I never asked my great granny Charlotte about her wedding, but the records I’ve found hint at lots of intrigue.
Did they plan a summer wedding and then rush things to avoid conscription? Had they initially hoped to marry in the church next to her home but lost the opportunity due to community infighting?
Probably, but not yet proven.
What I do know is that my great grandparents—then 23-year-old groom Arthur Johnson and his 22-year-old bride Charlotte Charbonneau—chose to marry on Friday, February 9, 1917 in an unfinished church basement blocks away from her home instead of in the church right next door.
The direct information I have about that day appears in an affidavit filled out by Arthur on January 22, signed by the witnesses and solemniser, and turned in to the Registrar on February 17.
When looking at it, I couldn’t help wondering two things: why then and why there?
She wasn’t pregnant—their first son wouldn’t be born for another two years.
Money would be tight later, but at that point both had jobs. Arthur worked as a machinist and Charlotte served as a fore-lady, probably supervising women at a factory producing something for the war.
Did the impetus to marry early in 2017 have something to do with federal government musings about conscription at that time? Prime Minister Robert Borden promised publicly that he’d send 500,000 Canadian soldiers to Europe by the end of 1916. Only 300,000 men volunteered by December 2016, and numbers dwindled as horrific details about the Battle of the Somme reached Canada.
Borden passed conscription in August the summer after Arthur and Charlotte wed. Had they married after July 6, 2017, Arthur might have been conscripted. I might not exist.
I’m not sure why Arthur didn’t serve. He certainly had close ties with Europe having immigrated to Canada from Lancashire England ten years earlier. He came to Canada with his brother Albert and his parents, Mary Young and William Johnson.
Neither Arthur nor Albert volunteered for the Armed Forces and the family remained close. Albert and his wife Amie served as witnesses at Arthur and Charlotte’s wedding.
I also wonder how they selected the location of their marriage.
Both families worshipped in the Presbyterian faith. At the time, Charlotte still lived with her parents on Cross Street in Weston, right next to a Presbyterian Church called the Old Kirk at 11 Cross Street.
Turns out that the building couldn’t offer a legally-sanctioned marriage between March 2013 and June 2017, despite more than 200 of the 247 congregation members working hard to keep the place open.
The problem began in March 2013, when fewer than 38 people voted to close the facilities and sell the Cross Street building. Given that the snow kept 209 people at home that day, I suspect that the meeting in question took place in the Main Street building purchased for Sunday School services a year earlier.
The sordid affair appears in a wonderful history of the Church in Weston called “From Then to Now.”
At a congregational meeting in March 1913, bad weather kept attendance to 38 out of 245 members. A majority of the 38 voted to hold all future services at the new facility and to sell the Cross Street site. Westminster Presbyterian Church was then fully established on the new site and the Cross Street site was sold.
The church on Cross Street was then re-purchased by some of the old members and services resumed on January 18th, 1914. Presbytery refused to recognize this congregation though, so it operated as an independent Presbyterian Church known as The Old Kirk The group continued to worship steadfastly and endured three failed petitions to Toronto Presbytery asking to be recognized as a second Presbyterian congregation in Weston (one petition was signed by 259 members). They appealed to the General Assembly, held in Montreal in June 1917, and the appeal was sustained. The church was then named The Old Presbyterian Church. From June 1917 to 1925 there were two official Presbyterian Churches in Weston.
In 1925 Westminster Presbyterian voted for church union and The Old Presbyterian Church opted to remain Presbyterian. It was then named Weston Presbyterian Church and Westminster became Westminster United Church. 
I haven’t yet found definitive proof that Charlotte and her family took part in the purchase or petitions of the Cross Street building. Given that Arthur and Charlotte married within a completely different congregation, however, it’s likely that they did.
Perhaps the couple hoped to be the first marriage in the renewed building, but then chose to wed rapidly so Arthur could avoid conscription. They needed a legally-sanctioned marriage.
Arthur’s affidavit provides the address. It indicates that Reverend Charles A. Mustard presided over Charlotte and Arthur’s wedding ceremony at 38 Harvie Avenue, a building at the corner of St. Clair Avenue.
