By Hannah Osborne-O’Donnell
Kenneth Edgar Kennedy was born in 1891 to parents Helen O’Leory and George R.E. Kennedy in Stanstead, Quebec. Kenneth said that he fell in love with flying when he had the chance to ride in a dirigible at the Sherbrooke Fair. After receiving degrees in engineering and geology, Kennedy decided to join the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.
In August of 1914, members of the militia were mobilized to Valcartier to form the first Canadian Expeditionary Force. By the end of September, Kennedy was among the first Canadian troops destined for England. While serving as a Captain of the 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Field Artillery, he was seriously injured in May of 1915. After recovering from his injuries, Kennedy was transferred to the British Royal Flying Corps. He made for an excellent pilot, and was promoted from an Observer to Flying Officer within a period of six months.
Kennedy later claimed that it was during that time that he began advocating that the Minister of the Militia, General Hughes, create a Canadian Flying Corps. General Hughes had little interest in developing Canadian aviation capabilities, quoted by Kennedy as saying, “Airplanes are ridiculous, only good for frightening horses.”
Lt. Colonel Walter Morden and John Alexander Douglas McCurdy were the major force behind getting General Hughes to change his mind, though Kennedy did play a part of their efforts. In August, 1916, he was selected by Morden to perform an aerial demonstration for Hughes. This demonstration, along with overwhelming support from Canada’s business elite, convinced General Hughes of the need of a Canadian Flying Corps.
In 1916, Kennedy married Nance Annie Clayton and took her maiden name. Clayton was an English woman who would move to Canada at the end of the war; in the meantime, Mr. Clayton-Kennedy continued to receive promotions. He was transferred to the 3rd Canadian Artillery Brigade, promoted to temporary Major, and given command of an aerial gunnery unit. Once General Hughes announced the formation of a Flying Corps, Clayton-Kennedy served as one of the first flight instructors at CFB Borden.
While at CFB Borden, Clayton-Kennedy claims to have trained many well-known individuals; future Prime-Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Lester B. Pearson, was one of these famous people. Clayton-Kennedy claims to have attempted to expel Pearson from the air force due to a “lack of moral fiber”. In 1918, Clayton-Kennedy was relieved of command due to his poor health. Despite his flying corps career coming to an end, Clayton-Kennedy continued to believe in the potential of airplanes. In 1919, Clayton-Kennedy became the president of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company of Canada Limited and the Aircraft Transport and Travel of Canada Limited. These two companies were tasked with building and supplying aircrafts to the government of the Colony of Newfoundland and the transportation of goods and passengers, and with the creation of aviation schools. Unfortunately, both companies failed to become successful.
By Jazmine Aldrich
Many of the Eastern Townships Resource Centre’s archival holdings document the lives of families who have impacted our local history. One example is the Davidson family of Georgeville – especially the father and son duo whose craftsmanship shaped much of the landscape along Lake Memphremagog’s shores.
James Everett Davidson was born in Brigham, Quebec on March 7, 1860. He was the son of William Davidson and Caroline America Everett Beach. On January 1, 1883, he married Annie Myrtella Brevoort, the daughter of James Gunn Brevoort and Janet Hurst. He built boats, furniture, and many summer homes in the Lake Memphremagog region. His noteworthy accomplishments include working on the Narrows Bridge, a covered bridge over Fitch Bay which was constructed in 1881. The bridge remains standing today and was recognized by the Government of Quebec as a protected heritage site under the Cultural Heritage Act in 2019.
James Everett Davidson’s son, James Arlington Davidson was born in Georgeville on October 17, 1891. “Arlie,” as he was known colloquially, married Margaret Hazel Merrill and had two daughters, Jean and Janet. He lived almost all his life in Georgeville, working there with his father as contractors and builders.
J.E. Davidson & Son built houses, cottages, log cabins, and boathouses – especially around Lake Memphremagog. In 1931, they were contracted to work on the Anglican Church and Church Hall in Fitch Bay and, in 1934, they worked on St. George’s Anglican Church in Georgeville.
