Monday, 7 November 2016

This was a family....

Researching and writing about George Thomas Smith and Louisa (Lucy) Murphy has been a very rewarding experience, and has taught me something about who I am. I'm very pleased to be able to claim them as my great-grandparents. I can't quite say goodbye to them without a few more words about them and their children.  Some of the best words on this subject were written by my cousin Donna, who knew six of the ten children, and learned a lot about the others from our great aunts Prue and Audrey.  This is how she described the family:

The children Thomas and Lucy raised probably say more about themselves than any statistical information to be found in any records.  All were church goers, and active in their church life. The daughters had a stately bearing and were accomplished homemakers, but were equally at home helping with livestock, seeding crops and harvesting. All were compassionate, caring people willing to help others in need. All made good marriages. I don’t remember any of them saying anything unkind to or about their spouses. The love and respect between the individual couples was always in evidence. Such things in their children speak volumes about the kind of people Thomas and Lucy must have been. (1)

So to sum up each family member in a few words -

Clara Louisa (1875 - 1918): Clara's original surname was Cockram, but her parents became Smiths when she was an infant, so she may never have known her real name.  She and her husband Archie Adair had five sons, two of whom died in infancy, and Clara was well known in Indian Head for her affinity with the young people in the community.  She often invited groups of children to her home for afternoon teas, parlour games and singsongs around the piano.  She had a beautiful singing voice and was an accomplished pianist.  After Clara died, Archie remarried and got involved in public life, serving for several years as the Mayor of Indian Head.

Annie Maud (1877 - 1943): Maud was very involved in church activities and was a life member of the Red Cross Society, having assisted in many of the Society’s war efforts during WWI. She loved flowers and lace curtains, and once said that if there were no flowers or lace curtains in Heaven, she wasn’t going.  She and her husband William George Bennett had two sons.  They farmed at Summerberry until 1920, and lived in nearby Wolseley after that.  William served for some years as a Conservative MP for the Wolseley constituency.  Their house in Wolseley was the setting for various family gatherings, and later became a French restaurant, and one of the heritage-listed buildings of the town.

Maud and William Bennett's former home in Wolseley, photographed in the 1990s

George Thomas Jr (1881 - 1936): When his parents moved to Regina in 1919, George took over the farm at Grand Coulee.  He was highly respected as a fine person and an excellent farmer. It was said he could get a higher, better quality yield on his farm than anyone else in the district. He was a very big man, and must have looked massive in the buffalo coat he usually wore. He would often oblige his neighbours by riding to town with them, sitting in back of the buggy as a windbreak on very cold days.  George had a rich bass singing voice but wouldn’t sing in the church choir. He never married, but was once engaged to a teacher.

Frederick William (1883 - 1945):  Will was also known as a fine farmer, and he took over some of his father's land near Summerberry when he married Aggie Fleming in 1907.  He and Aggie had seven children, one of whom died at birth.  In the 1920s, Will and Aggie bought a house in the town, where they spent the winters, and later they lived there permanently when their eldest son Morris took over the farm.  Will was a well-known and highly regarded citizen of the district and and served on both the rural and Summerberry councils. His wife was also a prominent member of the  community, and continued as such for many years after Will's death.  Everyone knew her as 'Aunt Aggie' and she was involved in all sorts of sporting and church activities, and was the church organist for 73 years.  She had a sunny smile and a youthful spirit all her life.  When she was in her 80s, she fell and broke her hip, and couldn't understand how it happened - all she'd been doing was washing her foot in the sink!

Will Smith and family, about 1927.
Standing: Louise, Helen, Stewart, Aggie, Russell
Sitting: Will, Will Jr, Morris

Bessie Jane (1885 - 1978):  Bessie married John Stewart (Jack) Fleming, and had two children.  They lived all their married life in Indian Head, where Jack was a blacksmith.  Bess was very active in her church, as well as the United Church Women's group and the Red Cross.  After Jack passed away in 1942, Bessie stayed in her home for many years, until she moved into the Golden Prairie Home.  When she was 90, she was still able to recite a poem her father had taught her in childhood.  She died at 93 and was buried with Jack in the Indian Head cemetery.

