Friday, 23 June 2017


Bill visiting Joan at 7 Kent Rd. 1934
Joan about 1934

One day in 1934 my mother Joan Welch went on a double date with her brother Lewis and met the man she would marry.

William (Bill) Atkinson was a friend of Lewis’ and they enjoyed a large group of friends who went on many outings together including church social activities.

Bill, Lewis and friends
Bill & Joan with friends

Joan was seventeen years old, tall at 5 ft. 7 in. and slender with dark hair and Bill was age twenty-two, 6 feet tall and thin with a shock of unruly red hair.


Bill was born April 25, 1912, in Sheffield, England, the third son of Thomas Richard Atkinson (1875-1959) and Edith Hannah Morris (1879-1973).

Thomas & Edith Atkinson in Sheffield, England  1928

Bill's father Thomas and older brother, Charles arrived in Canada aboard the S.S. Duchess of Richmond, landing at St. John, New Brunswick on March 24th, 1929. Thomas was fifty-four years old and Charlie was nineteen. They had $20.00 between them.

Charlie was a mill hand in England. He was headed for a hostel in Montreal, his passage being paid by the Canadian Government to be a farm labourer in Canada. Thomas bought his own ticket and was also shown as coming as a farm labourer, headed for the Canadian Pacific Railway office in Toronto.

The federal government in the 19th and early 20th centuries left much of the responsibility for immigration to the private sector, particularly the Canadian Pacific Railway and other transportation companies which had an economic stake in encouraging settlement of the country. With its own Department of Colonization and Immigration the CPR promoted and assisted emigration to Canada from Europe and the United States.

Ivy and Tommy Atkinson 1929
About seven months later Bill age seventeen, his sister Ivy (1914-1990) age fifteen and their brother Tommy (1916-1944) age thirteen along with their mother Edith followed. 

Their passage on the S.S. Duchess of York was paid by their mother at a special immigrant rate and her final destination was shown as Toronto – “to join her husband” - who was living on Parliament Street in Toronto. They landed at Quebec on October 17, 1929.

I had always thought that Dad had been an apprentice electrician in England but the passenger list shows he was a moulder; in England this meant a person who uses a mould to cast an object. He was listed as future farm labourer, Ivy was shown as a domestic worker and Tommy as a scholar.

Like many others who came when Canada was advertising in Britain for farmers, they all actually lived and worked in the city from the time of their arrival.

After leaving the British army in 1934 the eldest Atkinson son, John (Jack) Richard (1908-1967) followed them to Canada. He arrived on the Duchess of Bedford landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, December 21.  He was a mechanic in Sheffield and intended to find work as a mechanic in Canada. He had paid his own passage and was shown as joining his parents in Toronto, Ontario. 

During the Depression the family were mostly employed and living in Toronto. At times all the Atkinson men worked for Ferranti Electric in Toronto, Thomas as a painter, Bill and Charlie as electricians and Jack as an assembler.

Ferranti Electric Canada was set up in 1912 to sell and distribute their British designed electrical products. They became early pioneers in Canadian electrical manufacturing as the Canadian Division of Ferranti’s global manufacturing empire. This is where Bill began his career building large electrical transformers.

Bill’s sister Ivy was working as a domestic for the Matheson family on Ardargh Street in the High Park area of Toronto and Tommy was in school.

More about the Atkinson family history can be found at the newly launched blog site


In 1937, Bill was working as an electrician and Joan was working for Stanley Manufacturing, a metal printer, along with Lewis who was working there a screen man. Screen printing is a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Ink is forced into the mesh openings and transferred to the printing surface.

After knowing each other for about three years which included a short engagement, Joan at age twenty married Bill age twenty-five at St. Stephen’s United Church, the local family church regularly attended by the Welch family. 

It was a record hot day on September 4, 1937.