Much of the Davidson family’s archives consist of account books in which they recorded detailed notes about the jobs they were completing (how many days worked, what they worked on each day, and so on). Thanks to these books, we know precise details such as the rate charged for one day’s work ($2.25 per day, per person in 1914, which would amount to about $58.95 in 2023).
The Davidson family made its impression on the Georgeville community outside of their business, as well. Both father and son’s names appear on a 1930 petition to the Southern Canada Power Company, amongst a list of ten Georgeville residents pledging four hundred dollars “towards the installation of an electric power line and distribution system for the lighting of the village and to enable electric service to be made available to the residents thereof.”
Following his father’s death on August 25, 1933, Arlie continued the family business. As of 1950, he was a member of the Building Trades’ Joint Committee of the Eastern Townships’ District, qualified as a journeyman in the positions of carpenter-joiner and painter-paperhanger.
Arlie retired in 1955 but spent the next twenty years repairing and making reproductions of antique furniture. In 1977, he wrote a booklet entitled Copp’s Ferry, Georgeville, 1797-1977. The booklet includes information about the settlement of Georgeville, transportation, accommodations, schools, churches, cemeteries, industries, infrastructure, and inhabitants. James Arlington Davidson died on February 24, 1979, aged 87.
By Joanie Tétreault
Freemasonry, with its rich history and enigmatic symbolism, has long captivated the imagination of many. In the Eastern Townships, the Freemasons have left an indelible mark on the community, fostering brotherhood, charitable endeavors, and personal growth; however, an air of secrecy has surrounded the organization, fueling curiosity and speculation. In this article, we delve into the secretive aspect of Freemasonry in the Eastern Townships and shed light on its traditions, rituals, and esoteric symbolism.
Freemasonry has been traditionally known for its confidential nature, which has perpetuated the perception of secrecy surrounding the organization. The Freemasons in the Eastern Townships, like their counterparts worldwide, adhere to certain practices that are not publicly disclosed. This veil of secrecy has both historical and symbolic significance, providing members with a sense of exclusivity and fostering a bond of trust among brethren.
Central to the secretive aspect of Freemasonry are its rituals and ceremonies. These rituals, steeped in symbolism and tradition, are performed within the confines of the lodge and remain private to Freemasons. Initiations, degrees, and the passing of knowledge through allegorical teachings form integral parts of these rituals. The secrecy surrounding these practices adds to the allure and mystique of Freemasonry.
Another facet of Freemasonry that contributes to its secretive reputation is its extensive use of symbolism. Masonic lodges in the Eastern Townships, adorned with intricate symbols and emblems, serve as repositories of hidden knowledge and profound meaning. From the square and compass to the all-seeing eye, these symbols convey moral and spiritual lessons to members, inviting personal interpretation and reflection.
The secrecy surrounding the symbolism and esoteric teachings of Freemasonry adds to its mystique, cultivating an environment of intellectual exploration and personal enlightenment within the brotherhood.
While Freemasonry embraces a certain level of secrecy, it is essential to recognize that it is not shrouded in clandestine activities or hidden agendas; instead, the secretive aspects of Freemasonry serve to preserve the traditions, values, and rituals that have been handed down through generations.
The exclusivity of the Masonic lodge provides members with a safe space for personal growth, self-reflection, and the exchange of ideas. By maintaining a level of confidentiality, Freemasonry seeks to create an environment of trust and mutual respect among its members, fostering a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie.
While Freemasonry may hold secretive elements, it is vital to acknowledge the organization’s significant impact on the Eastern Townships community. Freemasons actively engage in charitable initiatives, support local projects, and contribute to the well-being of society. Their philanthropic efforts extend beyond the walls of the lodge, making a tangible and positive difference in the lives of individuals and the community at large.
Freemasonry’s commitment to brotherhood, personal growth, and philanthropy is evident in their contributions to the Eastern Townships community. While the allure of secrecy adds to the intrigue surrounding Freemasonry, it is the principles of charity, integrity, and fellowship that truly define the Freemasons of the Eastern Townships. As the legacy of Freemasonry continues to evolve and adapt to modern times, it is essential to appreciate both the secretive and charitable aspects.