Elizabeth Grace (1886 - 1974): Grace loved to sing, and was a mainstay of the church choir at Grand Coulee.  She married Andy Mowat when she was in her early 30s, and they moved to a farm near Sintaluta, and had two children.  Then when her widowed brother-in-law Archie Adair moved into Indian Head in 1923, Grace and Andy rented Archie's farm at Rose Valley, where they stayed for 33 years. They retired to Indian Head, and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there in 1968.  Grace passed away six years later, at the age of 88; Andy lived to 101.  Both are buried at Indian Head.

Herman Ryley (1891 - 1962): My grandfather was a gentle and kind man, and quite shy as a youngster.  My grandmother remembered that shortly after the Smiths moved to Grand Coulee, when Ryley was about 16, the young people of the area were skating at the the outdoor rink.  Ryley was too shy to join them, and stood and watched from outside the boards, with his skates over his shoulder.  But he, like most of his siblings, was a member of the church choir, as was Myrtle Wanamaker, who became his wife.  They farmed at Summerberry and had eight children.  I'll go into more detail about them in later posts.

Prudence Irene (1893 - 1993):  When Prue married Roy Wanamaker in 1915, they moved to a farm in the Sherwood district near Regina, where they lived for 50 years. Prue was well known for her beautiful handwork - knitting, crochet and needlepoint - and for her talent at cooking and baking - fluffy scones were her specialty.  She was equally at home helping bring in the harvest, working in her garden, caring for the horses or pouring tea from a silver tea service.  Prue shared her family's love of music, and was the church pianist for many years.  She was very active in the church and was awarded a lifetime membership in the United Church Women's group.  Roy worked as a telephone linesman as well as running the farm.  He was an avid hunter, and did beautiful woodwork on his lathe.  He was also active in the church and served on the church board.  They retired to Regina, and celebrated 75 years of marriage before Roy passed away in 1990, and Prue in 1993.  Both are buried in Riverside Memorial Gardens in Regina.

Four Smith sisters, about 1919.
Standing: Ethel, Audrey;  Sitting: Prue, Grace

Beatrice Ethel (1897 -1997): Ethel met and married Frank Burton in Grand Coulee, and the two of them farmed there for awhile before moving to another farm to the northeast of Regina.  Like her sisters, Ethel loved flowers, singing and playing the piano.  She was an accomplished homemaker and helped with the harvest.  She and Frank were both active in their churches, from Grand Coulee to their retirement in Regina.  After Frank died in 1981, Ethel lived in the Pioneer Village Nursing Home in Regina, where she passed away in 1997, just a few months short of 100 years.

Audrey May (1899 - 1991): Audrey moved to Regina with her parents in 1919, where she became a member of the United Church Women's group.  She nursed her mother when she had cancer, and after Louisa's death, Audrey cared for her father until he passed away in 1943.  Two years later, when she was 46, Audrey married widower Harry Hardy, a superintendent with the National Grain Co., and they lived in her house in Regina, which George had left to her in his will.  Shortly after her marriage, Audrey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  She wore a brace on one leg, walked with sticks, had her car outfitted to accommodate her needs and was never known to feel sorry for herself.  She had a sharp mind and kept it busy with reading, doing crossword puzzles, keeping up with the news and enjoying lively conversations with friends and family.  She did embroidery, loved flowers and had a fine singing voice.  After Harry died in 1958, Audrey moved into an apartment, and when she was unable to care for herself any longer, she moved into a private care home.  Her long, brave battle with MS came to an end in 1991, and she was buried with her parents in the Regina Cemetery.

The eight Smith children who outlived their parents, photographed in 1943:
Grace, Will, Ethel, Maud, Bessie, Ryley, Audrey, Prue

Louisa (Lucy) Murphy Cockram Smith (1855-1928):  Louisa was known to her friends and family as Lucy for most of her life.  She loved flowers and handcrafts, and passed her gardening and needlework skills on to her daughters.  She had few idle moments, and rarely sat down without picking up her knitting.  She had a great fondness for Ireland and often spoke of her Irish heritage.  She was a shy, quiet person who was happiest at home, and was well-loved by her husband, children and grandchildren.

George Cockram / George Thomas Smith (1851-1943):  I've already said a lot about George, but I'll just add a few more words.  George was a great reader - mainly he read poetry, newspapers from England, and his bible.  He had very bad asthma, and would often read late into the night when he was unable to sleep.  He taught his children to recite poetry, encouraged them to sing, and had a beautiful singing voice himself.  He would often sing to Lucy, especially her favourite song, 'I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen'. He and Lucy must have had a wonderful marriage - the example they set shows in the extraordinary marriages their children made.

