Saturday, 6 June 2015


Harry, Joan, Lewis, Bess & baby Eileen
In September of 1925, Bess was on her way to the shops one day and after crossing the triangle of land that separated two major streets in Point St. Charles; she suffered what she called “a broken appendix”. The pain caused her pass out and fall on to the street where luckily a car wheel caught only her hat and she subsequently woke up in the hospital.

When she awoke she asked the nurse “Where is my baby? Oh madam, you don’t have a baby” the nurse said. Bess replied indignantly “Yes I do, she has got to be fed. The nurse then went to fetch the doctor.” Sure enough the doctor arrived and confirmed that she had just come out of emergency surgery for a burst appendix saying, “Oh but you don’t have a baby Mrs. Welch, you didn’t have a child, you had an appendix”. At the time Eileen was about four months old.

Bess tells of her operation being called “frying pan” surgery and that she was in a hospital where the surgeon wanted to show and quiz his students on his work. She agreed and so he did. She explained it was called a frying pan surgery because you usually have one slice in a surgery but she had three (“a cut, a cut, a cut” she said) all of which created a frying pan shape. I expect this was medical slang as I have consulted a couple of medical history sources who can find no trace of this term. A librarian from the Osler Library of the History of Medicine suggested that perhaps it referred to the traditional one, the MacArthur/McBurney incision, involving multiple cuts that split three layers of the abdominal muscle. It is also referred to as a “Grid iron” incision. This incision was pioneered at the very end of the 19th century.

With the old familiar clock chiming an accompaniment, Bess continued her account of remaining in the hospital for a few days and then being sent directly from the hospital to a location high above Lac Chapleau for several weeks of convalescence. She described it as being a three-quarter day train journey from Montreal, “high up in Quebec”. 

It was a monastery; there were three big buildings one of which was used by recovering patients sent from the hospital, luckily, with no cost to the patient. It was a beautiful peaceful place especially in the fall, with a large veranda surrounding the building. From it you could look down and out over the lake while listening to someone playing the piano. “It was so beautiful” Bess said. Usually at this time of year the trees would still have some of their colourful autumn leaves and it would probably be cool but still warm in the sun. .

Bess told her niece about one day when a loud alarm went off. “It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the sky was beautiful, blue as a blue ribbon and the sun was shining – when suddenly the big bell rang - bong – bong – bong - bong. We had been warned to stand stock still if the bell rang and I did.  In two minutes I couldn’t see anything. You couldn’t see your face, you couldn’t see the lake, you couldn’t see the trees, you couldn’t see the sky; you couldn’t see anything!    

After a long dramatic pause ..."Fog!” she said. The building was high above the lake and it was very dangerous to move around the property in the fog.

Unfortunately my mother Joan now has no recollection of the time her mother Bess was in the hospital and her convalescence but we agreed that likely her father Harry got them ready for school in the morning and they went to Aunt Nellie’s until he came home from work.

We often heard the story of how Harry repaired, cleaned and polished the family’s shoes to a military shine every night and laid them outside the bedroom doors every morning. There were very few pairs of shoes so they were worth looking after well and of course the state of your shoes said something about you or your family. Run down shoes did not speak well of you.

Bess’s employer, the wife of the head of the Toronto Bank branch was involved in charities that helped a lot of children and when Bess did not turn up for work the day after her accident, her employer was immediately concerned for the baby (Eileen).

Harry, Eileen & Bess
She wrapped her in a shawl and took her” said Bess. She made an arrangement that Eileen be cared for at a children’s hospital for the duration of Bess’s full recovery - until she had regained her ability to care for her very young daughter.

Bess returned from the monastery and after three weeks recovery at home she went back to the hospital for a check up, then she found out where she could find Eileen.

On entering the children’s hospital she said “I have come to fetch my child, my little girl, Eileen Welch”.Huh, you haven’t got a chance of taking that child out of here, the doctor’s got it” the nurse replied. 

Bess said “I thought Harry had put her in the home for good, they wouldn’t tell me anything”. The nurse then phoned around to see where she was.

Finally a doctor came into the room with a child under his arm kicking her legs. He gave the baby to the nurse saying “you had better change her and I’ll take her out again” then left the room without even speaking to Bess. The nurse said nothing and left with the baby. “I was so bewildered” Bess said. 

However when the nurse returned, she said “you’re going to have an awful job, that doctor takes her everywhere he goes”. She finally gave Bess her daughter. “She was so spoiled – she was spoiled forever and forever” Bess dramatically declared.

Albert & Stan Blaney
Bess and Harry continued to live the duplex at 106 Pacific Ave, in Verdun, Quebec for a couple more years. They shared the family's small quarters and minimal food not only with her two brothers but also for some poor man they found freezing to death on a cold Montreal street. Bess's brothers Albert & Stanley came to Montreal to stay with Bess and her family while they looked for work.

