By Jazmine Aldrich

If we look at a person’s life like a puzzle, archivists are trying to assemble the puzzle based on scattered pieces found in the records that they leave behind. I challenged myself in this article to learn more about the life of Mildred Waldron, who was born over 100 years ago on January 28, 1924 in East Clifton.

Mildred Ettra Waldron was the daughter of Luman A. Waldron (1868-1951) and Flora A. Cairns (1876-1944). She had one younger brother, Egbert D. Waldron (ca. 1925-1969), as well as three half-brothers and four half-sisters from her mother, Flora’s, previous relationship with George H. Bell (1858-1915).

Mildred was a Townships author and researcher. She published family and local histories of the Compton County area and, in particular, the East Clifton area, such as The Descendants of T. Waldron and M. Morse, The Hills of Clifton, Sheepskin Joe and Descendants of Hugh E. Cairns and Sarah A Waldron. This is all that I knew about Mildred’s life, before beginning my research.

Often, archival records tend to focus around one piece of a person’s life – their career or their strongest interest – but archives do not always give us a complete picture of who that person was. I never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Waldron, but I feel like I know her a little better after combing through local newspapers, online, for references to her life.

I learned from my research that, from an early age, Mildred’s interest in her community was evident; in 1938, Mildred received a prize in the East Clifton School Fair for her map of Clifton. Let us not forget, however, her other prizes at the same fair for sweet peas, fancy work, painting, a school fair poster, and a collection of insects – such variety!

Mildred was an active member of her community. Over a 50-year span, from the 1940s to the 1990s, she was a member of the East Clifton Busy Bees Society, she was involved with the High Forest Red Cross, and she participated in the activities of the East Clifton Women’s Institute and the Sawyerville Women’s Institute.

She made crafts and displayed them for the Community Activity Day at Sawyerville Elementary School in 1989. She created souvenir books, napkins, and cards for the 125th anniversary of the East Clifton Methodist-United Church and was involved with the Sawyerville United Church women. She was also assistant administrator and one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Second Mile Ministries Senior Centre in Sawyerville, a senior citizens’ home organized by an interdenominational Christian ministry in 1977.

She donated artefacts to the Compton County Historical and Museum Society and participated in their fundraising events and activities. She contributed articles about local history to the Townships Sun. She took pride in her heritage, and celebrated in The Record of May 8, 2001 that there were then six living generations of her Cairns family.

She contributed to many efforts to share local history, happily loaning her extensive collection of photographs and records relating especially to the history of East Clifton to interested parties, and sharing her knowledge in a myriad of forms. She had a keen interest in genealogy and helped many genealogists from near and far discover their Townships roots.

The Social Notes of The Record indicate that Mildred’s social calendar was always full, between visiting friends and relatives and receiving guests, and her extensive community involvement. If there was a card party, birthday party, or anniversary, she was present and helping in whatever way she could.

Mildred moved to the London Residence in Sherbrooke in 2004. She passed away on May 21, 2008 at the age of 84 and is buried at the East Clifton Cemetery.

My takeaway is that we often remember a person as “just one thing” – they were accomplished in a certain domain and their achievements were noteworthy but, as the saying goes, “we contain multitudes” and those multitudes are worth celebrating, too. Mildred Waldron was an accomplished historian and author, but she was also a devoted friend, relative, and neighbour who lived a full life.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Eastern Townships, please contact the ETRC Archives by email at or by telephone at 819-822-9600, extension 2261.

By Hailey Swift

Hailey Swift is a graduating student in the History Department at Bishop’s University. She completed an archival internship with the Eastern Townships Resource Centre over the Winter 2024 semester. Here is what she had to say about her internship experience.

One virtue of using the archives as an intern is that I did not know what I was getting into. I had no prior knowledge of the Loyal Orange Lodge fonds, nor the existence of the Loyal Orange Order. My first encounter with the documents were the minute books, financial ledgers, and more.

I was not the first individual to work on the Loyal Orange Lodge fonds; it was already divided into seven series based on location and content. Series one to five contain information about branches of the Loyal Orange Lodge located in different areas of Quebec, and series six is an artefact series consisting of ribbons. The seventh series, branch #689 of the Ladies Orange Benevolent Association, also known as the Maple Leaf Lodge, already existed within the Loyal Orange Lodge fonds but no descriptions of the materials had yet been added.

