Saturday, September 14, 2013

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few...

This is the story of the only Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron to take part in the Battle of Britain and my Dad's (Russell Mackie Bragg) part in it.

Norman, Rusty and Raymond
Russell or Rusty to those who knew him well was born in Gleichen, Alberta on September 14, 1914 to John Thomas of Collingwood, Nova Scotia and Julia West Gamble of Castlereagh.  One of four boys, he was an outstanding athlete, having been scouted by the Chicago Cubs (an offer he turned down because in the midst of the Depression, he was needed at home on the farm).  He also excelled in hockey and running.  After high school in a one room school, he went to Normal School and returned home to teach in Rockyford.  Restless, though, he soon enrolled at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and got his certificate in Locomotive Engineering.

On May 28, 1937, he and his best friend, Jack Elviss joined the Royal Canadian Air Force where Rusty's engineering skills were soon put to use with No. 1 Fighter Squadron.  About this time, during a tonsillectomy, he met my mother, Dorothy Harrigan (his nurse) and the two planned to marry, but then Canada declared war on Germany.  

RCAF Insignia
Transferred to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the Squadron was then held during the Phony War.  Mom travelled from Calgary and the two were married in the east.  They had a few wonderful months, getting to know many of Rusty's family on both his mother and father's sides.  

During the summer of 1940, a few hundred airmen stood in the way of Hitler's massive air attack on England. One hundred Canadians were among them.

Dubbed the Battle of Britain, it was the first decisive clash of Second World War and the first battle in history to be fought exclusively in the air.

"It is certainly an awful sight to behold those ugly black bombers in rank after rank," remembered Canadian pilot Ernest McNab. "Your mouth dries up like cotton wool. You lose all sense of space and time. We fought far above the clouds in a world of our own - a world of freezing cold, of limitless space traced with white plumed trails of wheeling aircraft as they fought. It was like skywriting gone mad. "

Rusty Bragg on left
with wrecked Hurricane
 For some Canadian airmen the Battle of Britain was baptism by fire. At the time, Canada had a fledgling air force. Many Canadian pilots fought with the British military. But as the Battle of Britain raged on, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Number One Squadron went into action.

Ernest McNab led the Canadian squadron. The short, stocky engineer from Rosthern, Saskatchewan was the country's most experienced fighter pilot but on the eve of battle McNab was worried.

"This is the lowest point in my life. I didn't think my men were ready for combat."

Not trained as fighter pilots, his men had spent only 20 hours in their planes. Most had fired only once at a moving target. Now they had to face the fearsome Luftwaffe during some of the fiercest fighting in the battle. 
And their inexperience proved deadly. 

As Battle of Britain continued, Allied aircrews were out-numbered and losing pilots faster than they could be replaced.

Hartland de Montarville Molson had left Montreal, the family business and his young bride, Maria Magdalena Posner, to fly for Canada.

"Since noon yesterday we have done seven patrols of at least an hour each. Bill Sprenger, Cupe Hyde, Bob Corbette and Jean Paul Desloges have all either had to bail out or force land, but are not in bad shape. Having had two slugs and dinner it is now time for sleep, because we go at dawn tomorrow. "

Quick repair before
another sortie
By mid-September, Hitler was running out of time to establish air superiority over south and east England. Soon winter weather and tides would force him to delay an invasion of Britain until spring.

On September 15, 1940 Germany launched as all-out aerial attack.

At 11:30 in the morning, air raid sirens wailed over London. Waves of incoming German aircraft left thousands dead and London in ruins. British, Canadian and other Allied pilots scrambled to their Hurricanes and Spitfires.

"It was a terrific spectacle," McNab recalled. "There were more than a thousand aircraft in the sky just south of London. So many that there was as much danger of colliding with another fellow as there was of being shot down."

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was in the command bunker deep below the streets of London. "I asked Air Vice Marshall what other reserves have we," he wrote. 'There are none,' he replied. The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite."

The German planes retreated but came back two hours later. "It was a quick shot and away for someone was sure to be on your tail," Ernest McNab remembered. "I counted nine aircraft falling at one time, and there were parachutes everywhere. After fifteen minutes there was hardly a plane in the sky - the Germans had run for home."

But by the end of the day Germany has lost over 60 aircraft and failed to smash the Allied air defenses. 

Although British cities would be bombed nightly for the next six months, the threat of invasion was over, the Allies had won the Battle of Britain. Twenty-two Canadian pilots had died winning it.

Canadian aviation underwent rapid growth after the Battle of Britain. By the end of the war, 48 RCAF squadrons were stationed overseas. Almost 10,000 Canadians died in air raids over Germany in an effort to destroy German industry and the morale of the German people.

Rusty Bragg in France
after D Day
By October the Squadron had shot down 31 German planes with another 43 probables. Their losses included 16 Hurricanes and three pilots.  During this time, Rusty Bragg was quickly promoted from Leading Aircraftsman to Flying Officer and in 1944 he was awarded the honour of Member, Order of the British Empire.  The citation states:  This officer is the squadron engineering officer.  During the Battle of Britain and during several bombings of Northolt and later at Digby, he was always in the forefront directing others and setting an example for all.  It has been due to his unrelenting efforts that his unit was transferred from older to newer aircraft in record time.  He has been responsible for the fine serviceability record of the unit and has rendered outstanding service throughout.

When asked what his MBE was for, Rusty always responded "My Bloody Effort".

No. 1 Fighter Squadron was renamed 401 Squadron, RCAF shortly after the Battle of Britain and went on to distinguish itself during the raid on Dieppe and on D Day, where Rusty's role was to establish the first landing strip and repair depot in continental Europe.  He was a Squadron Leader by this time and had spent over four years overseas.  He was done in and sent home because of a motorcycle accident in the French countryside.

