Thursday, October 9, 2014

Postcards #32 - GOLD!!! - The River Nairn, Atlin, and Discovery, B.C.

This is an intriguing postcard.  It was written to and from people whom I cannot yet identify.  I don't know how my family ended up with it.  But it was sent on April 27, 1914.  We've jumped ahead in the chronology a good 2 years - the last dated postcard in the collection was from July, 1912.

This is likely because Nellie had, by this time, arrived in Vancouver and married Jack, and their first child, Gladys, my grandmother, was going to be born in July of that year.  They were busy.  Maybe had less time for writing.  Plus, they had been gone from Scotland for a while now, and I suspect that correspondence from home, plentiful at first, would decrease as time went on.

So this postcard is from Nairn - a photograph of the River Nairn:

The River Nairn runs northeast towards Nairn and the North Sea.  Obviously a major waterway for this area.  The river's name has pre-Celtic origins, and the community at it's mouth is named after the river.

The back of the postcard reads:  "A P.C. to remind you of a local beauty spot.  Think you'll like it.  All the local ___ (?) going strong.  Etties joined the Sallies!!!"

I do not know what the last 2 sentences really mean.  Are we talking about 2 or more women named Etty who joined two or more women named Sally?  I doubt it.  I suspect these were names of something - teams, military units?  At this point I don't know.  Anyone have any thoughts?

Now here is the interesting thing about the postcard:  it is the first of several that were sent to northwestern British Columbia - - Atlin and Discovery, to be specific.

Location of Atlin (screen shot from Google Maps - what an excellent resource!)

Dated April 27, 1914, this card is sent a few months before the start of WWI - the end of both an immigration and economic boom.  Atlin was the site of a gold rush starting around the same time as the Klondike.  The Klondike took place 1896-1899.  In 1898, word came from the Atlin area about gold being found, and many of the men headed to the Klondike were detoured to the area of Atlin Lake.  By 1914, though, there was still a lot of activity in gold mining in the area.

It would appear that Mr. W. Grant was located in Discovery.  Discovery, also known as Pine City, was located about 10 miles east of Atlin.

Atlin was and still is a VERY remote area of British Columbia.  On a good day, it would be 2 hours and 40 minutes drive in barren wilderness from Carcross, Yukon Territory.  Please go to their local visitors website or to to see photos and get information.  I have yet to visit Atlin, because it's really hard and expensive to get there, but I hope to do so one day.

As for who "W. Grant" is?  Well, I don't know.  He had a pretty generic name, so I may never know.  But there are more "Discovery" postcards to come, so maybe we'll find out!

View next postcard post.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Postcards #31 - Nellie's fateful trip to Canada

Early in 1912 Nellie Steele must have quit her job as kitchen maid with the John Pointer Millers, as she was planning to travel to Canada to marry Jack.  Her sister, Elizabeth (married to David Gould Bell), was pregnant and ill.

Family memory tells us that Nellie was to cross the Atlantic on a new ship in April, 1912.  But her sister being ill kept her in Scotland.

Elizabeth had acute peritonitis.  She had an operation on May 2nd and died 6 days later:

Nellie stayed in Scotland to help adopt the baby out.  She ended up leaving for Canada at the end of September, 1912.  I have yet to find any documentation relating to the adoption or the birth of the baby, but the family remembers her name as Peggy Black.

If you know your history, you may have already guessed, that, according to family on both sides of the "pond," Nellie had a ticket on the Titanic.

Although I did wonder about the accuracy of this family legend, after talking to members of the family in Scotland who remembered the same story, and seeing the timeline of the family history and Elizabeth's death, I have less reason to doubt it now, and I wonder if her connection with the Miller family had anything to do with her ability to get a ticket, or her choosing that ship.  It is also quite possible that she had a ticket for another ship and would have been moved to the Titanic.  Due to a shortage of coal that a strike had caused, passengers from the Oceanic and Adriatic (both also White Star Line ships) along with their coal stores, were moved to the Titanic at the last minute.  In any case, she was supposed to be on the Titanic and cancelled her plans because of Elizabeth's illness.
Had she been on the Titanic, she would surely have been in Steerage (third class) and would have died.  So, because of Elizabeth's death, our line of the family exists.  
It is a strange thing to know that you got life because someone else died.  But, then, I am not alone.

