About Shamwest

I am an ESL teacher who started writing poetry in high school where I won a scholarship for English composition. My maternal grandparents were British immigrants who homesteaded in Manitoba. My paternal grandparents were French Canadian and Metis, my grandfathers family being amoung the original settlers of Montreal. My grandmother was 2nd cousin to famed martyr Louis Riel. Researching their history has been challenging and fascinating at the same time.

Felicitations Everyone!

Wishing all my readers a Happy and Healthy Christmas and New Year.  Thanks to all my followers. My New Years Resolution ? To convert this blog into a book that might sell at least a few copies ! Here’s an early Christmas with the cousins(1959), me 3rd from the right. Ignore the toy gun in my brothers hand!

Christmas with the Cousins 1959.jpg

Le Cousin

November seems to be a time of rememberance. Today we remember my cousin 4 times removed Louis Riel famed Metis leader and the sacrifice he made for his people.  I am related to him through my paternal grandmother Josephine Beauchamp nee Daigneault. The chart is below ( from the St. Boniface Historical Society).

Relationship to Louis.jpg

My grandmother married into a family from Quebec who decended from original settlers and voyageurs in New France . I have written about the Fur Traders and Explorers in my family as well as The Spirit of Resistance about the Metis uprising.  I hope will enjoy reading about them.




Lest We Forget

Some of you may know that I work with a variety of people tutoring English. Some are very young.  One of them is from worn-torn Cambodia. He knows little of the war having come over so young but his mother remembers. We have been working on C.S. Lewis’s  “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” and were talking about how the children in the story had to evacuate London during WWII.  Of course, the subject came up of another global war happening  and I found myself thrown into the same conversation I have had with my own children. There would be no war because nuclear armament has advanced so much we would simply be gone. What do we tell our children, to vote the right people in ? Disarmament must happen. Who will do it?

Today, I remember the soldiers in my family, my great-uncle Robert Smith lying in Flanders in an unmarked grave and his brothers, James and Samuel Smith from Glasgow. All the brothers of the Fraser family of Dublin, Ireland  and all the boys in my fathers family, Rene, Leo, and Paul Beauchamp of St. Boniface, Manitoba. My father Edmond who had been crippled by polio served at home. My aunts Margaret and Evelyn Phillips who served in the Womens Army Corps.

Thank you for your service.

Halloween Memories

I thought it would be fun to reminisce a little today about Halloween when I was young.
The earliest I remember was around the time I started school. We had just moved to a new house on Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg. My mother came home from work and quickly put my brother and I into our costumes. I  was Snow White and my brother was Caspar the Friendly Ghost, I don’t recall if our little sister came along. It was a very blustery night and that part of town was very dark. Soon my brother started crying and saying to take off his “boogie man”. We wore masks with our costumes in those days and the vapour of our breath would get caught inside the mask and make it wet and uncomfortable. All over the neighbourhood you could hear firecrackers going off . Boys would put them under a tin can and light them. Many would be wearing the cap guns and holsters that were part of their cowboy costumes. You might even see a Red Rider BB gun. There were some pretty bad accidents in those days.

All the discomfort was paid off with the wonderful treats we would find at the various places we visited.  Most of the businesses had some sort of miniature item of whatever stock they sold. The miniature loaves of McGavins bread wrapped in wax paper just delighted me.  It was also a time to visit your neighbour who might make homemade treats for you.  You could end up with some interesting stuff. One of our Polish neighbours used to make beautiful wedding cakes for the members of her church and she would give us little bags of almond icing and silver beads. It was not unusual to be invited in and be given any type of food.

We usually lived in an ethnic area where we would sample all types of food. We once had a neighbour who actually cooked for Halloween and put a huge table out on her porch with all kinds of baking on it. You were invited up to have something. I recall no problems happening. Some people kept tubs of water and apples at their house so you could bob for apples, a singularly uncomfortable experience which the braver of the boys didn’t mind !

As the ’60’s progressed, things became more commercialized and rice krispie squares and popcorn balls became more popular.  (Apples? Who needs ’em? )Then the inevitable candies that we all loved to hoard, molasses toffee kisses, double bubble and life savers. One of my memories is of my younger sister waking up in the morning with  toffee stuck in her beautiful brown curls and the ensuing calamity as my mother tried to get it out. One might even think of it as the “morning after a binge”! We generally had enough candy to last us until Christmas. Our dental records were the proof of that!

Once we hit Grade 5 or 6, we would make our own costumes out of whatever was available at home and use our mothers make up for our faces. My brother, like something out of a Rockwell painting, was a speed runner and challenged himself every year to see how much of a haul he could bring in. We used pillowcases to gather our candy. He probably wandered a radius of a mile at least and one year came home with 3 or 4 pillowcases full of candy. I vaguely remember being worried about him catching a bus .  My mother was the sole provider and often worked at night, to wit, we would go crazy.

One of my favourite Halloween memories is of the parties my girlfriends and I would organize. We were all very sociable then, about 1968. We lived in a “rough area” of Edmonton called Cromdale and our house backed onto the Exhibition Grounds. I had friends of just about every nationality, but my best friend was a girl from Manchester, England. We decided to create a “haunted house” that year and what fun we had! Again, everything was “from scratch”. We first had a meeting of all interested parties which included some boys we had recruited to play “monsters”. Then we decided on music which would be played on “45” records. For this we had to nominate a disc jockey which of course was one of the boys.

We hung up sheets all over the basement and got a few boys to wear Frankenstein and Dracula masks, hide and then jump out at people once they were inside. When we were finished the basement was fully dark. I was host, so I led the kids inside (mostly classmates) and stuck their hand in a “bowl of brains” which was cold macaroni and some “eyeballs” which was olives. Then they had to have a “drink of blood”. That was tomato juice. My friends parents were upstairs of course. Afterwards, the party returned to normal or as normal as it could get which a bunch of 14 year old boys running around.  We were still children and knew little of the world. Very few of us had a television.

Later, when I was raising my own children and attitudes toward Halloween had changed, I encouraged them to go out and meet their neighbours. Of course I went with them at first but after that they raced around with their friends braving the technological advances in decorating; coffins on the lawn that opened up, technicolor lights and screaming music.  One of my daughters once kicked a man who was a living tree. He moved, she kicked. The costumes sometimes were extraordinary but seldom came from the store and neither were they “made by Mom”.  I helped buy material or find old clothes but they made their own costumes and did their own make-up, well, except for the pig-tails that had to be wired up for a Pepi Longstocking costume!

I truly hope that my grandchildren will continue in the spirit of creativity and independence that my own children and their parents did. Happy Halloween everyone!


I am finally in receipt of Davis and Mary Coakley’s book “The History and Heritage of St. James Hospital, Dublin”.  Naturally after all the commotion I went through during it’s writing, I was anxious to see what part of Alexander Fraser’s life as master of the South Dublin Union workhouse might be mentioned. Some may recall that I had quoted  a memoir in my blog which had been written by one of the grand-daughters of Agnes, Alex’s wife (my maternal great-aunt). The writer would in fact, be my second cousin.

In my enthusiasm for the subject, I assumed that the person who had passed the memoir to me would have known if the writer was still alive but I was wrong.  Of course, one day I got an email from that person who was shocked to see her name “on the internet”.  I had made an agreement that the author could quote from the memoirs through my blog, huge mistake. However, I agreed to withdraw said quotes from my blog . She then agreed herself that the professor could use them.  Lesson learned.

The book is voluminous, naturally, there is so much history to the building and Alex’s time there received small mention after all. There is a photo of the family on the steps of the Master’s residence, Garden Hill and the few quotes aforementioned and a paragraph or two.  I haven’t finished reading the book yet.

My purpose in writing on the subject was not about the workhouse but about my amazing great-aunt Agnes, who you will find in my posts. She was the mother of 8 children of her own and took in 3 of her sister Sarah’s children when she died. The door to her home was a revolving one and she was mistress of the South Dublin Union for 26 years.  During this time, she was also a mainstay of her own family, helping her father in his old age. She was likely the person who saw my grandfather and his brother off when they came to Canada.

When Alex broke his leg in 1908 and died of pneumonia, she received nothing from the Union and was forced leave Garden Hill and manage on the small amount they had put away.  In spite of all, Agnes lived to be 104 years old. My mind often wonders if she learned something at the workhouse that kept her alive all those years. In the meantime, I will enjoy reading the rest of the book which I am sure will provide further enlightenment.

Pretty Anna

Below is a marriage photo of my maternal great-aunt Annabella McGhee Smith, a bonnie Scots lass if ever there was one.

Annabella McGhee Smith, Joseph Collins Peat-1908 ret..jpg

I have written about her previously here.  Shortly after they married, the couple moved to New South Wales, Australia, presumably for work. Last week as I reviewed my family tree, I came upon a hint for James Smith Peat and naturally I opened it. The record was for an inquest into the death of a 16 year old boy at Lithgow, a bullet wound to the head; parents Anna and Joseph Peat. This happened in 1933, the year my mother was born.  James ( I assume named after Anna’s father) died in April and my mother was born in May. I was greatly saddened by this piece of news. Genealogy is probably not a great pursuit if you are an “empath”.

Again my imagination started to take hold, I know very little about that part of Australia or any part of Australia for that matter. I do know that all of the Smith family worked in the smelting factories of Coatbridge and that James, my great grandfather was a “hard man”. Anna would have had some grit in her but what prepares you for the loss of an oldest son, especially like that.

I wonder what the circumstances were that he would have even had access to a gun and also what my grandmother’s reaction would have been to the news. My mother was her last child and she almost hemorrhaged to death having her a month later.

I am not sure how many families whose ancestors were pioneers have stories of the unsuitability of many of them for the life they chose.  For some, the freedom they were seeking came at an extremely high price. The actual realities of the women’s lives especially, are seldom spoken of .  Many people have come to me and asked how I have managed my own life. It is nothing compared to that of my predecessors.

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers. We are privileged to live in such a great country, one that is amoung the wealthiest and safest in the world. It is a place of refuge for the thousands fleeing oppression and an example of peaceful relations. Let’s remember all who came before to make this country what it is!