Saturday, 29 March 2014

Week 13 - Ellen Sinclair

 Ellen Sinclair (1895 - 1988) 

Ellen Sinclair was born and lived her entire life of over ninety-three years on the Sinclair farm.  She was the third child of James and Elizabeth and although her two older sisters had middle names, I can't find any record of her being given one.  She was most often known as Nellie but also as Aunt Nannie to her nine nieces and nephews and many great nieces and nephews, like me. She was  a younger sister to my grandmother, Mary Simms.
Her father James Sinclair was featured in Week 4 of this blog and her mother Elizabeth Henry was in Week 7

The photo on the left seems to have the three of the Sinclair sisters hard at work on the farm, I'm guessing in the 1910's.   Nellie is on the left, Lizzie in the middle, and Jean at the front.   Jean was one year older than her and Lizzie 3 years younger.  The studio portrait on the right is Nellie, my grandmother Mary in the back and Jean on the right maybe in the 1920's.

The following letter was written by 15 year old Nellie to her sister Lizzie in 1910.  She announced that she had passed "entrance" and the departmentals certificate and the envelope it came in is farther down in this post.  I think she took all of her schooling at Bankburn School near their farm.  It is of interest to note that she referred to her parents as Mother and Papa and that they had a telephone that they used frequently, it seems. 

Aunt Nellie was a "spinster" ans she is always who I think of when I hear that word! She never married but had her place in operating  Bankburn Farm as is clear in her father's will pictured below from 1935. She had a love for children and we were always welcomed and made to feel special in her home.  She never forgot our birthdays and there were always gifts from her at Christmas - slippers, pajamas, and purses that I rmember clearly!  New Years Day was a big event in the Sinclair house and  "Come for tea" was written on every card she sent me.  I have her last diary from 1986 and 1987 that was a daily weather log as well as a place for keeping track of the visitors that came for morning, afternoon, or evening lunch as well as detailing where anyone who left the farm went.  

Aunt Nannie with her nephews and nieces in about 1931.  Back row - Bob, Nellie holding Joyce, Doris, Irene 
In the front- Gwennie, Ken and Arnold

 This memory is from her niece, my Aunt Dodie, probably from the late 20's:
One time while Aunt Nellie and Uncle Bill were working in their garden, I was with them and began eating peas. I was told I would be sick if I didn’t soon quit. Well, during the night the peas decided to be upchucked. As I messed up one bed, we found another and finally after going to the third, I was relieved and ready to sleep. How Aunt Nellie put up with it, I don’t know. I heard her telling Grandma the next morning, but she took it all in her stride. Never once in all our times there did Aunt Nellie, Grandma or Grandpa ever scold us. Now I know how she felt about us. I am and was the same with my nieces (& nephews). They were the light of my life. 

John Paul

Harry Clyne

The photo above on the left is of Aunt Nellie and Henry (better known as Harry) Clyne at the woodpile.  He was a long time hired man at the Sinclair farm along with John Paul who was known as Scotty.  They were treated like family as neither man was married nor had any close family of their own in Canada .  Nellie corresponded with their families in the Old Country, as she called it, in Scotland. These men were the drivers in the household after Uncle Bill died in 1972 and Dad remembers how both ladies would pile in beside Scotty or Harry to head to town and no one ever sat in the back seat!  Scotty died in 1988 and Harry in 1989, both in their late 80's.  

Nellie was involved in community work with the Oak River Agricultural Society and with her brother Bill and sister in law Jessie, organized and worked at  the food booth at the Oak River Fair and Sports Days for many years. Sandwiches, hot dogs, and homemade pie were on the menu.
She was also an active member of the Busy Bee Red Cross group chaired by her sister Lizzie during WW2.  They made quilts and packed parcels for the boys overseas.  The 1970 Blanshard History book says a typical parcel included socks, chocolate bars, gum, fruit cake, cookies, sardines, potted meat, cheese, hankies, noodle soup, and chocolate drinks.
I remember that she quilted and likely sewed her own housedresses and aprons too.
The Order of the Crocus, pictured above, was given to Nellie in 1967 along with 499 othes as selected Manitoba citizen over the age of 75.  It was signed by Premier Duff Roblin and other dignitaries of the day.

