Monday, 26 June 2017


This post is to launch an additional family history blog site The Atkinson Family Sheffield to Canada

In 2012,  I took a course in setting up a blog site from the Ontario Genealogy Society. The teacher insisted that if we created a blog site to share our family history, cousins from far and wide would find us online and likely contact us.

I was skeptical but I was interested in learning more about the internet and blogging in general so I took the course. Happily she was right.

I started blogging here about my mother’s family shortly thereafter and I am so pleased that a couple of young distant cousins contacted me. That led me to getting to know their parents and grandparents who are my first or second cousins. It even prompted two vacation trips to meet cousins in British Columbia and England.

I have been writing about my mother’s mother Elizabeth Blaney and her family in a more or less chronological manner and I have now reached the point in the timeline where my mother Joan Welch met my father William Atkinson. It seems a good idea to begin a separate blog site to tell the stories of my father’s family.

I learned how to link the two blogs together so I can refer readers back and forth as needed to continue the stories of both families.

As always any additional information or feedback regarding errors and omissions are always welcome.

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.  

Friday, 19 May 2017


Back in Toronto, Harry & Bess continued to work regularly for most of the 1930s and their children grew into adults. The Toronto City Directories show that they had six addresses during that time, perhaps due to the need for space, the ups and owns of employment and finances or proximity to work or school.

Life was interesting in Toronto and there was plenty to do. There was dancing to the Big Bands at the Palais Royale Dance Hall, the Canadian National Exhibition ran for two weeks at the end every summer and horse-racing was available at Woodbine track. Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1932 and became the home of the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Team and in 1938 Superman was created by Toronto high school student John Shuster.

For sports fans there were professional hockey and football teams. There were also the Athletic Grounds provided by the city that included bowling greens, football and baseball fields along with skating rinks, hockey rinks and toboggan hills.

Lewis Welch

In his teens, Lewis’s artistic talent was recognized and the family scrimped so he could attend the Ontario Art College. Joan felt that his need for art supplies became more important than other things the family might want to buy but she was forever proud of him and his talent.

During 1936 and 1937 some of his work was published in The Tangent, an annual OAC student publication of stories, poetry and art and in the 1937 edition he is shown as the production assistant.

The Tangent 1936
The Tangent 1937

By 1938 Lewis was contributing to the family home, an apartment over a drugstore, on Queen St. E at Jarvis St. He was working as an artist for Stanley Manufacturing, a metal printer and fabricator established in 1917. He would go on to be a very successful commercial artist.

I am proud to own a watercolour landscape painting he gave me as a wedding present in 1961.


Church and music were important to the family. There were Church services twice on Sundays with choir practice, bible study and youth group events during the week. At St. Stephen's United Church on Queen Street, Bess was a soloist while Joan and Lewis sang in the choir and they all participated in church social activities.

Lewis is seen here in a Rhodes Avenue United Church Choral Society production in 1938. He played the role of Tona in the musical comedy El Bandito.

There was certainly no laundry or other housework done on Sunday. Shops were closed and in Toronto the Good, there was no fun to be had except good clean fun at the beach with free streetcar rides for children from poor neighbourhoods.

The Eaton's Department Store covered their windows, park swings were chained up and there was no toboggan riding on Sunday. Every activity was subject to the 1906 Lord’s Day Act and Sunday as a day of worship or rest was enforced. A Toronto referendum in 1950 allowed professional team sports to be played on Sunday. Theatre performances, movie screenings, and horse racing were not permitted until the 1960s.

Joan Welch
In the summer of 1932, at age 15, Joan left school to work. She got her first job because her mother knew the owners of Chapman Brothers Jewellery store at 261 Yonge Street near their home.

The Chapman family had a cottage at Lake Simcoe and they hired Joan to be a mother’s helper for the summer. It was about two hours north of Toronto in those days before today’s major highways. She lived there all summer doing any chores that needed to be done from cooking breakfast for the family and their many guests to picking up the mail.

One day she was travelling alone by canoe to pick up the mail at a small store down the lake. While in the store she became anxious because the sky was becoming dark and the winds were picking up. Lake Simcoe is still known for quickly arriving storms during which strong winds create very high waves.

