Saturday, 11 February 2017

BOOM to BUST - They Called Them the Dirty Thirties



The silver age of the twenties was almost over when Harry, Bess and their three children moved from Brantford to the big city. Toronto had been booming for almost a decade, even the tourists were coming.

Known as a city of churches it was also a financial, manufacturing and retailing centre. There was a building boom with fourteen skyscrapers built between 1922 and 1928 and in June 1929 the sixteen million dollar Royal York Hotel was opened.

Traffic on Bay Street

Industry was growing, inflation and wages were up, the good times had returned. There were jobs in the banks and insurance companies. Women were now accepted as part of the workforce and 25% of them had work. Many people had a job and a car, so road congestion became a problem in the bustling city and Driver Licenses were necessary.

41 Delaney Cr. Parkdale

The 1920s were also a time of “buy now, pay later” for cars, appliances and homes which caused over expansion and over production subsequently resulting in layoffs. Construction was slowing down too.

When he was not ailing, Harry was employed as a brass worker, Lewis age 13 and Joan age 12 attended local public schools. After school Joan prepared dinner and helped care for her four year old sister Eileen while Bess worked a split shift cleaning early morning and late afternoon at one of the large downtown banks. They were renting a small house in the working class Parkdale area of Toronto.

The bubble burst when the Wall Street Stock Market crashed in October 1929. It was the beginning of the dirty thirties. It was the Depression and it was hard times for most.

The Prairies suffered from extreme cold and blizzards, followed by drought and grasshopper plagues resulting in dust storms and crop failure. 100,000 people left to look for work in the cities.Unskilled single men suffered the most hardship during this time.

In Toronto Since 1918: An Illustrated History, James Lemon provides some gruelling statistics. In 1931, 17% of Toronto’s population was out of work and two years later, 30% were unemployed. There was no unemployment insurance, no family allowance and no medicare.

Those working, saw wages drop by 60%, and no overtime.  The federal government set up work camps for single men doing construction work in the bush. Municipal jobs building sewers, water mains and roads by hand, known as “moving dirt”, were created.  Many men criss-crossed the country by hopping on trains and sleeping outdoors while searching for work. Hobos lived in the Don Valley in Toronto.

Scott Mission - soup kitchen
More than 100,000 people were "on the dole". Public relief agencies provided some vouchers for food and rent (no cash), and soup kitchens provided help. Evictions were common and people moved frequently as there was only help for the first month's rent. To qualify, applicants must have no relatives to help them, be supporting a family, use no liquor, and have no telephone or car.

People coped as best they could. They helped each other, remade clothing, repaired what they had, fed vagrants, took in boarders or shared houses with family members. Large houses were broken up into rental units as 60% were tenants. Young people remained at home longer and the number of marriages fell along with the birthrate. Some lived well as goods were cheap; the value of some products falling by up to 50%.

At one point Harry suffered a heart attack and could not work, causing Bess to sell her engagement ring to raise funds.

However for a number of years Harry was well and he was a skilled and experienced brass worker. He made fittings for Standard Bronze Company, a large manufacturer of lighting fixtures and Bess was working as a cleaner. Some of Harry's brass and copper works remain in the family.


The family were thrifty, for example Harry mended their shoes - they were making ends meet.

Generations who lived through those times carried the lessons throughout their life. Bess and Joan practiced “waste not want not” and "try to keep a little money for a rainy day”. They took care of their belongings, repairing them rather than replacing them and they used electricity and heat judiciously for the rest of their lives.

****************

Shortly after Bess and Harry moved to Toronto, Bess’s family joined them, coming from Birmingham England. Bess's mother Martha Jane (Elcocks) Blaney was age 52, her father Harry Blaney age 53, her sister Louise age 14 and brother Alfred (Alfie) was age 9. They boarded the S.S. Athena on November 2, 1929 and arrived in Quebec nine days later.

Harry Blaney
Harry Blaney was a leather worker and the passenger list notes that the family’s destination was their daughter’s home in Toronto.
Martha Jane Blaney

It also shows that their fares were paid by the British Salvation Army. The charity made passage available to many poor residents of England to give them a fresh start in the colonies.

Taking the train from Quebec to Toronto, they were met at Union Station by Bess and Harry.

