Sunday, October 3, 2010

What is a House? What is a Home?

Tighsolas, 1910 era. House of Light

In 1896, while the Liberals were lobbying for the right to rule, and while Herbert Ames was conducting his survey of Montreal poverty in the City Below the Hill, Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather was building a house up on the hill, or up from the river at least, in Richmond, Quebec. He built it 'himself'.

What is a house, I am moved to ask.

In this case it was $100.00 for a lot, (a large unknown sum borrowed but the house itself ending up costing 2,700.00) payment of note 300.00, stone for south wall, 53 dollars, lumber 74.80, plastering house, 96.48, carpentry labour 373.80, bricking house 106.60,etc.

Norman was doing well in 1896. Big money poured through his business (I have the records.) So was the country of Canada doing fine and it would continue to prosper in the Laurier Era to come. Norman was a successful hemlock bark dealer. But soon the hemlock in the Eastern Townships of Quebec would be used up and tanners (who used the bark in their process) would look to Scandinavia for hemlock bark, or use other methods in their tanning process.

This, at least, is how I understand it.

Tighsolas, the house that Norman built for his family in 1896, would become both an anchor for the family in hard times and a brick albatross around its neck, keeping the family from being nimble enough to keep with the changing economy in the early twentiesth century.

As I have written elsewhere, Tighsolas was more than a house to the Nicholsons. These people were descendants of Isle of Lewis crofters, cleared from their land in 1838, 41 and 51, and forced to come to Canada, the US and Australia. PEI and St. Francis Quebec were their ports of destination in Canada.

In some cases, their homes, mud huts with thatched roofs, were burned from over them. In some cases they came to Canada with nothing. One group of immigrants, which probably included the McLeods, Margaret's ancestors, arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

So, this puts the story of Tighsolas into perspective. Call it racial memory. If Margaret Nicholson, born in Canada in 1854, felt like a 'true Canadian' she also had a mother who spoke only Gaelic.

And Edith was moved to visit the Homeland in 1932, where she took pride in the fact that some Nicholson ancestors had founded an education institute of note on the Isle of Lewis. She brought back the documents for the Nicholson Institute.

But Norman's Nicholsons had come to the Isle of Lewis from Skye.

Stornoway is the capital of Isle of Lewis. It is no coincidence that the house of the Leader of the Opposition in the Canadian Parliament is called Stornoway.