Saturday, 6 June 2015


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.

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