Friday, 23 June 2017

Voices of the War: Letters from 1917

By this time 100 years ago, the First World War had been raging for nearly three years. Canada was a huge part of the war effort, whether on the front or at home. The Archives has many records relating to the Great War. This week’s blog features a handful of them from 1917.

The war touched many lives, and Archbishop McNeil was not immune. His 30-year-old nephew, Tom, spent a great deal of time overseas and periodically wrote his uncle.

In the Field
Oct. 24th, 1917

Dear Uncle:
Have been putting off writing you from month to month.
Thought you would be more or less interested in my whereabouts.
Cannot possibally (sic) write a letter of any interest from the field but as soon as I go to England I will write you a good letter.
I am in my third year in the field and I am planning on going home on leave should this war last any longer than the spring.
We are advancing every day now and the oppinion (sic) on this front is that the actual fighting will be over in March .18.
Up to the present I have been on all parts of the Western Front. When we came to France first early in .15, we were continually bombed by the enemies[’] planes. Some wonderful change now. Where any work or move was on the enemy planes were always overhead. Now we do not see an average of 1 plane a day from the other side.
Cannot write any of my account as the censor rules are very strict.
I am enclosing a cheque. Very sorry same was so long delayed. Do hope you will pardon me.
Hoping you are in good health and taking good care of your-self.
Your fond nephew
Tom

MN AA03.35
Archbishop McNeil fonds


Archbishop McNeil also knew priests who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Fr. Julius Pirot wrote this letter to McNeil about his duties at a hospital in France and a charming account of the soldiers’ reactions after battle. Pirot also mentioned sunken hospital ships. By the time this letter was written at the end of April 1917, ten British hospital ships had been sunk during the war, almost all of them torpedoed by German U-boats. As McNeil's nephew indicated in his letter above, censors were very strict about what information could be shared. Evidence of this can be seen in Pirot's letter, where parts have been scratched off or cut out (and subsequently fixed by an ARCAT archivist).

In France, April 27th, 1917

Your Grace,
I must let you know that I am still alive. Indeed, thanks God, I am always well and happy in my work. I spent three months at the camp of Shornecliffe, and was sent here on the 5th of March. The work is practically the same everywhere. I am now in charge of a Canadian hospital and of an Imperial camp. There are about 700 Catholics in the camp and 50-70 in the hospital. Of course the patients just pass through in their way to England. You have heard that some of our Hospital-ships were sunk, what’s certainly an awful thing. Is this the end of the world? God only knows what we are going to see this year. [censored] Nevertheless our boys are wonderful. You should see them after a battle! When they arrived here from Vimy, a noisy joy filled the hospital. They were proud, of course! and how dirty! And they fell in the cots, and it was too sweet for anything to hear them snoring! One cannot help loving them dearly, for it is a fact that the fire of battle purifies their hearts and spirits. I never heard any of them complaining. And they’re so glad to see the priest! – I have my billet at the parish-house, but we board at the hospital. In this part of France, one fourth of the people go to church. The others are indifferent. War did not improve them very much. Poor France! She has not suffered enough yet; but the Catholics here have no courage: they let the others do as they like, and the others, laughing at them, continue to destroy the Church. [censored] 
I hope that Your Grace is enjoying good health. Toronto must be very nice by this time with her great display of tulips. In France we have no flowers yet; spring is very late, and it is cold. “no bonne” say the soldiers; and they know what that means in the trenches!
Please Your Grace pray for us
J. Pirot
Chaplain C.F.
No. 2 Stationary Canadian Hospital, France

FW CS01.26
First World War fonds


People often asked the Archbishop for prayers or comfort or help. Understandably, wartime increased these occurrences, as people had more reason to be concerned about their loved ones.

Vancouver, B.C.
June 5th, 1917

Your Grace:
My son Gerald has joined the Royal Flying Corps and leaves for Toronto on Thursday of this week to do his little bit for his country.  I have given him a letter of introduction to you and Mrs. Barry and myself would take it as a great honor and favour if you would take a little interest in him.
We have never had one anxious moment about him, and now that he is a man we feel that his habits are well formed and that he has strength of will to take care of himself; yet this being the first time he will be away from us for any length of time we would like you to have your fatherly eye on him.
Thanking you in anticipation for any trouble we may be putting you to. I beg to sign myself on behalf of Mrs. Barry and myself
Yours faithfully
J. F. Barry

MN AH06.85
Archbishop McNeil fonds


More than anything, Gilbert A. Sim, a gunner in the CEF, wanted to be a chaplain. He wrote multiple letters to Archbishop McNeil from 1915 to 1917, hoping that McNeil would help him in that regard. In Sim's last letter to McNeil, which is written in a booklet measuring just 14 x 8.5 cm (5.5 x 3.25 in), Sim listed the many battles he took part in and again expressed his desire to be a chaplain. 