Her trip eventually happened on the S.S. Athenia of the Donaldson Line.  It left Glasgow on the 14th of September, 1912, and arrived in Quebec on the 22nd.  It also stopped at Montreal.  After landing in Canada, Nellie would have taken a train across to Vancouver.  She was only 21 years old - quite an amazing trip for such a young woman to take by herself.  After the tragedy and loss of life on the Titanic, it must have been somewhat nerve-wracking to get on a steamer and head into the Atlantic.

We are very fortunate in our family to have a typed copy of a letter she sent.  She would have hand written it, so this typed copy was done by someone else.  There are some inconsistencies in it - for instance, someone typed at the top of the page that she took the SS Athenia to the USA and then to Canada.  I have not seen any evidence for the ship stopping in the US.  Also, the dates are a week off - perhaps someone added the date later and was incorrect.  In any case, it is a good summary of what she experienced on the ship.  It is also the only thing even close to a daily account of her activities that I have ever seen.  The only other writing I have of hers is on a few of the postcards.

Here is the text of the letter with corrected dates:

"Saturday 14th Sept. 1912.  Sailed from Glasgow 11:30am.
We have just started on our journey.  I saw Aunt Maggie standing on the dock at Glasgow until we were a good way out to sea, it is a lovely day and just like a pleasure sail.  Arriving at Greenock; a few more passengers are taken aboard, a woman came up to me, then in conversation with her, she told me she was going to Vancouver; she had six children with her and was going out to her husband. I was quite pleased to think I should have her company all the way.
On going down to my cabin to see who my companions are, I found a lady and a young girl; The lady (an American) was married; and the young girl like myself, going out to be married.
The sun is shining lovely; I am informed that we have no more stoppages until we reach Further Point [can't find this place, but I assume somewhere in Newfoundland] the journey will be almost over then.
Lunch time; off we go to get it, I feel hungry:
I enjoyed it splendid; it was much to my taste.  There is a nice music room containing a piano where we can sit if we choose; but as it is at the extreme end of the steamer it is not much patronized; because when you sit down you can feel the vibration of the ship and it inclines to make one sea-sick; and we all want to avoid that if possible.
Dinner time; then tea time came, then off to bed.

I had a good night's rest: I wondered a little where I was when I awoke and heard the sea roaring.
After getting up I go and have breakfast after which I feel a little sick; not much.  If I never get worse I shall be fortunate; A great number of the passengers (numbering 135) [which, by the way, is not what the ship's manifest states at 372 - perhaps she was talking about Steerage] in all are terrible put to with sea sickness, half the passengers are children it is heartbreaking to see the poor things afflicted with sea-sickness and yet I am unable to do anything for them.  It is very foggy this morning, the steamer keeps sounding her "Fog Horn" and it makes such a peculiar sound.  AT 10:30am a religious service is in course.  I went in, but feeling a little sick I came out again, and going to my cabin all afternoon; not that I was tired or sea sick but it was very cold up on deck, the stewardess brought my tea down to me.  Dinner time came round, I went up to the dining room for it and enjoyed it splendid then after a short time retired to bed.

Nellie Steele

It is a lovely morning; no fog but there is nothing to be seen save the Heavens above an the Ocean through which the steamer is ploughing her way.  Breakfast at 8am a cup of beef tea at 11am they are very good to us, that is with food.
Many more passengers are sick today; I am feeling well but I am getting tired of the boat.  Jack said when he sailed it was the best holiday ever he had.  I am sorry I can't say that - I am quite tired of it already.  I shall be glad when I reach Vancouver.  They tried to get up a concert every afternoon at 3:30, but every body seemed to have quite enough to do to look after themselves without trying to amuse others.

Another foggy morning; I was awakened early by the sound of the fog horn.  Today we have given up our steamer tickets and received tickets for our inland journey (on the train) in exchange.
The SS Hyperian [possibly Hesperian] passed us at 4 am on Sunday; she is now 150 miles ahead of our ship.  The officials of this steamer have received a wire from her stating that they have encountered a heavy storm; we expect to have this storm also.
Today I met another young lady going to Vancouver.  The lady I spoke to at Greenock has been sick all the way I feel heart sorry for her.  As I go to bed a heavy storm is rising on the sea, and continues all through the night, but towards morning it abates a little.

I am sick today but I am not going to bed as I find walking about is better for me than lying down; I took a little brandy; it relieved me so I hope I am done with sea sickness.  I have not missed a meal since I boarded the vessel.
The waiter was chaffing me, saying that I deserved for keeping up so well for the first journey at sea.  I have been up on the top deck today watching the porpoises, it was lovely to see them; and there was such a large number of them, they followed us quite a long way.
A great number of birds are following the vessel, but I don't know what species they are: they are new to me.

I got up this morning feeling unwell, last night was the worst I have had at sea, but I shall go and have a cup of tea after which I'll go back to bed all fore-noon: I've not kept up to my record today as I've not been able to go for my lunch.  The stewardess brought me down a cup of tea, she says it is only a slight cold that I have got and that I will soon be all right.  I went up and had my dinner, I enjoyed it very well, considering that I was not well.  I went right away back to bed after dinner; not that I was in need of it but being a little unwell I felt that my company would be a bore to anyone.

I am all right again today.  But it is terribly cold.  The steamer was stopped for 5 hours during the night on account of thick fog and a stormy sea which will delay us considerably as long as it lasts.  The storm and the fog has also delayed the Hyperian [again, Hesperian?].  She is now only five miles in front of us.  Towards mid-day most of us were up on deck seeing an iceberg it was a very large one, it makes me shudder to look at it.  This has been a terrible lonesome day today it is so cold we are obliged to stay in our cabins to keep warm.  I brought some work for me (crocheting) but I am sorry to say I have been unable to do any of it for whenever I sit down to it my head begins to sway, and I don't want to give way to sickness now after holding out for so long.
There are still a great number of passengers sick, and I have so much to be thankful for as I have not been bad, but I am tired, tired of the sea.
We are expecting to see land today about 4 pm, it is not 1 pm yet.  On going to lunch, we had not been seated two minutes when a great commotion was distinctly noticeable i wondered if a collision had taken place, but I was informed that we had sighted land.  I went on deck and saw Belle Island on one side and Newfoundland on the other, and five huge icebergs, everybody was glad to see land but it will only be for a short time.  Belle Island is covered in snow; a light house is also to be seen on it.
The mail goes this afternoon so I'll send you this just now.  The sea is not quite so stormy, it is extremely cold, of course that it caused with us being in close proximity to the icebergs.
We expect to reach Montreal on Tuesday then I have six days in the train after that."

At the end of the letter, there is a line and then another little jot, which I suspect may have been sent on a postcard.  The dates are wrong on this one, too.  "I had a pleasant journey on the train arriving at Vancouver on October 5th.  The wedding took place on Wednesday October 9th [they were actually married on October 2, 1912].  Everything passed off successfully.  The Reverend George D. Ireland conducted the service."

I really do wonder why the dates are incorrect.  That is a mystery that may never be solved.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Postcards #30 - Randolph's Leap

This postcard is of Randolph's Leap in Morayshire, near Forres, Scotland.

The back of the postcard reads:  "Just spending the day here.  Having a rare time.  Expected to hear from you this week.  Sarah" - the last sentence appears to have been added as an afterthought.  It was addressed to Jack McCurrach via box 128, Fraser Avenue P.O., Vancouver, BC, and was mailed from Forres on July 22, 1912.  Jack had been in Vancouver for 2 years already at this point.  Aside from a PO Box number, and the note of an expectation of correspondence, there is very little new personal information to be gleaned from this postcard.  But the subject matter is quite interesting.

Randolph's Leap is on the Findloss River which winds its way through the countryside.:

The sign at the head of the trail reads:


Randolph’s Leap is the name given to the narrowest point at the entry to the gorge.  In fact it is a misnomer as it was not Randolph who leapt! 

In the 14th century, Thomas Randolph, Early of Moray, lived on the far side of the River Findhorn at Darnaway.  Sir Alexander Cumming and his six sons lived on this side.  The Cummings had traditionally held the lucrative post of ranger of the Forest of Darnaway.  However, they were out of favour with Randolph and his uncle, King Robert the Bruce, and Randolph told them to keep off Darnaway.

Alastair, the eldest son, gathered a thousand men to attack Randolph at Darnaway.  They were ambushed and retreated to the river where Alastair and three others leapt the gorge back to this side.  We can only wonder why it was not called “Alastair’s Leap.”


Following an unusually hot and sultry summer immense rain clouds settled over the Monadhliath Mountains in early August.  The rain started on Sunday 2nd August and continued for three days and nights.  The River Findhorn and its tributaries rose to an enormous height causing devastation through the whole valley.

At Randolph’s Leap the level rose by 50 feet and is marked by the two flood stones.  You can begin to imagine the power of the water when you see the huge lichen-covered boulders which the flood carried as far as the Leap."

The area is located here:

And at a larger scale, here:

Randolph's Leap is nearest the community of Forres (where the postcard was mailed).  Forres is a town and former royal burgh located about 25 miles east of Inverness.  Its earliest historical reference may have been in the 2nd century in the Geography of Claudius Ptolemy.  Coming from Canada, that is absolutely amazing to me.

You can find out more about Forres here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Past Experiences Can Shape Us

Today I took my cat to the vet to get her teeth cleaned.  She's 8 1/2 and has never had them cleaned before.  They really need to be done.

But I'm nervous.  And I wouldn't be, except that about 10 years ago, I had a cat (probably a little younger than this one, although she was a stray and we didn't know how old she really was) and she needed her teeth cleaned.  Before getting the work done they do blood work to see if all the organs are going to work alright under anesthetic.  Well, it turned out she had chronic renal failure.  She didn't get her teeth cleaned, and I'm pretty sure she didn't last a year after the diagnosis.  We had to give her subcutaneous fluids and medication and in the end she was starving, but couldn't eat.  It was unpleasant.

So I know that a "routine" teeth cleaning can lead to a death sentence.  It probably won't, but my body is certainly reacting to the past experience.  I am worried.

Our bodies do that on purpose, you know.  To help us survive.

If you've been chased by a tiger before, you're going to do whatever you can to avoid it happening again.  If you've been hit by lightening (or close to it), you're going to seriously freak out in a thunder storm.  That's what our bodies do.

There are more subtle ways that our bodies, that evolved in survival mode over hundreds of thousands of years, react to stress.  If we had bad experiences as children - say a parent beat you - then whenever someone gets angry around you, you will get emotional - in whatever way you got emotional back then.  You will react.  In a similar fashion.

One of the most important things I've learned in my spiritual journey over the years is that my reactions to things in the present do not necessarily reflect the present, but they most often reflect the past.  The worry I'm feeling today for my current cat, is really past worry about my old one.

So to be in the present, you must face the past and deal with the past emotions.

Maybe today I should be remembering the other cat.  Honouring her memory.  Honouring my loss.  And not necessarily worrying about the current cat.  Because she will most likely be just fine.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Postcards # 29 - Woodpark Asylum, Boyndie

So, again this one isn't about a postcard.  But it's interesting - to me at least.

My Great-Grandmother, Nellie (Helen) Steele, of whom I have talked a lot, was born on February 23, 1891.  I got her birth record from Scotland's People.  Although is a great resource, it can be limited.  The actual census documents are not always available to see, so if anything is misinterpreted or transposed incorrectly, the error cannot be seen by the user.  Scotland's People is more expensive (well, on an individual record basis - depends on how much you use it), but you can access copies of the actual documents.  And that is what I did yesterday with my Great-Grandmother's birth record.  It's interesting because she is half of the only set of twins I currently am aware of in our family - so the same information is recorded for her and her brother, William.