With such a long-standing association, some of the documents are around 154 years old; the earliest establishment date of the materials in the fonds is May 1, 1890. Because I was dealing with such old documents, and due to the majority of them being handwritten in nature, I enjoyed looking at the handwriting and how it evolved from the 1800s into the late 1900s – even from one individual to another, depending on who took the minutes or was in charge of the ledgers. Working on this project, I greatly appreciated my middle school teacher who forced my classmates and me to learn cursive on our own time; she refused to accept printing.

One of my tasks involved evaluating documents based on whether they should be archived in the Loyal Orange Lodge fonds or not. This involved verifying documents for duplicates, seeing whether a document had to be transferred to another fonds, and appraising a document for its historical value. One of my most enjoyable moments came from this process; in the box was a loose paper containing a receipt for a piano that had no outward connection to the Loyal Orange Lodge. I took note of the receipt’s date, and dug through one of the financial ledgers until I found the same date. Sure enough, the ledger included a purchase made from the company listed on the receipt for a piano. I had successfully connected the piano receipt to L.O.B.A. #689! Because we had a record of the purchase in the financial ledger, however, the receipt itself was considered to have no historical value; regardless, I felt much satisfaction in my brief investigative episode.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my favourite task was writing the authority records for the different branches. Authority records describe the individual persons, families, and corporate bodies (including associations and organizations) who create the documents that are kept in the archives. Writing the authority records involved both combing through the documents in the ETRC Archives and scouring BAnQ’s online newspaper database for mentions of the specific lodges in newspapers. From this process I learned a variety of facts; the significance of July 12th, Orangemen’s Day, and the community fostered by the Battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690, and that the Loyal Orange Lodge meetings were sometimes held around 7:30 p.m. before the full moon.

My time spent with the Loyal Orange Lodge fonds allowed me to improve my archival skills, and gave me an appreciation for researchers and individuals who search through multitudes of information to reveal gems from the past.

By Jazmine Aldrich

The spring-like February weather that the Townships region has been experiencing this year raises alarm bells regarding our changing climate – but how do we know that the climate has really changed? In order to observe a change, climate scientists must benchmark change indicators over time and demonstrate patterns. Fortunately, many diarists had thoughts of posterity when they recorded near-daily weather observations. While these observations may not always be precise measurements, they provide us with enough information to plot changing weather patterns over time.

The ETRC Archives contains many such weather observations. One of our oldest sources on the local climate is a set of three diaries dating from 1836 to 1839. The diaries originate from Lacolle and were kept by an unidentified farmer. Nearly every day, the farmer records details such as the wind direction and strength, precipitation, clouds, and relative temperature.

Susanna Pearson’s 1874 diary focuses on her day-to-day activities, but also includes recipes, poetry, and details about the weather. She was born in the state of New York and her family moved to Shefford County early in her life. Susanna was 22 years old when she kept her diary, much of which was written during her time living and working in Boston. While Susanna’s diary is not a direct source on the weather in the Eastern Townships, it does provide near-daily observations of the weather in Boston, which can serve to compare and contrast other contemporary weather sources. For example, she notes on May 14, 1874: “The sun has come out fearful hot this morning,” and, the following day, “Very warm to day but not as oppressive as yesterday.”

Archie N. Jenks of Coaticook kept a diary from 1907 to 1911, from the ages of about 18 to 22. The diary spans Jenks’ time as a student at Coaticook Academy and later, at McMaster University in Toronto. Much of his diary recounts his time spent studying and reading, but Archie still peppers in references to the weather and its impact on his life; for example, he writes on New Years’ Eve of 1907: “If it does not snow I am going skating on the rink to-night.” On February 2, 1908, he notes the “[…] terrific snow and wind storm, trains delayed, business tied up” and, on the 5th of the same month, “Water pipe frozen.” Archie even makes weather comparisons within his diary, observing that on May 29, 1907, it was “snowing a little” whereas on May 22, 1911, it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. We can use these diaries to compare February weather over a 71-year period. The farmer observes that February of 1837 was generally quite mild, with some snow (peaking on February 24), then returning to mild weather and even some rain towards the end of the month. On the other hand, Archie Jenks’ recollections of February 1908 are that it was generally cold, with moderate temperatures and a thaw towards the middle of the month, and moderate to cold temperatures towards the end of the month. While Susanna Pearson’s observations were not local, nor were they taken in February, hers capture a summer’s worth of the east coast climate in 1874. Each of these diarists were impacted to varying degrees by the changing weather, and each diary tells its own story of our climate’s past.

