Research? What kind of research?

It doesn’t seem to matter what the task is, unless it’s something I’ve done before, research has to come first.

  • Changing the needle on the sewing machine? Check the manual.
  • Removing a stain from delicate fabric? Google my options.
  • Bake a special dessert? Get out the cookbook.
  • Refinish deck furniture? Find a YouTube video and follow the steps.

My current project — creating a family tree — has been a major research project. Once I made a start, I found lots of formerly unknown sources of information.

An old family bible provided pages of family births, deaths and marriages from the mid-1800s.

Other distant relatives had information to share, such as their discovery of an abandoned cemetery and lost family gravestones.

I’m accumulating details from birth, marriage and death registration certificates that, in addition to cause of death — a surprise to me — often included names and birthplaces of parents, residence at time of death, religious denomination, and occupation.

I mentioned in an earlier post my excitement over locating forty pages of my father-in-law’s WWI military service records. I’ve gleaned all sorts of interesting albeit irrelevant tidbits, like the name of the ships he sailed on between Canada and Europe.

It’s such seemingly irrelevant information that can make the research fascinating and bring an ancestor to life again.

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For writers, it’s those details that can make our stories appealing to readers. The little bits of personal trivia that help readers ‘see’ the setting and get to ‘know’ the characters. They make the story more intimate, more meaningful.

I know this. I just have to remember to implement it in my writing!

What kind of research do you undertake in preparation for (or during) the writing of your stories?

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Making Vimy Ridge Personal

War has always seemed a very distant reality to me. As I was growing up, it existed mostly in sepia photos and scratchy news reels that preceded our Saturday afternoon matinées.

For a time, WWII separated our family when my enlisted father was sent from Vancouver to Toronto in 1945 to be a masonry contractor during the building of Sunnybrook Military Hospital for veterans (now the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre). But even that ‘inconvenience’ was short-lived when he located an apartment for us a few months later, and my mother and I travelled by train to join him.

WWI was ancient history. It wasn’t until I’d been married for several years that I heard a fleeting reference to my father-in-law having served in France. He never talked about it other than to show us a unique ‘souvenir’ — a rosary of roughly carved wooden beads and a cross that had an extra set (decade) of beads — which he’d found in a muddy ditch.

All these years later, as preparations are being made for tomorrow’s 100th anniversary commemoration in Vimy, France, we are reminded that he was a part of that battle. There is a memorial there to the 3,598 Canadian soldiers that lost their lives, but Edison Lloyd Garvin came home uninjured. He put the horror behind him (or at least kept it well hidden), married and got on with his life.

Several years ago I took a notion to google for information on his military service. All I found at that time was his regimental number and a copy of his attestation papers showing he had enlisted on September 15, 1915 at age nineteen.

Since then, the Government of Canada has been digitizing the records and, to my amazement, my search earlier this week brought up a PDF file containing forty pages — including an itemized record of my father-in-law’s entire military history.

Upon enlisting he was assigned to the 45th Canadian Battalion and on March 13, 1916 embarked on the SS Lapland for England. There, on June 6, 1916 he was transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was sent to the field in France.

His Active Service Record indicates he remained in France until February 8, 1919, at which time he returned to England. Due to the demobilization of his troop, he left Liverpool on March 12, 1919 aboard the RMS Baltic. His Discharge Certificate was issued on March 24, 1919.

Those are the bare facts. Seeing them and all the in-between actions noted in handwriting, the cheque number of every monthly $15 payment that was sent to his mother, and in particular, seeing my father-in-law’s own very recognizable signature on the various forms, brings the distant reality much closer. Now the battle at Vimy Ridge is personal!

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Another Generation

My St. Patrick’s Day post shared bits of my family background, including photos of my two sets of grandparents. They were a big part of my life all the way through childhood. Once I was married, however, life took my hubby and me away to live in assorted provinces throughout Canada — places where the rest of my family didn’t live — but fortunately I had great memories of many gatherings and experiences that involved all my grandparents.

Robert & Ella Garvin

My hubby, on the other hand, was four years old when he remembers seeing his Grandma Ella Garvin for the last time. She was the only one of his four grandparents who was still alive when he was born.

