18 August 2017

Second World War Flight Training Schools

More fascination with Canada's participation in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). In my previous lengthy post (see post below this one), I show how to access the daily reports for the Elementary Flight Training Schools (EFTS). I also mention that names are scattered throughout the reports for EFTS No. 2 at Thunder Bay. We are reminded that the city was formerly the friendly rival twins of Fort William (location of the school) and Port Arthur ... usually, but not always, friendly. For the record and besides the flight training school, the war effort in this locale included Port Arthur Shipbuilding and Canadian Car & Foundry in Fort William.

Back in Second World War days, they were smallish towns. Interaction between the school and civilians was immediate and often intense. After their flying hours, ground lectures, and homework, the flight trainees had a variety of sports programs as well as a fair amount of leisure time, so they became familiar with the towns. Outside labour was constantly necessary for the buildings and mechanical maintenance, for provisions and care of the resident air force officers and changing groups of trainees. Tours of the facility were arranged for a stream of visitors.



Random entries from the commanding officer's daily reports in the summer of 1941 recall places and businesses from the past:
The Royal Edward Hotel saw its share of beverage consumption by enthusiastic airmen on passes. The Italian Hall was one of the few other venues for social mixing. Boulevard Lake was used in a program of Tuesday night swimming – in the warmer months! Otherwise it was the YMCA. The local IODE (Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire) was quick to organize regular events such as on-site dances, and as previously mentioned, the Public Library donated books and bookshelves to the school.

Fryer Studio came regularly to take photographs; they donated the Fryer Memorial Cup for flying competition among the course students. McKellar Hospital tended to an assortment of minor or major casualties from the flyers, plus the occasional unmentionable virus. Actually, an outbreak of mumps caused real fear and concern. Mahon Electric serviced the school buildings; Gibson-Elm did interior painting. Crawley & McCracken were early food caterers who did not work out for unspecified reasons. Burney's Taxi (special rates for dance nights) delivered many a pie-eyed trainee desperate to reach the school before night curfew.

It was up to civilian manager Hector Dougall to handle the construction contracts, general supplies, office services, and maintenance of aircraft and equipment. Claydon Construction was frequently mentioned with regard to construction of new runways and ongoing building needs. EA Bell was another contractor, for example, securing the "gasoline hose pits." Ditto Mr Kerr of Warren Paving Co. Both city mayors (Charles Cox, Port Arthur; Chisholm Ross, Fort William) were castigated at one time or another for arbitrarily supplementing the itineraries of important visitors, thus spoiling a strict military schedule. 

Senator Norman Paterson donated rifles for the school's rifle range, and came by several times over the duration for a chat; Judge McComber along with Mr. Elliott "of the Court House" and Mr. Boyd were given a tour. Orville Wieben of the Lakehead Flying Club lent the use of his facilities when flooding caused delays in the assembling of Oxford aircraft. Alex Sinclair was the principal of Port Arthur Collegiate Institute; he came to discuss his school's air cadet program with RCAF personnel.


 HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent, was not the only royal dignitary to visit. In late August 1941, Canada's Governor General, the Earl of Athlone and his wife Princess Alice arrived by train for one of those highly organized tours coordinated by various interested parties. The daily report relates the unhappiness of the school's commanding officer with the organizing elements:
This meeting was at times quite stormy as the mayor and his committee had, without consulting the Services, indicated that a guard of honor would be supplied at the railway depot. Furthermore, although this visit of the Governor General was to inspect war industries at the Lakehead, the civil authorities had endeavored to increase his itinerary by omitting to mention war industries such as the 102nd Training Centre, but instead had included the mountain view from the first ledge of Mt. McKay and such like. This is recorded in this Diary because it is the normal idea adopted by the local authorities here, that the local view for an item of inspection is far more important than Units of this nature and other centres of equal importance.
(The 102nd Training Centre comprised the EFTS complex.)
Mount McKay, Fort William

I must say the daily reports are also contain names of basic training students, flying conditions, and RCAF personnel. Who went on to advanced flight school, who "washed out," who had accidents with the airplanes ... it's all there in No. 2 EFTS. Might be worth another go at extracting. I see there are also daily reports on the same microfilm reel C-12336 for:
Malton, Ontario (No. 1 EFTS)
London, Ontario (No. 3 EFTS)
Boundary Bay/Sea Island, Vancouver (No. 8 EFTS)
Stevenson Field, Winnipeg (No. 14 EFTS)
Portage la Prairie, Manitoba (No. 14 EFTS)
Edmonton, Alberta (No. 16 EFTS)
Caron, Saskatchewan (No. 18 EFTS)
Chatham, New Brunswick (No. 21 EFTS)
L'Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec (No. 22 EFTS)
Pearce, Alberta (No. 36 EFTS)
Windsor Mills, Quebec (No. 4 EFTS)
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (No. 6 EFTS)

