I am looking for details, for context and background as I write this project about my Canadian grandfather. Much of what I read doesn’t make it into the posts, yet it all helps to make sense of the scraps of personal history that I have. The gaps narrow and the big picture becomes clearer. Sometimes a strange reversal occurs — details come looking for me — curious little threads that lead back to Australia.
I can’t help myself, I’ve got to share the serendipity.1/ In some archival material, I run across the published letters of A J Cotton, a pioneering neighbour in the Swan River district. He writes letters to his grain agent and from them I learn about their land and farming practices but then I see the oddest request —
Since I came up I had the misfortune to lose my fur coat in a fire. You got it for me and I would like for you to order another one for next winter for me when the traveller comes around. Dark wombat, no white, heavy fur, large rolling collar. Size 50 inches bust, 54 inches long, a good heavy lining and well finished. I was highly pleased with my other coat and sorry to lose it and hope you will get me one as good. (A J Cotton, 1903)
2/ One of the Anglican ministry handbooks Walter likely read was entitled “The Church on the Prairie” and has inscribed on the title page —
3/ After tracing my great grandparents’ various trips to the West Coast in 1910 and 1911, I spend the week looking at old photos and reading about the logging history of Bellingham and Lake Whatcom in Washington State where they’d visited family. On the weekend, we visit a small local art gallery (Eltham, VIC Australia). They’re holding a retrospective exhibition of local artists who painted in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. A small print in a shadow box catches my eye. The scene looks almost familiar; there’s a clear blue lake and shore line with a low mountain settled in the background. I leaf through the price list brochure to find the piece is entitled, “Lake Whatcom”. I tell my husband about my research and show him the strange coincidence.
“Maybe it’s a sign,” says the gallery owner hopefully.
Not all threads lead to Australia, some lead to the Titanic!
Prince Rupert was of some interest to our family in the prewar years, Harold’s parents visited the town several times, both before and after the war. It appears at least one cousin lived and worked there. Prince Rupert was founded by railway magnate Charles Hays; it was the terminus of his Grand Trunk Pacific Railway project and was to be the new gateway to Alaska and the North. Building started on a Grand Chateau Hotel and plans were made for a modern port, but only a year after Mary’s visit, Prince Rupert’s grand dreams were lost at sea when Charles Hays died on the RMS Titanic.
(more to come I expect)