52 Ancestors: Mary Jane Fitzgerald (1864-1899)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

I have always felt a closeness to my great grandmother Mary Jane Fitzgerald even though I have no idea as to what she looked like or, what she liked or disliked. My mother often mentioned the name of Mary Jane Fitzgerald when talking about her own family history and told me that my great grandmother had died young.

Mary Jane Fitzgerald was born into the family of Lewis Fitzgerald and his wife Ellen Daley on 22 May 1864, the fifth of nine known children. Mary Jane’s father, Lewis, was a gardener, one of many who famously farmed the lands east of the Don River in what was then referred to as York Township, now part of the city of Toronto. 

The Fitzgeralds were an Irish Catholic family who attended mass each Sunday at St. Paul’s Basilica, Toronto’s oldest Roman Catholic church. Their church was about four and a half miles away from their home, not very far using today’s means of transportation but I suspect it was not an easy journey in the mid-nineteenth century probably in a horse-drawn wagon over muddy, dusty, or snow-filled rough roads. But the church records from St. Paul’s Basilica show that they were there often as evidenced in Mary Jane’s entry in the church’s baptismal register.




Of Mary Jane’s eight siblings, seven were sisters and it appears that they all remained on the family farm until they married. This was certainly the case for Mary Jane. I am unaware as to how they met but on 25 April 1894 Mary Jane Fitzgerald married John Foley in St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on Leslie Street in Toronto, confirmed by a civil registration, the entry of the marriage in the St. Joseph’s church marriage register and an article in the local Toronto newspaper. The newspaper story provides the further detail that the wedding party and guests went to the home of the bride’s parents for supper and congratulations following the wedding ceremony.

John and Mary Jane Foley lived in this house at 25 Blong Avenue in Toronto. 

25 Blong Avenue, Toronto, Ontario (from Google Streetview)


It was here that they welcomed into their family first Lewis Fitzgerald Foley (or Gerald as he was always known) on 17 February 1895, William Clarence Foley on 28 September 1896, and finally, my grandmother Ellen Gertrude Foley on 16 April 1898. 

It was also in this house that Mary Jane’s story came to an abrupt and premature end when she died on 9 April 1899, just a week before her daughter’s first birthday. The cause of death listed on her death registration was septic poisoning. Mary Jane was only 34 years old.

Mary Jane (Fitzgerald) Foley was buried at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Toronto in the same grave as her mother who predeceased her five years earlier. Ten years later, Mary Jane’s father Lewis would join them in the same burial plot to eternally rest in peace.

52 Ancestors: Anne Margaret (O’Neill) Hadden (1930-1994)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

It is Mother’s Day! A day on which for years we have paid tribute to the women who have worked, sweated and sacrificed to make certain our lives were better than their own. Our mothers. I could see no better way to celebrate today than to honour my own mother by re-posting the following the tribute I wrote that marked the 20th anniversary of her leaving us earlier this year. 

I can offer an update to the post however, as I was recently startled while researching through archived pages of the Toronto Star newspaper, to find a small wedding announcement for my parents that appeared in the 16 September 1953 edition. The ‘article’ was essentially two or three rows of small photos of Fall brides and there among the lot was my mother wearing her nurse’s cap. It is likely that her nursing school graduation photo was used.

Anne Margaret Hadden (nee O’Neill), ‘Mom’ to me, left us 20 years ago today, on January 8, 1994, a victim of cancer. She left behind a husband, her children, and perhaps most important to her, her beloved grandchildren.


Anne (also known as ‘Anna’, ‘Mom’, and ‘Granny’) was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her parents had moved to Detroit from their home in Toronto, Ontario because work was available for my grandfather – and finding work in the Depression era of the 1930’s was important. My mother’s older brother, Edwin (‘Ed’) had been born in Toronto a couple of years prior to the family move and a couple of years after my mother’s birth, the family expanded again in Detroit with the birth of William (‘Bill’) O’Neill.


Following the 1937 death of my mother’s paternal grandmother in Toronto, the family moved back to the Toronto east end house my grandfather had inherited. The same house became my parent’s home after they married in 1953 and was the house that I was raised in through my early childhood years.