By Jazmine Aldrich

What information can we glean from a family photograph album of unknown origins? Surprisingly, quite a lot!

Last summer, the ETRC received a photo album that the donor, Lisette Gagné, had purchased from an antique dealer in Ayer’s Cliff in the early 2000s. Ms. Gagné had no personal connection to the family – she simply felt that the album was an important piece of history that should be preserved.

The album consists of 216 black and white photographs, as well as one postcard. The photographs mainly depict individuals and groups of people in domestic scenes, as well as landscapes and buildings. The dates of the photographs range from about 1916 to 1958. The greatest challenge for our Archives Department team, however, is that only 24 of the 216 photographs are identified.

A few of the individuals in the photographs are identified by first and last name, including Bessie Anderson, Edna Anderson, and Helen Anderson. The photographs of the Andersons were taken in West Norfolk, Virginia. It is possible that the Andersons were southern relatives or friends of someone in the Townships and that the photographs were received and added to the family album; or, perhaps the Andersons visited Virginia in 1917, when the photos were taken. Given that we have very little information about this album, we must consider a variety of explanations.

Others identified by first and last name include Leigh Smith, Robert Peacock, and Sam Marshall.

Leigh Smith’s photograph includes an inscription, which indicates that it was taken at “Newport High” in 1937. This could refer to Newport High School in Newport, Vermont, although there are cities called Newport scattered across North America and beyond.

The photograph of Robert Peacock is dated June 14, 1937. Peacock is wearing a graduation cap and gown, standing in front of a rural scene. Could this be the same Robert J. Peacock living in Brome-Missisquoi – 66 years old at the time of the 1931 census? Unlikely, as the subject of the photograph looks considerably younger than 72 years old. Maybe, he is the Robert Peacock who lived in Fulford/Bondville at the time of the 1921 census – though he was 46 then, which would make him 62 at the time of the photograph. One is never too old to graduate but context clues lead us to believe that we do not have a match, so the search continues.

Ms. Gagné researched Samuel Marshall (1844-1937) and found that he was born in Inverness, Megantic County, and lived in Sawyerville. He married Catherine Annie Jones Edwards (1859-1949) in Lower Ireland in 1886.

Several Lennoxville scenes, including the cenotaph in the former Lennoxville Square, a covered bridge in flood, and the C.P. trestle bridge, are featured in the album. Some Sherbrooke scenes include the Soldiers’ Memorial on King Street, the Lake Park Hotel, and the Granada Theatre. Other photographs appear to have been taken around Capelton and North Hatley. Overall, we get the sense of a strong Townships connection without strong ties to any one location.

Despite all of the above information that we have gathered, we still do not know the origins of this album. All of the photographs have been scanned and uploaded to our online database, the Eastern Townships Archives Portal, and are freely available at the following address: We encourage anyone with information about any of these photographs to contact us. Together, we hope to solve this mystery! If you have any information or would like to learn more about the history of the Eastern Townships, please contact the ETRC Archives by email or by telephone at 819-822-9600, extension 2261.

By Jazmine Aldrich

We at the ETRC can hardly believe that October is almost over and 2024 is just around the corner. As we embrace the last quarter of 2023, let’s reflect on a slice of life in the 1923 Eastern Townships, 100 years ago.

