Sentimental Saturday – Christmas Mornings

Christmas morning is always special for those who celebrate the holiday.

We remember back to the days of our childhood and the anticipation of seeing the Christmas tree, all aglow, with gifts from Santa all around.

Or, perhaps, we remember the excited looks on the faces of our own children as they made there way to the Christmas tree.

The excitement is palpable. Shrieks of joy are allowed. Christmas morning was one of the few times when a little bit of shrieking was tolerated.

If you were the oldest child in the family as I was, and as was my late wife Karen, everything you saw was yours! No sharing. You didn’t even need to read gift tags because every gift tag had your name on it.

HADDEN Ian Christmas morning 1958-59

Yours Truly, Christmas morning, about 1957

BENEDETTO Karen Ann 25 Dec 1959

Karen Benedetto, December 25, 1959




Sentimental Saturday – Visiting Santa

Each year. Every year.

It was important to visit with Santa, just to be certain that he knew what we wanted to find under our Christmas tree.

Often the meeting location was the local mall. But just as often it was the work or office Christmas party.

The location was not the important point. The essential point of the outing was ensuring Santa was aware of the expectations.

Here is the photographic record of some of those Santa encounters.


Yours Truly with my sister Lou-Anne and brother Bob (seated on Santa’s lap), probably from around 1964

My mother knit the sweater I was wearing. It was during the Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett furor.

HADDEN Ian and Karen Family with Santa 1984

Yours Truly with my late wife Karen, in 1984, with our then two children John and baby Lisa, who was more interested at the time in Santa’s beard than what was to be under the tree on Christmas morning.

HADDEN Jenna with Santa 1990

Our youngest, Jenna with Santa at an office Christmas party in 1990.

HADDEN Karen Benedetto with Santa office party 1996

My late wife Karen at an office Christmas party around 1991.




The Last Christmas Card From J. Graham O’Neill

We all have memories and stories to share about our family members and ancestors.

Some of these, over time, get embellished and grow to mythical proportion.

For me, however, I didn’t really need embellishment nor mythology to view my grandfather John Graham O’Neill as legend.

My grandfather was known throughout his life as Graham. As a child, I knew the initial of his first name was ‘J.’ It was ever present as he signed things off ‘J. Graham O’Neill.’


John Graham O’Neill a.k.a. J. Graham O’Neill

I wondered how awful a name that ‘J’ must have stood for that he would consider ‘Graham’ the better choice to be known by.

I called him ‘Granddad.’ He was my mother’s father and in my earliest years, he and my grandmother, his wife Gertrude Ellen Foley, lived just two doors away from my family home.

Granddad was born June 26, 1895 in Toronto, Ontario. He married my grandmother ‘Nanna’ in 1926. Together, they would have five children, four boys and one girl. The eldest and youngest sons, John William and Michael did not survive infancy, dying from hydrocephalus, the same condition that took the lives of my brothers a generation later. The only girl in the family was my mother.

I did a lot with Granddad. He and I shared a love of sports. So we frequently attended Toronto Maple Leaf baseball games (a ‘AAA’ International League team that operated prior to a major league franchised starting play in Toronto). I watched Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night in Granddad’s living room because my parents were not hockey fans so not interested in having the game on the television at our house. He would shout the scores of day games in progress as I played road hockey in front of his house with my friends.

Most of the time, I just listened to Granddad and the stories he told. He was a master storyteller, though sometimes he was dismissed as having too active an imagination. My subsequent research has provided evidence that everything he told me was true.

On December 3, 1979, my late wife Karen and I found out that we were going to be parents for the first time. Our excitement at the prospect of having a baby was palpable. When should we tell our families? How should we tell them? And, what names for the baby should we be considering?

I wanted to call Granddad and let him know that he was going to be a great grandfather. I had heard the names of my great grandfathers but they had all died many years before I was born. But my child was going to know his great grandfather.

Then, on December 10th, 1979, just a week later and 36 years ago today, I got a call from my mother. Granddad had died that morning. He died suddenly. The people my grandfather lived with heard his alarm clock come on, they heard the alarm clock being turned off, and then … silence.

I’m not ashamed to recount that I shed many tears that cold December day.

In the days that followed, we gathered for Granddad’s funeral; we laughed at how somehow appropriate it was that the hearse bearing his body got lost and left the funeral procession enroute from the church to the cemetery. Another great story he would love to tell.

HADDEN Ian last Christmas card from grandfath J Graham O'Neill

When I returned home from the funeral and checked the mail, there was his last message to me. “Best wishes for a Joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year.”

Granddad’s Christmas card had arrived (a card I have kept safely stored ever since it’s arrival).

The following summer, Karen and I welcomed our son into our family, the great grandson that Granddad would never meet. His great grandson John Graham Hadden.


Sentimental Saturday – Life As A ‘Roadie’

In 2005, Ellen and I learned that our good friend Johnny Burke was going to be inducted into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony was to take place in Moncton, New Brunswick and we certainly didn’t want to miss the opportunity of sharing such a prestigious honour being bestowed a good friend. So, we decided to drive down to Moncton to be part of the festivities.

In the few days immediately following the induction ceremony, Johnny, a native of New Brunswick, was headlining a few concerts so we tagged along. In the course of the tour, I jumped in to help with the packing and unpacking of Johnny’s equipment. Thus began and ended my very short life as a roadie! (But I was the roadie for a Hall of Fame inductee, not just some run-of-mill megastar).

HADDEN Ian as Johnny Burke NB hall of fame roadie 2005

Yours Truly working (?) as a roadie, New Brunswick, Canada, 2005

Seven years later in 2012, Johnny became just the 51st artist to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Well, we couldn’t miss out on being present to see our friend achieve the ultimate national honour in Canadian country music. So another trip was planned but with a slight twist.

We had already committed to being in Halifax, Nova Scotia the week before the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Not to be deterred, we drove the 3,000 miles or 4,900 kilometers from Halifax to Saskatoon, stopping at our home in southern Ontario along the way to do laundry.

BURKE Johnny at CCMA HOF 2012

Johnny Burke, Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2012

Not only was it a great adventure and an honour to celebrate our friend’s achievement but it was a great way to see the country: the ruggedness of New Brunswick, the breathtaking views of the Lake Superior north shore and flat terrain of the prairie provinces. Memories that will last a lifetime!


Sentimental Saturday – Honouring My Brothers

Around this time every year, I pause to think of my brothers who left our family far too soon.

At this time of year, we would have been right in middle of celebrating their birthdays.

Brian Joseph Hadden was born November 25, 1956, and died February 3, 1957. Stephen Gerard Hadden was born December 2, 1957, and died February 16, 1959.

Brian spent his short life in Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, never having the chance to join us at home. As a result, I sadly have no real memories of Brian.

Stephen, on the other hand, did come home from the hospital and I have many vivid memories associated with his short life. Some of my reflections about Brian and Stephen can be read in I Remember Stephen (from 2009) and Paying Respects to Brian and Stephen Hadden (from 2014).

This then is my most precious photo. It is not the oldest or most artistic. But, it is the only known photo to exist of my brother Stephen.

HADDEN Ian-Mom-Stephen 1957

I am almost certain that the photo was taken by my father. My mother was holding Stephen as she sat on the couch in the living room of our home at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto while I stood beside them.

The photo was given to me by my father at mother’s funeral in 1994. He told me that it was something she wanted me to have. So, from that perspective, the photo is special on many levels.

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