304354
Heavy T.M. Battery
3 Division Canadian
France
Dec. 1917

My Lord Archbishop
I beg to wish Your Grace a very Happy New Year, and also to mention a subject which is very much on my mind.
Your Grace knows very well under what conditions I enlisted and I have now been in the Army over two years, the best part of that time having been spent in France and Flanders in the front line.
I was in action at the third battle of Ypres, the second Battle of the Somme, Causalette (sic) [Courcelette] and the taking of Beaumont Hamel, the Battle of Arras and the storming of Vimy Ridge, and lastly in the hard fighting in Belgium which included the taking of Passhendale (sic). I have endeavoured all through this to be true to my beautiful Faith and to my calling as a Cleric, and I feel that I can now approach Your Grace as to my future.
I had intended to apply for a Commission but have been advised by Chaplains, many of whom I know, to write first to you, to see if it would be possible for Your Grace to procure for me a discharge that I might be enabled to continue my training for the Priesthood, for which end I have already devoted so many years of my life.
I might then be able to return to the Army with the only Commission for which I really long and for which I think I should be most suited. Your Grace already has my papers previous to my enlistment. With regard to my military record I can refer to my Commanding officer Captain Bennett, M.C.
Begging a blessing 
I have the Honour to be
My Lord Archbishop
Yours most respectfully
Gilbert A. Sim, C.F.A. [Canadian Field Artillery]

FW GC02.12
First World War fonds


In order to deal with requests such as Gilbert Sim’s, Archbishop McNeil may have referred to the statement from the Office of Militia and Defence sent to him by Col. Charles F. Winter, Military Secretary of the Militia, which explained methods of dealing with personal requests concerning soldiers serving overseas in the CEF. Requests included promotions, commissions, leave or discharge, and return to Canada.

Letter from Charles F. Winter to Abp. McNeil,
Feb. 1917

FW CS01.23
First World War fonds
Memorandum Regarding Methods of Dealing with Personal Requests Concerning Soldiers Serving Overseas
with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 
Feb. 1, 1917

FW CS01.23
First World War fonds


During the war, life changed dramatically both overseas and at home. Fr. Melville D. Staley wrote Archbishop McNeil about the shortage and high cost of food in France and also noted that he had received a shipment of socks for the soldiers. 

No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital
B.E.H.
France

July 2nd/17

Your Grace,
I write to advise you that I have left England and am now located at the above address. God has blessed me with good health enabling me to carry on my work quite alright. Food is very dear here and suffering and misery from the war is plainly evident on all sides, but one cannot help it but admire the spirit of the people. I see in a shop window melons, small ones, at twenty francs a piece which will give you an idea of the price of foodstuffs which varies accordingly.
I received not long ago a very nice consignment of home made socks from Our Lady of Lourdes Patriotic Association. It was indeed a great gift and the soldiers appreciated them very much. I have brought a few I had left with me.
Remember me kindly in your pious prayers and with every good wish. I remain
Your obedient servant
Fr. M. D. Staley

FW CS01.32
First World War fonds


Sending food and items of clothing were just two of the myriad ways in which Canada contributed to the war effort. This booklet briefly details all aspects of Canada’s role in the war up to March 1917. Its sections cover departmental war activities, economic effects, the nickel problem, the Ross rifle, and preparations for after the war. More specific topics – including equipment, censorship, and the work of Canadian women to establish Canadian hospitals overseas – are also described.

Canada's Effort in the Great War to March, 1917

FW WE01.33
First World War fonds


The booklet contains a list of contributions in kind, such as food, clothing, bedding, games and so on. The numbers are remarkable, and they continued to increase as the war progressed.

Canada's Effort in the Great War to March, 1917,
pp. 77 and 78


FW WE01.33
First World War fonds


For most of us, it is impossible to grasp the hardships that soldiers, their families, and their communities had to endure throughout the First World War. As archbishop, McNeil would have had the challenge of dealing with requests from individuals across the country and overseas while thinking about his own friends, colleagues, and family members who had joined the fight. The records highlighted here, as well as many others in ARCAT's collection, bring personal war stories to life and further remind us to be thankful for those people we hold dear.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Record of the Week: The Statue of Liberty

On June 17, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in hundreds of pieces in New York Harbor, ready to be reassembled. The statue was a gift from France in 1884, designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bertholdi. It was officially dedicated (in one piece!) on October 28, 1886, by President Grover Cleveland.

This week's record is a parchment issued by the New York State Council and Knights of Columbus commemorating the gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States. It shows the deed of gift of the statue; the translation into English of the deed of gift; the lyrics to the sonnet The New Collosus by Emma Lazarus, which was written in 1883 to raise money for the statue's pedestal; the dedication plaque; the invitation to the inauguration; and details about the statue, including the dimensions and weight.

It might seem a bit odd that the Archdiocese of Toronto has a record relating to the Statue of Liberty, but the connection likely lies with Archbishop Lynch. Before he was called to Toronto, Lynch was rector of the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels (now Niagara University), which he founded in 1856 at Niagara Falls, New York. The parchment is undated, and we do not know who sent it nor to whom it was sent; but Lynch kept in touch with contacts in New York after he left, so it would not be surprising if that is how the parchment arrived in ARCAT's holdings.

AF.010
Artifacts Special Collection




Friday, 9 June 2017

The Citizens of Toronto and Black '47

Today is International Archives Day. This year the theme is Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism. In honour of this event, we wanted to share a story about a time when the citizens of Toronto and the surrounding area of all backgrounds worked together to care for a group of vulnerable newcomers.

1847 was a defining year in the history of our region and the rest of British North America. Across the Atlantic in Ireland, a number of factors including the failure of the potato crop contributed to widespread famine. As many as one million succumbed to hunger and disease, and as many as two million left Ireland to find better circumstances. Of those, approximately 110,000 landed in Canada. For most, their first stop was at Grosse Île near Québec City. Many continued upriver to points such as Montreal, Bytown and Kingston. Approximately 38,560 made it to Toronto in 1847. This number is staggering when you consider that the population of the city at the time was only 20,000. Unfortunately, the Irish emigrants carried with them the Typhus epidemic that had struck at home. Roughly one in six died either on the voyage, in quarantine at Grosse Île, or upon arrival at their destination. This resulted in a problem that Torontonians of all denominations banded together to ameliorate: parentless children.

The city was not caught unawares. The calamity in Ireland was reported in local papers, and even Bishop Power wrote from Europe to ask Toronto Catholics for their prayers and charity. A Board of Health was formed, as well as a Widows and Orphans Committee. A barracks on Bathurst Street was given for use of the widows and orphans in August. The facility began operating in September.

The committee was sure to regularly give recognition to its donors in the Globe. Top of the October 16th, 1847 list of donors to the Emigrant Widows' and Orphans' Fund was The Honorable John Elmsley, a prominent Toronto Catholic, who donated £12. Church of England Bishop John Strachan gave 11 new pairs of shoes. In November Mrs. Justice Jones gave "several articles of new clothing." Mrs. Dr. Beaven gave "new clothing, woollen yarn, unmade drugget, calico, etc." In February 1848 Miss Dawson of Queen Street organized a bazaar to benefit the asylum. The 'Coloured Young Men's Improvement Society' and the International Order of Oddfellows also held events. Donations came from as far away as Uxbridge and Chatham.

In March the secretary of the Committee of the Toronto Destitute Immigrant Widows and Orphans Society reported that the committee resolved,
"That the cordial thanks of this Committee be given to the Committee of and the contributors to the Irish Relief Fund, for the large sum just received from their Treasurer amounting to £633 - together with 140 Barrels of Flour, and 132 Bushels of Wheat, being the Balance in Cash and Provisions, remaining on hand, belonging to said Relief Fund, which munificent contributions will enable the Committee, to continue to afford that shelter and support to the destitute Widows and Orphans, which they would have shortly been obliged to withhold, but for the timely aid so liberally supplied."
The Widows and Orphans Asylum operated until the end of May, 1848. The committee left a report giving details of the previous nine months. Of the 627 who passed through the institution, 129 "went to relatives, found means, and left at own request," and 258 were "placed in a position to earn their own livelihood." The report gives a partial list of placements, and notes that several were given to "Rev. Mr. Kirwan."

Here in the archives, we have a list of some Catholics from Adjala township who were willing to take in orphans. The list was given to Bishop Power by Fr. Kirwin, pastor of St. Paul's. Those on the list were likely motivated by Christian charity, but they would have also benefited from extra help on the farm:

"Robert Keenan of the Township of Adjala called with the Revd. T. Kirwin pastor of the City of Toronto and made the following application for the emigrant orphant children to be sent to the Townships of Adjala and Tecumseth viz as follows."

"I certify that the above named men are of good moral character and of industrious habits and in comfortable circumstances."

April 18, 1848

HO 20.67
ARCAT Holograph Collection

The events of 1847 left an indelible impression on the city. Many citizens, prominent and otherwise, were lost to the Typhus epidemic. Nevertheless, Torontonians and of all backgrounds worked together to care for the destitute who arrived on their doorstep. We pray that we have the courage to continue their tradition of cooperation and selflessness as citizens of Toronto, Canada, and the world. 




Friday, 2 June 2017

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword: Letters from Kingston Penitentiary

On June 1, 1835, the Provincial Penitentiary of the Province of Upper Canada opened in Kingston with just six inmates, who had been transferred from Toronto. The maximum security prison became known as Kingston Penitentiary after Confederation. This week's blog features records relating to Canada's first large prison.

The number of prisoners significantly increased by the time Rev. Wilfrid T. Kingsley, Catholic Chaplain at the Penitentiary, informed Archbishop McNeil that he would be receiving a copy of the official report of penitentiaries for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1929. Kingsley indicated the total number of prisoners per year for 1927 to 1929 and specifically noted the number of Catholics. On average, it appears that approximately 35 percent of the inmates at the Kingston Penitentiary at that time were Catholic.

Kingston Penitentiary
Feast of All Saints [November 1, 1930]

Your Grace,
Under an other cover in this mail you will find a copy of the official report of penitentiaries for the fiscal year ending March 31st, 1929, and over the name of Supt. Hughes. This is the latest report published. Of the 758 inmates shown as in the institution on that date, and who were registered with us, 12 were actually detained elsewhere. At the end of 1927 there were 708 prisoners of whom 260 were Catholics.
At the end of 1928 there were 746, of whom 253 were Catholics; whilst at the end of 1929 (not yet made public) there were 821 of whom 283 were Catholics.
Many of those Catholic prisoners never attended any school; many more of them got what little learning they have in the Public School.
I have the honor to be, of Your Grace, the
humble servant,
Wilfrid T. Kingsley
Catholic Chaplain
MN AH19.135
Archbishop McNeil fonds


Rev. John E. Burke of the Newman Club of Toronto made a Mission to the Kingston Penitentiary in 1923. Upon his return, he sent Archbishop McNeil copies of an address to Burke from the prisoners and copies of at least two of the letters that prisoners wrote to Burke, saying how much his Mission positively affected them.

Toronto, Ont., June 1st, 1923

Your Grace,

As you know I recently gave a Mission to the prisoners of Kingston Penententiary (sic). God was exceedingly kind in the dispensation of His grace during the week that I was there. It was the first season of the kind that the prisoners experienced and I venture to state that the retreat of a religious community was never entered into with more enthusiasm. I thought you would be interested in the mentality of the average convict. Consequently I am herewith enclosing a copy of an address which the inmates presented to me and also a copy of some of the letters which they sent to me.

I trust that Your Grace is well.

With kindest regards, I am,
Faithfully,
John E. Burke, C.S.P.
MN AH12.65 (page 1)
Archbishop McNeil fonds


It is very clear that Burke deeply affected the prisoners. This is one of the letters:

Dear Father,
My intention was to see you before the termination [of] this very successful Mission, in order to personally thank you for the great good you have done me and the other Catholic inmates of this institution, but as I do not wish to take up a space of your very precious time that, perhaps, might benefit the soul of some other inmate, I will just let you know in a few words that I thank you from the bottom of my heart for building upon a foundation laid by Father McDonald, a strong and wonderful "Palace of Love", a Palace which contains an abundant store of love for all things noble and good, and a strong detestation of all things ignoble and bad. I thank Almight[y] God for sending you here and for placing in your hands the ability to drive "Truth" home.

This wonderful "Palace of Love", will never grow weak and decay -- which statement I will prove to you some day in the future, please God, by presenting myself to you and allowing you to look over the result, physically, financially and spiritually.

That God will bless you and give you an abundance of strength to enable you to carry on with your good work for years and years to come, is my fervent prayer, and I am sure, the prayer of every Catholic Guard and inmate in this institution.

Yours most sincerely,
"James J. Keeney",
H.638
MNAH12.65 (page 4)
Archbishop McNeil fonds


Individuals would write to the Archbishop to request assistance in releasing certain prisoners. In 1885, the inspector of penitentiaries, James G. Moylan, presented the case of Michael Finn to Archbishop Lynch to ask for help in freeing Finn. Finn was convicted for the attempted murder of his wife and had already spent 11 years in prison.

After some well wishes, Moylan's request starts on page three:

I crave Your Grace's permission to present the case of Michael Finn, a convict here, for your favourable consideration. If I be correctly informed you took an interest in him, some years ago. He was sentenced for life, for an alleged attempt to murder his wife, who received very trifling injury, as I am told, and who is now living, somewhere, in the States. Father Laboreau was Finn's P.P. and he refers to him for a character. His character, while here, is unexceptionable. He has spent nearly eleven years in the Penitentiary having been sentenced on 13. May '74. About a year since, the warden, supported by Father Towhey and myself, endeavoured to procure the poor man's pardon -- but, without success.
I think he has fully expiated his crime, coram lege. It is my opinion, if Your Grace would intercede for him, with Sir Alex. Campbell, the Minister of Justice, or with Sir John -- who expressed to me the delight he felt at Your Grace's reference to him, in the Banquet speech -- he would, most likely be liberated.
I hope Your Grace will kindly excuse my advancing of poor Finn's case, and that you will favour me with a reply here, where I shall be for a couple of weeks.
I have the honour to be,
Your Grace's most humble and obedient servant,
Jas. G. Moylan

P.S. [written in the top left corner of page 1]
I pray Your Grace to consider my interference in Finn's behalf as confidential, so far as Ottawa is concerned. J.G.M.

January 12, 1885
L AH30.02
Archbishop Lynch fonds


Sometimes the Archbishop received direct requests from prisoners to aid in their release. Philip S. Martin, Convict #F.417, entreated Archbishop McNeil to help him secure parole. Martin explained his situation quite eloquently (and in fascinating penmanship) and insisted that he would be a better person in the future should McNeil intercede.

May 1st, 1915

Reverend Sir:
Relying on the wide reputation Your Grace enjoys for Kindliness of heart, especially toward those in lowly situations in life, I am taking the liberty of addressing Your Grace in hopes that I may secure your intercession in my behalf.

I am a prisoner here in Kingston prison, serving a five year sentence, with about another year to serve, and I am addressing Your Grace to see if you can help me toward securing a parole for the remainder of my sentence.

I have not a very good record behind me, but I am most determined to do better in future, and if you would intercede for me, that fact alone would compel me to succeed, as I simply could not allow myself to fail after having made this appeal to Your Grace. Behind me are all the dark, mis-spent years of a prodigal son, and I feel sure that Your Grace is eminently and especially fitted for the divine office of helping another prodigal toward a new start in life.
My full name is Philip S. Martin; I was born in Toronto in the year Eighteen-eighty-seven, and am therefore only twenty-eight years old.

I still have, I hope, many years of usefulness before me to atone for the past, and in all sincerity I say to Your Grace that I am heartily sorry for all those mis-spent years, and if you will take a few moments of your time to write to the Minister of Justice for me, Your Grace will have the pleasant retrospect in years to come of having rescued one storm-tossed mariner drifting on a wild, uncharted sea of darkness and despair.

Very Respectfully yours,
Philip S. Martin
Convict #F.417
Kingston Penitentiary, Ont.
MN AH04.16
Archbishop McNeil fonds

Another part of the above letter that is interesting to note is the message from the Warden at the top of the page addressing those who wanted to send letters to convicts at the penitentiary:

"Letters to Convicts in this Penitentiary should contain nothing but family, personal or business matters.  General news, neighborhood gossip or reference to other Convicts will prevent delivery of the letter.  Enclosures, such as newspaper clippings, photographs–except small size of some near relative–toothbrushes, handkerchiefs, cards, pictures, fruits, cakes, Christmas boxes, etc., are prohibited."

Kingston Penitentiary was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990. It officially closed as a federal prison on September 30, 2013, and is now open to the public for tours.