Tag Archives: Crittenden

When the Skeletons Finally Come Out of the Closet “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”

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When the Skeletons Finally Come Out of the Closet “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”

My grandmother on the maternal side was Gladys Ethelyn Griffin Crittenden. She was born and grew up in Laconia, Belnap New Hampshire. She married my Grandfather George Crittenden in 1917 in Montreal and had my mother in 1929. She died at the age of 39 and no mention of her daughter was mentioned in her obit.

The Gazette
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
15 Apr 1935, Mon  •  Page 7

When I was a child I heard whispers that I am sure children were not supposed to hear. I knew my Grandfather had a few women that were not my Grandmothers, but one was not supposed to talk about things like that. For years I wondered why the name Cecile was said with a horrified face.

One day at a 10 am Church service I was sitting with my grandmother in our usual pew when someone with heavy perfume tapped my grandmother on the shoulder. My grandmother quickly looked at me in horror and her lips became pursed. The strange woman waved to me and my grandmother clutched my hand very quickly and told me not to speak to her.

Well, I thought, here we are in a place of God and my grandmother is not being too neighbourly. The church service ended and we left quickly. It did not stop the lady and she followed quickly behind us. In fact, she followed us all the way home, and into the verandah where she sat down on one of the chairs. My grandmother instructed me to go into the kitchen while she talked to this woman.

The woman quickly vanished after my grandmother spoke to her and I don’t think I ever saw her again. My grandfather had just passed away in Seattle and apparently it had something to do with that. My grandmother said she wanted money and expected to be in the will as she was “Cecile”. I never found out who “Cecile” really was until today. I just assumed that she was one of my grandfather’s former girlfriends.

My mother from the ages of 14-18 was in the Ste Agathe Sanitarium because she had tuberculosis and had one lung removed. I heard the stories many times about my Grandfather’s wife that had burned all my mother’s things and sold her piano because she had convinced my grandfather that my mother was coming back. But was that true? When my mother was released she never did go back to Park Extension in Montreal, and instead went to Cowansville, Quebec to work at Bruck Mills.

Apparently my mother not coming home and being an only child caused a rift between my grandfather and Cecile and the marriage went south. Really south.There was no uniform federal divorce law in Canada until 1968 and this was the very early 50s. Instead, there was a patch-work of divorce laws in the different provinces, depending on the laws in force in each province at the time it joined Confederation. In Quebec, the Civil Code of Lower Canada declared that “Marriage can only be dissolved by the natural death of one of the parties; while both live it is indissoluble”.

The English Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 provided that a husband could sue on grounds of adultery alone, but a wife would have to allege adultery together with other grounds.The only way for an individual to get divorced in the provinces where there was no divorce law—as well as in cases where the domicile of the parties was unclear—was to apply to the federal Parliament for a private bill of divorce. These bills were primarily handled by the Senate of Canada where a special committee would undertake an investigation of a request for a divorce. If the committee found that the request had merit, the marriage would be dissolved by an Act of Parliament.

So today, I found out that my Grandfather had to apply to Parliament for a divorce on the grounds of adultery.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada
30 Jun 1953, Tue  •  Page 24

Of George Arthur Crittenden, of Montreal, Quebec; praying for the passage of an Act to dissolve his marriage with Cecile David Crittenden. 1953 November

MONDAY, 7th December, 1953. The Standing Committee on Divorce beg leave to make their one hundred and twentieth Report, as follows:- 1. With respect to the petition of George Arthur Crittenden, of the city of Montreal, in the province of Quebec, clerk, for an Act to dissolve his marriage with Cecile David Crittenden, the Committee find that the requirements of the Rules of the Senate have been complied with in all material respects. 2. The Committee recommend the passage of an Act to dissolve the said marriage. All which is respectfully submitted. W. M. ASELTINE, Acting Chairman.

Crittenden. George Arthur Petition, 40; reported, 125; adopted, 136. Bill (N-4)-lst, 2nd and/3rd, 153-154. Passage by Corns., 245. Message, 246. R.A., 279. Ch. 161.

So I am assuming it was easier for a man to get a divorce from his wife in those days and since adultery was the only way to get a divorce– the woman had to suck it up.

So, maybe the story was all wrong from the beginning and I am starting to give Cecile the benefit of the doubt even though she was not kind to my mother. Maybe she did have an agreement with my grandfather that he said: ‘ If I get this divorce using you as the ‘ bad guy” I will leave you something in my will”.