My mother graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1948 and entered nursing school as it was referred to then at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1952. My mother loved nursing but took a hiatus from her work from the mid-1950’s through the early 1960’s during which time she gave birth to five children in six years, only three of whom survived to adulthood. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I could even fathom the anguish my parents must have experienced at the deaths of my brothers Brian (1956-1957) and Stephen (1957-1959).

My mother often displayed an off-beat, quirky sense of humour. While in high school, she and a friend would pass a local funeral parlour while walking home from school. They started making it a habit to stop in and visit the funeral parlour each day – just to see who was there! The anecdotes from her professional life working in a hospital ranged from technical medical procedures to the bizarre. Her favourite however was always ‘The Chocolate Cake’ story.

St. Michael’s Hospital, or St. Mike’s as it is locally known, operated in an older part of the city not known for glitz and glamour. As such my mother’s patients were often those that suffered from alcoholism and mental illnesses. My mother worked on “1D”, a first floor unit that was close to the street and all that the rundown neighbourhood had to offer. She worked with a close-knit team of nurses and they used any occasion to brighten otherwise tough days.

One such occasion was the birthday of a colleague unit nurse. Mom’s best fiend, Marie (known in our house as ‘the tall blonde’) baked the birthday cake and spread far more chocolate icing on it than was required. As Marie was carrying the cake into work for the birthday celebration, the cake fell out of it’s box, landing on the floor of the hospital’s first floor lobby. My mother and Marie quickly assessed that with the excess icing, the cake could easily be salvaged by re-spreading the icing that remained.

A short time later as my mother was walking through the lobby, she encountered two nuns dressed in their full black habits (the hospital was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order). The nuns, thinking that someone had defecated on the floor, called to my mother and pointed out the brown lump. Without missing a beat, my mother told the nuns not to worry and promptly put her finger into the ‘lump’ then put her finger bearing the brown goo into her mouth, proclaiming “Ummmm, it’s wonderful!” The shocked nuns hastily left to report that a nurse was having some kind of breakdown.

In her retirement years, my mother shopped, a lot. She explained to me that she was simply exercising her “God given right to spoil” her grandchildren.

My mother died at home, just as she wished. My father arranged for a hospital bed to be installed in her room, affectionately referred to as ‘The Nest.’ As an experienced and knowledgeable nurse, she knew that her body was failing. So, a few weeks before her death, she asked me, as I was a church musician, if I would sing at her funeral. When I agreed to her request, she asked if I thought I would be able to given the emotion of the time. I told her that I didn’t know how I would do as I had never sang at her funeral before. She smiled and asked me what song I would sing. I quickly replied that the first thing to come to mind was Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead from the Wizard of Oz. Our laughter at that moment is still a precious memory and I won’t repeat the name she called me.


Her death came quietly, as it is said, ‘like a thief in the night.’ Our whole family had been gathered around Mom throughout the day on January 7th. We all left the house late at night to put our own children to bed in their respective homes. Within two hours of leaving, my father called to summon us back to our parental home. I drove my sister to our parents’ home that night through a raging blizzard and when we entered the house, our father looked at me and with the slightest shake of his head, I knew we were too late. Hours later, my father and I stood in the doorway to the house as Mom left her house for the final time, now in the care of the funeral directors.

                                         Anne (O’Neill) Hadden with 5-month old Ian Hadden



Our rather large church was filled to capacity for her funeral on January 11, 1994. A fitting tribute to a wonderful woman who gave so much of herself to those she loved and cared for. And, I sang!

Paying Respects to Brian and Stephen Hadden

I’m really not sure why I do it but for over thirty years, I have made a point of regularly visiting the grave of my brothers, Brian Joseph Hadden and Stephen Gerard Hadden. Maybe it’s because I want to ensure they are not forgotten, or because I wonder what life might have been like had they lived, or because it’s what a big brother is supposed to do. Maybe I visit their grave because I fantasize about the real torment we could have caused had they been around to join my brother Bob and I in terrorizing our sister! I like to think that I visit their grave simply because it’s the right thing to do, at least for me.

Gravestone for Brian Joseph Hadden and Stephen Gerard Hadden, 
Mount Hope Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 
(photo by Ian Hadden)


Brian was born 25 Nov 1956 and passed away at the age of two months and twelve days on 6 Feb 1957. Stephen was born 2 Dec 1957 and died at the age of one year, two months and twelve days on 14 Feb 1959. Both died as the result of congenital hydrocephalus.

