My Grandfather didn’t like talking about the war, or really, anything about the past. I never realized just how strong his feelings were until one evening while we were watching a documentary about the first World War— I saw tears in his eyes. Grampy Knight had never been one to show his emotions easily. He must have seen horrible things in the war, but he rarely spoke about it, or his childhood.
Despite my Grandfather’s reluctance to talk about anything, World War 1 seems to have been his peak experience. Sometimes it appeared to me that he found the rest of his life, as a successful businessman, and man of the community, anticlimactic and vaguely disappointing. Like many, he had a hard time sleeping at night as there had been years without a lot to smile about throughout his life.
Grampy Knight had fought with the British Army in WWI in France and had been one of the first soldiers to be poisoned with mustard gas in the trenches. My father had participated in WWII with the Canadian Army, and his greatest disappointment was that I never followed suit.
I often wondered why my father wanted to follow in my Grandfather Knight’s footsteps as Grampy had returned from the trenches in France after WW1 with medals and a lifetime encyclopedia full of stories that he rarely spoke about. But, my father came back from training in Georgia sadly never to set foot on the foreign countries he so wanted to defend. He too rarely spoke about his time in military service, but I assumed he was disappointed in his achievements.
War was a serious business in the Knight family– even when we were at peace. Once in a very blue moon I was suddenly lectured on the devastation of war. My Grandfather had lived in the muddy trenches of France for long periods of time and then spent the rest of his living years dealing with the repercussions of being gassed. He used a quote that the use of gas was “a cynical and barbarous disregard of the well-known usages of civilized war”— even though they had no idea what had happened to them at the time.
Gas had a profound psychological impact on soldiers – it terrified and killed many of them. Watching him hold his temples in pain from migraines every few days upset me and the mind of a child wondered if it had led to a better tomorrow. Was there pressure on them to remain silent, or was there a drift into leaving the memories all behind for mental peace. Their self reliance and courage sometimes bent in all sorts of shape but never broke, but most times they just never talked about it
Many generations of our families endured wars, Spanish Flu, Diphtheria, Polio, droughts, depression and yet they survived it all. They made do during the bad times and suddenly they experienced changes they thought they would never see. But, I always remembered to ask about things, and sometimes I got a story to remember, and sometimes I didn’t.
This week I reminded folks to talk to your grandparents and capture the stories for generations to come. It seems a lot of us haven’t been very good at listening to the stories from the past, and in most cases they are the reason for our success. Remember some of us might walk a lot faster, but our elders most certainly know the road and the memories of living through it. There is no doubt they became stronger through their experiences. Everyone has a story to tell, whether they want to tell them or not, and all someone has to do is just ask. Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s about leaving something in people, remember that.
In Memory of Carman Lalonde, one of the greatest story tellers of Lanark County.
Remembering Courage Strength and Love- Linda Knight Seccaspina
By the 1930’s 90% of the urban population was dependent on a wage or salary, and most families you knew lived on the edge. Living in the city meant reliance on a male family member with a job to stay alive, and if you lived on the farm you counted on what you grew to feed everyone.
As a child, my Grandmother used to tell me all sorts of stories about the Depression. Each morning she made sandwiches for the hungry people knocking on her door, and her weathered screened verandah sometimes became a shelter for homeless people during rainy nights. The train station was just a few blocks down from where they lived on South Street in Cowansville, and those that rode the freight trains would get off daily to see if they could find work or food.
I was always told that we had a hobo mark on our side door, and Grammy Knight would also take in needy families until they got on their feet. Grampy once said that he never knew who would be sitting across from him nightly at the dinner table. Each time my Grandmother asked him to go to the grocery store to get another loaf of bread for someone in need he went without complaining.
One day Grammy hired a young homeless woman named Gladys who worked for her until she died. I was barely eight years old when Gladys passed, but I still remember her like yesterday. Gladys was an odd looking woman who tried to hide her chain smoking habit from my Grandmother. The manly-looking woman would talk up a storm while she cleaned with stories that young ears should have never heard– but I always did.