In the photo above, Aunt Nellie is in the red dress and her sister, Lizzie Morcom is in the pink. This photo was likely taken for Centennial in 1967 or perhaps 1970 on Main Street in Oak River.  She was instrumental in preserving history of the early days of Blanshard Municipality with her contributions to history books for Blanshard and White Bank Lea community and the ceremony for the cairn at Bankburn School.  

In 1987, the Sinclair farm was recognized as a Century Farm, having been owned by the same family for over 100 years.  Aunt Nannie is on the left in this picture and beside her is her sister in law and constant companion, Jessie Henry Sinclair.  My dad continues to own a quarter of the original farm which now puts family ownership at 137 years.  

I remember Aunt Nannie talking so fast, I often had to get her to say it again. As the years went on, she became hard of hearing but the kettle was always on for a cup of tea and lunch. I remember her lemon custard tarts and shortbread with the coloured sprinkles cut into triangles that melted in your mouth. The hired men, Scotty and Harry would sit in the porch smoking their pipes until it was time for tea at the kitchen table.  Her bedroom was a wonderful place for us cousins to play on the coats that had been piled there while we visited for New Year's Day. She had toys on the top of the door frame casing and I can still picture a monkey that played the drums up there until she would pass it down!  Aunt Nannie died in 1988 and is buried in White Bank Lea Cemetery where she spent many hours tending the peonies and planting flowers for her own ancestors.

Cousins and friends, please add your own memories of Aunt Nannie in the comments.  She was a special lady that touched many lives.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Week 12 - Christina Carruthers O'Neil

Christina Carruthers O'Neil (1878 - 1964)

Up until now my blog posts on the 52 Ancestors Challenge have been direct ancestors of mine.  I still have to gather more material on some others so in the meantime I am moving sideways on the family tree to siblings.   Much of the information and pictures in this post have been taken from a local history book written in 1989 called Binding Our Districts.
Christina was a sister to my Great Grandmother Margaret, who married George Kinnaird and she was the daughter of William Carruthers from Week 8.  She was the namesake of her maternal grandmother, Christina Shearer (1768 – 1825) from Lanarkshire in Scotland. My mom talks of Christina, who was called Tine (say it Teen), and her husband John or J.J. being like another set of grandparents to her. My Grandpa Kinnaird lived with the O'Neil's when he moved from Ontario to Manitoba after the early death of his mother. 

These are pictures I have of my mom, Margaret Christina, from the late thirties that she remembers being taken in her Uncle John and Aunty's yard, south of Hargrave.

Christina Carruthers was born in Morewood, Ontario, the youngest child of the large family of William Carruthers and Jane Steven.  On the 1881 Ontario Census, she was the youngest in the family at 3 years old.  She is listed on the 1891 census with her widowed mother Jane and 3 brothers, Andrew, Stuart, and Steven.   Some members of her family were beginning to look west to the homesteads in Manitoba and Alberta as having more of a future for them as much of Ontario was already settled.  Some others had come west on harvest excursions and liked what they saw and moved out permanently.

In the 1901 Manitoba census, 23 year old Christina can be found living with her brother William, his wife Bessie, and their 2 children near Kenton, Manitoba. They later moved to a farm one mile west of Hargrave.  On December 2, 1903 John Joseph O'Neil and Christina were married. J.J. O'Neil was the son of an Irish immigrant to Canada after the potato famine there.  Born in Casselman, Ontario, he had come west on the harvest excursions.  The local history book says that John had purchased new furniture but it had been hidden in a strawstack until his bride arrived to share his home.  The photo above is Tine at their stone house, likely shortly after their marriage.  Below is another photo of their  stone house but the farm site today is marked only by a lone pine tree.

The 1906 census has them living at 33-10-27 with her 12 year old nephew, Frank Kinnaird. John is listed as 26 years old and Christina is 28.The 1911 census shows the same three people in the household at the same place. The 1921 census is the same along with the O'Neil's daughter Sybil who was born in 1916. John was involved in local government as a councillor and the couple enjoyed curling and were members of the United Church.  Frank was my grandfather and because of his Aunt Tine and Uncle John, here he was living close to his future wife and my grandmother, Frances Milne. Frank began farming on his own in 1926 and married Frances in 1927.

John and Tine O'Neil retired off the farm to Virden  in 1947 where my mom spent many holidays and lunches during the school year. Aunt Marge recalled that her parents would bring one of the turkeys that the Kinnairds had raised for holiday suppers at Uncle John and Aunty's house every year. One of their daughters taught my mom to play the piano and she fondly remembers spending time with them.