Battle of Britain Memorial
Every year on September 15th, or the nearest Sunday (designated Battle of Britian Sunday) I remember with pride my Dad and all the young men of No. 1 Fighter Squadron who led Canada into battle.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lost at Sea - a Family Tragedy

Brig, similar to the
Phoebe Ellen
I wrote a brief story about this incident in my travel blog this summer and it got a lot of response.  Many people had difficulty understanding how Captain John Dill could stand by and not try to avert this tragedy. However, given the time period and the intensity with which many of these early settlers practiced their religion, I'm sure he felt God would save them.  So here's the tale:

The Dill Family of Londonderry Township, Colchester County, Nova Scotia descended from a line of Ulster Scots that came from Northern Ireland in the 1760s.  Robert Dill and Jane Denny raised 8 children on their grant near Great Village. Of their three sons, George became a school teacher, John became a farmer and Robert learned the ship building trade. Both of John's sons Robert and John followed their uncle into the seafaring life
Captain Robert Dill

Robert Dill sailed the seas in his brig "Phoebe Ellen" and he also served his community as Justice of the Peace and Collector of Customs and then later as village postmaster.  In 1841 he married Mary Ann Peers, granddaughter of my United Empire Loyalist ancestor, Alexander Peers.  The two had a family of 4 girls and 5 boys Including another John and his brother David Robert.

This is the story of John and David Dill (3rd cousins, twice removed) and William Henry McLellan (3rd cousin, 4 times removed)  and their tragic deaths in the Bay of Fundy.  The brig "Phoebe Ellen" was a two masted vessel, square rigged on both masts and had been built by Captain Robert Dill (father of John and David) in the 1860s near Great Village.  On January 8, 1872 the ship was loaded with goods bound for Cuba.  John Dill had just taken command of the ship and his younger brother, David, had left his position as school master to come on the voyage.  It was his first time as a crew member and he worked well with his cousin William McLellan. 

William Henry McLellan was the son of another sea captain, Capt. William McLellan and his wife Nancy Agnes Perry.  He was 22 years old at the time of this event.

As the ship neared Toney's Cove near Digby, all sails were furled and the crew was on deck.  Everything looked ship-shape.  Inexplicably, in a freak northwesterly gale and thick fog  the vessel was drive aground and lost.  The weather was extremely cold.  The question then became: "Why did the Captain not take measures to prevent this grounding?"  Of the many things he could have done to prevent the wreck, he did nothing.

An investigation showed that the accident took place on a Sunday and being a staunch Presbyterian, Captain John Dill practiced what he preached - and that included not working on the Sabbath.  Unfortunately, this left the ship in peril when the weather turned on them.

Capt. John Dill, Sr. was a man of the highest character (as I knew him from my boyhood); respected by everybody and after this sad event, he settled down at his home in Great Village, becoming the post master, which position he retained until he died. (Written by Capt Chas. A Morrison)" [taken from the scrapbook of Christina McLellan 1854-1942, as transcribed by her great-granddaughter G. Diane Urquhart] 

The young Dill brothers were laid to rest together in the Folly Village Cemetery.  William Henry McLellan was buried at the Portaupique Beach Cemetery just down the road.

A sad day for all involved.
Grave of John and David Dill
The body of Captain Dill was found ashore, cut in half by the ice packs in the Bay.  His young brother, David and cousin William McLellan were found frozen to death, lashed to the

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Exciting Tale of Ocean Born Mary

Plaque on Mary's Grave
Ocean-Born Mary of Henniker, NH one of America's most famous ghosts...She is the mother-in-law of my 1st cousin, 6 times removed, Thomas Patterson

The Ocean-Born Mary story is charming tale set in old New England, with adventure, romance, and--of course-- a classic ghost or two. This is the legend:

Mary Wilson was born at sea on July 17th, 1720 (according to the old calendar), soon after her parents set sail from Londonderry, Ireland, aboard the ship, the Wolf. As the ship neared Boston harbor, it was boarded by pirates, led by the ruthless--but very young and handsome--Don Pedro.

Don Pedro learned that there was a newborn aboard, and offered to let the Wolf and its passengers continue their voyage, unharmed, if the Wilsons would name the baby "Mary," after his beloved mother.

The Wilsons eagerly agreed, and Don Pedro honored his promise.

Mary's Grave
However, before his own ship of ruthless (and now unhappy) pirates sailed away, Don Pedro returned to the Wolf with a length of Chinese silk. He told the Wilsons that the fabric should one day be used for Mary's wedding gown.

And so it was, when Mary and Scotsman Thomas Wallace married, in Londonderry, New Hampshire, just before Christmas in 1742. They quickly had four sons and a daughter, but Mary was widowed soon after the birth of her last son.

Word of the tragedy reached Don Pedro, still young but now eager to take his fortune and settle far from the call of the sea. He had his men row up the Contoocook River to the 6,000 acres of land he'd been granted by the King of England. "Don Pedro" was actually an English nobleman, previously the "black sheep" of the family, but his wandering days were over.

Don Pedro had his ship's carpenter build a fine mansion on a hilltop in what is now known as Henniker, New Hampshire. The beams and detailing in the house are uniquely like a ship.

When the house was completed, Don Pedro went to Londonderry and begged Mary to live with him--as his housekeeper, since she still mourned her late husband--and Don Pedro supported Mary and her children in grand style for many happy years.

However, the fortune that Don Pedro had earned was also a curse upon him. One night, men came to the Henniker mansion under the pretense of visiting with their old friend, Don Pedro. Mary and her children went to bed, unaware that tragedy would soon strike.

Mary heard a curse from outside her window, and then a groan. Recognizing the voice of Don Pedro, she rushed to the garden and found him alone, dying with a pirate's cutlass in his chest.

Before he died, he told Mary where he'd hidden his gold, and he asked her to bury him beneath the hearth in the home they'd shared so happily.

She honored his wishes, and lived a long and comfortable life, never leaving the Henniker home. She barely touched the treasure buried in her garden, because Don Pedro had left such a fortune.

One of Mary's hobbies was painting, and the American eagle and stars she painted over the front door of the home, can still be seen there today. Inside, her landscape murals also decorate many rooms in the home.

After her death in 1814, her spirit remained in the house. In the early 20th century, the home was opened to the public and visitors often saw her rocking chair sway gently as she let them know she welcomed them.