Delve into the world of this esteemed fraternity, focusing on their distinctive attire and the symbolism found within their sacred lodge at the exhibit “Unveiling the Mystique: Exploring the Secretive Aspect of Freemasonry.” You can visit this exhibit on weekdays in the historic Old Library of McGreer Hall, nestled on the picturesque Bishops’ University campus.
By Jazmine Aldrich
One of the great pleasures of archives is diving into the past and discovering new perspectives. I recently stumbled upon James ‘Jim’ Wark’s journal which was written to his family in Sherbrooke as he travelled from Quebec to England on his way to the European front during the First World War.
James Howard Wark was born in Sherbrooke on August 1st, 1897 to John G. Wark (1855-1925) and Catherine Fraser (1857-1938). As a young man, Jim, as he was known colloquially, served for a brief period with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WWI. He enlisted with 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment in May 1918 at an enlistment office in Montreal and was quickly on his way to England, arriving in mid-July.
His journal begins on Wednesday, June 26, 1918: Jim describes waking up at 4:00 AM, forming up at the parade grounds, traveling by train to the ship they would travel on, and setting sail. What becomes clear through Jim’s journal entries is that he was optimistic and earnest in the face of the unknown awaiting him at the end of his Atlantic crossing. Of their first evening aboard the sea vessel, Jim writes that “After supper we went on deck and watched the sun-set. It was beautiful. We could see a great many porpoises coming to the surface.”
Despite his grim destination, Jim’s journal entries reflect the thoughts of a 20-year-old man experiencing his first overseas trip. He describes the journey as being “most interesting. It wakes you up to the fact of how little you do know and how much there is to be learned.”
The fun didn’t stop when the military vessel anchored in Halifax harbour to await others destined for their convoy. On July 2nd, 1918, Jim reports that “About 20 nurses came on here this A.M. too. Some real nice ones among them. We had lots of fun with a bunch who were at the wharf to see the others off. One of them gave my side-kick a doll and he is carrying it all around with him now. You should see the men look at him.”
Interspersed with his comments about the fine weather, delicious food, and diverting entertainment are references to the stark reality that drew closer with each passing day. The contrast in his two realities is most evident in this entry from July 10th, 1918:
“This has been the finest and best day we have had on the water yet. The sea was just as smooth and calm as the St. Francis on a fine day, not a ripple on it only an easy swell which gave the old boat a nice see-saw motion. We saw hundreds of porpoises today swimming right in among the boats. I guess we are getting into the danger zone now because the cruiser is going back and forth across our front on the lookout for danger signs. I heard this morning that we are only about [censored] miles from England. Tomorrow they expect to meet the convoy which is to escort us in. This afternoon they sighted a whale but I missed it.”
Another reminder of Jim’s wartime reality are the passages struck out with a black marker, indicating censorship of sensitive military information. References to the ship’s relative location and speed are censored. Postal censorship was common practice during the First World War to avoid enemy interception.
As their vessel inched closer to England, they took greater precautions to avoid detection by enemy ships: “They put us off the deck now at 7:30 sea-time, that would be about 5 at home. After that there are no lights showing anywhere on deck. The penalty for showing any light after dark on the war zone is death.”
Though the threat of death lay over his head, the tone of Jim’s entries remained cheery until the end of his journey; on July 12th, 1918, he vowed that “If I ever get the chance I will take this trip again in peace time on a big boat, it is certainly great, something one will never forget.” Jim’s journal entries end when he arrives in England on Monday, July 14th, 1918; fortunately, his story did not end there.
Upon arrival in England, Jim was placed in a segregated camp for CEF recruits as part of a quarantine set up in response to the Spanish flu. This quarantine lasted 28 days and, along with other precautions taken in response to influenza, drastically lengthened the training period for Canadian recruits. As a result, he would complete his training as the war was drawing to an end and would not reach continental Europe during his time overseas. Jim was discharged from his duties in Montreal, demobilization being given as the reason for his discharge. He lived to be 72 years old; he married Florence Bryant (1901-1993), of the J.H. Bryant bottling company family and together, they had two daughters: Catherine (1929-2009) and Barbara (b. 1930).