I'll leave the final, eloquent words to Donna:

This is a family of faith. This is a family with an incredibly strong work ethic, which sometimes worked against them and made them hard on themselves. This is a family that valued its members; a family with optimism and a sense of humor. This is a family that loved music, and boasted of several fine pianists and singing voices. This is a family that valued education and loved to read. This is a family that loved handwork – knitting, crocheting, needlepoint and petit point. Love of the land and of all nature ran deep in this family, of close-knit, down-to-earth, decent folk. Theirs is a story that needed to be told. (1)

1) From Donna Marie Smith's scrapbook about George Thomas Smith and his family, 2012


Sunday, 6 November 2016

George the Patriarch 1928-1943

At the age of 77, George Thomas Smith had lost his wife of 53 years, but his daughter Audrey was still living with him, and played a large part in the rest of his life.  His other surviving children were never very far away either.  Family was all important to George, and he continued to be interested and involved in his children's lives.  I don't know what impact the Great Depression of the 1930s had on him.  All of his children who were farming at the time were hit hard, as southern Saskatchewan suffered extreme dry weather, dust storms and crop failures as well as economic recession.  But they all stayed put and saw the trouble through.

During his time as a widower, one more of his children passed away.  George Jr died in April 1936, at the age of 54.  I haven't discovered his cause of death, but he died in the hospital in Regina, and no doubt his father and siblings were near him.

Later that year, George and Audrey, along with Roy and Prue Wanamaker, drove to California for an extended holiday. On the 2nd of November 1936, the four travellers crossed the US border at Raymond Montana, and were granted admission for six months.  George gave their destination as Long Beach, California, and also said that he had been there before, in 1914.  This is another of George's mysteries, as I can't find any other evidence of him being anywhere in the US at any time.  Not forgetting that in 1936 he was 85 years old, and might easily have got the earlier date wrong, maybe he, Louisa and Audrey were there in 1921, when they were missing from the Canadian census.

George's border crossing document, Nov 2nd 1936.  This is where I learned he had blue eyes. It's hard to read, but I think  his height is stated as 5 feet 5 1/2 inches.  Louisa was slightly shorter. But all of their sons were over 6 feet, and their daughters were generally tall too.
I don't know how long the foursome stayed in the US, but I do know they spent some of their time there with Roy's aunt Mary McConnell and her husband Zedick Wright, who had lived in San Bernadino, California, for many years. Although they lived a long way off, it seems that they had close ties with their Canadian family and in-laws.

Zedick and Mary Wright, Prue Wanamaker, Audrey Smith, unknown and George Thomas Smith
at the Wright home in San Bernadino, California, 1936

By this time, George was using a cane to help him walk (but he never called it that - it was his walking stick).  His general health was still good though, despite the asthma that had plagued him for many years.  And as the photos show, he was something of a snappy dresser.

A few years later, in 1942, George's family threw a 91st birthday party for him.  (It seems that there was no 90th birthday party - perhaps he had taken sick at the time.)  He was always an outgoing person, and although he was becoming frail, he still enjoyed special occasions and gatherings of family and friends.

Just over a year later, George passed away at the age of 92.  Like Louisa, he died at home, where Audrey had cared for him.  His passing was felt by many people far and wide, and his obituary in the Regina Leader Post is a lovely tribute to him, although the author, a well-known journalist, made a few mistakes. (1)

George was buried in the family plot in the Regina cemetery, where Louisa and George Jr had preceded him, and Audrey would follow.

A page from Donna Smith's scrapbook, showing the Smith family plot in the Regina cemetery at Broad St and 4th Ave.  Since these photos were taken, the 'Mother' and 'Dad' markers have disappeared, and George Jr's marker is partially buried, and hard to find.

Having made sure during his lifetime that his three sons were settled on their own farms, he made his will in favour of his daughters.  He left the house in Regina to Audrey, and to his other five daughters, something over $2000 each. (2)

And so I've come to the end of George's story without getting any closer to discovering his secrets.  But as I move on to learn more about other family members, I'll still be on the lookout for anything else that pops us about George.  Having spent a lot of time with him, I feel that I've come to know him rather well, and I'm certainly never going to forget him.

