For a young peoples’ video look at the history of the Tay Canal please click the link below, by which I mean…


this one!

I am so proud! Not that I had anything to do with this (and I didn’t) but because the video shows how the appreciation of Perth (Lanark County, Ontario, Canada) history is, and will continue to be, alive and well!

Congratulations to everyone, particularly the young people and their mentors, who made this possible.

Reading today (when I’m not writing)


 

When I read it’s a bit like grazing in front of the dessert table (minus the diabetic considerations).

So it is that I am currently reading, roughly a chapter or section at a time:

The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond
by Lucille H. Campey
Robert Bourassa
by Georges-Hébert Germain (texte en francais!)
Those Who Save Us
by Jenna Blum (on the recommended list in the recently-read Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay)

 

It’s the paper book version of channel surfing but with far greater results.

I bought the Bourassa biography (still available only in French) after seeing the author on Tout le monde en parle several weeks ago. It is a pleasure to recognize the neighbourhood in Montreal where he grew up, went to school (later across town in Outremont), and acquired a taste for the cut and thrust of politics with which I can so identify. His father was a painfully shy civil servant, his mother a more boisterous lover of singing – all during a time, in the thirties, marked by the Great Depression and the foreshadowing of war. It was, in fact, his keen interest in the day-to-day developments of World War Two which helped make Bourassa the walking atlas he would become.

That’s as far as I’ve read thus far.

In the novel Those Who Save Us, a university researcher is helping a Holocaust researcher interviewing German-Americans who experienced the war in their homeland. Meanwhile her mother’s story, including the disappearance of the narrator’s Jewish father, is being told in flashbacks.

The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond appeals to the historian-genealogist in me. I am finding plenty of references to the life my ancestors must have shared, some coming to the named-for-home Glengarry region in the south-easternmost part of Ontario and others to Lanark County in the military settlements of the townships around Perth, on land assembled by treaty with the Algonkian (Algonquin) people as wood and farm land for immigrants and, in the case of Perth, as a military settlement for half-pay and retired soldiers from the War of 1812, including both the European battles and those along the border with the United States.

I haven’t bought an e-reader yet, still enjoying the weight and touch of a book’s pages – three books even!

Over 400 “Friends for Life” to thank as they cycle the shores of my gene pond, river, and canals!


There is some hope that this near-historic hot weather will return to “normal hot” by Sunday.  I have no doubt that this will be a great relief to all involved in the annual Friends for Life Bike Rally which leaves Toronto that morning on a six-day, six hundred kilometre ride to Montréal.

It was ten years ago that I completed the 5-kilometre Pride and Remembrance Run in Toronto, something of a mountain-moving feat given my health, which I approached with more than a little trepidation. The spirit alone of this bike rally pulls me in as a voyeur via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter each year.

Aside from the wonderful cause, Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (part of my life since even before I tested positive for HIV twenty-two years ago in 1989), the route has particular meaning to me as it traces – sometimes backwards, sometimes forwards – the emigration of generations of ancestors, mostly from the British Isles and Ireland but also France and Québec, to villages, towns and cities along the St. Lawrence River, the Lachine and Soulanges Canals, Lac St-Francois and Lake Ontario. (This does not include places in inland counties which they eventually helped clear and farm.) These historic ties are top-of-mind as I’ve been working hard on my family tree, particularly this year.  Ancestral hubs, those along the route at least, include Brockville (where new arrivals disembarked and went overland to the north and west), and many points on the route east to Lancaster (where the Dairy Queen at which rally participants will be indulging is a stone’s throw from a cemetery containing the remains of many Scottish immigrant and United Empire Loyalist relatives of mine).

Now, see, if I was along how interesting my yammering would be? Like endless slide-shows or home movies from your childhood!

Heading across the border into Québec signs soon give directions to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, a small island city where Lac St-Francois squeezes back into the aforementioned Soulanges Canal and St. Lawrence River. It’s an almost completely French-speaking place which, practically from birth,  gave me such an appreciation for the French fact in our country.  From here to Montréal, along the Soulanges, Lac St-Louis and Lachine Canals, are communities with my own memories and the histories of people I never knew but who weaved their France-formed branches into mine via marriages long ago.

Two views from the cycling paths along the Lachine Canal

Once downtown the riders and crews will head to Place Emelie-Gamelin where they will most certainly be warmly welcomed to the annual Divers/Cité celebrations well underway.

This journey is such an inspiration to me.  Many participants are HIV-positive themselves.  I know what it took to run 5 km.  I don’t know what it would be like to even wake up and get going every day, as early as these folks, even if my only duty was cleaning up our camp-sites and riding in a school bus for 600 km!