Jim’s journal is digitized and available online. If you are interested in reading this fascinating tale, please visit the Eastern Townships Archives Portal: https://townshipsarchives.ca/jim-wark-wwi-journal.
By Jazmine Aldrich
The Eastern Townships Resource Centre (ETRC) Archives include several autograph books; these are typically small, bound books containing signatures, poems, proverbs, doodles, and other unique entries. Other names for these books include autograph albums, memory albums, and friendship albums. On the surface, this type of record may seem to hold very little historical value, but they can tell us a great deal about the individuals who kept them and their social connections.
Autograph books can be traced back to the sixteenth-century European tradition of the album amicorum (“album of friendship”). These albums were commonly kept by university students to recall their classmates, professors and other social contacts. The albums preserved lighthearted or heartfelt messages from social connections. In a world long before the Internet and social media, autograph books provided a means of documenting one’s network. For some, these books may also have served as a symbol of social status – a vast network, neatly kept in their pocket.
Typical entries in these books include the signatures of contacts whom individuals felt were worth remembering. Entries often include a sentiment along the lines of “remember me,” “think of me,” or “forget me not.” These notes are often accompanied by a date and a geographic location which can situate a social relationship in its historical context. They can help us to learn not only who lived in or frequented a particular area in a given time, but also, who they interacted with. These books give us glimpses into the social lives of their bearers.
Autograph books also often contain poems, proverbs, verses, quotes, and brief snippets of writing that attest to the culture of the time in which they were written. Autograph books can answer questions such as, what was teenage humor like in the 1920s? Florence Mead’s autograph book offers the following entries as potential answers.
“Forget you? No! I never could. As long as I can whistle. I might as well forget to yell when I sit on a thistle.” (unsigned)
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Peroxide makes the blond grow blonder. Onion makes the breath grow stronger. Friendship makes life grow longer.” -Annie Parkhill, Boynton, Que.
The book dates from Florence’s studies at Macdonald College School for Teachers, with entries from her classmates, roommates, and friends.
Autograph book entries sometimes include pop culture references, song lyrics, references to jokes and shared memories. They may also include artwork, ranging from simple doodles to intricate drawings which attest to the abilities of the artist. Some authors even include pressed flowers or locks of hair with their entries.
The popularity of the autograph book varied over the centuries, but a notable resurgence took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The practice became so popular, in fact, that publications such as J.S. Ogilvie’s The Album Writer’s Friend (New York, 1881) recommended “choice selections of poetry and prose, suitable for writing in autograph albums.” Though these albums were especially popular amongst girls and young women, the practice was not gendered and some of the ETRC’s examples belonged to men – including that of renowned Eastern Townships artist, Frederick Simpson Coburn.
The tradition of the autograph album lives on in the signing of yearbooks – a practice which remains popular with students today. Do you have an autograph book or yearbook that you would like to donate to the ETRC? Get in touch with us!
By Jazmine Aldrich
History is made up of the stories of individuals: their choices, their experiences, and their relationships. These stories can be abstracted with time – that is – until we reconnect with the traces they left behind. They become more than a name: they are someone who lived – in a different time than us and under different circumstances – but who nevertheless experienced the ups and downs that make up a life.
This brings me to the story of Mead Haskell Baldwin. While I could never tell you every detail of his life, I will introduce you to some of his experiences as a young man, which I learned about through the records left by he and his family.
Mead Haskell Baldwin was born on September 28, 1891 in Baldwin’s Mills. He was the second son of Willis Keith (W.K.) Baldwin of Baldwin’s Mills and Lill Mead Ferrin Baldwin of Holland, Vermont. Mead was also the younger brother of then-five-year-old Harold Ferrin Baldwin. The only two children of W.K. and Lill, one gets the impression that Harold and Mead were brothers by blood but friends by choice.
