Sunday 12 November 2023

Family Stories Month - Memory Keeping


I am so fortunate to belong to a family that believes in capturing memories. My dad had a old Brownie camera and then went state of the art when he was gifted a Polaroid Land Camera for Christmas one year. My uncle was the “videographer” although we didn’t call it that back then. He simply took the home movies.


My cousin and I were avid photographers. Not in any sort of professional sense. But when it came to capturing glimpses of family gatherings, special events or vacations, we could certainly be counted on to be the ones behind the camera. So could one of my aunts.

My cousin and I kept our photos in photo albums. I always wrote a bit about the photos so that anyone who was looking through the albums could tell what was happening then the photos were taken. We didn’t always document who was in the photos, but fortunately, between us, we have been able to identify almost everyone.

I had shelves and shelves of albums. So did my cousin. Most of my photos have since been scanned. My cousin still has her albums, but has allowed me to scan hundreds of photos to share with other family members. 

When my children were young, I turned to traditional scrapbooking. I had dozens of large, heavy albums detailing our vacations. And I have dozens of traditional photo albums of our daughter. My husband bought me a digital camera for Christmas the year our son was born. Few of those photos made it to albums, but are safely tucked in digital albums and stored in the cloud. I am in the process of creating photobooks using those photos.


My husband inherited his dad’s video camera when our daughter was young so we also have at least a dozen videos of our kids. While those are also safely stored, they need to be edited so that they are easier to watch and the kids aren’t sitting through feature length films in order to enjoy the memories of their childhoods. 

About 8 years ago, I moved from the traditional scrapbook to digital photobooks and have actually started having my traditional scrapbook pages digitized so that they can be recreated as photo books.

As the family historian I have been blessed to be charged with being the family’s memory keeper. I work to preserve the memories and making them available to future generations so that they may know our stories and perhaps incorporate some of our values and traditions into their lives.

Saturday 11 November 2023

Family Stories Month - Cousins

My cousins have always been a big part of my life. I was an only child for the first 10 years of my life, but my cousins up the street substituted for siblings since we were together almost every day. My older cousin was our babysitter on bowling nights. We would put on puppet shows for her. 

I might not have seen my cousins who lived twenty minutes away as often, but I certainly saw them two or three times a week, so we were also very much a part of each other’s lives. I remember as each new cousin arrived, how excited we all were. How much love there was for the new baby. Everyone eager to hold, snuggle, kiss the new little clan member. 

We gathered for birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. We went places together –  Ontario Place, Wonderland, the Science Centre, Niagara Falls, vacations. I was the eldest and once I had my driver’s license, I would gather the cousins and away we would go. No parents. Just us. Thinking back on it, it was an incredible responsibility but at the time it was just a day to have fun together. 

My mum and her sisters had two cousins who lived within an hour’s drive. My aunt up the street spent a great deal of time with one of those cousins and we spent a great deal of time with the other. Those adult cousins were “aunt” and “uncle” to us and their children were our cousins. Deep connections were formed as we spent weekends together. We have a shared history and shared memories. 

I am also incredibly grateful for technology that allows me to be connected to my cousins up north (Northern Ontario) and my cousins across the pond. We can share photos, videos and keep each other updated on our families and lives. 

Cousins are peers, friends, comrades, confidants. I cherish each and every one of mine. And to those who have been with me from the start, I share this quote "God made us cousins because He knew our mothers could not handle us as siblings."

Friday 10 November 2023

Family Stories Month - Family Visitors

 “We’re having company” This statement was usually issued at a family dinner – either one of the birthdays in March or April, or perhaps at Easter. It was the first indication every year that an aunt or uncle was coming to visit during the summer and this may or may not include their children as well. With my mum and her sisters being part of a very large sibling group (20 living children), we generally had family come for a holiday every year. Sometimes more than one sibling would come at a time or they would sort of book end one another.


This meant lots of time spent together. Welcome gatherings, dinners, lunches, tea, drop ins. It was fairly standard. My aunt up the street was usually where any company that came stayed while they were in Canada. Her door and our door were always open and often revolving with people in and out to spend time with whoever was over.


And the sightseeing day trips were also fairly standard – Niagara Falls, Dundurn Castle, Wonderland, St Jacobs or the Bell Homestead. But most days were just time spent together to enjoy each other, get caught up, reminisce and have a few laughs. It was at these get-togethers that we heard the family stories. Again and again and again.

Thursday 9 November 2023

Family Stories Month - Service

I was raised to understand “there but for the Grace of God, go I” And I have witnessed the truth in that more times than I care to count. Life can literally change in the blink of an eye. We are all one race – the human race – and we need to be our brother’s keeper to the best of our ability.   

My mum was very spiritual. She lived her Christian beliefs quietly and without need for accolades or fanfare. She never preached and often gave devout evangelicals a run for their money when they started spouting off. My dad was raised in a church going family. His mother was a Sunday School teacher. We went to church when I was younger. However, my dad had zero tolerance for people who are deeply religious but not terribly Christian and so he quickly decided that church was not or him. 

I attended a number of churches in my youth. Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran and even the Synagogue. For me, it’s not so much about organized religious groups, although I do appreciate that they provide a deep sense of community. For me, it is about serving others when we are called to do so or supporting others when life is proving difficult for them to navigate. Fortunately, my career allowed me to do just that in many different ways. 