John died in 1957 and Tine in 1964.  Both are buried in the Virden Cemetery.  I also found a grave marker at the Hargrave Cemetery for two baby children of J. and C. O'Neil.  The inscription on the stone says "Born and died June 8, 1914 and Born and died October 15, 1915  Safe in the Arms of Jesus" .  Happily, the O'Neils went on to have 2 other daughters later. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Week 11 - Alexander Simms

Alexander Simms (1885-1941)

Alexander Simms, my paternal grandfather, was born in Mountain, Dundas County, Ontario on September 28, 1885.  He was the fourth of eight children born to William and Agnes Simms, Irish immigrants and farmers.  His grandfather Henry Simms was the subject of Week 9 of this blog.
Alex is the man on the bottom right of this picture. On the back of the photo it says the curly haired man on the left is Fred Glinz. He was the son of a store operator in Oak River, Manitoba and he died in 1912. The man behind them is Dave Todd, also the son of a general and furniture store owner on Main Street where the Bank of Montreal was later built in Oak River. The Todds later moved their store to Crandall.  Dodie, Alex's eldest daughter, wrote on the back that the photo was taken in 1903 or 1910, making him about 20 years old.  The portrait at the top of the blog seems to have been made from this photo, or is he just in the same clothes?  It was taken at W.A. Martel & Son photographers in Brandon, Manitoba. 
In 1903, as a young man of 18 he came to Manitoba and worked for various farmers in the Blanshard area.  At one point he had been to Banff, Alberta (likely at Bankhead) and worked for 3 months in a coal mine.  This occupation did not agree with his health so he returned to worked on farms instead. The 1911 census of Canada shows Alex living and working on the farm of  Week 4's James Sinclair who will be his father in law four years later.   In 1912 Alex took up farming for himself on a farm about 4 miles south of the village of Oak River on 10-13-22.  He married the eldest Sinclair daughter, Mary, on my birthday - July 28 - but in 1915. 

In 1919 they purchased the quarter section where I grew up, SE 15-14-22, and he lived there until his death.  It is located north of Oak River about the same distance.   Alex and Mary had a family of six - three boys  and three girls.

My Aunt Dodie gave me a large oval portrait of her Dad several years ago and I was able to have it restored in a digitized version.  Aunt Dodie tells the story of the portrait in her memoirs of the fire that burned their house.
Our two story unpainted frame house which I don’t ever remember, burned down December 31, 1923 when the twins Gwennie and Glennie were a little over five months old. Bobby was over at Grandma and Grandpa Sinclair’s for the Christmas holidays, so told to me many times by Mum. She had put the twins and I to bed after supper and then she and Dad went to the barn to milk the cows. During the milking process, Dad said he looked out for some reason and that was when he saw the flames coming out of the roof. The upstairs was not used in the winter months and that was where they had stored the dining chairs and table and other possessions. By the time they reached the house, all they could do was to wrap the three of us in the bedding and put us in the sleigh box to be hitched to a team of horses and over to Grandpa’s. After they reached Grandpa’s and deposited us, my dad, Uncle Jimmy, Uncle Bill, (maybe more) came back and got a few things out. They snared the cream separator, and Mum’s sewing machine. She said she grabbed Dad’s oval picture off the wall, as she took the last final glance.
A new house was built that is the present home of my mom and dad.  Dodie said:
Then I remember when they started to build the big white house, about 1926 or 27. The carpenters were Tommy Hayhurst who was married to Violet McKenzie (Mum’s cousin) and also a very tall man who originally came from Prince Edward Island, Calvin Bearsto. He was sort of a travelling jack of all trades and worked at many jobs for years to come.
Dodie had such fond memories of her Dad and talked about him often to me.  When Aunt Dorothy was cleaning out her belongings after she died in 2010, she found a cigar stub about an inch long with a label, "the last cigar that Daddy ever smoked". Dodie wrote the following about a memory with her dad: 
I can remember one time coming home from Grandma’s with just my dad and I in a buggy and a horse. As we came through the Cleaver place, Dad was singing and humming, the stars seemed so bright and I wondered how the horse could ever see the way.

