Tag Archives: knowlton

I Swear It’s True — Part 8 – Almas Knowlton – Blacksmith Photographer and Dentist

I Swear It’s True — Part 8 – Almas Knowlton – Blacksmith Photographer and Dentist

I am a believer that everyone should be remembered in life. Each person has a story and today it is all about Almas Knowlton. Almas, it seems, wore many hats in life. He began as a blacksmith, went on to give lectures on astronomy, made violins, made silhouettes, practised dentistry, and apparently invented a variety of things.

The quiet man who only wore grey suits never smoked and never drank. He was greatly interested in inventing things but his real joy was making violins. Almas would play the old hymns and tunes on the violins he made and he was a very faithful member of the Universalist Church, which was a faith tradition that encouraged each individual to develop a personal faith.

The only education Almas Knowlton received was at the Ball Schoolhouse, which stood only a few hundred yards from his childhood home in Coldbrook, which is now Knowlton, Quebec. Instead, Almas decided to self-educate himself by becoming a well-read man. He set up a blacksmith shop in the village of Knowlton where he probably shod his first horse. He was mending pitchforks, teapots, and guns, and putting irons on sleighs. Sometimes he was paid in cash, sometimes in oher ways. Some paid him in sugar, others in coal, some in corn. Then there were those that paid with sheep skins, for which folks got a credit of 30 cents each.

Being “bled” by the village blacksmith was one of the ways in which the people of Knowlton and the surrounding townships used to keep well in the 1800s.  Almas had quite a reputation as a “blood letter” and people used to go to him from miles around. Mr. Knowlton did not profess to be a physician in the regular sense, but he proved to be real handy in opening a vein in the arm and letting out superfluous of diseased blood. Almas owned some very fine lances such as the surgeons of the day used, and he handled them most expertly. Such was the word of the rest of the blacksmiths in all the counties for dealing with high blood pressure.

In due course, Almas Knowlton gave up his blacksmith business and went through the townships showing magic lantern slides and lecturing on astronomy and other subjects. He made a point of changing the slides quickly, to give the effect of a moving picture. One series of slides depicted a man pulling teeth, and I guess that Almas took a liking to it and it changed the course of his life years later.

Before long he had got into daguerreotypes which was an early kind of photograph made on glass by backing a thin negative with a black surface. Keep in mind too that daguerreotypes were expensive. Almas Knowlton was very enterprising in his methods of doing business. He travelled about the countryside with his equipment, and often  he would set up at a hotel and would inform the inhabitants of the vicinity that he was ready to take their portraits. He described himself as always ready to wait upon customers until they produced a smile.

Did you know why people didn’t smile in those days? The most common reason people didn’t smile in photographs in the past is blamed on dental hygiene. The most common cure for sick teeth during this time was to pull them out. There were no caps or other fixes to make chipped or broken teeth more aesthetically pleasing. So perhaps the reason tightly controlled mouths were considered more beautiful than beaming smiles in the past was in part due to dental hygiene.The rich were more likely to be photographed than the poor, and even then, most families were only photographed on special occasions, perhaps only even once in a lifetime. Maybe, that is why Almas took up a new occupation.

In 1860 he had taken up a new profession and was practising as a dentist. He had learned this science by studying under a Dr. Oilman at St. Albans, Vermont, a noted practitioner of the time. Almas Knowlton practised dentistry like he had practised photography. He moved from place to place, inviting those who needed attention to their teeth to call upon him. In extracting teeth he may have used an instrument called a turnkey. The turnkey had a handle and spindle, quite like that of a gimlet, and had a hinged claw. The claw would be jammed down into the gums. Then, by twisting and turning the turnkey, out would come the tooth.  The forceps used were more like a blacksmith’s tongs than the instrument used today, and the victim was lucky if more than one tooth did not come at a time. Usually the patient was laid on the broad of his back on the floor with a third party to hold him down. This procedure could only apply to the male sex. Almas Knowlton had a gum freezer. But one of his patients was heard to say that it was “about as good as cold water.” 

Knowlton was not content, however, to leave dentistry as he found it. He made a series of inventions through the years, mostly related to better people’s artificial teeth. When the first Dental Act of the Province of Quebec was passed, he became one of the first members of the profession that was thereby created. He received his diploma in 1870 and in the following year he located himself permanently in Waterloo. In 1902, a year befre he died, he gave the village of Waterloo free land to build a library. Almas Knowlton lived with no regrets dying in October, 1903. He was a man ahead of his times of his times and he deserves to be remembered. Therefore we document this amazing man for all to read and remember.