Bill Atkinson & Joan Welch
Sept.4, 1937

A Toronto newspaper clipping tells us the bride was given away by her father while wearing a gown of pale turquoise blue taffeta with pink accessories and a bouquet of pale pink and white flowers. Her attendant was her girlfriend Molly Rusonick gowned in sapphire blue taffeta and carrying white flowers.

Rev. J. A. Torrance officiated and presented the couple with a bible. Unfortunately they did not use it to record any family history information.

 Joan’s brother Lewis Welch was the best man  and the ushers were Bill’s brother Tommy and  friend Arthur Barker. Lewis also sang during the  signing of the register and as was the custom of  the day, the reception followed in the recreation  room of the church.
Joan at 593 Oakwood Ave.

The new Mr. & Mrs. Atkinson spent their  honeymoon in Niagara Falls; the honeymoon  capital of North America. 

Their first home was a cottage at 593 Oakwood Avenue in west-end Toronto, not far from Bill’s family in Mount Dennis.


These were happy times for Bill and Joan as they continued to live and work in the west end of Toronto spending time with friends and family in those pre-WWII years. Things were going well for other family members too.

Bill’s sister Ivy had found work at the Kodak Company near her home with her parents.

Edith, Joan, Thomas, Bill, Maude & Charlie

His brother Charles returned to Sheffield, England with his wife Maude Beatrice Freeman in 1936 accompanied by their daughters, Betty age two and step-daughter Joyce age twelve.

They did not return to Canada until 1949.

John (Jack) Atkinson

In 1937 brother Jack Atkinson enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was an experienced soldier having previously served over seven years in the British Army. The youngest brother, Tommy was working for William Arnold, as a carpenter building summer cottages in the Sturgeon Lake, Ontario region.

Joan’s brother, Lewis and their sister Eileen were living with their parents in an apartment on Coady Avenue in downtown Toronto. Father Harry was a brass worker and Lewis was now a designer, at Stanley Manufacturing. Eileen was a student, likely at nearby Riverdale Collegiate.

80% of the people of Toronto were of British origin and predominately Anglican. Bess & Harry Welch were monarchists and followed the news back in England. The abdication of Prince Edward for the love of Wallis Simpson and his brother’s assumption of the crown in 1936 was big news.

The Canadian Royal Tour 1939
 From May 17 to June 15, 1939, King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth visited Canada, stopping in every Province and making a short visit to the United States. Arriving in Toronto at 10:30 am, they brought pomp and ceremony.

Hundreds of thousands, including WWI veterans, greeted them with great excitement, joy and affection expressing their loyalty as the Royal couple criss-crossed the city, at Riverdale Park and on the Exhibition grounds, some waiting for hours in the previous rain.

They attended the 80th running of the King’s Plate annual horse race, opened a major highway named The Queen Elizabeth Way, leading from Toronto to Niagara Falls and dedicated the Rainbow Bridge there at the US border. They also attended the Victoria Day (the Queen’s Canadian Birthday) celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a trouping of the colours ceremony.

It was estimated that by the end of the day they had been seen by two million excited spectators. After an exhausting nine hour Toronto visit they were still smiling and waving from the back of the royal train as they left on their travels to the west.  

Joan's mother Bess was there to take photos of them.

Albert Blaney

At the time Bess’s brother Albert Blaney belonged to the Legion of Frontiersmen, a version of Special Constables who were officially affiliated with the R.C.M.P.  

Founded in 1904 in Britain as a fraternal legion devoted to patriotic service to the British Empire, their Canadian membership in 1939 was about 3500 and they were proud to be on official duty at a number of places across Canada. 

As a member Albert was part of the honour guard at the Royal Visit in 1939.  The League was later separated from the RCMP but small units still exist today.

This Canadian Royal visit was the first by a reigning monarch and King George VI had come to rally support for the coming war. Three months later, in support of Britain and France, Canada officially declared war on September 10, 1939. With the war came jobs and the end of the Great Depression.  

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