We digress in this blog to shine a light on the woman who wrote the biography of Christopher Alexander Fleming of Owen Sound, Ontario. C.A. was a much loved and distinguished educator, auditor, and publisher in Grey and Bruce Counties. After he died in April 1945, the Fleming family engaged Dorothea Deans to memorialize C.A.’s life and character. Dorothea, the women’s editor for the Sun Times in Owen Sound for over 20 years, was a perfect choice: She wrote well – her prose was warm, clear, and concise; she had known C.A. thorough her work; and she had lived in that port city most of her life.
Family members would have provided Dorothea C.A.’s writings and correspondence, along with papers he and his cousin Roy Fleming had collected on family history. She must have interviewed many family members and business colleagues, and she could research many of his accomplishments in the newspapers. In the first paragraph of the foreword, she laid out the scope of the work and nature of her subject carefully and reverentially.
This sketch of the life of Christopher Alexander Fleming is in no way an attempt at an interpretation of a man and his period. He is too close in time for that and too dear to family and friends to need translation. Rather, it is a record of facts about his hereditary background, his youth, and his long, productive years, gathered together like the photographs of an album, the acts of a play, the blueprints of a building. Somewhere, within the facts and the intangible things they imply, love and beauty, work and sacrifice, truth and aspiration, is the immortal personality. 
Land records have been an important resource in documenting the history of the Fleming families in Derby Township, Grey County. The most useful record has been the “abstract index to deeds” adopted in the land record offices in 1865. The abstract is a summary of the transaction showing dates, instrument number, transaction type, lot and concession, acres, grantor and grantee, dollar amount. Transaction codes indicate “bargain and sale,” mortgage received, discharge of mortgage, release, grant, and other events. In a nutshell it shows the history of the changes in ownership and financing arrangements, and sometimes the disposal of an estate. For further detail, it was sometimes necessary to find the memorialization of the deed or transfer by the instrument number in the copybook for the township or locate the original document.
Previously, researchers had to go to the county land registry office or Archives of Ontario. Today the Ontario Land Registry Access (OnLand) website provides online access to digital images of the index pages. This posting is a short guide for searching that service.
Land records are organized by concession and lot. In our case, we knew the concession and lot numbers of the properties Alexander Fleming bought in 1847 and 1858. Another source for this information are farmers’ directories – especially the Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Grey 1865-6 (Toronto: W W Smith, 1865)
In this example, we are looking for the history of “Forest Lawn” on the north half of Lot 9 Concession 6. James Fleming obtained the lot from his father in 1853 and during his lifetime developed it into an estate of orchards and gardens. Continue reading →
George Herbert Wyllie, son of Mary Fleming and George Wyllie of Kilsyth, ON, was another young man of Fleming blood to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War.
Fit, 5 feet 7 ¾ inches tall, 146 pounds, with blue eyes and fair hair, this strapping lad whose only blemish was a scar of three inches on the inner side of his left knee, walked into the Owen Sound recruitment office for the 147th Grey Overseas Battalion. The day was the 13th of May, 1916, four months to the day since he had turned 18 (on 14 January). Under the command of Lt. Col. G.F. McFarland, this battalion recruited 1,000 men during the winter of 1915-1916 and trained at Niagara-on-the-Lake and Camp Borden that summer. On November 14, 1916, Pte G. Herbert Wyllie, No. 839119, shipped out from Halifax on the RMS.Olympic.
Through the CEF Personnel Records and the War Diaries at Library and Archives Canada we have learned more about Herb’s service and experience. Continue reading →
Several members of the Fleming family moved to cities in New York State in the late 1800s. Researching their movements and lives has led us to the trove of the New York Heritage digital collections (https://nyheritage.org/) created by eight members of the Empire State Library Network.
Two cousins – Jean Agnew, daughter of Jessie (Fleming) Agnew, and Margaret Fleming, daughter of James Fleming – were among the first to enter new nursing programs being started in New York State in the 1880s.
Jean Agnew arrived in Rochester NY to begin her training at the Rochester City General Hospital around 1887. The Rochester City Hospital School of Nursing, the third nursing school in New York State, opened its doors in 1880. Continue reading →
My favourite research source, bar none, is the newspaper for that time and place – often a storehouse of social announcements and background on issues and concerns. My greatest frustration arises from the huge holes in the digitization of Canadian newspapers – parts of Ontario have never been touched, and secondly, in the usually klutzy search interfaces – access through Proquest for the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star Archives comes to mind. Putting that aside, there is one major collection site to use as a starting point for online newspapers and one recent news item.
The Ancestor Hunt maintains a page of links to newspapers in the United States and Canada, and links to collections in Australia, Europe, and the Caribbean. It also provides thirteen lessons on best ways to search online newspapers and other informational articles.
John Reid at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections also keeps an eye for announcements concerning digital Canadian newspapers, the latest being Canadian Newspapers on the British Newspaper Archives (14 February 2020). He reminds us that Canadiana Online and Google Newspapers also hold some publications.
Oh – would that we had a Canadian Newspaper Archives online!
Postscript 20 February 2020: The blog entry of The British Newspaper Archive – Hot Off The Press for 17 February – describes more fully their new additions of the Toronto Daily Mail, Hamilton Daily Times, and Saturday Night spanning years 1875 to 1920. Stated reason was “these newspapers are a useful resource for people with ancestors who emigrated, whilst illuminating a time of great change and growth in the North American country.” Yes – an archive to watch – maybe they’ll add more.
The Scots are famous for Hogmanay – a New Year’s Eve and Day celebration for visiting and gift-giving and certainly the singing of Auld Lang Syne by the much beloved Robert Burns and a gift of the Scots to the world.
Sadly, we have no accounts on how Alexander and Jean Fleming or any of their children celebrated the season, but, given the love Roy Fleming and his aunt Jennie Fleming had for Robbie Burns, we may safely assume they sang all the verses.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne (1)
Several Flemings had musical interests and were blessed with considerable talent: James and his brother William sold organs in the late 1800s in Owen Sound, Isabella Finch’s son, William, worked as “music dealer” in Brandon Manitoba, and his two sons – William Everett and Robert Lincoln – were musicians, James’s daughter Minnie became a music teacher, Charles’ daughter Annie played the piano, James great-granddaughter Nancy (Hayes) Van de Vate composed opera and orchestral works. There were surely others.
At New Year’s the Fleming families may have gathered around an organ to sing the “Hogmanay Song” by Peter Livingstone (1823-1851) written to greet the new year in the same spirit as Burns’ song but without the drams of whiskey that the temperance- abiding Flemings would have abstained from.
A guid New Year to ane an a’
And mony may you see,
An during the years that come,
O happy you may be. (2)
The Christmas of decorated trees, gifts, and feasts was not observed by the Scots until relatively recently. At the time of John Knox and the Reformation (1560), the Scottish government abolished Christmas and had no quarrel with the Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell in 1643 when all Christmas festivities and merrymaking were banned. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Christmas celebrations were resumed in England but not Scotland, where the Church of Scotland continued to regard everything related to Christmas as papist. Christmas celebrations were curtailed for another 400 years, and it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas Day became a public holiday in Scotland. (4,5,6)
No matter – the Scots had Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) and New Year’s Day as their time for revelry and visiting. These festivities were centuries-old, some originating with the Norse.
