Waiting and watching ever, Longing and lingering yet

by chuckofish

Well, it has been a busy week. We got our first snowstorm of the season last Sunday and Monday, and it was a doozie, as you can see by my neighbor’s patio furniture.

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Fortunately, sons 2 and 3 arrived safely for Thanksgiving (son #1 could not make the trip) and we have had a lovely time, although now we are blanketed in fog.

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Despite the seasonal gaiety and inclement weather, I have managed to do some more genealogy. This week I present a letter (with my annotations) from my great aunt, Hazel, to my grandfather,  her brother, Daniel Cameron.

July 2, 1966

Dear Bunker,

We are usually out at this time of day, but this morning our air conditioner went bad and it is too hot to be on the road. We tried it but had to come home. The seat was actually burning me. Wouldn’t you know that would happen on a long weekend.

We need rain badly. Our lawn is getting burned and my garden is showing color but is spotty of course. I have fox glove, Canterbury bells, petunias in blossom and the loose-strife and delphinium are coming out.

You said that you would like me to write down what I know about our family. I doubt if there will be anything that you don’t already know and it will be a mixture just as I happen to think of it.

I’ll begin with Papa’s family. There were three children. Papa was the oldest, then Aunt Dora and Uncle Kenneth. Papa’s mother’s maiden name was Hilton. I don’t know her first name, but I think it was Ann. Our grandfather, as you know was a professional soldier – that’s what I always heard anyway, and was in the Crimean war where he died of wounds. I think after the battle of Alma [actually, he survived his wound and died in South Africa]. Papa went with his mother to South Africa when he was four years old [in fact, they all went together shortly after Papa was born]. When they came back I don’t know but he went to the school for soldiers’ sons [St. Cuthbert’s orphan hospital]. You know the name but I have forgotten it. His mother married again and had Tom, who went by the name of Cameron – why, I don’t know.

Aunt Dora had a son called Hamish, which is Scotch for James and Uncle Kenneth had Dan. Uncle Kenneth was a ground-keeper in Scotland and sent Papa their father’s medals because he was the oldest. You thought Dan died in WWI, but I wrote to him as late as WWII. You must be thinking of Ernest, Uncle Alva’s son, who died in WWI.

Papa came to Canada when he was sixteen. He was helped by a Miss Stuart, a friend of his mother’s. I remember her letters. That’s where I get my middle name.

When he first came to Canada he worked on farms for a few dollars a month and I guess he was hungry part of the time when he got in a place where they didn’t feed them good. How he got in the lumber company I don’t know, but after he and Mama married, he went every winter to what he called “the Bush”, the lumber camps in the Canadian woods. That’s where he learned to like certain kinds of cooking like beans not too sweet. He told a funny story. Friday came and the Catholics had some nice fresh fish and the others the same old beans. Papa and another man said how they would like some fish. Papa said he was going to get some. The other man wanted to know how and Papa said, “Wait and see”. When they passed the fish, Papa made the sign of the cross and helped himself to fish.

He was paymaster for the lumber company W.C. Edwards, late Robinson Edwards Lumber Company. C. Edwards was a senator in Ottawa and sent Papa to Burlington where he worked for sixty-six dollars a month. How they ever did it, I don’t know, but we were always well fed with good food and had good clothes. Mama even had a beautiful beaver cape that came from Canada. I think they paid fifty dollars for it. It would probably cost a thousand now. I remember when Fassett’s bread was 5 cents a loaf, and of course Mama baked her own for a long while. Somehow when they came to Canada, Papa went into business with Uncle Duncan McIntyre. They had that store and a mill, but they didn’t do well. I guess it was the first and last time Papa went against Mama’s wishes. She didn’t know much about business, but she knew Uncle Duncan and she was intuitive.

That’s about all I know of the Camerons. You of course are the fourth Daniel Cameron [incorrect, he was the 3rd]. One thing more that’s kind of interesting. Papa traveled by snow shoe from camp to camp.