On the trip back to the cottage Joan could not manage the canoe. She was being tossed about by the waves and she was frightened, thinking she was going to capsize and be lost to the angry lake. Luckily the skipper of a motor boat heard her cries and took her aboard his craft, taking her back to the cottage while towing her canoe along behind. It was an experience she never forgot.

She told the story in her late eighties after being caught out in a storm on a fishing boat with her son-in-law. The motor stalled in the pouring rain and they had to be towed to shore by a neighbour.

At the end of that summer job Joan began working at light manufacturing jobs. She worked on the assembly line of the Willard Chocolate Factory and for a company making advertising buttons. She often told of the noise of the button stamping machines and how people working every day in a candy factory soon lose their appetite for candy.
Eileen Welch

While Joan was working and living at home she lamented the fact that her younger sister Eileen who was a social butterfly who loved going out dancing, often sneaking out in Joan’s clothes; putting them back soiled.

Joan also told a story of Eileen hiding dirty dishes in the oven to avoid taking her turn washing them. Eileen was eight years younger and I am sure she had a few stories of her own to tell about her older siblings.

Harry Welch

Their father Harry also loved to dance and he won a few prizes for ballroom dancing in Toronto including a set of silver apostle spoons. Bess was a singer not a dancer but Harry had no difficulty finding partners in their social circle.

In 1934 Toronto celebrated its 100th birthday with centennial activities and parades. On the eve of the centennial, services were held on the grounds of the CNE with 11,000 people attending. Bess was part of a 2500 person choir from various churches and they were all given a certificate to mark the occasion. That very large crowd singing God Save the King along with the 2500 voice choir must have been quite the sight and sound.

It was about 1934 when Joan met the man she would marry.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

An Immigrant's Child Asks "What if?" - a poem by Patricia (Blaney) Koretchuk

Patricia with her parents
Stan and Margaret Blaney
abt. 1945

While watching the news after lunch, on a cold grey March Friday afternoon in Toronto my telephone sounded those three distinct rings that indicate a long distance call. It is usually a call-centre marketing call but I was delighted to find that it was my cousin Patricia calling from Vancouver.

We have developed a wonderful caring and sharing relationship over the past couple of decades even though we are thousands of miles apart. We love to capture and share our family history stories with each other and pass them along to other family members.

Pat is an accomplished published writer and I am her biggest fan, finding her an inspiration as I struggle to write. She has written and published many short stories about our ancestors including one she shared as a guest writer on my blog post Harry Blaney Part I and II and

Her most ambitious published work to date is “Chasing the Comet, A Scottish-Canadian Life” which was published in 2002 and can be found and purchased online at Wilfrid Laurier University Press

It is a biography of a family friend’s father, David Caldow. In the preface Pat says “I fell in love with the story realizing it was not just David’s story but a distinctly Canadian experience, a humorous adventure and a love story – not only of a man and a woman but also a story of love for life itself.”

It was a cold and dreary day in Vancouver that day too. Pat had been tidying up her home office and came across a poem she had written long ago. She asked if I would like to hear it. Of course I did.

In a quiet voice she began to read her poem. It was wonderful, I was moved to tears listening to her and speechless when she finished. I have read it many times since and I love the sound and feel of it as well as the stories found therein.

With Pat’s permission I am pleased to share it here for our extended families.

An Immigrant’s Child Asks “What if?”

What if my mother had stayed with the Scotsman who beat her,
the husband and father of her first babies,
both of them “lost” before I came along, she’d told me years later.
But, what if she’d had two who’d lived, instead of those two who died?
Would I even be here, in my own home, sitting and wondering?

But she had waited for me, she said,
This Belfast-born, linen-factory maid-cum-Vancouver waitress, who’d conceived me,
perhaps on a ground sheet wide-spread on a Canadian prairie field,
with only one shared blanket for cover. Or ... I wonder...
perhaps I really began in a freight car she’d hopped, when dressed as a man,
helped and loved by my English logger-cum-father, during the Depression.

They shared no honeymoon riding those tracks, rocking and roaming
the myriad rivers, the towering mountains, those towns and those cities,
along miles that spanned Canada. No small feat, that.
Searching for safety, scrabbling for work, those two were,
barely surviving the dust storms and grasshopper plague.
Freely-given, as a gift, the corn bread became their long-savoured story -
also freely given – to me, as their proof of their belief in the kindness of strangers.