Information contained within a Presbyterian Museum article about the Church after it was torn down in 1999 gives context. The St. David’s Church congregation purchasing the Harvie site in 1911. They began operations by moving an original frame church from the south side of St. Clair Avenue opposite McRoberts to the new site. That building opened in 1912.
The community grew rapidly. By 1914, they hired Toronto architect Herbert George Paul to incorporate their original wood frame structure into a new larger building. He finished constructing only the basement, however, when the bank pulled the Church loan due to World War I.
A speech by John Barron in June 1918 describes what happened.
In the year 1911 the present site was secured. Seventy-two feet of the frontage being presented by Westminster Church, to which the Church building was moved and alterations made. This building was opened on Nov. 12, 1912.
The congregation outgrew this accommodation, and in the year 1914 plans were prepared and the present building was commenced, but owing to conditions brought about by the war, the basement only was finished and used for services to the present time.
So, instead of getting married in a perfectly good building on Charlotte’s street, community infighting and a war forced the couple to wed in an unfinished basement in St. David’s Presbyterian Church.
 Johnson, Arthur. Affadavid, 022461, loose paper, Office of the Registar General Ontario. Rec. Date: Jan 22, 2019. Ontario Canada Select Marriages. Archives of Ontario. Toronto. MS932, Reel 440, Ancestry.com and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada). Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Ancestry. www.ancestry.ca : 2010.
 From Then to Now, 1847 to 2007, a history by the Weston Presbyterian Congregation, http://westonpresbyterian.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/WestonPCHistory.pdf
Ten generations before I was born, and for at least three generations before that, my French-speaking ancestors settled in Port Royal on the Annapolis River.
They probably arrived as colonizers in 1603. That’s when France’s King Henri IV set up “La Cadie” between the 40th and 46th parallels south of the Saint Lawrence River. For a good idea of how they lived, visit the Port-Royal National Historic Site.
Just before, or just after, the birth of François Allard III, his parents left the region for Quebec.
I imagine they refused to swear allegiance to the British monarch.
For at least three generations, French settlers like them fought with local Mi’kmaq people against British settlers in New England. Throughout the years, many cross-border conflicts and trade ship privateering occurred. The worse early incident led to Port Royal’s destruction by fire in 1613. It was rebuilt and skirmishes continued for a century, with the French and Mi’kmaq remaining strong.
The siege of Port Royal in 1710 marked the beginning of the end of French dominance in the region.
On October 5, 1,880 British and New England soldiers arrived at Goat Island just south of Port Royal in five warships with accompanying transport and bomb galleys. First, they blockaded supplies, food and water from getting into the town. Then they began moving men and equipment into the Annapolis River to get ready to attack the fort. One transport capsized killing 23 men. After that, they moved more carefully, landing safely.
Canons attacked the fort for a week. By the end of the day on October 12, the French gave up. The terms of surrender were signed the following day.
According to the University of Moncton researcher N.E.C. Griffiths, surrender terms said:
that the Inhabitants within Cannon shot of the Fort of Port Royal, shall remain upon their estates, with their Corn, Cattle and Furniture, During two years in case they are not Desirous to go before, they taking the Oaths of Allegiance & Fidelity to Her Sacred Majesty of Great Britain.” 
Over the next three years, Port Royal became Annapolis Royal and La Cadie became Nova Scotia. Sometime during this period, my family shed their maritime roots for landlubber status.
The 1714 Acadian Census shows a family headed by François Allard living in Port Royal with his wife, one son and two daughters. If these are my ancestors, François was either a second son who came later or his birthdate is wrong.
More likely this was a different family.
According to my grandmother’s records, my nine times great grandfather Jean-Baptiste Allard and his wife Anne Elisabeth Pageau had François III on February 3, 1719.
It’s hard to figure out why her records show him as the third person to hold the name “François” with his father clearly identified as Jean Baptiste. She does show his grandfather as Jean François but his great grandfather’s name was Jacques. He doesn’t get it from the other side for sure. The men in Anne Elisabeth’s family were Thomases going back at least two generations.
My grandmother’s notes show François III’s birthplace as Port Royal, although I found a family tree online that shows a man with the same name born to parents with the same names in Charlesbourg, Quebec.
Either way, by the time François III got married in November 1741, he and his wife Barbe Louise Bergevin definitely lived in Charlesbourg, Quebec. Their daughter, Marie Louise Allard, would be born on November 3, 1742, at Notre Dame de Quebec. Any links to the shores of the Annapolis River were lost forever.
Meanwhile, Acadians in Nova Scotia refused to swear allegiance to the Queen of Britain. Wars continued in the region until 1758. The expulsion of the Acadians, which began in 1755 and continued until the British Conquest, led to Longfellow’s famous poem about Evangeline and Gabriel.
By then, my ancestors were well-established in Quebec.
We have none of the deported Acadians in the family; only people who originally settled La Cadie.
 Griffiths, N.E.S. (2005). From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People, 1604-1755, ISBN 978-0-7735-2699-0. University of Moncton, McGill-Queen’s University Press. p235.
My former red hair often had people asking where in Scotland I’m from. For years, I knew of no Scottish blood relatives. Now, I’ve finally found Scottish and Irish roots on my mom’s side.
Turns out that great granny Keziah Charlotte Mcmaster Charboneau, whose birth took place almost exactly a hundred years before mine, identified as ‘Scotch’ even though she never lived in Scotland.
Keziah’s heritage demonstrates a clear cultural tradition in my family of identifying children with their father’s heritage.
She could have identified as Canadian, given that her birth took place in Orangeville Ontario. She might have been Irish, because her mom Mary Willard’s birthplace was Ireland. Still, it was her dad Robert Mcmaster’s birthplace that was important. He was born in Scotland, although I don’t know where.
Even though her parents had different heritages, Keziah identified as “Scotch.”
Yet, some crossed-out hashtags next to her eldest child on the 1901 census indicate that someone wanted to make sure her children were seen as French.
The enumerator probably initially assumed the children shared their mother’s heritage of ‘Scotch’ because the entire family was English-speaking and practiced the Brethren religion. Many of the people he interviewed in the village of Weston, Ontario practiced the protestant denomination stemming from a German movement that began in 1708.
His mistake got corrected, however, presumably by 38-year-old Keziah herself.
Clear hashtag marks indicating that Etta was Scotch were scratched out to write in the word “French” to match the heritage of their father, Paul Charbonneau, who appears in a 1917 Weston resident list as “the caretaker who lives in the house on the east side of Cross street.”
The rest of the hashtags identify all ten children—from two-year-old Wilbert, through six-year-old John, eight-year-old Zelia, nine-year-old Charlotte, 15-year-old Paul, 16-year-old Henry, 18-year-old Latton, 19-year-old Maggie and 20-year-old Etta—as French like their father, not Scotch like their mom.
Keziah and Paul’s first son, Matthew Dalton Charbonneau doesn’t appear at all, perhaps because he lived elsewhere on March 31, 1901 (the day the census is supposed to represent). He’s on earlier and later censuses though. Eight summers later, he married Edith Daniels in Toronto.
Even when family members had more information, they carried on the tradition of father-centred heritage. Kezia’s son, J.P. Charbonneau described her as “Scotch” on her death certificate just a few lines before identifying her parents’ birthplaces.
Keziah’s death took place in her son’s home at 111 St. Johns Road in Toronto. She died there of chronic myocarditis (heart failure) on July 30, 1932, at the age of 76 years old.
She’s buried in Weston’s Riverside Cemetery, 1567 Royal York Rd, Etobicoke, ON M9P 3C4. I plan to look for her gravesite when next in Toronto.
The first ancestor I chose to research in detail lived in Quebec City two centuries ago. Her birth took place during a war. She married a carpenter at 18, bore 10 children, grieved the death of four children, and died at 38 years old.
Other than feeling grateful for an easier and longer life than hers, what did I gain by learning her story?
More importantly, why should you, my reader, care about her?
There are lots of answers to this, depending on who you are, what you’re doing and what you need. For me, all these reasons can be described in a single word: hope.
As I write about the lives of women who lived in Canada so long again, it’s impossible not to compare their lives to mine. They made fewer choices, bore more children and faced more illness, war, and turmoil than I have so far.