I Swear it’s True- Part 7 –The British Child Emigration Movement– Sherbrooke Weekend Newspaper

I Swear it’s True Part 5– The Lodge on the Summit of Owl’s Head– Sherbrooke Record Weekend Newspaper

I Swear it’s True! Part 4 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina – Tales from Bolton Pass —– SHERBROOKE RECORD WEEKEND PAPER

I Swear it’s True! Part 3 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina SHERBROOKE RECORD WEEKEND PAPER

I Swear it’s True!  Part 1 2 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina

I Swear it’s True Part 6– The Lost Black Colony of St. Armand Updates– Sherbrooke Record Weekend Newspaper

I Swear it’s True- Part 7 –The British Child Emigration Movement– Sherbrooke Weekend Newspaper

I Swear it’s True- Part 7 –The British Child Emigration Movement– Sherbrooke Weekend Newspaper

When I grew up in the Eastern Townships I used to hear stories about the British Home children from my Grandparents. They had arrived from England in the early 1900s and made Cowansville, Quebec their home. They never really stated that anything was horribly wrong, but the looks on their faces made me understand all did not go well with some of the children.

To tell you the truth I never really thought about it much until I moved to Lanark County, Ontario where a large number of Barnardo’s Home Children had also been sent. Sometimes I heard stories that made me embarrassed to be a Canadian. After I watched a few documentaries about them I wondered if Canada had been in the same league as slave labour. These 4-15 year old children worked as farm labourers and domestic servants until they were 18 years old. The organizations professed a dominant motive of providing these children with a better life than they would have had in Britain, but one wonders if they had other pecuniary motives.

One of the distributing homes in the Townships was founded by a Miss McPherson at Knowlton, where it was stated:

“That all English Scottish and Irish boys and girls were brought up and made into fine Canadian citizens.

Opened in 1872 Knowlton was the third in Receiving Homes that Scottish evangelist Annie MacPherson opened in Canada. In 1875, Mrs. Louisa Birt took over. After illness prevented Mrs. Birt from carrying on her work in 1910, her daughter, Lillian Birt, took over. A fire damaged the property in 1913 and the First World War began, stopping the flow of children and Miss Birt went to work at the UK Shelter. The Knowlton Distributing Home in the Eastern Townships processed nearly 5,000 children from 1872 -1915.

These children arrived in Canada with the usual kit given to child immigrants: a Bible, a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, writing materials, a brush and comb, a work bag with needles, thread and worsted for darning. All this was packed into a wooden trunk along with a nicely trimmed dress and hat for Sunday wear and a sturdy dress (made of a plain or twilled fabric), a dark hat for winter, a liberal supply of underclothing for summer and winter, three pairs of boots, four pairs of stockings, gloves, collars, aprons, pinafores and a warm hood. 

In 1897 it was written in the Montreal Gazette that Mrs. Birt, of the Distribution Home, Knowlton, P.Q. had a party of young people from the Sheltering Home, Liverpool, England, coming to Knowlton about July 20. The majority were under 10 years of age, with a few boys and girls from 12 to 16. Applications accompanied by railway fares and the minister’s recommendation should be supplied first, if possible. Notice would be sent when to meet the children.

These children were a number of the 55th party which had arrived at the local Distribution Home. The older boys and girls had already found positions and homes, and they needed to place the little ones in families to be loved and cared for. In 1897 the following were to be placed locally:


Bertie, aged 5, fair hair, blue eyes; Jimmy, aged 7 (motherless), blue eyes, brothers.

Tommy, age 7, (motherless), dark complexion, blue eyes. 

Willie T., aged 8, fair, bright boy. 

Johnnie, aged 1, and Willie ( aged 9 (brothers), motherless, blue eyes. 

Charlie, aged 9, brown eyes, fair hair, fatherless, gentle. 


Vena, aged 2, fair, hazel eyes. good adoption. 

Maudie, aged 3, and Hettie, aged 5 (sisters), fair, blue eyes, motherless. 

Jennie, aged 7.

Bella,aged 6. Scotch child, bright, brown eyes, dark hair. 

Chrissie, aged 4 Scotch, motherless, fair. 

Louisa, aged 7, fair, blue eyes, motherless. 

Gladys, aged 7, motherless, dark hair, blue eyes. 

Most were not motherless as advertised. Two-thirds of these children had a parent in Britain, but were too poor to raise them. Many were suddenly separated from their families and each other when they were sent to Canada. A good portion never saw each other again. Many spent their lives trying to identify their parents and find their siblings and were unsuccessful. For most of the children, separation from family was the hardest to bear. Conditions for the orphans ran the gamut from atrocious to ideal. There were stories of beatings and starvation. Suicide was not uncommon among home children, and the girls had the hardest times as many from ages 12-17 were molested.