I have no recollection of Brian likely because he did not come home from the hospital but I do remember Stephen. I specifically remember sharing a small bedroom with him in our parent’s home. My mother always explained to me that Stephen stayed with my parents in their bedroom, sleeping in a bassinet until our sister was born a few months before Stephen died. My mother moved Stephen to the larger crib but he was not happy out of the bassinet so, he kept the bassinet and our sister got the crib. I also remember the day Stephen died and my mother’s explanation to me that he had gone to “play with the angels.”

Ian Hadden with his mother Anne (nee O’Neill) Hadden and brother, Stephen Hadden, 1958


When my mother passed away in 1994, my father gave me the only photo of Stephen that exists. He told me that my mother wanted me to have it.  The photo (since scanned) remains one of my most prized family records.  

52 Ancestors: Uncle Gerald Foley (1895-1968)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

Uncle Gerald Foley was my mother’s favourite uncle, so favoured that my middle name of Gerald was given to me as a tribute to her uncle. Unfortunately, I never really knew Uncle Gerald and have no memories of time spent with him, although Uncle Gerald’s funeral was the first funeral that I attended and I do remember much of that occasion.

Uncle Gerald is also the subject of some of the most important lessons I learned about researching my family history. I began my genealogical pursuits in the ‘dark ages’ before computers, databases, and digital images had been heard of. There were no television commercials extolling me to just type in a name and open a whole world of family connections. No, I had to go to libraries and archives to search through file cards that directed me to other file cards and eventually snippets of information.

One of the first ancestors I wanted to research was Uncle Gerald because of my name connection to him. The problem – no Gerald Foley was born in Ontario, Canada when Uncle Gerald should have been born!

Gerald’s parents, my great grandparents, John Foley and his wife Mary Jane Fitzgerald were married at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on 25 April 1894 in Toronto, Ontario. I have the family oral tradition, a copy of their civil marriage registration, a copy of their church marriage registration and a newspaper article about the wedding as evidence of that marriage. Their three children were born likely between the date of the marriage and 1899 when my grandmother, the youngest of their three children was said to have been born. Even with that narrow search window, I could find no Gerald Foley.

Eventually, computers, databases and digital images became available. I searched for Gerald Foley. Nothing. I tried his brother Clarence Foley. Nothing. Surely I would find my grandmother Gertrude Foley. Again, nothing. How could three children, born within about a five year period, in a time of compulsory civil registration not be found in the civil birth registrations for the Province of Ontario?

This is where I learned my lesson. The names the family used for them were not their first given names. Each of the three children’s births had, in fact been registered by their father John Foley, a man who was an astoundingly successful businessman but who was, according to family oral tradition, illiterate. John Foley had been taught to sign his name and he had, in fact, registered the births of his children, signing all three birth registrations.

Uncle Gerald was registered as Louis Fitzgerald Foley. I later found his baptismal registration showing that he was baptized as Lewis Fitzgerald Foley but the family called him Gerald, a name he used and answered to his whole life. Clarence Foley was registered as William Dorsey Foley but his baptismal registration entry clearly shows him to be William Clarence Foley. My grandmother, Gertrude Foley was Ellen Gertrude Foley. Assuming the names the family used were the names to be researched kept me frustrated for a very long time. It is clear that the children of John and Mary Foley were called by and throughout their lives used their middle names.


The Foley family plot gravestone, 
Mount Hope Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 
(photo taken by Ian Hadden)



On a very recent visit to Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, I stopped in at the cemetery’s administration office as obituaries for my Foley uncles informed me that they were both buried there. Uncle Gerald’s obituary was published as “Gerald Lewis Foley” and Uncle Clarence’s obituary was published as “Clarence W. Foley.” I was provided with copies of their internment records (a huge bonus as a genealogist!) and learned that they were buried along with their father John Foley and his second wife, their step-mother Annie McElroy. John Foley’s grave was very familiar to me. I have visited and paid my respects many times. The names of my uncles also buried in that Foley plot however do not appear on the gravestone nor elsewhere on the family plot. But now I know where to find and pay respect to my ‘sort-of namesake.’

52 Ancestors: Agnes Little (1908-1958)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

Agnes Little was ‘Granny’ to me. My paternal grandmother, she was as her surname implied small in stature at just four feet, ten inches in height, but a giant force in her family.




Agnes was born, according to her birth registration, at 6:10 AM at 1 Harvie Lane in the West District of Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. She joined her young parents, James Little, an 19-year old apprentice iron caulker (better known now as a riveter), and his wife Margaret Mitchell, an 18-year old mother of one, that is Agnes’ older brother Edward Sweeney Little. Agnes’ parents had married in March 1906 when they were just 17 and 16 years old respectively. Over the next few years, Agnes would be there to welcome two additional brothers and a sister into her parent’s family.

Perhaps it was a sense of adventure but more likely, it was a desire to find greater opportunity under the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 that lead Agnes to leave Scotland in 1928. And so, on 16 Jun 1928, with her one-way, third class ticket in hand, Agnes boarded the ship ‘Regina’ of the infamous White Star Line in the Port of Greenock bound for Quebec City in Canada. Her immigration records show that Agnes had been working as a domestic servant in Greenock but planned to work as a “Ward Maid” in Toronto, Ontario where she had accommodation waiting for her at the Salvation Army Hostel.

I can’t imagine that I have ever had enough of a sense of adventure nor the bravery that I think was needed to make this kind of move. As my children know, my sense of adventure has a much smaller geographic reach, larger than that of my parents, but still incredibly minute when compared to my grandmother. And, Agnes relocated thousands of miles from the only home she knew with only $10 in her possession!

Before leaving Scotland, Agnes was told that when she arrived in Toronto, she could look up the Haddens, a family of Scots who had emigrated to Canada just a few years earlier. Agnes did as she was told and by October 1929 she was married to the youngest Hadden son, John.

Agnes died at the too young an age of 50 on 18 Nov 1958 and is interred at Pine Hills Cemetery in Toronto. 


While I remember her, I admit the memories are now vague but my mother loved to recall for me how Agnes, two weeks before she passed away and in spite of the debilitating anguish of the cancer that would claim her life, mustered up the strength to hide from me and feign fright when I visited her to show off my Halloween costume. 

And of course, my mother never failed to remind me of Granny’s favourite expression, spoken with her best Scottish brogue, “Me tongue’s me passport.”


52 Ancestors: John Gaull Hadden – The Milkman I Knew

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

This week I am coming a little bit closer to home and profiling my paternal grandfather, John Gaull Hadden.

John Gaull Hadden, aged about 18.



His beginnings were much like much of his life – quite humble. John Gaull Hadden was born on 9 Mar 1910 in a little dwelling at 9 Pirie’s Lane in Woodside, Aberdeen, Scotland, the son of Alexander Shand Hadden and Jessie McKenzie Gaull. He was the fourth son born to the couple in six years. Sadly, the brother born immediately before John, a boy named Lewis, died eleven months before John’s arrival. John would later name his own first son after the brother he did not have a chance to know.

An image of 6 Pirie’s Lane, Woodside, Aberdeen, Scotland from Google’s Streetview


When John was thirteen years old, on 9 Nov 1923, he boarded a ship named the ‘Metagama’ in the Port of Glasgow. John was with his mother Jessie, oldest brother Alex and younger sister Edith as they began a voyage across the Atlantic ocean to join John’s father and his brother Andy, who had made a similar voyage a few months earlier, in Canada. They sailed in the third class section on the ship would take them to Quebec City where they would transfer to rail cars, eventually making it to their final destination of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, just in time for their first experience of winter on the Canadian prairies.

The records that document their passage make it clear that this was intended as a permanent relocation. Saskatchewan however provided only a temporary home for the Hadden family. In 1927, on the death of Alexander Shand Hadden’s step-father, Andrew Gammie, the Hadden family needed to relocate one more time.

The second relocation took the Hadden family, minus brother Andy who decided to remain in Saskatchewan, to Toronto and the east end neighbourhood that became ‘ground zero’ for the family as it is known today. Canadian census records, voters lists, and city directories show that for the next several decades, the family and its members lived in a number of houses and that all residences were east of the central Toronto dividing line of Yonge Street.