A friend and I were fortunate enough to experience a brief mission in Jamaica. I attended twice, she attended several times. We were with a medical mission team and worked as support to the medical staff. We had the joy of being stationed at a hospital in Montego Bay and spent time with new mothers as well as on the pediatric ward. We went with the traveling teams out to the clinics in the outlying villages in the hills. And we loved it. It was an incredibly humbling experience. But the opportunity to chat with and support the locals was unrivalled. 

Once I became a mother, I knew that I wanted my children to also have the mission experience. And so we did. Twice we went on a family mission in the hills of southeastern Kentucky and provided VBS for the local kids.

My kids attended church and I taught Sunday School, but to me, the best way to help teach them compassion and the importance of service was by immersing them in the real world. At home, after our missions, we started volunteering at a local clothing room. My son actually won an award sponsored by the newspaper for his hours of volunteering at such a young age. My daughter also volunteered at the clothing room then moved on to volunteer at a teen parenting program.

The kids were able to understand on a real-life basis that everyone is the same, it is merely our circumstances that are different, and life is so tenuous that any one of us could end up in similar circumstances so it was important to treat those who were struggling with the same dignity that we would want to receive. I am so incredibly blessed that both kids turned out to be caring, compassionate and helpful human beings who are also strong advocates for those less fortunate than them. 

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Family Stories Month - Pets


One of the joys in our family comes from our pets. Pets have always had a special place in our family – both immediate and extended. When I was young, we had a black lab. My dad named him. McTavish McGregor McDonald. Dad made the wire rope that he attached to our clothesline for Tavish to have free reign in our yard without intruding into the neighbours’ yards. Fences weren’t really a thing back then. One morning, we discovered that Tavish had chewed his way through the drywall in the basement. He was relegated to our really large laundry/utility room but decided he should investigate the rec room. He got himself stuck in the duct work. He and dad were never really friends after that.

When I went away to college in PEI, I bought a dog. Regal. Named after the Buick car that was popular at the time. I used to take her to the ocean to run her. She had a great big personality. Many small dogs do.

Then when I moved to my own place back near my family home, I bought Libra. She was amazing. We also bought a cat, Chisa. The two were best friends. My mum and dad watched Libra when I worked shifts. She was almost as much their dog as she was mine.

I had little Benji when I first moved to Brantford. Another spitfire. He had the best howl and frequently let his opinion be known.


My husband was a cat person. One afternoon, my son, then three, was getting his bike out of the shed and saw what he thought was a baby racoon. He called for his dad. The baby animal was actually a kitten. She and her four brothers were born at the side of our shed. Mama had made a nest in a bucket that had been turned sideways for storage. We never did find any trace of Mama cat so figure she must have been victim to cars. We took the five kittens in and fed them through eyedroppers. 

We ended up keeping three of them. The two boys were really bonded. 

Sadly, we lost the biggest when he was 10. I missed him. He not only thought his brother was an extension of him, but he also thought that I was his Mama cat. Probably because he knew I fed him. 

We lost Spice girl when she was 16. She went down hill quickly. And then we had to send Baby over the rainbow bridge when he was 18. He was a needy old man by then but full of personality. We had our two golden retrievers and he quickly realized that they weren’t going anywhere any time soon, so decided to join them. I often said that he saw himself as a miniature Golden. Although he tended to get into far more antics than they did. It has been two years since he left us and I still miss him. He was cuddly, pliable, and took no nonsense from the dogs. He, too, had a personality that was bigger than him.


Digging in the trash can

Our two beautiful Golden Girls are such a joy to us.

Branch Manager and Assistant Branch Manager

Although they are creeping up in age, they still run and swim like young dogs. It is so much fun to see how much joy they get out of life and that brings us joy.

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Family Stories Month - Summer Vacations


Summer Vacations have always been a big part of our family life. When we were young, we generally had family come to stay at some point over the course of the summer and while they didn’t always stay with us, they might as well have. My aunt up the street was generally the landing point for family who came to visit. Whether one couple or an entire brood. She was a gem in terms of hosting. It just came naturally to her. Being the first daughter of my grandmother, she was spoiled by her older sisters and brother. And she then treated her younger siblings the same way. As an adult, she did the same for all of her company, most, of course, were also her siblings. 

However, with them literally only being a block away from us, we visited, and we visited frequently. We gathered on the night they arrived, and again the night before they went back home. And we visited almost daily while they were here – for tea, dinner, card games, etc.

As well as constant company, my parents took holidays every summer and every other summer, we flew out to New Brunswick to visit friends my mum knew from her time as a nurse. We went for two weeks, and part of that time, we spent traveling with them to Prince Edward Island.


And for the last week of summer vacation, we were fortunate enough to be able to have the use of a cottage in Southampton that belonged to neighbours who were also good friends of mum and dad. This generally involved extended family with cousins joining us for the week and often one or more of my aunts joining for part or all of the week as well. We spent our days at the beach or walking into town and our evenings playing cards or rummoli. As teens, we also went bowling and to the drive-in theatre while at the cottage. So many fond memories of our holidays together.


My mother passed away when my daughter was only 4 and my son not yet born. I realized that once we are gone, there are only the memories that are left, so my husband and I decided to start making some memories with our kids and a big part of that transpired to taking big road trips every summer. We camped as we traveled and tried to build in unique opportunities where we could – sleeping in a covered wagon at the Charles Ingalls homestead in South Dakota, driving the racetrack at Watkins Glen. We took in local festivals if we could and spent time learning about the places where we were visiting.


These vacations provide a number of family stories for us to share, document and preserve for future generations so that hopefully, they too, will choose to make summer vacations an important part of their family’s lives.