Saturday, November 22, 2014

Postcards #37 - Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan!

Wow!  This is a hard one to read.  Join me on THIS particular adventure:

"Dear Friends   We arrived at our destination all very tired  I was sick the first day but the youngsters (thanks to my mother's good interpretation skills, because I couldn't read that word) were fine.  Wallis started to work Monday for the C.P. R. the prairie looks fine the crops are great the mountains were great we went thru the loop and around the principal canyons in day light.  We haven't got our trunks yet but expect to get them this afternoon.  We'll give the guy another dollar I guess he made good on that ___(?) Wallis will write later but I wrote because know you would be looking for a line pfnir2 (??)  Mrs. Arrowsmith"  As always, your expert opinions are welcome in interpreting the unknown words.

NO idea who Wallis and Mrs. Arrowsmith were, how they knew Jack and Nellie, or why they moved to Moose Jaw (actually, we kind-of can assume it's because Wallis got a job with the CPR).

Their address is listed as 170 Lillooet Street, Moose Jaw, Sask, which may be this house:

Or it may not - the one to the right hand side in the picture is #178, and the one to the left has no visible number.  But the one past that is 150.  So I'm guessing that this is 170.

But then there is an online map of Moose Jaw that shows all of the lots, blocks and plans!!  And, yes, this is 170:

So that's where they lived - The style of this house makes me thing is may have been there in 1915 - unless there was another building that burned down around that time and this one was re-built.  I'd have to look up information on it and I don't have the time or inclination to do that right now.  Let's just say we know a Mrs. Arrowsmith and a Wallis moved to Saskatchewan in the late summer of 1915 (post mark is August 24) and moved into this house or maybe one prior on this lot.

We can also see that luggage was lost even on the trains in 1915.  Or perhaps it took a long time to unload and they delivered them later, but I think more likely they couldn't locate the trunks.

But was this a mother and son, a husband and wife?  I am inclined to think husband and wife since she mentions youngsters, but she did sign "Mrs. Arrowsmith" while referring to the man as the much less formal "Wallis," so it could be mother and children.

The "loop" she is talking about is likely the Spiral Tunnels that go into the mountains in the Rockies because the grade is too steep at that location.  It is a rather popular stop on the highway to take a break and admire the technological prowess of our forebears in the early 20th century.  It's really quite amazing.

Click here to go to the website.

They are located just to the east of Field, B.C. (the very pale grey line is the railway, and the two loops go into the mountains):

I'm not sure how the railway opened in 1885 and the tunnels were not completed until 1909 - I'm assuming here, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm thinking that they had problems with the original steep curve and this was built to correct that and allow larger, heavier trains to go through.

The front of the postcard shows wonderful colourized prairie farming scenes from the day:  

So what does this tell us of Jack and Nellie?  Not much.  Aside from the fact that they were living in Vancouver and because it was addressed to both of them, we could assume that they had not yet been separated by the war (although that would be a real assumption if I didn't know they were together at that time).  

We know they had friends who moved to Saskatchewan.  But it tells us a lot about the history of the country and about what people were doing at the time.  And it's just another little piece of a larger puzzle.

View next postcard post.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not wanting to brag ... or promote myself!

I gave a talk this week to the Wetaskiwin Genealogical Society.  They were a good group and I think the talk went over well.

Anyhow, beforehand the friend of mine who was introducing me asked if I had copies of the journal where my article had been published.  I had brought both of my copies with me.  He told me I should promote it, but I balked.  He wondered why - he was proud of my accomplishment and thought I should be able to easily advertise.

But that makes me VERY uncomfortable.  And that made me question why ...

Okay ... so I'm going to be completely honest here, and it's going to make me uncomfortable, because it makes me feel like you might think I'm bragging (and that makes me uncomfortable).  But when I was a child in elementary school, I was a pretty smart kid.  I got good grades with putting VERY little work into it (which annoyed my mother no end).  But I soon learned that I would get teased, put down, in a couple of cases physically shoved and pinned down on the playground, and chastised by the other kids when I was proud of what I had done.  I was not popular.  I think I was probably considered a braggart.  You know Hermione from Harry Potter?  Well, I think I was Hermione.

But I didn't like what it did to my ego.  I didn't like feeling like I was different, and I didn't like feeling like I wasn't popular.  I also didn't like people thinking that I thought I was better than them just because I had good grades.

So I learned to hide it.  Sort of.  You can't hide being on the honour roll or winning awards (unless you completely shut down and stop getting the good grades, which I wasn't going to do - until I got into high school, really, and my social life took over from the honour roll), but you can be super humble, not brag about your grades, be humorous and nice, and hope that people don't notice.  You over-compensate with other aspects of your personality.

Honestly, I don't know if I did this - you'd have to talk to my friends to find out if I was successful.  But in any case, the lesson I learned from school is that you shouldn't brag about yourself or what you've accomplished, and if you do talk about them, you should make them seem less important than they feel.

And that sticks with me today.  I am horrible at self-promotion.  I will share blog posts, but I find it hard to advertise them - to make them sound better than they are.  I am horrible at asking for money.  I am horrible at writing resumes and cover letters.  This has likely slowed my career somewhat.  I'm not upset about that.  I'm happy where I am.  It was just really interesting to sit down and think about why I am this way.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Postcards #36 - Port Alberni and Beacon Hill Park

I have to say, I was a little stumped by this postcard.

The address on the card is made out to "Mr. & Mrs. McCurrach, Port Alberni."  So what is stumping me?  Well to my knowledge, Jack and Nellie never lived in Port Alberni.

Port Alberni is located on a long inlet on Vancouver Island (a long trip from Vancouver in 1915):

The date on the Postcard is March 28, 1915 - an odd time of the year to embark on any sort of summer vacation on Vancouver Island.  And the 1915 Vancouver city directory has Jack working and living in Vancouver.

So who else lived in BC who might be called "Mr. & Mrs. McCurrach" (and whose postcard would end up in this collection)?  Well, I know that Jack's brother, Alexander, had two wives during his lifetime (not at the same time).  When I started writing this, I knew that his first wife was named Matilda and his second was named Mildred.  I knew that Matilda had died in 1920 and that he had married Mildred in 1923.  I couldn't find Alexander and Matilda's marriage records, though.  I checked Ancestry and Scotland's People and I was confused.

Well, I tried Ancestry again today.  And when I took Alexander's birthplace off of "Scotland," I got a hit.  Turns out that Ancestry spelled it "Soctland" on his wedding entry.  You do have to take possible spelling errors into account.  Anyhow, I found that he and Mildred were married October 24, 1907 in Ontario - turns out Alexander was living in Toronto before he moved to Vancouver.  Surprises happen every time I do this research.

It is quite possible that he and Matilda moved to Port Alberni for some time.  As a matter of fact it looks like Alexander was away from Vancouver from 1915 until 1919 or 1920.  I don't know a lot about Port Alberni, but it is quite possible that there was a bit of a boom with World War I - they were a major source for lumber and they had a western port.  So he and his wife may have gone there because of that.  Again, we may never know.  But I'm quite certain that it must have been them over there.

The postcard itself was sent from Victoria and shows a fountain in Beacon Hill Park - the Central Park of Victoria.  Beacon Hill Park would soon take on a certain significance in Jack McCurrach's life, but not yet.  From what I can find online, this particular fountain is no longer there, but Beacon Hill continues to be a beautiful public park right beside downtown Victoria.  If you every visit the city, you must visit the park.

The writing on the card states:  "I guess you will now be settled in your new quarters.  This is a great town for weather.  It has been simply great since I arrived.  Beautiful sunshine all the time.  Kind regards, B. Johnstone."

I do not know who B. Johnstone is.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Postcards #35 - a sweet little tidbit derived from the 1891 census

When doing historical research, it is sometimes the smallest things that stand out the most.

in 6 previous posts I've talked about Sarah.  At first, I didn't know who she was - a postcard that appeared to be from Madeira was all that I had.  In the next postcard about the Seaforth Highlanders, I found out that Sarah was in Burghead.  After a couple of other postcards, I came across one that narrowed it down to three Sarahs.  Then to one - Sarah Sandeson.

I still didn't have a lot of information on who Sarah was or how she knew the McCurrach family.

So I went back to the 1891 census.  Here we find out that the McCurrach family was living in Burghead.  Is it possible to see if the families lived near to each other?

Indeed it was - the addresses of each family are listed on the census.

The McCurrachs are at 41 King Street.

The Sandesons are at 19 Brander Street.

And in relation to each other, those addresses are like this:

You'll also note that at the time John McCurrach (Jack's father) was a Railway plate layer and Sarah's father was a blacksmith.  They may have worked together, but even if they didn't, the children would have gone to school together (Ann McCurrach being 8 and Margaret Sandeson being 7 - Sarah and Jack both being 3 - and the Burghead Primary school had been built in 1875), and the families undoubtedly knew each other simply through their geography.

At this point I can still do little more than guess, but their proximity in space and age makes it a pretty educated guess as to their friendship.  The McCurrachs moved away after that, but the families obviously stayed in touch.  Jack also had a sister named Isabella - I have no idea if she was named after Sarah's mother, but it is possible.

Such a small thing to look at addresses and look at a map, but it tells a tale.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Postcards #34 - Discovery, BC part 2

This is a postcard written FROM Discovery, B.C. this time.  The last one was written to a W. Grant IN Discovery.  Of all the research I've done so far, this Discovery research is the most elusive.  This is a very remote area which had relatively few inhabitants and online archives have little information.  The "real" archives ... well, a bit hard to get to.

Some background:  My mother has an heirloom piece of jewellery that was given, I believe, to my great-grandmother Nellie.  It was given to her by a friend named Jimmy Kinnaird.  He (apparently) did some gold mining in B.C.  

So I have this postcard being written to my great-grandfather in Vancouver (at 1460 36th Avenue East) from Discovery, BC on December 18, 1914:

On the bottom, written in pencil is:  "What do you think of this team".

The back is written upside down, but here it is:

It reads: "Dear Jack.  Just a PC to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I will try and write a long letter some day.  I told MacDonald to give you all the news about Dis.  I see that he is already home in Nairn.  I hope that you seen (?) him before he went away if not Jimmy (?) seen (?) him so he will give you all the news"  At the end of it is a blurry word that appears to start with a "D" - I really cannot tell if this is a signature or just another word.  

Here - see it close up:

It was written in pencil and that corner of the postcard is quite damaged, so it is really hard to tell what it says.  I had assumed that it said "Dick" or maybe just "D." - but now I'm not sure if it even is a signature.  If it is a signature, it's certainly not that of Jimmy Kinnaird.

So I'm working on a couple of assumptions right now based on a little research I've done so far on Jimmy Kinnaird, this postcard, and the previous one from that area:

1)  That they knew more than one person in the Atlin/Discovery area
2)  That Jimmy Kinnaird was neither this sender nor the previous recipient

Another thing to mention - I do not know who is in the photograph, but because it has a number and series assigned to it, I'm thinking it was a commercial shot and not a personalized postcard with a photo of friends or anything.  

There are more images of Discovery and Atlin to come.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Evil vs. Sick

A Facebook friend of mine posted on the Ottawa killer.  This is what he commented:  

"OK. I am going to put this out there and take the abuse that is inevitably going to come.
The definition of Terrorism:
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
It does not matter if was done for political, religious, mental-illness or desperation reasons. If you walk up to an unarmed soldier and kill him, point-blank, then run into the seat of Canadian democracy, looking to do are a terrorist. Why? Because your goal is to Terrorize. To get the maximum effect by striking fear into as many people as possible, to bring attention to whatever you want to bring attention to.

Now, let's stop trying to "define" what this murderer was."

I commented the following:

"He was an addict. To be an addict, you cannot be a stable individual. He was very obviously mentally ill, but that doesn't mean he also wasn't a terrorist and murderer. "Mental illness" is not an excuse. But perhaps if our system was different, he would have been safe in an institution instead of homeless and able to obtain arms."

And then someone else posted this:

"He was stable enough to work at Fort Mc Murray and make lots of money and the video he left shows it was politics and islam behind his murder plans. If we can admit that there are people who are simply evil in this world...and they enjoy doing unthinkable things to innocent victims, then we might be able to counteract what they do before they do it. Finding an excuse for their evil makes it more palatable for some so that they can handle the results"

This is a very dangerous place to go - if you agree that there are evil people in the world, you are stepping into the place where your religion is fighting another's religion.  But who decides on who is evil?

There are people who do bad things in the world.  There are usually different impetuses behind each one.  Our legal system is designed to help take care of that.  It isn't perfect, but it works pretty well most of the time.  

Just because one nut-job went on a rampage does not mean that all "evil" people must be killed.  It's ridiculous.  And although this man may have been mentally ill, it does not forgive his action of killing someone.  Still a murderer.  Still a terrorist.  But maybe he could have been helped before he became either.

Here was my reply to the "people are evil" guy:

"We can choose to live in a world where we see some people as evil, or we can choose to live in a world where we see some people as sick. In one case we kill them (but who decides this?). In the other case we treat them or keep them locked up and unable to harm themselves (but again, who decides this?). We currently do the best we can, but occasionally something bad happens. I don't personally want to live in a world where we have a witch-hunt happening to track down "evil" people. I'd much prefer to live in a world where we are trying to help people. In neither case will we ever stop all violence."

Bad things will happen.  We can't stop them all.  We can only do the best we can do.

P.S. - Someone left a comment (that I did not publish) saying that he (the commenter) smoked, which is an addiction, so obviously I thought he would be a terrorist, too.  Please don't comment on the posts unless you can add something helpful.  This man was addicted to heroin and was homeless.  He was kicked out of his mosque onto the street and was on the terrorist watch list.  He had some very serious problems.  I don't consider an addiction to alcohol, food or shopping to mean that you are mentally ill.  But you might want to consider why you need to smoke.  However, had the shooter had some care from the community, he might (and I do say MIGHT) have been more stable and not felt the need to kill someone.  And this guy also commented that this was left-wing drivel.  Well, I'm very left-wing - you can expect that viewpoint from me.  But I don't consider it drivel.  Of course, if you attack me, you're not going to get a conversation out of me, and that's why I didn't publish his comment.  I retain the right not to publish a comment, and you retain the right not to read my blog.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Postcards #33 - Sicamous Hotel, Sicamous, BC ... and WAR!

The subject of the front of this postcard is the Sicamous Hotel, located in Sicamous, British Columbia:

This wonderful, Tudor-style hotel replaced an earlier hotel that had been built in 1890 by the CPR, and had burned down in 1900.  The railway had been completed in 1885, and the CPR built hotels along the route to accommodate travellers (including such beauties as the Banff Springs Hotel, Hotel Vancouver, and Chateau Frontenac in Quebec city).  This more subdued Sicamous location was a jumping-off point for people to go fishing in the Shuswap or for tourists and produce coming and going from the Okanagan.

This replacement hotel was completed in 1908 and torn down (gasp!) in 1964.  Check out this site for a few more local photos (although they say it burned down and I don't think that's the case).

This spot is not too far from where I grew up in the Okanagan Valley, so it is particularly close to my heart.  Wish the hotel had survived.  I would have loved to check it out.

Here is where Sicamous is in British Columbia:

And here is a close-up look at Sicamous (not a large town with a population of only about 3,000 people).  The tan oval to the left is where I think the hotel used to stand.

I think that because of the mountains in the background from that spot on the highway.  Here is a look that (thank you Google StreetView):

See what I mean?  The mountains are the same.

The back of the postcard reads:  "Well How is everybody keeping we arrived in Sicamous at 7am, there is some nice views around here well I guess that is all just now breakfast is ready, will drop you another later on."  It is signed W. MC - which I presume to be William McCurrach, Jack's unmarried brother.  I cannot read the date on the postmark, only that it was 1914.  My assumption here is that this postcard was sent home from Sicamous while William was on his way to war - they would take the train across country and then set sail from Quebec City.  

William signed up immediately at the beginning of the war war with the Seaforth Highlanders.  His first pay was on August 10, 1914 - since Britain declared war on August 4, this indicates he signed up immediately.  He would have trained at Valcartier near Quebec - one of about 36,000 men who went to the camp.  His unit set sail on October 3 - his was the first contingent to set sail (see this page or this page for more information) at a total of 31,000 men (some had been weeded out for various reasons).  Jack would not be allowed to sign up until 1916.

By this time as well, Jack and Nellie had a house at 1460 36th Avenue E in Vancouver (which seems to have been consumed by a large park).  And by this time, if it is October 1914, my grandmother, Gladys Masson McCurrach, was an infant (born in July, 1914).  

View next postcard post.