John married Agnes Little, who was also a recent immigrant from Scotland, on 29 Oct 1929. Together they had to struggle through the Depression era when finding work to provide for the family’s sustenance was extremely difficult. John’s employment opportunities were a series of short term jobs until 17 Dec 1935 when he was hired by Silverwood Dairies as a “Milk Route Salesman.” That’s the company’s official name for the position but to everyone else, John became a Milkman, delivering milk and other dairy products on his prescribed route, initially by horse drawn wagon.

When I was young, one of my great thrills was helping my grandfather balance his milk route receipts. My grandfather, in our family tradition was known to me as ‘Pop’, just as my father has been ‘Pop’ to my children and now, I am ‘Pop’ to my children’s children. Pop would pick me up, usually on a Sunday afternoon and take me to the dairy building where I would operate the large adding machine by punching in the numbers he would call out to me, pulling the large lever on the side of the machine after each number and with one final level pull, getting the total of the receipts. My reward for all of this effort, a carton of chocolate milk. Knowing the reward, was all I needed to motivate my efforts as a six year old.

I am fortunate that I began researching my family’s history 30 plus years ago and as a result, Silverwood Dairy had no privacy related policies or concerns when they provided me with a full report on my grandfather’s employment history with them. The report shows that John received a couple of promotions, first in 1947 to Milk Route Inspector and then in 1953 to Milk Route Foreman.

John Gaull Hadden in 1985


In August 1970, John was involved in a serious automobile accident, documented in the Silverwood’s report, and as a result he was off work for an extended time to recover. Finally in February of 1971, unable to return to work, he retired. John’s retirement years saw his health slowly decline but he never lost his Scottish brogue and that little twinkle in his eyes that I remember so well. John died soon after his 89th birthday, hopefully at peace following a very hard life.

52 Ancestors: Lewis Fitzgerald (1837-1910)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

This week I’m sticking with my maternal ancestral line and turning the focus on my great-great grandfather Lewis Fitzgerald (Lewis’ daughter Mary Jane was my great grandmother – Mary Jane’s daughter Gertrude Ellen Foley was my grandmother – and; Gertrude’s daughter Anne Margaret O’Neill was my mother).

Lewis was born on 9 July 1837, the son of Daniel Fitzgerald and Rebecca Noble. Lewis’ father, Daniel hailed from County Waterford in Ireland, a land he left in 1825 likely for the opportunities presented in the United States, settling in Cape Vincent, Jefferson County, New York just across a strait of the St. Lawrence River from Wolfe Island and Canada. The reasons are not known but around 1843, Daniel and Rebecca moved their family to a one hundred acre parcel of land that Daniel purchased in York Township, just east of the then border of the city of Toronto.

Lewis married Ellen Daley (also seen as Daily in some records) on 11 Sept 1856 in St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Basilica, located at Queen Street East and Power Street in Toronto. The church which was located about four miles from their home became a central point in their lives and the church’s records reveal not just their marriage but the baptisms of their nine children. According to the History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario, Vol. 2 by Adam and Mulvany (published in 1885), Lewis and Ellen raised their children on a fifteen acre, eventually twenty-five acre, garden and fruit farm located on Lot 8, Concession 2 in York Township. (For those familiar with the city of Toronto, these lands are located within a boundary of Danforth Ave to the south, Woodbine Avenue to the east, Cosburn Avenue to the north, and Coxwell Avenue to the west.)



Above is a snippet view from an 1880 map of the “South East Part of York”, showing the Lewis Fitzgerald farm towards the lower left, across from the Clergy Reserve, and ‘just down the street’ from his brother Joseph Fitzgerald’s land, originally owned by Daniel Fitzgerald homestead.


 Life seemed good for Lewis but in 1894, his wife Ellen was diagnosed with cancer and died at the young age of 53. Sometime following her death, Lewis gave up farming, moved into a house at 48 Brooklyn Avenue in Toronto’s east end and found employment as a Utilities Worker.

It was in this house that gas from an unlit lamp silently filled his living space, accidentally causing asphyxia and a premature death for Lewis Fitzgerald on 7 Jan 1910. Lewis was buried in the Fitzgerald family plot in St, Michael’s Cemetery, Toronto.

