I debated writing this post for quite some time as I didn’t want people to think I was looking for sympathy. However; honouring the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s death seemed the right thing to do. It’s hard to believe fifty years have passed since his death.
My dad was fifty-five when he died. I was twelve. Not many people can say they remember someone who has been gone for so long or the things they did together like waiting for the Queen and the Royal Yacht Britannia to pass by our house when we lived in a winterized cottage along the St. Lawrence River.
Or like going golfing at the local Highland Golf course with my father and cousin, Ricky, to caddy. Mostly, to hitch a ride on the bag strapped to the pull cart. One time, my dad asked me to get a specific club out for him. I refused. I didn’t want him to know I didn’t know what club was what. Back in the day, it was a nine-hole course. Now it’s eighteen! I wonder what my dad would think of that?
Or watching him play soccer at Fulford Park in town. He’s in the centre of the front row. He played for years before I was born and there are pictures of him in his football kit at out of town locations in the box of photos I have.
Walking the B&W rail line from Elbe Road near my grandmother’s house to the falls to cut pussy willows. The waterfall was raging at this time of year.
My father was a Home Child who came to Canada through the auspices of the Orphan Homes of Scotland. One of the things he talked about frequently was that train whistles made him lonesome. There was a rail line that ran behind Quarriers Village between the River Gryffe and the A761 trunk road.
The railway line is long since dismantled, and it’s now a paved walking/cycling trail.
But I digress. After landing at Halifax, he came to Brockville by train to the Fairknowe forwarding home. So, lots of train whistles to hear and remind him of home.
I have many more memories, but I’ll save them for another blog post.
The wedding photo above was on the front of the invitations I made for our 25th anniversary that we celebrated in Scotland where we renewed our vows in the church at Quarriers Village (the orphanage where my father was raised).
We’re headed out tonight for a meal to celebrate. Not sure where yet, but we’re both leaning towards Indian food. And the restaurant where we’ll go for that is well within walking distance of our house.
Another year has come and gone. Where did the time go? It doesn’t seem possible that 365 days have passed since 31st December 2014. But they have. Wow!
Any resolutions for 2016?
Does your city, town or village do anything to send off the old year? If you live in or near Edinburgh, they put on a fantastic night of entertainment/. And yes, the Scots call New Year’s Eve Hogmanay. That’s a fun word. Hogmanay.
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?
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?
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.
My Scottish roots and writing by Melanie Robertson-King