I offer you my memories
So that you will know
Your Grandmother was a little girl
Not so long ago
This is the first part of a transcription of the memories set down by Freda ‘Tottie’ Phyllis May McGrath (neé Turner) in a sheaf of papers called “Grandmother Remembers”. An Ontarian Canadian all her life, her recollections, memories, anecdotes, and musings are for all her descendants, of which The Diplomat is one. Born in 1906, this written legacy, which she commenced in May 1986, stretches from the mid-nineteenth century as far as December 30, 1995. It is a lifetime that covers a busy period in Mankind’s development: two World Wars, the advent of flying, T.V, computers, the Internet…and much, much more. Yet, this is a narrative that is fascinating in its remembrance of daily life, in how it speaks casually of events that were the norm for the social ethics, the mores and the education of the time. Part Two of this can be seen here and Part Three here.
I have reproduced this exactly as the author penned it with the kind permission of her sons, Michael and David. I hope you will find Tottie’s voice as fascinating as I have. For clarity I have, on occasion, entered a [textual note] where the narrative assumes a common Canadian knowledge that readers may not possess.
My grandmother, Emily Bennet Tisdale, was just fourteen when she married my grandfather John. Their first child, a boy, died at birth, followed by twins who also died. My grandfather’s sister, Rose Tisdale, gave birth to a little girl christened Rosetta and before she died six weeks later she gave Rosetta to my grandparents and they raised her as their own. She married Charles Hibert and my cousin Neil was born. Our families were always close. My grandparents own children were my mother Sylvia, Irene, Roy, Albert, Ross and May. My grandparents lived in Barriefield and I still remember their big Christmas tree and the whole family gathering there for the day and my Uncle Ross bringing us home in a cutter with “Old Fleet” [horse] bringing us merrily along with the sleigh bells ringing. When Grandpa retired from S Anglin & Co. they moved to a nice brick house at Rideau & Cataraqui in Kingston [Ontario, Canada. Kingston was Canada’s capital from 1841-44].
My grandfather Frank Turner died in 1886 leaving my grandmother May with six children and pregnant with twins who were born a few days after her husband’s death but they died a week later. I think the family were living in Bexley Heath, Kent [England] and the six children were Frank, Esther, Louise, Rose, Sydney and Ada who later settled in the U.S.A.. Ada went to South Africa. My father and his brother, Frank, lived in Dr Barnado’s Home for Children in London [England] and were sent to Canada by boat. My father was given to a McFadden family on #2 Highway. He worked around the farm and attended school at a red brick school on the site of the Woodside school where Erin and Jodie began their education. The McFadden were unkind and as a result of starvation my father was blind in his left eye. A Mr Toner visited the McFaddens and took my father home to his farm on #15 Highway where he lived until he married my mother on June 12 1906 at which time he had saved enough money to buy 6 St Catherine Street [Kingston, Ontario, Canada] and they lived there until their deaths. I haven’t mentioned my father’s sister who came to Kingston [Ontario, Canada] to live and work – her name was Rose and she lived in Portsmouth [Portsmouth Village was annexed to become a neighbourhood of Kingston in 1952]. Mr Toner was our Grandpa Toner and his wife Grandma until their deaths. My Grandmother Turner died shortly after her husband and the children were separated.
When I was very young our Christmas tree had candles in little holders which my father would light and I would be very frightened. I will never forget the night my father come home with electric lights for the tree. He bought them at Turks, a second-hand store, and I knew they were for me.
My Mother and Father were married in St George’s Cathedral, Kingston [Canada] June 12, 1906 and my Mother could not cook, sew or manage money never having worked. My Grandpa Tisdale didn’t believe in his daughters working. Ada, Elsie and I were born in 1907, 1908, 1909 so Mother learned quickly and was a wonderful, caring Mother, excellent cook, made our clothes and was a super money manager and I like to think I inherited some of those qualities. She died at the early age of fifty-six of strokes. We had many happy picnics with the Herberts and other friends travelling sometimes by horse and buggy and later in our “Model A” Ford.
We made two trips to Quebec City in our old car – a two-day trip at that time. In Kingston when I was young there were ”Ministral Shows” and the men darkened their faces with black shoe polish and sat on the stage with the “interlocutor” who introduced the performance and told jokes. My Father sang in these with many of his friends. My mother and I attended one of these concerts at Queen Street church.
…more to come in the next blog installment….before that here are some Q&A that ‘Tottie’ penned:
Q: When were your parents born?
A: My father, Sidney Herbert Turner, on June 24, 1880; my mother, Sylvia Elizabeth Florence Tisdale on November 2, 1884
Q: Why did they choose your name?
A: I really don’t know and answered to Tottie or Tot all my life given that name by my sister Ada
Q: Who were your siblings?
A: Ada Isobel and Elsie Florence who died at 16 as the result of Scarlet Fever.
Q: What was your ambition as a schoolgirl?
A: To become a teacher but Elsie’s death changed that. I became a typist with W.B.Walton Hardware & the National Heritage of Canada
Q: What were your parents very strict about?
A: They were strict about my friends, staying out late and my school work.
Q: What did you parents teach you?
A: My Mother taught me cleanliness; my Father taught me punctuality
Q: What did you love most about your parents?
A: What I loved most about my Father was his determination. He was an 11 yr old orphan and came to Canada with nothing and worked hard, saved his money, took care of his family and died leaving his home, insurance and bonds. What I loved most about my Mother was her kindness and understanding.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?