Fam­ily His­tory

Once you be­gin the hunt for your past, it’s hard to stop

More of Our Canada - - Coming To Canada - by Janey Go­ertzen, Regina

Stand­ing on the pier in Port­land, Maine, on April 15, 2014, 100 years af­ter my fa­ther and my un­cle Les ar­rived in North Amer­ica, was quite a feel­ing. Per­haps that feel­ing is what led me and my hus­band Leon, along with my cousin Rene (Les's daugh­ter) and her hus­band Lev­erne on the hunt for our fam­ily his­tory.

My dad, Percy Franklin Wil­liams, was born in 1904 on Lit­tle Pill Farm on Lit­tle Pill Hill, near Truro, Corn­wall, Eng­land, where my grand­fa­ther John was a labourer. Dad’s brother, Fred­er­ick Les­lie, Les for short, was four years older.

Be­tween 1906 and 1912, my great-grand­par­ents Henry and Kezia Wil­liams, three of my great-un­cles and one great-aunt im­mi­grated to the “land of sun­shine, where pros­per­ity awaits you,” oth­er­wise known as west cen­tral Saskatchewan. There, they had the op­por­tu­nity to own their own land, in­stead of sim­ply work­ing for wealthy farm­ers back in Eng­land.

In Fe­bru­ary 1912, at the age of 47, my grand­fa­ther John died of “in­testi­nal ob­struc­tion and toxic ab­sorp­tion,” which I be­lieve was colon can­cer. My grand­mother Eve­lyn died in Oc­to­ber 1913 at the age of 45 from “cere­bral throm­bo­sis and paral­y­sis,” which I took to mean she pos­si­bly had a stroke.

Dur­ing this time, Dad and Un­cle Les lived with their deaf spin­ster aunt, El­iz­a­beth Web­ber. Word was sent to Canada that both par­ents were de­ceased and the boys needed a new home. Ar­range­ments were made for them to set sail for Canada to live with their grand­par­ents.

On April 4, 1914, in Liver­pool, Eng­land, the boys boarded the S.S. Canada. They were nine and 13 years of age, with no adults ac­com­pa­ny­ing them.

Their ship docked in Port­land, Maine, on April 15, 1914. From there, they boarded a train on the Grand Trunk Rail­way, des­tined for Brock, Sask. Their grand­fa­ther and their un­cle Tom met them at the sta­tion and drove them to their new home in Penkill, Sask., where their grand­mother Kezia said, “You can take your hat off; you’re home now.”

Les was put right to work for their grand- par­ents and their un­cle Tom. Dad, who turned ten shortly af­ter ar­riv­ing, was able to go to school for a few years. As soon as Les was fi­nan­cially set, he ven­tured out on his own. He bought land and was a suc­cess­ful farmer. Dad stayed on the orig­i­nal home­stead

and even­tu­ally in­her­ited the farm. It was amaz­ing to be in the ex­act place my fa­ther had been 100 years ear­lier. Per­haps one day I will write a book about my fam­ily's his­tory. ■

Clock­wise from top left: Janey in Port­land, Maine, hold­ing a photo of her dad, along with his 1914 board­ing pass; Janey’s dad Percy; Janey’s un­cle Les as a boy and adult; a post­card Un­cle Les sent to his aunt El­iz­a­beth; Janey’s grand­par­ents John and Evely

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