Decisions and How the West was Settled

“Que Sera, Sera What Will Be, Will Be!” I used to sing. But I have come to the conclusion that it is the decisions of others that make what will be.

Gordon screamed until his throat was raw and the screams turned into gut wrenching sobs. He was trapped under the dead weight and couldn’t untangle himself. The original Princess Street storefront has been historically restored and houses an expanded furniture store. It was here that Gordon’s great grandfather, from Ireland founded the James Reid Funeral Home. From the coastal town of Killyleagh, County Down, North Ireland the Reid’s decided to leave and come to Canada. Why I don’t know; it was before the tragic Potato Famine of 1845-52. The year was 1829, when his father Robert, mother Mary, sister Eliza born 1816, brother Samuel and James Reid, my second great grandfather traveled 25 miles to get to Belfast, the closest port. They travelled with family friends named Kelly. At two months of age, baby James made the trip across the Atlantic. His mother Mary was 43 years old and sang the old Irish ballads as she fed, changed and soothed him on the voyage, while keeping an eye on Sam and Eliza. His father, Robert Reid, age about 44, died on the trip and was buried at sea. Landing at Halifax, the bereaved family made their way to Kingston, Ontario with the Kelly’s.

Five years later, on August 13th, 1834 Mother Mary Reid died of cholera at age 48 and left the three children orphans. Eliza raised a young James until she married. They were taken in by the Patterson’s, another Irish family, who lived at Clergy St. W and Division. They moved to the end of Gore Street out in the country. Here young James fell into a hole when he tripped and broke his hip. One leg became permanently shorter than the other and a seven inch platform was added to a boot for the rest of his life.

Sister Eliza married William Patterson, an ancestor of Brigadier General Bill Patterson. I have DNA match thru Eliza. The couple had 11 children one of whom was Richard Schoales Patterson 1847-1892. In 1866, he was part of the force organized to quell the Fenian attackers. The Canadian militia consisted of inexperienced volunteers with basic drill training, armed with Enfield muskets. The Fenians were battle-hardened American Civil War Irishmen planning to cut Canada West off from Canada East and were a secret political organization wanting an independent Irish Republic. It was a doomed rebellion; the goal had been to hold Canada hostage and blackmail the United Kingdom to give Ireland its independence. Out of this came cooperation from East and West to make the Canadian Confederation 1867. The Richard Patterson’s lived at Pittsburgh, Ontario and when he was 45 was racing horses and wagons, fell off and was killed. His mother sister to my James Reid is pictured below.

Eliza Jane Reid Patterson

Brother Sam moved to the States. As a young man, James met Christiana Conklin. Her mother was also Irish. Her father was an upholsterer. In 1854 a young James bought a tavern at 254-256 Princess Street. He converted it into a furniture shop and made the furniture and coffins on the second and third floors at the rear. James and Christina married September 2, 1856 in St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Barriefield. Christiana and James lived above the shop at the front and ate in the dining room in the basement with a dirt floor. James and Christina raised twelve children. The six boys built the furniture and the coffins and the six girls upholstered and lined the coffins. James died October 21, 1900, seventy years old of peritonitis, either appendicitis or diverticulitis. The boys, Fred, Sam and Frank and mother continued to run the business.

Christina Ann Conklin Reid
James Reid about 1870

Eliza’s oldest brother James Robert Reid, was 43 years old when his father died. The oldest of the 12 children with a family of eight of his own had been managing the family furniture and undertaking businesses. When his father died intestate, he assigned his interest in the estate to his mother, and struck out on his own . In 1883, Reid was Canada’s first funeral service graduate from a school in Rochester, New York. He combined the two occupations of furniture sales and funeral services and established under his own name in 1901. He purchased a four story, 22,000 square foot building at 230-234 Princess Street, where the sale of furniture continues to the fifth generation called Robert J, Reid and Sons. As home funerals diminished and housing became smaller or people moved to apartments in 1953, they opened Chapel on the Corner Funeral Home at 309 Johnston Street. The firms still sells fine furniture and provides interior decorating.

The 166 year old James Reid Funeral Home, Crematorium and Reception Center is still run by the Reid Family, also a fourth and fifth generation family owned and family run business. The Princess Street funeral home was closed in 1990, because of its limitations to meet the increasing needs of families, and was moved to 1900 John Counter Blvd where the family of Jim Reid and daughter Sarah and another brother David carry on the legacy.

This poster was in Foster’s Kingston Directory 1899 in the Kingston City Directory. A full page add that boasts of the only easy riding ambulance in this city with rubber tires. It also says was open day and night and lists an office telephone and a residence number. R J Reid, Manager.

My great grandmother Eliza Jane (known as Ida) was born James and Christina’s second child, their first daughter named after James’s sister. She was born July 12, 1858 at Kingston, Ontario. Ida (as she was known) grew up amongst this large family with brothers Robert James, Robert John, Joseph William, Samuel Franklin, Francis Caldwell, Richard Leslie and Frederick Charles and sisters Georgina Alma, Catherine Ann (Katie), Florence M, Edith, and Ethel Christina. (Georgina Alma was Christina’s grandmother’s name! and their were many, many who used the name Georgina or Alma in the family!)

Eliza Jane Reid married John Francis Waddell when she was 25. John had come courting just up the street, as he worked with his father, David, in a harness shop on Princess Street. Three years previously he had buried his infant son John P. Waddell and wife Margaret Scott within three months of each other. John and Ida were married April 30, 1884. They had six children in twelve years: Florence Gertrude, Ida Olive, Gladys Christena, Gordon Reid, Alma May and Fern Waddell.

My grandfather Gordon Reid Waddell was born into this group of sisters, the only boy, on September 3, 1881 at Kingston, Ontario. Gordon would have been 9 when his grandfather, the patriarch of the Reid family who had immigrated, been orphaned and headed the family dynasty died. Soon after his father, John, disappeared from his life, caught a freight train west or joined the circus? So it is no mystery why Gordon Reid Waddell as a young lad would find himself at the James Reid Funeral Home running errands and making himself useful What is a mystery is how the dead body fell upon him, trapping and terrifying the boy. Gordon would have helped pack the ice that was placed around the body to stop the “smell”. This picture is of an original casket in the James Reid Funeral Home. The head was incased in ice and viewing was a traditional practice for the mourners.

It is here that my mind takes me away from que sera, sera, what was meant to be to decisions made that would change lives forever. After being rescued Gordon decided he was not going to work in the family business! And another families decisions would change the course of his life.

Smith I. Coglon was a farmer in Ontario. His family were all very well educated but when I. Smith at the age of 66 decided to go out west homesteading in early 1909, his glowing letters home persuaded his family to follow him: Edgar was 30 a machinist in Boston, Ernest, a carpenter; Bertram aged 33 from Boston, Rosco a Queen’s University graduate, teaching and daughter Laura who would teach at St. Kilda and all moved west. I. Smith’s sister was Mrs. Teresa Clark and her 3 nephews and a niece decided to move also. The nephew, a carpenter, was Bert Guess and Bert was my Grandfather Gordon’s best friend, in Kingston. A train load of horses needed to be escorted as they were shipped west. Would Gordon like to accompany Bert? Seeking adventure, a young 19 year old Gordon took him up on the offer and they arrived in Lethbridge, Alberta in 1910. Bert knew of homestead land in the 1-12 area still available at Coutts, Alberta courtesy of information shared from the Coglon’s. The two came to Coutts and hired a team and buggy and went exploring. Gordon saw a creek on Section SE 7-1-12 W4. Bert took the one adjoining it to the north. The coulee the creek ran through was called Davis Coulee. Back to Lethbridge they went to register after finding the corner pegs and promised for $10 to live there six months of the year and break 30 acres. Gordon built his little “shack” sheltered in the coulee beside the creek. Every quarter was homesteaded with people coming from diverse backgrounds. There were many bachelors.