52 Ancestors: John Graham O’Neill (1895 – 1979)

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.



This week I am profiling John Graham O’Neill, my maternal grandfather. It wasn’t wasn’t until he had died that I knew his first name was John as he always went by his middle name of Graham. ‘Granddad’ as I knew him always had personalized Christmas cards printed each year and below the holiday text was his name “J. Graham O’Neill.” When I was younger I wondered what his first name might be and imagined that it must have been something quite terrible in order for him to think using Graham was better.

My grandfather was the first child of William Emmett O’Neill, an insurance salesman, and Margaret Graham. He was born on 26 June 1895 in a house on Claremont Avenue (now Claremont Street) in the Trinity Bellwoods district of Toronto, Ontario. He would be joined in 1896 and 1898 respectively by his sisters Kathleen (who in later years became Sister St. Edwin in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph) and Avila.

According to my mother, sometime in his younger days, my Grandfather lost his left eye when a dart inadvertently was misthrown. I never asked Granddad about his eye, purely out of politeness. As a result, when other young men and likely many of his friends were enlisting to fight in World War 1, Granddad was left on the sidelines.

My grandfather married my grandmother, Gertrude Ellen Foley, on 23 June 1926. According to a newspaper article from 25 June 1926, their wedding reception was held at the home of my grandmother’s parents. and my grandfather gave his bride a gift of a white gold wristwatch. Following the reception, my grandparents headed off on a honeymoon trip to Rochester, New York, then to Cleveland, Ohio and finally to Detroit Michigan. When they returned home after the trip, they lived in the home they received as a gift from my grandmother’s father (John Foley) at 189 Pickering Street.

J. Graham O’Neill was a sports fan and a raconteur. I loved listening to his stories, hearing about the city of Toronto as my grandfather experienced it at the turn of the 20th century and listening to his anecdotes about the many people he had come to meet and know well. I think to my mother, her father’s stories were too fantastic to be taken seriously but as I researched my grandfather over the years I have only been able uncover evidence that his stories were all based in truth.

Some of my most cherished memories involve my grandfather and sports. He regularly took me to ‘old’ Maple Leaf Stadium to watch the International League Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team games featuring a team that baseball Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson played for and managed. Maple Leaf Stadium, with it’s multi-billboard outfield fence, was located on the shore of Lake Ontario. From the stands, I would watch the game and if we were there over the Labour Day weekend, it was a great venue for watching the annual Canadian National Exhibition air show. I soon learned that if I went to the top row of the stadium, I could look out onto Fort York, the historic site from which soldiers defended Canada so many years earlier.

I also owe some of my love for hockey to my grandfather. You see, my parents really were not hockey fans, so on Saturday night, “Hockey Night in Canada,” I would walk the two houses over to my grandfather’s house and watch the games of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of multiple Stanley Cups in those days. Granddad always sat in his deep green armchair while I occupied the matching green sofa under the front window. My placement on the sofa was somewhat strategic on my grandfather’s part as he knew that I usually would not be to stay awake until the end of the game, so the sofa became my bed.

I really wish I had taken the time to talk to my grandfather more about the changes he witnessed in his lifetime throughout the 20th century. Most regrettably though I wish I had told him that he was going to be a great-grandfather. My late wife, Karen and I found out in early December 1979 that we were expecting our first child. We decided to wait until Christmas to tell our immediate families. My grandfather passed away a week later on December 10, 1979 before I could tell him the news. I still wish that I had made that telephone call to him to share the news and swear him to secrecy. His first great grandchild that I never got to tell him about was named John Graham, partly in tribute to him.

Even in death, J. Graham O’Neill was making stories to endure when the hearse carrying his remains got separated from the funeral procession and was lost for several long minutes in the streets of Toronto while on the way to Mount Hope Cemetery and my grandfather’s final resting place. He would have loved that and told the story to all who would listen, repeatedly.

52 Ancestors Sunday: John Foley (1863-1927)

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, on a weekly basis and usually one of my direct ancestors, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

I am going to start with my favourite ancestor, one of my maternal great grandfathers, John Foley.

One of the catalysts to my family research research was the death of my maternal grandfather. He was unfortunately for me the last possible link to someone who knew John Foley and might have been able to tell me about him. As a result, all I know about John Foley comes from family stories and the many records I have found that document his life and death.



According to his gravestone, John Foley was born February 16, 1864 and died January 13, 1927. He died before my mother or any of her siblings were born. His gravestone also records that he was the husband of Annie McElroy (born May 5, 1864; died March 5, 1950). The gravestone is located in Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

My mother told me that John Foley was a wealthy and successful businessman – a teamster and developer who built homes. According to the family story, John Foley was from Barrie, Ontario and that he had been orphaned at a young age. According to the family story, John died suddenly in Florida having gone there to sell some land he owned. The family story also holds that John could neither read nor write but that he had learned to sign his name, a necessity for business purposes.

John Foley’s birth pre-dates civil registration in the Province of Ontario, Canada (civil registration commenced in 1869). As a result, it took some time and a fair amount of tedious digging to find his baptism registration. The family story was correct in that John Foley was from the Barrie, Ontario area. According to his baptism registration, he was born on February 16, 1863 (note that this is one year earlier than the date on his gravestone) and he was baptized at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Barrie on February 21, 1863. In the church baptismal register his surname is misspelled as ‘Froley.’ (Source: Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church (Barrie, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada), Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, Page 71, No. 706, Birth and Baptismal Record for John Foley (misspelled as ‘Froley’ in register); digital image, Family Search (www.familysearch.org : digital image 21 January 2012).

In the 1871 Census of Canada, John can be found living with his parents and siblings in Barrie, Ontario. However, in the 1881 Census of Canada, John is found living in Vespra, near Barrie, with three of his siblings. His parents cannot be found in the census records lending credence to the story of John having been orphaned at a ‘young’ age. Further research found that John’s father, William Foley had died in 1880. I have been unable to find John Foley in the 1891 Census of Canada.

By 1894, things were going much better for John. The banns were read so that on April 25, 1894 John married Mary Jane Fitzgerald at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Toronto. The marriage was recorded both in the church’s marriage register and with the province. The local newspaper, the Toronto Evening Star (as it was then called, now the Toronto Daily Star) even contained a small story in the next day’s edition about the wedding stating, “Mr. John Foley and Miss Fitzgerald were quietly married yesterday evening in St. Joseph’s church, Leslie street, by Father Fagan [it was actually Father William Bergin who officiated at the marriage]. After the ceremony an adjournment was made to the residence of the bride’s parents, Brooklin avenue, where supper was served and the happy couple received the congratulations of their friends.”

By 1899, things were going well for John and Mary. They had a home at 25 Blong Avenue where they were raising their three children, two boys and a girl. However, that all came crashing to a halt when on April 9, 1899, following a three week illness, Mary Jane died at the age of only 31 of septic poisoning. John’s youngest child, my grandmother Gertrude, had turned one year of age only a couple of weeks earlier.

Eventually John Foley was able to once again bounce back from his tragic loss and on October 14, 1903, John married Annie Teresa McElroy, a native of Thornhill, Ontario. John became a father for the fourth time in 1905 when his third son, and only child with his wife Annie, John Joseph ‘Jack’ Foley was born.

John and Annie settled with the four children into the biggest house on their street in Toronto’s east end and remained there until John was in his 60’s. John retired and he and Annie then did what we would call ‘downsize’ when they moved to 249 Queensdale Avenue in Toronto. It was at this residence that a ‘bon voyage’ party, complete with a small orchestra, was held prior to the start of John and Annie’s 1927 trip that commenced on January 4th. 

John Foley died on January 13, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. His remains were returned to Toronto where his funeral mass and internment took place on January 18, 1927.

John Foley left an estate valued, at current values, of more than $1 million.

I have no photos of John but would love to receive one. I have an image in my mind of my great grandfather and I am certain that there were likely many photos taken of John and his family members. I just don’t know where they might be and those family members I have asked, don’t seem to know either.



Anne Margaret (O’Neill) Hadden – In Memoriam – She Left Us 20 Years Ago Today

Anne Margaret Hadden (nee O’Neill), ‘Mom’ to me, left us 20 years ago today, on January 8, 1994, a victim of cancer. She left behind a husband, her children, and perhaps most important to her, her beloved grandchildren.