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

20 July 2017

Aerodrome of Democracy

"Aerodrome of Democracy" ... U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous description of Canada's massive contribution to Second World War aviation. Over 50,000 pilots were among 130,000 air crew trained in this country.[1]

Schools were set up to train not only pilots but also navigators, mechanics, wireless operators, gunners, and so on. Thousands of young Brits, Canadians, and even some Americans were processed here, swelling the population of the communities they briefly joined; a significant number of men returned after the war to settle here.

Admittedly, this post relates to my own family history but possibly of interest to others. The British Commonwealth Air Training Program (BCATP) 1940-1945 was a widely- and well-organized home effort in Canada (it was also active down under in Australia and New Zealand). We seem to hear little of it in regard to military matters that affected our ancestors ― and yet there it is on the Veterans Affairs Canada website: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/second-world-war/british-commonwealth-air-training-plan.


Civilian participation was crucial in the beginning; local flying clubs and experienced flying instructors were the first to mobilize. In many cases, new airfields had to be constructed. The Plan quickly grew into Canada's major role of the Second World War under the administration of the RCAF, with 231 sites for schools around the country at its height. It was so successful at graduating aircrew that by 1943 they had to pull back somewhat.
The organized training of a successful air crew candidate would take between 50 and 90 weeks, often depending on the demand for various types of air crew which altered at different times. After recruitment, participants were sent to one of an eventual total of seven Manning Depots for an introduction to military life. It was here their path for aerial training was determined. 
Those chosen for pilot training then proceeded to one of seven Initial Training Schools (ITS) to take part in a ten-week course in pre-flight training. From here, pilot trainees were posted to one of 30 Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS) (operated by government-supported civilian Flying Clubs across Canada) for eight weeks of flight instruction. 
After soloing on Moths or Finches and an assessment of whether pilot aptitudes would be best suited for single-engine fighter, multi-engine bomber or transport, the successful neophyte headed off to one of 29 Service Flying Training Schools (SFTS) -twenty of these were twin-engine schools- for advanced training on more powerful aircraft. It was at the successful completion of this course that pilots finally won their coveted wings.[2]

DeHavilland Tiger Moth was a popular training plane
The family connection is with Elementary Flight Training School (EFTS) No. 2 at Fort William, Ontario (since incorporated with Port Arthur to become Thunder Bay). Hector F. Dougall had been the first president of the Fort William Aero Club, later named the Lakehead Flying Club, and became civilian manager of the wartime school. It was designated No. 2 (Malton, Ontario, was No. 1 ― now the site of Toronto's Pearson International Airport) thanks to wartime Minister of Munitions and Supply, C.D. Howe, who happened to be Port Arthur's MP.

I knew little about this period in Thunder Bay: DeHavilland Tiger Moths were used for pilot training. Some thirty machines were always operational, housed in two purpose-built hangars.[3] The runways were the flying club's original grass strips until 1943. In 1941, Dougall posed with official visitors. The middle uniform is HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902-1942), at the time an air commodore in the RAF; he was a pilot himself and strongly believed that aviation proclaimed the future. The Duke was to die a year later in a plane crash.


Could I learn more? RCAF records seemed to be indicated; they are held at Library and Archives Canada in the former RG 24, now R112-522-X. But many of the EFTS's microfilmed daily reports have been digitized on Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca). No name indexes here and no list of contents ... you will have to scroll patiently through the chronological daily reports and other items. The access path is given below. I would like to hear if anyone else has good luck!

EFTS No. 2 was on microfilm reel C-12336, officially opened on 24 June 1941 with an agreement between the RCAF and the civilian operating company, Thunder Bay Air Training School Ltd. The Air Force supplied planes and relevant equipment, office furnishings, accommodation for their supervisors, and the like. The company provided flight instructors, clerical staff, the "operating and maintenance of aircraft and equipment," and contractors for building runways, barracks, and necessities. It seems to me from the accumulated context that the company also acted as a liaison between the school itself and the two towns it bordered.