Mama’s family name was Blais. There were nine children and they lived in Thurso across the river. There were nine children: Philemon, [Edwin James], Alva, Lizzie, Laura, Louisa, Mama [Susan], and a two-year old [William T.], and a baby. Mama’s mother, the two-year old and the baby died of smallpox, and Mama went to Rockland to live with Auntie and Uncle James Erskine. Auntie’s maiden name was Taylor [she was Susan’s mother’s sister]. I remember Uncle Phil and Uncle Alva and Aunt Laura. Uncle Alva came to visit us in once and then went away to live in British Columbia [Alberta].

Aunt Lizzie married Uncle Duncan McIntyre and they had Edie, Archie, Louisa and Elizabeth. Aunt Lizzie died when Elizabeth was born. Uncle Duncan married Aunt Laura and they had Aileen who was about my age.

There were two Erskines [brothers] in Rockland living side by side, Uncle James and John. I don’t remember him or his wife, Aunt Betsey, but Mama used to talk about them. They had Florence and Will that I remember. Uncle John adopted Jean Erskine – that you must remember. She wasn’t really related to us at all.

There was a plush covered family album with pictures when they all were young. It was with the family Bible [Wish I knew what happened to this!]. This is all I remember. It’s a jumble and such writing I hope you can make something of it.

I suppose Mary has come and gone. You probably had a nice time.

Here is a cute picture of you with Chuck and the boy scouts. Chuck was a regular boy’s dog and how he loved you.

Love, Hazel

It’s a great letter — I love the story about Daniel pretending to be Catholic in order to get fish — but it does contain a few errors, as family lore often does.  As noted above, Hazel’s grandfather, Daniel Cameron, was not killed at Alma, but survived and died later in South Africa. You can read about his life here, here, and here and of Hazel’s father, Daniel, here. I’ve posted about the Camerons quite a bit already. What I want to concentrate on here is one small tidbit that Hazel mentioned; namely, how her Uncle Alva’s son, Ernest, died in WWI.

Indeed, Alva Isaac Blais, born 1863, did move West but he lived in Alberta, not British Columbia. Before moving there in 1906, he married Isabella (Belle) Miller of Osnabruck, Ontario. They had four children: Lily, Ernest Edwin, Alva, and Harold. Ernest was 18 or 19 when this photo was taken after he enlisted in 1915.

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First, he served as a private with the 13th Battalion of Canadian Mounted Rifles in Alberta. He transferred out to go overseas and when he was in England he was assigned to the 8th Battalion Infantry (Manitoba Regt.) in France. He was killed in action at Arleux-en-Gohelle near Arras, April 28, 1917, aged 20 years (source).   Wikipedia describes the battle: “At 04:25 on April 28, British and Canadian troops launched the main attack on a front of about eight miles north of Monchy-le-Preux. The battle continued for most of 28 and 29 April, with the Germans delivering determined counter-attacks. The British positions at Gavrelle were attacked seven times with strong forces, and on each occasion the German thrust was repulsed with great loss by the 63rd Division. The village of Arleux-en-Gohelle was captured by the 1st Canadian Division after hand-to-hand fighting and the 2nd Division (Major-General C. E. Pereira), made further progress in the neighbourhood of Oppy, Greenland Hill (37th Division) and between Monchy-le-Preux and the Scarpe (12th Division).” Poor Ernest fell on the first day of action. He is buried in France at the Villers de Bois military cemetery.

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Ernest’s death must have made it all the more difficult for Susie Blais Cameron and Daniel Cameron to send their own son, James Erskine Cameron, off to the war in 1918. He served in an engineer battalion and family lore has it that he was the victim of a gas attack and never quite recovered his pre-war vim and vigor afterward. Of course, Daniel’s nephew, Dan, (son of brother Kenneth) also served in France, but I have not yet tracked his record down. In sum, three cousins fought in the war, and two returned home. Alva Blais did not opt to put an epithet on Ernest’s grave (or perhaps those were reserved for officers), but I like this one from a British Lieutenant’s grave:

Waiting and watching ever,
Longing and lingering yet,
Leaves rustle and corn stalks quiver,
Winds murmur and waters fret;
No answer they bring, no greeting,
No speech save that sad refrain,
Nor voice, save an echo repeating –
He cometh not back again.

“Thora’s Song” by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870)

Have a wonderful week — it’s the beginning of Advent. Christmas is upon us!!