Bess’ sister Louise was just a year older than her son Lewis. They were all living together so Louise, Lewis and Joan quickly became good friends and they enjoyed their time together.

Lewis, Louise, Joan & Yvonne
Lewis Joan & Louise
It was the Golden Age of Hollywood and you could forget your troubles with a 25 cent ticket to the movies. Radio was entertaining and widely available. There were sporting events, roller skating and swimming.

The family loved the beach, often taking the ferry to Hanlon’s Point on Toronto Island or the streetcar to the eastern beaches, with family and friends.  

Life was not so easy for the parents. Bess and her mother had never been close and everyone living in the same house was likely challenging for all of them. 

Unfortunately within a year of their arrival the Blaneys were forced to return to England.

Family lore has it that Jane, while working in a ladies wear shop, had taken something that did not belong to her. Regardless, the passenger list of the Andania shows Harry, Jane, Louise & Alfie listed under the category Deported. Their destination was shown as 12 Heathfield Road, Birmingham, the home of their son Ted Blaney and they arrived in Liverpool, England on October 19, 1930.

Bess was appalled and embarrassed to say the least and it was not spoken about even within the family. However Joan did tell me the story late in her life. Other than the passenger list, I have not yet been able to find an official record of the event.

As written in Whence They Came, Deportation from Canada 1900-1935 by Barbara Roberts, in Canada during the depression, any “new” immigrants (less than 5 years in Canada) not working or being supported by someone else, as well as troublemakers, were deported, often without trials. Between 1930 and 1935, thirty thousand people were deported from Canada. An article on the Libraries and Archives Canada website mentions that never before or since have deportations reached the same magnitude as in those years. Some Canadians, desperate themselves, blamed foreigners for taking away their jobs and using relief agency funds.

Harry and Jane returned to Birmingham penniless and moved in with their son Ted and his family where they stayed for a number of years.   Recently a daughter of Ted’s told me that things did not go very well there either due to many conflicts over her Grandmother Jane’s behaviour. 


Friday, 6 January 2017

A CORRECTION and an ADDENDUM

Photo Correction:

With many thanks to a member of the Cheffins family I am able to correct a photo that I included in my post "On to Ontario", posted August 2015.


Sylvia Dyer had read the post and realized that the photo shown was not Bess's cousin Abbe Cheffins and his family. She sent me one of her family photos that helped me identify them correctly.

On reviewing Bess's photo album I was able to find the attached photo which Sylvia confirmed is Abbe (Albert Robert), Bunnie (Mona Beatrice Denovan) Cheffins and their son Ronald.

Unfortunately I have not been able to correctly identify the photo I used but hopefully in time I will.

Corrections and or additional family history information are always welcome and one of the purposes of creating this blog. Thanks again Sylvia.


Addendum:

I recently found a transcription of a letter my grandmother wrote to her niece Margaret Everett, a daughter of her brother Ted Blaney in England. She was aged 91 at the time and in it she describes in detail, her move from Montreal to Toronto. My mother Joan, confirmed the story a few years ago. 

Happily Margaret's son Jon sent it on to me and I can include her words here.

“Then I got a day job with a well to do family who came from England same time as we did & she could understand what we were up against here.

Anyway after a short time she told me she had wished she could go back to England but he would not go. She said her brother was in Toronto with his wife & family and they would pay our way if I would work for them in Toronto. She too was very good to work for.

So we went in a covered lorry. Harry sat with the driver and the chicks and I sat across the back on a couch and it poured cold rain. We had the water curtain across us. We tried to sing but it was too much.

[daughter] Joan was here for 2 weeks one time & she said Mom, ‘remember we sat in back of the lorry and sang in the wind & the rain.’ My, I was surprised she had remembered it so plainly, she has always been a marvellous girl & a little mother to them [Lewis & Eileen] while I worked.”


Perhaps this explains the fact I could not find the family in 1927 but I found them in Montreal in 1926, then in Brantford in 1928.

I think things may not have worked out in Toronto at first and so they went to Brantford where they knew the Cheffins cousins. The 1929 city directory shows them in Toronto at 14 Delany Crescent, Parkdale. They remained in Toronto until 1945.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

FIVE FERRIES and SIX COUSINS in SEVEN DAYS Part II



So, on to Surrey via highway, our fifth ferry and highway again: another very scenic trip. We were early enough to get on the ferry but it was very crowded, likely with people taking a Sunday day trip to the Vancouver area. There were many cars left behind when the ship left the dock but not us. By the time we had lunch in the on-board White Spot Restaurant we were almost at Deep Cove.

