As a child, spending time at my Grandmother Minnie’s farmhouse east of Athens was something I always looked forward to. Christmas Day was even more special because all the aunts, uncles and cousins were there, too. No matter how horrendous the weather or long the journey, everyone always made it. Without fail, the Petawawa faction was always last to arrive, leaving the rest of us chomping at the bit so that Christmas could begin!
You have to picture the scene – nine kids, six parents, Minnie and my Uncle Winston cheek and jowl in the two rooms downstairs and without benefit of indoor plumbing until 1970. Dishes were washed and rinsed in two large galvanized washtubs that were hauled up onto the table and filled with hot water from the kettle on the woodstove and cold from the buckets on the counter brought over from the well on the other side of the road. And if you had to go, it was either make the long trek to the outhouse or use the thunder-mug upstairs in Minnie’s room or the one on the stairs.
My love of reading began during those Christmases at Minnie’s. My cousin from Toronto gave me a book every year from the time I turned ten.
1970 was the last year for family Christmas at Minnie’s and the first with indoor plumbing. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but to us it was. With how commercial the holidays have become, I long for those simpler times.
I still have most of those books (I think I only ever parted with one – a book of fairy tales).
What are some of your favourite Christmas memories?
This phrase is on the Quebec license plates and I thought it seemed fitting to use it in relation to Remembrance Day as we remember the brave men and women who fought for our freedom and continue to do so today.
I remember him every day but especially on 11th November. My dad served with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders from 1942-1945.
During that time, he was granted leave to attend his brother Angus’s wedding. Little did he know at the time it would be the last time he saw his brothers and and sister, Chrissie again.
Angus and my father, along with two other brothers who served – William and Andrew – survived the fighting.
And during the horror of war, there were times to unwind and have a few light moments.
I don’t know who the man is in the photo with my father nor where the photos were taken. That information was blacked out on the back of the pictures as they had to clear the military standards so that locations and people weren’t compromised.
I wish I’d seen these before my father died. I could have asked him.
But on this 11th of November, I remember him and all the other soldiers who fought for our freedom.
Things didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts for our trip. First thing in the morning, we tried to do the ‘pre-board’ from home. Well, our flight wasn’t even listed! Suffice it to say, panic ensued.
A call to the airline confirmed that our flight really was scheduled – the website wasn’t refreshing properly and the flights listed on it were for the previous day. Being booked on Option Plus, gave us priority handling and boarding at the airport anyway, so not being able to pre-board from home wasn’t a huge problem.
We made it to Toronto without incident and whizzed through security and out to our departure lounge. There was a plane at the gate with the outer and inner engine cowling open and hubby found out that it was our plane. Doesn’t give you a warm fuzzy. Apparently, it had been in the hanger for about 4 weeks and almost forgotten about.
It was well after dark by the time the engine cowling was closed and the baggage went on. We were to start boarding at 9:15 but that was delayed by 15-20 minutes.
While we were waiting at the gate while the crew did the pre-flight checks, the power on the plane went off. By now, we were beginning to wonder about our decision to fly on 9-11. They always talk about the emergency lighting on the floor – well, it showed up really well. So now we know if we ever need it, we’ll be able to see it.
We were finally on the plane. Not the first row with only two seats near the back but the second. Actually, these were better seats because the tray tables were attached to the backs of our seats.
Despite being behind schedule in the beginning, we were in the air and on our way… with an anticipated landing half an hour earlier.
Option Plus doesn’t have all the perks of Club Class but it’s still worth the money. We had booked this last year when we flew to Paris but were upgraded to Club by the airline (possibly because of my gimpy leg) so we had no idea what Option Plus was like.
Once we got to cruising altitude, we each received a 200 ml bottle of Bottega Gold Prosecco. With our meals, we got a bottle of wine – our choice of red or white. I chose the red (what else is new) Whistling Thorn Shiraz and hubby the Whistling Thorn Sauvignon Blanc. Best of all, the extra 10 kilos on our baggage allowance so we won’t have to worry (quite so much) about overweight bags when it comes time to come back to reality.
If you noticed in my previous post on The Robertsons, my grandparents shared the same birthday… month and day anyway. They were both born on August 12th. Maybe grouse hunting has nothing to do with the moniker “The Glorious Twelfth”. Maybe it’s to do with John and Margaret. Not likely but it is a fun sort of fact.
The children were all born at Weets, Wardhouse by Insch (quite the address, eh?)
I’ll begin the oldest of John and Margaret’s children and work down to the youngest.
Thomas was a Lance Corporal in the Canadian military and was killed in a motorcycle accident in British Columbia. He left a wife and an unborn child when he died.
William “Waddie” remained in Scotland his entire life and stayed in the area where he was born. He was born on Oct 7, 1904 and later on joined and served with the Gordon Highlanders during WWII. William died on Aug 9, 1977.
