Edith May Allison signature

On this day in 1917 Edith May Allison enlisted as a nursing sister in Calgary. She was born on May 14th, 1878 (she said 1881 on her form) in Tyendinaga Township, the daughter of Jonathan G. Allison and Sarah Edith (née Prentice). She was listed as a nurse in Tyendinaga in the 1901 census and was still in Tyendinaga in 1911. By 1916 she had moved and was living at the hospital in Coronation, Alberta.

Edith’s service record tells us that she was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 150 pounds when she signed up to join the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She arrived in England in May 1917 and initially served in hospitals in Brighton, Sussex. She was then posted to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Outreau, France between June 1918 and March 1919. [War diaries for this hospital are at Library and Archives Canada.]

Edith sailed back to Canada on the SS Lapland in April 1919. She continued to work for the Corps as a nurse in Ottawa after the war, and was transferred to Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary on June 1st, 1919. This hospital opened in 1919 for veterans of the war.

Edith was the Matron-in-Charge of the hospital until she died there on July 10th, 1933. Her death was determined to be as a result of her war service.

Edith May Allison circumstances of casualty

Canada, War Graves Registers (Circumstances of Casualty), 1914-1948, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

Died at Col. Belcher Hospital, Calgary, Alta.

Cause – Myocarditis, etc.
Death was due to service, authority BPC.d.15-8-33

Edith’s gravestone, from ‘Great War 100 Reads’

Edith was buried in the Deseronto Cemetery, near her father, Jonathan Allison. Her mother died three years later and was also buried there.

Hattie May Mastin signature

On January 8th, 1916, Hattie May Mastin joined the Army Medical Corps in Kingston, Ontario as a nursing sister. She was born on July 31st, 1888 in Deseronto, the daughter of Melbourne Mastin and Minerva Jane (née Bruin). Hattie had served in the military hospital in Belleville for seven weeks. She was living at 269 William Street, Belleville when she joined the army. Hattie was the first woman to enlist of the people from Deseronto who served in the war, one of only two in total.

Her service record shows that she was transferred to the 7th Canadian General Hospital in Le Treport, France on June 18th, one of 46 new nursing sisters who arrived that day, according to the unit’s war diary.

Mastin left England for Canada on the SS Carmania on July 12th and was demobilized on July 15th, 1919 in Ottawa on general demobilization. In 1921, Hattie was back with her mother and siblings, living at 234 John Street, Belleville.

The Deseronto Public Library and Deseronto Archives were delighted to welcome Frances Itani back to town to mark the culmination of the Tri-County Reads events for 2015. Tri-County Reads is a joint program of the Public Libraries of Northumberland, Hastings and Prince Edward County and this year the book chosen was Frances Itani’s Deafening, a First World War novel which is partly based in Deseronto.

Guided tour walkers at the Dockside Tavern, Deseronto

The Deseronto event on October 17th began with a guided walk for around 45 people around Mill and Main Streets. The photograph shows the tour group as it passed what is now the Dockside Tavern. This building was originally the Empress Hotel, owned by William Jamieson. Jamieson’s widow sold the lot to John Freeman, Frances Itani’s great-grandfather, who ran it as the Arlington Hotel. Itani’s grandmother, Gertie Freeman,  was born in the house adjoining the hotel in 1898. Gertie became deaf at 18 months and her life experiences formed the inspiration for Grania, the main character in Deafening. Like Grania, Gertie attended the Ontario Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (now the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf) in Belleville.

The house where Gertie Freeman was born can be seen in this late nineteenth century photograph of the property, taken by Herbert A. Osborne:

The Empress (later Arlington) Hotel, c.1895

At the time the Freemans owned the hotel, Deseronto was at its industrial peak. This picture was taken from an upstairs window, and shows the mills and factories of Mill Street:

View from Arlington Hotel, c.1895

The walking tour also stopped outside the Post Office and Naylor’s Theatre, both of which featured in Deafening and its sequel, Tell. Afterwards, the group convened for lunch at the Legion, followed by a fascinating talk from Frances Itani on the inspiration and process of writing the novel Deafening and Tell.

Frances Itani

Frances Itani

Fans of the novelist will be pleased to hear that Frances is currently working on the third novel  in the Deseronto trilogy.  This one will take a particular interest in the experiences of people who are adopted and Frances is keen to interview individuals who are adopted and who are willing to share their thoughts with the author. Please email the Archives at deseronto.archives@gmail.com if you were adopted and would be happy to be interviewed by Frances for her next Deseronto-based book.

Sometimes chance survivals give us an intriguing glimpse into particular aspects of people’s lives in the past. We have just digitized some letters which were found in the former Cronk property in Deseronto and which were written in the early 1880s, just at the point when the village switched from being called Mill Point to being called Deseronto.

The first is a letter which was started but not finished or sent. It was probably written by Sarah Jane Cronk (1850-1929), wife of Reuben Cronk (1841-1931) who was a butcher in Deseronto for most of his life. It gives a touching account of the recovery from illness of her second eldest child, Albert, who was born in 1877.

Sarah Jane Cronk's letter

She wrote:

Mill Point feb 1881
Mr William Aull
Dear Brother yours of the 7 inst came to hand and was duly Recived and I Can asure you it was with Plasuer that I Read thos Lines from you informings us of your Good health and thay found us all well But Albert he has Bin verry sick, nii unto Death But I thank the Giver of all Good that he has spared us our Child. you doe Not Know how sickness Brings you to felings of Love for your for your Children and your Maker your father & mother are well at Presant and we heard from Molly and the Children this week and they ware well then times are not Bad here this winter But the thaw has taken off all our Snow wich efects trad to some Degere some thinks that we will have Early Spring while more thinks thair will be A later Spring we were glad to here that Mrs Berry is well and the Rest of her family

Two of the other letters relate to a fugitive from justice who escaped from Deseronto to Elkland, Tioga County, Pennsylvania in 1882. As well as being a butcher, Reuben Cronk was Deseronto’s Chief of Police in the early 1880s. These two letters were both written to Cronk by the postmaster of Elkland, Eugene G. Webb, who was anxious that the fugitive, W. H. Mabey, alias Amos Hicks, should be captured and taken back to Deseronto and equally anxious that his own role in the affair should be kept secret.

Eugene Webb's letter

In this part of the first letter, written on January 28th, 1882, Webb describes the appearance and activities of the fugitive:

…also a lady to whom he was married about two weeks ago.
He has been here about a month or six weeks and is to work at the Shoe Makers trade and is running a small shop here.
He is a man about 5 feet 6 or 8 inches high, small black eyes, black mustatch, wears a black stiff Hat, light Coat and Vest dark Pants and should judge he is of foreign birth.
The lady he married was purported to come from Philadelphia Pa but have since heard she is from Canada.
In mailing a letter at my Office he requested me not to put my dateing stamp on and have surmised he was a bad caracter.
I shall keep perfectly mum and you can call on me and I will tell you where you can find him.
Hopeing I have given you sufficent evidence I must close.
Yours Very Respectfully
E. G. Webb
P.S. Please do not mention who gave you this information and oblige Yours Truly

What crime had Mabey/Hicks committed? Did Chief Cronk actually make the trip to Elkland to retrieve him?

We simply don’t know: sometimes these chance survivals just raise more questions than they answer!