Emigrant Letters
Ottawa Valley area, Ontario, Canada

February 5, 2006:

A developing subject area in the study of history is research into the
content of letters and correspondence written in days gone by.

Recently, the Carleton University Art Gallery had an exhibit featuring some 
examples of these letters. In 2003, Charlotte Gray wrote 
Canada: A Portrait in Letters, 1800-2000, ISBN 0385658745

Mary Quinn has a great number of letters written to or by persons residing in
the area of Ottawa, Ontario. Here is one letter from Mary's old trunk:

Letter #1
Kelsey Family 3rd February 1977 (Daddy's birthday) Written by Mary Gosson Kelsey How the writer became Mrs. James Kelsey
The writer's grandmother on her mother's side - Catherine Kelsey, who sometime in the 1800's, took a boat (sailing vessel at that time) with the purpose of joining relatives in New Jersey U.S.A. For some unknown reason, the boat which Catherine Kelsey took, arrived in Quebec, instead of New York. (Possibly one of the ships which was diverted from the ports in the USA, to Quebec) during the great Irish Famine ... Allan). I am not sure, but it is possible that it was during this journey that she met William Cavanagh who was also coming, I believe to Canada. I say this as I write, that she met this William Cavanagh on the boat and they both landed at Quebec instead of, as my grandmother thought she was going to her uncles in New Jersey. She was fifteen years old, Irish, a Roman Catholic. William Cavanagh was also Irish, a Roman Catholic. When the boat arrived in Quebec, Catherine Kelsey and William Cavanagh were married and they were, as the custom was then, given as new settlers, the farm in the Township of Goulbourn, now part of the City of Ottawa, Canada County of Carleton, Province of Ontario, Dominion of Canada, which became their home. They had eight, possibly nine children. The names of their children were according to age as follows - Peter, James, Elizabeth (my mother), Joseph, Walter, Patrick and William (who died when he was twenty-two), Leo and Hannah. I presume Leo died young as I never remember seeing him. My mother told me that her sister Hannah was four years old and my mother was six at the time a tragedy happened. Both my mother and Aunt Hannah were gathering chips (used to stoke their fires). They had to climb over a log fence. (First, the fences in Canada were made of whole tree logs, not like the split rail fences in United States, USA). My mother was over this particular log fence. Aunt Hannah came after her and when Hannah reached the ground, a log from the fence dropped on top of Aunt Hannah, striking her across the shoulders, driving her chin into the ground, killing her instantly. I understand Aunt Hannah was four years old and my mother was six at the time. When my mother was fifteen years old her mother died. My mother then had the care of the house as she was the only girl. They lived in a log cabin which still remains today. (Uncle Jim inherited the farm). Besides her father, William Cavanagh, she had six brothers. Uncle Peter was the oldest and became a doctor. Uncle James was next and he inherited the farm. Grandfather bought a farm of fifty (50) acres, stocked it and gave a years provisions to his son, Uncle Joe who had already married a lady by name of Burns ~ her first name Julia. (Likely a descendant of Jeremiah Byrnes / Burns) Aunt Julia kept after Uncle Joe to get the deed in his name which he finally accomplished and then at Aunt Julia's persuasion, sold the farm and he and his family took off to the State of Michigan, USA, to live. The place was Manistique, Michigan. After Aunt Hannah was killed, my mother Elizabeth was the only girl in the family. Grandmother, out of pity, took in a poor waif of a girl, who escaped from the Indians (First Nations) and made her way to Grandfathers farm, and they took her in. She was ill at the time with Tuberculosis - which they called consumption in those days. My mother often told me that she helped to take care of this girl who was in the last stages of the disease. With no mother there and my mother just fifteen, there was not much advice given as to the contagion of the disease. Mother said, she being only fifteen, often drank out of the same cup as Hannah. (The girls name was Hannah Dolan and her people had all been killed by the Indians). My mother, as I have stated was but fifteen years old when her mother died of TB, which she no doubt got from this girl they took care of. The girl died, my mother stayed on taking care of the home, and the family until she was twenty-four years old. After taking care of the Dolan girl, her own mother and keeping the house for Grandfather since she was fifteen, my mother married her first husband, Frank Leahy, when she was twenty-four years old. He was a resident in a neighboring township, namely, Huntley Township, and believed to be pretty well-to-do, as the owner of two farms. My mother had two children by this marriage, John and Katherine. Katherine died when she was nine months old. They had two children, John Francis and Katherine. Their father, Frank Leahy, sold his two farms in Huntley Township and moved to Ottawa where he invested money in some houses. He obtained work in the City and as he was an excellent farmer, he had no other qualification except farming and labor. As the City of Ottawa was engaging at that time in laying the first streetcar