At first CSO Johnson's reports are perfunctory ― weather good, flying this morning, ground studies this afternoon. By the spring of 1941 they develop into detail about who "washed out" or who graduated to an intermediate level school. Much internal business about scheduling, personnel changes, examinations, sprinkled with names. There is constant turnover of trainees, plus repairing and upgrading the facilities. Visitors are noted; crashes and collisions by trainees are described; familiar local names crop up as visitors, facilitators, contractors. Much excitement when Oxford training planes arrived.

Oxford Airspeed

Company president Dougall is mentioned here and there, at one point earning the undisguised admiration of the CSO and numerous witnesses by physically ejecting from the site an obnoxious employee. Recreation for the trainees included a weekly dance hosted by local young ladies. Other activities included "deck tennis," horseshoe pits, softball, football, a rifle range, weekly movies and dances, concerts, and swimming at Boulevard Lake or the YMCA. Billiards tables, bookcases, books, and more were donated by the towns.

The school produced a newsletter called The Thunderer with a lot of frat house-type content frowned on by the CSO as "an undesirable form of wit". Rivalry between RAF and RCAF candidates became obvious in sports and the social scene; hints abound about some rather "riotous" graduation celebrations. It strikes me that they were fond of poetry (and composing doggerel). These men had an intense but exhilarating time, never to forget their training days. "The Spirit of Thunder Bay" was one of many poems. Here are the last two stanzas from "Ave Atque Vale Coursus" by "Howdy" Sutton in Vol. 1 No. 4:

Now you leave this place, 
And we here know, that in the race 
To strike the blow For Liberty and Grace, 
Your names will show.
God speed and Luck we say, 
And hope we all, on a certain day 
You will recall, that spot called Thunder Bay, 
Where we were friends.

The Duke of Kent arrived in a Lockheed aircraft on 19 August 1941, a visit timed with military precision for two or three stops in the area. Among the UK accompaniment was a Scotland Yard bodyguard. Senator Paterson lent one of the four cars for the occasion. Met by squadron leader Johnson and higher BCATP officers, the Duke inspected the Honour Guard, was presented to Dougall who introduced civic dignitaries, and quickly toured the facilities. He did manage a private "interview" with Dougall, but altogether the royal visit was cut shorter than expected because Port Arthur Ship Building Yards had been added to the itinerary. Johnson's report refers disparagingly to the Port Arthur mayor obliviously creating an unforgiveable delay: "Mayor Cox having organised, rather disgracefully, a tour of the hill city."

The access path to these fascinating records is:
Library and Archives Canada (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx) > Online Research > Military Heritage > War Diaries, Ship Logs and Operations Record Books > Air - Second World War (1939-1945) and Korean Conflict > Advanced Archives Search where you note three search-term boxes. Enter 24-104a in the first box and a location (e.g. Fort William) in the second box (24-104a is the LAC Finding Aid to the collection). This should give you the archival description, the volume number, and the microfilm reel number for your chosen location, assuming a BCATP facility existed there. You might receive more than one result. Now you are ready to see if Héritage has digitized the material you want, by entering the microfilm number into their search box at http://heritage.canadiana.ca.

Besides the obvious ― such daily reports may include in-house newsletters ― where else to look? Ceremonies were held for the openings; adjacent towns welcomed the new arrivals with social activities; tours were often given ... think local newspapers and aviation club histories. Municipal archives and town museums are another possible source of information. In addition, perhaps of interest:

Brandon, Manitoba, has the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum (http://www.airmuseum.ca/). The website is featuring Vignettes of the schools and related wartime memories for Canada's 150th anniversary. Another research project is gradually adding daily reports of the BCATP training schools from the RCAF digital images at ritage.

The archival catalogue of the Canadian War Museum is not online at this time. They do have some BCATP periodicals of the wartime period (also many artifacts and photographs), but best to contact their Research Centre for a search: http://www.warmuseum.ca/learn/research-collections/.

The Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta (http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/main_museum.html), commemorates servicemen and aircraft of the bomber command and BCATP.

National Air Force Museum of Canada (http://airforcemuseum.ca/en/) in Trenton, although it does not specifically refer to BCATP in its online collections.

Whether you have a Canadian or British airman ancestor, or maybe a civilian employee at the schools, the BCATP might provide a glimpse into a brief but important window of his life. I am extremely grateful for the expertise and patient assistance of noted military historian Glenn Wright in this endeavour.


[1] http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/british-commonwealth-air-training-plan/.
[2] Rich Thistle, British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada (https://www.richthistle.com/about/articles/41-british-commonwealth-air-training-plan-in-canada).
[3] Jim Lyzum, Aviation in Thunder Bay (Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, 2006), 35.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman


20 June 2017

Ottawa. June. Been There, Done That.