Gordon Reid Waddell homesteading

Just as the homestead was filed during the land boom the weather turned very dry. The Milk River discontinued to flow. Coglins had acquired four oxen to farm with, considered more reliable than horses, but the heel flies were so bad that year, they attacked the oxen who bolted and completely ruined a plow and harness. By 1913, Gordon invited his mother and sisters to come west; Ida was 54, Florence 28, Olive 27, Gladys 24, Alma 19, Fern 16. The house was filled with noisy chatter but very crowded. His mother Ida filed a homestead claim on NW 1/4 of 22-1-12. Woman at this time could not own title to land but if it was a Boer War Soldier given African Scrip land for his service this was a unique and legitimate way for a woman to register for a homestead as he could sell it to anyone over 18. Whether this was the case or Ida just moved over into the August Helberg homestead when the family left and moved into Sweetgrass to run a store is up for debate and further research. The Canadian government did not allow women the right to own land at this time, so it may have affected her decision to leave about the time WW1 broke out, The bachelor neighbors were very pleased with Gordon bringing these eligible females to Alberta and a lot of travelling, visiting and dancing entertained them all.

Harry Gilbert Ennis coming from Minnesota applied for his homestead NE 7-2-13 on Jun 29, 1909. It was granted Jan 26, 1914. Harry married Gordon’s sister Florence Gertrude Waddell (1885-1959) in 1914. They had two children Elsie and Marjorie raised around Red Deer, Alberta.

Florence Gertrude Waddell Ennis

Ida Olive Waddell (1886-1981) went back east and married Harry W Pierce on May 20, 1917 at Chicago, Illinois. She died March 12, 1981 at the age of 94 buried in Syracuse, New York. They had no children and her mother Ida went back and lived with Olive, dying in 1958 at the impressive age of 99. Gordon would increase his land holdings adding hers to his when she left. Eliza Jane or Ida would never come west again.

Gladys Christine Waddell (1889-1917) married Raymond Charles Knoble, a drayman, in 1914 in Coutts. They had two girls: Margaret and Mildred. Just after Mildred was born Raymond rushed Gladys to the Craig Hospital at Sweetgrass, Montana. She died Dec 14, 1917 in his arms as he was carrying her up the steps of a pulmonary embolism with contributing pelvic cellulitis at age 28. Her mother Ida was still nearby as she gave the info on the death certificate.

Alma May Waddell (1894-1987) married Ernest Norton Graham. He had come from Michigan to visit his two bachelor brothers homesteading beside the Waddell’s. Their first child was born in the Sweetgrass Hospital in Jan of 1918 and they left soon after going back to Pontiac, Michigan. He was bookkeeper on a utility board, but died suddenly of a heart attack leaving Alma to raise seven children from 15 months to 14 years. Alma lived to be 92 and when tracing her tree it wasn’t hard: the names of her son: John Waddell Graham and Norton Reid Graham. (DNA match with her daughter Caroline.)

Fern Waddell the youngest sister married Jacob Looman at age 17 in 1914 and moved to the NE corner of Montana near Redstone. She had two girls, in the next 2 years Ardus C and Bernice Ida and left them. She married secondly in 1919 at age 22 to Arthur Lamb at Dickson, Alberta. They ran a store. (DNA match with).

Gordon Reid Waddell probably could have remained and worked in the family business of James Reid Funeral Home if a dead body hadn’t rolled on top of him and a letter from the Coglins telling him of homesteading opportunities in Southern Alberta hadn’t presented him with decisions to be made. His friend Bert Guess became discouraged homesteading and moved to Coutts to resume carpentry, where they remained friends, Gordon acquiring his quarter. Bert went blind in his later years.

What will be, will be continued in my next blog, more about Gordon’s homesteading adventures.

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