tracks, he got work with the City, which was more or less labor. He worked hard. The work was during the heat of the summer and at this particular time, it was a very hot summer. All the workers had ice water to drink because of the heat and Frank Leahy also drank a lot of hard liquor. The combination of work, ice water and hard liquor caused Frank Leahy to collapse, was taken to the hospital where he died at the age of thirty-three. My mother was now a widow, with two children and also owned a couple of houses in Ottawa City. I don't know for sure, but I figure, as my brother Joe was the oldest in our family my mother must have remarried, this time my father Patrick J. Gosson on or about 1891, who was her second cousin. Of this marriage, as far as I know, my brother Joseph was born in 1892, Susan in 1894, Patrick in 1896 and Mary (me) in 1898, William, either in 1904 or 5. William was either four or five years younger than I. (keyword lumbering): My half-brother, John Leahy, being the oldest, took off one year to the "Shanty". (Let me explain what the shanty was in those days). There were a number of lumber camps in Northern Ontario. Some farmers and other men who found themselves out of work in the winter, went up to Northern Ontario to live in the lumber camps felling trees for lumber and hauling them to the Ottawa River and floating them down to Ottawa where the saw mills in Ottawa City in Ontario and Hull City across the river from Ottawa in the Province of Quebec, handled them, converting them into lumber. Let me say the Shanty had cabins built for the men to sleep in, and had a regular male cook to prepare the men's meals. They really roughed it all winter, came home in the spring, dirty, lousy, and with their winter's earnings in their pocket. The men who worked on farms were mostly those who went to the shanty in the winter, leaving the farm work, which usually was light, consisting of feeding the cattle and taking care of other livestock on the farms. Some of the farmers even took some of their teams of horses with them to the Shanty and of course got extra for the use of the horses. At this writing in 1977, it is possible that Northern Ontario has developed from a woods into a populated area. I do know there are several towns up there now, also quite a lot of silver mining being done as large quantities of silver were discovered in Northern Ontario quite some time ago. However, my half-brother, John Leahy, took what they then called Inflammatory Rheumatism, and arrived home walking with two canes. With good care, he improved so that he dispensed with the canes, and went to stay with my uncle, my Mother's brother, Rev. Walter E. Cavanagh. John took a course in telegraphy and got a position at what they called Telegraph Operator at a railroad station. In Canada then and maybe yet, they had telegraph operators at all the different railroad stations throughout the country. John got one of these positions and worked for sometime until he began to feel ill, so my dear Uncle, the priest, who never could do enough for my Mother and her family, as she practically brought him up, being somewhat older and the only girl in her father's family. I think my mother told me he was two years old when their mother died at the early age of thirty-seven with TB. As mentioned on page 3 of this writing, my mother said when she was young, her father had taken in a refugee girl who was ill with TB and that she died at Grandfathers home. I firmly believe my grandmother in taking care of the refugee, Hannah Dolan, contacted TB from this Hannah Dolan. The house and farm was left to my mother's older brother Jim and he married and lived there for years. He had a daughter Elizabeth who was born and brought up in that house who also died when she was twenty of TB, also Uncle Jim's wife. Uncle Jim lived a great many years there as a widow with a couple of sons. When they left Uncle Jim remarried and his new wife insisted that they build a new house nearer to the highway which they did. They had a son, Terence, who I believe is married and living on the old homestead in the new house. My dear Uncle, when he became a priest, went on several trips to New York to visit the relatives of his mother. These were the relatives my grandmother who was Catherine Kelsey was supposed to come to New York and New Jersey when she left Ireland and took the wrong boat arriving in Canada instead of New York and also meeting my grandfather William Cavanagh on that boat and marrying him and thereby lived and died in Canada. When my uncle, Walter E. Cavanagh, became a priest he made several trips to New York and New Jersey looking up his mother's people. When I went overseas in 1918 to see my brother Patrick who was with the Canadian Army during World War 1, I had to go by way of New York. I did meet Cousin Mame Kelsey whose husband was a first cousin of my mother's and who lived in Brooklyn. I spent a week with her. I had never seen her before I went to New York, and she had never seen me, but I contacted her and she was to meet me at the Grand Central Station in New York. The problem of identification was solved as she said she would meet the train I was on at the Grand Central Station. I wrote and told her I would wear a gold cross, sewed on the front of my hat (we wore hats in those days). When I got off the train she was thru the gate and came right down to where the train