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There are many reasons why his parents had him and his brother later in their marriage. Before his father, Edison, finished high school, World War I took him to France for three and a half years of military service. Following his discharge he worked for a year before embarking on a series of Bible College courses in preparation for ministry. After supplying pastoral care as a student in Stratton, ON, he went to a small, rural congregation in Ridgedale, SK while continuing his studies extramurally. He married Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Haines in 1924.

Grandmother Sarah Ann (Lewis) Haines

The manse in Ridgedale was little more than a drafty shack — I’m told they could lay in bed and line the stars up through a crack in the roof. Edison’s ministry there was abruptly ended by two years spent battling tuberculosis in a sanitarium in Saskatoon, followed by a long recuperation period. During his recovery, he undertook some part-time ministry and continued more extramural studies, this time from Knox College, before finally being accepted for ordination.

It wasn’t until he was called to full-time ministry in a church in Selkirk, MB that their children were finally born. Edison and Beth were both 42 years old when my hubby arrived. We’ve often quipped about my husband’s parents being old enough to be the parents of my parents who were 20 and 21 when I was born.

When writing our church’s history in 2015 I added this comment:

“Who we are as a church today is
a direct result of the journey of faith
begun by those who travelled before us.”

I believe it’s equally true for a family. Our roots have contributed to the people we are today. We exist because of those who came before us. If there’s truth in the cliche that we can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been, then it’s important to be aware of our ancestors and what led to where we are today.

So I shall muddle on in my genealogy project. I haven’t yet unearthed a photo of the fourth grandfather, William Haines, but am hoping I’ll find it in one of the many boxes still stacked in the corner of my office. Don’t hold your breath! 🙂

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It’s Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Birthday!

One of my favourite authors is Lucy Maud Montgomery, the creator of the ‘Anne of Green Gables‘ series. I’ve enjoyed her stories because of her wonderful settings and delightful characters. I mean, what’s not to like about Anne Shirley?

I’m glad both of my daughters read her books, too, and followed her escapades during a long-running television series. Megan Follows brought Anne to the screen with the very personality I had always attributed to Montgomery’s creation.

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L.M. Montgomery (1897)

Beyond the magic of story, however, L.M. Montgomery’s writing has something more to offer aspiring writers. There’s much to learn from her. She began writing when she was nine, keeping a journal and writing poetry, but it was many years before her writing was published.

“During her years in Cavendish, Montgomery continued to write and send off numerous poems, stories, and serials to Canadian, British, and American magazines. Despite many  rejections, she eventually commanded a comfortable income from her writing. In 1899, she earned $96.88 – certainly not much by today’s standards but a nice sum at the turn of the century. Her earnings from her writing increased to $500 in 1903.

“In 1905, she wrote her first and most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. She sent the manuscript to several publishers, but, after receiving rejections from all of them, she put it away in a hat box. In 1907, she found the manuscript again, re-read it, and decided to try again to have it published. Anne of Green Gables was accepted by the Page Company of Boston, Massachusetts and published in 1908. An immediate best-seller, the book marked the beginning of Montgomery’s successful career as a novelist.” *

Despite the success of her Anne stories, she was often anxious about how her writing was perceived and disappointed that her poetry never received much acclaim. “Montgomery herself considered her poetry to be more significant than the novels she sometimes characterized as ‘potboilers’.” ** And yet she never stopped writing. She was still journalling in 1942, the year she died.

She once said, “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author.” I’d say Lucy Maud Montgomery proved the value of persistence, of refusing to let rejection or fear deter her from pursuing her goal.

The Green Gables farmhouse featured in her series is a heritage building in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, and I loved the opportunity to see it during a cross-Canada trip our family made in 1980. (Another highlight was taking in a live performance of Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown.)

But there’s another connection our family has with Montgomery’s history, although it’s rather tenuous. In 1911 she married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald, and they moved to Leaskdale, Ontario, where Macdonald ministered in the Presbyterian church until 1926. Half of L.M. Montgomery’s twenty-two novels were written during her years living in the church manse in Leaskdale.

