Sentimental Saturday -A Wagner Get-Together

The four siblings were quite literally spread across Canada.

As a result, they did not have many opportunities to all be together, in the same room, at the same time.

In July 1994, one of those rare instances occurred for Ellen’s father to get together with his Wagner siblings.

WAGNER Ivey Gordon Bernice Tess Phyllis Ralph

Seated (l. to r.) are Ivy (Harvey) Wagner, her husband Gordon Wagner, and Bernice (Wagner) Sexsmith. Standing (l. to r.) are Tess (Latimer) Wagner (Ellen’s mother), with Phyllis (Wagner) and her husband Ralph Moore.

As his absence in the photo is rather conspicuous, I suspect that the photo was taken by Ellen’s father Carl Wagner. It is likely that the four Wagner siblings got together likely in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Sadly, only Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Ralph are still with us, having just celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary!

The Foley Brothers in WWI

Gerald and Clarence Foley, two brothers and my mother’s only uncles. They were the only sons of John Foley and Mary Jane Fitzgerald. My mother’s mother was their only sister.

Gerald, born in 1895, was the oldest by one and a half years. Gerald was also my mother’s favourite uncle and I am one of his namesakes (more on the names of the brothers in a future post).

My mother always loved to tell the story of her wedding day when she and my father stood, following the wedding, on the sidewalk in front of the church and were greeted by their many guests. My parents received congratulations and best wishes and then my mother spotted her two uncles sobbing, with tears running down their cheeks. The two brothers grabbed and hugged my father, blurting out “You poor bastard!”

In my journey to learn more about Gerald and Clarence, and frankly about my namesake Uncle Gerald, years ago I was able to obtain both of their World War I attestation, or enlistment, papers. Now, at long last, Library and Archives Canada has digitized and posted their full service files from that war.

Gerald was the first of the brothers to enlist for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Although he was living in Toronto, Ontario, Gerald chose to enlist in Niagara Falls, Ontario on August 8, 1915. He made the required oaths and passed his medical examination. He was noted as standing five feet, five inches in height, had blue eyes and dark brown hair. He became Private Gerald Foley in the 74th Battalion, ‘A’ Company.

FOLEY Gerald WWI oath with signature 1915

Gerald’s service file records that his conduct and character were “good” during his time in the army but on December 21st, 1915, after 134 days of service and training, Private Gerald Foley, regimental number 451984, was paid what was owing and honourably discharged in Toronto, Ontario from the army with the assessment that he was “not likely to become an efficient soldier.” No other details are offered in his 14-page service file. Gerald returned to the family home and working as a teamster with his father’s company.

Clarence on the hand had different circumstances. in 1917, at the age of 21-years, Clarence had married a young lady from his neighborhood named Elizabeth Blunt. Clarence and Elizabeth Foley then set up house one street away from both their respective parents. Like his older brother, Clarence also worked as a teamster in the family business.

After one year of marriage, Clarence was drafted into the army and reported for his enlistment in Toronto, Ontario on October 29, 1918.  Clarence went through the standard medical examination which found that he was five feet, six and one-quarter inches in height, weighed 127 pounds but was temporarily unfit for duty as he was suffering from, well, er, um, a venereal disease.

FOLEY Clarence WWI oath 1918

Timing being what it was, Private Clarence Foley, regimental number 619550 became a short lived soldier in the 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Central Ontario Regiment. On December 22, 1918, Clarence was honourably discharged from the army because the war was over and the army was demobilizing. Clarence was home with his wife Elizabeth for Christmas.

I didn’t know Uncle Clarence as he passed away in October 1954, just months before I was born. I have some memories of Uncle Gerald, my namesake, but unfortunately the most vivid of those memories was attending his funeral with my mother in February 1968. At least, their WWI service files help fill in the broader picture of these important men in my family.


Sentimental Saturday – Dancing With Lisa, The Flower Girl

Twenty-five years ago, my daughter Lisa was a flower girl at the wedding of my late wife’s brother.

Wow, hard to believe it was that long ago. I must have blinked.

Lisa was (and is) beautiful in her white dress and with her hair coiffed for the occasion. How could parents resist having a dance with their little princess, the flower girl!

Lisa (Hadden) Donovan, the flower girl, dancing with Yours Truly, September 1990

Lisa (Hadden) Donovan, the flower girl, dancing with Yours Truly, September 1990

Lisa (Hadden) Donovan, the flower girl, dancing with her mom Karen (Benedetto) Hadden

Lisa (Hadden) Donovan, the flower girl, dancing with her mom Karen (Benedetto) Hadden

Lest We Forget – The Bullet

A single bullet.

Well, technically, it is a shell casing and not a bullet.

The bullet, the destructive projectile, is missing. Long since having left the protective embrace of its casing.

One hundred or so years ago, the bullet left this casing which was subsequently and unceremoniously ejected from a rifle to land at the feet of a German soldier in a field in France.


The markings, worn now with time, tell me that the bullet and casing were manufactured in a German munitions factory in 1915.

Some years ago, a friend had the opportunity to help on an archaeological battlefield dig in France. Using wit and resources, a site for the dig was chosen in what is now a farmer’s field. Eventually, the team unearthed a crude trench where they found the remains of several soldiers, covered literally by the sands of time.

Among the relics found was my ‘bullet,’ one of many rifle shell casings discharged by the German soldiers on the advancing allied forces. My friend was permitted to keep a few casings from the dig, one of which he gifted to me.


What haunts though is what I don’t know about the bullet that once resided in this casing.

It is clear the the bullet was fired at the advancing Canadian, British or American soldiers. But what I don’t know is whether or not that bullet hit it’s mark. I don’t know if a frightened, cold and wet young man lost his life as a result of having been struck the fatal blow of my bullet.

And I think of the German soldier who fired the rifle and ejected this shell casing to his feet. He too was young and cold and wet and scared. Most of all scared. He would not see his family again.

And I am haunted by knowing that I will never know.

This shell casing, filled by and buried deep in the dirt of that farmer’s field in France, now sits on my desk, a daily reminder that we can never forget the sacrifices made by those unknown to us so long ago.

Lest We Forget – The Hadden – Wagner Families Wall Of Honour

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause to reflect and remember those who went before us, bravely sacrificing their youth and in too many cases their lives, for our freedom.

The following is the list of those known brave ancestors, some from my family and some from Ellen’s, who gave so much. Today especially, we remember them. They shall not be forgotten.

World War I

GAMMIE, James (1895-1918), Private, Canadian Expeditionary Force, killed in action

GAMMIE, Peter (1893-1984), Private, Canadian Expeditionary Force (enlisted, not sent overseas)

GORDON, Alexander Garrow Duncan (1891-1917), Private, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, killed in action

MERNER, Albert Edward ‘Herbert’ (1897-1917), Canadian Expeditionary Force, killed in action

TRIGGS, James Little (1899-1916), Cabin Boy, Royal Navy, killed in action

TRIGGS, Phillip (1899-1967), Cabin Boy, Royal Navy

FINDLATER, William (1880-1918), British Army, died at home from wounds

FILKIN, Carl William (1897-1976), Canadian Expeditionary Force, lost left arm to shrapnel gun shot wound in France

World War II

SENATO, Nicola F. (1913-1945), U.S. Army, killed in action, Japan

NUSBICKEL, Thomas Raymond (1923-2002), U.S. Army

GAULL, George Leonard ‘Lenny’ (1920-2013), Canadian Armed Forces

MORGAN, Bruce Evan, M.D. (1924-2007), Navigator, Canadian Air Force

WAGNER, Carl Francis (1917-1993), Canadian Armed Forces

WAGNER, Gordon Gilbert Henry (1914-1994), Canadian Armed Forces

Sentimental Saturday – My Sister’s Christening

I am posting photos each week from my collection and offering an explanation of what I know about the picture.

Well, my sister is having a birthday in the upcoming week so I thought I would share a photo from a (much) earlier time in her life.

Yours Truly with my parents Anne (O'Neill) and Lewis Hadden and my sister Lou-Anne on the day of Lou-Anne's christening

Yours Truly with my parents Anne (O’Neill) and Lewis Hadden and my sister Lou-Anne on the day of Lou-Anne’s christening

This photo is from the day of my sister Lou-Anne’s christening but I don’t know if it was taken before or after the trip to the church. The gown she was wearing gives away the occasion and it was the christening gown we all wore.

In the photo, Yours Truly is seated, and smiling, beside my parents Anne (O’Neill) and Lewis Hadden. My mother is holding my sister Lou-Anne, who doesn’t seem to be having a good time. The photo was taken by an unknown person in the living room of our family home at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto, Ontario.

It was a happy occasion for my parents who had experienced the death of a son, my brother Brian, the year before Lou-Anne was born. My brother Stephen died when Lou-Anne was just three months old and he is not in the family photo. I suspect that Stephen may have been too ill to be included. Based on those observations, I think this photo was taken in late November or early December 1958.

In the large mirror behind us, on the right, you can see image of a guest smiling. The person’s face is partially blocked by a decidedly 1950s lampshade but I think it is my aunt Mary (Raponi) O’Neill who was married to my mother’s brother.

I like this photo as it shows just how 1950s our house decor was and because I can’t stop thinking about how valuable some of the furnishing might be today, cherished by decorators looking for that retro look.

The Return Of The Long-Form Census In Canada For 2016: My Quick Take Editorial

There is much happiness in the land of academia, urban planning, social development among many sectors who have expressed strong opposition to the rather silly, voluntary National Household Survey that posed as the Census of Canada in 2011.

Today, the Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Development alongside the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development announced that the new Canadian government, sworn in just yesterday, was returning the mandatory long-form census for 2016.

There is a strong case to be made for quickly fulfilling this election campaign promise. The change reuired no legislation to be passed and the mandatory census simply produces better data. As my children can attest, I believe that better information produces better decisions. The voluntary census of 2011 resulted in a 77.2% response rate, meaning that more than 20% of all Canadians in that year were not included. This is particularly troublesome for smaller communities and the vulnerable in our society. How can you know where needs exist if more than one-fifth of the population is not surveyed. How can businesses complete reliable forecasts.

“Statistics Canada has always stated that a mandatory survey will inevitably produce data of better overall quality than a voluntary survey of the same size, all other things being equal.” (Wayne R. Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada: 4 June 2015) By comparison to the poor 2011 response rate, the mandatory census survey of 2006 produced a response rate of 93.8%. There is still work to be done to get that number to 100% but ‘better information produces better decisions.’

Genealogists may also be happy with the return of the long-form census but I’m not so quick to jump on that bandwagon. While there will be plenty of statistical data churned and disseminated by StatsCan following completion of the 2016 returns, genealogists will not be able to access the census information until 2108!

In Canada, there is a belief that withholding the rather generic information gathered in a census form for a period of 92 years protects the privacy of the individuals who provided the information. Following the current rules, sometime in 2053, the Canadian government will release the first census in which I will appear, the census of 1961. That census will likely make public that I was 6-years old and attending school. Not quite earth shattering news and certainly not anything that anyone could have guessed. All that information from a form that was not even completed by a family member for in those long ago days, enumerators were hired to go door-to-door, ask the required questions, and complete the forms with the answers received, or at least the answers they thought they heard.

I’m not suggesting or advocating for immediate census access. The risk of identity theft, however real or perceived, does exist. There is a good case to be made for a reasonable amount of privacy. But why 92 years? In the United States, the census is released after a period of 72 years. Why the difference? I know from an historic perspective, reasons can be given about the context in which different governments in certain times decided that these were the best and safest timeframes. The reality is that identity theft and fraud are not new, 21st century crimes.

So, I simply question the current lengthy delay in releasing these public records. Why look at this question now? Well, as newly-minted Prime Minster Justin Trudeau replied yesterday to a question on gender equality in Cabinet, “Because it’s 2015.”

On the other hand, if someone in 2053 wants to pretend to be 98-year old me, have fun with it.