but I've actually learned an awful lot about Montreal and Canadian history researching my family stories and my husband's family stories. I'm an expert on the Canadian Suffrage Movement. Read Furies Cross the Mersey.

I'm actually more careful about citations and footnotes now than I was back in college.

Over the years I have written all about my husband's Isle of Lewis Scots family who settled in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. I've written a bit about my own French Canadian family, that's my mother's side. And I've learned all about my British father's Border Reiver roots and penned essays about them on various blogs.

Read Beads in a Necklace, a book I co-wrote with 8 other Montreal authors.

But this Monkland story is a most difficult one.

Using Lovell's Directory I figured out that my mother and father lived on Randall Street nearby in 1953 to 1955. It was my older brother who was born above the Patisserie de Nancy.

Lovell's reveals that my widowed grandmother, Maria Roy, lived on the corner of Monkland and Oxford in 1951.  She died in the summer of '51, while my brother was in the womb.

 Maria held the lease, anyway, for that place. It appears my mother and father and some other aunts and uncles and cousins also lived on Oxford with her at that time. I imagine it was a big apartment!

The daughter of my mother's best friend, who lived around the corner on Marcil,  says she heard stories of rousing games of poker on Oxford in the early fifties, although my father was never around. (He attended night school at McGill, working towards a C.A. degree.)

But, why did my mother always say I was born on Monkland? Did she have such a short memory?

I do know she worked (at least part time) while pregnant with me. At RKO Radio Pictures. I looked up that business in Lovell's and saw that it was on Monkland, RKO Movie Distributing.

So, that was handy.

I saw that back in the 1930's, all the movie companies had their Canadian offices on Monkland. Why, I don't know. Monkland Village, as it is called these days, was a suburb back then. Maybe it's because the fancy Empress Theatre was located nearby, down on Sherbrooke Street. It was built in 1927 for forty thousand dollars.

In 1933, my mother's Uncle Isadore Crepeau, fell out of a 7th story window of his office on St.James. He was Vice President of  United Amusement Theatre Company, the venture that built the Empress.

His brother, my grandfather, Jules Crepeau, Director of City Services in the 1920's, had been very friendly to the movie companies, or so it was said by his enemies at the 1925 Coderre Commission into Police Malfeasance and Impropriety.  My grandfather, apparently, turned a blind eye to infractions by cinema owners, who let in under age children.

A crooked cop in the pockets of organized crime warned the Coderre Court that "One day there's going to be a catastrophe" in a movie theatre, "where kids won't be able to get out."

In January, 1927 there was such a catastophe, the Laurier Palace Fire. My grandather was the first to testify at the inquest. No one at the inquest brought up the earlier Coderre Commission testimony, although the newspaper Le Devoir attempted to point their readers to it.

(Was the crooked cop prescient or making a threat, I wonder.)

The Empress was called Cinema V  in the 70s and 80s but is derelict, today. During my college days we saw cheapie art films there, sipping hot coffee in the seats. I once dropped a coffee on the person in front of me.

All very odd.

My father's name Nixon, PNF on Randall Street in Montreal in 1953.  Actually,  I've just learned, with DNA, that my Yorkshire-born dad is not my bio father. My bio-father is likely a French Canadian/Greek/Turk with some European Jewish.

Quite a thing, eh? I didn't have a clue.

So, so now I wonder if I was indeed conceived on Monkland, at the RKO offices, perhaps.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Beads in a Necklace: Montreal Family Stories

Announcing the publication of
Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble

In Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble, the nine women who write the family history blog have fleshed out the dashes between the dates on their family trees, chosen their favourite stories about their ancestors and published them in a book.

Inspired by family myths, heirlooms, letters, and vintage photographs, these are historically accurate stories with a huge heart. They describe the lives of merchants and military men, society ladies and filles du roi, reverends, rogues, medical men, restless women, cooks and farmers, each of whom was somehow related to one of the book’s authors. 

These ancestors lived between 1650 and 1970 and hail from Montreal, rural Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, the United States and other places around the world.

Contributors Lucy Anglin, Barb Angus, Marian Bulford, Claire Lindell, Sandra McHugh, Dorothy Nixon and Mary Sutherland, for the most part amateur authors, developed their creative writing skills over a five-year period under the guidance of professional writers Janice Hamilton and Tracey Arial, who also co-authored and edited the collection.

Getting together monthly, they experimented with a variety of narrative techniques to preserve the ever-fading memories of their great uncles and four-times great-grandparents, and to shed light on the times in which these people lived. They publish their stories on, and polished their favourites for the book. The result is a volume of easy-to-read articles, filled with fascinating bits of social history, and with enough footnotes to satisfy the most exacting genealogist or historian.

Fille du roi Anne Thomas, who married master carpenter Claude Jodoin in Montreal way back in 1666;
Felicité Poulin, 18th-century career woman, Ursuline nun and matchmaker;
Stanley Bagg, Massachusetts-born merchant who helped build the Lachine Canal in the 1820s;
Gospel singer Edward McHugh, whose 1910-period debut at the Montreal Hunt Club launched an international career;
William Anglin, respected Victorian-era Kingston, Ontario surgeon and wannabe thought-reader.
and many more.

The authors hope that Beads in a Necklace will serve as a model for people from any country or culture to write up their own family histories. They will be making presentations at Montreal-area libraries to share what they have learned about writing and publishing family history.

If you are a genealogist, a creative writer, or are the kind of person who loves reading about the lives of ordinary people whose real-life actions and relationships were discovered within piles of papers, historical photos and old newspaper clippings, Beads in a Necklace is for you.

A self-published limited edition paperback is on sale for $20 in Montreal at Livres Presque 9/Nearly New Books while supplies last, and an Amazon Kindle edition is available for $3.89.. A pdf with four sample stories from the collection is available upon request.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Parallel Lives

My father, Peter Nixon and his sister, Denise, 1978,  both of whom were born in Kuala Lumpur and then sent to England for schooling at 4 and 5 respectively in 1927.  Mrs. Hague, of whom I write about below, spent her summers with a loving grandmother. She felt sad, back then, for kids like my father and aunt. So, she told me.

I write about their mother in My Bittersweet Expo 67 Summer, a story in Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble, availalble on Amazon Kindle as of November 15, 2017.

In April 2008, I received an unsolicited email from a Mrs. Joan Hague of Montreal West with just one word in the subject line: Changi.

She wanted to tell me about her father who had been interned in WWII, like my grandmother.
I visited Mrs. Hague only to discover something extraordinary: Mrs. Hague and my own father had led parallel lives.

My father, Peter, was on October 23, 1922 in Kuala Lumpur, to a Selangor Planter, Robert Nixon and his wife.

Mrs. Hague was born in Kuala Lumpur in early November, 1922, to Thomas Kitching, the Surveyor of Singapore, and his wife Nora.

Mrs. Hague had been sent away at age six to go to school in England, in Lancashire, and then went on to Harrogate Ladies’ College in Yorkshire.

My father had been sent away at age five, to go to a school in Maryport, Cumberland and then on to St. Bees in County Durham.

Hague’s mother filled the void in her life with sports, golf mostly. She also scored cricket for Singapore.

My grandmother became the librarian at the Kuala Lumpur Book Club and, also, Selangor’s official cricket scorer.

In 1939, when the phoney war broke out in England, my father was about to go to Oxford.

Joan Kitching had graduated from her Ladies’ College. 

Her parents brought her back to Singapore because they thought she would be safer.

It wasn’t. The Japanese invaded Malaya on Boxing Day, 1942.

The Japanese planes bombed “the green” at the center of KL, the site of many government buildings.

 My grandmother’s library also got hit. During the bombing my grandmother hid under a desk. Later she helped dig  four dead bodies from out of the rubble.

On that ominous day, Mrs. Hague and her mom were safely in “fortress” Singapore, or so everyone believed. 

They joined up as VADs, tending to the burnt survivors of two navy ships that had been blown up by the Japanese close by in Singapore Harbour.

 Mrs. Hague remembers unfolding the cots,all coated in a thick goo to prevent rusting.

Kuala Lumpur soon fell. My grandmother was commanded to take a noisy, unlit night train to Singapore.

Upon arriving, she immediately joined the ‘resistance’ the Malaya Broadcasting Corporation and after that she, too, worked as a VAD.

To everyone’s surprise, and to Winston Churchill’s embarrassment, “fortress” Singapore soon fell.

Mrs. Hague escaped to England, but her mother drowned trying.

Her father was interned at Changi, like my grandmother, who had refused to escape Singapore when advised to.

Kitching died of throat cancer on April 2, 1943, the day before my grandmother, as Commandant of the Changi Woman’s Camp, was accused of spying in the infamous Double Tenth incident and taken by the Japanese Gestapo to the YMCA to be harshly ‘interrogated’ for 6 months.

With the Americans entering the war, my father, in England, joined the RAF and was posted to the Ferry Command - based in Dorval.

In Montreal he met my mother, a French Canadian, probably at a party at the Mount Royal Hotel.
Mrs. Hague met her future husband, the son of a prominent Westmount banker, when he arrived at her grandmother’s house in Lancashire with a big fat turkey.

And the rest is Montreal history. See, parallel lives!

Too bad I never got the chance to introduce Mrs. Hague to my father. He had died in 2005 of Alzheimer’s but, as you can see, they would have had a lot to talk about!

Indeed, they both sent their sons to Lower Canada College.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Peggy Olson, Montreal Advertising Agencies and Me

I was scanning the Montreal Gazettes for February 1953, on a research project, and I stumbled upon this bit in the want ads section.

Apparently, a big advertising agency in Montreal was looking for a copywriter and they wanted the person to be a female.

You could ask for that back then.

Now, I am a copywriter living in Montreal, who's been around a long time, but I would have been too young to apply for that job.  I was an embryo in February, 1953.

But, reading this ad, I can't help but think about Peggy Olson on Madmen, the television show. She had to fight so hard to move up from a secretary to copywriter in the 1960's.

Despite her basket of kisses.

Didn't she know all she had to do is move to Montreal for a writing job?

Nah, this must have been a one-off.

When I was just out school, in the late 1970's,  I applied for a copy job at a big agency in Montreal. (They still had English advertising agencies in Montreal in that era.)

This job interview was one of the worst experiences of my life. The woman who interviewed me looked strung out of her mind and she told me, in angry fashion, that I would have to work as a secretary for two years before I could even think of a writing job.

She was evil. Or her place of work was evil.

Good enough. Except,at the time,  I wondered what she told the male applicants.

(Didn't she know that all she had to do was say something nice, and still not hire me, and all would be right with the world? Why interview someone just to abuse them?)

I wonder who got  this bigtime 1953 copywriting job. (Maybe they wanted a woman because a woman understands food.)

In the 1980's, I worked in radio for a new boss who was 55 and she had just been laid off from a big Montreal agency.

In 1953, she would have been in her twenties. Yes, she could have been the one!