Gladys would tell me all about her days during the depression as a teenager, where she would hide along the tracks outside the train yards. She would run as fast as she could along the train as it gained speed and grab hold and jump into the open boxcars. Sometimes, she missed, and sometimes she watched some of her friends lose their legs, or their lives, as they jumped off as the train was reaching its destination.
There was nothing left at home for her during those horrible years of the Depression. One Sunday they were without money for the church collection plate and under one of the old rugs they finally found a dime which they proudly placed on the collection plate.
There were just too many mouths to feed and Gladys knew she wasn’t going anywhere if she remained at home. So she just rode the rails as it was free and she knew she would find food somewhere, which was more than she was going to do at home. She cut her hair, wore overalls and a cap, and survived life on the road until my Grandmother hired her.
Gladys ended up dying in her sleep in ‘the back room’ of my Grandparents home. After she died, my Grandmother promptly labelled it ‘Gladys’s room’. When I was older and came home on weekends, that very same room was where I slept. You have no idea how many times I thought I saw Gladys in the dark shadows scurrying around with her feather duster, and yes, still chain smoking.
When I was older my Grandparents would make a simple dinner for themselves. My Grandfather would cut up tomatoes, add mayo like a dressing with salt and pepper. While I watched him eat, I would say, “is that all you’re having !!?? He would reply to me,
“I’m from a time when you looked in the icebox and you put together what was in there and that’s what you had. Remember that “my birdie” … it isn’t always right there for you when you get home . Money was scarce and we had to survive on what we grew in the garden. We learned to use everything and had no waste”.
My Grandparents taught me a lot about life. I never thought I would be my Grandmother, but here I am now. They taught me to count my blessings, not my troubles, and to “show up” for people. Your ancestors that lived through those times were brave and they never judged a book by its cover. You just never know as they say, the things you take for granted might be something others are praying for.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Tonight I felt I should write you a letter because it’s almost November 11th. It was always a hallowed event in the Knight family each year and we were up with the birds that day as Grammy used to say. Mocha cakes had to be finished for the Legion refreshments, shoes and medals polished, and bodies attempted to get warmed up in advance for the parade.
Things have changed this year for Remembrance Day. There is a pandemic going on called COVID 19 and this year’s memorial ceremony is by invitation only. But, you will be pleased to know I have an invitation as I am a town councillor and I am honoured. I know you worry Grammy if I am well, and I am, and I will bring along a small chair this year as I can’t stand long. Last week I tripped on a rug, in of all places, a senior residence and my knee is blue and swollen.
I know Grampy has reminded you already that I should keep that stiff upper lip going and a Knight family member respects our veterans. I promise I won’t hover my rear end over the chair too long. Grampy’s stories of how hard life was in the cold and the muddy trenches in France have not been forgotten. Not one word Grammy, not one word of what he and others went through during the first World War. It will never leave my mind.
We have a Legion here in Carleton Place (Branch #192) and Mississippi Mills (Branch #240) and the people are wonderful just like Legion Branch #99 in Cowansville, Quebec. Things are not good for the Legions these days because of Covid. The Legions are just scraping by because donations are down and they can’t have their fundraisers or congregate. They now have to worry about how they are going to remain solvent from month to month.
Somehow the branches are managing to pay their bills but Winter is coming and the heating season begins. The Legions are at risk of closing forever, and 1 in 10 could permanently close this year. I know Grampy’s eyes are full of tears, because I know how hard Grampy worked to open branch Number 99 in 1946. Legions should never close, and I just hope that it isn’t too late for some of our branches if help does come from the government soon.
Each Remembrance Day I can still hear Grampy yelling out orders in the parade: ‘left right, left right’, even though I was the last one in the parade every year. I never understood why the Brownies were placed at the end and I was always pulling up the rear in my too short Brownie outfit, bare legs with knee socks with my Hush Puppies on and no boots. Standing at the cenotaph freezing to death and chattering with friends I always got the stink eye from Grampy who was always watching me. I could never avoid his stern gaze. ‘Respect, Linda, respect, remember what these men did for you’.
The solo bugle playing The Last Post would always make the odd strange noise from the cold outside on the first few notes and the freezing November breeze would circle around my legs turning them bright red. I could see tears in my Grandfather’s eyes, remembering his friends that never made it home. He just hoped they knew that we all still cared and remembered them.
Each Remembrance Day I remember, and I still remember the Remembrance Day pasts. I wish for a lot of things, but now besides remembering all the veterans I pray and hope for the saving of our local Legions. As you said Grampy: ‘I have seen war. I hate war!’
For years you lived in pain from being gassed in the trenches. As you said each time you had a migraine: ‘ I’ll be okay, but in the meantime I just have to hold strong’. We are trying Grampy, we are trying to keep these Legions and the memories going, but in the meantime like you we too just have to hold strong right now and stand firm.
I miss you so much..
This Remembrance Day have one less coffee, one less treat and please DONATE to your local legion. They are counting on you! Thank you!
Carleton Place- Branch 192
Donations are respectfully received at the Branch or by mail. Drop in for a visit any time the branch is open or make your donation by mail to Royal Canadian Legion Box 248, 177 George Street Carleton Place, ON K7C 3P4 State whether your donation is to Legion Branch 192 or The Poppy Campaign.
Our hours are restricted at this time because of Covid19 Check our facebook page for our current hours of operation. At this time they are Thurs 4 to 8 pm and Fri 3 to 7pm but subject to change
Almonte Branch 240
Donations to the Almonte Legion Br 240 can be done via e-transfer at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by cheque payable to Almonte Legion, Br 240 and mailed to PO Box 1090, 100 Bridge St., Almonte, ON, K0A 1A0 or by dropping into the Branch during our reduced hours which are: open at 4:00 pm on Thursday and Friday and 3:00 pm on Saturday.
Special to the Gazette
Cowansville, July 4, 1946 – The Canadian Legion, Cowansville branch, will inaugurate Monday at 8.30 p.m., a drive to erect a fitting Cowansville Veteran’s Memorial Hall building in this city.
Members of the Cowansville Branch, No. 99, of the legion are seeking premises containing necessary rooms for meetings and recreation. The site for the building has been given by Miss Nina M. Nesbitt, of Cowansville, and plans for the building have been provisionally approved.
On the evening of the inauguration the speakers will be His Worship Mayor E.A. Boisvert, Maj. Gen. C.B. Price, D.S.O., D.C.M., E.D., president of the Canadian Legion, and Capt. Henry Gonthier, past provincial president.
Veterans will then parade through the streets of Cowansville and a street dance will follow. The board of trustees is composed of Mayor Eugene Boisvert, L.L. Bruck, H.F. Vilas, A.G. Scott, D.J. Barker. Co-chairmen of the Cowansville Legion Memorial Hall Building Fund are, R.L. Brault and J.H. Wood, M.B.E., E.D. The president of the local legion is F.J. Knight.
Organized only last March 14 (1944), the Cowansville Branch of the Canadian Legion (Branch No. 99) has become one of the most active of the Province’s Legion branches. Originally formed with 20 veterans, the organization has grown to 65 in a short period of less than a year, and is now engaged in mapping plans for the re-establishment of veterans of World War II. Legion Colors were dedicated on October 8, 1944 at an impressive ceremony in the front of the Heroes’ Memorial High School at which Provincial President, Hugh Perry, and his First V. P., J. G. Gonthier, were in attendance. One of the important tasks, now being carried on by the veterans, is the education of the public at large concerning their obligations to ex-serviceman. Other projects include rehabilitation and relief and personnel counselling, the latter being carried on with the complete co-operation of the Veterans’ Welfare Bureau in charge of Eli Boisvert.
Plans for the erection of a Legion Memorial Hall after the war are presently under consideration, and will include a cenotaph built in a section of the hall, for various veteran and community affairs. This structure will be built as a living memorial to the Cowansville boys and girls now serving on Active Service. The Heroes’ Memorial High School was erected as a memorial of those who fell during the last Great War. Legion officers elected for 1945 include: President, F. J. Knight; First Vice-President, A. G. Scott; 2nd Vice-President, R. Brault; Sergeant-at-Arms, H. Pugh.
