The highlight of our vacation
The Editor, Paul and I wanted you to know what a delightful time we spent in Alexandria on our recent day-trip from Montreal. We were vacationing in Montreal and Quebec City for 12 days, October 1 to 12, and thought it would be an adventure to see my mother’s hometown in Ontario.
At 7:30 a.m. Oct. 4, we stepped off the train in Alexandria with some trepidation; not knowing how we would get around without a car. Since the Thanksgiving holiday was so close at hand, not one car was available to rent in Montreal. It was a clear, crisp morning and walking was refreshing. We knew the town was not large so had high hopes we would be successful in our explorations.
We started making our way towards the steeple of a church, hoping it was St. Finnan’s Catholic Church, and admiring the fall colours and sunshine. My mother was born in Alexandria in 1923 to John Joseph and Agnes “Sandy” MacDonald. Many of my Scots ancestors are buried in the area and my grandfather, whom I had never met, had once owned a movie theater and restaurant there. We were looking for information on her MacDonald’s and my great-great-grandparents, William Timmings and Mary MacPhee. We had already visited the archives in Montreal looking for his burial information with no success.
Upon arriving, the doors were closed and we couldn’t get a response at the door of the priest. We were taking pictures of the grounds and the building when suddenly the chapel doors opened and people started streaming out. Two lovely ladies, Gerry Tibbles and Sandra Lawson, asked if they could help. After hearing that we were from Utah and interested in the place where my mother was baptized, they gave us a tour of the inside of the Cathedral. Afterwards, they took us to breakfast at the “Pizzeria” and called in an appointment with Allan MacDonald, the local archivist.
After breakfast, Sandra dropped us back at the church for our appointment with the priest at St. Finnan’s. I’m afraid we were so eager to see his registers that we forgot to write down his name. He was fairly new to his parish and was very helpful and kind with his time and resources. He allowed us to take pictures and notes of the cemetery headstones, the burial registers, and a map of the graveyard.
We then started exploring the town and dropped into the city information building where they gave us a map of the area and directions to the local library and archive. Just down the street was the lot on which “Shirley’s Restaurant” used to stand, owned by my grandparents. We loved the small lake behind the lot and the wall art on the local building.
It was still a bit nippy, so we walked to the library, anticipating warm soft chairs to bide the time before our appointment. Being a family history consultant, I knew there would be a reliable source in the local librarian, Iris Clark. She was more than helpful. She showed me several books that ultimately helped me locate the cemetery where William Timmings and Mary MacPhee were buried. Hooray! We had achieved our goal. He was buried in St. Alexander’s Cemetery in Lochiel, right next to his wife, just ten minutes away.
Ten minutes may seem very close, but walking that distance in the cold was not appealing to us. When Iris heard this news, she graciously
offered the use of her car for the next several hours until she was off work. She had only met us 30 minutes before! We took her up on the offer and drove out to the cemetery. We found the plot right where it was listed in the register, but no headstone; just a small square of granite with the letter “T” engraved on it. We learned the church was no longer active and was being remodeled into a community center. There were broken gravestones strewn along the perimeter of the lot. We took many pictures of the MacPhees and the MacDonalds’ gravestones and the church, knowing they might be helpful in future research.
We still had a few hours before our appointment with Allan, so we travelled back to town for a late lunch at the North Glengarry Restaurant. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was great.
Our time with Allan was well spent. We discussed the work of
the archive and its resources and received copies of the biographies of my grandfather, J.J. MacDonald and my aunt’s husband, Angus Hoye McDonell. We also have perused the photos and The
Glengarry News articles he has organized and posted on-line. That takes a lot of time and effort! He is doing a great work for the community.
After returning the car to Iris, she was kind enough to drop us at the train station. We walked across the street and had some hot beverages at the local “Atlantic Pub and Eatery.” The place was filling up fast so we retreated to the train station to rest and wait for the train to arrive a little after 7 p.m. We have to say the visit to Alexandria was the highlight of our vacation. The people of Alexandria are warm and friendly and very generous. The fall colours were spectacular on the train trips we took while traveling. Getting a feel for the area my mother grew up in was special. Someday, we hope to attend the Highland Games there in Maxville. Until then, keep up with the good work you are doing! Laurie and Paul Hill,
West Jordan, Utah