Thursday, 29 December 2016

December 31, 1737 - The Grey Nuns

The renowned "Grey Nuns" started in Montreal on 31 December 1737. Today you can find them in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

Their official name was the Sisters of Charity of Montreal. It was founded by Marie-Margueritte Dufrost de Lajemmerais, the widow of bootlegger Francois Youville. She and her three assistants in helping the poor made a secret pact to devote themselves completely to their task. About ten years later they took over running the Hopital General of Montreal from the Charon Brothers. Locals were not pleased with the changeover, and started calling them "les souers grises", or grey sisters, as a derogatory term. They were also called by some "the tipsy sisters" as a reference to Margueritte being the widow of a bootlegger. When they were recognized as an official religious order in 1755, they took the name "Grey Nuns" as their official name. Along with the name, they kept their simple grey habits, as a tribute to their humble origins.

In the beginning, the Grey Nuns filled a much needed role in New France. Women in difficulty were not taken care of outside of family. The hospital only treated men. The Grey Nuns filled this void. Not only treating women, though, their mandate was to feed and house any poor person, In exchange, able bodied people were put to work helping to run the day to day of the building. People could do laundry, prepare meals, sew; whatever way they could help.

In 1755, the nuns devoted themselves to caring for the sick during the smallpox epidemic. Since they were not a cloistered order, they were able to help the Oka First nations people at this time as well. In gratitude, they were among the contributors to rebuild after a devastating fire to the order in 1765.

Margueritte died 23 December 1771. The nuns continued with her legacy. In the 1840's the nuns expanded. They took over running a hospital in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, and an orphanage in Quebec City. A chapter opened in St, Boniface, Manitoba on the Red River, and they opened a school in Ottawa. In 1855, they started in the U.S. by beginning work in Toledo, Ohio during a cholera epidemic. During the 1920's-1940's, they opened several locations across the Prairie Provinces. In the 50's- 70's they expanded their work to South America and Africa.

In 1959, Margueritte has made a saint by Pope Saint John XXIII. She was the first Canadian born saint.

You can find out more about the Grey Nuns and their work here:

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Canada's National Parks

As I'm sure you've heard, Parks Canada is offering free admission passes to all Canadian National Parks in 2017. What's exciting is that the pass also covers admission to all historic sites and marine conservation areas run by Parks Canada. You can get yours here at Parks Canada's website.

Our first National Park was Banff. Dating back to 1885, not only is it Canada's oldest, but it is the most visited. The third oldest National Park in the world, it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is 6,641 square km and located about 100 km west of Calgary. Jasper National Park lies on it's northern border.

In 1883, some railroad employees came across a hot springs in the area of what is now Banff. After two years of dispute over rights to the hot springs the Canadian government was given ownership and Banff was born.

Banff is also linked to a darker part of our country's history. At the beginning of the 20th century cars were originally not allowed in the park. But to increase tourism, they began to clear land and build roads. During WWI, funding for parks was reduced. So J. B. Harkin (the Parks Commissioner) obtained permission to use enemy aliens in interment camps to clear land and build roads. Enemy alien internment camps were constructed to house those recent immigrants from Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Belarus. There was wide spread suspicion that they might be disloyal to their new country and the government passed special regulations to monitor and intern them. The camps were located across Canada, but there was a high concentration around southern Alberta and British Columbia. They were put to work in not only Banff but several other parks as well. After WWI, the work continued during the Depression era with relief workers. During WWII, conscientious objectors to the war were used.

Today along with the hot springs, there are hiking trails, two historic sites located within the park, and nine other National parks and historic sites nearby. In the winter there is also alpine and cross country skiing. And of course there is Lake Louise. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the most beautiful places in the world.

A few years ago, we took the drive from Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise. The town of Banff itself is picturesque, and Lake Louise quite simply took my breath away.

At Lake Louise there is a hiking trail you can take that goes to the Lake Agnes Tea House. Built in 1901, it was build as a stop for hikers by the Canadian Pacific Railway. To this day it has no electricity or running water. Some supplies are flown in by helicopter, but fresh food is hiked up the trail by staff. It's open June-October.

You can find out more about Canad'a National Parks at the following:

Parks Canada

Canadian Encyclopedia

Canada National Park Act

National Parks of Canada

Monday, 12 December 2016


Have you sat in on a webinar? If you haven't then you should. They usually only take about an hour of your time, and you can learn a lot without even leaving the house. No matter what aspect of genealogy you want to know about, you can probably find a webinar for it. DNA is a popular subject, as well as methodology. You can also find ones on location specific research.

The general setup is that there is a power point presentation and lecture that runs around 45 minutes or so. The last 15 minutes are a question and answer period. Sometimes there is a handout you can download and keep for future reference. Ones that are specific to Canadian research can be a little hard to find. But you can still learn a thing or two about using, say, city directories, even if the presenter is talking about ones in New York. And ones on basic methodology and organization are relevant no matter what country you're talking about. The best thing about webinars are that they are almost always free to sit in on live. Even the ones that aren't free are usually quite reasonably priced.

This week I've been receiving emails from various mailing lists I'm on about webinars coming up in 2017. Let me tell you, it's going to be a great year for learning new things! Let's take a look at some of the groups that present webinars regularly. You don't have to be a paying member to see most of these.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars.  This is one of the biggest learning sites. Along with their own webinars, they are in a partnership with the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) to produce their webinars. They have right now 76 webinars scheduled for next year. Most are free for a short time after the initial broadcast. After that only subscribers can access past recordings. The subscription is $9.95/month (I believe US dollars). Along with access to their library of 450 recordings, you also get all handouts and 5% at the Legacy Family Tree Shop of software and guides.

Family Search .  The schedule for January and February 2017 is out now. They have ones pertaining to different countries, as well as ones for using the FamilySearch site effectively. There are also ones on general research and organizing. You can also access selected past webinars. All of these are free.

 Illinois State Genealogical Society.  Free to sit in on live, they run the 2nd Tuesday of every month. Some are Illinois specific, but there are some general research ones as well.

Ontario Genealogical Society. The 2017 schedule is not on the website yet, as they are still confirming things. They have posted the tentative lineup in their weekly enewsletter, and it looks good. Included are lectures on DNA, Canadian migration, and archival research techniques. By using the link above and looking under the tab "News&Events", you can find where to sign up for the weekly enewsletter.

Southern California Genealogical Society. Another American group, but with great webinars. Their 2017 schedule looks great. There's DNA, One Name Studies, and using FAN, to name a few.

American Ancestors. Don't be fooled by the name. Run by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, they have some great resources for Atlantic and French Canadian research. A guest account is free to register.

Believe it or not, Youtube is a great place to find archived genealogy webinars.

Finally, you can find lots of links to webinar sites on Cyndi's List. Also check in with your local Genealogical or Historical Society. You never know what they have on offer,

If you use any other sites that aren't mentioned above, feel free to let everyone know in the comments below.

Friday, 9 December 2016

This Week in Canadian History Dec 4- Dec 10: The Halifax Explosion

Next year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. Up until WWII, it was the largest man made explosion in history. In 1917, Halifax was a hub of activity for WWI. The harbour was full of convoys of ships carrying food, munitions and troops. Including troops the city had an estimated population of around 60,000.

On December 6 1917, at the early morning, two ships collided. One of the ships was the IMO, a Norwegian cargo ship that was travelling out of the Bedford Basin. It was on it's way to New York to pick up relief supplies for Belgium. The other was the Mont-Blanc, another cargo ship that was carrying munitions. It was going inbound to the Basin, to join the convoy gathering. The ship was loaded with, according the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's website "...2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton, and 35 tons of benzol:a highly explosive mixture...".

The IMO hit the bow of the Mont-Blanc. Fire broke out on the Mont-Blanc. The captain and crew abandoned ship. As a result, the ship drifted into Pier Six. Burning for 20 minutes, it unfortunately attracted spectators, none of which knew that it was loaded with explosives. The naval officers and railway dispatchers who knew of this had no chance to warn anyone.

At 9:06 am, the Mont-Blanc exploded, being totally obliterated. Ship fragments blew into the surrounding area, crashing through buildings. Those not killed instantly in the explosion and falling debris were horribly injured. Adding to the confusion was people being blinded by shattered glass from the shock wave of the explosion. Fires started in the aftermath and quickly spread, completely destroying 1630 homes. Another 12,000 were severley damaged. It blew almost all the windows in not only Halifax, but Dartmouth as well. The nearby Mi'kmaq community of Turtle Grove was destroyed. In all, almost 2,000 people died and over 4,000 were injured. A further 6,000 people were left homeless.

Thanks to the heavy military presence, rescue efforts began immediately. As well, that same night, a train from Boston came in loaded with supplies, medical personnel, and members of the Public Safety Committee. The state of Massachusetts was instrumental in providing help in the days and weeks afterward. As a thank you, to this day Nova Scotia provides the beautiful tree that is in Boston Common every Christmas.

One of the great heroes of the Explosion was Vincent Coleman. Even though he knew it would mean his death, he stayed at his telegraph station and warned Passenger Train No.10 to stay away. If he hadn't, the train would have been passing right by the Mont-Blanc. His actions saved the 300 people aboard the train.

To learn more about the Explosion, you can visit these sites:

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Timeline of the Explosion

Nova Scotia Archives As well as the Book of Remembrance, there is a section of personal accounts of the Explosion and aftermath

Canadian Encyclopedia

CBC-Halifax Explosion

Halifax Fire Museum Personal stories of firemen involved

Halifax Explosion Website A website dedicated to the event

Monday, 5 December 2016

Laying the Groundwork- Census Records Part 2

Last week we looked at what kind of information can be found on a census return. Now we're going to look at where to find them.


 The LAC is the first place any genealogist should go. They have all census records from 1851 to 1916 digitized, as well as the link to the free access to the 1921 census on Ancestry. A word of caution though. They don't use soundex. Make sure you enter several variations of surnames, and use wildcards. For example, when I enter MALLAIS into the 1911 census search engine I get 66 results Canada wide. When I enter MAILLET I get 3,700 results that don't include the 66 from MALLAIS.

Ancestry has 1851 to 1916 for subscribers, and 1921 is free to everyone. It is better than LAC in that they will do soundex, but the downside is their indexing. Some years are better than others. Be warned especially if you are looking for French Canadian names. Sometimes you'll have to do it the old fashioned way by browsing instead of a name search. One memorable example is my great grandfather Patrice Joseph MALLAIS. In 1911 he was indexed as PAHIQUE MALLARS, of all things. Every time I tried to search for him in 1911 I got his nephew Patrice Mallais. It wasn't until I started browsing the area where I knew he lived, page by page, that I found my Patrice.

FamilySearch has indexed from 1851-1916. There are no images available. It is a good resource in that FamilySearch indexing is very good. However, you will not be able to see the wealth of information like I listed last week in the entries for Arthur WOOD. They have indexed only certain information. This is what it said for Arthur in 1911:

Arthur Wood

Canada Census, 1911
NameArthur Wood
Event TypeCensus
Event Date1911
Event PlacePeel Sub-Districts 32-39, Ontario, Canada
Age (Estimated)47
Marital StatusMarried
Relationship to Head of HouseholdHead
Birth DateSep 1864
"Recensement du Canada de 1911," database, FamilySearch( : 2 March 2015), Arthur Wood, 1911; citing Census, Peel Sub-Districts 32-39, Ontario, Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm 2,418,517.

It also did show the entire household, with links to each person's information.
This site has 1851, 1901, 1906, and 1921 transcribed. They are at various stages of completion. There are no images. By following the link above to their site, you can see what they have for each. An interesting side project of theirs is a huge linking project. One day you'll be able to type in a name, and all census records (and some other databases) for that person will be there for you to view.

Though mainly for UK research, Find My Past has started building a Canadian record collection. Right now you can access transcriptions of 1901 and 1911.

Pre 1851

There are very few census records pre 1851. Most of those that have survived were locally done with a specific purpose in mind. They would most likely fall under the category of tax and poll lists.

Library and Archives Canada has census images for 1825 and 1831 for Lower Canada (Quebec). They also have 1842 for Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario).

Ancestry has links to the Family Search images of the 1825 Lower Canada Census and the 1842 Canada East census. They also have the images for the 1770 Nova Scotia Census, indexed and copied by Bernice Richard for the Chicago Genealogical Society. The final database in their Canada census collection is the "Nova Scotia, Canada, Census, Assessment and Poll Tax Records, 1770-1795, 1827". There are links that take you to the Nova Scotia Archives' images.

Family Search has images for 1825, 1831, and 1842.

Find My Past has images and transcriptions for the 1825 Lower Canada Census.

Among the many BMD's in the Drouin Collection, are some partial census records. Ancestry has some of these. They are NOT indexed, so you will have to browse through the Acadia Drouin collection. You can also access Drouin records at Genealogy Quebec.

You can also try looking at various Provincial Archives and local Societies for early census and tax roll records. Remember that it may not be digitized online. You may have to use interlibrary loan if available, or go there in person.

A Final Note

Just a few things to keep in mind when researching census records:
  1. Language: If you have French Canadian ancestry, then you know what I'm talking about. Many French names were anglicized by census takers. Always look at the top of the page to see the name of the enumerator. If they were English and doing a predominately French area, you will see this a lot. Going back to Patrice Mallais, in 1921 he was written as Patrick Malley. In 1861, my ancestor Guillaume Fournier was written down as William Fourney by the census taker.
  2. Name Variations; A lot of people were illiterate, and therefore probably could not spell their own name for the census taker. So he wrote it how he thought it was spelled. Just because you spell your name the way you do, doesn't mean that the census enumerator did. So look for different variations. Don't just try SMITH, but try SMYTH too.
  3. Availability: Not all census records survived. Library and Archives Canada has great explanations on what is and isn't available for each census. I was crushed to learn that none of Gloucester County, New Brunswick survived for 1851. A huge part of my tree had settled there.

Friday, 2 December 2016

This Week in Canadian History Nov 27- Dec 3 2016: Toronto's First Santa Claus Parade

The T. Eaton Company held the first Toronto Santa Claus parade on December 2, 1905. Now one of the largest in North America, the first parade was only 1 float. Today there are more than 25 floats alone, and the parade route has stretched 6 km some years. It also has the distinction of being one of the oldest in North America. Being born in Toronto, I myself have memories of attending the parade.

In keeping with the Eaton's history of philanthropy in Canada, the parade was fully funded by the company. The floats and costumes were made by them. Children applied to be in the parade, sometimes waiting as much as three years before they got their chance to participate.

In 1913, Santa's float had real reindeer. Eaton's brought them in from Labrador. After the parade, they were sent to live on an executive's land outside of Toronto.

Eaton's funded the parade until 1982, until it was no longer financially possible for the company to do so. It was saved by George Cohon and Ron Barbaro when they formed a non-profit organization to oversee running of the parade. They also got 20 corporate sponsors that first year. The organization has run the parade ever since.

You can find out more about the history of the parade here: