Thursday, 2 August 2018

Stories of Alexander Milne and his family

During a recent tour around Virden (a blog post in the works), a few of the present day descendants of Alexander and Jeannie Milne were pondering the circumstances that may have led to them leaving their Scottish homeland for Canada just after the turn of the century.  It was indeed a pleasant surprise to open up my email and find these memories from cousin Greg, as told to him many years ago.  I've added online links and a wonderful picture of Alexander (courtesy of Greg and Donna-Marie) taken around this same time at 30 Union Road in Macduff, Scotland.

 It has come to my attention that I should take some time to write what I know or have been told about my family history.  I can not say that the following is absolutely true, because much of it is third hand.  That is to say, much of the story is what I remember my father telling me, and much of what he told me is what he was told by his mother.  While oral traditions are not always letter perfect, they nevertheless do usually offer the best recollections, though they may be tinted by love or sorrow.

This then is the story of Alexander and Jane (Jeanie) Milne, and their emigration to Canada from Scotland in 1904 and 1905, as made known to me by my father, John Milne, their oldest child.

Alec and Jeanie both grew up in the Banffshire area of Scotland which is now the county of Morayshire.  Alex was born in Dufftown, in 1875, and Jeanie was born in Auchterless in 1876.  I have no idea how they met or of their social life, but they were married in a Manor House just outside of Rothiemay on Christmas Eve in 1897. 
Alec’s father John, was a farm labourer, who apparently had certain skills as an untrained veterinarian and often attended the difficult births of large animals.  On one occasion a land owner asked him to attend a breech-birth of a prized mare.  He managed to save the mare, but the resulting foal was not expected to survive.  The owner told John that the foal was his if it should live.  The story is that John and young Alec, and his sisters, spent days tending the youngster and it did indeed not only survive, but grew into a prized stallion.  The Stallion was later traded for two fine mares. 
At about that time, before he got married, Alec moved away from his parents to set himself up in business as a carter in Charlestown of Aberlour, a distillery town on the banks of the Spey River. and he started with these two Clydesdale mares, which he purchased from his father.  It must have been about 1895 when Alec was just nineteen years old.  It seems that he became a bit of an entrepreneur, as in a fairly short time he had two wagons.  Dad said that one was a “dirty wagon,” and the other was a “clean wagon.”  The former for hauling manure, or gravel, and the second for transporting whiskey casks to the railhead in Craigelachie, six miles north of Aberlour.  My father and his next two brothers Alexander Jr, and William were born in Aberlour.  Dad was born on 6 December 1898.  Business must have been pretty good, because before long Alec also came into ownership of a fine Clydesdale Stallion, and he began his career as a breeder by offering his Stallion to “cover” local mares for the princely sum of £5.00.  That amount of money was close to a year’s wages for a labourer in those days. 
Grandfather had grown up within the Free Presbyterian Church of the day.  He was happy enough there, I suppose, until a certain incident took place.  It seems that the treasurer of the local congregation had “borrowed” some of the funds for his own purpose, and this was discovered just after he paid back the funds into the treasury.  The local Session called him to judgement for his sins and decided to expel him from the congregation.  Alec took issue with the judgement declaring that the man should be forgiven, as he had paid back the funds.  While forgiveness was possible, continuing membership in that congregation was not, so the man had to go.  Alec decided then and there that he would leave that congregation also, and he then joined the local Church of Scotland (auld Kirk) congregation.  This would have happened some time after their marriage, and perhaps after some of the boys were born.  Probably not all that long before Alec left Scotland. 
His move into the Kirk was a sure sign that he had joined the upwardly mobile.  He was happy with that decision until one day a certain member of the upper echelon, who probably also hired him to do certain work, asked him to bring his stallion to his farm to cover a couple of mares there.  Grandpa said, “certainly, that will be £5.00 per mare.”“No, no, you don’t understand young man,” said the gentleman, “since I am your superior, and some-time employer, you must give me this service free.”When Grandpa indicated that was not going to happen, he was made aware that his position in the local community depended upon his obedience.  According to Dad, Grandma was even more angry about this than Grandpa. 
Later, while commiserating with his local buddies at the pub, they all greed that life in Scotland was becoming untenable, and they should emigrate to the “new world.”   In the end the others all backed out, but Grandpa had made up his mind. 
Over the next several months, he sold his wagons, bought three more mares, and managed to get them with foal before loading them on board an empty cattle boat that was returning to Halifax, Canada.  He had also somehow secured a job in Manitoba, where he would be looking after cattle and would be able to breed his horses, and sell stud services to others. 
He got off the boat in Halifax, and put the horses on a train for Manitoba in 1904.  I had no idea of all the places he lived during the next years, tending cattle and breeding horses, but he must have done quite well, as he was able to purchase passage on another returning cattle boat in 1905 for his wife and three small sons, who disembarked in Montreal.