Subtitle: Notes from a Dinosaur

After a long winter and cool spring, Ottawa in June was thankfully warm for the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) conference. I have been attending OGS Conferences since 1974: the faces change, the technology changes, and sometimes the program emphasis changes, but the basic Ontario sessions remain, as they should. Torn tendons and other medical ailments do not necessarily make for extended sitting at lectures and socializing, so ...

Moments from my (admittedly partial) participation I hereby submit.

What you missed:

▪ Dave Obee's ex-wife.
a most excellent British Pub Night.
the Canadian War Museum, but maybe you've been there already and it was just me who was excited about it.



Behind the scenes in the Vaults

Many, many paintings by war artists 


Casts for the Vimy Memorial

What I missed:


the Banquet, all day Sunday.
no information at the War Museum on Canada's Elementary Flying School #2.
some old friends.
a CAMEL art installation at the National Gallery; photo provided by the ever-alert Ruth Blair (more scheduled to make an appearance on CamelDabbleTravelBabble as well).


What I didn't miss:


some old friends.
Joan whose husband matches one of my strong DNA matches but does not match me. Now what do I do? For a moment there, listening to the engaging Blaine Bettinger, I almost got a handle on it.
the book I scored at the Canadian War Museum's book sale, featuring Dad's 54 Squadron in the Royal Flying Corps of the First World War (and later).


Kudos to all the planners, organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and vendors ... when it takes a village to put it together. It was a treat to be in our nation's capital in the 150th anniversary year of Canadian Confederation.



© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

18 May 2017

Ottawa. June. What Could be Better?


The annual genealogy love fest in the Ontario part of the world fast approaches. The Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) is gathering in Ottawa June 15-19 ― where else to be for the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation?! For newbies and advanced family historians alike, the Conference at Algonquin College promises an exciting agenda of research assistance, workshops, lectures, technology updates, and DNA experts.


All the numerous facets of family history will be represented here. Well-known companies are sponsoring special events and discounts ... Ancestry, Family Search, My Heritage, Living DNA, National Institute of Genealogical Studies, Drouin Institute, and more. The extensive Marketplace will offer books and unique products from specialized vendors and OGS branches.

A few Conference highlights:
~ visits to local archives and the Canadian War Museum
~ Canadian and international speakers
~ Opening and Closing ceremonies
~ books, books, books for sale
~ Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Genealogical Society
~ Ancestry Day June 19
~ plenty of networking, social opportunities

Everything is well laid out here, including registration options and accommodation: https://conference2017.ogs.ca/


Never underestimate the importance of social events and meal times for networking: meeting others of like interests. A special time slot on Friday for "first-timers" will help newcomers navigate the weekend choices.


This is the largest conference of its kind in Canada. Algonquin College in Ottawa June 15-19. Pass the word ... !


© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

01 May 2017

Book: The Missing Man

Nathan Dylan Goodwin. The Missing Man. UK: Self-published,* 2017.


Forcing yourself away from your sticky, stubborn, intensive family history research, what could be better than curling up with Nathan Goodwin and Morton Farrier? Ahhh. One is the creature of the other: Morton has become well established as a fictional forensic genealogist in England. Author Goodwin can be assured his man fills the bill for the kind of detective work relaxation real genealogists enjoy☺. But Goodwin's mysteries are well-crafted to appeal to a broad spectrum of fans.

Anyone who has followed Goodwin's previous books in the Forensic Genealogist series1 will know Morton's biggest personal brick wall has been his "lost" American biological father ― the missing man. His mother never knew that her father withheld letters from her erstwhile lover, letters that Morton uncovered long after the fact (in the previous The Spyglass File). He found them both curious and troubling. But now he has enough clues for some serious research and interviews. His good-natured bride, Juliette, agrees to spend their honeymoon in Massachusetts.

Each new document Morton finds only deepens the mystery about his father Jack and his father. Hoping that some of the older generation will still be alive, he moves from one resource location to another in the Cape Cod area as the records lead him. Local landmarks such as cafés and restaurants are sprinkled throughout. Without being a spoiler, I can say he does find a living relative. Family historians will recognize the methodology he uses for tracking backward, and sometimes forward, in time. One question: why did he trust a family tree drawn by an unknown genealogist?

Alternating perspective is a device Goodwin has used before to great effect; here, Morton's activities contrast with those of his father forty years earlier. It's a deft suspense-builder. The old saw "You can choose your friends but not your family" applies as Morton discovers one unhappy fact or individual after another. Will he ever know the truth behind the actions of his ancestors?