stopped with a large photo of Msgr. Cavanagh in her hand. We had no difficulty at all. I had to spend a week with her before my sailing date came. She took me all over as I had to get a visa on my passport by the Canadian Representative in New York, her son-in-law knew the Captain of the ship - S.S. Orduna, on which my sailing was booked. I was well taken care of and she took me down to arrange my passage had to go to Canadian Representatives Official and took me right to the ship the 1st Feb, 1918 the morning we were to sail. We left New York Harbor (it was war time) early in the morning with three U.S. Destroyers as an escort, went to Halifax, Nova Scotia to pick up the rest of the convoy, as being at war at the time, all sailings were convoyed with American Destroyers accompanying us out three days and British Destroyers meeting us three days out from Liverpool to escort us in. We carried American troops, and the lights on board had all to be darkened with a tail light on the rear of each ship instead of the front, as another way to fool any German subs we might encounter. Everyone were instructed to go to the side on which the ship was struck, if we were struck, also had life-boat drill every day and carried our life belts with us at all times even when we were having our meals. I met a nice English boy on board, Leonard Read. He was in the British Army and was on leave to Canada to take care of the settlement of his father's estate in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was in the British Army on duty in France when his father died, his older brother was in the Air Force, so his mother thought as he was twenty-one, it would be best for him as he was on the firing line in France, to have him take care of the estate business. They lived in Liverpool. He asked the Captain's permission that I be allowed to go to his home while in Liverpool and he would help me get the correct train to London as my brother was in hospital at Epsom, Surrey, thirty miles below London. I had informed Pat I was on my way and that I would be going to London, thence to Epsom. At the Manor War Hospital where Pat was they had an association (wartime) of Gray Ladies (Grey Nuns?) who helped in any way they could in the war. I arrived at Epsom about eight in the evening. These Gray Ladies (shamefully I forget their name I did have it somewhere) met me at the station took me to the hospital which was about a mile or so from the town of Epsom, and from there to their own home in Ashstead, Surrey, the next station to Epsom. They kept me with them for a month or more, until Eastertide as they called it, when I had to look for new lodgings which some kind people found for me right in Epsom town, which eliminated having to get a train each day from Ashstead to Epsom. Incidentally every day while staying at Ashstead, Surrey they brought me breakfast in bed. The new place was very nice with a family by the name of Cooke. They had already lost their oldest boy in the war. I got a nice room and I was supposed to eat out, but I was not there long till I was eating with the family and moved from my room upstairs to sleep with their daughter downstairs. I had a delightful stay with them. I think I paid them a pound (English money) a week while with them. I had tried from the time I got there to have Pat sent home as the doctors said his disease would not be over unless they could get the bone to dry out and heal and he would always have a stiff neck. In order to get him sent home there was a lot of red tape to cut. First he was a Canadian in a British hospital. He would have to be sent first to a Canadian hospital. It took from February when I arrived till June to have him moved to a Canadian Hospital which was located in Orpington, Kent, England about thirty miles from Epsom. I made many trips into London to accomplish this. Then I had to get new lodgings for myself. Where I was they treated me like one of the family. They took two hours to go the thirty miles from Epsom to Orpington because of his condition, they had to drive very slowly. I had to go to Orpington and look for lodgings as close to the hospital as I could and yet try and get something reasonable. I went to Orpington and it was a trip into London and then take another train out to Orpington in a different area from Epsom. I procured a room near the hospital, but the lady said I had to be up early. Her husband was in the Army in France. She would not give me any meals and while it was at the end of a row of houses across from the hospital I did not know when I could get my meals. I stayed with her a couple of days. Then again, I could not go to the hospital till afternoon so thought I won't have to get up too early, but she informed she wanted to do her beds early so I went up to the last house in the row and talked to another lady, a Mrs. Varsden, she was the opposite of the other lady and said I could sleep on her living room couch until a room she had left and then I could have her room. Besides she would feed me and give me the room for a pound a week, which was reasonable. I moved in immediately and was with them the rest of the time I was in England. They were lovely people, had a nice little boy about four years old, Tommy Varsden. I used to take him to London when I had to go later after Pat died. I had to make so many trips to the Estates Branch to settle the Estate. I really felt bad leaving them, but I had to get back home and to work. Pat died 7 August and it took me till the 20 October and many trips to London before I finally boarded the train to a port on the English Channel, I think it was, Dover where I got ship to New York and then train from New York home to Ottawa and back to work. I sailed the 20 October and the war was over the 11th November. Arriving in Ottawa, my good friends, the McGovern family met me and took me to live with them till their boys returned home. My position in the Civil Service Commission was kept for me. I was only working a week when the war was over and the need for ammunition to be supplied was over, so our place gradually closed so that by February, it was shut down. I got another position with a lawyer, who thought he was raising hell when he offered me $ 12.00 per week as salary. I took it for a little while, but made some inquiries and found that the Department of Defense were hiring as the Government had granted a bonus or what they chose to call a War Service Gratuity to all returned men. I applied and was taken on right away with a decent increase in salary. After some time the Civil Service Commission had put in a request for some stenographers to take "difficult" dictation, the positions were in the Hunter Building on Queen St. I went over and took the test and was transferred to the Civil Service Commission. Then the Government went into a Reorganization session and said that all those who were working for the Government before April 1, 1918 would be blanketed in, which took care of me, thank the Lord, and I worked there till I left in 1923 to get married. I had a vacation in 1922 and came down to New York and New Jersey on a visit with Mgrs. Cavanagh and it was while I was visiting the Kelseys relatives of ours, being the same relatives that my Grandmother intended to come to when she took the wrong boat years before and landed in Canada. During this trip we visited with Cousin Mame, Cousin Bob's wife and then extended our trip to New Jersey where I met the family of Michael Kelsey, who was a first cousin to my grandmother who took the wrong boat from Ireland years before. Michael Kelsey had two sons, James, a widower with two boys and Walter, single, who worked for some wealthy lady in Freehold. Jim and I were attracted to each other from the first, but he had two maiden sisters, who kept an eagle eye. Grandfather was all for Jim and I getting married and Jim and I had made up our minds. Monsignor Cavanagh and I returned home and I returned to work. On Monsignor Cavanagh's birthday 13 October 1922, I received my ring from Jim. We planned to be married the following spring and were married 9 May 1923. After our marriage we were to live in the house next door as soon as the school teacher who was renting it could vacate. In the meantime, we were staying at Grandpop and Grandmoms home. When the school teacher vacated left Grandpop had some painting and papering done, we bought some furniture and moved into the house. Well needless to say living next door to curious old maids, who wanted to know everything you did and where we went. Daddy had a fairly good looking Ford Sedan so we just rode around, he to show me the countryside. Daddy was working at the shop, making money for Grandpop, and he was paid the marvelous sum of $ 20.00 per week, we had rent free house. Then after a few years, Daddy had been on the Election Board, and they sat a half-day on the Election Board which was 1st held in the Tin Building. If a house came to be sold Daddy had to do it. Mary of course was just about alright as far as Mame and Magg was concerned, but poor Gene could not ever go over to the shop to watch his father working. Walter, the brave brother-in-law worked for some wealthy person in Freehold, she died and left him her dog, her house on Monument Park and a National Discount Bond worth I think ($20,000), her car which he sold and Duke her dog. We had, Mary, Gene, Bill and Lorraine, probably some more of you when Walter built a fence around what was supposed to be our yard to keep the kids away from his share. Gene and Bill naturally wanted to watch their father working at the shop. Grandfather turned the business, such as it was, over to Daddy. Power farming had cut the work tremendously so Daddy went to work at Blakley's Canning? factory. I did some typing when I could get it from Mrs. Thompson and finally I went to work on a WPS office job at the State Hospital for a while. I had taken the Federal Civil Service Exam and passed. I worked for a while for Mrs. Thompson in Trenton, driving with Joe McGraw to Trenton, N.J. Had a poor colored girl - Mary Newton - stay with you children. Mrs. Thompson got me a job with no summer work with the Republican state???? in Trenton. Finally I got an offer of a job at Ft. Monmouth as a result of my Civil Service test and went to work there on 10 March 1941, worked 29 years and retired in April 71. It was a long hard struggle, but with my dear Jim's help and quite a large share from my beloved children, I made it, got you all raised to womanhood and manhood and thank the good God for all his help that carried me through some criticism from those who should have been grateful that both my dear Jim and I had a very good life together, a good husband and father that we are all rightfully proud of. R.I.P. Thanks to Mary Quinn for the above transcription.
February 7, 2006: More from Mary ... I had recently transcribed another Gosson letter which I received from one of my co-researchers into this family name. This Gosson family (my Grandmother's family) was raised mostly in Osgoode Township along the Rideau River (guess this was called concession A?) south lot # 23. It is shown as the O'Callaghan farm on the 1879 atlas (right across from the old Kars bridge). They moved there in 1905 or 1906. It has some interesting tidbits about the Osgoode area. This was written by my Grandmother, Etta Gosson's, sister Irene (Irene was my Great Aunt). Both Loretta Gosson and Irene Gosson married Gorman men (not brothers). The original letter I sent to you was written by Catherine Gosson who would be Loretta and Irene's first cousin. I was not aware of the tremendous interest in these old letters until your recent web posting, Al. I know they are invaluable to a family researcher ~ amazing how much info I got out of some of them. This letter seems to have been written at the request of Mrs. Wm Drew ~ seems she was writing to old residents of Osgoode area asking them to write of their lives there. Interesting.... I'll make sure and get the Foran ones to you as well ~ they are somewhat more interesting as they are from an earlier era. ... Mary Quinn Letter #2 Dacre, Ontario (Renfrew County) Feb. 25, 1965 Mrs. Wm. Drew Manotick Ont Dear Edna; It was such a lovely surprise to get your nice letter. It really made me feel years younger to hear from one our very dear neighbours back home. When I get a trip down through the country there isn't ever half enough time to call on people I'd like to see. I always try to get to the cemetery once a year. Two years ago I called to see Mrs. Wm. Craig she had us stay for lunch with her. I was very pleased to hear Eliza is well, sorry Isobel has such poor health. A neighbour of ours, Bernie Legris knew Isobel during her stay in Cornwall hospital. She spoke so highly of Isobel. Its too bad she is unable to continue with her profession. It's so nice that you have George his wife and family so close to you that you can enjoy your grandchildren. We have 12 grandchildren. There are only three that are close to us and that is only within the last few months. We have seven of a family, five married. Elaine and Tommy are going to high school, Elaine Grade XII and Tommy Grade 9. They have to go to Renfew to school. You mentioned our Women's Institute. We are not progressing very fast. We only have 13 members, with no hall or anyplace to hold our meetings only in our homes. I haven't been able to attend the meeting as I was taking up a millenery class. And our meetings were always on the same nights. But maybe another year we may get more members and things will be better. You were asking about Etta, well she has had time with high blood pressure and her heart. She spent Xmas and New Years in the hospital. The last letter I had she was with her daughter Mrs. Ralph Quinn at Manotick R.R. #2. She spends the most of her time in bed. Winnie has a bad time with asthma. Monica and Molly both work in the Government, Its wonderful that Monica can get out every morning to an office as she really doesn't have very good health either, but I guess this is all for the family. Yes I saw Mrs. Lindsay on the T.V. and thought she was very good, but couldn't place her, as to whose son her husband was, I remember the older people. Yes Edna I would be very pleased to write my little bit about my life on the farm at home. It was a lot of hard work but I enjoyed every minute of it. I often regret that after I was married that we didn't live on a farm as think life is so much more exciting for children growing up on the farm. The children living in towns and villages never know all the fun they have missed. Yes we had a lot of sadness losing our dear Mother at such an early age, as our father always had such poor health. On April 26, 1906 my parents moved to the O'Callaghan farm boardering the Rideau River at the Kars' bridge. There were a family of four girls. I was only 6 months old. In those days there was so little for to work with either in the home or fields. The parents in those days were so wonderful to manage and were so thankful to God for what they had. 2 years later there was another baby girl Margaret Lillian. In 1910 Kathleen our oldest sister died after an appendicitis operation. In 1914 Lillian died, from discentry which the whole family of children contracted. Then there were 2 more baby girls borne which made a family of 7 girls, 5 living. In 1922 our dear mother passed away. Being no boys in our family I had always helped my father on the farm and worked in the fields. The only thing I couldn't do on a farm was plough with a walking plow. Then after my dear Mother's death I remained home from school to care for the home and bring up the younger ones. I was now 16 years old. I would start the day, by helping to milk the cows getting the milk away to the factory during the summer months, in the late fall and winter we would churn and make butter, bake your own bread, make all your own jams jellies pickles and preserves. One would never know what canned foods were then with the exception of canned salmon. I can remember my father shipping a pig from Osgoode which he got 5 cents per pound and it weighed 510 lbs, possibly that would pay ones taxes. I can remember our stock consisted about 10 or 12 milk cows possibly the same number of younger cattle. In the fall there was always a big day plucking turkeys geese and chickens. There were always a few of the neighbour women who would be glad to help you - then you would return to help them. And oh what a job cleaning up the goose feathers and down etc. Then one would possibly have to drive to the Ottawa market with horses and sleigh a distance of 25 miles. One would leave about 2 a.m. in the morning, to get there for about 8 or 8:30 a.m. Stand on the market all day until you would sell your load. Then drive back home. It would take days to get sort of thawed out and suppled up. Then of course there a great many joyous times spent in the winter. My father would take the horses and sleigh and load us all cover us with buffalo robes and warm blankets we would drive to our aunt and uncles some 5 or 6 miles away. We would play cards and have a nice lunch and return home. They would come to our house and the same we also had very wonderful neighbours one especially I remember were the Chartrand family. They were very musical - we would go there play music sing and have a lovely evening. Then maybe the next night they would come to our home. In those days there were so many places to go - ice cream socials etc. There was always such friendly people to meet. In 1927 I went to Detroit, USA, to visit my sister when I came home I went to Ottawa to work. But always returned to help with the hay and harvest. On October 8th 1929 I was married and moved to Dacre, I lived on a farm for a couple of years then moved to the village helped build our home. My husband works for Dept of Highways. Last year my husband and I had a lovely trip to Europe. We left Ottawa on Oct 2nd. We went to Montreal left by jet plane arrived in Paris from there we flew to Duseldorfe Germany where we were met by our daughter and son-in-law. We spent 17 days there we motored everyday through Germany, Holland, seen many places of great interest. Then we left there for England and Ireland spent 4 very lovely days on the Emerald Isle visited Limerick the birthplace of my forefathers. It is a trip we will always remember. We returned home on October 23rd. When we arrived home we very saddened by the news of three of our neighbours being burned death while we were away. Now Edna you can pick whatever you wish out of this. Maybe it will be of some help to you. I could possibly have mentioned how I used to take the team of horses and go to the fields and work all day. As I guess you people know how sickly our dear father was with a stomache ailment which I myself inherited. In those times medical science was not as advanced as it is now, I had a serious operation 5 years ago which helped some so long as I don't work hard and watch my diet. Edna if you can make this out possibly there will be something you can take from what I've written. I'm sorry I didn't get writing you sooner. I've had the grippe for 3 weeks, then my daughter was very ill so I had to go and stay with her for 2 weeks. It's awful where the time goes. I'm really getting slower too. I can only do about half as much now in a day as I used too. I don't have any pictures of when we were all at home or of the farm ~ one of the other girls got the pictures. I'll be glad to hear from you some other time. I might have added to the price of the fowl years ago were from 50 cents to $ 1.00 per bird. Well I guess this is all for the time. My very best to Eliza and your family. Sincerely Irene Gorman P.S. Please excuse all mistakes in spelling etc as I don't write only letters to the girls etc and then don not take much time.
New February 25, 2006: Mary has also transcribed more letters from the Foran and Quinn families at South Gloucester.

E-mail Mary Quinn, Michael Daley and Al Lewis

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