Wednesday 1 November 2023

Family Stories Month – Chasing Rumours


November is Family Stories Month. Stories are such a critical piece of family history. We work to uncover the stories of those who came before us and in doing so, we work to not only preserve them but also to understand our part in the larger family dynamic.  

It is said that within three generations, we will have been forgotten. I remember being acutely aware of this when my aunt passed away in 2020. She knew her grandparents (three generations removed from me). She had talked to them, spent time with them, listened to them, knew their personalities. She had watched their interactions with others, understood the things that were important to them, had heard their stories. With her gone more recent generations could only imagine what they were like. 

It was the stories and the need to preserve the stories that started my journey into family history. While my eyes often glazed over as the family stories were being repeated and repeated and repeated, it was only after the storytellers had passed away that I longed for one more listen. And this time, I would not only pay attention, I would write them down to preserve them. 

Often as we listen to stories that have come down through the generations, we wonder how much truth there is to them. The stories we see as folklore, perhaps. Or wishful thinking. Stories that may have been altered in some way. 

In this post, I will look at one such story. It is not my family’s story, but that of a prominent Brantford Family from history. A prominent Canadian family. A prominent Scottish-Canadian family. 

The Rumour: 

The Brantford Club was established in 1898 and has served Brantford businessmen (and now women) for 125 years. Like many old mansions, it is rumoured to be haunted. Staff and club members alike have talked about seeing a man (of varying descriptions) in the halls and basement of the club. Digging deeper into the rumour, I learned that there was a suicide committed at the club many years ago. Perhaps it is the spirit of this man that continues to loiter in the halls of the Club. Further rumour is that the victim of the suicide was the brother of W. Ross Macdonald. 

William Ross Macdonald was the 4th son and 6th child of Scottish born dry goods merchant, George MacDonald and his English wife, Julia Bulley. George and Julia emigrated to Toronto in 1886 and had five children: Alex, George, Julia, William and Norman. The family moved to Brantford when Norman was a young boy. He attended high school in Brantford. 

Both William and his younger brother, Norman, studied law at Osgoode in Toronto and then opened a joint law practice “MacDonald and MacDonald” in Brantford. Both men served in the first world war. William went on to become a politician, serving as an MP, Deputy Speaker and then Speaker of the House of Commons. He later served as Senator and then Solicitor General of Canada. William served as Lieutenant Governor and was made an officer in the Order of Canada. 

Although he was involved in municipal politics as an alderman, Norman preferred military life to politics. He served the City of Branford as its Solicitor for most of his career. In WWI, Norman was deployed to France where he served from 1915-1918. He was injured no less than four times during his time in France. He made it to the rank of Captain. Following his return to civilian life, Norman served as Major for the 10th Dragoons in Brantford. 

Norman offered his services when the second world war broke out. He served in the Dept of the Judge Advocate General. He was in London during the Great Blitz and fortunate enough to escape unscathed when his place of residence was bombed. Norman had the unique distinction of being one of few Canadians who had been called to the Bar in England. He was enrolled in the Inner Temple in London in 1942 while serving there during the war. 

I decided to do some digging on this branch of the MacDonalds. Two of William’s brothers died quite young. Brother George, a clergyman, died in 1940 at the age of 53 following complications from an appendectomy. George died in Edmonton, Alberta.

Brother Norman died in 1947, in Brantford, at the age of 54. In retrieving his death registration, it shows the place of his death as 98 George St Brantford. The Brantford Club.

Cause of death: GSW Head/Gunshot wound.

In response to “Accident, suicide or homicide” the answer is Suicide. 

Manner of injury: Pistol.


So there we have it. Truth to the rumour. It was the brother of W. Ross MacDonald who had committed suicide at the Brantford Club. The date was 22 February, 1947. Norman’s funeral was held at Alexandra Presbyterian Church. His body was cremated and the ashes were buried at Farringdon Church Cemetery. 

On Monday, February 24, the local newspaper, The Brantford Expositor, ran an article on page 2, detailing his life of service. It does not mention his place of death or how he died. Likely a sign of the times and wanting to retain the dignity in death that he commanded in life.

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