I have written a few stories about the Home Children and some are great stories, that had nice people to live with because they allowed you to sleep in the house and you could eat at the table. Maybe they would buy you a great new pair of boots. Then there were other stories about being lucky that one of the charities showed up in February to check on some of the children as one boy was living in the barn with no heat and the toes of his boots were cut out because they were too small. He was lucky and and they transfered him to the new farm.

William  Price – “To be a home boy—it’s so hard to explain—there’s a certain stigma. I know that for a fact. You’re just in a class. You’re an orphan. Years ago you counted as dirt. You were a nobody. That was only common sense. You were alone in the world.”

Local politicians at that time thought that the Eastern Townships would be the ideal place for the young boys and girls who later might become good Canadian citizens. It was also suggested that some scheme be started by which the Eastern Townships obtain some volume of the immigrants who are coming in to stay. Between 1869 and 1948, over 100,000 children arrived in Canada from Great Britain as part of the British Child Emigration Movement.

Did you know that more than 10% of our Canadian population may be descended from British Home Children? However, many are not aware of these interesting family stories as a lot chose not to talk about it, only wanting to forget that part of their life. After writing many a story I began to understand why my Grandparents talked in hush tones as they told the stories of a neighbour or friend that was once part of the Barnado’s Home Children emigration. The future never belongs to those that are afraid, it belongs to the brave– and in my heart and mind, they were more than brave and must never be forgotten.

I Swear it’s True Part 5– The Lodge on the Summit of Owl’s Head– Sherbrooke Record Weekend Newspaper

I Swear it’s True! Part 4 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina – Tales from Bolton Pass —– SHERBROOKE RECORD WEEKEND PAPER

I Swear it’s True! Part 3 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina SHERBROOKE RECORD WEEKEND PAPER

I Swear it’s True!  Part 1 2 – by Linda Knight Seccaspina

I Swear it’s True Part 6– The Lost Black Colony of St. Armand Updates– Sherbrooke Record Weekend Newspaper

British Home Children

Home Boy Lawsuits — Pakenham– The British Home Children

The British Home Children — The Trip to Canada

Ernest Kennings — Home Boy — British Home Children

Robert Laidlaw Home Boy — British Home Children–Buchanan Scrapbook Clippings

Did You Know About Dr. Barnardo’s Baby’s Castle? British Home Children — Home Boys

Canadians Just Wanted to Use me as a Scullery-Maid

Laundry Babies – Black Market Baby BMH 5-7-66

More Unwed Mother Stories — Peacock Babies

The Wright Brothers– British Home Children

Home Boys and Family–Mallindine Family — Larry Clark

Clippings of the Barnardo Home Boys and Girls

Lily Roberts of Drummond The Rest of the Story

British Home Children – Quebec Assoc click

Ontario East British Home Child Family click

British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association click

if anyone is interested in sourcing a personal copy in printed or pdf format of info about British Home Children they can see descriptions and ordering info on our British Home Child web page: https://globalgenealogy.com/countries/canada/home-children/resources/index.htm

Locals can avoid the shipping charge on physical books by calling us at 613 257 7878 to arrange to pick up a copy at our home in CP. Of course there is no shipping charge on the pdf books that they order online.

Best, Rick.

Sad Memories of the Waifs and Strays Society

Sad Memories of the Waifs and Strays Society




In the Almonte, Ontario Gazette July 2, 1897 a news items caught my eye on the front page. 

Almonte, Ontario Gazette July 2, 1897

A party of young people from Mrs. Birt’s Sheltering Home, Liverpool, England, is expected to arrive in Knowlton, Que., about July 20th. The majority of  children are under 10 years of age; a few boys and girls from 12 to 16.

Photos of younger ones, can be sent to parties needing children: or adoption. Applications accompanied by railway fares and minister’s recommendations will be supplied first. If possible, notice will be sent when to meet the children. Address, Mrs. Louisa Birt, Knowlton, P. Q.


If you have no idea about one of Canada’s dirtiest little secrets, the British Home Children were placed in a foster home upon their arrival from the UK, usually a farm, where some were treated no better than slaves until they reached adulthood. From 1869 to 1948 more than 100,000 children were immigrated from Great Britain to work on farms in the rapidly growing rural communities across Canada.

Most of these children were generally forbidden to leave their new foster homes and were not paid for their labours. The program was created with good intentions and the promise of a better life, but its results were often tragic. A lot of children were abused and neglected, and some never spoke of what they had endured to their future children and grandchildren.