Some one-liners might spice your interest:
● The shocked gasp of her neighbours and the stricken cries of the firefighters on the lawn were lost to the appalling cacophony of metal, brick, wood and glass crumbling together, crescendo-ing into the night sky. (1)
● "I'm afraid you're not listed here as family." (59)
● It might have happened to someone at some point, but not to his grandparents in Boston in 1946. (36)
● She had absolutely no dealings in her husband's business and couldn't understand why knowing her maiden name was a necessity on his investment paperwork. (106)

Beginning with a devastating house fire, ending at an airport, The Missing Man is a novella, a quick read. It's one you won't want to interrupt and will wish it would continue. No worries; I'm sure Goodwin has further Morton Farrier adventures up his sleeve or in his hard drive as we speak.


* Available at various Amazon sites; links on the author's website nathandylangoodwin.com.

1. For example see reviews: https://brendadougallmerriman.blogspot.ca/2015/10/book-america-ground.html and https://brendadougallmerriman.blogspot.ca/2016/10/book-spyglass-file.html.


© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

11 April 2017

~ Terry ~

Not long before Christmas my dear friend Terry Punch wrote me a message that was a far cry from the genealogical comments we regularly shared. And the message was a bit weak in the boisterous humour we normally exchanged. He told me he was dying.


And so it came to pass today, April 11th. To the sorrow of so many who benefited from his extensive historical and genealogical knowledge of Atlantic Canada. A long list of awards and honours and books bears witness to the influence of this man whose passion encouraged so many. In 2010 Terry was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the only genealogist to receive this country's highest honour. Others will provide the impressive listing of achievements. 

Terrence Michael Punch, it's terribly difficult to write anything about losing you as a friend. But I had a few months to tell you about that. I will so miss our shared sense of humour.


May Sister Merciless of the Yardstick weep ... and may St. Angus see you safely to rest.

Peace, Pamela. My deepest condolences. 

05 April 2017

TARTAN Day 2017


Prepare to wear it!!

According to the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, 15% of Canadians claim Scottish heritage (with the Irish claiming a close 14%). http://www.sospb.com/tartan-day-celebrations.html

April 6th marks Scotland's Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. It was the great statement sent to the Pope of Scotland's national independence, signed by the nobility and ranking clergy. The history around the document is more complicated (and fascinating) than I can present here, but its significance endures. Echoes of "Flower of Scotland" at any Scots gathering will never die.


Canada's 150th birthday makes Tartan Day even more special. St Andrews Societies in various cities feature ceilidhs. Community celebrations take place across the country; for example, in Fergus, Ontario, twinned with Blairgowrie, Scotland. As if their summer Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games isn't enough, each Tartan Day they hold a downtown celebration worthy of their forefathers. Festivities begin with a morning kilted kilometer run around the town (kilts mandatory!); all afternoon Celtic music plays in downtown pubs and eateries, with wandering storytelling, pipe bands, heavy event demonstrations ... a little piece of Scotland in the heart of Ontario!

Personally, I have New York envy ... a whole week! Tartan Week! With a mega parade! This year the Grand Marshall is Tommy Flanagan, star of the TV series "Sons of Anarchy" (last year led by Sam Heughan aka the hunky Jamie Fraser of "Outlander" fame).

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

30 March 2017

Ten Years Blogging

Like some long-term bloggers, I experience a posting slowdown ― not for lack of subject matter but the focus of interest shifts back and forth. It's quite a few years since I retired from researching for clients. In that time I have tackled a great deal of personal family research. The family projects never end. And my filing cabinets, physical and mental, contain plenty of genealogical material I can still explore, review, research, and commit to written posts or journal articles.

This year I will not be renewing my Certified Genealogist® credential. Mainly because without new client work and having already used many family research problems in past renewals, I am too lazy to devote the required time for a meticulous but oh-so-worthwhile procedure. So I'm resting. In a manner of speaking. Thirty-eight years I have proudly held this credential and owe so much to the Board for Certification colleagues who encouraged and supported me. Serving as a BCG Trustee with the likes of ~ name-dropper alert! ~ Helen Leary, Elizabeth Shown Mills, the late Joy Reisinger, Donn Devine, Ron Hill, Christine Rose, Tom Jones and many more, was an education in itself. I salute you all who continue to foster and mentor and educate.

On 30 March 2007, I was a fledgling blogger being tutored by my patient child. The concept was such a novelty we didn't even think of creating an inventive, catchy name for it. What you see is pretty much what you get due to her confidence in me.


On 30 March 2017, I just completed one of my marathon flight days, homeward bound from Casablanca. Only twelve hours flying time this trip, not counting airports. (Why is it I can't seem to get a direct flight to my destinations? Rhetorical question.) At some point, the latest adventures will pop up on my other love, CamelDabble TravelBabble (now there's a name for a blog). 
... Couldn't resist ...

Once a writer, always a writer. Whether it's genealogy or travel or crime fiction, it might slow but it won't stop.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

09 March 2017

Bagpipe Day

Someone decreeth March 10th is Bagpipe Day. Or it may be in June. Others say Bagpipe Appreciation Day is different altogether. Whenever ... any excuse for waxing sentimental about tribal memory, sez I. It’s in the DNA: I had to post.

Rescued from a cached page that apparently appeared at one time in a forum on Canada At War:
The bagpipe is the only musical instrument deemed a weapon of war because it inspired its troops to battle and instilled terror into the enemy. The skirl of the pipes stirs men's and women's souls and its power and influence in battle as in life, is measurable.
The effects of the pipes on friend or foe are legendary crossing all cultural, geographic, economic and historical barriers. An examination of the origins and development of the pipes, their use among the ancient Celts and in modern warfare and life reveal their true and enduring significance.The origins and history of the pipes is interesting as the world has known the pipes in one form or another for more than 5,000 years. Bagpipes were invented when people found they could make music by blowing into a hollow reed and eventually the idea of harnessing a bag for a reservoir of air evolved. References to pipes are made in the Pharonic literature of Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Holy Land Scriptures. During the days of the Roman Empire there are numerous references to the pipes being played and in fact it is widely believed that Nero himself played the pipes and that Rome fell to the sound of the pipes, not the fiddle as previously thought. It is quite probable that the Romans brought the pipes to Scotland during their invasions.[1]


I can attest to the international life and love of the pipes. A favourite moment, being serenaded in the ancient Roman city of Jerash by members of the Jordan Armed Forces. I wrote longer on bagpipes and camels and military tradition: https://camelchaser.blogspot.ca/2016/05/military-and-police-camels.html.

Slainte!

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

[1] "The Piper's Toast," http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:XORtfJN0OggJ:www.rcmpvetspei.ca/resources/Documents/The%2520Piper%27s%2520Toast.doc+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca.

04 March 2017

One Lost Loyalist

It seems there are no idle moments in the life of a family historian. From time to time I pick up on an item that sends my curiosity skittering off on a tangent. This is akin to the well-known genealogical principle that you cannot search a newspaper for a death notice without being distracted for hours by pages of local gossip, police reports, lurid adverts, and legal notices ("she left my bed and board ...").

Loyalist Trails is a regular newsletter from the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada (UELAC), loyally put together each week by Doug Grant, UE. Anyone, member or not, can subscribe to it: http://www.uelac.org/Loyalist-Trails/Loyalist-Trails-index.php. One of my distractions, in the Loyalist Trails edition of 15 January 2017, was the following bit from Stephen Davidson's "Mother Goose. Loyalist Style. Part Two of Two":
Interestingly, there are compensation claims for three loyalist bakers who all once tended ovens in Boston prior to the revolution. Benjamin Davis described himself as "a baker in government service" who had made himself "very obnoxious" to the rebels. He was one of 1,100 loyalists who fled when the British forces retreated to Halifax from Boston in March of 1776. When Davis attempted to sail to New York City that summer, patriots arrested him and imprisoned him for twelve months. By 1783, the loyal baker had settled in Halifax.

Is this the same Benjamin Davis that I know? ... First of all, men with the same or similar name do appear in Loyalist references ― references that may conflict in a detail of place or date or spelling (ask anyone who has struggled with identifying the likes of Crysler or Hough or MacMillan men). In this case, "settled in Halifax" sounded like a definitive statement: that the man had reached his permanent destination.

My Benjamin Davis was in York Township (now part of Metro Toronto) at least by 1796 when he received the Crown patent for a property at what would become Weston village. He was peripheral to the family being studied at the time and was not investigated per se. Benjamin and his wife Elizabeth were childless; at some point before 1813 they more or less adopted John Porter, a son of that scallywag George Porter, about whom I've written ad nauseam.  


I did know that when Benjamin died in 1817, he bequeathed to John Porter a large piece of land on the Humber River with the proviso that he care for the widow Elizabeth until he was twenty-one (John was born ca.1800 in the Town of York). In gratitude, I expect, John changed his name to John Davis Porter thereafter.