Quebec has been slow on giving civil rights to married women: until 1954, a married woman was legally listed as “incapable of contracting”, together with minors, “interdicted persons”, “persons insane or suffering a temporary derangement of intellect … or who by reason of weakness of understanding are unable to give a valid consent”, and “persons who are affected by civil degradation”

The removal of the married woman from this list, however, did little to improve her legal situation, due to marriage laws which restricted her rights and gave the husband legal authority over her: legal incapacity was still the general rule until 1964. A woman did not have equal rights with her husband regarding children until 1977.

So why else would she have turned up after he had passed away 20 years later– had not something been promised to her for a facility in the divorce. After all- she was labelled the bad guy in family stories.

I guess we will never know now, but now I know the rest of the story.

Park Extension Montreal

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Did you know?

It has been argued that one of the explanations for the current high rates of cohabitation in Quebec is that the traditionally strong social control of the church and the Catholic doctrine over people’s private relations and sexual morality, resulting in conservative marriage legislation and resistance to legal change, has led the population to rebel against traditional and conservative social values and avoid marriage altogether. Since 1995, the majority of births in Quebec are outside of marriage; as of 2015, 63% of births were outside of marriage.

Related reading

Let’s All Go to The Drive-in!

Patriotic Stink Bugs Celebrating the 4th of July as an Ameri-Canadian Child

Is it all Relative? Linda Knight Seccaspina

I Am Who I am Because of You

My Name is Bernice — A Letter to a Daughter

The Old Church in Island Brook That Needs a Home

What Do You Do if You Just Can’t Walk Right In?

We Are Family

The Summer of 1964

Did They Try to Run the World?

Somehow Christmas Always Finds Me

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Somehow Christmas Always Finds Me

December 24, 2020

This morning I got up and sat on the edge of the bed and read the news on my phone as I always do. Nothing much had changed as I scrolled through the various news outlets. I hit my email and found out that I had a message from someone on Ancestry.ca. If you read my blog this week I am finally putting my maternal family tree together.

I dangled my feet off the side of the bed and remembered the black smoke coming out of the family burn barrel in the Albert Street backyard during the last days of September 1963. I can still see my father through the white sheer curtains stoking the fire and tossing photograph albums and the beloved handwritten family genealogy book that cousin Iveson Miller from Island Brook, Quebec had done for my mother. Death does strange things to the mind, and it was obvious that my Father was wiping away any trace of my Mother who had just passed away at the age of 34.

As a very young child I still remember taking that family book out of the piano bench and reading all the family entries written in fountain pen ink. It was just names to me in those days, but year after year those names became more important to me. For many years I have been the last standing family member of the Knight family from Cowansville, Quebec. It’s not easy to watch family members die from cancer, always wondering when it is going to be your turn. But, through the years of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes I am still standing. In the back of my mind I feel there has got to be a reason somewhere other than irritating people with my eclectic personality.

Last week I began the maternal family tree and found out that I actually had a bonafide settler who made a name for himself on my mother’s side. James Miller and his wife Mary Henderson were prominent founders in the Eastern Townships from the bottom up: designing buildings, working on the railroad and birthing babies.

For years I have been posting online trying to find the handwritten notes of Iveson Miller to no avail. This morning I got a note that someone has them and will be sending them to me. That was the best present I could ever get besides my Pioneer Woman salt and pepper shakers Steve gave me. This will be a gift for someone in my family down the line who is interested.

After sitting on the edge of the bed smiling for a long time I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror at a face I seldom recognize these days. I looked closely, shrieked, and got the flashlight and tweezers out. I am not going to explain this line of events, but any woman will know what I am about to write. There above my lip was the longest transparent facial hair I had ever seen. It could have knit a sweater it was so long. Obviously I am getting my proper vitamins to grow something so humongous.  

It reminded me that today was Christmas Eve and my Grandmother Mary Louise Deller Knight would be outside the kitchen door with her axe. A prime turkey would be sitting on a stump and she would cut that sucker in half with one fell blow. Half would be for Christmas day and the other half would be jammed into a tiny freezer for Easter. After the final blow to Christmas dinner she would take out my Grandfather’s round shaving mirror and pluck her chin hairs. It was an annual tradition to the soothing sounds of Mantovani.

This morning as I plucked that sucker off I put it on the bathroom mirror to show Steve in case he was interested. As he loaded the dishwasher in his usual anal ritual of making sure cutlery was placed neatly and in order I told him the story. I reminded him once again that when I am on my deathbed all facial hairs must be removed or I will come back and haunt him for the rest of his life. He said nothing as he loaded dishes in next and nodded his head to my wishes. You have to remember after almost 23 years he finds the best way to deal with my constant stories is to just nod and move on. Probably for the best.

So to the person in the Eastern Townships that found me thank you for a wonderful Christmas present. Genealogy is like a magic mirror. Look at it, and sometimes some pretty interesting faces appear and honestly… they probably all have chin hairs.

