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What can I say about Annie? I’ve known her for nearly fifteen years. There’s always a spark in her eye and a smile on her lips. She is quick with a kind word, a pearl of wisdom or an amusing anecdote. Annie is a strong woman, an eternal optimist. At a time when I was feeling low, she turned to me and said, “Oh, I like you. You march to be the beat of your own drum.” Those words have stayed with me for over a decade. I recall them on days when I feel like a square peg crammed into a round hole.

We chatted over coffee a few months ago. Too close to the end of our conversation, we discussed our ancestry and I learned that Annie’s family haled from Ireland, as did mine. She piqued my interest with her quick stories about her colourful clan. I do love a good story and hers was inspiring my pen and my imagination.

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When we recently returned to the same coffee shop to catch up, Annie swept into the café with a bag of vintage family photos tucked under her arm.  It was a pleasure, she told me, to sort through these old images and revisit the memories. She explained that the smallest girl in the first photo was her mother, Sarah. What an apple faced little character she was, in her tam and bobbed hair cut. Standing next to her is sister Margaret, two years her senior.

Annie asked what I thought of the second photo. I predicted that Sarah might have been around ten years old in this photo. Annie explained that her mother was a tomboy, always losing hair ribbons and returning home with her hair in a disarray. She’d much prefer a game of baseball to quieter indoors pursuit thought fitting for girls at the time. Sarah’s mother, Margaret Ann, must have been delighted with this picture.

I couldn’t help wondering what the historical timeline formed the backdrop to this photo. Were there events unravelling that their parents might have tried to keep hidden from them? Later that day, I discovered the answer to that question.

1911 Ossington and Bloor 2 blocks south of James and Margarets house in Jan 1915
Corner of Ossington and Bloor Streets in 1911, two blocks south of where James and Margaret lived with Sarah Agnes and their other two daughter, Margaret when James enlisted. (source: City of Toronto Archives) CLICK TO ENLARGE.
largest military parade in toronto history 1915
Perhaps James was part of this display as the parade is taking place in winter of 1915 and he enlisted in January 1915. (source: Library & Archive of Canada) CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 1914, one month before little Sarah celebrated her first birthday, Canada stepped into World War I.  Sarah’s father, James, would have been 25 years old at the time. I located copies of  the “attestation papers” he signed when he enlisted in the military on January 24, 2016. I feel emotional when I write this. My oldest children are 24 years old, nearly the same age as James when he enlisted and swore the oath to King George the 5th and his successors.

Sarah would have been nearly 2 1/2 years old and Margaret, 6 years, at the time of their father’s departure. I am left wondering if the photo of the two girls, shown earlier, was taken especially to tuck in his vest. I should share the good news here. James came home following the war. A short time later in 1920, Hilda was born.

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The picture of a goat pulling Sarah’s cart and the other picture of her posing with a cocker spaniel reminds me so much of Annie. For as long as I’ve known her, she’s expressed great affection for animals. She owns and shows horses and Airedale Terriers. As a matter of interest, Annie pointed out that cocker spaniels have been bred so the profile of their head looks differently from the dog in the above photo.  It’s a kind of detail she notices because of her affection for anything cute with four legs and fur.

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Entertaining others is something that Annie’s mother loved to do. These photos, taken at a studio located on Yonge Street in Toronto, certainly highlight her fun loving nature.  She was approached by a prestigious vocal instructor with an offer of free instruction, but her father, James, would not give his permission.

As a young woman, Sarah worked at a store in the city. One of her colleagues commented, “You don’t look like a ‘Sarah’ — not with those brown eyes. I’m going to call you Peg.” The name stuck, and from that time on, Sarah was known as Peg.

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The back of this photo read , “Chalmers Church Play: Mary Taylor, Margaret Taylor, Peggy O’Neill, Florence Rice”. It interests me to see how much my friend is like her mother, the well spring of her creativity. Annie loves to sing, to herself as she walks along , or in a chorus. As a teacher, for many years, she led children’s choirs and organized pageants or musicals.

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There was something else that Annie told me about during our earlier coffee that captured my imagination — her ancestors were involved in one of the earliest  tanneries in the High Park area of Toronto. The answer to this familial connection lay with the people in the photos shown above. After some patient research, I think I figured it out. William’s brother, Alexander, had a grandson named Roy Alexander Stewart who married the daughter of Samuel R. Wicket, the founder of Wickett and Craig Tannery.  The explanation is a tangled ball of wool, but such is history.

The serious looking gentleman on the far left is William Stewart, Annie’s maternal grandfather, and the other men are his sons. In the photo below, he is seen, again sitting on the left, next to his son, David. They are posing in their shoe making and repair shop.

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Dear Annie, I thank you for sharing your stories and these priceless photographs. Not only did I enjoy the trip down memory lane, I was inspired as a writer. You’ve reminded me that when I write about generations of people in a story, the children should carry forward some interest of their parent’s or some common characteristic or talent. The discussion of tanneries here also sparked my interest and I am sure to write more about that in the future.

Creativity begets creativity.  So Annie, what’s your next availability for coffee? I’m buying!

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