Would a baker settled in Halifax pack up his family and his business to migrate to Upper Canada? What could confirm or invalidate the two men being one and the same person? Off the top, land petitions (and/or other land documents) might reveal the prior residence or origins of the man who appeared in Upper Canada. Death or burial records for Nova Scotia and Halifax in particular could show if Davis the baker died there.

Beginning as purely online searching, Library and Archives Canada's "Upper Canada Land Petitions 1763-1865" database had nothing for a Benjamin Davis. The index is quite comprehensive and the petitions are digitized although it's a bit of a roundabout hunt to find a specific document. The index also includes petitioners' names from a series of correspondence called Upper Canada Sundries.

The Nova Scotia Archives has indexed and digitized surviving death records 1864-1877 (there's a long gap until the series resumes in 1908). I found a Benjamin Davis age 98 who died 14 September 1874 of old age in Liverpool, Queens County.[1] He was born in Wales and the informant, Alfred Fraser, did not know the names of his parents. Also, Benjamin's occupation was not filled in.

Several things nullify this being the man Stephen Davidson mentioned. The Halifax baker was portrayed as active and practising his trade in Boston in 1776; that is the approximate year the Nova Scotia man was born (if his age is accurate) and virtually eliminates his being the Loyalist baker. Liverpool in Nova Scotia is obviously not Halifax, although there's a chance a move had been made to the town on the south shore, some 150km from Halifax, one scenario being an elderly man going to live with a caretaker. "Born in Wales" is an interesting addition. This Benjamin could have emigrated to Canada or the United States at any time during his long lifespan; he could have come as a British soldier, or as a child with his parents, or at any age.

The likelihood is strong that more than one Benjamin Davis lived in Nova Scotia. A man of this name was part of a group petition in 1785 at Digby, requesting 5,000 acres each at Bay of St. Mary's near Port Roseway (petition was "approved").[2] It's most likely the baker died before Nova Scotia began keeping regular vital statistics. I delayed searching for the baker's potential marriage in Massachusetts for the time being.

As for the Upper Canada man, one armchair source quickly led to another. Merely viewing the index to Filby's massive Passenger and Immigration Lists 1500s to 1900s showed more than one Benjamin Davis milling around in early Ontario.[3] Keith Fitzgerald's Ontario People 1796-1803 based on the district Loyalist rolls has a Loyalist reference.[4] That source is no doubt the basis for a "Benjamin Davies" listed in the UELAC Loyalist Directory (http://www.uelac.org/Loyalist-Info/Loyalist-Info.php) with no details.

Turns out my Benjamin Davis had history with both Sir William Johnson and Butler's Rangers.[5] Lt.-Col. Smy's remarkable compendium of Butler's Rangers tells us more about Benjamin Davis. In brief, he was the son-in-law of Nicholas Phillips Sr., UE, from Pennsylvania. Before the war, Benjamin had 150 acres on the Mohawk River near Sir William; he served throughout the war, ultimately as a sergeant, in various capacities; he was granted land on the Humber River, York County, in 1796. To illuminate Davis' service record, Col. Smy clearly accessed a great deal of cited manuscript correspondence and memorials in the British Library, Library and Archives Canada, and the Archives of Ontario.

And yet ... no Upper Canada land petition? Strange. Benjamin was eligible for a substantial land grant ― which he did receive but apparently without the usual process. There are indeed land petitions from his wife Elizabeth Phillips Davis in the above-mentioned index. I expect his marriage took place in the Town of York, logically where New York boy met Pennsylvania girl. Benjamin also submitted a memorial to the claims committee for his and his wife's losses of American property. So a number of land-related and other sources could be explored.

A random exercise? A fool's errand? ... leading to several men of the same name. Let me be plain: this is not an exhaustive study for Benjamin Davis of York Township, York County, Upper Canada. Going on to fill out his portrait with original documentation is not particularly my story to tell. And yet, here is a Loyalist with no children, no descendants to speak for him. It makes me wonder if other Loyalists without issue are still equally obscure. Comments ~ naturally ~ are always welcome.


[1] "Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics, Deaths 1874," digital image, Nova Scotia Genealogy (novascotiagenealogy.com), Book No. 1814, p. 67, no. 79, Benjamin Davis.
[2] "Nova Scotia Land Papers 1765-1800," database, Nova Scotia Archives (archives.novascotia.ca/genealogy/nova-scotia-land-records).
[3] William Filby, Passenger and Immigration Lists 1500s to 1900s, database, Ancestry (ancestry.com).
[4] Keith Fitzgerald, Ontario People 1796-1803, database, Ancestry (ancestry.com).
[5] William A. Smy, An Annotated Roll of Butler's Rangers 1777-1784 with Documentary Sources (Friends of the Loyalist Collection at Brock University, 2004), 76.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman



07 February 2017

Hostages to Fortune ~ not a book review ~

Peter C. Newman. Hostages to Fortune, the United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada. Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016.

Peter C. Newman is not an academic historian, he is a "popular" historian. His treatments of history are frequently infused with dramatic and verbose flourishes; this one lacks the footnote references of a more academic historian, relying largely on other authors as sources. No revelations here in previously well-examined material. Newman is successful because as a good storyteller he knows how to stir sentiment and appreciation for his subject. How will Loyalist family researchers view his new book? (In that vein, please ... save me from summaries of the book's contents masquerading as reviews.)

Rather than attempt a real book review myself, not being a true historian nor qualified to speak to the military aspects of the conflict, I recall an interview with Newman almost two years ago that raised some questions or issues for me (in the second half of the post).[1] Would they appear and/or perhaps be resolved in this long-awaited book? Some of the issues seemed to tinge the Loyalists with wimpyness. Was I defensively over-reacting? The quotes below are from that interview. Here's how those concerns go down now:


Quote: "Newman said that hundreds of books have been written on the Loyalists but almost all of them focus on genealogy – who begat whom – and not the adventure of their exploits."
My prior comment: What has Newman read, or not read, amongst the Loyalist literature? "Almost all of them" are genealogical in nature? Whoa. Numerous historians (and genealogists) may disagree.
New comment. Ironic, isn't it, that Newman chose to use a Jarvis family as his main device to tell the Loyalist saga? And it works, insofar as it goes.

Quote: "The Loyalists were tortured and killed during the American War of Independence when the Americans turned on anyone loyal to the King. Tarring and feathering was the torture of choice, Newman said."
My prior comment: "Loyalists were tortured and killed" — but hey, they did fight back and returned the favours.
New comment: That, and other comments, had given me an impression that Newman would somehow dwell on a portrayal of shamed, saintly folks who crept away, unresisting, to another land. No. In the book, he plays quite evenly with action and atrocities on both sides. And possibly read my mind: "Strong in spirit and dedicated to the concept and reality of duty, the Loyalists were brave in the face of long odds, clearly demonstrating that they were anything but wimps." (225)

Quote: "A religious, self-effacing people, the Loyalists spurned the chest-thumping bravo of the Americans and developed styles and attitudes that are very much like the Canadian personality of today, he said."
My prior comment: "Religious" and "self-effacing" are extremely broad, sweeping adjectives. No doubt many of them were perhaps one or the other, perhaps sometimes both at once. Were they more "religious" than their foe? What connotation does "self-effacing" conjure?
New comment: Were those two descriptors implying something the Patriots were not? Let's be real and remember that all ranks of society, all manner of faiths, native-born in the colonies or immigrants, both sides had every human virtue and failing. As for self-effacing, it's true we Canadians today are not known for chest-thumping. Apparently we are known for a widespread penchant of saying "Sorry." Should I even ask if that characteristic is inherited from the Loyalists? Oops, sorry ...


"Instead of settling disputes with guns and violence, the Loyalists preferred to argue things out and reach a consensus, he said."
My prior comment: As for "guns and violence," ask military historian Gavin Watt. Did the Loyalist corps not strive to give as good as they got? Or is Newman time-shifting several years down the road to political issues?

New comment: Picky me. But when did the Loyalists do that amongst themselves, in matters that would incite impulsive others to weapons? During the war? In their refugee camps? On the evacuation ships? What kind of disputes is he referring to? Okay, okay, I will stop.


Well, let's face it. An interview is not a book. The book. Newman succeeds again, in my opinion ... in a lightweight way, covering ground related many times before (familiar to Loyalist descendants). Although he extends his mandate to the War of 1812 and beyond, he includes little on Aboriginal resettlement apart from the expected Brant family mentions. And curiously, in a very large bibliography, how could merely one of Gavin Watt's books be present?

He gets the job done, the tales told; his easily digestible manner will capture popular imagination, much like Historica Canada's Heritage Minutes. I look forward to potential book reviews by perhaps Mary Beacock Fryer UE or Peter Johnson UE.

[1] Wayne Lowrie, "Literary Lion Has Den in Gananoque," 6 April 2015, Gananoque Reporter (http://www.gananoquereporter.com/2015/04/06/literary-lion-has-den-in-gananoque : accessed 31 May 2015).


© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman