Lá fhéile Pádraig sona duit

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all my followers and anyone reading this!

Remembering my Irish ancestors, among whom were :

William McDowell my 2nd great grandfather, born in County Down, 1821 died in Tipperary 1901.

George Holmes Phillips my great grandfather, birth place unknown, died in Roscrea 1896.

Elizabeth McDowell Phillips, my great grandmother, born in Alnwick, Northumberland, England in 1855, died in Tipperary in 1896.

Richard Walker Phillips, my grandfather, born in Tipperary, 1890, died St. Rose, Manitoba, Canada in 1964

If you are interested in reading about the life and times of William, who made his fortune working for Lord Stanley you can find it here.

William McDowell c. 1885

William McDowell , Tipperary, Ireland

 

Whither Thou Goest . . .

In 1906 my grandfather, Richard Walker Phillips, was granted a land patent in the tiny hamlet of Magnet, Manitoba, Canada. The town was surrounded by 3 lakes; Lake Dauphin to the west, Lake Winnipegosis to the north and Lake Manitoba to the east, as you will see below.

Magnet, Manitoba Location

When it was first settled in the 1880’s, it was primarily inhabited by Ojibway and Cree people who proved to be of invaluable help to the early settlers. In fact, I have often thought on how the line was blurred between my mother’s upbringing and that of a native child. Of course, a certain social divide was maintained but growing up on the land was something they all had in common. One of my aunts just recently told me that she used to gather seneca root (snakeroot) to sell when she was a child. Seneca was used initially for snake bite but was later used as part of medicinal formulas to treat bronchitis. During the depression it was gathered to provide income for the farmers.

To obtain a land grant you first had to register and meet the requirements of the “Dominion Land Act“. That stipulated that you must clear 10 acres within 3 years or lose the land. Since Richard was working on a farm in Portage la Prairie in 1911, I assume he found time to clear the land in Magnet while he was working there. By 1915, he and my grandmother, Jane Gartshore Smith, were living in Wellwood, Manitoba and were married at the Methodist Church in Neepawa.  By this time, Sophie Phillips, Richard’s sister, had come to the area and married Richard Mason. Now, you had George, Sophie and Richard all living in the same area.

Sophie Phillips Mason and family

Sophie Phillips Mason and family

By 1916, Richard and Jane had come by wagon to the homestead with their new baby, George Holmes, the third. I have seen a picture of the log house they built with laundry hanging on the line outside of it.  Whatever, my grandmother felt about the new life she had signed up for, she apparently was not lowering the standards she had learned in Glasgow. Her house never did fall into that state of country homeliness that I found in so many of my friends homes. Rather, it had a somewhat spartan air about it, comfortable but everything in it’s place. Of course, I only knew her when she was in her 70’s, what her house was like when she had 7 children running around I don’t know. Somehow I don’t see it being too different. Later in life, she acquired some lovely furniture, but kept it all tucked away in her tiny front room. No one could enter unless it was time for Don Messer’s Jubilee or the Tommy Hunter show.

There are a few things to think about here. One is how one makes it in these circumstances, not just physically but mentally. I have moved many times in my life and each time was full of expectation and hope for the future. AND a leaving behind of the problems that got you moving in the first place. So it goes that the hardship in setting up a new place is an adventure and a fresh experience. Leaving a life of service and the grime of an industrial city for the fresh air and freedom of a new land would be a great incentive for Jane. For my grandfather, Richard, the loss of both his parents and a beloved grandfather, would drive him and his siblings overseas.

But first, you had to worry about shelter, heat and water. My grandfather got the shelter built, they would probably have had a wood stove of some kind (with the accompanying threat of fire) and water hauled from the creek . There was still a leg-hold trap under the sink when I visited as a teen-ager which my crawling brother almost got into.  For food, everything was there, if you wanted to go and get it. There was fish in the lakes, deer and moose to be hunted, and berries to be picked in spring.

I cannot be sure if my grandmother’s cooking was the same when she was older as before but we had some pretty plain food. She always gave a farm breakfast, eggs, porridge, toast and tea. But you were likely to get crabapple preserves with cream for lunch, including the stem and all (with a few cloves thrown in for good measure). At night you might have a meal of “mince”, which was basically simmered ground beef thickened with flour.  As a ravenous teen, I did not appreciate my mother carrying on this tradition! Jean would have had to cook for the men during harvest as well. Her later house in Ochre River, only had a tiny root cellar in it where her preserves were stored. At times it would fill with water if the sump pump failed.