Yet the lives of my ancestors in a long-ago Canada match those of many women in countries around the world now. I can’t help but hope that we can share good food, technology, and resources to improve their lives too. Everyone should have infinitely easier, varied and more diverse lives than that of our ancestors.
I also write to learn about myself. If you’re one of my relatives, perhaps you read my stories hoping to learn something about yourself too. We both want to know how the lives of our ancestors affected those of our grandparents and parents. At the very least, their choices affected where we grew up, our mentors as children and the culture we were borne into.
Our ancestors choices, their children’s survival, and their genetic health risks continue through us and our children.
Their stories, if we can discover them, might illuminate some of the personality quirks in our family. I suspect our long line of strong independent women began with the woman featured in my first story.
The more I research my ancestors, the more links I find to cousins and other people connected to my family either through blood, historic friendship or past quarrels. Anyone in the world might be related somehow.
Judy Russell wrote about discovering some of these lost family members via genealogical research and new DNA tools a few years ago in “Oh Charlie” at http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2014/02/02/oh-charlie/. Her article makes me consider genetic testing.
Researching our ancestors and sharing about the experience enables all of us to contribute to a wider understanding about who we are, what we’ve been and where we live in a bigger context too.
Even if we aren’t related in any way, the stories genealogists tell have lessons for anyone interested in righting past wrongs, illuminating communities or exploring a particular place. Janice Hamilton’s research on one of her ancestors, for example, has provided helpful background to a group of locals who provide tours of the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal. You can read her stories about the Baggs and the community they helped found at http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/.
So often, the stories we hear about the past are myths made up of half-truths. Looking into the details of an actual person’s life reveals a series of events that are complicated, nuanced and full of foibles. Circumstances often carry people in different directions than what might have otherwise been expected.
By figuring out what actually happened to whom and sharing any surprises we discover widely, we all get closer to the truth. Getting closer to truth creates possibilities for beauty, understanding and diversity.
Then again, maybe you’re different? Why do you research your family history?
Fourteen days after Canada declared War on Italy and the same day France signed an armistice with the country, my grandfather Richard Charles Himphen left his job as a baker’s helper to enlist in The Irish Regiment of Canada.
He said a declaration out loud, in front of someone whose name looks like Mr. Armstrong Cafo, although it might also be Captain M. Armstrong.
…I hereby engage to serve in the Canadian Active Service Force so long as an emergency, ie, war, invasion, riot or insurrection, real or apprehended, exists, and for the period of demobilization after said emergency ceases to exist, and in any event for a period of not less than one year, provided His Majesty should so require my services.”
Then he said:
I Richard Charles Himphen do solemnly promise and swear (or solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty.”
I know he said those words because they’re on his attestation papers. Although since no one crossed out one or the other I don’t know whether he “solemnly promised and swore” or “solemnly declared.” I suspect he did both because he was reading from the paper and it says both, but I don’t know.
Unless you have an ancestor who participated in a court case or worked as an actor, singer or writer, it can be difficult to obtain quotes from his or her life.
Military recruits, however, usually had to say declarations and oaths out loud in front of a witness and both had to sign to make enlistment legal. If that happened, the declarations and oaths will be on their attestation papers.
You also have the name of the witness if you can read his or her signature.
Most attestation papers include declarations and/or oaths, but not all. The attestation paper of Harry Denis Davy who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on February 14, 1919 doesn’t include either an attestation or an oath. Then again, it’s possible that there was a third page missing from his service record.
James Fredrick Devitt served with the same unit and his attestation papers included a declaration and oath.
I James Patrick Devitt do solemnly declare that the foregoing particulars are true, and I hereby engage to serve on active service anywhere in Canada, and also beyond Canada and overseas, in the Royal Canadian Air Force for the duration of the present war, and for the period of demobilization thereafter, and in any event for a period of not less than one year, provided His Majesty should so long require my services.”
Soldiers in other wars said different things.
During WWI, on October 29, 1915, bank clerk John Glass said:
I hereby engage and agree to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, and to be attached to any arm of the service therein, for the term of one year, or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany should that war last longer than one year, and for six months after the termination of that war provided His Majesty should so long require my services, or until legally discharged.”