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The Presbyterian manse in its original state ****

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The Presbyterian manse (circa 2000) ***

The history of the Leaskdale Manse dates to 1886. It is now both an Ontario and a National Historical Site. I remember being in it at one time, but can’t recall if it was during our cross-Canada trip, or during the time my brother- and sister-in-law lived in it. Murray spent a year as minister in Leaskdale Presbyterian Church in 1972-73 while on furlough from his missionary work in Taiwan. All I remember for sure is seeing a small pump organ in the manse and being awed that it had belonged to LMM.

An encouraging lesson from Lucy Maud Montgomery, and lots of good memories. 🙂

Happy 141st Birthday, LMM!

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* (Her Life: L.M. Montgomery Institute)

** (Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 *** (Photos: Canada’s Historic Places / Parks Canada)

 **** (The Toronto Star)

LMM Photo: (Wikimedia Commons)

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Looking back in history (mine)

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Hector Borthwick

Across the small lake from our wee cabin in BC’s Cariboo country there is another cabin. That one is made of logs, is still in good shape but now rarely occupied. It’s no longer visible from the water; only a small float at the shoreline marks the path up to it from the lake.

The cabin was built over a two year period between 1935 and 1937 by a tall, lanky bachelor named Hector Borthwick. He built the foundation of rocks and used a saddle-and-notch method to stack the logs. To get the upper logs in place he rolled them up poles leaned against the side of the building. The roofing was fir shakes.

Hector had moved north from the lower mainland in 1933 to join his older brother, George, who was a trapper living on ranch land near ‘our’ lake. In 1935 George decided his children needed better education, and he traded the property with a man from North Vancouver, George Ruddy. The ranch changed hands through the years, and has been owned by the Pogues, Dave Madsen, Roy Wilcox, the Ainsworths, and most recently by Rick and Arlene Booker.

When his brother moved south, Hector took over the trapline and lived with George Ruddy while he built himself a lakeside cabin.

Many years later my parents purchased property on the opposite end of that lake, and somewhere around 1949-1950 Hector helped them build a cabin that for more than a decade we used on summer holidays and annual hunting trips. I remember my mother and I were responsible for stripping the bark off each log before the men levered it into place. At my young age I’m not sure how much help I really was, but I felt important!

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Our original cabin

Hector never married. His only companion for many years was a huge grey cat he called Buster (named after Buster Hamilton, a well known guide in the area). When winter set in Hector would shoot his annual meat supply. He hung the frozen moose or deer carcass in his shed and would saw off slabs for each night’s dinner — a steak for him and an equal-sized steak for Buster. (I did say Buster was huge, didn’t I?)

Hector was a quiet man. He wasn’t overly social, but he became a very good friend to my parents. He often provided a helping hand when they moved permanently to the Cariboo and built a year-round home on the lake. He even allowed himself to be talked into accompanying them on their one and only out-of-the-country vacation — a two week trip to Mexico.

Within the 190 acres of property my parents bought, there was a dilapidated log building that has always been known as Carnegie Hall … its original owner having been a man named Albert Carnegie. It became a convenient storage place for a ragtag collection of discarded items my father could never quite part with because “someday I might need it”. My mother doubted it contained anything of potential value, but it was surprising how often a needed length of rope, a set of chains, or a bit of baling wire was located just when required. Carnegie Hall saved many an hour-long trip out to the closest store. (In those days it was probably more like a two hour trip, each way!)

Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall (before it totally collapsed)

I wasn’t around to know either George Ruddy or Albert Carnegie while they lived in the vicinity of our lake, but I  recall stopping with my parents to visit them some years after they had moved away from the isolation and closer to ‘civilization’, although they still lived in a very rustic cabin. My whispered question about why their metal beds had each leg stuck in a coffee tin (or maybe it was a tobacco tin), was shushed until we were on the road again, when it was explained to me that the tins kept mice from climbing the legs onto the beds.

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Albert Carnegie and George Ruddy

Hector continued to live at the lake, supplementing his trapping by occasionally going into the community of Forest Grove and helping with haying. That earned him $1.00 a day plus his board. He became a licensed big game guide in 1944, at a time when it paid a whopping $10.00 a day, with horses provided by the Forest Grove Lodge who made the arrangements with clients. In 1951 he also went to work as a faller, which earned him about $1.50 – $1.75 per hour, but after five years he returned to trapping and guiding, until 1963.

That’s when he became concerned about the impact of logging on the environment, and also reached the point where killing animals no longer felt right. His brother returned to retire on the lake and built a cluster of log buildings, but in 1969 Hector left to work for Cariboo Cedar Products in the town of Exeter. The following year he signed over the trapline to George.

Barely a week before he planned to retire from the Exeter sawmill, Hector suffered a devastating accident, losing portions of all his fingers on both hands. By then my parents had built a triplex on another piece of property they owned on the outskirts of 100 Mile House, and during Hector’s recovery he lived in a cabin on the back of that property. However, it was soon evident that he could no longer cope independently, and he moved to southern Vancouver Island to live out his years in comfort with one of George’s married sons.

In 1984 my husband was asked to officiate at his memorial service.

Hector Walter Borthwick
22 February 1915 – 19 October 1984 

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A lot of history and many memories have been stored up during the years we have been associated with this tiny sanctuary in the central Cariboo. Someone else owns my parents’ property now, but we’ve retained a few acres of our own — a little parcel across the creek where we’ve built our own cabin — and various branches of our family continue to make new memories for future generations to treasure.

Every so often I think about Hector and wonder if my parents would ever have discovered the out-of-the-way little lake if it hadn’t been for him. (Then again, conversations they had with a resident who happened to own a hardware store in 100 Mile House helped to send them in the right direction, so who knows — but that’s a story for a different blog post!)

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A Humbling Encounter (reprise)

Earlier today I came across a post on Facebook from Chris Hadfield:

“46 years ago today we walked on the Moon. Neil, Mike and Buzz inspired me to do something different with my life. I cannot thank them enough for the gift they gave us all.”

I wonder if they thought of their accomplishment as “a gift”. I wonder if they had any idea it would impact generations to come, well beyond the historic and scientific milestone it was.

I recall Robert Thirsk telling me about having his love of Mathematics and Science instilled while in my Grade One classroom, and his passion for space exploration fostered by a Grade Three teacher who brought a radio to class so he and his fellow students could listen to the historic ‘walk on the moon’ moment as it happened. Teachers may never know the value of what they do, but they believe in the importance of nurturing young minds.

On this 46th anniversary I thought it would be timely to share this post from my 2009 archives…

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Throughout my life I have encountered a great many people but I’ve rarely stopped to consider the possible effects of those encounters. Today I am reminiscing about one of them.

On April 1, 1996 I received a letter that would have been easy to disregard as an April Fool’s joke. It began, “I was a student in your grade one class at Glenayre Elementary School in 1959-1960. Although it is unlikely that you remember me, I do remember you… I am writing this letter to you so that you won’t be bewildered when you receive an invitation in the next week or so from NASA inviting you to a Shuttle launch. I am now an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency….” The letter was signed by Bob Thirsk and it was no joke.

Thus began one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I met with Bob and was interviewed by magazine and newspaper reporters. A headline in the Vancouver Sun on December 7, 1996 proclaimed, “Teacher helped propel astronaut’s dream: Robert Thirsk returns to his Grade One classroom in Port Moody for a reunion with his first math teacher.”  Who, me?  It was, and still is, mind-boggling.

Carol Garvin & Robert Thirsk

Carol Garvin & Robert Thirsk

[On May 27, 2009] he blasted off again, this time from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station. Expedition 20/21 was another history-making mission taking Robert Thirsk on the first Canadian long-duration flight where he would live and work on board the ISS for six months. “It will also be the first time all five international space agencies — NASA, Russia’s Roskosmos, Japan’s JAXA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency — are represented at the station simultaneously.”

expedition2021_soyuz_launch

My link with this history-making event was miniscule, but it is a reminder that we can never be sure what purpose God has for us.  Our task is simply to turn up each day and live our lives to the best of our ability, always depending on God’s guidance and giving him all praise and glory.

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