Anne (also known as ‘Anna’, ‘Mom’, and ‘Granny’) was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her parents had moved to Detroit from their home in Toronto, Ontario because work was available for my grandfather – and finding work in the Depression era of the 1930’s was important. My mother’s older brother, Edwin (‘Ed’) had been born in Toronto a couple of years prior to the family move and a couple of years after my mother’s birth, the family expanded again in Detroit with the birth of William (‘Bill’) O’Neill.


Following the 1937 death of my mother’s paternal grandmother in Toronto, the family moved back to the Toronto east end house my grandfather had inherited. The same house became my parent’s home after they married in 1953 and was the house that I was raised in through my early childhood years.

My mother graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1948 and entered nursing school as it was referred to then at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1952. My mother loved nursing but took a hiatus from her work from the mid-1950’s through the early 1960’s during which time she gave birth to five children in six years, only three of whom survived to adulthood. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I could even fathom the anguish my parents must have experienced at the deaths of my brothers Brian (1956-1957) and Stephen (1957-1959).

My mother often displayed an off-beat, quirky sense of humour. While in high school, she and a friend would pass a local funeral parlour while walking home from school. They started making it a habit to stop in and visit the funeral parlour each day – just to see who was there! The anecdotes from her professional life working in a hospital ranged from technical medical procedures to the bizarre. Her favourite however was always ‘The Chocolate Cake’ story.

St. Michael’s Hospital, or St. Mike’s as it is locally known, operated in an older part of the city not known for glitz and glamour. As such my mother’s patients were often those that suffered from alcoholism and mental illnesses. My mother worked on “1D”, a first floor unit that was close to the street and all that the rundown neighbourhood had to offer. She worked with a close-knit team of nurses and they used any occasion to brighten otherwise tough days.

One such occasion was the birthday of a colleague unit nurse. Mom’s best fiend, Marie (known in our house as ‘the tall blonde’) baked the birthday cake and spread far more chocolate icing on it than was required. As Marie was carrying the cake into work for the birthday celebration, the cake fell out of it’s box, landing on the floor of the hospital’s first floor lobby. My mother and Marie quickly assessed that with the excess icing, the cake could easily be salvaged by re-spreading the icing that remained.

A short time later as my mother was walking through the lobby, she encountered two nuns dressed in their full black habits (the hospital was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order). The nuns, thinking that someone had defecated on the floor, called to my mother and pointed out the brown lump. Without missing a beat, my mother told the nuns not to worry and promptly put her finger into the ‘lump’ then put her finger bearing the brown goo into her mouth, proclaiming “Ummmm, it’s wonderful!” The shocked nuns hastily left to report that a nurse was having some kind of breakdown.

In her retirement years, my mother shopped, a lot. She explained to me that she was simply exercising her “God given right to spoil” her grandchildren.

My mother died at home, just as she wished. My father arranged for a hospital bed to be installed in her room, affectionately referred to as ‘The Nest.’ As an experienced and knowledgeable nurse, she knew that her body was failing. So, a few weeks before her death, she asked me, as I was a church musician, if I would sing at her funeral. When I agreed to her request, she asked if I thought I would be able to given the emotion of the time. I told her that I didn’t know how I would do as I had never sang at her funeral before. She smiled and asked me what song I would sing. I quickly replied that the first thing to come to mind was Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead from the Wizard of Oz. Our laughter at that moment is still a precious memory and I won’t repeat the name she called me.


Her death came quietly, as it is said, ‘like a thief in the night.’ Our whole family had been gathered around Mom throughout the day on January 7th. We all left the house late at night to put our own children to bed in their respective homes. Within two hours of leaving, my father called to summon us back to our parental home. I drove my sister to our parents’ home that night through a raging blizzard and when we entered the house, our father looked at me and with the slightest shake of his head, I knew we were too late. Hours later, my father and I stood in the doorway to the house as Mom left her house for the final time, now in the care of the funeral directors.

                                         Anne (O’Neill) Hadden with 5-month old Ian Hadden



Our rather large church was filled to capacity for her funeral on January 11, 1994. A fitting tribute to a wonderful woman who gave so much of herself to those she loved and cared for. And, I sang!