After I read the newspaper clipping I felt overwhelmed and I composed some fictional words that maybe would be have been written by a young boy living on a farm in Lanark County after someone had replied to the the Knowlton home ad.



The Story of George

Farm life in Ontario was dreariness in itself years ago when they began to train us little orphans to lead lives of usefulness. Other children weren’t as fortunate as myself from what my mate told me and some were beaten and treated like dogs. In 1897, my brother and I were placed at separate (but neighbouring) Lanark County farms after someone read an advert in the newspaper. In Knowlton they had placed a comment beside our names stating that my brother and I should be placed near each other. In actuality, however, we were not allowed the privilege of visiting–presumably, so we would learn to accept our new circumstances.

At that time neither of us saw anything outside of our own little neighbourhood from one year’s end to the other. Each morning’s sun showed us both the same stretch of woodland and meadow, and its dying rays in setting lit up the same hills and valleys. There was no change to the monotony, nothing to give fresh zest to life, or a new stimulus to ambition and ideas for the children that no one wanted.

My range of vision has been widened since I left my servitude. Improved roads, better facilities for travel by railway, the bicycle and an increase in wealth now enable me to see a great many miles from the side line on which I now live. Minds are made more active by a change of scene; fresh ideas are developed by experience of what others are doing: ambition is strengthened by the increase of knowledge. After completing my farm apprenticeship even the old home itself reveals new beauties to faculties quickened by observation of distant localities. I am finally learning to see how others live, and no one has a monopoly on me in either of the joys or sorrows of life.

I was told of letters from my Mother begging for her sons to be returned to her as she had only agreed to leave her boys for a short time at the Liverpool Sheltering Home on the advice of her doctor. It has been heartwarming to know my brother and I were not “abandoned” by our English family, but were, instead, the unfortunate victims of circumstances beyond our control.  My brother ended up dying at an early age, and today I mourn the loss of my family in England and my sibling. I still live with pain, a pain I will take to my grave. I would like to think that my Mother knew what her children went through all those years in a strange country–even if she didn’t see it for herself.









Please note that I did not make up this name “the Waifs and Strays Society” in the title. This is what the British Home Children were referred to in many newspaper articles I read yesterday.:(


Louisa Birt with some of the Knowlton children–year and children unknown–Photo Canadian Home Children


Louisa Birt was the sister of Annie Macpherson, both of whom worked with destitute children. Mrs. Birt became the head of the Liverpool Sheltering Home in 1873, the same year in which she started sending children to Canada.

From 1873 to 1876, approximately 550 Birt children were placed in homes in Nova Scotia by Colonel James Wimburn Laurie.

Annie Macpherson no longer needed her receiving and distribution home in Knowlton, Quebec, so Mrs. Birt began using the Knowlton Home in 1877.  took in 4858 boys and girls between 1872 and 1912.

Mrs. Birt also brought children over from the Christ Church Homes, Claughton, Birkenhead, and various British Unions and industrial schools.

In 1910, Lilian Birt took over from her mother in Liverpool. Emigration decreased during the war years and the Knowlton Home was closed in 1915. After the war, the work of the Macpherson homes and the Liverpool Sheltering Home was combined. The Birt children were sent to the Macpherson homes in Stratford, Ontario, and after 1920 to the Marchmont Home in Belleville.

The Liverpool Sheltering Home continued with its emigration work until it was absorbed by Barnardo’s Homes in 1925. Library and Archives Canada



Shanon wrote…
Linda, thanks for taking the time and doing the research for this post. My GGrandfather was a BHC from North Yorkshire who came to live/work on the farm of James & Sarah McElroy in Lanark County.
He and his siblings came to Canada in 1889 (possibly April) I have no information about his life before arriving here and very little about his time as an indentured farm laborer. I have no information on his siblings at all.
It was only after he became an adult that records exist. He became an electrician/laborer on the Rideau Canal at Andrewsville Locks ON, he served in WW1 with the 156th Batt, he returned to his job after the war at which time I lost track of him once again. I believe he is buried in Merrickville but have been unable to verify that information. Keep up the good work and please do more posts on this subject.
Joyce Murray My father was a home child he landed in Halifax 1930 from the orphanage he was youngest of seven children. His both parents died he lived with his grandmother on her death bed if they send you to Canada go you would have a better life. Forty years ago when we were burying my brother in Merrickville my father pointed out a farm that we passed by he said they were nice people to work for that they allowed you to sleep in the house and you could eat at the table and he got his first new pair of boots then. He had worked at another farm near by and was lucky that someone showed up in Feb. to check on him he was living in the barn with no heat and his toes of his boots were cut out because they were too small, and they transfer him to the new farm. My father went on to help build the Alaska highway and then became electrician and work for NRC until his retirement.