We took the Trans Canada Highway and on arrival in Burnaby, we called our second-cousin Patricia. We were happy to learn she had arranged a family get-together for dinner at her home. Since they lived only about five minutes from the motel, Gayle and I decided to have a look at touristy White Rock before joining them.

White Rock is on the south shore of British Columbia very near the Canadian/US border. It was very busy but interesting to drive through the town and see some of the residences built up on the hills overlooking the ocean as well as the pier and promenade area.


Monkey tree at Pat's
We stopped to get a couple of bottles of wine to take to Pat`s and when coming out of the shop ran into another cousin, Amie. It was the first time I had met her but unfortunately we didn`t have time to visit. She is the grand-daughter of my mother`s sister and lives in the White Rock area.

After a wonderful day of meeting new family members, good food and many many shared stories we left with plans to leave early the next morning for our old homesteads in Lynn Valley in North Vancouver. Tom and Pat would drive us and it would take about 45 minutes to get there.



House that Dad built





It was another wonderful day. First we visited the childhood homes of each of us and I was delighted to see that the house my mother and dad had built in 1947-1952 was still standing though enlarged and updated over time. I could tell because of the ancient chimneys on the roof and the location of the front door. Unfortunately the home next door built by my grandparents had been replaced by a very modern building some years ago. There were still very, very, tall evergreen trees everywhere as I remembered, although the hill in the road always seems smaller when you are no longer twelve years old. I also loved the smell of the cedar.

Our next stop was Lynn Valley Park and Canyon. The park consists of 617 acres of forest and most trees are 80-100 years old. We had all played there as children, walking from home, building bonfires, bouncing on the suspension bridge or even jumping into parts of the canyon. Happily we are all still here to tell the stories.


The first thing I had to do at the park was to walk across the suspension bridge and take some photos looking over the sides. The bridge is 60 metres above the creek. Gayle was the most adventurous of us when we were kids, running across and rocking it, to the dismay of her mother but we all loved it then. Since she did not want to go across today, we took a different path, down into the canyon.


Pat was keen to show where our Uncle Albert`s ashes were scattered in the creek. He had many times panned for gold in the creek in the old days although he was chased out a couple of times by the warden in later years. She also told us the story of how the water turned gold when his ashes were placed there.




Gayle & Pat
We took the steps, down to the south of the suspension bridge,which I had forgotten about. They were much sturdier than we remembered them but still were many hundreds of steps with only some flights having handrails. It was tough on the knees and hips. After the climb down to the Twin Falls Bridge we enjoyed the view of the twin falls and Pat took us up along the edge to show us the location where Albert is now resting. We did not climb down to the bottom of the canyon although many people do, as we still had to climb back up the hundreds of steps to get to the parking lot.

After lunch we headed for Highlands United Church in Capilano. This is where our grandmother’s ashes were scattered, in the Memory Garden behind the church. We were able to find her plaque inside the church which told of her being there and I was able to point out her spot in the garden as I had been there a couple of times before.

We paid our respects and then Tom and Pat suggested taking us to visit another one of their children and their grandchildren who lived near Lynn Valley Park. We were delighted to meet and visit with them and see their home and property. I was kindly given a book which included photos of Lynn Valley past and present, which I enjoyed sharing with my family.


Albert's painting
After dinner we had another great evening of sharing memories,
photos and family art. In the morning I went back to get a copy of our Uncle Albert`s painting that Pat had on her wall and a copy of a portrait she had drawn of her father. When Tom took Albert’s art of the frame to copy it for me, he discovered another of Albert’s paintings on the reverse side.


A little serendipity occurred when we found that a photo that I couldn’t identify for years was one of Pat and her foster sister.

When her family moved from Toronto to B.C. she had to say goodbye to her foster sister and she never had a photo of her. What a moment for both of us!



Pat, Tom & Gayle
After our last cup of tea Gayle drove me to the Airport for the flight home.During the flight I recollected all the wonderful people, sights, and art I had experienced during my 7 days trip.