Her mother is also listed - Helen Steele, whom my great-grandmother was seemingly named after.  Her maiden name was McKenzie.  Their wedding date is noted as July 27, 1883 in Banff.

So I dug a little deeper to see if I could find anything out about Helen McKenzie.  She is listed in the 1881 census as living at the Woodpark Asylum; she was one of two servants at the asylum, being an attendant.  There were also the Matron, a cook, and 24 "Pauper Patients" listed on the census.  All of the patients were women who were aged from 34 to 88 years old.

I can't find a lot of information yet on the Woodpark Asylum, but I did find out that it was opened in 1880 about 1 mile distant from the Ladysbridge Asylum, and 9 years later it was amalgamated into the same.  I have not been able to locate the Asylum on a map or on Google Earth.  If anyone from the area has that information, I would be really grateful.

But since I can't find Woodpark (yet), I thought I'd share with you a wonderful photograph of the Ladysbridge Asylum that I found at "Britain From Above" - a great website that has some fantastic aerial photos from 1919-1953.

Here it is:

A gorgeous bit of architecture, really.  This building was originally constructed 1863-1865 - or part of it was.  I don't have the plans to detail how much of it was constructed at that time.  please note the extensive gardens which were undoubtedly used to feed the patients and staff, and were probably also used as therapy for the patients.

The architects for this building were Alexander and William Reid (A & W Reid) of Inverness.  Apparently the Woodpark Asylum is also in their style, but it is not known who designed it. (Information from the Dictionary of Scottish Architects).

So I am dying to see a picture of Woodpark Asylum if anyone can point me in the right direction.

The irony really is that my 2x great-grandmother worked at a psychiatric asylum.  If I had lived in the 1880s it is entirely possible, with untreated depression and anxiety, that I would have ended up there as a patient - as could have a lot of her descendants on my side of the family.  (I also don't doubt that some of these women were there simply because they could not afford to live anywhere else - or for many other reasons other than "insanity").

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Postcards #28 - Sarah mystery solved

This postcard was sent "To A Scot Abroad From A Scot At Home."  It was sent October 6, 1911 and arrived at the Fraser Avenue Post Office in Vancouver October 18.

I am slightly disturbed by the breath blowing out of this man's mouth (not sure why), and the seeds that remind me of the dreaded dandelion, but other than that, it's a nice sentiment.  This postcard, possibly due to it's texture or light colour, is particularly dirty compared to most of the others in the collection.

The rampant lion is a common motif in heraldry and is a primary part of the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland.  Can someone tell me if this particular form of lion with thistle leaves and berries is seen elsewhere?

Four postcards previously (#10 - Madeira, #13 - Seaforth Highlanders, #18 - the MacLean Memorial, and #24 - the Burning of the Clavie) , I've talked about the author of this postcard.  Her name is Sarah and she was from Burghead, on the coast just to the northwest of Elgin.  Up until now, I wasn't entirely sure who Sarah was, but in this postcard is the last piece that puts this puzzle together:  "D.J. Thanks very much for nice P.C. Glad to hear you are getting on well.  I had quite given up hopes of hearing from you again but when I did it was with a vengeance.  We are all quite well just now.  Maggie is at home for a few weeks just now.  Poor Anna had to come home owing to bad health.  She is pitiful right now Jack.  you would hardly know her.  I don't think she will ever get better.  Yes there is great word of the "Kilties" just now.  They are to camp in the Brock next year.  We will miss you seeing the C.B. Tartans are to be there.  Kindest regards.  Sarah."

The 1901 census shows us that Sarah Sandeson, the daughter of William and Isabella Sandeson, had a sister named Maggie, and one named Annie.  So our mystery is solved.  We have a name and a family, but I'm still not sure what relationship the families had with each other - likely friends, possibly relatives.  I'll have to look a little further into that.

She mentions the "Kilties," which the "Free Dictionary" (quoting Random House) defines as "a person who wears a kilt, esp. a member of a regiment in which the kilt is worn as part of the dress uniform."  From the context it sounds like military men were congregating there for camp. This is the second time she mentions the C.B. Tartans.  Jack was a member of the 4th Cameron Highlanders, and I suspect that this is what she is referring to.

The "Brock" is noted in "Notes on Burghead" (p.45):  "In a summer evening, with a smooth sea and a gentle breeze playing on the waters, no more pleasant seat can be had than on the top of the 'Brock Bailies' (by which name the high ground above the harbour is designated), and the outlook on the clear blue sea, with the mountains of Boss, Sutherland, and Caithness in the distance, and the magnificent entrance to the bay of Cromarty, lighted up with the rays of the setting sun."  If there is anyone out there familiar with Burghead, perhaps you could confirm where that area is/was.

More personally, she is expressing her fear that she was not going to hear from Jack anymore.  And the indication is that he is busy and losing touch with his Scottish friends.  Something that was liable to happen, and all too common with people who moved so far away, I'm sure.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Postcards #27 - Seaforth Cottage, Garmouth

So the other day I posted a "Photograph" of Jack McCurrach's sister (Nellie), her husband (John Moir Smith), and their 3 children.

They are photographed in front of "Seaforth Cottage," Garmouth, Moray, Scotland:

Well, it turns out this was actually a "Real Photo" postcard (I just needed to turn it over ... darn it!).  Real photo postcards were ones that were taken of people and printed onto postcard paper - they were introduced in 1902 by Kodak, and people could take their own postcard pictures:

Unfortunately, it was never written on or post-marked, so it provides us with no clues about the family, but these types of postcards were certainly interesting in themselves.  It tells some about communication at the time - the fact that photographs were available to people for such purposes - and that this family had enough money to use the service.  They (or a friend) may have had their own Kodak camera for this purpose, or they may have paid for the service of a professional.  I would assume that this is one of many they sent to friends and families.

Today I was looking through Google Streetview at Garmouth to see if I could find the house.  I tried a couple of days ago to no avail, but today I found reference to the house possibly being on High Street, so I took a really close look.  And, by golly, I found it - and it was confirmed by someone on the Garmouth and Kingston Village Hall Facebook site.  Thank you so much to that person who is now trying to hook me up with someone who can give me some more information about the house (sorry, I don't know your name!).

It has been added to on one side and the front (and maybe the back, can't tell with this picture), but it IS the same building.

Also interesting, after only knowing that this man was "Regimental Sergeant Major Smith" (my Great Uncle Jim, who was in England in WWII, and met the little girl in the picture who was then about 20 - and he may have met his aunt and uncle, although I don't know that for sure), I now know that his name was John Moir Smith.  He was indeed a Regimental Sergeant Major with the Seaforth Highlanders, which he joined in 1888 (when he was 20).  From "The Morayshire Roll of Honour" (1922), we find out that he: "served in France and Germany; awarded Distinguished Conduct Medal, Queen Victoria's Sudan Medal, North West Frontier Medal, Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, and Khedive's Medal for Atbara, Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopole II, Croix de Guerre, and Meritorious Service Medal."  From this list, I have learned that he served in the Sudan, India, and the Congo.  And since the book is about the men and women who took part in the Great War, he also served in WWI - that's what "served in France and Germany" means, I'm thinking.  

So by the time he got married to Helen Jane McCurrach in 1911 (14 years his junior), he had lived an adventuresome life as a soldier on other continents, and then served again after they were married.  No wonder my Great Uncle Jim (Jack's son) was so impressed by R.S.M. Smith and remembered him by his rank rather than his first name.  

Nellie was the third child of Jack's parents John and Susannah, and was given to an aunt and uncle to raise.  She certainly ended up in "better circumstances" than her parents had been in.  

When my uncle Jim met his 20-year-old cousin, she apparently said:  "I dinna kin when ya from, but I know you're a McCurrach."