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)



The Wright Brothers– British Home Children

Canadians Just Wanted to Use me as a Scullery-Maid

Laundry Babies – Black Market Baby BMH 5-7-66


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Misty Glen Mountain Snow Bunny Hop



Source: Brian Eddington (2004): Out Of Bounds: The Glen Mountain Ski Story. Price-Patterson Ltd.


A Snow Bunny was once considered a young woman that went to the mountains to wear cute ski clothes, drink hot chocolate, and supposedly hit on the hot ski patrol boys.  I was never any good at anything that involved the outdoors and when I saw pictures of Glen Mountain today, my old Snow Bunny dreams all came back to me. I  kept thinking back to a time when visions of faux fur boots and wearing a Mod Snow Bunny white fur hat with “big pom pom balls” was la piece de resistance.

I had visited *Glen Mountain a few times in my teenage years, yet today I’m still not sure why I even considered going there. However, I do remember going on a Cowansville High School field trip, and another outing with my friend Debbie Roffey’s family. I had no idea what to expect from Glen Mountain, I really didn’t. There are photographs in the Brome County Historical Society archives that show a few trees and fields of grazing cattle at the foot of the mountain– but none of these photos were the reality of what that mountain really was.

I was, nor have even been a skier, and that beginner slope was downright scary (unless I was on a toboggan) and I really tried to learn to snowplow on the bunny hill. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t even do that, so I spent most of my time in the chalet looking at that big 1,000 ft. vertical drop staring back at me through the front door windows.




I remember seriously debating about taking a journey on one of the two T-Bars that went up  to mid-station and the other from mid to the top. Every hour I stood in line, and when the time came for me to go up I  muttered something about needing something from the ski shop and went back to the chalet.

Word in the valley was that a blizzard of action and an avalanche of fun  would be available to anyone who aspired to be a Glen Mountain snow bunny. Seventeen Magazine insisted that the best way to hunt “a keeper” was on skis–although at age 14 I would have been content with a first kiss while some young chap tied up the bindings on my skis.

They say that skis are the ultimate transportation to freedom. I beg to differ, and that was another issue that drove me crazy.  Debbie had these spiffy Rossignol skis while mine were a pair my Dad picked up at the Canadian Tire store in Cowansville. I immediately blamed my lack of expertise on those skis, but even when the  mountain lights came on at the end of the day I still hadn’t made it up to the top–or the middle. Each time I glanced out the door of the chalet I visioned myself coming down that hill at a 100 miles an hour screaming “where are the brakes?” Nothing like healthful outdoor exercise at 10 below when your nose is running and your face is full of fear.




Source: Brian Eddington (2004): Out Of Bounds: The Glen Mountain Ski Story. Price-Patterson Ltd.


When I got home from those ski trips my friends asked if I had a good time.  But, when it comes to skiing, there is a difference in what you think it’s going to be like, and what it’s really like, and what you are going to tell your friends. I never did go back to Glen Mountain after the ski trip with the Roffeys. Instead I used those Canadian Tire Skis on the slight downhill of Miltimore Road in Bromont.

Each time I would go down the snow covered dirt road I would scream at neighbour Linda Avery that Nancy Green had nothing on me. I also concocted a story about breaking my leg skiing to anyone that asked me to go on a ski trip with them. For decades I have lied through my teeth and stuck to the story and today I am finally going to come clean.

It was a lie-yes I admit it was a lie, to keep safety first for *Linda and trust me I  will have no regrets about this tomorrow. Bottom line is that Facebook and Twitter never existed then so the world never found out– until today.  Now it just doesn’t matter as most people can’t decipher whether what I post is for real– or just a cry for help.

Dedicated to my BFF Susie Lindau in Colorado– the Queen of skiing.


*Mont Glen, which first opened in 1960 and boasts a 350-metre vertical drop—higher than every hill in the Laurentians except Tremblant—had hard times through the 1990s because it lacks snow-making equipment and is heavily dependent on the snow gods to deliver fluffy white flakes all season long.

But repeated seasons of poor snowfall and competition from neighbouring resorts caused the business to deteriorate in the 1990s. It finally closed in 2004. Lifts did run again for a few weekend a few years ago and the current owner of the property had hopes to transform it into a Private Ski Club, but that plan fell through in 2010 due to insurance cost.

*Linda Knight Seccaspina never did ski again.

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Related reading:

Monday Mad Addict’s Attic : Glen Mountain – In the Heart of the Beautiful Eastern Townships


Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News