In East Angus, an exciting feat of engineering was making its first appearance. The Taschereau Bridge, which replaced the Brompton Pulp and Paper Company’s bridge over the St. Francis River, was inaugurated on August 1, 1923. It was named for the Quebec Liberal and 14th Premier, Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, who served in that role from 1920 to 1936. The bridge cost nearly $200,000 (almost 3.5 million, today) and was funded by the Government of Quebec as well as the Brompton Pulp and Paper Company. Decades before the Quiet Revolution, the inauguration ceremony began with a blessing of the bridge by the Monseigneur Alphonse-Osias Gagnon – at that time, Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sherbrooke. A banquet was held, following the inauguration ceremony, and Premier Taschereau addressed the gathering about his reservations regarding the Government of Canada’s proposition to prohibit the sale of Canadian pulp to the United States. Mr. Taschereau certainly knew his audience!

Meanwhile, from August 17th to 27th, 1923, the Boy Scouts’ 2nd Sherbrooke Troop were headed to camp in Ayer’s Cliff. The direction of the camp was under former District Scoutmaster, Peter M. Dennis, with Troop Leader Lynn Trussler serving as assistant director. The tents were supplied by the army courtesy of Colonel John J. Penhale. Aside from their regular scout training, the camp included swimming, campfire singalongs, hikes, fishing, baseball, and plenty of other activities. The camp was open to all scouts of the Eastern Townships, ranging from other Sherbrooke troops to Coaticook scouts, and even some boys who were not yet scouts but were potential recruits. A modest price of $5 per child for 2nd Sherbrooke Troop scouts and $6 for all others was charged. Parents and friends were encouraged to visit the camp and witness the fun being had. Saturday, August 25th was reserved as a special sports day where three silver cups were up for grabs, along with first- and second-prize ribbons. In an announcement published in the Sherbrooke Daily Record on July 31, 1923, it was asserted that “the camp is undoubtedly going to be a success” and a success, it was.

Over 2,500 people attended the unveiling of the war memorial in Lennoxville on December 16, 1923. The granite cenotaph with its bronze tablet bore the names of forty-seven soldiers who gave their lives during the First World War. At the unveiling ceremony, the 53rd Regimental Band played “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The Mayor Henry Washburn S. Downs delivered the opening address and Lieutenant-Colonel Reverend Arthur Huffman McGreer, Principal of Bishop’s College, delivered a dedication address. Reverend Father Leblanc gave an address in French. Reverend Canon Robert William Ellegood Wright said the prayer of dedication and Brigadier-General Dennis Colburn Draper unveiled the monument. The war memorial was originally located in what was known as the Square, though not the Square Queen that we know in 2023; the Square in 1923 was located at the intersection of Main Street (now Queen) and Belvidere (now College). The cenotaph was moved to its present location next to the Borough Office (at that time, the Town Hall) in 2000 and further inscriptions have since been added to honour those who fought in the Second World War, as well as in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.

By: Hannah Osborne-O’Donnell

In early September, the ETRC wrote about the military career of Stanstead-born Kenneth Clayton-Kennedy – but the story of his compelling life is far from over!

When we last left off, Major Clayton-Kennedy had founded two aircraft-related businesses, both of which failed to get off the ground. It may have been these failures that led Kenneth to embark on a career in the oil business.

By 1922, Clayton-Kennedy was one-fifth owner of the Ottoman-American Development Company. The company was a private U.S. corporation that, with the approval of the U.S. Congress, sought to develop ties with the newly-formed Turkey. The company would develop railroads and public works for Turkey in exchange for the mineral rights to the land they were building on. 

This agreement would fall apart for the Ottoman-American Development Company due to the geopolitical environment of the time, a lack of funding for the project, and infighting between the company’s owners. Government officials and company leaders alike would blame Major Kenneth Clayton-Kennedy for the collapse of the concession.  He created confusion about who owned the company, failed to raise money for the project, and apparently lied to both the Americans and the Turkish government – telling them that the company had begun work when it had not.

In 1922, Kenneth was suspected of being a British spy after he failed to produce a passport and lied about being an American when trying to enter Angola. Maj. Kenneth Clayton-Kennedy was released when Angolan authorities could find no evidence that Kenneth was involved in espionage. Throughout his life, Kenneth would claim both that he was and that he was not a British spy but had been set up by the Ottoman-American Development Company. The truth of the matter may never be known, but the documents relating to this scandal provide a glimpse into the fascinating life of a Stanstead man.

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: