Antigo­nish Ceno­taph Pro­ject

Pri­vate James Alexan­der Macdon­ald


Date of Birth:

Oct. 21, 1881 at Malig­nant Cove, Antigo­nish County*


An­gus R. and Christina (Cameron Chisholm) Macdon­ald Half-broth­ers John (Black­smith) and John Don­ald Chisholm; half-sis­ters An­nie and Mary Chisholm; full broth­ers Ron­ald, Hugh, Alexan­der ‘AB’ and Don­ald; full sis­ter Catherine A. Sin­gle Miner Au­gust 28, 1916 at

Sib­lings: Mar­i­tal Sta­tus: Oc­cu­pa­tion: En­list­ment:

Ver­non, B.C.

No. 13 Cana­dian Field Am­bu­lance Ser­vice #: 524951 Rank: Pri­vate Pre­vi­ous Mil­i­tary Ser­vice: None

Unit: Next of Kin:

Christina Macdon­ald, Ash­mont, Bos­ton, MA (mother)

Date of Death:

Kingston, ON Aug. 10, 1918 at

Fi­nal Rest­ing Place:

St Mary’s Ceme­tery, Kingston, ON

* Date of birth ob­tained from James’ at­tes­ta­tion pa­pers. The Cana­dian cen­suses of 1871, 1881 and 1891 in­di­cate that James was born in 1878.

James Alexan­der Macdon­ald was born at Malig­nant Cove, Antigo­nish County, the son of An­gus R. and Christina (Cameron Chisholm) Macdon­ald. An­gus R.’s fa­ther, Ron­ald, farmed on the Glebe Road be­side the Hef­fer­nan fam­ily and was the son of An­gus (Pi­o­neer), who set­tled at Big Marsh. An­gus’s three broth­ers set­tled in other Antigo­nish County lo­ca­tions — Alexan­der at Brown’s Moun­tain, Laugh­lin and Ron­ald in the Heather­ton area.

James’ mother, Christina, was a na­tive of Mid­dle South River, the daugh­ter of Alexan­der Cameron — son of Ewan (Pi­o­neer), who set­tled at Mid­dle South River — and Ann Boyd — daugh­ter of An­gus Boyd (Pi­o­neer), who set­tled at Boyd Set­tle­ment. Christina was a sis­ter of the noted Doc­tor Hugh Cameron, who es­tab­lished a med­i­cal prac­tice at Mabou, N.S.

Christina first mar­ried John (Black­smith) Chisholm, Malig­nant Cove, around 1862. John (Black­smith) was the son of John Chisholm and a grand­son of Alexan­der (Pi­o­neer) Chisholm, Malig­nant Cove. Christina and John (Black­smith) had four chil­dren, their son John con­tin­u­ing the fam­ily tra­di­tion by op­er­at­ing a black­smith forge at the cove.

Fol­low­ing her first hus­band’s pass­ing, Christina mar­ried Lake­vale na­tive An­gus R. Macdon­ald — eight years her ju­nior — around 1870. The cou­ple resided at the Cove, where they raised a fam­ily of six chil­dren. James Alexan­der Macdon­ald was one of their five sons. Some­time af­ter 1901, the fam­ily moved to Ash­mont, Bos­ton, MA. Three chil­dren are known to have re­lo­cated with them — Ron­ald, Alexan­der and Catherine.

Around the same time, James de­parted for Bri­tish Columbia, where he worked as miner at Green­wood, a “boom town” with a pop­u­la­tion of 3,000 in an area rich with cop­per ores. On Aug. 28, 1916, James trav­eled to Ver­non, B.C., and en­listed with the Cana­dian Army Med­i­cal Corps (CAMC) at its Train­ing De­pot # 11, Camp Ver­non. At the time, James likely mis­re­ported his year of birth by four years, per­haps be­liev­ing he may have not been ac­cepted at age 38. His at­tes­ta­tion form states his “ap­par­ent” age as 35 years.

While James listed his mother, Christina, as next of kin and gave her Bos­ton ad­dress, he may have been un­aware that she had passed away on May 2, 1915. His brother, Ron­ald, was the “wit­ness” on her death cer­tifi­cate. In ad­di­tion, James’ mil­i­tary will, signed on Oct. 12, 1916, named his de­ceased mother as his ben­e­fi­ciary.

A third doc­u­ment, com­pleted two days later, stated that his fa­ther was de­ceased and his mother a widow. This in­for­ma­tion was once again in­ac­cu­rate, as An­gus R. passed away some­time af­ter 1921. James as­signed $15 of his monthly army salary to his mother, but pay­ment stopped on Nov. 1, 1916, when of­fi­cials de­ter­mined that she was de­ceased. The sum of $45 was re­as­signed in March 1917, by which time James may have learned of his mother’s pass­ing.

Fol­low­ing his en­list­ment, James com­pleted sev­eral weeks of train­ing at Ver­non, B.C., be­fore cross­ing the coun­try by train. On Oct. 31, he de­parted Hal­i­fax aboard SS Em­press of Bri­tain and ar­rived at Liver­pool, Eng­land, 11 days later. On Nov. 22, he was “taken on strength” at the CAMC Train­ing School, Dil­gate. One month later, James was as­signed to the 13th Cana­dian Field Am­bu­lance and im­me­di­ately de­parted for France.

The 13th Cana­dian Field Am­bu­lance (CFA) ini­tially mo­bi­lized at Work Point Bar­racks, Ma­caulay Plains, Esquimault, B.C., on March 22, 1916, un­der the com­mand of Lieu­tenant Colonel J. L. Big­gar. The unit’s three Of­fi­cers and 80 ‘other ranks’ (OR) left Hal­i­fax aboard SS Me­tagama on July 1, 1916, and ar­rived at Liver­pool one week later. While in Eng­land, the unit was at­tached to the 12th Cana­dian In­fantry Brigade, which was part of the newly formed 4th Cana­dian In­fantry Di­vi­sion. The unit re­ported a “strength” of 13 Of­fi­cers and 226 OR when it de­parted Southamp­ton docks on Aug. 12 aboard the trans­port Nir­vana, ac­com­pa­nied by its ve­hi­cles and an­i­mals.

The 12th In­fantry Brigade saw ac­tion at the Somme dur­ing the bat­tle of An­cre Heights (Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber 1916). James Alexan­der Macdon­ald joined the unit in the field on Dec. 30, 1916. From April 4 to 17, 1917, he was tem­po­rar­ily as­signed to No. 6 Ca­su­alty Clear­ing Sta­tion, where he wit­nessed first-hand the re­sults of the fight­ing at Vimy Ridge.

James served with 13th CFA through­out the re­main­der of the year. On Dec. 15, 1917, he re­ceived a 10-day leave and pro­ceeded to Paris. While he re­joined his unit on Jan. 25, 1918, James fell ill six days later and was ad­mit­ted to No. 6 Ca­su­alty Clear­ing Sta­tion, where he was di­ag­nosed with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. On Feb. 10, James was in­valided to Eng­land. Test re­sults re­ceived nine days later con­firmed the ini­tial di­ag­no­sis. Be­fore month’s end, James was ad­mit­ted to Cana­dian Special Hos­pi­tal, Len­ham, Kent.

On March 16, James de­parted for Canada aboard HMHS Araguaya, a ves­sel that trans­ported over 15,000 wounded and sick Cana­dian sol­diers home dur­ing its war ser­vice. He sub­se­quently trav­elled by train to No. 3 District De­pot, Kingston, ON, and was ad­mit­ted to the Mowat Me­mo­rial Sana­to­rium on March 29. At that time, med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties de­scribed his con­di­tion as “a far ad­vanced case” that was “slowly pro­gres­sive.”

James was dis­charged from mil­i­tary ser­vice at Kingston on July 31, his dis­charge pa­pers de­scrib­ing his char­ac­ter and con­duct as “Very Good.” Pri­vate James Alexan­der Macdon­ald passed away at Mowat Me­mo­rial Sana­to­rium at 6:40 a.m. Satur­day, Aug. 10, 1918. He was buried in St. Mary’s Ceme­tery, Kingston, ON, lo­cated on the Church’s west side. His brother, Alexan­der ‘AB’ Macdon­ald, was listed as his next of kin.

The Antigo­nish Ceno­taph Pro­ject is af­fil­i­ated with the Antigo­nish Her­itage Mu­seum. Its goal is to re­search and pre­serve the sto­ries of our town and county’s fallen First World War sol­diers. Cur­rent and pre­vi­ous sto­ries are avail­able on­line at antigo­nish­ceno­taph­pro­ject.word­

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