Harold and Mead travelled the western Canadian provinces and United States together as young adults. The brothers worked as surveyors in western Canada towards the end of 1910, and spent Christmas of that year in Los Angeles, California, returning to Baldwin’s Mills in May of 1911. When at home, the young men occupied themselves with running the various family businesses, including the sawmill, general store, and post office while their father was away.
By 1913, Mead had left home and completed a business course at the Eastman National Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York; he then pursued work as a bookkeeper in Minneapolis, Minnesota – where he remained until July 1917 when he voluntarily enlisted with the American Expeditionary Forces.
During the First World War, Mead served with Bakery Company No. 343 – a supply unit of the United States Army’s Quartermaster Corps. Mead’s baker training was given at the Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, beginning August 1, 1917. He served from October 1917 until March 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas. Following a brief period at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, Mead’s unit landed on French shores on April 15, 1918 and remained overseas for the next fourteen months. Mead was discharged at Des Moines, Iowa on June 19, 1919; he then returned to Minneapolis to reintegrate into civilian society.
In a heart wrenching letter to the United States Veterans’ Bureau in 1926, W.K. recalls that Mead “reached home [Baldwin’s Mills] in August 1919, broken in spirit. […]. The buoyancy of youth had changed to moroseness or melancholy.” Little more is known of his postwar life in Baldwin’s Mills until tragedy struck the family two years later. On February 17, 1921, less than a month after Harold had married Ruth Stevens May, Mead’s life came to a sudden end following several weeks of suffering from what would likely be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder in today’s terms.
The Baldwin family shocked: W.K. Baldwin – by then serving as the Member of Parliament for Stanstead – returned to Baldwin’s Mills from Ottawa. In the month following Mead’s death, he offered to fund one third of the costs associated with building permanent highways from Baldwin’s Mills to Coaticook and Stanstead, as well as funding their maintenance for a decade – all in memory of his late son.
The community mourned the loss of Mead, recalling in the Sherbrooke Daily Record his “sterling manhood and worthy qualities.” Letters of sympathy poured in from near and far. Mead’s former fiancée, Helen Wilma Kielgas of Duluth, Minnesota, recalled him to Lill as “the kindest and most generous of men, one who intentionally hurt no one, one who was a true friend, idolized and loved his mother.”
Mead’s death marked his loved ones and his community; while his is a difficult story to tell, it is a testament to the love that endures long after someone is gone.
By Jazmine Aldrich, in collaboration with Marjorie Mikasen
The word “archives” brings to mind photographs, diaries, letters, and maps, but did you know that the Eastern Townships Resource Centre also preserves works of art? This month, we explore the Doris Snowdon fonds, which showcases beautiful sketches drawn at the artist’s cottage on Sally’s Pond in West Bolton – nestled between Bolton Pass and Knowlton.
Lucy Doris Maffre was born in Montreal on January 7, 1897. She married James Clifford “Cliff” Snowdon in 1921 and together, they raised their sons, Bruce and Robert, and daughter, Helen. Cliff documented their family life in photographs developed in his own dark room and in home movies. It was only around the age of 60, her children grown, that Doris took up painting.
She took her first painting courses in the 1950s at the Women’s Art Society of Montreal. She studied with two well-known Canadian artists, Adam Sherriff Scott and Oscar de Lall. Her works represent landscapes and still-life subjects. She especially liked to paint bouquets of flowers cultivated from her own flower gardens in Montreal and West Bolton.
Much of what we know about the artist comes from her family. In the early 2000s, Doris’ granddaughter, Marjorie Mikasen, gifted the ETRC a sketchbook containing six sketches, as well as a concise biography of Doris’ life and a brief genealogy of the Maffre family. Marjorie also credits her late mother, Helen, for many of the recollections of Doris’ life that are included in the biography.
In her life history of the artist, Marjorie explains that Doris’ artworks “can be characterized by her expressive use of color against color. Her textured canvases play out their themes in a variety of tones. Whether applied with a brush or palette knife,” the artist’s granddaughter writes, “her sure hand gives the paint an animated quality.”
