Canada; My country of my birth
It was the country of my growing up years, my career in Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and where my own family began & flourished.
When you live and travel across the world the accent you speak seems to take on a new significance. It is often the subject of conversation when meeting someone for the first time. What is it about the way I say the words “house” or “about”? Apparently, it distinguishes me as originally being from Canada due to pronunciation idiosyncrasies? I hadn’t really noticed this until living in Australia and now Thailand. But I am often reminded of my accent these days?
You are most welcome to explore the memoirs of my growing up in small-town Orillia, the pages on my days in the Mounties, and my life and travel experiences in this big country.
Very Short History & Geography Lesson
For those not familiar with this huge land and to set the scene I thought a short history lesson before delving into my journey might be useful. I am sure you know where it is, but Canada borders the United States and is surrounded by the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans. The name “Canada” is said to be derived from the Huron-Iroquois word Kanata, meaning village or settlement. Canada was often known as the Dominion of Canada until 1951.
The first inhabitants of Canada were native Indian people, primarily the Inuit (Eskimo). The Norse explorer Leif Eriksson probably reached the shores of Canada (Labrador or Nova Scotia) in 1000, but the history of the white man in the country actually began in 1497, when John Cabot, an Italian in the service of Henry VII of England, reached Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. There is so much more to this country’s history – I will let you explore it on your own if you want to know more.
Canada covers most of the upper part of the North American continent, as you can see from this map, with an area larger than the United States. Canada has an extremely varied topography from high mountains and barren prairie plans to large lakes and forest areas. The highest point in Canada Mount Logan (19,850 ft; 6,050 m), in the Yukon. The two principal river systems are the Mackenzie (I lived on this river for a time) and St. Lawrence. Approximately 80 percent of all the people in Canada live in a concentrated area of cities and towns within 100 kilometers of the U.S. border. With a population of some 35 million, Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories (see the map).
Canada’s largest cities Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal have been recognized as world-class cities in which to live and work, for their cleanliness, and safety, and for their cultural activities and attractive lifestyles. I was fortunate to have lived and experienced 6 provinces and 1 Territory during my Mountie days and I can say Canada is very diverse in its people, its landscape, its climate, and its way of life. I found in my postings that Canadians, at times, may be different from each other but share values that make Canada a friendly, caring, peace-loving, and secure society in which to live.
Let us move on to the memoirs of my growing up.
My Home town – Orillia
I grew up in a typical small town located on the shores of freshwater lakes Simcoe and Couchiching in central Ontario. Orillia was a lovely, peaceful, friendly, and leafy place with a small-town atmosphere. It possessed fantastic summers, snowy cold winters, and everything in between as I was growing up during the 1950s and 60s. It seems so long ago!
Orillia also had a historic beginning being incorporated as a village in 1867, as a town in 1875 when the population reached 2000, and as a city in 1969, just when I was leaving home. When growing up in the 1950’s the population was about 12,000 as I recall and now it is around 31,000. “Orillia” means riverbank in Spanish and apparently, the name was applied by Sir Peregrine Maitland, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada (1818-28), who had served in Spain. The first village site was a Huron settlement and then the area was later settled by Ojibwa natives under the leadership of Chief William Yellowhead. The Ojibwa farmed the area until they had to relinquish their lands to European settlers and relocated (forced onto) the nearby Rama Reserve (1838-39).
The fur trade was the first industry, followed by logging and farming and then industrial manufacturing which was going fairly strong in my time. At the end of the 19th century, Orillia developed into a summer resort area, stimulated in part by the building of the TRENT-SEVERN WATERWAY. It was still very much a summertime playground for those living in Toronto and south of the border in the US when I was growing up. Winter sports and activities were growing and nearby skiing was popular along with tobogganing and ice fishing. In 1902 Orillia established the first municipally owned hydroelectric generating station in Canada, on the nearby Severn River.
Orillia served as the model for the town of “Mariposa” in humorist Stephen LEACOCK’s satire on small-town Ontario life, called SUNSHINE SKETCHES OF A LITTLE TOWN (1912). Other famous Orillians’ beside me included Franklin Carmichael (of the Group of Seven artists), Elizabeth Wyn Wood (sculptor), Sam Steele (North-West Mounted Police), Leslie M. Frost (premier of Ontario), and James K. Bartleman (lieutenant governor of Ontario).
Now trying to recount some hometown memories my first recollection was the train station as it always had a fascination for me when I was young.
On a few occasions, my mother and I boarded the train to Toronto to visit my grandmother in Toronto and my aunt in Burlington. I remember how excited I was to be going on a train journey (kind of like flying today I guess) and would sit up looking out the windows as the landscape passed by dreaming of god knows what. Other features I remember include the Champlain Monument (it was erected in 1925 commemorating the 300th anniversary of the explorer Samuel de Champlain’s visit, the wonderful Couchiching beach park where many a summer was spent, the city Opera House (built-in 1895) as well as several other heritage buildings, many of them located in the picturesque downtown area.
While I don’t have direct ties to my old hometown anymore, Orillia does seem to continue to grow and is a city, twice the size it was during my childhood. Here are some photos of the look and feel of the city. I vividly remember these scenes that don’t look much different 60 years on. The park by the lake and main street remain etched in my mind as places I frequently visited and hung around.
I can only remember two of my grandparents – my Dad’s father and my Mom’s mother. My family tree has its roots in England and Scotland from where my grandparents immigrated to Canada.
My dad’s father had a rural existence around Dartmoor, Dalrymple, and Brechin, Ontario, and I believe with a shoe repair business. As a youngster, I remember visiting him at his very old, smelly, and dilapidated house. He used to give me a chocolate bar each visit which I always looked forward to. I never met my Dad’s mother as she apparently died younger during childbirth. I remain confused as to the history of these grandparents as there is a picture of George and Nellie Elliott and then the gravestone says his wife was Ethel Harding?
I recently found some information that perhaps supports the story about the early death of his first wife and Ethel was his second wife. My grandfather did live with us for a while and I do recall that he smoked and often fell asleep with his cigars burning, causing internal family friction. Here are the pictures of him and their burial headstones along with Nellie’s and her parents. I can’t find information about Georges’s parents and family.
My mother’s father apparently ran a grocery store in Toronto, Canada, and had some early involvement with the Loblaws who started the Canadian grocery chain store – but this detail is unknown. He died prior to my birth and he wasn’t really mentioned much, that I recall when I grew up.
His wife, my other grandmother was Violet (McDonald) Higgins who lived in Toronto on Jackman Ave and was around when I was very young but I don’t recall very much of her. She came to our house and we went to hers for a few visits before she passed.
So my grandparents had little involvement in my life. I suppose similar to me with my grandchildren in the US and Australia – but distance is the issue. I thought that a pictorial archive of my parents over the years was a great way to remember them and showcase their own history:
Mom worked when younger in the Toronto office, for a time in a local ladies’ clothing shop, and also did the administrative bookwork for the family business. She enjoyed golfing, family outings, and social times. My mother passed away on 29 May 1986 in her 73rd year and had her funeral service at Mundell’s Funeral Home on West St with burial at St. Andrews-At James Cemetery.
My dad was well-known in town as a local business owner of Bob Elliott Motors. He spent some time in the army motor pool, lived in western Canada before marrying my mother, and then worked for Marshall Motors before starting his own business. He was a golfer, participated in the Lions Club, and Freemasons, and enjoyed his drink – too much. After a lengthy illness at the Soldier Memorial Hospital in Orillia, he passed away on 6th November 1983 in his 79th year. His funeral was held at Mundell Funeral Home on 8th November. He is buried with my mother. So goes the cycle from birth, living, and death. The next cycle has started with my family as depicted in this slide and am I proud to have wonderful children to carry on the family.
I’ve heard all the only child jokes and not having any brother or sisters at times was a blessing and at others a shame – I didn’t have siblings to share with. There was somewhat of an extended family through my parents’ siblings. Unfortunately, we weren’t as close-knit as I remember. We often visited with my mother’s sister and my cousin Judy in Burlington. I am still in touch with her sons Warren and Mitchel these days on Facebook – a much smaller world.
I remember Judy’s father passed away suddenly, a bit mysteriously, when I was young and I really didn’t understand what had happened or why. Uncle Alfred used to enjoy taking me to the local train station in Burlington when we visited and we would watch the trains passing through the station on their way between Niagara Falls and Toronto and marvel at their speed, size, and destination. It was a highlight of the visit for me as we usually got an ice cream cone to enjoy.
My father’s family was always a mystery of sorts to me. I met his two brothers on only a few occasions with Grant living in Los Angles California and Sam on a farm at Didsbury, Alberta. They did come to visit our house in Orillia on a couple of occasions during my youth – it always seemed a big event. We went to California once for a visit and I met Sam on his farm when I was traveling across Canada after school graduation. I don’t ever recall meeting my dad’s sister Lillian (?) who I later understood apparently lived in Orillia as well.
Some family secrets never were revealed apparently? I also remember hearing stories of my father who had apparently been married before and lived in Alberta, Canada. A tragic accident occurred on a farm where he lost his son & perhaps his wife or it was the cause of a divorce from his first wife? I was never specifically told anything about all these family matters, so it remains a mystery for me as to what happened in our history. I didn’t have contact with my other family members so as an only child with limited family around perhaps that explains why I like my own company these days and am happy to amuse myself. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy socializing – but in small doses and I am not into big crowd events.