Mary has been sensed near the hearth she tended carefully after it became the final resting spot of Don Pedro. Two state policemen saw her one night, crossing the road in front of her house.

Hans Holzer, the famous ghost expert, has conducted two different and apparently successful seances to contact Mary. As recently as 1963, Mary put out a blazing fire in the house, while the owners watched in amazement.

On many Halloween nights, Mary rises from her grave in Henniker's Centre Cemetery (twelve rows back from the front gate, and marked with a special plaque), and rides a magnificent horse-drawn coach to her home.

Many people have seen Mary's ghost. They always comment on her red hair, green eyes, and magnificent stature, at about six feet tall.
She is, by all accounts, an astonishingly beautiful woman as a ghost, just as she was in life.

Her home is now privately owned and definitely NOT open to visitors. Please respect the owners' privacy.

However, Ocean-Born Mary remains one of America's most famous and beloved ghosts.

That is the legend, and it is a wonderful story. Unfortunately, only half of it is true.

HERE is the REAL story of Mary Wallace, Although not nearly as romantic as the Ghost Version.

Here is the actual story, according to Henniker records:

Ocean-Born Mary really was born in 1720 aboard a ship, the Wolf. Also, her life was spared by the pirate Don Pedro, just as the story claims.

Mary's father, Captain James Wilson, died soon after they landed in Boston, and his widow, Elizabeth, took Mary to Londonderry, NH, where she claimed the land Capt. Wilson had been granted.

Elizabeth married a second time, to James Clark (great-great grandfather of Horace Greeley, the man who said, "Go West, young man."). She died about 1732.

1732 was also the year that the Wallace family, originally from Scotland, arrived in Londonderry, NH after living in Burnt Mills, Northern Ireland. (Burnt Mills is not on modern maps, but this is the town mentioned in historical accounts.)

Thomas Wallace married Mary Wilson on December 18th, 1742. She was actually six feet tall, with red hair. And, true to the legend, she wore a gown made from the silk given to her parents by Don Pedro.

The Wallaces did, indeed, have four sons and a daughter: Elizabeth, Thomas, Robert, William, and James. However, Thomas Wallace, Sr., and his wife Mary lived a long and happy life together, until his death on October 30, 1791. He is buried in Hill Graveyard, in Londonderry, NH.

Their daughter Elizabeth married Major (later Deacon) Thomas Patterson of the NH Militia; he was the son of Peter Patterson. They had at least one child, Robert.

Thomas Wallace, Jr., was a distinguished Revolutionary War hero.

Sons Robert, William, and James married sisters, respectively, Jeanette, Hannah, and Anna, all daughters of Robert and Mary Moore of Londonderry.

"Ocean-Born" Mary Wilson Wallace moved to Henniker on July 6, 1798 at age 78, and spent the rest of her life with her son, William, about a quarter-mile from another son, Robert.

Robert is the one who built the mansion that, today, is supposedly haunted by Ocean-Born Mary. William's journals and the census records suggest that Mary never lived in that house.

Mary died in 1814 and was buried in William Wallace's family plot, as described in the legend, in Centre Cemetery.

The romantic tale of Don Pedro cannot be documented after the encounter outside Boston Harbor. He certainly did not have a land grant to 6,000 acres of Henniker; Robert Wallace, who built the mansion, was considered a wealthy landowner with a deed to 300 acres surrounding the home.

The silk wedding gown was very real, and worn by several of Mary's descendants at their own weddings. Pieces of the gown remain, in the D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and in the public library of Henniker, NH. It is a lovely faded teal green silk, in a brocade style, with small teal flowers and white stripes through it.

The home that Mary actually lived in was reported to be haunted and--after it was empty for awhile--the town purchased it in 1844 as a poorhouse, and it was known as the "Wallace Poor Farm." In later years, it was destroyed by vandals.

The "Ocean-Born Mary" house, as her son Robert's mansion is known today, was owned by several families before it was bought in 1917 by Louis Maurice Auguste Roy, author of The Candle Book.

Mr. Roy and his mother purchased the house and restored it, after hearing rumors of a ghost.

Soon after completing work on "the Ocean-Born Mary house," the Roys opened their doors to the public. They charged admission, and Mr. Roy told colorful tales about Mary Wilson Wallace and the ghost which his mother claimed to have seen many times.

The phantom rocking chair was never Mary's, and it rocked because Mr. Roy had placed it over a loose floorboard that he could shift from the other side of the room, to make the chair sway.

Further, Mr. Roy would describe the lost fortune of Don Pedro, still buried somewhere in the garden where the pirate had died. Then Mr. Roy rented shovels to the tourists, for 50-cents each, so they could dig for treasure in the back yard.

The descendants of Mary Wilson Wallace were not amused, but the public's love of adventure, romance, and a good ghost story, made Ocean-Born Mary one of America's best-known ghosts.

Mr. Roy died in 1965, and subsequent owners of the home, while intrigued by the legend, have done everything possible to discourage curiosity-seekers from trespassing and otherwise bothering the home and its residents. They have even moved the road in front of the house, blocking tourists from invading their privacy.

The house last appeared in Yankee magazine in September 1996, where it was in the "House for Sale" section, listed at $875,000.

If the house is haunted--and it may be--it is probably not Ocean-Born Mary who walks there.

The first half of the story--in which the pirate spares the life of the crew and passengers, when the baby is named for his mother--is romantic enough to spark legends. The rest of the story appears to be made up by Mr. Roy.

Henniker is a lovely town and it is home to New England College and Pat's Peak skiing area. Henniker's Centre Cemetery is a classic New England graveyard, and perfect for picture-taking, if you like stark and eerie images. Mary Wilson Wallace is buried there.

However, the Ocean-Born Mary ghost story is clearly drawn from the Green Lady (because she haunts a house, not a family) and the story of appearing on a horse-drawn coach is straight out of Irish legends. Mary Wilson Wallace is probably not haunting her son's home.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Romantic Tale of Peggy's Cove

Peggy's Cove

John Rogers and Elizabeth Spencer married in Londonderry, Northern Ireland and emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1761 to settle in Chiganois.  Their eldest son, James was my third great grandfather but it is their next son, William who is of interest in this story.  William was born during the Roger's family voyage to North America and was one of 6 children.  He and his family lived around Onslow, Colchester County, Nova Scotia.

Relationship to me:

John Rogers & Elizabeth Spencer
    2 William Rogers and 1. Margaret (Peggy) 2. Elizabeth Loughead
    2  James Rogers & Rachel Johnson
     3   Jane Rogers & John Bragg
        4  Charles Bragg & Matilda Swallow
          5  John Thomas Bragg & Julia West Gamble
            6  Rusty Bragg & Dorothy Harrigan
              7  Me

William met  a young lady named Margaret and the two soon became engaged to be married.  The tale goes that young Peggy was travelling by ship to Halifax to meet her fiance, William when her ship foundered on the rocks at Eastern Point Harbour.  Although seriously injured, the young woman was rescued and taken in by the townsfolk to recover.  When one would go to visit her, they would say they were going to see "Peggy at the Cove".  From that day, the harbour was known as Peggy's Cove.

We don't know what happened to Peggy since William went on to marry a lady named Elizabeth Laughead, who, ironically was lost at sea herself.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Blair Family of Blair Castle

Blair Castle, Ayrshire Scotland
It is relatively easy to trace the Blair family back to 1155 in Blair, Ayrshire  Scotland.  They were well-connected and many married into other noble Scottish families.  Blair Castle, itself provided hospitality to the likes of Mary, Queen of Scots, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce over its long and colourful history.   It would take a much larger volume to explore the adventures of these early Blairs so we will begin with the generation of the family who first came to North America.

This is how they are related to me:

James Blair & Rachel Boyd
  William Blair & Mary Gray
    Elizabeth Blair & Samuel Patterson
      Elizabeth Patterson & James Johnson
        Rachel Johnson & James Rogers
          Jane Rogers & John Bragg
            Charles Bragg & Matilda Swallow
              John Thomas Bragg & Julia West Gamble
                Rusty Bragg & Dorothy Harrigan

In the mid 1600s religious and political pressure were brought to bear on the family at Blair Castle.  Staunch Presbyterians, they were being strongly urged to join the Church of Scotland which was part of Henry VIII's Church of England. Rather than bowing to this pressure, they emigrated to the North of Ireland and settled in a town called Aghadowey in the County of Antrim.  The Laird who led them from Scotland was David, father of James Blair, our first ancestor to cross the sea to the Americas.

James was born in Agadowey about 1640 and married his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Boyd in 1660.  During the siege of Londonderry James fought with the British, while Rachel and her children hid in the nearby woods to stay safe from the fighting.  Later, in 1700, when Rachel died, James placed a large monument in her honour in the village square which stands today and is in remarkable condition.

James and Rachel had 3 sons, Robert, John and William who were partners in the town's bleaching greens.  Farmers who grew flax would bring their crops to be dipped in salt water and spread out over the course grass in the sunshine.  At the right time, the flax would be spun to thread by local farm women and then woven into linen and made into clothing and linens.

However, within a generation, the old political pressures again arose to make their lives difficult and so, once again, the family was on the move.

In 1718, along with their elderly father, William, Robert and John Blair set sail for Boston on one of the "Eagle Wing" or "Lady Sellerooke" for a three month journey across the Atlantic. The three families settled at Worcester, Massachusetts and promptly started building a new life.  They were prosperous businessmen and active in the affairs of the town, raising fine respectable families and supporting their neighbours.

In 1739, William's daughter, Elizabeth married Samuel Patterson who had come with them on the voyage from Ireland and with whom they maintained close ties even though the Pattersons had moved on to settle in Londonderry, New Hampshire.

Elizabeth and Samuel's  daughter, Elizabeth Patterson was one of the first women to settle near Truro in Nova Scotia after the expulsion of the Acadiens.  With promises of fertile soil, already cultivated, plenty of sunshine and water the families were convinced that this new land would be better than the inland and mountainous New Hampshire hills.  In 1761, along with her husband, James Johnson and her children Elizabeth and many of her neighbours moved to Land Grants provided them by the British Government.  They were known as the Cobequid Planters.  She was one of the first persons buried in the Robie Street Cemetery in Truro which just celebrated its 250th Anniversary.

Little Church at Oxford Junction
All Bragg Graves
James and Elizabeth had a daughter, Rachel who married a dashing young man from Londonderry township in Nova Scotia named James Rogers.  James and his brothers had just applied for a grant of land at Shepody which is now in New Brunswick and so that is where he and Rachel married and began their family.  Their oldest daughter, Sarah married a young man named Thomas Dobson Taylor who had a farm at Windham Hill in Cumberland County.  At one time, Sarah's younger sister, Jane came to visit and Jane was very taken with the Taylor's neighbour, John Bragg.  John was a vigorous young man, fresh from Somerset in England and busy with starting a farm in this picturesque part of the country.  Within a year, the two were married.  John was a man of superlatives.  Everything was done to its best.  He was a great believer in education, being uneducated himself, and so when his children came along, he started a school at his home and invited the neighbours to send their youngsters.  He was active in local politics and served as a Justice of the Peace for the County for many years.  It is said that he was the inspiration for a character in the Thomas Chandler Halliburton book, "Sam Slick, the Clockmaker".  John and Jane had 7 children, many of whom are buried in the little churchyard at Oxford Junction.  The church was built for the wedding of their daughter, Amy Ann with wood from John Bragg's woodlot.

Charles and Matilda Bragg's Home
Collingwood Corner
Their third child, Charles Bragg married a young widow, Matilda Swallow Vincent.  They had 7 children along with Matilda's daughter Eldora, from her first marriage.  Charles ran the store at Collingwood Corner and the family grew up in the gleeming white two story home next door.  The family is made up of 6 boys and a girl, Mary Jane who died at age 8.  Matilda died shortly before 1900 and two of her boys, Warren and John headed west to find adventure.  At the age of 14, John must have been one of the youngest homesteaders in all of southern Alberta.  It wasn't until years later that the boys were to learn that the little creek where they camped and where they provided hospitality for the Dominion Land Surveyors - had been named for them - Bragg Creek.  Not ready to settle down yet, Warren moved on to BC and worked on a large cattle ranch there, while John took the train and returned to Nova Scotia and home.

John Bragg
John found himself working at the Castlereagh Silica Mine around 1902.  Castlereagh was just over the mountain from his home in Collingwood but he boarded at the mining camp during the week.  Soon he was besotted with the lovely young lady who cooked their meals and kept the boarding house clean.  One evening after supper  he asked Julia to go picking blueberries.  When they returned they were engaged to be married and were planning their eminent move back to Alberta.

Julia Gamble climbed on a train in Truro to begin her cross country journey, having never been farther away from home than Portaupique which was 19 miles down the road.  John had gone on ahead to arrange for a place to live and a job for himself.  He had written to her every day, and now she was counting the hours until she stepped off the train in Gleichen and into his arms.  However, when she arrived and climbed down onto the platform there was no one there to meet her.  As the train chugged out of sight, Julia was able to look around.  A few small stores and buildings, the train station and miles and miles of rolling hills.  Fortunately, John appeared about then, with apologies for being late - he and his friends were celebrating his coming nuptials.  I wonder what she, a staunch Methodist, thought of that?

Julia and John were my grandparents, my father's parents and certainly a long way from Blair Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Elizabeth McGrath - Born in a Field of Heather

Over the years I have come to know a wonderful bunch of people who are dedicated to the search for their family roots.  They are generous and often come into your life at serendipitous moments when you need them most.  Such is the case with William T. Hill.  We are related in several different ways, but primarily our connection is as descendants of Donald Chisholm and Elizabeth McGrath of  Inverness, Scotland.  We reconnected this week over the Chisholm family history and one sentence in his work caught my attention.  It stated that the matriarch of the Nova Scotia Chisholms, Elizabeth Mc Grath was born in a field of heather on the battlefield at Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.

Clan Chisholm Cairn at Culloden
What a romantic and dramatic start to a life that would prove extraordinary from beginning to end!  Elizabeth was the daughter of Alexander and Ann McGrath and grew up in the spectacular hill country around Glen Moriston that runs between Loch Ness and Loch Cluaine in the highlands of Scotland.  She would have thrilled to the tales of the Jacobite rebellion and the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie right by her house to safety from the Butcher Cumberland.

In 1772, Elizabeth married Donald Chisholm of nearby Strathglass, son of John Daniel Chisholm of Culloden fame.  He and his clansmen stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Jacobites and suffered terrible casualties during that April battle.  Donald was a farmer and had his heart set of removing to North America where he had heard about the wonderful land available for the asking.

Sailing Ship Glasgow
In 1775 - on the brink of the American Revolution, Elizabeth, Donald and their little son, John climbed aboard the sailing ship "Glasgow" and headed out upon the waves towards New York.  Along with about 40 other young souls, they set out for a new land enduring a voyage in cramped, dirty quarters with poor quality food and primitive living conditions.  To make matters worse, on arrival in New York they were told they were not wanted unless they were willing to join the British sponsored 84th Regiment, Royal Highland Emigrants.  They were promised care and accommodation for their families (half rations for the women and 1/4 rations for the children)  for the duration of the war and free land in Nova Scotia when the war was over.

Sounding like a great solution, the families continued on to Halifax where the men began training, including the young boys of 11 years or so - who were to become drummer boys.

Soldier of the 84th Regiment
Royal Highland
Elizabeth and her family went on to the Bay of Fundy region, where they were among the first farming families to settle in the area since the expulsion of the French.  They settled in an area they called Highland Village and while Donald took part in the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth began to build a new home.

At the wars end the land became their own, lush and bountiful in a place with equal beauty to her beloved highlands.  She had three sons, and finally a daughter, Polly who all prospered and produced families of their own.

Elizabeth died sometime after 1782 quietly leaving a life that started in a dramatic way and finished half way around the world with great challenges, great adventures and great achievements in between.  She was my 6th Great Grandmother.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Thrilling Adventures of Captain James Hunter O'Brien and his wife Eva McDougall

Example of a 19th Century Barque
Eva McDougall was a woman with a keen sense of adventure.  As the youngest daughter of a family of  9, she had few responsibilities and was free to read and explore the red, rippled beaches along the Bay.  She was my 3rd cousin, twice removed, both of us descended from James Johnson and Elizabeth Patterson, early settlers in the Lower Village and Grantees of Truro Township on the Salmon River in Central Nova Scotia.  She grew up listening to the enthralling tales told by her father, Captain James McDougall of his life at sea.

James Hunter O'Brien was one of the many O'Briens' who originated in the Noel area of Hants County, Nova Scotia along the south side of the Bay of Fundy.  Born in 1853, he came from a long line of seafaring men who originated in Londonderry, Northern Ireland and came to Nova Scotia as part of the Ulster Scot migration of the 1760s.

James first went to sea at 14, and married Eva 10 years later in Boston.  As a young man, he served aboard the sailing vessel "Esther Roy" under Captain Thomas Roy of Nova Scotia.  On all  their voyages, the Captain's wife Jane travelled with them around the world. So when James became Captain of his own Barque "William" and later "Robert Morrow", it was only natural that his own wife, Eva would accompany him.  In fact the "Robert Morrow" was specially outfitted to suit family life.

It is told that James had, many times, to prove himself on the high seas against a mutinous crew and that the family is still in possession of his nicked and scratched cutlass.

Eva, herself took to life at sea like a natural.  She came within hours of delivering the couple's only son, Leonard on board the vessel and was back sailing before the child was a few months old.  Eva had attended Normal College in Truro, and she taught her son his lessons so well that when he was fourteen he was accepted into college with the highest marks on his entrance exams.

Cargoes they carried consisted of coal, wheat, oil, turpentine, lumber, steel, iron, machinery, cotton rosin, liquors, hides, fruit sugar etc. At one time the ship was frozen in at Rotterdam, Holland for the winter, the crew and family enjoying months of skating. The first locomotives used in the Monte Video, South America Railway, were taken there by Captain O'Brien, while he was First Officer on the "Euroclydon".

James and Eva witnessed the formal opening of the first Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 immediately after their marriage and sailed next day with a dangerous cargo, Naptha, to Bordeaux, France. On their next voyage, while nearing Dunkirk the ship was driven by a gale into the North Sea and was in great danger of being lost on the treacherous "Glodwin Sands". Although Eva knew of the peril, she calmly retired to rest, while her husband did his best to save the ship. In the morning the danger averted Captain O'Brien praised his wife for courage assisting him by not hindering him while on duty.

Mrs. O'Brien had many pleasant experiences as well as dangerous. While the ship at one time was discharging cargo at Bombay, India, Eva noticed a distinguished looking Hindu attentively watching proceeding. She invited him on aboard showing him over the ship, then served tea. On leaving he informed her that his rickshaw would call next day to convey her, accompanied by the Captain. There they were extended every courtesy in true oriental fashion.

About this time a terrific cyclone struck their ship in the Indian Ocean, which caused the cargo of oil to list. Water poured into the cabin forcing Eva to bail it out to keep young Leonard from drowning. She saw the only life boat washed overboard, with all it contained. Fortunately the ship survived, arriving at Peuang and Singapore.

The family visited many places on their numerous voyages such as Guano Islands, Cape Horn, Chile, Rio de Janero, Dublin Belfast, Capetown, Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, France, Belgium, Sweden, Liverpool, Rotterdam, Buenos Aires, Mobile, Ceylon, Panama, crossing the oceans many times.

In 1898, James and Eva decided to move their life on to dry land and settled in Berkeley, California.  James became a successful hotelier and played golf with his son, Leonard three times a week until a week before his death in October 1940 at the age of 88.  Eva died soon after.

From a tiny Nova Scotian village to the entire world - these two and their son lived an exciting and colourful life.  How fun to go back and discover it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Fascinating Life of Truena Geddes

Truena Geddes
Truena Jane Geddes was born in 1871 in Highland Village, Colchester County, Nova Scotia to James Geddes and Susannah Dechman.  She was my 2nd cousin, 3 times removed.  One of eight children, she must have shown her independent streak at an early age.  Described as having dark, flashing eyes and dark hair that glinted with copper streaks in the sunlight, it is a wonder she wasn't snapped up by some young lad of the Village.  But Truena had ideas of her own and as a young woman, she made her way to Boston where she opened a little store that sold fine ladies wear.

Later in life, she began to spend her winters in the millionaire's playground of Palm Beach, Florida where young debutantes and society women eagerly purchased her dainty wares from her little shop on the corner.  It was here in Palm Beach that she came to the attention of Colonel George Clinton Batcheller of New York.  A widower, George was 80 in the summer of 1913 and a very wealthy man.  His business was manufacturing ladies corsets and his factory employed over two thousand women who made his high end ladies fashion.  He was taken by the lovely young woman and proposed marriage.

George Clinton Batcheller
After much deliberation, Truena finally accepted and the two were married in Boston on September 18, 1913.  From very humble beginnings, the life of New York high society was a huge adjustment for the lovely young woman but her happy personality and kind demeanor quickly endeared her to all she met.

On January 25, 1916, George died at the age of 84 leaving Truena a millionaire many times over and as a young widow, her thoughts turned to her old home.  She returned to Nova Scotia to assist her brother, Amos in caring for their widowed mother.

Never one to take a back seat, Truena quickly became involved in the life of the village and soon set out to build a new home on the family farm.  Within two years she had renewed her acquaintance with William Edward Spencer (my 3rd cousin, 3 times removed) and the two married on the 29th of October 1918.

Truena and William's Home in Great Village
During the building of their home, Truena decided she wanted electricity, which was not yet available in the town.  She petitioned the authorities in Truro and was turned down because she lived too far from the existing electric grid.  So, being the independent lady she was, and having plenty of resources at hand, she decided to generate her own power by using the grist and carding mill belonging to the Peppard family.

William and Truena spent much of their time travelling the world and supporting many good causes in Great Village.  She took particular interest in preserving local farmlands and marshes.

William died on July 9, 1949 and Truena followed him in 1953.  Both are buried in the Mahon Cemetery in Great Village.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Family Villain - James Archibald - Hanged in 1815

All families have their heroes and villains and I've devoted many blog posts to some of our more dashing and heroic relatives.  Today, I will talk about James Archibald who was hung for murder on the Halifax Common in 1815.

James was born into the prolific Archibald clan who came to Nova Scotia from New Hampshire prior to the American Revolution.  His father, David, himself refused to sign the oath of allegiance to the English King. He still had family in the United States and his loyalties was divided.  This refusal could have seen him arrested and charged with treason had officials not had enough to do battling American Privateers and trying to establish sound government in this new land.

James was born in 1787 in Truro Township and lived on the family farm at Salmon River.  In 1811 he married Sarah McCurdy and the couple had two sons, James Jr. and David.  James was described as a large man with a dour outlook and over the years there had been whispers about his many misdeeds.  There was the story of a peddler who called at the farm, supposedly carrying quite a sum of money, who disappeared never to be seen again.  Neighbours speculated over James' part in this disappearance.

In 1813, James was introduced to the Privateer, Captain Benjamin Ellenwood.  With the War of 1812 in full swing, the captain had gained a reputation of one of the most successful Privateers on the Saint Lawrence River and in the Bay of Fundy.  During a visit with the Captain and his wife Epiphene, James Archibald made arrangements to purchase a major share in one of the Captain's schooners.  Mrs. Ellenwood took an instant dislike to the dressy man who obviously lived beyond his means.  He warned her husband to have nothing to do with Archibald, but the Captain decided to proceed with the sale of the schooner.

One evening shortly after the deal was completed, James Archibald crept aboard the vessel and killed the Captain with a marlin spike.  Immediately, all eyes were on a young Portuguese boy who worked for Ellenwood, but soon suspicion turned to Archibald.

