Preserving the Past With Love Without Embalming It
I see an old yellowed hand written note from October 1915 crudely pasted in a photo book. It is a British armed forces permission slip for my grandfather Frederick J. Knight to go see his young girlfriend Mary Louise Deller in Devon, England for the weekend. During the hours he will travel by train to court her, she will be working at a sea side cafe. The ocean breeze will gently blow the hem of her long skirt and she will be greeting people that enter the cafe with her huge smile. It is the very same smile her future granddaughter Linda will wear some day. The heavy white ironstone dishes that the staff line the counter with will be checked carefully by Mary. They will be full of ripe fresh strawberries and thick Devonshire cream with scones on the side.
Mary’s favourite song “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” will be playing on the radio in the background. She loves Fred but there will be family problems that he will have to contend with first before they even think about marriage. His father will leave the family to go to New York City to become a song writer. No one will hear from him again and Fred’s mother will assume he has died on Ellis Island. Later that year they will find out that he died exactly as they thought, and his dreams of writing music will be over. Fred will arrive about noon and since Mary’s shift will not be over for two hours she will serve him some sort of hot soup of the day. She will personally make him a cucumber sandwich and touch his hand ever so slightly when she serves it. They will gaze lovingly into each others eyes and smile.
The weekend will pass too quickly and Fred will have to go back to fighting the war. They will exchange love letters here and there and Fred will ask Mary Louise to marry him. He will eventually go to the front lines and be poisoned with mustard gas in the trenches. Later his superiors will ask him if he was gassed, and he won’t know what to reply because the soldiers did not know what it was. Fred will be one of the lucky ones to survive but will have terrible migraine headaches for the rest of his life.
He will eventually marry Mary Louise, and they will move to Canada. They will live a happy life with their two sons until their oldest son Frederick Jr. dies from complications after having one of the very first vaccinations at age 19. Every Saturday night without fail Fred Sr. will carefully go down the wooden cellar steps and pour them each a small glass of sherry from a bottle kept in the basement. After carefully putting the small juice glasses on the side board he will walk across the street to the drugstore and buy a bar of Cadbury milk chocolate for them to share. Each Christmas he will purchase her an Evening in Paris perfume set and she will cry. Their always darkened bedroom with the twin beds will smell of Evening of Paris for the next twenty years. In the years that she spends with her grandparents Linda will never see them argue once.
Later in his life the effects of mustard gas will haunt him and affect his respiratory system. One Thursday afternoon he will fall ,and Grammy in total shock will hold him and cry. Linda, his granddaughter, age 16, will try and save him with mouth to mouth resuscitation. Failing in her attempt he will die under her and later that day she and her grandmother Mary Louise Deller Knight will look through the photo album and her grandmother will stop at the page with the old permission sheet and rub her hands over it and cry.
My family came from Ireland and England, and my children’s father stepped on the shores of Canada from Italy when he was barely a year old. Both families worked hard and took pride in what they did. My grandfather installed the first Bell Telephone poles and wires in the dead of winter and my sons’ grandfather did most of the terrazzo work in Sudbury, Ontario that still exits today.
After both families saved enough money they began companies; employing people, and helping build the local economy. No job in those days was too menial and they took pride in friends and family. They helped build the foundation of their towns, but who will remember them?
Carleton Place, Ontario was founded by the Moore and the Morphy families, and the town has chosen to preserve the artifacts, textiles, and photographs to remember their local citizens. Displays in the Victoria School Museum will forever be there so children can marvel that there was such a thing as a milkman, and that their families did indeed wear some funny clothes.
Because of preserved documentation they will remember that the town had two fires and Mr. Murphy’s fur collared overcoat “perished” in one fire and Mrs. Hammond lost her washing on the line.
In the newspapers that are archived in the museum, it was noted that Mrs. Chapman stood fast in her kitchen while the fire raged on. She refused to move anything out of her home except the silverware because she believed in miracles.
Community was everything in those days and they shared their superstitions, and mystic potions, to cure crops, health and to even have cleaner laundry.
In the 1980’s I belonged to the Carleton Place Historical Society and we decided that future generations must remember and started raising money for the now reality called The Victoria School Museum. It is now called the Carleton Place and Beckwith Museum.
Things that are not immediately needed are kept for future reference and treated with respect. Archives of families are kept carefully in respective boxes for all those that seek information about their families.
Jennifer Fenwick Irwin, and others work, diligently to keep family legacies alive by sharing local history with everyone in the Victoria School Museum & Gardens.
My home belonged to one of the founder’s of Carleton Place and I strive to keep its heritage intact. When an addition was built, the exterior was done by stone masons that hand cut each block of stone from the same quarry that originally was used to build the home. Respect of past generations was important to us while we created new memories for our children.
If items had not been preserved by the museum how could I learn about the history of my home and now share these photos with my family and others.
Now another generation who has watched us show nothing but respect for the past is taking on their own challenge. My son and daughter-in-law will assume responsibility for preserving one of the original hotels in town to pass down to yet another future generation.
They will respect its history and tell visiting people about the tales from long ago. It is considered one of Canada’s most haunted sites and many stories of those who came from other areas to find work, and even died there still live on in the old Mississippi Hotel.
was formerly used for a multitude of venues, including a common bawdy house and a TB hospice. These hotel ed for a multitude of venues, including a common bawdy house and a TB hospice. These
So how do we get to the future without knowing the past?
“The past is not the property of historians; it is a public possession. It belongs to anyone who is aware of it, and it grows by being shared. It sustains the whole society, which always needs the identity that only the past can give.”‘
William J. Murtagh
Images and Text by Linda Seccaspina 2011
267 Edmund Street
Carleton Place, ON
Tilting the Kilt, Vintage Whispers from Carleton Place by Linda Seccaspina is available at Wisteria at 62 Bridge Street, the Carleton Place Beckwith Museum in Carleton Place, Ontario and The Mississippi Valley Textile Mill in Almonte. available on all Amazon sites (Canada, US, Europe) and Barnes and Noble