1) For instance, the reference to George having served in the Royal Marines is the only suggestion anywhere about this, and I can't help wondering who told the author that story.  His daughters remembered him as someone who loved the sea, but that's as close as I've come to finding any seafaring adventures in his past.  Also, George never lived at Stratford or Collingwood Ontario, although the name Collingwood was used to refer to the general area where he lived.  And George and Louisa were married in England, not Ontario.

2) This information came from my cousin Donna, who wasn't sure how much money George left, or whether he still owned any land when he died.  I'm currently hunting for George's will in the depths of the Saskatchewan court system, which may take some time.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Goodbye, Louisa

Sometime in the early to mid 1920s, Louisa Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer.  As the disease took its toll, she was nursed at home by her daughter Audrey and was visited often by her other children.  On the 8th of July 1928, she passed away at home in Regina, with much of her family by her side.  Her funeral was held at the Knox Metropolitan Church, and she was buried in the Regina Cemetery.

Bessie, George, George Jr, Maud and Audrey at Louisa's gravesite.

Obituaries from two newspapers

Louisa left no will, so I was surprised to find a collection of probate documents relating to her (1).  It appears that she had over $5000 in bank bonds in her name only, so George had to go to court to get access to these funds.  As part of the process, he and George Jr had to agree to pay over $10,000 to the court if it was ever discovered that Louisa actually did leave a will and they weren't admitting it.  I'm sure they never had to pay that debt.  Nevertheless, they both had to swear to their ability to pay this amount, and state their worth.  George declared that he owned assets valued at about $75,000.  I don't know how much land he still owned at the time, but this tells me that he must still have owned some, probably at Summerberry.

When George got the $5000, he divided it amongst himself, his nine children and three of his grandchildren, namely James, George and Douglas Adair.  It may have been Louisa's wish that only these three, of the then twenty-one grandchildren, were to share in this money, perhaps because they had lost their mother, Clara, when they were boys.

So Louisa's story has ended, and yet I haven't really said much about her.  All I know of her personality comes from her daughters Prue and Audrey, who described her to my cousin Donna as someone who loved flowers and knitting, and always had a project in progress.  She had a great fondness for Ireland and often spoke of her Irish heritage.  She was a shy person who was happiest at home.

Although shy and not fond of travelling, she must have been a plucky woman to leave her home in England and go with George into what must have seemed like the ends of the earth, with who knows what prospect of him ever making a decent living there.  Perhaps she already knew what a resourceful person he was - and no doubt in their early days in Canada she had to draw on strengths she didn't know she had until then.

Judging by the family she raised and the warm fondness they had for her and for each other, she must have been a very fine mother and homemaker, and a person it would have been good to know.

1) These records are online at in 'Saskatchewan Probate Estate Files, 1887-1931'

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Smiths in Regina 1919-1928

In 1919, when George Cockram Smith was 68 and his wife Louisa was 64, they retired from farming, and moved to Regina with their youngest daughter Audrey.  George Jr stayed behind to farm the land at Grand Coulee.

George and Louisa at 2056 McIntyre St, Regina
in 1919 or 1920
This would be the first time George and Louisa had lived in a city since they left Plymouth in 1875/76 - and the first time ever for 20 year old Audrey.  Their first house in Regina was at 2056 McIntyre Street, but they didn't stay there long.  By 1922 they had moved to 2353 Broad St - and this was their final home.

Neither of the houses still stand.  They were located in the oldest part of the city, near the downtown area.  The McIntyre St site now has a business on it, and there's an apartment building on the Broad St site.

In between houses, George, Louisa and Audrey all went missing.  How typical of George to be in the wrong place when census time rolled around.  The family can't be found in the 1921 Canada census at either of the Regina addresses (there were other people living in both houses at the time, according to the census), nor were they staying with anyone in the family.  I've looked for them all over Canada with no luck.  So I have to assume they were travelling in the United States, until a better idea comes along.

In 1925, George and Louisa celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a family gathering at the home of their daughter Maud Bennett, in Wolseley.  Their wedding was in April, but the party wasn't held until July. By that time, they had nineteen grandchildren, the youngest of which was my mother Hazel, who at less than 2 months old, nearly made it into one of the photos taken that day.

Whoever wrote the date on this clipping got it wrong.

George tells Louisa a thing or two at their anniversary celebration.

George, Louisa and Audrey were still in Regina in 1928, which was a very significant year - but I'll talk about that in another post.