The Montreal Gazette, July 6, 1946 COWANSVILLE HALL SOUGHT BY COWANSVILLE LEGION Special to the Gazette Cowansville, July 4 – The Canadian Legion, Cowansville branch, will ignaugurate Monday at 8.30 p.m., a drive to erect a fitting Cowansville Veteran’s Memorial Hall building in this city. Members of the Cowansville Branch, No. 99, of the legion are seeking premises containing necessary rooms for meetings and recreation. The site for the building has been given by Miss Nina M. Nesbitt, of Cowansville, and plans for the building have been provisionally approved. On the evening of the inauguration the speakers will be His Worship Mayor E.A. Boisvert, Maj. Gen. C.B. Price, D.S.O., D.C.M., E.D., president of the Canadian Legion, and Capt. Henry Gonthier, past provincial president. Veterans will then parade through the streets of Cowansville and a street dance will follow. The board of trustees is composed of Mayor Eugene Boisvert, L.L. Bruck, H.F. Vilas, A.G. Scott, D.J. Barker. Co-chairmen of the Cowansville Legion Memorial Hall Building Fund are, R.L. Brault and J.H. Wood, M.B.E., E.D. The president of the local legion is F.J. Knight.
My Grandfather used to tell me stories about his youth in London, England in front of the old radio after the BBC news. Some were about life in the trenches in World War 1, and others were about life with his mother Mary Knight, not to be confused with my Grandmother Mary Louise Deller Knight.
Actual postcard of the grave 1912 that was destroyed in World War 2
Great Grandmother Mary came over to Canada with her son Fred when he emigrated to Cowansville, Quebec after the war. His father Alexander Arthur Knight had left them and his job running a music publishing business in London to only die upon his entry into the United States to become a songwriter at the age of 53. His body was sent back and buried in Plymouth, but the cemetery was bombed in World War 2 and everything was destroyed.
Grampy Knight used to tell me stories about the British Music Hall scene and because of his stories I always wanted to be a carny in a travelling carnival. But that was never to be, but the stories I remembered. Here is one of his many stories:
The circus was on a Monday night and it was said to be the best talent ever seen in the city of London. There was a good sized sized audience and Mother and I sat in the balcony in the seats my father had provided for us. The first person I remember seeing was someone dressed in a ridiculous costume selling peanuts and candy. He was persistent all evening and Mother would not allow me to have any refreshments as she said it would cost Father money we did not have.
I remember the orchestra being quite grand, and there were all sorts of people under the circus tent. The one thing that still stands out in my mind were the photos of freaks exhibited on the front canvas, and how the circus announcer told stories about them, and for a nickle they could all be seen inside. People stood there in wonderment but, Mother hurried us along to the big tent.
Really, I told Mother, all I wanted to see was the freak show and hear the barker explain all about their peculiarities. I had seen the snake charmer with the red wig and elaborate costume with huge diamonds and snakes around her neck while Fiji Jim danced wildly around her. But Mother was a no nonsense woman and before I knew it the first act of dancers came on stage wearing light trousers and white sweaters. The ringmaster wearing red tights, blue coat and high boots cracked his whip at the audience as the dancers left the stage and the white horses came out and galloped around while the band played a circus song.
My father Alexander was at the side of the stage selling songbooks, and all of a sudden small books came showering down from the gallery and everyone got a copy of the 1903 Almanac. The crowd went wild and the ringmaster told them sternly to keep their seats and he cracked his whip again for the rest of the show to begin. Two elephants played with the clowns and a giraffe did the cake walk. After the tightrope and the contortionist act the ringmaster advised the audience not to leave early and stay for the finale.
At the end some of the audience was asked to come to the front and others remained in their seats. The curtain went up and the stage was in utter darkness. There was a sudden flash of light, a picture had been taken of the performers and a voice from the darkness said the concert was over. I realized this might be the last time I see such a thing, as Father was restless. Like life the circus had arrived without warning, it was simply there when yesterday was not.
Photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum. Possibly Riverside Park 1920s-“The Circus Comes to Town”
1920s RIT box thanks to Doris Blackburn/ Karen Blackburn Chenier
I have often wondered where I get my love of wearing dark colours day in and day out. Did it all stem back to the tender age of 12? On a shopping trip to Granby, Quebec I once met a woman reciting poetry on the street. She was thin, cool, and wore nothing but black. Smoking a long slim cigarette, she blew perfect circles into the air and looked like she didn’t have a care in the world. I immediately assumed at that young age that one did not have to think if you wore the colour black.
But the more I thought about it, I realized my Grandmother never wore colour much either except to Rebekah Lodge meetings. Those box-shaped handmade white dresses she wore didn’t have that much shape to them, but she always added some sort of lace trim–which didn’t help much. But, most days she wore as many shades of blue as she could think of. Her friends must have wondered how she managed all those shades of dark blue she came up with– but I knew how she did it.
Dresses in those days were always “freshened up” according to Grammy and RIT Dye encouraged creative homemakers like herself to give their dingy clothes new life for just a couple of quarters a box. The ‘catch-all’ drawers in her white bureau situated in the heart of her kitchen contained dozens of boxes of the product. Some days before she bought her washer; a pot of dye would be boiling on top of her woodstove along with lunch. My grandfather’s eyes would be in a panic when he saw one of her dresses stewing away hoping she would not reuse that pot again for food preparation.
Most garments made out of rayon and crepe were not washed as a whole in those days, and only ‘spot cleaned’ as necessary to preserve the shape and colours. Spot cleaning was huge in my Grandmother’s world–and I always seemed to be her test subject before I went back to school after a lunch that included gravy.
Even though she wore Mitchum’s deodorant, dye ran easily, especially with the dark colours that she wore. Those Kelinart’s underarm dress shields with the plastic linings were worn to reduce those ghastly yellow underarm stains–but they never seemed to work. I know a few vintage dresses I have seen in a friends closet that have not been washed in a lifetime– but not Grammy’s. The vast majority of the time after spot cleaning they always went back into the pot for a new shade of dark blue. Immediately the rubber gloves went on and a brick went into the pot to weigh the garment down.
I never saw my Grandmother wear pants and her life was a long and sordid tale of boiling pots, washing machines, and dry-cleaners for her dresses. Life always needed a splash of colour she said, and even when RIT Dye was no longer popular with homemakers Grammy still continued.
In the 1960s fashion designers began featuring tie-dyed clothing. Tie-dye became the look of a whole generation, saving the RIT Dye brand from extinction. I, being a young thriving fashionista, began tye dying with the best of them under the guided hand of my smiling grandmother. Live fast and dye pretty might not have been in her phrase dictionary, but it was in mine. Grammy made me realize having the control to dye your clothes and change your look was a part of self-expression and has always been the purpose of life for me. I realize now that self expression was for her too as long as she had a box of RIT.
I am the last one standing from the Knight and Crittenden family dynasty and come from a lineage that not even Heinz 57 would understand. My bloodlines are thick with British and Irish roots and a few other tree branches slipped in between. My mother’s side from the Call’s Mills and Island Brook area were all from Ireland, and as a child, tales were told on a weekly basis about our Irish ancestors.
My favourite story was one about my great great aunt fighting off the Fenians during the fight at Eccles Hill on May 25, 1870. According to the Crittenden legend, she fought them off single-handedly using a spoon as a door lock. Knowing my mother’s side of the family, I assumed she probably invited them in to play cards and have a few pints.
Farmers in the vicinity of Eccles Hill near Frelighsburg, Quebec were constantly in dread of being robbed by the Fenians and complained that the Irish were invading the area like a hobby. Many of the locals took their valuable silverware to the woods and buried them in order to be safe. But, like the rest of my past dynasty, it seems that my family didn’t worry about their cutlery and used their silverware instead to lock their doors.
We all need to remember locking doors wasn’t a huge priority in those days. Even if they left home for a week or two, homes were unlocked as break ins didn’t happen that often. Knowing my family I am sure there were some big, scary looking dogs involved that would either deter robbers from trying, or ensure intruders would be caught and immediately maimed in the process. But these were the hopeless Fenians that were invading Eccles Hill, while presumably the Benny Hill Theme song was playing in the background.
So how did this great great aunt of mine with nerves of steel do it? This family folklore has stuck with me since I was a child, and instead of wondering for the brief years I have left; I decided to finally find out the truth for once and for all. Upon doing research I found out how to open a door with a spoon, but nothing was coming up until I found a story of a woman who went to the last Olympics and her room had no locks on it so she used a spoon.
I looked at the photo once, I looked at it twice and shook my head– it was that simple. All those years wondering. That was it? Yes, that was all she wrote as they say. So many chapters in my life lost in this little family tale. Some families have Kodak moments, some families have wonderful memories, but I swear my family has straight jacket moments.
Photograph of the Knight family in front of the smaller dining room sideboard on South Street in Cowansville, Quebec. The late, Robin Knight Nutbrown, Frederick J Knight, Bernice Ethylene Crittenden Knight, Arthur J. Knight, Mary Louise Deller Knight, and the last one alive–me–Linda Susan Knight Seccaspina
The transparent yellowed curtains that hung in my Grandmother’s dining room never hid what mischief I was up to while she sat on the screened porch on Friday evenings. As a child I understood that the family business was open until 9, and I spent the evening hours waiting for my father in the rear of the building– which happened to be my Grandparents home on South Street in Cowansville.
I would always sit and chat with her, or watch her bake in the kitchen, but my favourite pastime was looking through the glass of her old china cupboard. There was the broken engagement ring that sat in a teacup as the ruby stone had fallen out, and a handed down figurine that my great great grandmother had received from Queen Victoria. Each piece in the cabinet had a story and my Grandmother was an amazing storyteller that made everything seem to come alive.
My curio cabinet that I hope my grandkids will love. The figurine from Queen Victoria is on the second shelf on the left in front of the green card.
Besides the china cabinet there was a very long sideboard at the end of the dining room. It held all the good dishes and silverware that were used on holidays and it seemed each set had a memory. Tucked away in the back was the black tin ‘money box’ that was brought out every Saturday night to tally up the week’s receipts. I can still hear the click of the old adding machine along with low murmuring voices that went on for an hour with Lawrence Welk playing in the background.
While I sat on the plastic covered couch in the living room I would patiently wait to hear the closing sound of one of the compartments in the sideboard. That was a sign that Grammy would make us all a snack of saltine crackers topped with Cheese Whiz, and of course another story about anything she felt she needed to talk about.
When I was 9 my Grandparents decided to make the electrical store bigger so they cut the dining room in half and her sideboard no longer fit the new smaller room. Not one for nonsense, she did the same thing to the sideboard that she did to her Thanksgiving turkey each year. She hired someone to cut it in half so it fit the room. Even though it was now half the size it never lost one memory. For years I heard her tell visitors what happened to it and that sideboard carried on its traditions, never missing a beat.
I always assumed my Grandmother just liked reminiscing about the past, but it was really something else. Now I can see that she was sharing her knowledge and trying to teach me life lessons along the way. When she died I not only grieved her death but I wondered what would happen without her to tell me stories about the past.
The day they tore down the old house on South Street I felt I lost my childhood, and for the first time in my life there really wasn’t any family to come home to. I ended up taking her dining room sideboard and it remained with me through a marriage, a divorce, and finally met its match in a fire in 1995. Was this the final end to memories?
The day of the fire I realized that my Grandmother’s words would still flow through me with or without the old sideboard. She had installed this desire within me to keep history alive for future generations.
Sometimes for days or even weeks I can’t face my childhood memories, but then there are days like today that the memories run out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks. I understand how her words made me who I am today and that she gave me a gift that attempts to connect people and dream of a better world.
My Grandmother would be horrified that we spend less and less time in face to face communication. But, even with technological communication we can still tell a nostalgic story and now to a bigger audience. By telling a story we hope that our rendition of events is more complete than the last interpretation we heard–or so we hope. Like my fascination with my Grandmother’s china cabinet and sideboard: with nostalgic words we can dream of a brighter tomorrow, and a happier day where our inner child comes out to play once again.