Boilermaker Arthur Luker said the exact same thing on June 24, 1916.
Steamfitter William Wright said the same thing on September 21, 1914.
Henry Hadley Jr.’s file doesn’t include an oath or declaration. He signed a Officers’ Declaration Paper on December 9, 1915 instead.
South African war recruits swore at least two declarations and two oaths. Farmer Henry Smith Munro, for example, swore on October 6, 1899 that he would:
…well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady The Queen in the Canadian Contingent for Active Service, until lawfully discharged, and that I will resist Her Majesty’s enemies, and cause Her Majesty’s peace to be kept on land and at sea, and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service faithfully discharge my duty, according to law. So help me God.
Then, on December 24, 1901, he said:
I Henry Smith Munro, do sincerely promise and swear (or solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty, King Edward VII, His Heirs and Successors and that I will faithfully defend Him and them in Person, Crown and Dignity, against all enemies and will obey all orders of the Officers set over me.
As you go through the form, you definitely want to refer to a Canadian Archives’ abbreviations page to understand everything on the form.
Pay careful attention to marital status. Often, wives or husbands had to send letters to the recruiting office giving permission for someone to enlist. These letters are wonderful sources of direct information about your ancestor.
Also, look carefully for typical fields that remain blank. This might indicate that your ancestor intentionally left the field blank to make sure they would not be rejected. Eliza Richardson describes why nurses left several blanks on their attestation forms during World War I.
The Nursing Sisters who did not fit the camc requirements of age, education, and marital status bypassed regulations by deliberately abstaining from marking down pertinent information on their attestation forms. It is only through pairing Toman’s statistics with the personal accounts of Nursing Sisters in the form of letters, memoirs and photographs that these inconsistencies become clear and a more accurate picture of the composition of the Nursing Sisters becomes possible.”
After collecting information from the attestation papers of your relatives, you may want to do a search of academic papers on Google scholar to figure out how the information you learn fits within common assumptions about historical trends.
Now that attestation papers have been more widely digitized, historians have been examining them for health and sociological information. New interesting papers are constantly appearing.
A simple search informed me about a decades-long discussion questioning why statistics show soldiers at the beginning of World War I being shorter than those who served in the Anglo-Boer War even though there were only 14 years between the beginning of one war and the end of the second.
Last February, Martine Mariotti, Johan Fourie and Kris Inwood from the Australian National University and the universities of Stellenbosch and Guelph came up with a theory to explain the discrepancy in their article Military Technology and Sample Selection Bias.
We posit that new technologies, and the changes in military strategy entailed by those technologies, explain the difference. The Anglo-Boer War, also termed ‘the last gentleman’s war’, was the last war to use cavalry lancers, a military strategy where height is a particular advantage. In contrast, the mechanization of weapons during WWI meant that soldiers’ heights were no longer so important. In this case, improvements to military technology help to explain the apparent decline in stature between the two wars.
If you have an ancestor who served as a soldier in WWI or the Anglo-Boer War, you might want to mark down his height and compare it to the average height of soldiers at that time. Then you can comment on whether he fits the general trend or not. You might also try to figure out whether his task was height-dependent.
If you want help writing stories about your ancestors using attestation papers, I’m offering a course that begins at the end of the month. You can find more information on my Teachable page. There’s also a free course about my four-step system for writing profiles on that same page.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you discover about Canadian military attestation papers in the comments.
 Himphen, Richard Charles; Library and Archives Canada, R112, volume 30826.
 Davy, Harry; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25178.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203.
 Munro, Henry Smith; Department of Veterans Affairs fonds, RG38, volume 11170, T-2079, p1.
 Munro, Henry Smith; Department of Veterans Affairs fonds, RG38, volume 11170, T-2079, p10.
 Richardson, Eliza. “Sister Soldiers of the Great War: The Nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (Book Review)” by Cynthia Toman,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 27 : Iss. 1, Article 9. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol27/iss1/9, accessed January 5, 2019.
 Fourie, Johan, Martine Mariotti and Kris Inwood. “Military Technology and Sample Selection Bias,” Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP03/2018, February 2018, https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2018/wp032018