James Archibald was arrested and taken to Halifax for trial before Chief Justice Blowers in the Easter sessions of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. After his conviction, he admitted to a great many robberies - most of which were trifling but made for wonderful reading in the local newspaper.

On May 1, 1815, James Archibald was taken to the Halifax common and hanged by the neck until he was dead.

The following year, his wife, Sarah married Captain Henry Cumminger of Truro and the two lived many happy years in Sherbrooke, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Remembering Dan

Dan Bragg 1940 - 2003

Unbelievably, it will be 10 years this Saturday that we bid farewell to Dan,  although I often get the feeling he's not really that far away.  While there is plenty to say about Dan, I could not put it any better than Suzanne did in her wonderful eulogy that she gave at Dan's memorial later that year:...

"April 12, 2003 Suzanne Levanas

Hello.  For those of you who don't know me, let me introduce myself.  I'm Dan's younger sister, Suzanne.  I live in Los Angeles with my husband & 2 daughters.

First of all, I'd like to thank all of you for coming here today to celebrate & remember Dan's life.  It means a great deal to my sister, Marilyn, and I as well as to Dan's children, Russell & Dani.

So who was Dan Bragg?  Well, I suspect each of you knew a slightly different Dan and had a unique relationship with him.  To some, he was a relative; to others, a friend or co- worker.  To me, he was my big brother & I would like to share some of my thoughts and memories with you today.

John Daniel Bragg was born on November 25, 1940 to Rusty Bragg & Dorothy Harrigan.  As a child, he was always called 'Danny'.  It wasn't until much later that he insisted on being called 'Dan'.  Danny didn't get to meet his father until he was 4 years old.  My mother was pregnant when my father went overseas at the start of WII and he didn't return for 4 1/2 years.  My mother tells the story of how, as a little boy of 3, Danny would walk up to men in uniform, tug on their pant legs and ask:  'Are you my Daddy?  Are you my Daddy?'   Mom was so embarrassed!

At his birth, Dan was welcomed as a grandson to Nana & Grandpa Harrigan & Grandma & Grandpa Bragg, a nephew to Vincent & Isabel Harrigan, Florence & Harold Curtis, Lloyd & Eileen; Raymond & Mary, Norman & Rachel, & Ed & Florence and he became one of many cousins which,  over the years, included Bill, Bob, & Paul Harrigan; Joan, Doug, & David Curtis;  Ruth, Shirley, John, Norma, Allan, Robert, Mary Lee, Charlotte & John Bragg.  As children, we shared many wonderful occasions with our cousins & my cousin, Bob, who is 12 days older than Dan, will share some of his memories with you.

After my Dad returned from the war, Dan quickly took on a new role: that of big brother to my sister Marilyn, with me following 5 years later.  As the baby in the family, I tended to get spoiled and that created a certain amount of friction between Danny& I.  He used to complain about how spoiled I was but he also learned to use it to his advantage.  On our almost weekly and infamous Sunday afternoon drives, which my mother said always included getting lost & driving down a back alley, the 3 of us:  Danny, Marilyn & I would be sitting in the back seat.  Danny knew that if he asked for ice cream, my father would say No. So he would prompt me to ask instead and when I said 'Keen Cone Daddy!' my father always gave in.

Not only was I spoiled but I apparently also loved to tattle on my older brother!  Our parents used to go out & leave Dan to baby- sit Marilyn and I.  Upon their return, they would ask how everything went and Danny would say "oh, fine!"  to which I would pipe up:  "Yeah, everything is Oh fine!  Danny's hitting Marilyn & Marilyn's crying and everything is Oh fine!"  Needless to say, this did not sit too well with Dan!

But growing up, I adored my big brother!  He was 10 years older than me and I thought he could do anything!  I'd follow him around & get in his way and bug him a lot but to me, he was my hero.  I'd do almost anything just to spend time with him.  I even remember one time when he went duck hunting and he came home with half a dozen fresh ducks.  He "allowed me" to help him gut them - Yuck!  To me, Danny was handsome & "cool" - he drove a gold mustang and had girlfriends. When I was 9 years old he joined the air force and I was heartbroken until I realized that I could take over his bedroom and move out of the room I had always shared with Marilyn.  Of course, the room I inherited had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling and strewn all around.  From a young age, he was in love with airplanes and he continued to be fascinated by them for his entire life. Dan was an airman in the RCAF for about 5 years.  I remember how exciting it was to go visit him and to see him in his uniform.  We were all very proud of him but no one was more proud than our father, Rusty Bragg, who was in the RCAF for 28 years.  As an armament system technician, Dan learned the computer skills which he later took with him to the oil industry.  After leaving the air force, Dan worked as a geophysicist, a career that took him to Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia.

In 1964, Dan became a husband when he married Peggy Hembrock and 2 years later, he became a father when his son, Russell Bragg was born. That was a joyous yet difficult time as our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly afterwards and died in 1967.  With the death of our father a year and a half later,  Dan was forced to take on another role: that of orphan.  It may sound odd to refer to an adult as an orphan but losing both parents while in your twenties forever changes your life path.

Dan's second child, Dani, was born in 1970.  Dan struggled with the role of father.  He loved his children dearly but when he and Peggy divorced and she moved to Vancouver & remarried, Dan truly felt that it was best for his children if he stayed out of their lives.  I think he came to regret that decision and to realize how much he and they had missed out on during their childhood.  Thankfully, he, Russ & Dani reconnected about 10 years ago and Dan treasured the times he spent with them.  He also loved being a grandfather to Russ's son, Roan, who was born in January, 2002.  Just 3 days before Dan's death, we celebrated Roan's first birthday with Dan in his hospice room.  Dan loved little Roan, just like our Dad had loved Little Rusty.

Dan was also a loving uncle to Marilyn's children:  Bill & Carolyn and my daughters,  Danielle and Virginia.  Though we were separated by many miles, my girls have fond memories of getting together with Dan and the rest of our family for reunions at Bragg Creek & dinners at the Steak Pit.

In 1972, Dan reluctantly took on another role: that of cancer patient.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma and was given 6 months to live.  Following surgery, he started a rigorous course of chemotherapy and was the first cancer patient in Calgary receive chemotherapy on an outpatient basis.  Fortunately, his treatments were effective and he lived cancer free for 19 years.  In 1992,  the lymphoma returned and this time, unfortunately, his treatments left him with permanent lung damage .For the next 10 years or so, Dan struggled with health issues and was in and out of the hospital on numerous occasions.  Despite his precarious health, Dan managed to  lead a fairly active life.  He was recruited by Foothills Hospital to act the role of 'standardized patient', a role he enjoyed for 10 years.  His affable nature and willingness to take on any role endeared Dan to the hospital staff.

As you all know, Dan was a good- looking guy, although he never saw himself that way.  The camera loved him.  He worked as a model for print ads and appeared on the back cover of the telephone book.  He ventured into acting and had small roles in such films as Legend of the Falls with Anthony Hopkins and Blood River with Rick Schroeder.

Some of you probably knew Dan through his involvement with the Stampede Board.  He was so proud of the fact that he had put in 28 years as a volunteer.  He looked forward to it every year, would get on his cowboy hat & boots, & put in long hours at the Stampede grounds.

Dan also volunteered for many years at the air museum and loved being surrounded by planes and fellow airplane 'nuts' (my term, not his!).  At the time of his death, Dan was working on a history of the Sopwith Triplane from WWI and the history of WWI Canadian aviators.  He had compiled volumes of photos, stories and history and these materials are now at the air museum.

Dan was a bit of a loner and liked to spend time by himself working on his projects.  But he also had a wonderful sense of humour and was fun to be around.  He had a ready and engaging smile and he enjoyed the company of his friends, including Barry, Brent, Brian, John, Clarence & Sheila.  When he was in the hospice, I asked him if he wanted me to call his friends so they could come to say goodbye and he said,  "no, I'd rather they remember me the way I was'.  Thank you to all of you who were friends to Dan, who offered him rides, called him to say hello, met him for drinks etc.  You enriched his life and I'm sure, were enriched by his friendship.

In addition, I'd like to thank the staff of the Agape Hospice for how tenderly and lovingly they cared for Dan during his final weeks.  People who dedicate themselves to hospice work and are there until the end of life are truly angels on earth.

I'd also like to thank my cousins,  Bob & Grace & their family; Paul & Eva; & Robert & Joanne,  for visiting Dan & spending time with us at the hospice.  Your presence & support were very meaningful.  I'd like to thank, in particular, my cousin Paul who was at Dan's bedside with Marilyn when Dan died  & who was so helpful & supportive to Marilyn in the days that followed.

To all who sent expressions of sympathy & who shared stories of how Dan had touched their lives, my sincere thanks.  I'd also like to thank my daughter, Danielle, for singing our grandmother & mother's favourite song, Danny Boy; my daughter, Virginia, for the reading during mass, and my friend, Colleen, for the beautiful handmade quilt which will be draped over Dan's ashes at the cemetery.

Finally, I'd like to thank my sister, Marilyn.  There are no words to convey how dedicated and devoted Marilyn was to Dan during the past 10 years.  She was there through each and every medical crisis and procedure;  she took his calls day or night; listened to his concerns; visited him at home or in the hospital; and offered advice, encouragement and support.  She was the one person he could always turn to and who was always there for him no matter what.  She was his best friend and together they shared many holidays, birthdays, Sunday afternoon drives and cups of coffee.  So Marilyn, thank you for being the best sister and friend to Dan that anyone could have ever been.

When I was a little girl, Danny was my hero.  But over the years, as we grew up and went our separate ways, his hero status faded somewhat in my eyes.  We were a lot alike:  both very stubborn & both wanting to be right.  So it is fair to say that we had our share of disagreements.  But we always knew that we loved each other.  In the last few months and weeks of his life, Danny truly became my hero again.  He faced his death with such grace and acceptance.  He never complained through medical procedures, brain surgery, radiation, and repeated hospitalizations.  In the hospice,  he joked with the nurses and treated everyone from the doctors to the cleaning help, with respect and appreciation.  I was privileged to spend the last 5 days of his life with him in the hospice, along with Marilyn, Russell & Dani & their families.  We laughed with Dan & told stories; looked at old photos, some of which were sent by our cousin, Bill; we reminisced and we cried but it was wonderful being there together.

Dan and I talked about many things that week.  I asked him if he was afraid and he said 'no' - he felt that he had lived a good life and had no regrets. He accepted that everyone has to die at sometime and he felt that he was lucky:  he had lived 30 years longer than expected.  I asked him if he believed in heaven or an afterlife, & he again said 'no - when you're dead, you're dead and that's it!'  So I challenged him:  'Well, what if you're wrong?  What if you find yourself in heaven and Mom & Dad & all our elatives are waiting for you?'  'Well, then I would have been wrong' he said, to which I replied:  'Well, that would be a first!'

So Dan and I made an agreement that if he got to heaven, he would send me a sign but we never really did decide what that sign would be.  The day Dan died, Marilyn called me and said:  'Well, you got your sign!'.  Apparently, when she called the mortuary, she was put on hold and the song playing was Elton John's 'Daniel' which goes like this:

'Daniel my brother you are older than me Your eyes have died but you see more than I I can see Daniel waving goodbye Daniel you're a star in the face of the sky '

For about 2 weeks after Dan's death,  there was the brightest star outside my bedroom window - it was there when I went to sleep and still there when I woke up.  Was it Dan?  I like to think so.

So perhaps the question is not 'Who WAS Dan Bragg?' but rather, 'Who IS Dan Bragg?' for he is and will always be our brother, our father, our uncle, our cousin and our friend.  I have no doubt that he is looking down on us today and enjoying the attention.  While I somehow can't picture him with wings, I can imagine the joyful reunion that took place on January 19 when Dan arrived in heaven.  I can see him being greeted by Mom & Dad & all the Harrigans, Curtises & Braggs.  Someone hands him a cold beer and asks:  'Dan, what took you so long?  We've been waiting for you for 30 years!  Let the party begin!'