Benjamin was born on Nov 9, 1905 and came to Canada when he was 19 on the S.S. Montcalm bound for Winnipeg, Manitoba. The ship arrived in Quebec on May 3, 1926. Uncle Benji rode and raced motorcycles and won a number of championships. He died on Oct 22, 1990.
George was born on Jan 14, 1907. He was the oldest of the five Robertson children who were sent to the Orphan Homes of Scotland when it became too much for Grandpa Robertson (sometime between the time my grandmother died and 1917, he had a stroke) and children from his first marriage to cope. George came to Canada in 1922 on board the Cameronia and arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Mar 7th. He died on Apr 24, 1965 at his home in Moose Creek, Ontario.
Barbara was born on Sep 10, 1908. She was the oldest of the two Robertson sisters sent to the Orphan Homes of Scotland. She sailed on the Letitia and arrived in Quebec on Jul 25, 1925. Despite the fact that she came to Canada the same year as her brother, Andrew, the children sailed in two parties. The boys were one group and they sailed earlier in the year when the seas would be rougher and the girls in the summer when weather would be more favourable. She was married across the river in Ogdensburg, New York and made her home in Brockville, Ontario. She died on Feb 21, 1990.
Andrew Knight Beattie Robertson
Until now, none of the children had middle names. Andrew was the first. And further back in the family history, there was an Andrew Knight Beattie. But I digress..
Andrew was born on Dec 9, 1909. He, too, was sent to the Orphan Homes of Scotland, coming to Canada in 1925 on board the Athenia. The ship arrived on April 4th. Andrew served in the military with the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. He died at his home in Brockville, Ontario on Jul 21, 1983.
Christina Mcdonald Robertson
Christina “Chrissie” as she was known as, was born on Mar 25, 1911. Although she had been sent to the Orphan Homes of Scotland, she didn’t emigrate to Canada for health reasons. She had TB and although it wasn’t active or infectious, she was deemed unsuitable to make the voyage. After she became old enough to leave the homes, she was taken on in employment as a domestic servant for the Superintendent at the time, a Mr Douglas. Chrissie married in Glasgow and died in Dundee on Apr 13, 1982.
Peter was born on Jun 23, 1912. It was the ‘middle’ children who were to be sent off to the Orphan Homes of Scotland which meant, he should go, and my father being younger should have stayed at Weets. From what I’ve been told, the son from the first marriage who took over the farm liked Peter more than my father. Sad but true. But then, had my father not come to Canada, he wouldn’t have met my mother and I would be here to tell you this story…
Peter remained in Scotland and worked on farms around Weets and Insch. When he retired from farm work, he moved to nearby Huntly and died there on Apr 1, 1988.
Robert Anderson Robertson
Robert (my father) was born on Jul 30, 1913. In the paragraph about Peter, I mention the events that lead to my dad coming to Canada rather than Uncle Peter. Normally, in the Orphan Homes of Scotland the boys and girls were houses in separate accommodations. Boys even had to make appointments to visit their sisters with the house mother and even then it was done outside under supervision.
My father sailed to Canada on the Letitia, arrived in Halifax on Apr 6, 1930. From there he came the rest of the way to Fairknowe Home in Brockville by train.
On June 18, 1930, the same day that he received his first placement in Canada, his father died.
My father served with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders during WWII. He worked at Phillips Cables (Phillips Plant as we know it) until shortly before his death (result of a workplace injury) on Apr 29, 1969.
Angus Mcdonald Robertson
Angus was also known as “Donald” which led to much confusion when researching the family. I always thought they were two different people. He was born on Jan 7, 1915 and lost his mother to complications from the measles in December of that year. I know he served in the military and I’m guessing it was the Royal Navy, given his uniform.
Angus got married in uniform and his three siblings who were able to, attended. My father was able to get leave to attend. And doesn’t he look dashing in his kilt?
After his time in the military, Angus worked for a cooperative. He died in Feb 1984 (note to self – I must get the exact date).
The Cottages at The Orphan Homes of Scotland
Hardly what I would refer to as a cottage. These places are enormous! Not quite as big as a mansion, but they are definitely villas. In their day, they would have had six to seven bedrooms and housed up to twenty children. Boys had a house mother and father. The girls a house mother.
With all these aunts and uncles, I’ve got plenty of cousins… and would you believe I’ve not met all of them yet.
The Robertsons – My Robertsons not the fictional ones
I suppose in a way, they are all mine. After all, I did create the fictional Robertson family.
We’ll start with John Robertson, my grandfather. When he married my grandmother, he had already been married once before and had ten children!
John’s parents were John and Jane Robertson who made their home near Insch. She was a Robertson before she married my great-grandfather. Given that the surname was quite common in this part of Aberdeenshire in the 1800s, it’s not unusual that two people with the same surname got together.