A large forest fire near Rock Bay, British Columbia brought logging operations to a halt putting them both out of work and they had difficulty finding other work in the Vancouver area.

In a story co-written with his niece Patricia Blaney Koretchuk, Albert Blaney described the fire as follows:

This monstrous fire was forty miles square, easy. You could see it coming for a week before it arrived. We watched it creeping, creeping, and creeping up on us. On the edge of it you to stand three or four hundred feet away from it, it was so hot. The heat was so terrific that it took my cabin and my uncle’s cabin in twenty minutes.

The logging company had to send men quickly up to the heard of the railroad line and get the people out before the fire got them and destroyed the tracks. There were families, women and children up there. They put water barrels on the logging flat cars, and they put tarps over the top so that people could be under cover. There was some kind of hand pumps in the barrels so that people could squirt water on the tarps for protection as they passed through the hot areas.

After they got everybody out, it wasn’t very long before the fire had ruined all the bridges. The heat was so great that the tracks were bent into arcs, or bent down into the lay of the land. Miles and miles of timber were ruined, so it wasn’t worthwhile going in there logging any more. After the fire, I left Rock Bay for Vancouver because the logging company completely gave it up in that area”.

Albert with Clara & Mike at their cabin in Rock Bay British Columbia

For a time in Montreal, they worked as aides at the Montreal hospital where Bess worked in the kitchens. Stan also found a job at the Belding Corticelli Silk factory. They all found any work they could and Bess at age 91 wrote to a relative in England, about that time.

Harry suffered heart attacks at times, which made him lose his work so many times. So with 3 children after 2 years here, I had to find some work of any kind to help to keep the rent paid. I got a job cleaning taxis; washing them at night. Oh Boy!!”

“A British Officer, at whose home I washed & cleaned, and his wife gave me things to help with Joan's clothes; they had a girl the same age. He came to see Harry & wrote to army headquarters & tried to get us home but as Harry had no pension they would not help him, so on we go, what a life, yes I had no alternative.

Bess continued, "then I got a day job with a well to do family who came from England same time as we did & she could understand what we were up against here. Anyway after a short time she told me she had wished she could go back to England but he would not go. She said her brother was in Toronto with his wife & family and they would pay our way if I would go to work for them in Toronto”. 

So Bess, Harry and their three children moved again.  

Many thanks to my cousin Patricia Blaney Koretchuk as most of the quotes in the Montreal years Part I and Part II are from her recorded interview of Bess in 1988. Also thanks to my English cousin Jon Everett for sharing his correspondence from Bess, parts of which I have quoted above including the photo of Albert & Stan in Montreal and Albert's Aunt Clara Elcocks and Michael Murphy's cabin in Rock Bay.


I have three photos that I have been unable to identify for many years. They were found among my Grandmother Bess’s photo collection which I received after she died in 1990.

Since almost all the ancestor photos were of her Blaney family, I tried asking every Blaney relative I came across over the years if they recognized him to no avail.  I also sent one to a member of the Langley family who didn’t recognize it either. 


I recently sent them to a professional photo detective who thought both photos of the standing man were the same person. She also believes he is the seated man with this photo taken years earlier as there is no grey in the mustache. 

She dated their clothing about mid 1920s and thought that while he was well dressed, the clothes were very conservative.The poses, ties, hats and collars are similar. Their angular faces, the shape of their noses and mustaches are seen in all the photos. 

The picture of the seated man is a tintype which were widely used in the 1870s but were still in use in the early 1900s by itinerant photographers.

During our conversation, we ruled out that these photos were of Edwin Blaney (Bess’s grandfather) due to them being twentieth century photos and he died prior to 1891. These would not have been the clothes of his time and the photos are not similar to those of his son, Harry Blaney. I will still have to search for photos of Great-Grandfather Edwin Blaney.

While I have been focusing on the Blaneys for some time due to writing the blog of my Grandmother’s story, I was also occasionally working on my Grandfather Harry Lewis Welch’s ancestors. The only photos I have of his parents are ones of his mother Mary Ann (Lewis) Welch and only a couple of those. As mentioned in past posts he did not keep in touch with his parents for years after leaving England.

While researching his only sibling, his sister Amy (Welch) Bullivant, I came across her will. In it I found the name of their cousin Olwen Hansen. I had heard the name Olwen many years ago in reference to a cousin of Amy’s. However I didn’t know if it was a surname or given name or even if it was a male or female cousin.

When I began to follow up on Olwen Hansen I happened across a family tree which mentioned the name and showed a connection to Harry Welch & Mary Ann Lewis – my Welch great-grandparents.
I sent a request to the owner of the family tree and was delighted when she replied from England that she was indeed the daughter of Olwen (Cousins) Hansen! 