Meeting Gramma Jean (I'm the baby)

Meeting Gramma Jean at 4 months

In 1916, Richard and Jane had the brother in law, George living with them. He spent most of the remainder of his life with them; though he had his own farm and when he wasn’t travelling back to Ireland or making trips to Winnipeg. He did meet a girl and marry once, but she wasn’t for that kind of life. The sister, Sophie took up residence on a neighboring farm. She had taken up nursing when she was young and delivered some of her nephews and nieces. When her husband died, she even ended up marrying a man from a neighboring farm. So, by this time they were surrounded by the people they would know for the rest of their lives.

By 1921, Dick and Jean were living on a different section of land with the 3 oldest children. Sometime around this period, a little girl was born who lived to be 4 years old (this told to me by my grandmother). I don’t know how she died and I have no certain record of her. Diphtheria was rife at that time and many families lost children to it.

George, Heather and Sheila Phillips c.1836

George, Heather and Sheila Phillips c.1936

At times like those, the community banded around each other. That is part of how you survived out there. They created there own social times, played hockey (even if a few eyes got knocked out) , had a women’s committee, which my Aunt Sophie belonged to and seasonal dances, played baseball in the summer when they weren’t swimming in the lakes. When my grandfather finally built a house, he had help from the neighbours. When it burned down, taking all my grandmother’s memories and money she was saving for a trip home, they helped him put another one back up. Later on, Dick and George would buy and sell cattle and horses, an activity they would have known something about since some of their Irish relatives did the same. In 1918, Dick belonged to the Orange Lodge in Wellwood.

Lodge-membership-R.W.

 

 

Uncle George St. Rose

George Phillips (dark suit on the right) at a Cattle Auction

In that environment, everything was new. The train line didn’t come into Magnet until 1924 and on that day there would have been great celebration, after all the work it took to clear the land and make way for it. It was 1921 when a pay phone was installed in the local store but it would be 1959 before home phones could be installed and 1996 before private lines were installed. I actually remember living in Dauphin, the nearest main centre in 1968 and finding out that other people were listening into my teen conversations!

Mail was of course delivered by horse and buggy in summer and sleigh in winter. Eventually post-offices were set up in private homes with the owners making bids for the privilege but eventually, in 1970, the mail was moved to the post office in Rorketon a near by town and you had to pick it up there. I remember my grandmother actually getting dressed up to walk down to the post office after she moved to Ochre River, another small town. It was only a block away but it was an outing for her. She was “going into town”. There she would meet and have a small conversation with the post mistress and meet her other neighbours. They always called her “Mrs. Phillips”.

Jane Smith Phillips c.1942

Jane Smith Phillips c.1942

My grandmother’s last pregnancy, with my mom, was a difficult one. She was 46 and the years had taken some toll on her health. My mother was the first child to be born in hospital ( if you want to call it that, it was part of the doctor’s house). My grandmother started to hemorrhage and it was a close call for both of them. I think that is one reason my grand mother called her Sheila JOY Richard Phillips. She was probably so glad to just get through it. Here is a pic of the darling little girl.

Sheila kitten 1942 c.r.

Sheila Phillips c. 1940

The horse below, Jessie, was the horse that my mother and her siblings rode to school. I say rode but Jessie (so named after Gramma’s oldest sister) knew the way back and forth. She would walk home by herself and come and get Mom when school was over. Mom rode her bareback. Mom never was afraid of horses, unlike her daughter!

Jessie and Mae Rev 2014

Jessie and Mae                      Sheila’s School Horses

 

Richard and Sheila c.1943

Richard and Sheila c.1943

Magnet School c.1942

Magnet School c.1942, Sheila top left

Magnet School c. 1945

Magnet School c. 1945   Sheila 3rd back right

By 1957, Dick and Jean had retired to Ochre River, Manitoba. I don’t know why they picked Ochre River, but there seemed to be many families of British extraction there. My grandfather bought half of an airport hotel (re-purposing buildings was a major activity there) and they set up house on a very pretty piece of property which sat on the highway going into Dauphin. There was a small river over to the side of it, called Ochre because the rock under it had that colour. That little river still wreaks havoc in the spring if it gets plugged with ice. In the late 60’s they were still pumping water and using the outhouse.

