Did the Fleming families, who settled near Kilsyth, Derby Township, in the mid-1800s, partake in the Scottish tradition of All Hallow’s Eve? Hard to know. There is no mention of Halloween in family papers. As Disciples of Christ, they would have disapproved of pagan practices of ghouls and ghosts and the connection to the occult. But they may have retained something of the “All Saints” day on November 1 to remember the departed faithful.
We may think of Halloween as a North American excuse for spooky lawn decorations, jack o’lantern competitions, and costume dress-up for children going from door to door to get candy. But Halloween has been much more, with traditions of bonfires and spirits more frightening than the inflated, lit, plastic ghosts we see today.
Halloween has its origins in Samhain (pronounced SAH-wane), a Celtic festival at the end of October when the spirit world became visible. The celebration marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter and was an occasion to commune with the Otherworld – when spirits and faeries and the souls of the dead mixed with the living. Big bonfires kept people safe from the visiting evil spirits. Lanterns were fashioned by hollowing out turnips, carving scary features, and placing a lit candle inside to cast light and safety. Children, to hide from the spirits, would go “guising” in costumes undercover as the malicious ones. Adults might do the same. A song or a trick or just knocking on a neighbour’s door might earn them a treat. For a game, they might bob for apples. (1,2,3)
Robert Burns recognized Halloween in his poem of that name in 1785. The first verse (in English translation) caught the night’s excitement of moonlight and movement.
Announcements of newly digitized archival materials are always a pleasant surprise. In November 2020 genealogy blogs active in Ontario publicized that Family Search had loaded the Township Papers ca 1783-1870 for the Province of Ontario held on reels of microfilm at the Archives of Ontario. These reels consist of a mélange of land-related documents not filed elsewhere. Archives of Ontario described them as follows:
… copies of orders-in-council; copies of location certificates and location tickets; copies of assignments; certificates verifying the completion of settlement duties; copies of receipt; copies of descriptions; and copies of patents; and copies of incoming correspondence.
We begin with Derby Township, identified on two lines on the image below. Click on the camera icon to view a gallery of images for the letters of that township organized by concession and lot.
UPDATE 12 April 2021 – I explored the Derby Township papers in late March. On preparing this blog post I found that townships from D to Haldimand had been dropped. This is probably a temporary glitch. Hopefully, your interest will be in one of the other townships.
At long last, Christopher Alexander (C.A.) Fleming, educator and publisher in Owen Sound, Ontario, was embarking on a voyage to the United Kingdom. The year was 1924 when Europe was rebuilding after the war of 1914-18. Roy Fleming, his cousin, had emphatically recommended such a trip after his own in 1903.
C.A. – you know you are rich – you might cease from your labors for two months and take a trip to the Old Country and see these places – see that land of true beauty and sweet traditions – the land of your fathers, which age will never dim. [Letter dated 14 October 1903]
Arranged by the Canadian Weekly Press Association for editors of weekly newspapers, the tour covered Belgium, Paris, and the major cities in the United Kingdom. There were 171 individuals in the party, of whom 101 were associated with some 100 weekly Canadian newspapers. Of these editors, 83 were men and 18 women. Seventy family members travelled with them. Many of the editors were from Ontario, and smaller numbers from the Atlantic provinces and the West. [Davies, “Who’s Who”]
C.A. owned the Daily Sun-Times and the weekly Cornwall Freeholder. His eldest daughter, Lillian, who was 37 and a kindergarten teacher, accompanied him on a trip that became the highlight of her life – especially the garden party at Buckingham Palace.
Over the eight weeks, C.A. mailed letters to the Daily Sun-Times with reports on the social events and the places – the streets, the people, the exhibits and tours. These were dense with descriptions of the farmlands and industrial sites and attentive to points that his Grey County readers would appreciate. He later published his reports as a collection in Letters from Europe.
W. Rupert Davies, of The Renfrew Mercury in Renfrew, Ontario, and former president of the Association, organized the itinerary and meetings with dignitaries and press associations. He published his account in Pilgrims of the Press, in which he explained that this endeavor was to be “an educational tour with the idea, not only of establishing a closer relationship between the weekly editors of Canada and the newspaper fraternity of the Old Land, but in order that we should all get first-hand knowledge of the Mother Country and some of its problems.” [Davies, p. 3] (Davies, who many years later was appointed to the Canadian Senate, brought his wife Florence McKay and their son Robertson – the Robertson Davies who grew up to be a journalist and acclaimed novelist.)
The idea for conducting such an ambitious tour was rooted in a strong sentiment for the British Empire. The elite of the Empire Press Union and the Newspaper Society in England provided full support and likely direction. We might surmise that their motives were to strengthen diplomatic and economic bonds between Canada and Britain. Notwithstanding that Canada had just fought for “King and Country,” Canadians were pressing instead for autonomy and independence from imperial requests.
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.