 Merry Christmas!

Linda

Related reading

I Am Who I am Because of You

My Name is Bernice — A Letter to a Daughter

The Old Church in Island Brook That Needs a Home

What Do You Do if You Just Can’t Walk Right In?

We Are Family

The Summer of 1964

Because You Loved Me…..

A Curio of Nostalgic Words

The Personal Ad of June 9th 1966

Did They Try to Run the World?

Memories of Mary Louise Deller Knight’s Wood Stove

The Story of Trenches –Fred Knight Legion Branch #99 Cowansville

Mary Louise Deller Knight — Evelyn Beban Lewis–The Townships Sun

On the Subject of Accidents and Underwear

The Conversationalist

I Am Who I am Because of You

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I Am Who I am Because of You

Once the Duke had “his way” with some peasant girl, she was soon forgotten and my family continued to farm rocks— Steven Robert Morrison

I saw this quote from my friend Steven yesterday and I wondered why some of our ancestors were so naive and honestly, not thinking. But, I realized some of my moves through life have also been dumb as rocks, so, in all honesty, I guess some of us have not changed.

For the past 6 years I have spent hours a day recording local history and answering other people’s questions about their families, and I have never really looked at my own. Last night instead of wrapping Christmas presents I decided to start my family tree on my maternal side as I knew it was going to be the easiest.

Years ago Iveson Miller from Island Brook used to visit our home on Albert Street in Cowansville, Quebec and tell me family stories. Before my Mother died in 1963 he gave her this wonderful family tree book hand written in turquoise fountain pen ink. My mother stored it in the piano bench and ever so often I would take it out and read it. To this day I have never seen a more comprehensive book and was hoping one day it would be given to me. But that was not to be. When my mother died my father took all the family photographs and that precious family tree book and burned them in the burn barrel in the back yard. Today I understand that the years of pain he went through with my sick mother drove him to do that, but I often wonder if he regretted it. So last night I began Iveson Miller’s journey once again, knowing I would not get the detail he had once provided, but it would be something for my children and grandchildren to cherish. I thank Ruth Burns Morrow for compiling the “History of Island Brook” and for the people that saved it.

Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden in West Brome

My mother’s family were basically Irish to the core and came from England and Ireland and settled in the United States and Argenteuil County, Quebec and them moved on to Island Brook and Brome in the Eastern Townships. Island Brook was a fantasy place to me during my early childhood and I can still myself in one of the Miller’s small barns milking my first cow.

James Miller and his wife Mary Henderson were the grandparents of my grandmother Gladys E Griffin (on her maternal side Charlotte J. Miller) who died of the family disease at age 39. Gladys would have no idea that her only child, my mother, Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden, and her granddaughter, my sister Robin Anne Knight Nutbrown would die before the age of 40 from the same thing she had died of–cancer.

Gladys’s grandfather James Miller was actually a veteran of the Fenian Raid, belonging to No. 5 Company of the Argenteuil (Quebec) Rangers, for which services he received a Fenian Raid Medal. Decades after the Fenian Raids, in 1899, the federal government decided to award the “Canada General Service Medal” to all who volunteered during the Fenian invasions of 1866 and 1870. James serve at Cornwall & St. Johns at Niagara 1866 under Colonel Abbott Island Brook, Quebec for 3 months.

However, in order to actually receive the medal, the person had to still be alive in 1899 and had to apply for it. The Ontario Government offered a free grant of land to all the Fenian Raid Veterans. Mr. Miller was one of those who did not accept the offer, as he believed that what they offered was very poor land. Later it became the site of the fabulously rich gold fields in the Kirkland Lake area. Would this be considered a ‘dumb as rocks move?

Ontario Travel photo– Kirkland Lake area– Some of the folks that made it rich.

During his younger years, James Miller and his brothers travelled with the farmers, who were taking their produce to Port Royal (Montreal), as Security Guards against Indian attack.

Mary Henderson and daughter Ethelyn Miller


(courtesy of Vernalyn Morrow Hughes)-Mr. Miller was born at Gore, near Lakefield, Quebec on May 8th, 1844. He was married on April 6th, 1864 in Lakefield to Mary Henderson, who was born on December 22nd, 1844. She was the daughter of William Henderson and Jane Sutton, who came from Sligo, Ireland, and settled near Lakefield in 1824.

James Miller and his wife moved from Argenteuil County to Island Brook, Quebec in January 1868, accompanied by their son, Alexander, who was three years old. I wonder if James had accepted the offer to mine in the fabulously rich gold fields in the Kirkland Lake if life would have been different. There was no cars in those days and the trip to Island Brook was made by oxen. It was a great perilous distance of approximately two hundred miles and settlements were a rare site in those days and there were no settlements east of the Island Brook River.