While there were lots more photos, I had to limit the number that would fit into this blog and sadly there were also the ones I neglected to take. 

Thanks to all the cousins who welcomed us into their homes, entertained us, toured us around and shared their family memories with us.


I loved every minute of it!

My next cousin finding trip will be to England and Scotland to meet those whose families didn't emigrate to Canada.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

FIVE FERRIES and SIX COUSINS in SEVEN DAYS Part I





I found some on Facebook.  Some of them Googled their surname and found me through this family history blog. I found out more about them in my Grandmother's photos, diaries and poems. I knew some of them as children but we lost touch for decades.  I thought of them as my “lost cousins”.

Unfortunately my grandmother and her siblings sometimes held grudges and played their family members against each other.  These rifts rippled across the family, up and down the generations.

When I started connecting with my family members online, I had a strong desire to see them again and after a cousin from British Columbia visited me in Toronto, we started planning an old fashioned road trip to see our West Coast cousins.

I found so much more than I had lost, and am so happy that they agreed to meet me and share their stories, art and photos!

We were able to put aside the battles of our parents and grandparents – it felt like our family feuds could finally be put to rest.  I am sad for those who went before us but hopefully we will change the future of our families.


I have been fortunate and happy to have re-connected with my Canadian West Coast cousins.

It began with a visit to my Aunt Eileen with my mother and sister Betty about six years ago. During those few days we were able to spend time with her as well as her husband Ernie and two of her children, Gayle and Colin. We also had a brief visit with my mother`s cousin Patricia and some of her family. I had previously connected with my cousin Roger and his wife Mavis over the internet while working on a family history project.

While Gayle was visiting me in 2014, we had some time to talk about all the lost connections in our family stories. When I told her I was interested in visiting her and others, she suggested she would lead a road trip that would include visits to Salt Spring Island, Nanaimo, Powell River, Sechelt and Surrey. My sister Betty planned to join us and after contacting all the cousins we planned a very ambitious itinerary. We could not be away too long as our mother was 98 years of age and in declining health.

Unfortunately just two days before we were scheduled to leave for Victoria, our mother had a medical issue that would likely require a hospital stay. We could not be sure until after our scheduled flight because we could not get test results back in time being as it was a three day holiday weekend. Generously Betty decided to stay back and be with Mom while I went ahead with our plans.

Gayle met me at the Victoria BC airport then we drove to the first ferry to travel to Salt Spring Island. After we docked it was a lovely scenic drive to her home in Ganges with Gayle telling me about the size and culture of the Island.

On arriving at Gayle`s I was impressed with the amount of her needlework she had decorating her home. It is beautiful with very intricate and detailed designs. At first glance from the doorway I thought they were paintings. It was my first look at the large amount of family art I would see throughout my visit.

I soon noticed the large numbers of deer everywhere on the Island – from roadside to backyards. Also for the first time, I saw a family of Quail walking down the road in front of Gayle`s kitchen window as we had breakfast.

As we toured the Island I was surprised by the amount of mountainous terrain as well as the narrow and winding roads. Many of the homes were difficult to reach which I suppose is what their owners like about them. I was a somewhat disappointed by the lack of sea views due to the very tall tree growth as well as the tall fences and hedges, however we did get a close up view at the north end of the island.

In the evening we walked to town and had a lovely dinner outside the Treehouse. As shown in the photo it is quite small with a tree growing up through the middle. It was a warm night with a great meal of Pacific Salmon and live entertainment. We also enjoyed watching the people wandering through the town. It was so relaxing and I enjoyed seeing ``hippies`` of all ages.


On our return we found a telephone message from another cousin Jennifer who lived along our route up the coast to suggest that we meet her in Ladywood for a coffee on Friday morning. Jenny was not sure just how we were related to her but she had heard about our trip, from her brother Roger. 

After enjoying blueberry muffins kindly sent over by Gayle`s neighbour we were soon on the second ferry ride, leaving Salt Spring Island for Vancouver Island.

With Jennifer and Gayle in Ladywood
We had a very enjoyable coffee break in Ladywood sharing some family history and our regrets that we hadn`t known each other before. We took a couple of photos and traded phone numbers and the family blog site information before driving on to Nanaimo where we had lunch with a childhood friend of mine. 

Later in the day we took our third ferry -  to Powell River and found the beautiful resort where we spent two nights.

The next day we were warmly greeted by Roger & Mavis at their beautiful glass and wood home in the forest. They explained they had built it themselves over the preceding five years reminding me that our grandparents and my parents did the same in the 1940s. The house is surrounded by many trees which Roger uses in his building and wood carvings. 

Mavis is also a wood carver and both paint. I knew Roger`s mother painted but did not know that his father had as well. There is a long list of artists in our families past and present. We were excited to see some of Roger and Mavis`s work. As well as the work displayed in their home, Mavis showed us her large beautiful carved boxes and Roger took us down to his workshop to see a magnificent, very large door he has carved. It is wonderful work.

We enjoyed a delightful lunch in their garden. They explained the fence surrounding the living area of their property was to keep out the bears, deer and cougars that had previously destroyed their plants and trees.

We shared our family history research and talked about the numerous artists in our families. Roger had not seen many of the photos in my Grandmother’s album and I agreed to send him a scanned version along with the details of a couple of books written about our artist ancestor, Walter Langley. We shared warm goodbye hugs and agreed to keep in touch. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and hope to see them again.

After a very comfortable sleep and a good breakfast we set off down the Sunshine Coast to our fourth ferry. This one would take us to Sechelt and the next cousin, Gayle`s brother Colin and his family.

After lunch in town we visited Colin`s home, yet another house high up above the water. It was down a steep driveway to the house and the house overlooked a very deep-down backyard and a great water view. I was happy to meet Colin`s wife Melanie, their son Sebastian and daughter Amelie.

Exciting ride with Colin and Gayle
In the afternoon Colin and Melanie took us on a cruise along the shore and many inlets of their neighbourhood. We were able to see their house and some others high up and almost hidden by the high trees.  We also saw an abandoned oyster farm and cabin built by a friend of theirs. We stopped there for a cold drink, a tour of the cabin and great conversation.


On the way back we stopped to check Colin`s lobster trap and later we had a great meal of lobster claws, lobster cakes, all the trimmings and dessert, which we enjoyed along with the kids.

We spent some time looking at all our old photos, sharing stories and promising to share copies. I had made a small family history book for Colin`s family which I left for them. They live a very interesting, close to nature, lifestyle and it suits them. After dark we sat out on the deck talking and star gazing. I was delighted to see the Milky Way as well as many other stars. In the absence of city light, they seemed almost within reach.

We enjoyed breakfast together before Melanie left for work. We talked a little more with Colin while he showed us some of his photos of camping with his children on one of their many adventures. Another artist in the family, Colin is a professional photographer. He then advised us what time to leave in order to catch our fifth ferry suggesting we allow enough time to visit a small park on the way to see the salmon run. Sometimes the bears come to feed as well. We had a wonderful visit.

Salmon fishing 
We did stop at the park and as we started down the trail we met a man returning with his small child who was crying because he was afraid of the bear. Well, I could not resist going on, so very slowly, quietly and carefully I walked down the winding trail watching around each curve. I was rewarded with a close encounter with a bear eating salmon, albeit a small bear. It was exciting as I snapped my photo and returned quietly to Gayle who was beginning to worry about where I was. 

That photo topped off my list of wildlife I had seen on the trip, deer, quail, rabbits, seals, salmon spawning, and a glimpse of a whale from a ferry then finally a bear.

To be continued.................


Saturday, 29 August 2015

ON TO ONTARIO


Looking like they are going somewhere about 1927-1928
When we left Harry, Bess and the children it was 1926 and they were living not very happily in the duplex at 106 Pacific Avenue in Verdun. Bess had recovered from her appendicitis illness the prior year, but work was hard to find if you did not speak French and Harry was not well so Bess was the sole source of income. They were thinking of moving to Toronto, Ontario.

It is often the case that people move to places where friends or relatives live. This is true of Harry & Bess as they continue their journey from sea to sea.

They are not shown in the 1927 Montreal, Quebec directory but show up in Brantford, Ontario in 1928. Perhaps the directory publishing dates account for the gap or perhaps they were staying with someone else and didn’t get into the 1927 directories. Brantford is about 400 miles from Montreal, likely a full day driving or even seven  or eight hours by train. It is about 60 miles west of Toronto, Ontario.

The  twenties were the good old days in Ontario as well as the rest of  Canada. With the world’s fastest growing economy, unemployment was low, earnings for individuals and companies were high. 

In 1927 Brantford celebrated the 50th anniversary of its becoming a city and it was also 100 years since the then village chose its name.

Brantford is picturesquely located on the Grand River in the Grand River Valley of Ontario. The city name recalls the famous Mohawk chief and warrior Joseph Brant who was a faithful friend of the British during the Seven Years War and subsequent wars. He was a renowned leader of his people.

Many brave men participated in WWI and those who lost their lives were well commemorated with monuments and parks.

The Bell homestead, where the Bell family lived and where Professor Graham Bell invented the telephone is located there and Lawren Stewart Harris (October 23, 1885 – January 29, 1970) the founder of the famous Group of Seven Canadian painters was born in Brantford. 

Present day luminaries include hockey playing giant Wayne Gretzky, David Hearn, golfer, author Thomas Costain and numerous other authors, politicians and sports figures.

In those fifty years Bradford steadily became a modern and progressive city of 32,000 residents with all the attractions needed to make it a desirable place to live. There was the General Hospital, a large fire department and police department, There were letter carriers, a public library, a theatre and a YMCA, a street railway as well as the Grand Trunk regular railway line connecting to Toronto and elsewhere.

The City Government employed a large workforce to deal with all the issues of a growing city and there were lots of automobile and commercial vehicles; 7000 driving licenses were held by the residents. 

Being an industrial city, there were lots of jobs in manufacturing. Some of the larger manufacturers were; Waterous Engine Works; Robinson & Myers, manufacturers of electric motors and fans; Happy Thought Foundry Co., makers  of stoves, furnaces and boilers;  Ruddy Manufacturing, makers of refrigeration products; Heintzman Piano Co. and Massey Harris, the largest manufacturer of farm implements in the British Empire.

27 Palmerston Ave
While Bess’ remembrances about Montreal told of an offer of cleaning work from a Toronto family that included free travel to that city, I expect they chose to go to Brantford instead for a couple of reasons.

Firstly Bess’s cousin Robert Albert (Abbe) Cheffins and his wife Mona Beatrice (Bunnie) Denovan were living in a house at 27 Palmerston Ave. in Brantford, Ontario, having moved there from Montreal.    

Abbe was working at Massey Harris and given that Brantford was a small city with lots of industry, they were likely hopeful there would be work for Harry as well. Cleaning work for Bess would probably be easily found in any city and Brantford did have a size-able population of prominent and successful families with large homes.

As the 1928 Brantford city directory shows, Harry, Bess and the children were living in Apartment 3 in the Davis Building, which contained seven apartments at 47 Dalhousie Street, in downtown Brantford. Dalhousie St. was and is a major thoroughfare leading through downtown to parks, the Grand River and the Armories.

Abbe & Bunnie with son Ronald

Harry’s occupation is shown as a “brass finisher” but it does not tell us where or even if he was employed.

I believe Abbe and Bunnie Cheffins left Brantford about 1928/29, returning to Montreal  where he later worked as a draughtsman for a number of years.  

They remained in Quebec until Abbe's retirement to British Columbia to be near his son in 1968. At that time he received an honorary lifetime membership to the Quebec Society of Medical Radiological Technicians “for outstanding service and devotion to duty.”


The Welch family’s time in Brantford was not long, as 1929 finds them in the Parkdale region of Toronto.

Friday, 31 July 2015

WRITINGS OF ELIZABETH BLANEY WELCH


I have added a new page to the blog site displaying some scanned copies of writings found in my grandmother Bess's journals. You can find a tab along the top of the site, labelled Bess's Writings.

As previously written Bess was pretty much self taught with respect to manners, music, art and language and she loved poetry.

She wrote some and read a great deal of it. Her first book of poetry was by English poet Percy Shelley (1792-1822) which she received 1914. Shelley, according to one biography I read,

Shelly has come to symbolize the free and soaring spirit of humankind. He is associated with the idea that one should not content oneself with the mundane but aspire to ever-loftier ideals of perfecting the self, and above all, with the idea of hope.” 

Shelly became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Throughout her life she collected poetry books, magazines and newspaper clippings and she often received poetry books as gifts.

Bess copied many poems into her notebooks and journals and memorized hundreds of poems beginning in childhood and continuing over the years. It seemed to me that she had “total recall” until very late in life when her age, strokes and her solitary lifestyle began to erode her short term memory. Many stories, poems and songs were still there in her long term memory though.


The poems are usually about inspirational topics; striving to be a better person, overcoming adversity, religious themes and many of them are sad.

When my mother Joan read one a few years ago she could still recall her mother reciting it when she was a little girl.

When Harry made recordings to send overseas or she wrote letters to family, Bess often included a poem or song lyrics about her feelings for them. She corresponded regularly with my family from the time we left Vancouver in 1952. Later, she also wrote to my children, her great-great grandchildren.

I want to share with family, some of her poetry and writings. I have read all her journals and these are ones I think were her words, based on the subject matter or her signature attached. Her handwriting is quite legible but I would be happy to translate if necessary.

This selection includes memorials to her father, her husband, her brother Ted and notes to family members. I will continue to add to the page as I am able to find and scan others.





Perhaps some family members will find them of interest.


Saturday, 6 June 2015

THE MONTREAL YEARS PART II



Harry, Joan, Lewis, Bess & baby Eileen
In September of 1925, Bess was on her way to the shops one day and after crossing the triangle of land that separated two major streets in Point St. Charles; she suffered what she called “a broken appendix”. The pain caused her pass out and fall on to the street where luckily a car wheel caught only her hat and she subsequently woke up in the hospital.

When she awoke she asked the nurse “Where is my baby? Oh madam, you don’t have a baby” the nurse said. Bess replied indignantly “Yes I do, she has got to be fed. The nurse then went to fetch the doctor.” Sure enough the doctor arrived and confirmed that she had just come out of emergency surgery for a burst appendix saying, “Oh but you don’t have a baby Mrs. Welch, you didn’t have a child, you had an appendix”. At the time Eileen was about four months old.

Bess tells of her operation being called “frying pan” surgery and that she was in a hospital where the surgeon wanted to show and quiz his students on his work. She agreed and so he did. She explained it was called a frying pan surgery because you usually have one slice in a surgery but she had three (“a cut, a cut, a cut” she said) all of which created a frying pan shape. I expect this was medical slang as I have consulted a couple of medical history sources who can find no trace of this term. A librarian from the Osler Library of the History of Medicine suggested that perhaps it referred to the traditional one, the MacArthur/McBurney incision, involving multiple cuts that split three layers of the abdominal muscle. It is also referred to as a “Grid iron” incision. This incision was pioneered at the very end of the 19th century.

With the old familiar clock chiming an accompaniment, Bess continued her account of remaining in the hospital for a few days and then being sent directly from the hospital to a location high above Lac Chapleau for several weeks of convalescence. She described it as being a three-quarter day train journey from Montreal, “high up in Quebec”. 

It was a monastery; there were three big buildings one of which was used by recovering patients sent from the hospital, luckily, with no cost to the patient. It was a beautiful peaceful place especially in the fall, with a large veranda surrounding the building. From it you could look down and out over the lake while listening to someone playing the piano. “It was so beautiful” Bess said. Usually at this time of year the trees would still have some of their colourful autumn leaves and it would probably be cool but still warm in the sun. .

Bess told her niece about one day when a loud alarm went off. “It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the sky was beautiful, blue as a blue ribbon and the sun was shining – when suddenly the big bell rang - bong – bong – bong - bong. We had been warned to stand stock still if the bell rang and I did.  In two minutes I couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t see your face, you couldn’t see the lake, you couldn’t see the trees, you couldn’t see the sky; you couldn’t see anything!    

After a long dramatic pause ..."Fog!” she said. The building was high above the lake and it was very dangerous to move around the property in the fog.

Unfortunately my mother Joan now has no recollection of the time her mother Bess was in the hospital and her convalescence but we agreed that likely her father Harry got them ready for school in the morning and they went to Aunt Nellie’s until he came home from work.

We often heard the story of how Harry repaired, cleaned and polished the family’s shoes to a military shine every night and laid them outside the bedroom doors every morning. There were very few pairs of shoes so they were worth looking after well and of course the state of your shoes said something about you or your family. Run down shoes did not speak well of you.

Bess’s employer, the wife of the head of the Toronto Bank branch was involved in charities that helped a lot of children and when Bess did not turn up for work the day after her accident, her employer was immediately concerned for the baby (Eileen).

Harry, Eileen & Bess
She wrapped her in a shawl and took her” said Bess. She made an arrangement that Eileen be cared for at a children’s hospital for the duration of Bess’s full recovery - until she had regained her ability to care for her very young daughter.

Bess returned from the monastery and after three weeks recovery at home she went back to the hospital for a check up, then she found out where she could find Eileen.

On entering the children’s hospital she said “I have come to fetch my child, my little girl, Eileen Welch”.Huh, you haven’t got a chance of taking that child out of here, the doctor’s got it” the nurse replied. 

Bess said “I thought Harry had put her in the home for good, they wouldn’t tell me anything”. The nurse then phoned around to see where she was.

Finally a doctor came into the room with a child under his arm kicking her legs. He gave the baby to the nurse saying “you had better change her and I’ll take her out again” then left the room without even speaking to Bess. The nurse said nothing and left with the baby. “I was so bewildered” Bess said. 

However when the nurse returned, she said “you’re going to have an awful job, that doctor takes her everywhere he goes”. She finally gave Bess her daughter. “She was so spoiled – she was spoiled forever and forever” Bess dramatically declared.

Albert & Stan Blaney
Bess and Harry continued to live the duplex at 106 Pacific Ave, in Verdun, Quebec for a couple more years. They shared the family's small quarters and minimal food not only with her two brothers but also for some poor man they found freezing to death on a cold Montreal street. Bess's brothers Albert & Stanley came to Montreal to stay with Bess and her family while they looked for work.

A large forest fire near Rock Bay, British Columbia brought logging operations to a halt putting them both out of work and they had difficulty finding other work in the Vancouver area.


In a story co-written with his niece Patricia Blaney Koretchuk, Albert Blaney described the fire as follows:

This monstrous fire was forty miles square, easy. You could see it coming for a week before it arrived. We watched it creeping, creeping, and creeping up on us. On the edge of it you to stand three or four hundred feet away from it, it was so hot. The heat was so terrific that it took my cabin and my uncle’s cabin in twenty minutes.

The logging company had to send men quickly up to the heard of the railroad line and get the people out before the fire got them and destroyed the tracks. There were families, women and children up there. They put water barrels on the logging flat cars, and they put tarps over the top so that people could be under cover. There was some kind of hand pumps in the barrels so that people could squirt water on the tarps for protection as they passed through the hot areas.


After they got everybody out, it wasn’t very long before the fire had ruined all the bridges. The heat was so great that the tracks were bent into arcs, or bent down into the lay of the land. Miles and miles of timber were ruined, so it wasn’t worthwhile going in there logging any more. After the fire, I left Rock Bay for Vancouver because the logging company completely gave it up in that area”.

Albert with Clara & Mike at their cabin in Rock Bay British Columbia


For a time in Montreal, they worked as aides at the Montreal hospital where Bess worked in the kitchens. Stan also found a job at the Belding Corticelli Silk factory. They all found any work they could and Bess at age 91 wrote to a relative in England, about that time.

Harry suffered heart attacks at times, which made him lose his work so many times. So with 3 children after 2 years here, I had to find some work of any kind to help to keep the rent paid. I got a job cleaning taxis; washing them at night. Oh Boy!!”

“A British Officer, at whose home I washed & cleaned, and his wife gave me things to help with Joan's clothes; they had a girl the same age. He came to see Harry & wrote to army headquarters & tried to get us home but as Harry had no pension they would not help him, so on we go, what a life, yes I had no alternative.

Bess continued, "then I got a day job with a well to do family who came from England same time as we did & she could understand what we were up against here. Anyway after a short time she told me she had wished she could go back to England but he would not go. She said her brother was in Toronto with his wife & family and they would pay our way if I would go to work for them in Toronto”. 

So Bess, Harry and their three children moved again.  

Many thanks to my cousin Patricia Blaney Koretchuk as most of the quotes in the Montreal years Part I and Part II are from her recorded interview of Bess in 1988. Also thanks to my English cousin Jon Everett for sharing his correspondence from Bess, parts of which I have quoted above including the photo of Albert & Stan in Montreal and Albert's Aunt Clara Elcocks and Michael Murphy's cabin in Rock Bay.