Richard, George and Jean Phillips c.1960

Richard, George and Jean Phillips c.1960

In Ochre River, they made many friends and lived out the rest of their lives. Family came and went including myself.  I remember sitting on the floor beside my grandmother as she sat knitting. I knew I would probably never get another chance to ask what it was like. She did not like talking about the past.
She said  ” Londa, the wind blew and the wolves were throwing themselves at the door. Your grandfather was away and I had to go out to see to the animals.”
“What about the kids? I asked her.
Well, there were 6 of them and I left them with the oldest.”
The oldest boy, George who had to help deliver one of her babies.
“But what about the wolves?”
“I just opened up the ” blammed” door and shot at them!”
There were always two guns in the house, one above the door and one standing in the corner.

In 1967, my grandmother was awarded a Pioneer Certificate of Recognition for her contributions to the settler community.

Pioneer Award for Jane Richard had passed away in 1964 at age 74. She joined him in 1975 at age 88. Until then, she lived in the little house by the river. This is one of my favorite photos of her, though poorly taken. It is Jane as I knew her.

Jane in front yard c.r.

This is my grandfather, Richard Phillips as I knew him.

Richard Phillips

They are both buried with old Uncle George in the Magnet Cemetery.

Headstone, Jane Phillips, Magnet, MB 2007

Headstone, Richard Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007 Headstone, George Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007

Who Are These People?

Aside

One has to wonder who some of the people that collected census information were. That is the case with many records online and off. As I come nearer to writing about my maternal grandparents lives in Canada, I am once again looking at the various records available for them. Two of the census records for my grandfather are ridiculously incorrect, not to mention the handwriting alone. I mean, how hard is it to add an s onto the end of a name? Were they hard of hearing? Also, the transcribers; one wonders how much effort they actually put into reading a document. When does ” —-ger”  turn into “son”? Thankfully ancestry.ca lets you correct the index supplied with the image ( or rather, add alternative information). It may be a little more difficult with other websites.

But what if you are looking at the actual document? These things can throw you off the trail. My grandfather’s death certificate is a blithering mess! They have his name as Richard Walter instead of Walker. His birth date is wrong. There is no known birthplace in Ireland for both the parents. Thank you very much Uncle George! It’s hard to believe that he would mistake his brother’s second name. So you have a combination of clerical error and the unknown. But Uncle George went back to his home in Ireland he knew where it was. One has to make allowances for trying times.  That is why you need more than one source of information.

So, my grandfather who was a LODGER at a farm became the SON of the farmer and who knew where he came from because it was all blotted out when the writer tried to overwrite his mistake. His birthplace was transcribed as England not Ireland. That was the 1911 Canadian census. In the 1916 Prairie census, George is spelled Gorege, Anglican is spelled Anghica! Those are straight forward mistakes to correct and the fact that they are transcribed on ancestry is a bonus. But if they are wrongly transcribed that is a problem. I have other records which help but many other people might not.

That being said, the census records are wonderful because they tell you so many things which I will not go into here. There is an almost psychological effect created. For example, why did my grandfather say he came over in 1905 on the 1916 and 1921 census when it was 1907 (He says on the passenger list he had not been across before). His older brother George, whom he was very close  to, came in 1905. One wonders if he thought it would be better to say they came over in the same year for some reason. My grandmother says she is the same age as him. She was in fact 3 years older. She says she came over in 1914 one time and 1915 the next. And that’s great because the closest passenger list I have for her is in 1911!

You get to see who their neighbors were. I read the names on the lines above and below and I hear the varying emotions in my mother’s voice as she talked about them, laughter, sarcasm, sadness and wistfulness as she looked back at her girlhood. You could take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl.

I think that one of the best ways to get on the path of your family is to get the actual birth, marriage and death certificates. That gives you something solid to start on. For the main part, family stories are just that, stories. They alter as they are passed on though there is always a thread of truth in them  What they told the law is another thing. Time to “fess up” as they say!

 

Saying Goodbye

If the truth be told, I did not actually know my grandfather, the previous Richard Phillips. I met him twice when I was a child, once at his home and once in his final days. He was ill with prostate cancer and was home from the hospital the first time. I do not know why I was kept out of the house until he was ready to see me, but I had to be allowed in. He was a man with presence, you might say, for though his face was carved with the lines of a hard life, there was still a vital energy there. He was more familiar with my cousin, Jean, the oldest granddaughter and called me that. He was swiftly corrected by my grandmother; “no, this is Londa, Sheila’s girl”. Though, my brother and I were given French names after our father’s ancestry, they had maintained the British way and called us Andy instead of Andre and Londa instead of Yolanda. My mother, as I stated before, was the youngest of their seven children.

Grandpa sat there in his chair in the familiar cardigan and trousers, the smell of Amphora tobacco in the air. He asked if I liked his pipe, of course I said yes.He asked if I could read the writing on the pouch. No.Then he asked me to go get some tobacco for him out of the cupboard which sent my grandmother into a tizzy do not ask why, perhaps something to do with his health. And that really is all I remember.

Grandpa as I Remember Him

Grandpa as I Remember Him

The next time, he was in hospital, the three of us, my sister, brother and I were shuttled in. Andre was put up on his bed where he was quietly told to “look after the women” among other things. My mother, 6 months pregnant with my youngest brother was so stricken she held back in the hallway. Shortly after that, she ended up in the hospital losing one of the twins she was carrying. The rest of the scene was harrowing to say the least. That was the last I saw of him. I think that my mom had a special relationship with him because she was the youngest and he had more time for her. This is a lovely picture of them.

Richard and Sheila 1943

Richard and Sheila 1943

Richard “Dick” Phillips died June 25, 1964. He is buried alongside George and Jane in the Magnet Cemetery in Manitoba. Rest in peace, Grandpa.

Headstone, Richard Phillips, Magnet, MB. 2007

I will talk more about his life later on.

To a New Land

In 1898, my great-grandfather, George Holmes Phillips, died in Moneygall of typhus. His wife had preceded him in 1896. At this point, their children were orphaned and parcelled out. The 1901 census for Ireland shows the girls, Sophie and Evelyn at Lisheenamalausa (Tipperary) with Alice McDowell. The two boys however, are in boarding school. My great-uncle George Holmes Phillips II, at Oxmantown School Lodge and my grandfather, Richard Walker Phillips at Morgans Endowed School.

I was amused to find that George’s school was part of the Kings Hospital School, also known as the “Blue Coat” school. A Blue Coat school was originally a charity school, but that changed as time went by. A few years ago, I was contacted by a former student of that school to ask if my great-uncle had a military history as he was doing a paper on that. I had to say no because George emigrated, but he did tell me that George’s father was on the registration form as “clerk in a Land Agents office”. This was a great help to me because it provided another piece of evidence that connected George to a family of land agents in Newport, Tipperary.

As soon as they got out, however, the boys were off to Canada, whether by choice or by circumstance. Walter Bates’ son William had emigrated there, so one would guess that there was a general consensus about that in the family. At that time,there was a huge campaign on to settle Western Canada  (1896-1914) .  The ” Dominion Lands Act” came into effect in 1872 allowing a settler to purchase for 10$ and under certain conditions, title to 160 acres of land. Of course, you would first need the money to build and work the land. With that in mind, they came ahead.

The Last Best West

The Last Best West

Dick and Jane

phillips-house-ochre-river-manitoba

The picture above shows the last home of my maternal grandparents, Jane Gartshore Smith (the Scottish line) and Richard Walker Phillips ( the Irish line).  It is located in a little town called Ochre River in Manitoba  (so-called after the tiny little river that flows just across the lane from the house).  My mother Sheila Joy Richard Phillips was the youngest of their 7 children and being so, had a different relationship with them which in turn was passed on to me. The age difference between her and her sisters created a 10 year gap between my cousins and I  so some of them had more time with the grandparents than I did. Of course, this was offset by my own mother’s memories of the times.

Like every family, there were differing personalities, the experience of the oldest children being dramatically different from that of the youngest just as today. So, you had the cousins that grew up near the grandparents and the cousins that grew up far away.  It is hard to keep relations cordial when you happen to have come upon some fact that just throws a favourite story out the window.  It rather shatters the myth so to speak.

If you are lucky, you will be on the same page with your relatives. But if not you have to go it alone, in pursuit of truth. Therein lies the rub because my truth is “if you weren’t there, you cannot know EVERYTHING!”  So we reconcile ourselves to trying to solve the mysteries surrounding our families and hope they look down on us with favour.  Below, photos of my grandparents at their home in Ochre River, my grandmother c. 1940  (she still hadn’t cut her waist length hair) and my grandfather c. 1960.

Jane Gartshore Smith

Jane Gartshore Smith

Richard Walker Phillips

Richard Walker Phillips