Doris had a studio at her Montreal home, but also created many of her artworks at her cottage on Sally’s Pond – a mountain pond located east of Chemin Bolton Pass (Rte. 243) which drains into the West Field creek toward the Missisquoi River North. On top of being marvels of aesthetics, Doris’ paintings also document distinct hydrographic features of Sally’s Pond, including the interval and the outlet.
Known for being a talented painter, Doris also sketched. The sketches held by the ETRC primarily feature landscapes at Sally’s Pond and views of the family cottages as well as other cottages surrounding the pond. Her family recalls that she would take her art supplies directly into the natural scenery surrounding her cottage to create her landscape works.
It was through a chance encounter in 1927 that the Snowdon family of Montreal discovered Sally’s Pond. Doris was in the hospital in Montreal for the birth of her daughter, Helen, when she met Alice Judge, who was giving birth to her own daughter, Myra. Their daughters were born two days apart, and the two women became fast friends. Alice and her husband, George Judge, had a cottage on Sally’s Pond and the Snowdon family started visiting in 1939 and rented the cottage from the Judges for two weeks in the summer. “In the process,” Marjorie recounts – based on her mother’s memories, “Doris fell in love with the place.”
The Snowdon family purchased their cottage on the northwestern portion of Inglis Island – the large island in the center of Sally’s Pond – from Mr. and Mrs. Earnest C. Inglis sometime in the 1940s after several years of renting from the couple. Cliff paid only $1000 for the fully-furnished cottage following years of encouragement from Earnest Inglis. The Inglis’ built several cottages on Sally’s Pond, the first being the one that Doris and Cliff purchased and the second being the adjacent cottage that their son, Bruce purchased in the 1950s. The island in the center of the pond, as well as the road leading to the island are both named “Inglis” after the couple.
In the years preceding Cliff’s retirement, Doris would spend the summer at the cottage and Cliff would stay on weekends. Bruce and his family spent their own share of summers at their cottage on Sally’s Pond.
Precious family moments at the cottage are captured in Cliff’s home movies, recently donated to the ETRC by Marjorie. Among them are scenes of Cliff and Doris’ grandchildren, Jody, Marjorie, Jan, and Jill, playing on the lawn in the late 1950s; Doris rowing a small boat on the water; and their son, Bruce, fishing off the dock.
As the Snowdon family grew, its branches extended geographically through the 1950s and 1960s. Helen married Robert “Bob” Mikasen in 1952 and moved to Chicago to be with him. Bruce and his family relocated to Ontario and sold their cottage. Robert and his family were the last to relocate to the United States.
Helen and Bob brought their children, Jody and Marjorie, to the cottage roughly every other year in the 1960s. Marjorie remembers with fondness her week-long summer visits spent swimming at the beach near the old sawmill; going for long walks to the end of the island, the nearby Rogerson Farm, or Saint Andrew’s Church; and seeking out the perfect sticks for roasting marshmallows. She describes their visits as “a microcosm of the cottage experience my mom and her brothers enjoyed as children.”
Helen’s letters to Bob before their marriage describe life at the cottage before the grandchildren came along. In particular, Marjorie notes that her mother’s letters describe large parties with fellow Inglis islanders. She explains that “there was a great deal of camaraderie with the neighbors who had been friends for many years.”
The cottage also drew in Cliff and Doris’ friends from Montreal. Doris invited at least one fellow artist from the Women’s Art Society of Montreal (WASM) to paint at Sally’s Pond. Marjorie suspects that there may have been others who visited, too, based on her own research into the exhibition records of the WASM which include painting submissions with “Sally’s Pond” in the titles by two other artists. As a member of the Mount Royal Lodge of the Scottish Rite, Cliff participated in their annual trek up to Owl’s Head. Doris would host the wives of the masons at the cottage for lunch on the day of the trek and entertain them until their husbands picked them up on their way back to Montreal.