The inscription on the bottom of this stone is interesting – “not dead but sleeping”.
Grandpa Robertson’s first wife (Susan Christie) died in 1899. Two years later, he married my grandmother, Margaret MacDonald.
Margaret’s surname has been spelled MacDonald, Macdonald, McDonald, etc. You get the idea.
When they got married, Margaret had already had one child – a son.
Ten children later, Margaret passed away from the measles and pneumonia.
Grandpa Robertson is buried here along with his first wife, Susan Christie, and my grandmother, Margaret MacDonald.
The copies of the marriage certificates were obtained through the help of a genealogist who had been recommended to me but now, amateur sleuths can look up these documents and more at Scotland’s People.
We all have them – new ones, old ones, colour ones, black and white ones. Maybe in albums, maybe in boxes, maybe both.
Recently, while looking for two or three specific photos for another blog post (which I did find), I came across this one of my parents and thought why not scan it at the same time?
This square photo had a white border around it, albeit yellowed but there was no date stamped on it. Back in the day, when they came back from the lab after processing pictures almost always had the three letter abbreviation for the month and the last two digits of the year stamped on the border – usually on the side.
My guess is this one was taken in the 1950s possibly before 1956.
My Epson scanner has a colour restoration feature. Click the box before or after you do the scan and you can see the difference on the computer screen.
I don’t always like using this feature. I think an ‘aged’ photograph has more character. But in this case, I thought it was worth saving both versions of the photo. In the lower picture, my mum’s suit is bluer and my dad’s shirt is whiter.
What do you think? Colour restore your yellowed photos when you scan them or leave them be?
Of all the dances I learned as a young girl, this one was my favourite. Maybe because I reached the podium in it the last year I danced competitively. I should add, it was the only medal I ever won.
Yes, those are real swords. Yes, they are sharp. My cousin can attest to that. She cut the end of her big toe at dancing lessons one night when she got a bit to close to the point.
It was the summer of ’69 (and not the song by Bryan Adams) that I competed for the last time. My father had died in the spring of that year and after that, Highland Dancing didn’t hold the same appeal anymore.
Here we are posing with our medals – me on the left with my silver, my cousin on the right with her bronze, and our little cousin from Florida who came up with our aunt for a few weeks holding Leslie’s other bronze that she received in The Highland Fling.
1969 was the only year that I’m aware of where the medals were this style. It was also the only year they held a Highland Games at this venue near the International Bridge between Canada and the US.
I still have my Robertson tartan kilt from back in these days. It needs new straps (the leather became brittle and tore) and buckles but otherwise is in almost the same condition as when I wore it back then.
The name Orphan Homes of Scotland implies the children who went there were orphans. That wasn’t always the case. My father wasn’t an orphan. He was one of ten children and after his mother died when he was just two years old, his father had a stroke and couldn’t look after the family.
Grandpa Robertson was married twice. The children from his first marriage helped out as best they could, but in the end, my father and four of his siblings (all from the second marriage) who were sent off to the Orphan Homes of Scotland.
Because there was no such thing as co-ed living, sisters couldn’t stay in the same house as their brothers. Brothers couldn’t even visit their sisters without the housemother’s consent and only for a short time.
After my father came to Canada, he worked on a number of farms in the Brockville area and enlisted with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders during World War II.
Phillips Cables (sadly now the property is just an empty lot) provided him with employment from the time my father returned from the war and while he worked there, he met my mother.
Sadly, I lost my Dad on April 29, 1969 as the result of a workplace injury. He may not be with me anymore but he lives on in my heart.
I married my husband, best friend and soul mate. And unlike many couples, we’re still together. What a ride it’s been!
Two children – a girl and a boy and three grandsons, a step-granddaughter and a step-grandson.
Lots of ups and downs as I’m sure most couples go through but we’ve stuck it out and have made it to another landmark event.
In June 2000, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, we renewed our vows in the Mount Zion Church, Quarriers Village, Scotland with family on that side of the pond – some we’d met previously, others it was the first time. This picturesque village was formerly The Orphan Homes of Scotland where my father and four of his nine siblings were raised.
We’ve been to Scotland before this trip and again since then but this trip is extra special… and why not?
A recent health problem has made us realize that we need to do the things on our bucket list while we’re still fit and able to do them…
In 2013, I hosted the Scotland launch for my debut novel in the Rannes Hall, Kennethmont – the parish where my father was born and baptised.
In 2014, we toured Paris in the spring, Niagara Falls and Quebec in the autumn.
This year in celebration of our 40th? Oh there are some things in the pipeline but you’ll have to keep visiting this space to find out where we’re off to and when.
My Scottish roots and writing by Melanie Robertson-King