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The next generation

I am pleased to announce that this is the final post that will directly address the historical events recorded by Lorne Shaw and J.T. MacMurchy in “The Shaws of Nearby Banks”.   While I have enjoyed interacting with MacMurchy’s text, I am extremely excited to explore the unpublished histories of the Shaws, and their time spent in Ireland, Banks, and beyond.

In “The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks”, MacMurchy devotes two very brief sentences to the first generation of Canadian-born Shaws.  Both sentences appear under the simple subheading “Large Family”, and are introduced by a statement that reads like a disclaimer, or a warning of what’s to come: “The people who opened this country had large families.”  Thomas and Isabella were no exception.

Together, Thomas and Isabella are known to have raised ten children: “James, Thomas, Andrew, Sam, Isabelle (Mrs. Thomas Carscadden), Mary (Mrs. John Carscadden), Robert, William, Edward and David.”  I recently learned from my grandfather’s brother, Ian Shaw, that Thomas and Isabella may have had another child named John, who lived to be eight months old (b. 24 January 1849, d. 3 October 1849).  If anyone has located John’s birth or death certificates I would be most grateful to receive a copy as I have been unable to confirm his connection to the family.

The following photograph is believed to have been taken circa 1901, prior to Thomas’s and Isabella’s return to Ireland for a six month visit with family and friends.  According to Uncle Ian, the return trip was paid for by their children, and their departure was the occasion for this impressive photograph.   To my knowledge, this is the only photograph of Thomas, Isabella, and their children.  If you know of another, please forward it to me and I will happily post it alongside the photograph below.

Thomas Shaw Sr. and Isabella Jordan Family, c1901

The Shaw Family, c1901
Back Row (left to right): James, Thomas, Isabella (Shaw) Carscadden, Samuel, Robert, Andrew
Middle Row (left to right): Thomas Shaw Sr., Isabella Shaw (granddaughter), Isabella (Jordan) Shaw
Front Row (left to right): William, Mary (Shaw) Carscadden, Edward

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In my research thus far I have encountered a recurring and very frustrating obstacle that is the perfect subject for discussion in the days following International Women’s Day.  True to form, the same challenge is also found in J.T. MacMurchy’s article “The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks”.

Have you noticed that there has been very little discussion about a particular woman in Thomas’s life?  A woman who would have shared in, and contributed to his successes as an early pioneer?  If yes, great observation!  If no, you are one of many so don’t beat yourself up.   All too often the experiences and identities of early female settlers are mysteriously absent from the accounts of family (and arguably national) histories.

In MacMurchy’s article, Isabella Jordan is strictly identified by her relationship to Thomas, resulting in a string of elusive nouns including “bride”, “Mrs. Shaw”, “wife”, and “Mrs. Thomas Shaw”.  The latter is the most effective example of Isabella’s renaming as she has become an accessory to Thomas, the feminine form (or extension) of her husband.  Do you find this troubling?  I am baffled by this unfortunate tradition of renaming, and bemoan the fact that I must search for the identities of women using their husbands’ names.

IsabellaPortrait1

Isabella (Jordan) Shaw, date unknown

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Outliving the past

As you may have suspected, my attempt at time travel was ultimately unsuccessful. I’m still here in 2013, and feeling a bit badly about raising your hopes that an English major would be the one to break the bonds of space and time. When I drove up Blue Mountain last weekend and approached the intersection of Banks – yes there is only one – I fully expected to be greeted by a scene from Collingwood Township’s past. I would have settled for anything.  Instead, the same “For Rent” sign confronted me at the stop sign, unnaturally stationed in front of the old brick building that once served as Banks’ post office, bakery, and general store.

Weekend “homes” are becoming increasingly common on top of Blue Mountain and the sad and unfortunate reality is that the fields and old farmsteads are being consumed in the spirit of “progress”.  I understand that things must change, but the Banks that exists today is a far cry from the active, farming community it once was.  Perhaps this is why objects once owned and used by members of the Shaw family have taken on such importance in the preservation of our collective history.  Despite their age,  these objects have remained, and will continue to remain for generations to come, having captured the fingerprints of generations of Shaws whose histories have been layered one on top of the other.  Seeing a photograph of an ancestor is a powerful experience; however it can only ever be a two dimensional experience.   Handling an object that is known to have been used by an ancestor forges a connection that spans generations.  Thomas’s kettle is a perfect example of this.

As I suspected, the story of Thomas and the kettle triggered a series of questions from interested readers wishing to know if Thomas’s kettle still exists.  And if so, where it resides.  A kettle has been passed down to Lorne’s descendants, and despite my original reservations I believe the kettle that is cherished today is the same kettle pictured below with Lorne.  What do you think?  I realize that the perspectives of the photographs are quite different, but please have a look and consider what you see.

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Well, I am back again.  I guess I have committed myself to this rocky-chaired venue. Oh the pleasures of living in a small town where most businesses close their doors at 6pm.  The good news is that my delicious tea (Earl Grey with milk – no fanciness) totalled $2.05. I can definitely commit to that.

I must admit that this weekly ritual has reawakened my excitement about the history of the Shaws, and I hope that it has ignited a spark of interest inside of you.  And as much as I may complain about living in a small town, please understand I wouldn’t change my circumstances for the world.  I consider myself very blessed to be living so close to the land on which the histories of the Shaw family were born, and doubly blessed to be able to visit my grandparents each week, armed with a physical copy of my latest blog post and an unending list of questions.

For those of you who are not yet interested in or impressed by the accounts previously revealed, your fate may be determined in the final section of MacMurchy’s article.  Perhaps the story of Thomas and the kettle just wasn’t enough.  Perhaps you need a story that pits man against beast – Thomas against a bear.  Hooked yet? Read on.  Continue Reading »

Things are already looking up during week two.  My choice of beverage is more desirable than last week’s, and despite its inflated price tag of $4.80, I am $0.57 and 614 words ahead of where I originally began.  I fully expect to dominate my 2013 New Year’s resolution.

So yes, as promised, I give you Lorne, Mr. J.T. MacMurchy and “The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks”.  Please note that dates and statements requiring correction or further discussion have been identified with an asterisk (*). These points will be revisited in future posts.

The story of Thomas’s arrival at Banks is characteristic of the hardships that greeted, threatened, and ultimately empowered Collingwood Township’s earliest pioneers.  According to MacMurchy’s article, Thomas Shaw and his bride (who remains unnamed) left County Down, Ireland, “early in 1840* and after seven weeks at sea landed in the Lower Canada*.  They made the rough journey to Barrie where Mrs. Shaw rested while her husband continued through the bush on foot, looking for a farmsite in the Blue Mountain country.”

Upon arriving in Collingwood Township, Thomas settled on the west half of Lot 18, Concession 4.  He is presumed to have cleared* and constructed a shelter on his newly acquired property before returning for his wife, whom I must identify as Isabella Jordan out of respect for her own toils and out of necessity for my own sanity.

In his first year of settlement, Thomas planted “a little grain…and soon was able to take a bag to Barrie to be ground into flour for the winter. This trip was made on foot and Thomas Shaw carried the wheat on his back and brought it back the same way”.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the geographical layout of Grey and Simcoe Counties, Thomas’s impressive trek roughly amounts to a sixty minute drive today.  Additional research into the early “roads” of Grey and Simcoe Counties will shed light on the various routes he may have taken; however, this is a task for another day.  The important thing to note is that Thomas’s journey was inspired by his primal struggle for survival.

Reading on, Thomas continues to battle the challenging landscape of his new home. The familiar story that follows recalls that of the mythical figure Sisyphus; however, unlike Sisyphus, Thomas willfully chooses to traverse the Niagara Escarpment – the closest landmass to a mountain that Ontario has to offer – with an immense object balanced upon his back, and shoulders.  This is the story of Thomas and his iron kettle – not a tea kettle mind you, but a large, cast iron cauldron.

“In the spring of 1841* Thomas decided to tap some of the maple trees, but he lacked a kettle in which to boil the sap. He had cut troughs and other containers out of wood, but these could not be used to make sugar.

“One of his neighbours, Mr. Lunan, offered to guide him to an iron kettle which had been abandoned near Wasaga Beach. The men found it and floated it on a raft to a point near Craighleith [sic]. Mr. Lunan returned to his farm on the flats while Mr. Shaw put the kettle on his head and proceeded to climb the mountain to bring it to his home. He was successful in this attempt but he carried the scars of his experience to his death in 1902*.”

Of all the family stories I have heard, and that have been told over the past five generations, the story of Thomas and his kettle is undoubtedly the most revered. The pride and worth of an entire family has been built upon the powerful shoulders of this inspiring man who toiled in an unfamiliar landscape that would eventually become home to subsequent generations of strong-willed, and respected Shaws.

IMG_1327

The photograph that accompanies MacMurchy’s article successfully captures Lorne’s pride in his grandfather’s accomplishment.  That Lorne offers to “loan the kettle to any young man who would care to duplicate [Thomas’s] feat” only strengthens this point.

If you can believe it, there’s more.  But not until next week…

Source: MacMurchy, J.T., “The Shaws of Nearby Banks.” The Enterprise Bulletin. Sept. 6, 1972.

In keeping with my 2013 New Year’s resolution to devote a couple of hours to my blog at a local coffee shop each week, I find myself sitting in a relatively loud room, in a surprisingly cold, uncomfortable and unbalanced chair, sipping an extremely disappointing vanilla spice latte that cost a whopping $5.37, listening to music I would never bend an ear to in the comfort of my home, and wondering who on earth is peeking over my shoulder, undoubtedly judging me as I type these words.

I endure all of this in an attempt to thrust myself back into my student past, back to the predictable and dictated life of rigid deadlines and the panic-stricken heartbeat I depended on to inspire the believed brilliance of every concluding paragraph I have ever written prior to scrambling out my room and across campus to class. Call me crazy, but I miss being a student. I miss the stress and the debilitating feeling that perhaps there was an oversight and I was mistakenly admitted instead of someone else.

Perhaps it’s because of my academic past that I find myself quick to critique what has hitherto been written about the Shaw family of Banks, Collingwood Township. Thankfully (and regrettably) I know of only two such occurrences.  The earliest appears in the form of a newspaper article entitled “This is Collingwood: The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks” which appeared in Collingwood’s Enterprise-Bulletin on September 6, 1972, written by J.T. MacMurchy.  The sole source of the article’s content appears to be my great, great uncle, Lorne Shaw.

The second occurrence is recorded in the pages of one of my greatly treasured books – An Illustrated History of Collingwood Township, edited by Bill Shannon, and published by Collingwood Township Council in 1979. An entire chapter is devoted to the small, agricultural community of Banks, and the Shaws are credited as one of the area’s pioneering families.

[Sidenote: If you ever stumble across a copy of this book, please do yourself a favour and buy it as quickly as you can. Do your best to suppress the look of astonishment if you happen upon it at a yard sale.  Mask your excitement upon seeing a 25 cent sticker on its cover.  Calmly hand over your quarter (there is no room for error here – do not try to get it for less), continue to smile, walk casually to your car and leave the scene as quickly as you can.  Remember this. Train for this.  And whatever you do, do not tell me if this happens to you as I may persuade you to give your copy to me, your mentor. And may God with you if we happen upon the book at the same sale and reach for it at the same moment.]

While reading these early accounts, I often forget, and inevitably take for granted, that while I sit in comfort (well, relative comfort due to this ridiculous chair), I have ready access to a wide array of ancestral records courtesy of the internet that assist in determining dates of settlement, births, marriages, deaths, etc.

Lorne, and other family members, must have relied on a number of family stories passed down to them throughout their lives by the many voices of their collective past.   Without Lorne’s account of Thomas’s arrival and livelihood at Banks, I would be even further removed from the early Shaws whom I have chased through the history books and across the Atlantic.

So without further ado, I give you Lorne’s account of Thomas’s arrival in Collingwood Township as recorded by Mr. J.T. MacMurchy…  Well a little ado – just one more week.