Victuals were prepared long in advance. Dorothy Duncan, in Canadians at Table: Food, Fellowship, and Folklore: A Culinary History of Canada, identified several popular dishes seen on Canadian tables: Black Bun – a plum cake encased in pastry, shortbread baked in a large circle and cut into wedges, oat cakes, scotch eggs – “hard-boiled eggs, peeled and wrapped in sausage meat, then rolled in crumbs and deep-fried,” and haggis served with potatoes and turnip. (7)
The Scots visited friends and family during the eve and into the next day taking with them a small, symbolic present – salt for flavour, coal or peat for warmth, shortbread for food, and a dram or two for cheer – and were warmly welcomed with food and beverage. There could be singing and dancing as part of the Ceilidh (social gathering). It mattered who was the first person after midnight to set foot across the threshold: In the tradition of “first footing,” a tall, dark-haired man would bring good luck and prosperity, a redheaded man or a woman would bring bad luck. (4,5,6)
Ken McGoogan, author of How the Scots Invented Canada, noted the elements of fire and superstition in the celebrations:
This Scottish celebration starts on New Year’s Eve and runs through the next day and sometimes longer. Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns, once revelled in Hogmanay festivities that spun out of control: the house caught fire and burned to the ground, costing him both his residence and his job. Possibly this resulted from “redding the house,” a Scottish-Viking tradition that means burning juniper branches in the house until it fills with smoke, then opening the windows to cast out evil spirits. (3)
Another superstition that McCoogan offers is that, “to rid the house of bad feeling among friends or relations, you can burn branches from a rowan tree.” The Flemings may have remembered that there were two rowan trees at their Kirrandrum home in Perthshire.
People researching residents and businesses in Owen Sound may now go to Family Search to use digitized copies of Owen Sound Vernon city directories for the years: 1942, 1961, 1964, 1991, 1997/98, 2001/02. Search Family Search > Books (https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/records/) for owen sound to see the selection. This tremendous project of the Ontario Genealogical Society is described in this announcement – Vernon Directory Digitization Project (February 18, 2019). Let’s hope that more of the earlier years are added soon.
Image: Canadian nurses with wounded soldiers (Provincial Archives of Alberta [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons)
Myrtle Melissa Brown, a graduate nurse, enlisted with Canadian Army Medical Care (CAMC) on 24 March 1917 as a Nursing Sister. She was one of thirty-one nursing sisters from Grey County (1), and among the eighteen who had graduated from the Owen Sound Collegiate Institute. (2)
Myrtle was from a farming family in Derby Township near Owen Sound, the eldest daughter of Melissa Brown and Samuel Horton Brown. Her grandparents were John Fleming and Margaret Robertson of Kilsyth and her great grandparents Alexander Fleming and Jean (Stewart).
Born 22 Jul 1889, Myrtle was described in the Attestation Paper as twenty-eight years old, 5’ 3” in height, 116 pounds in weight, and with grey eyes. She was a Disciple (Church of Christ) by faith.(3)
This excerpt from “The First World War’s nursing sisters,” Canadian Nurse provides some background.(4)
In total, 3,141 nurses served from 1914 into the early 1920s, with more than 2,500 seeing duty overseas. Trained nurses before the war, almost all of them came from hospitals, universities and medical professions from across Canada and the United States. All were women. Most were single and between the ages of 21 and 38; the average age was 24. They were all were volunteers, and there was never a shortage. For example, when a call was made in January 1915 to fill 75 positions, 2,000 nurses applied.
A new subdivision of 33 lots may be in the future for the sleepy town of Kilsyth west of Owen Sound in the Township of Georgian Bluffs (previously Derby Township). The proposed subdivision of 33 residential lots on 17.09 hectares takes up most of Lot 9, Concession 7and some adjacent town lots at the south west corner where Grey Road 5 intersects Concession 7 (known as Mill Road). This is just “down the road” from several farms the Fleming families once held.
The Proposed Plan for the Kilsyth Subdivision (2018) has much to tell us about the nature of the land the Flemings farmed, the current archaeological interest, the history of Kilsyth, along with enumerating the many compliance requirements concerning water resources, land use, ecology, habitat, and cultural heritage. It is available from https://www.grey.ca/planning-development/planning-applications – look for Kilsyth on the page.
The “Fisher Archaeological Report” contains the background study and assessment that is of greatest interest for its examination of the history, soil conditions, and archaeology of the area and includes several maps of the area and photos of farmstead and artifacts that were unearthed. Two of these area maps are shown in this blog posting.