In my first bed, a rented bureau drawer in a rented Toronto room,
I was “wrapped in the warmth of a blanket and loved” they said,
though they’d starved.

I remember twelve of the times they moved, but there’d been many,
many times, before my memory came to me.
From “pogey”-funded room to room, they’d moved once every month,
with meager belongings carefully packed, all tight in my wicker pram.
“You see, the “pogey” paid for just a month,” she’d say as she told the tale,
“but with neither a job nor money to stay, we’d move. We had to”
She’s sigh then and say, “But it isn’t the house that makes the home.
Its’s the people within it. I’ve always believed that”
So what if my bed had been in a mansion? Would I ever have heard this simple truth?

And what if Dad’s mouth organ hadn’t played “Turkey in the Straw”
Or Mother’s Charleston had never been danced in our rented kitchens?
What if we’d never sung beside the radio, or if I’d never been urged to sing in a choir?
Would all the sweet music still resound within my bones?
What if the dictum, day after day, hadn’t been “Go outside and play?”
Would the woods and the mosses, the natural world, still so sustain me?

And what if Dad hadn’t honed my awareness, revealing the flowers of meadow grasses,
The free-to-sniff scents of wild honeysuckle and the strawberries we picked?
Or, if we’d never marveled at patterns hiding in the colours on a Painted Turtle’s back?
Would I have found these worldly wonders on my own?
What if I’d slept in a sweet, pink cradle, softly rocked in an heirloom nursery?
Or if my longed-for grandparents had cooed in flesh-and-blood beside my parents,
as together they lulled me fast asleep within that warm Toronto drawer?

What if just one of these truthful answers could flap like the weatherman’s butterfly wings?
Would the “I” that I now know be lost – blown away in a resulting hurricane of truth?
Then why/what/where and who would I be?  Would I still be me?

                                                                       By Patricia Koretchuk 07.02.14

Sunday, 19 March 2017


While the Great Depression began with the Stock Market crash in the United States October 1929 it quickly spread throughout the world.

In the United Kingdom, it was referred to as the Great Slump. Since the UK had not fully recovered from WWI, it seemed less severe than that experienced in North America, which had seen boom times during the 1920s. Hardest hit was the industrial northern area of the UK. World trade declined and the demand for product exports decreased significantly. Mining and ship building industries suffered and mass unemployment caused severe poverty.

The area around London and the Midlands were less affected. While unemployment was initially high, by the mid to late 1930s the area was quite prosperous. Home building around London was helped along by a growing population in the area and low interest rates. Birmingham was prospering because of their booming automotive industry and the number of cars on the road doubled in the decade.

When Bess' parents, Harry & Jane Blaney returned to Birmingham with their children, Louise and Alfie in October 1930. they were taken in by their son Edwin (Ted) Harold Blaney at 12 Heathfield Road, in the King's Heath area.

Ted was born in Birmingham 17 August 1900. He served in the Royal Navy for two years from 15 June 1921, until 14 June 1923 and married Florence Sophia Whitehouse that year.

By 1930 they had two daughters, Florence (b. 1924) and Margaret (b. 1928) so an additional family of four made it a little crowded. Ted was a leather worker and likely had work during this time. It also came in handy fixing the family's shoes.

Their son John was born in March of 1932 and the 1939 Register shows Ted employed as a boiler attendant and Florence working part time as a shop assistant.


Bess' youngest brothers Albert (b. 4 September 1904) and Stanley (b. 16 January 1906) were both living in British Columbia, Canada. 

Albert Blaney lived an interesting life. He came alone to Canada at the age of 17 in 1922 landing in Halifax, travelling by rail to Montreal, then on to British Columbia. He had a job offer from the logging railroad that his uncle Michael Murphy (husband of his mother’s sister, Clara Elcocks) worked for in Rock Bay, B.C. It turned out that working “in the bush” as he called it was filled with much hard work and danger, but he loved it.

From 1925-1927 he and his brother Stanley served in the Militia with the 42nd Black Watch Highlanders in Montreal. They also worked in Montreal General Hospital along with their sister Bess before returning to British Columbia.

By 1929 Albert had a floor laying business and he met Helen (Nellie) Atkinson in the Vancouver boarding house where they both lived. She was also new to Canada, arriving in June 1920, age 24, travelling alone to her brother in Winnipeg. She worked there for a short time and then moved on to Vancouver where the weather was not so severe.

They became close as he taught her about photography including developing film. They were married January 12, 1929 and stayed happily together until her death at age 90.

Albert owned some property in Capilano area of North Vancouver gifted to him by his Aunt Clara and Uncle Michael Murphy for his 21st birthday so they were able to live reasonably well during the Depression. The land provided plenty of food and there were lots of salmon in the Capilano River. Albert said “it looked as if you could walk across the water on the salmon. One salmon could last us a week”.

He had numerous ways of creating work for himself and others as well as sharing his land.  He cleared land, built houses and sold honey from his ten bee hives.

From 1934 until 1938 Albert belonged to the Legion of Frontiersmen a version of Special Constables that was for a time affiliated with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In 1930 Stanley Blaney, was living in North Vancouver with Margaret Kelly Thompson born 1902 in Belfast Ireland. Albert had sent passage for Stan to emigrate to Canada in June of 1923 and the brothers worked and lived close to each other for many years. 

Margaret left a troubled life in turbulent Northern Ireland in 1920. She travelled across Canada alone to stay with an uncle in Vancouver where life was not much happier.

A few years later, Margaret was working as a waitress when Stan rescued her from an abusive relationship. He was just 5ft 8in in height but he was tough, strong and hardworking. Since he had no money, car or house, their first home was a converted chicken coop at the back of Albert’s property. Like many other couples in those times they could not afford to marry.

In 1933 they heard there were jobs in Toronto and set off on their greatest adventure. Stories written by their daughter Patricia (Blaney) Koretchuk tell us “Margaret disguised herself in men’s clothes and together they hiked and hopped freight trains 3000 miles across Canada”. She cut her hair very short, wore a vest and long pants, heavy work boots and a peaked hat down over her eyebrows.” Many men travelled this way at the time but it was unusual for a woman to do so. It was a difficult and dangerous journey with many hardships along the way including hunger and evading the railway police.

In Toronto, they lived with Bess and Harry and their three young children for a short time but when it became clear that Margaret was pregnant and unmarried, Bess asked them to leave. She could not afford to compromise her reputation in the church.

Things were actually worse in the city where they experienced hunger as well as unemployment. Stan worked at every odd job that came along, they took in boarders and over time he found steady employment as a leather worker.

Their daughter Patricia was born in Toronto April 23, 1934, they were married and the family stayed there for the next eleven years. They mended their relationship with Bess but their love for the west prevailed and they returned to British Columbia on V.J. Day in 1945.

Thanks to Patricia (Blaney) Koretchuk for sharing her memories of Albert & Stan.


Bess's "big brother" was William ( Bill) Blaney born January 9, 1896 in Birmingham. Bill joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15 1/2 entering as a Boy II on a training ship in 1911 and didn't return to Birmingham to live.

In 1919 Bill married Rosetta (Rose) Amy (Wallis) Huxley whose first husband Henry John Huxley had died in France during WWI. Bill remained in the navy until the end of WWII and they lived many years in Feltham in Middlesex, about 150 miles from Birmingham.

In 1920 Bill received a medal for his part in the rescue of a fellow seaman who could not swim. 

In September 1931 near the beginning of the Depression The Invergordon Mutiny occurred. It was a strike by thousands of sailors from about a dozen Royal Navy Warships docked in Cromarty Firth Northern Scotland while participating in a naval exercise.

Rumours were swirling that wage cuts of up to 25% were coming in order to reduce government spending. News of the strike spread upsetting the stock market and undermining the British Pound. It was settled by allowing those on lower rates of pay to remain on the old rate, effectively cancelling the 25% pay cut in favour of a universal 10% cut.

Depending on where they were living and their occupations, the Blaneys suffered to different degrees during this difficult time. Their courage and tenacity served them well.

Next: Growing Up in Toronto

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 & Eileen
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


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.


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.