She immediately offered to send some photos and we exchanged a few of Amy (Welch) Bullivant as she knew her quite well and I had a couple of photos of Amy and her husband Bill Bullivant from their visits to Canada.

While I was looking through my photos I came across the ones of the unidentified man and sent them along in case she might recognize them.

Happily she responded with a photo of Amy and Bill’s wedding day, which I had not seen before. In the back row were Amy’s mother Mary Ann (Lewis) Welch  which I immediately recognized and behind Amy was her father Harry Welch. We both agreed that the man in the back row was the same man as I had in two of my unidentified man photos. Olwen is the bridesmaid and Olwen’s mother Gwladys (Lewis) Cousins, sister of Mary Ann, is in the centre of the back row.   

Harry Welch would have been about seventy-two when his daughter Amy married in the summer of 1942 in Birmingham and he died at about age seventy-five. His health seems to have deteriorated between the two standing photos as suggested by the walking stick. He looks quite thin in the wedding photo. I now think the standing photos were likely taken in the 1930s given the information available. Also Harry Welch was a brass worker and likely while well dressed, was not as up-to-date as some more prosperous or less conservative men might have been.

I realized that I had not considered him a Welch ancestor knowing the history of the lack of contact with Harry’s parents and the overwhelming number of Blaney photos present in the collection.

In summary, my grandfather Harry Lewis Welch’s father was Harry Welch, born in Birmingham in 1871, married Mary Ann Lewis in 1892 and died in Birmingham in 1946. I am so delighted to identify the unidentified man and have a photo of my Great Grandfather Welch to put together with his genealogy data. 

Several years ago I was in touch with a Blaney cousin in British Columbia who has a photo very much like mine and after hearing this story about mine being my Great Grandfather Harry Welch, he felt that his photo is likely the same man. 

Recently while showing my mother Joan Welch some scanned photos to help pass the time when visiting her at the nursing home, she suddenly pointed to the photo above and said "that's my grandfather!" Whenever I asked her in the past seven or eight years to help me identify the photo, she couldn't.

What a wonderful connection I have with my newly found cousin who has a generous sharing nature. She has a family tree and diary done by her Lewis Uncle and lots of photos and I have my Grandmother’s diaries and photos.

We continue to correspond and perhaps we will meet one day. Who knows what else we may discover about our shared ancestors.

Thursday, 16 April 2015


Bess & Harry Welch, Joan & Lewis
It was a lovely warm sunny day on August 17th, 1923 when the S.S. Montcalm docked at Montreal, Quebec, Canada and the Welch’s took up their life in a new country.

When Bess was interviewed at the age of 90 by her niece Patricia Blaney Koretchuk, Pat asked her “What did you notice about Canada when you first arrived?” Bess replied “If I had the money to go home I would have gone the next day! If you don’t “parle francais” you are lost; you’re in another world”.

The Welch family stayed with Bess’s Aunt Nellie (Beatrice Ellen Blaney Cheffins) at the Cheffins home in the Maisonneuve district of Montreal. Bess’s daughter, Joan, remembers living in a large house which according to a Montreal city directory was 1401 Rue Theodore. Their daughter, Ethel was age 20 and living with her parents. Their son Eric E. Stan Cheffins had married Louise Charrington in 1922 and was living in Verdun. Their eldest son Robert Albert Cheffins had married Mona Beatrice Denovan in 1920 and they remained in Quebec most of their lives. 

After three weeks they found a small apartment to rent, about six miles away at 289 Hibernia, Point St. Charles on Montreal Island. They lived there for the next couple of years. It was a mixed neighbourhood with about an equal number of French and English speaking residents and the children were able to attend a local English Protestant school. I think they attended Lorne School as it was located about three blocks from Hibernia and about the same distance from Pacific Avenue.

Aunt Nellie continued to help when needed.  Joan recalls that Aunt Nellie was very strict and, when she or her brother Lewis misbehaved, their punishment was to write lines on a large standing chalkboard – “I will not …………”, a common practice in schools at the time. 

Bess and her brothers kept in touch with her aunt and the Cheffins cousins, Abbe, Stan and Ethel, over her lifetime, as did the next generation of the Welch family. Bess forever remained grateful for her Aunt Nellie’s help in those early days of life in Canada and paid that forward with her own family later in her life. “She was good to us” Bess would say many years later.                                                                                                                                                     
In 1923, about 52,500 English immigrants arrived in Canada. The biggest annual numbers arrived between 1907 and 1913 topping out at 142,616 in 1913. After WW1, English immigration resumed with the largest number being 93,467 in 1920. By 1921 the census shows, of the total number of people of English origin in Canada, 47.6% were in the Province of Ontario and 7.7% in Quebec. Most were urban residents residing in Toronto and Montreal.

The Canadian government expectation that the immigrating English would take up farming occupations did not happen, since most of the English were city dwellers before coming to Canada. They did bring other skills with them. Skills from the newest factory and machine-shop industries as well as domestic service, sales and other service occupations which were needed in Canadian cities.

Canada was a country with many British customs and traditions. The English usually remained emotionally attached to the local area where they were born and grew up; they were very proud of their roots. Churches and clubs were a way of meeting like-minded friends.

In the late 19th century, Canadians generally thought English immigrants were too uppity and felt that they looked down on the “colonials”. While this was somewhat true, it was exaggerated by the press and the unions who felt that the English were taking jobs that should have gone to Canadians. Some employers posted “English need not apply” signs.  Every generation of immigrants has experienced similar discouragement to some degree, even today employers often ask for “Canadian experience” when hiring.

While there was still some of this going on in 1923, the larger issue for the Welch family was living in Quebec where the principal language is French and thus fewer jobs for non-French speaking workers. 

Joan tells of a French neighbor who, when she heard noisy children in the street below, would dump her dirty dishwater out the window on to them. No knowledge of French was needed to get her message.

Harry took the train west to work as an agriculture worker for the first months that the family were in Montreal (it was harvest season) but he did not go back because although neither Harry nor Bess were afraid of hard work, harvesting work was too arduous given his heart condition. During 1924 and 1925 city directories list his occupation as mechanic or metal worker so perhaps he found some work along those lines as he had in Birmingham.

While jobs were scarce for non-French speaking people, Harry and Bess were able to work at various low level labour jobs where language did not matter so much and they learned a few French phrases which Bess used for the rest of her life. The one I remember as a child was “fermer la porte” which was used frequently. I can still hear her saying it in place of “close the door” when we ran in and out of her house; we lived next door when I was about 10 years old. One job that Bess told us about was a night shift, washing taxi cabs in the middle of the night! 
She worked in the Montreal General Hospital kitchen and was at times the sole support for the family. They also assisted her brothers Albert and Stanley and a stranger they found freezing on a Montreal street.

In 1924 she was also working as a cleaner for the wife of the head of the Montreal Branch of the Toronto Bank. It was established in 1856 in Toronto and opened its first branch office in Montreal in 1860 merging with the Dominion Bank in 1955 to become the Toronto Dominion Bank.

Bess’s relationship with that family would play a very helpful and important role during the Welch family’s troubles in Montreal. 

The weather was another challenge they faced coming from the temperate climate of Birmingham. Demonstrating the difficulties with the weather, are family stories of frigid winter temperatures, tunnelling through the deep snow accumulation to get to the corner store and difficulty opening the door with the snow piled up against it. However, they dressed warmly and their usual resilience prevailed.

Perhaps their Canadian school mates taught them to make angels in the snow, build a snowman and the delight of catching a snowflake on their tongue. They likely enjoyed watching adults and children ice skating on the local ponds and on the river.

Joan tells of the Icemen cutting large blocks of ice from the St. Lawrence River and delivering them to the ice-house for storage, using horses and wagons. She and Lewis and the other local children would run, jump up and hitch a ride on the wagons.  The ice was stored in insulated buildings with sawdust until being delivered to homes for use in their ice-boxes, the precursor to the refrigerator. A block of ice was put in the top portion and the lower portion was used to store perishable food.

This photo of Eileen, Lewis and Joan was probably taken in the winter of early 1927 given the apparent age of the three children and the background showing a duplex in Verdun. Shovelling snow from the steps was a childhood chore.

Bess became pregnant with their third child in the summer of 1924 and delivered a second daughter on May 9th. 1925. Eileen Ellen Florence Welch was baptised in Pointe St. Charles, Quebec on June 21st that year in the Congregational Church according to the Drouin Collection of Quebec, Vital and Church Records, 1621-1967. Bess's friend Rose Mary Webb was a witness along with her uncle Harold W.J. Cheffins. 

The church was nearby, along Hibernia at the corner of Wellington. It was consecrated March 10, 1912 and in 1925 when it joined the United Church, it was renamed Main Memorial Church, in honor of Rev. Arthur W. Main, the pastor from 1906 to 1913. The church was closed in 1962 and destroyed by fire a few years afterwards. 

Not long after Eileen was born the Welch family were living at 106 Pacific Ave, in Verdun, Quebec. Verdun was a short distance south of Point Ste. Charles and the premises were larger than their former apartment. They had the top floor of a duplex, that being a building with two dwellings, one above the other. External staircases provided separate entrances for each residence.

In September 1925, when Eileen was just four months of age, a serious mishap occurred that affected the family for some time.