The 1940 National Registration card pictured above of Alex's resulted from the compulsory registration of all adults in Canada from 1940 to 1946. It would seem that Alex was not a man of good health and was not in the wars but dutifully signed this certificate and it was saved in a box of papers in the attic.

This photo was taken in front of the Simms home in 1940 on the occasion of Alex and Mary's 25th anniversary. Bob, Mary and Alex in the back, Dodie and Gwennie in the middle and Don (my dad) and Dorothy in front. Other than the portrait, this is the only other photo I have of Alex.  Aunt Dorothy remembers that they made 3 different kinds of ice cream for the celebration.

Alex died young at the age of 56 on December 2, 1941, just days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, due to a leaky heart valve from an earlier case of rheumatic fever. My dad and his twin sister Dorothy both remember his funeral in the living room of their house and Dad remembers going across the field to the burial at White Bank Lea. What a sad time that must have been for their family. Alex and Mary's five surviving children were ages 9 to 25.  There was plenty of hard work to do on the farm and Mary and her family continued on and made it a successful operation. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Week 10 - Alexander Milne

Alexander Milne (1876 - 1950)

Alexander Milne was born on December 14, 1876 in Botriphnie, Banffshire, Scotland. His father was John (from Week 5 of this blog) and his mother was Ann Robertson.

In the 1881 Scotish census he is living with his parents and older sister Ann and 2 younger sisters Margaret and Mary Jane in Elgin, Moray in the Gardener's Cottage at Braemorriston.

 In the census from 1891, I found an Alexander Milne living with his great uncle John Dey  69 Castle Street in Dufftown.  I can only guess he was living there while attending school at 14 years old but have not found a family connection to a Dey at this point so may have the wrong Alexander Milne. 
Wedding photo of Jane and Alex - thank you Greg
My Alex definitely married Jeannie Morrison Jamieson (aka Jane) from Week 3 of this blog on December 24, 1897 in Lodge, Mayne House, Rothiemay, Scotland when he was 21 years old. 

The 1901 Census has Alex and Jane with their 2 boys living in Auchindachy Right Side Cottage and his occupation is defined by the census taker as a "Carter Meal".  Cousin Greg and Donna Marie helped me with understanding this job was likely driving horse and wagon with barley (meal) to the rail head for the whisky trade.  Whatever it was, it did not satisfy him and word of Canada seemed irresistible. Eventually, his father, four of Alex’s six sisters and his two brothers came to Canada and settled in and around Brandon, MB with the exception of James Brown Milne who was known to be in Welland, Ontario when Alex died in 1950.

Alex immigrated to Virden, Manitoba in the spring of 1904. A large number of Scotsmen had come to the Hargrave, Pacific, and Cromer areas at the turn of the century and no doubt these were former friends of Alex and Jane.  That year he worked for a farmer and then wintered a herd of cattle for another local farmer.  In the spring of the next year, his wife Jane and three sons John, Alexander, and William followed him across the sea.  They began farming west of Virden on SW 20-10-26.  The 1906 Manitoba Census has them living on 18-10-26 with 4 children along with a John Milne (his brother likely) and WT Sinden and SF Ayers. These two men were born in England and were called servants on the census. It was taken on August 2 so they would have likely been farm labourers. The Milnes have 10 horses, 2 milk cows, 5 other cattle and 4 hogs.

In 1911, they have 6 children and live on 26-11-27. Their religion is declared as Presbyterian.  My great grandparents Alex and Jane eventually had a family of 3 girls and 5 boys. Their daughter, Frances Jeannie, my Grandma, was born March 17, 1906.
They can't be found on the Manitoba 1916 census as they had sold out and left for  East Keremeos, British Columbia where Alex got work on a ranch.  Cousin Ian recalls hearing the story from his grandfather about taking the S.S. Sicamous across the Okanhagan and being picked up by a man named Gint Cawston in his democrat buggy for the trip to their new home.  I think it would have been similar to the Elton homestead  and looking at old pictures of the area helps me imagine their life in B.C.  It would take such courage to sell everything and head into the unknown, especially with a large family and small children.  A couple of years later, the decision was made to return to Manitoba after Alex was thrown from a horse, got his foot caught in the stirrup and broke his leg badly.  

Greg's dad John was the eldest and he knows that John started his apprenticeship at Dominion Motors in Winnipeg in 1917, but not until after he had spent a year in Winnipeg, driving Street Cars for Winnipeg Electric, while attending night school for a year to get the necessary education to begin his apprenticeship. John liked the west coast and later moved back to BC to live his life there with his wife Zelma and his family of four.

The 1921 census shows them back in Manitoba at 17-11-26 with 7 children.  They finally settled on the farm in the Hargrave district on E 14-11-27. This farm was in Milne ownership until the fall of 1959 when it was sold at auction while the last Milne to farm it moved west to BC. It was on the north side of Number One Highway at Hargrave.
Alexander was an active member of the A.F. & A. M. (Ancient Free and Accepted Masons) Lebanon  Lodge #43 serving as Master in 1930.  At the time of his death, he was a Past Master Chaplain, his obituary says.  Research has found this fraternal lodge was founded on February 1, 1888 in Virden and the club was active in laying cornerstones of schoolhouses and churches in their early days. 
He was also an active member of the St. Andrew's Society that Ida Clingan describes in her book , The Virden Story , as being formed in the area in 1888 due to the high population of Scots.  They held dances with reels, highland flings and bagpipes as well as continuing the old country traditions of games, sports - including curling, and the serving of the haggis. 
Community organizations were important to Alex and he was a director of the Virden Agricultural Society  and the Hargrave Pool Elevator.  He was also a trustee for the Hargrave School.  He was a long time secretary treasurer of the Hargrave United Church, also known as the St. Andrew's United Church pictured above, as well as an elder in it. 

 In 1947 they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. my mom, their granddaughter, remembers being at this celebration where she sang a song!  Alex looks like such a jolly man in this picture.  It is taken from the history book called "Binding Our Districts" written in 1989.

His beloved wife Jeannie died in 1948 and Alexander two years later.   The obituary from which much of this biography was based was shared by Sheldon that he copied at the Archives in Winnipeg.  We named our second son Scott Alexander as a namesake of this man as well as next week's subject, but I'll keep my readers in suspense about him!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Week 9 - Henry Simms

Henry Simms (1830 - 1890)

Carrickfergus Castle in Northern Ireland
My great great grandfather Henry Simms was born  August 6, 1830 in Carrickfergus, County Antrim in Ireland and christened on September 12 th.  He was the son of another Henry Simms (1795 - 1873) and Catherine Patterson (1797 - 1875).  He married Jane Lattimore on the 23rd of January in 1852.  According to their marriage cerificate, both were listed as residents in the Middle Division of Carrickfergus Borough and neither had married before, Henry was of full age, but Jane was a minor. They married in the “meeting house” according to the form and discipline of the Presbyterian Church by licence. They were married by James White and in the presence of William Dorman and Mary Millar. (Thanks to Alison Vogel from New Zealand for this information)
Henry farmed on a property known as Horsepark near Milebush, Carrickfergus and is listed in the Bassett’s Antrim Directory in 1888.  Their marrige documents online and some of their chidlren's birth registrations have the surname spelled as "Simm".
 I have a CD of Celtic Songs in my classroom and always enjoyed one particular instrumental track on it.  It was so ironic when I happened to look at the liner notes and found that song was called "Carrickfergus"! You can click the link to a YouTube versions of it by Charlotte Church with the lyrics below and  another version here.
Henry Simms died on October 20, 1890, aged 60 years. He died of pneumonia, which he had had for 12 days. He was at this time a widower and a farmer. The will of administration, registered in Belfast, granted his assets to his son, Samuel.  His assets wer 1389 pounds, which was apparently quite a tidy sum of money at that time.

Henry and Jane had 14 children, 10 boys and 4 girls.  Two of these, my great grandfather William and his younger brother Samuel emigrated to the present day Ottawa area of Ontario, Canada in 1880 and 1908 respectively.  William had married Agnes McAllister that same year before leaving Ireland.

Four other siblings, Henry, Agnes, John and Alex left for New Zealand between 1895 and 1898.  John settled near Christchurch and the others in North Otago, New Zealand. 

The remaining siblings stayed and farmed the land and their descendants continue to do so today.  Horsepark farm is still in Simms hands being run by Harold and Ian, grandson and ggrandson of my great grandfather William's brother Robert. It is described as a dairy operation at the first farm on the south side of Liberty Road heading west from its junction with Redbrae Road. Both Harold and Ian have represented Ireland in International ploughing matches and are members of Kilroot Ploughing Society.  It looks like beautiful country and another to visit on my bucket list!