Some time, maybe.  I’ll leave it on my bucket list.

Rustling the branches of my old family tree


You’ve probably seen the advertisements for Ancestry.ca (or dot-com elsewhere).

A few weeks ago I decided to give it a test-drive and I must say I’m hooked! The program isn’t doing all the work, mind you, as I leaf through two or three family-specific books that have been largely ignored by other members of the immediate family. These books, with help from the software, trace my grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, as well as their siblings and spouses. On two different branches I’m back to the 1600s already – and the program tells me (with a list of names up the chain) the exact relationship of a “find” to me, e.g. “eighth great-grandfather”. Sometimes I have found there to be no relationship as it is very easy to get sidetracked by one relationship or another.

I was happy to get as far back as emigration to Canada (from England, Ireland and Scotland) but now I’ve found a relative, nicknamed “Billy the Picket” for his talents fighting in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

It’s also interesting to see how surnames have evolved from, in a few cases, Norman France.

What neither the books nor the software give me are enough details to write stories (at least not non-fiction tales!)

Someone asked me the other day if I had pinned down my relationship, if any, to Charlie Chaplin. I must get on that!

Licence to drive, licence to vote


When I vote in advance polls this weekend I will not be asked to dip a finger in purple ink.  Armed guards will not be inside or outside the polling station.  My vote will not be influenced by bribes or intimidation.  Sad then, isn’t it, that so many Canadians, having seen the struggles for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa this winter, will not exercise their democratic right between now and May 2nd and yet will feel free to complain about the outcome!

If barely sixty percent of Canadians old enough to vote will do so, all the more reason – among others – to lower the voting age to sixteen.

As difficult as it is for this 51-year old to imagine that 16-year olds were only born around 1995, the fact is that they are in school, and have hopefully had at least some compulsory lessons in Canadian history and social studies.  What a great environment of debate and discussion to spark an interest in How Canadians Govern Themselves .

Only as an adult, hearing of the distance so many people feel from our democratic institutions, could I truly appreciate growing up as close as I did to Ottawa (and spending summers even closer).

Map picture

Going to high school near the site of the War of 1812 Battle of the Châteauguay, which thwarted an over-land invasion by Americans bent on conquering Montréal, I was gifted to have a couple of very enthusiastic history teachers who placed a lot of emphasis on local events.  As this also coincided with the Parti Québecois’ historic first election to government in 1976 there was no shortage of material – and of course there was lots of study of the October Crisis of 1970 a few years before.

Each year of high school included a day-trip to Ottawa where we would tour Parliament, at least one museum, and the Experimental Farm.  Setting off from Ormstown, we’d travel through my home-town of Valleyfield (or its formal name, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which honoured French-Canadian lieutenant-colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, hero of the aforementioned La Bataille de la Châteauguay), up past the sprawling horse farms of St-Lazare and the Ottawa River-side town of Hudson (home of NDP leader Jack Layton) to Highways 40 and the 417 which sped us to our destination.

I know that when it came to history and politics I was definitely a nerd but I look back on these opportunities with gratitude.

During the summer I split my time between Portland, Ontario on the Rideau waterways and Perth which, as a War of 1812 military settlement, has a great deal of history in its own right.

In the grand old court house across the street from my grandmother’s, at the time, there sat a judge for many years (John Matheson) who, as a local Member of Parliament during the Lester B. Pearson government, handled the political sausage-making which led to Parliament adapting our much-loved Maple Leaf flag.  Matheson, so my grandmother boasted, is a distant relative.  My great-grandmother was a sister of Judge Matheson’s grandmother.  (The Scottish side of my family make it our life’s work to trace our bloodlines back centuries to the Highlands – roots which I always blame, without evidence admittedly, for my fair, irritation-prone skin.)

All of which is to bring me back to the fact that it was in my youth, even before learning to drive, that I also was most intensely learning about politics and how government works.  I’m sure the same is true today so, with so much pathetic apathy among adults, let’s thrown open voting to young people.

Old enough to drive?  Old enough to vote!

Old pictures tell only a fraction of the stories


 

 


Great-great-grandparents Thomas Butler and Dorcas Radford

Thomas Butler was born in Bathurst, Lanark County, Ontario in 1826, one of nine children of 1819-1820 Irish immigrants John Butler and Alice Warren. While six of his siblings married Warren cousins, in 1852 Thomas Butler married Dorcas Radford, born in 1835, also in Bathurst Township. That’s their picture, taken in 1909! According to a 1974 family history Barker and Warren Families from Ireland** , compiled by Grace Hildy Croft, my great-great grandmother Dorcas Radford was a daughter of William Radford of Ireland, while the Butlers can also trace roots there as far back as 1185 to when a Theobald Butler accompanied King John into Ireland.