By the early 1970s, Cliff and Doris made the difficult decision to sell their cottage as the upkeep was too demanding for a couple in their golden years. “This was a very sad thing for all of us,” Marjorie recalls, “since ‘the cottage’ was one of the beautiful places in the minds and hearts of the family.”
Although art was a great passion for Doris, her intention was never to profit from her gift. She ceased painting at age 93 due to her failing eyesight and passed away in Montreal on February 9, 1996. Her works are now scattered across the United States, where fond memories of a cottage on a pond in the Eastern Townships adorn the homes of Doris’ descendants – a reminder of the Snowdon family’s tranquil refuge from city life.
By Jazmine Aldrich
In a brief history written in the late-1960s, Freeman Clowery reflects on his time spent working for The National Thread Limited in Sherbrooke: “How well I recall these days of toil, sweat, and tears; of trials and tribulations, of success and defeat, of disappointments and accomplishments.” Clowery’s time with the company spanned its Golden Age in the 1950s and 1960s, until its collapse in 1971. He observed the company’s rise and fall from the perspective of its Officer Manager and Secretary-Treasurer.
The National Thread Ltd. succeeded the Ideal Thread Limited, which began its operations in Montreal in 1939. Its directors, J. Edgar Genest of Sherbrooke and J.-A. Archambault of Montreal, spearheaded efforts to relocate the thread manufacturing company to Sherbrooke in 1941.
Negotiations with the City of Sherbrooke spanning the first quarter of the year resulted in the renovation of a municipally-owned factory on Laurier Avenue previously occupied by the Modernistik Company and the Dufferin Jack Company. The Ideal Thread Ltd. agreed to lease the building from the City if the City would pay for repairs to the factory. The renovations included the addition of a second story, a boiler room, and a new elevator, but the company’s promise for growth was enough to justify the expenses. A $14,500 municipal building permit was issued in May 1941.
In April 1941, La Tribune reported that while renovations would soon be underway on the Laurier Avenue factory, The Ideal Thread Ltd. was to be absorbed by another, unnamed company but would keep its directors. The National Thread Limited was incorporated on May 1, 1941. The Ideal Thread Ltd. surrendered its charter and dissolved on February 25, 1942.
Business grew for The National Thread Ltd. over the 1940s with its production of domestic and industrial thread and shoelaces. By 1952, the company had distribution branches across Canada. While American competitors reduced National Thread’s international sales, the Canadian market was still a strong one for the company. 1952 also saw a moment of transition: founder and President J. Edgar Genest was ceding control of the company to the capable hands of his only son and National Thread’s General Manager, Claude Genest.
In his memoir, Clowery recalls the company’s Charter President, J. Edgar Genest, in the following way: “He was a man of unlimited forethought and confidence, but, in the years that I worked with him, his most prominent characteristic was an unshakeable faith in his son.” J. Edgar retained the company’s presidency until his death in 1959, at which point Claude Genest assumed the presidency.
Claude joined in his father’s business in 1944 after receiving his discharge from the Canadian Army. Clowery also compliments the younger Genest, writing that he: “[…] has many inherited characteristics. His influence on the operations was felt from the very start, but the building of the new, modern mill was his trademark, a study of youth with a vision, as against age with security.”
The new mill at 370, 10th Avenue in Sherbrooke was a $250,000, 30,000-square-foot, single-story factory. Construction took eight months and was completed in February 1952. Several local businesses outfitted the new factory with everything from plumbing to office supplies. It was expected to employ 125 men and women, and to double the company’s production output. Clowery recalls this new facility as “an up-to-date establishment, with planned layout for optimum efficiency, with room for growth, to meet the challenge of the future,” but also recalls the financing, manufacturing controls, and administrative changes that accompanied this expansion.
Despite its early success, The National Thread Ltd. closed the doors of its Sherbrooke factory on March 4th, 1971, leaving 80 employees to find work. Claude Genest blamed foreign competition and increased production costs, especially wages. The signing of a collective agreement with the Union des Ouvriers du Textile D’Amérique in 1961 brought a salary increase for the company’s workers, paid holidays, and overtime pay, lending credence to Genest’s explanation. In its final year, National Thread’s workforce was reduced by nearly half. Genest maintained that the company’s Sherbrooke operations needed considerable mechanization to increase profit, which shareholders were not interested in funding given the economic climate of the time. The factory closed, along with another chapter of Sherbrooke’s industrial history.
