Trip of a Lifetime: Introduction

Jennie Fleming – Passport photo – c 1903

Nearly sixty years to the day that the Fleming family arrived in Quebec City from Glasgow, Scotland, Jennie Fleming, with her nephew Roy Fleming, her older brother James Fleming, and his daughter Minnie, boarded a steamer in Montreal bound for Liverpool, England.

Roy Fleming in New York City, 1906

They were embarking on an eight-week trip through the British Isles and Europe that included a pilgrimage to their homeland in Perthshire. Roy had proposed the trip to his family in October of 1902 and they decided at Christmas. They must have been very busy over the next few months deciding on itinerary, arranging accommodations, and contacting family in Scotland.

It was Friday, June 26 1903. Their ship was the passenger liner R.M.S. Tunisian, built in 1900 for the Allan line. They were comfortably settled in two second-class cabins, the men in one with two other cabin mates, and the women in another across the passageway. James, who had been only a boy of thirteen when his parents Alexander and Jean emigrated from Perthshire Scotland with their children, must have remarked more than once on the luxury of the modern steamer with its dining saloons and decks compared to the cramped and harsh conditions of the Jeannie Deans, the wooden three-masted barque that had brought them to Canada.

Jennie was an intrepid and tireless traveller, even in her sixties. On this trip she journeyed by train from Owen Sound, Ontario to Toronto, attended a concert that evening, left early the next day by train for Montreal, met Roy enroute at Kingston as he came from his teaching post on Garden Island in the St. Lawrence River, to arrive on time at 6 pm at the Bonaventure Station in Montreal where James and Minnie, who had come from Owen Sound,  were waiting. Together they continued to the S.S. Tunisian moored at the Allan Docks.

It would be a trip of a lifetime. We have the diaries of Jennie and Roy to draw upon and some letters. These two journals, in their distinctive ways, express the excitement, and joy, and wonder of the places they saw as they voyaged down the St Lawrence and across the Atlantic, and by train and often foot through Scotland.

Roy was a handsome young man of twenty-five years, an avid learner with boundless energy and curiosity. Minnie, his older cousin (she was thirty-six), was charming, educated, and beautiful, at that time teaching school in Owen Sound. Her father, James, established on his farm in Kilsyth outside Owen Sound and also in the business of selling organs and pianos, was seventy-three, hale and robust for his age. Together they must have made a lively party.

Roy’s journal ends in Edinburgh, just before they left Scotland for England and the Continent. His other journals have not survived. We learn a little more of their itinerary in Great Britain from Jennie who gets us to London and Windsor Castle.

Jennie used her diary as a student would, noting points of interest in museums and galleries, capturing nuggets of information about a place or person, and recording details of the itinerary. The diary was also her account book for expenses, about which she was meticulous. By her account total cost of the eight-week trip was $350, which we can safely assume was a modest amount.

Roy wasn’t oblivious to cost either and often noted the price of passage or cost of admission. Generally, though, Roy, true to his character, was more effusive and even more detailed in the notes he took at each place, whether it was of a monument to Sir Walter Scott or the spectacular view from Craigieburns in Perthshire. He inserted related newpaper clippings (some were added a few years later) and frequently drew sketches or maps of the place. Fortunately, Roy, unlike his aunt, would mention companions and relatives from time to time, and on occasion, gave accounts of fellow travellers. His journal also includes passages transcribed from the Encyclopedia Britannica or other source about people and places. Some notes he later used in his own newspaper articles.

In this series of blog postings, we’ll note the scenes that entranced Jennie and Roy as they steamed down the St Lawrence River, their experiences on the Tunisian during the trans-Atlantic voyage, their full itinerary (as best we can determine), their pilgrimage to Robbie Burns country and to the land of Sir Walter Scott. Thanks to Roy’s notes, we will also be with them during their days in Atholl and Perthshire.

Stay tuned for more.

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