The second child of Thomas and Dorcas, Jane, married James Chaplin but Jane died at the birth of their first child, Sarah Jane Chaplin, in 1873. She was just eighteen years of age. (This had been the first recorded marriage between a Butler and a Chaplin but it would not be the last.)

Thomas and Dorcas Butler, who raised their orphaned grand-daughter, and a niece as well, while parenting ten children of their own (born between 1854 and 1875), were the grandparents of my paternal grandmother Pearl Butler who married Henry Burton “Bert” Chaplin in 1922. Grandma’s brother, Thomas, Jr., died on the First World War battlefields of France on March 1, 1917 sixteen days shy of his twenty-first birthday. I wish I had been more curious about his young life, when I had the chance to talk about him with my grandmother, but it was the war story which caught my attention. More about that, including photos and newspaper clippings, here.


Pte. Thomas E. Butler (17 March 1896 – 1 March 1917)


My great-grandparents, Henry Butler and Jennie Moodie with Beatrice, Thomas, Pearl and cousin Mildred(?)

Only a couple of Grandma Chaplin’s five siblings were familiar to me in my early years, great-aunts Bea (notorious for her home-made fudge) and Ruby (who lived in LaSalle, Québec with her husband, family and a very articulate mynah bird.)

The Chaplin family, which settled within easy courting distance of the Butlers, has an interesting part in the pioneer history of Lanark County, too, parts of which can be found in another family genealogy project McKay Family History: Walking in their Footsteps.

I remember my grandmother Chaplin telling me a story, which I in turn used in an elementary school project, of how Henry Chaplin, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, the second child of English immigrants John Chaplain and Sarah Jones, was born in 1835 on board the Pomona freight ship at St. Helen’s Island in Montréal harbour. (That was one of the islands used for Expo 67 and continues as a park today. It’s also home to a fort, now a museum, where John Chaplain’s assigned station quarters were located. He had served in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in Woolwich, County Kent, England. In the regimental book it listed his date and place of birth as Foxfield, Hampshire in 1806.)

Fort St. Helen’s Island

As was common with retiring English army personnel John Chaplain purchased land, in his case in Bathurst Township, west of Perth. The McKay book records that in 1840 he bought a 100 acre parcel of land from Richard Lewis for 130 pounds. From Montreal the family took a barge up the St. Lawrence River as far as Brockville.  They then crossed overland to Lanark County.

His children’s registered surnames dropped the second “a”, a change of spelling not uncommon in those times as a new generation in a new land. There have been dozens of Chaplins in the Perth and Glen Tay area for generations, a name synonymous for many years with a large dairy and related delivery business, no longer in operation. Others made their name in a variety of ways, both locally and farther afield.

Grandma and Grandpa had five children – my Aunt Eileen, Uncle Ken, my Dad (Arnold), and then twins Iris and Lois. Eileen died a couple of years ago. Ken, for whom I was named, died on his thirty-fourth birthday, about five months before I was born. He was married and the father of two girls aged twelve and eight. Having entered hospital for a hernia operation, he died of a blood clot on the day he was supposed to have been released. There seems little doubt that today’s routine blood-thinners would have saved his life. In any case there was an almost-immediate understanding between my mother and her mother-in-law that, should I be a boy, I would be named after Ken. (My middle name, George, I owe to my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather.)

1927 – Ross Chaplin, brother Bert (my grandfather) and Pearl (my grandmother) holding my Dad, Arnold, with Ken and Eileen in front

Not too far away from Glen Tay, to the south and west of Perth, is the Scotch Line (County Road 10) where my mother and her little brother spent their toddler years before George Henry McGinnis, Sr. and Lillian Thelma MacPherson moved into town, relocating to a Drummond Street home where my mother still lives today.

1932 – Lillian (MacPherson) McGinnis with Madeline, George Henry McGinnis with George, Jr.

Grandpa McGinnis, born in 1887 in Sharbot Lake to George Henry McGinnis, Sr. and Eliza Bertram, was a widower cheesemaker, having worked at various cheese factories in the area (Fallbrook, Lanark, Mississippi-Prestonvale) before going to the Scotch Line Union Cheese Factory on the Upper Scotch Line and eventually marrying my grandmother, the new school teacher. They were married in St. Paul’s United Church in Perth on June 26, 1925, one of the first, if not the first, marriage in that congregation of the newly-formed United Church of Canada.

Lillian MacPherson, born in 1904 in Green Valley, Charlottenburg Township, was a school teacher who had come to the Perth area from Glengarry County, east of Cornwall and, among the many schools she eventually taught at, was Scotch Line School.

My great-grandparents, Marjory and Alex MacPherson

My grandmother, Lillian (MacPherson) McGinnis, age 18, in 1923

Grandpa McGinnis, believed to have been taken at Prestonvale Cheese Factory

Scotch Line Union Cheese Factory – ca.1932

Scotch Line home, near the cheese factory

The former Upper Scotch Line School, one of many small schools in the area where my grandmother McGinnis taught, is now used by Scotch Line Cemetery and casts its morning shadow over the grave-sites of my grandparents, parents and brothers Craig and Claude – mine, too.

During the Great Depression, when both my mother (Madeline) and George, Jr. were born, there was a great deal of bartering that went on – cheese for milk, cheese curds for produce, and so on. Nevertheless cheese was a staple in the family and has remained so. Mom jokes that she’ll never have problems with her bones because of the great amount of calcium she ingested as a child.

Grandpa and Grandma were also very musical and would go to house parties always prepared to provide some of the entertainment, Grandpa on the violin and Grandma “chording” accompaniment on the piano.


Grandpa died in 1951, a little over a year before Mom and Dad were married. This picture was taken in approximately 1949.

Grandma (my siblings and I actually called her “Gammy” until she died at age 95 in March of 2000), never stopped being a teacher even though she had retired by the time I was half-way through elementary school. One of the stories she talked about was the still-legendary Judge John Matheson, who presided at the Lanark County Court House right across the street. Talk about six times six degrees of separation but Judge Matheson, known for his role in the crafting of our Maple Leaf flag, is related:

My grandmother’s grandmother, my great-great-grandmother Margery McIntosh-MacDonald, was a sister of Judge Matheson’s grandmother Catherine McIntosh.

Grandpa McGinnis had three older sisters – Mary (Mrs. Duncan Avery), Maud (Mrs. George Fife), and Maggie (Mrs. Billie Ennis). In addition he had two younger brothers: Charles (who married Della Doran) and Arthur (whose wife’s maiden name was Meta McLellan.) One younger sister, Christena, was married to Ed Pratt.

As mentioned Grandpa was a widower married first to Edith Jackson. They provided his second family, along with his many descendants, with step-sister Dorothy (“Auntie Dot” to me) and step-brothers Mervyn, his wife Myrtle “Myrt”, who gave birth to cousin “Red” Jack, and Fred and his war-bride Betty, all of whom the blended family simply claimed as aunts, uncles and cousins. Dot and Homer gave us sons Jack and Don and daughter Nancy.

A character known as “Grandma McGinnis”, she would actually be my great-grandmother, was named Eliza Ann Bertram and having lived until 1953, to the age of nearly 104, stories about her will be passed on for many years. When I was growing up, particularly when I was doing so literally hitting 6’3″ in my teens, I had a habit of clicking my feet on the dining room floor at dinner. That, my mother (and others in the family if they were visiting) told me, reminded them of Grandma McGinnis who seemed to have the same kick in her step.

Great-Grandma McGinnis (Eliza Ann Bertram) 1849-1953

Dancing had a lot to do with Mom and Dad getting together. A friend of Mom was dancing with him one night and Mom inquired as to who he was. They would dance together through nearly fifty years of marriage which began on July 26, 1952. Their first child, Arnold Craig Chaplin, was born May 13, 1955.

Dad was working at a textiles plant in Perth called Springdale Mills, owned by a company based in Montréal, and which presently closed up in Perth and transferred anyone who wished to go to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec. Mom, Dad and Craig moved despite misapprehensions from family and friends, who seemed to see Québec as a nearly foreign, dangerous place. We, on the other hand, feel that the experience of living there enriched us immensely. Craig stayed in Montréal the rest of his life, dying in 2007, and we remain close with his partner of seventeen years, Claude, so maintain a connection with the city and province.

I was born in Ormstown, Québec, a short drive from Valleyfield. It was October 26, 1959. Lynn followed on March 2, 1961 and then Janice was born on September 30, 1968.

100 Nicholson – The first Valleyfield home for Mom, Dad, Craig and then me


22 Maden Street – that’s Craig,8, and me, 4, in the back yard – was the second place we called home in Valleyfield, and where sister Lynn joined us, with memories of this place much clearer than the apartment on Nicholson St.

In 1964 the family moved to 38 Simpson Street, a home which Mom and Dad designed and which managed to meet the needs of a family of six, with Janice’s arrival in 1968.


**The full name of the book, as noted on the title page, is The Barker and Warren Families from Ireland – And Allied Families: Butler, Burke, Crawford, Dodson, Doxey, Hildy, Kinch, Rath, Singleton, Smith, Tompkins, Webster et al.