So the description of life they had was no different than that of any other settler I have written about. Mary Miller worked with her husband on a daily basis clearing the land, and taking the children along with her. They burned the trees they cut down and often baked potatoes in the hot ashes from the fires which would be their noon meal. Later on in years their great granddaughter Linda would do the same thing with the Cowansville Girl Guides at the Brome Fair property not knowing that this was no lark to them as it was to her.

My great grandfather James Miller walked on trails through the woods to La Patrie (12 miles), or to Cookshire, a distance of 8 miles, to get groceries, and he carried them home on his back. I have written so much about other settler families and wondered if my only interesting heritage was Alexander Knight ( great grandfather on my paternal side). Alexander was a music writer, had a musician’s agency and ran music halls in London. Or how about Louisa Knight who scandalously rocked Queen Victoria’s court. I wanted some hard working settlers on my side and I was not to be disappointed.

Ruth Burns Morrow wrote that James also worked on the railway line when it was built through Cookshire. He designed houses and barns for friends and neighbours as the settlement grew and made scale-models beforehand and when the time came for a barn-raising.

photo Canada Rail

My great grandfather was also a rural mail driver for thirty-four years, under contract to the Dominion Government and his route covered twenty-two miles from Island Brook through Learned Plain to Cookshire. When the roads were blocked by snowstorms, he made the trip on foot, carrying mail on his back. In all those 34 years, only four trips were missed. During busy seasons on the farm, his daughter Ethelyn often carried the mail. When I saw the name Ethelyn I was taken back. I often wondered where my mother Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden Knight had gotten the name Ethelyn from– and there it was. Ethelyn was taken from James and Mary Miller’s daughter. My grandmother Gladys Ethelyn Griffin Crittenden had been named after her and then chose the same middle name for her daughter Bernice.

I knew being a pig headed woman I must have had strong women on both my sides, but it was with great pride when I read about my great grandmother Mary Miller. Mary was the local midwife in the early days of the Island Brook settlement and brought over a hundred babies into the world without losing a single mother or baby. If the home where the birth was to take place was nearby, Mrs. Miller would walk to it, otherwise the husband would come for her with whatever conveyance he had.

A story from “History of Island Brook” tells of a member of the Irish settlement, on the road to Ditton, came for Mary with a stone-drag (a flat platform made of heavy planks used for hauling away large stones when clearing a field). As there was nothing to hold onto, and the worried father-to-be kept whipping the horse to make it go faster, Mrs. Miller was in danger of falling off without the driver even noticing it, but she managed to hang on, and arrived safely, although badly shaken up.

Mary, like all of my family, seldom wanted any pay for her services, although people often gave her a pretty dish from their cupboard, or some meat. Mary was there when anyone needed help as a nurse and she also laid out the deceased after a death. One of her saddest experiences was laying out four young children of the family of John Patton, who died within a few days of each other. Because they died of such a contagious disease, black diphtheria, the bodies were taken directly from the home and buried at night.

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were active members of the Methodist Church and helped in building the Church”.

A pile of wood is on my bucket list if I ever win money- but it might be too late. Once a cornerstone of the tiny Eastern Township community, the old Methodist church was mostly unused since it stopped offering regular services in the 1980s. In 2014 the then United Church decided to try and sell the building. The asking price is a paltry $15,000, but so far, there have been no serious offers — probably because buying it means having to move the old church, which was built in 1870, to a new lot. If I ever win the lotto and the church is still around– look for it in my yard– as I think it would be grand to have in memory of my old Irish ancestors. As Andrew Lyon told me on Facebook in 2016:

“We attended a service in the cemetery two weeks ago and the church is down. Lumber is stacked and I believe the building could be re-assembled elsewhere”.The Old Church in Island Brook That Needs a Home

I think the key word now in conclusion is: every day your life is re-assembled, sometimes even elsewhere. Life is not a solo act–it’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife living or dead. It’s our duty…. especially now.

I thank Ruth Burns Morrow for compiling the “History of Island Brook”. I hope one day to read it all and send regards to those still living in Island Brook.

My Name is Bernice — A Letter to a Daughter

The Old Church in Island Brook That Needs a Home

What Do You Do if You Just Can’t Walk Right In?

We Are Family

The Summer of 1964

Because You Loved Me…..

A Curio of Nostalgic Words

The Personal Ad of June 9th 1966

Did They Try to Run the World?

Memories of Mary Louise Deller Knight’s Wood Stove

The Story of Trenches –Fred Knight Legion Branch #99 Cowansville

Mary Louise Deller Knight — Evelyn Beban Lewis–The Townships Sun

On the Subject of Accidents and Underwear

The Conversationalist