December 28, 1916 A Visit to the Harknesses

December 28, 1916

Tom Harkness telephoned and said that I should come to Annan today and stay until the New Year. Tom is married to my sister Elizabeth. They still have one daughter living at home, Jessie, my favourite niece.

My parents don’t have a telephone, they don’t see the need for one. Tom telephoned the Owen Sound office of Sydenham Mutual on 8th St. and had one of the telegraph boys deliver the message to my parents’ house. Tom was one of the earlier ones to get a telephone in the township – back in 1908. He was one of the founding directors of the Leith and Annan Telephone Company. Rev. Fraser, to my surprise, was one of the founding directors too. I thought the Reverend would see the telephone as a purveyor of evil – only recently, did Presbyterians allow organs into churches and I doubted that they would embrace the use of the telephone. But he did.

In his telephone message, Tom said I should bring my violin along. The Annan Community Hall soiree was going to be held on Saturday night, and it promised to be a big to-do. The construction of the hall was just completed last September, and at the annual general meeting in October, it was decided to hold a soiree on December 30th. Tom is also a founding director of the hall association and president too. My sister Elizabeth is the head of the Annan’s Women’s Institute and the chair of the organizing committee for the soiree. I must admit, I know people of influence who live in Annan.

The weather was good, so I decided to walk along the shore to Annan. The first part of the journey, I followed the CPR line along the factories on the east shore, then as the line turned south, I headed north toward Leith. It hadn’t snowed for a few days, so the road was packed down by sleds from the past few days. In winter, the Leith shore road is tricky because the northwesterly winds from the bay bring snow and drifting. It wasn’t unusual for the road to be impassable for days at a time. The longer, but more reliable way to get to Annan is to take a Meaford stage to Bothwell’s corners and a horse and sled to Annan. But with the weather, I decided to take the walk along the shore.

The bay hadn’t frozen over yet. Despite it being cold, the winds had prevented the bay from freezing over. The ice kept breaking up, and refreezing, so there was about a half mile of frozen rough ice to the still open water. All it would take is one cold calm night and the bay would be frozen completely over and smooth enough to skate on all the way from Leith to Owen Sound. I could see the dark blue water in contrast to the snow covered ice. I doubt it would be frozen by New Year, but most certainly before January was out.

I made it to Leith without much trouble and then walked up to Annan. The Harkness farm is the second farm just north of the village. Their house is a fine fieldstone house. Tom’s father, Gideon and his brother John were both stone masons from Scotland. They came to Canada to work on the St James Cathedral, then moved on to Galt, and finally came here to Annan.

We had a good supper. Elizabeth remarked that my violin made the journey intact and I remembered that Aunt Henrietta had baked some sweetbreads for the soiree. I produced these and Elizabeth set them aside in the kitchen. Tomorrow, she would be doing making her contribution of desserts. Jessie was home too. She told me she’s engaged to be married next summer, to a fellow named Fisk who has a grocery store in Owen Sound. I brought my sketchbook, and made a pencil sketch of her, while sitting by the fire. There’s no better way to end a winter day than sitting by a fire, reading or sketching.


December 27, 1916 Conscientious Objector

December 27, 1916

It’s becoming clearer now, my father, if he was in my situation would become a conscientious objector.

Because of his views and opinion, my father is a considered to be liberal in the church. Ever since the beginning of the war, the tensions between the conservative and the liberal elements within Knox Presbyterian had increased, but nothing had boiled over yet. Of course there were the many debates about the technical aspects of the virgin birth and the resurrection, etc., but my father never bothered with those discussions. What concerned him more, was the meaning of the being a Christian. Like my father, I was witnessing the two divides increasing in the church – those whose interests were in using the scriptures to preserve the status quo, and those who felt it was their mission to help the poor and right social injustices – ‘Social Gospel’ as some called it.

The division in the Owen Sound parish wasn’t as deep as I’ve witnessed in Rosedale. My reasoning is that the influx of immigrants hadn’t reached this far north yet. The pressure of the newly-arrived immigrants was keenly felt in Toronto and many felt that the influx was a threat to their “superior” status. Measures needed to be taken to contain the immigrants (as in St John’s Ward) or to rid them of their “lesser ways”. Billy Sunday, the preacher, was the popular figure for these folks. Billy, an American, was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1903 but had taken a evangelical turn.  An old-fashioned preacher of old-time religion, he was a champion of temperance and bible-based intolerance (that’s what I called it). He was champion for business barons too and I suspected that these business barons underwrote his tour. He had toured across most America, and in some parts of Canada. I saw Billy last March when he was in Toronto, whipping up the congregation into a frenzy. He congratulated Canada for being in the War, and he was clearly frustrated that America had not yet declared its intentions. I didn’t like him. I got the sense that he was a blunt tool used by the rich to encourage the poor to send their sons off to the War, and to increase the profits for the factory owners by feeding the War machine.

My father said he saw parishioners enlist by the dozens after the recruiting drive by the 147th Grey Battalion. By the time it had departed for Camp Borden in early October, it was thousand men in strength. In early November, the 147th went to Halifax and then overseas. I knew that because I saw the troop train loading at Allandale Junction the same time I was returning to Toronto from the Park. The recruiting wasn’t going to let up.  The 248th Overseas Battalion had just been created in September to send another thousand men into battle by the spring of 1917.

I remember wanting to enlist in the Boer War in 1899. That was after I quit the Kennedy foundry and went back to help on the farm. My father, knowing I was looking for adventure (not fighting) convinced me to go on the Harvest Excursion instead. He got a hired hand, named William Bone to take on the work on the farm. In the end, only five men from Sydenham went to fight the Boers. Two were killed. I knew one of them, Bertrand Day, from Daywood on the Lakeshore Line. A fellow trooper, John McCarthur wrote that he got separated from his regiment when the Boers started shelling their camp. He wandered for a day before running into in bunch of Boers who killed him. The news of his death hit his family hard. The next year, I heard, they had troubles on the farm and in the the spring, the neighbours had to do the planting because the father couldn’t stop the drinking. The family had to leave the farm by the fall. I don’t know where they went.