This fall marks 16 years that I have been archivist for the ETRC and through those years, I have been asked all manner of questions about the people and places in our beautiful Eastern Townships. One place that always seemed to be bit more of a mystery than others is Sawyerville, which is surprising given that it has long been a decently-sized village. Whereas most towns and villages have large volumes dedicated to their history, giving overviews of the buildings, people, and businesses that contributed to their growth, there has never been a dedicated publication for Sawyerville (as far as I have ever been able to find, at least).
So when a group of postcards arrived in the archives featuring Sawyerville street views, I was giddy at the chance to do a bit more research that would showcase some of its history. My efforts, however, have mostly raised more questions than they’ve answered. Notwithstanding the postcard that was mislabeled as Sawyerville but really depicts Hartland, Maine, the postcards show identifiable streets in Sawyerville but often these streetscapes have changed drastically from the early 20th century.
One postcard shows the intersection of North Main and Cookshire Streets from around 1912. On the right we can see part of J.R. Cunningham’s general store and a water trough on the extreme left, but unknown is the building on the left side of Main Street. Do you know what the building was?
Another is a photo postcard view of what is identified as the Sawyerville Hotel after it was destroyed by fire in 1919. The architecture of the remaining structure and the date suggests that it wasn’t the Sawyerville House, later the Sawyerville Hotel. There was an early hotel that was destroyed by fire in December 1907, but other photos of it leave questions as well, and would make the date on the postcard inaccurate. A postal law banning picture postcards until 1904 in Canada means that it has to be later than that, but the postage stamp box from the AZO photo postcard company suggests it may have been from the 1920s. A search through the newspapers did not yield any results, unfortunately. Perhaps the date is wrong, or perhaps the identification of the building is inaccurate. Dear readers, do you have more information that can help us iron out this mystery? If so, please reach out to us!
Tis the season for holiday parties and after a two-year hiatus on these seasonal celebrations, most are back in full swing this year. The festive season prompted a dive in the archives for examples of the company Christmas parties of the past. The images of the office parties of the mid-20th century presented to us by pop culture paint a picture of copious amounts of alcohol mixed with incredibly poor decision-making, but how much of this representation is accurate?
A 1955 article from the Canadian Press noted that office parties were popular in cities across Canada, despite often being illegal since the consumption alcohol was not permitted in workplaces without a permit in most jurisdictions. This was the case in all provinces except for Quebec, however, where office parties fell under the same rules as parties in private dwellings.
By 1964, a New York columnist with the Associated Press was already starting to ask if the office party was facing extinction. In his assessment, the quintessential office party of the past – consisting of spiked watercoolers, telling off bosses, fisticuffs, and romantic escapades – was dying out because “the younger generation just doesn’t have the stamina to endure them, and the older generation doesn’t have the strength left to enjoy them properly.” An interesting perspective, albeit a seemingly biased one.
While wild office parties were likely part of some companies across the Townships, this was not the version that was recorded for posterity. Instead, most of the photos and write-ups in the Sherbrooke Daily Record present company parties that were frequently family affairs. Among them were Dominion Lime’s Christmas party where all children of employees received a gift, candy, and oranges. Similarly, Ingersoll-Rand, National Thread, and Canadian Celanese – to name but a few – hosted parties for the entire family.
In a selfless act in 1957, the employees of Philip Carey in Sherbrooke voted to forgo their annual Christmas party and, instead, donated the money to a relief fund for one of their fellow employees, Lionel Denault, after the Denaults lost their home and eight of their nine children in a horrific fire.
Although the family format of Christmas parties was most popular in the Townships, there were still employee-only office parties, which usually consisted of a banquet meal, dancing, and a visit from Santa (there was no age limit on Santa, apparently), but could include other activities such as carol singing, skits, darts, or cards.