ALEXANDER FORSYTH (1850-1937) FAMILY. In this section are pictures and information about the family of Alexander Forsyth (1850-1937) and Ann Campbell (1853-1941) who homesteaded in the Boss Hill district of Manitoba in the early 1880s.
In 1976 my father Wilfred Forsyth (1904-1977) wrote the following recollections of the Forsyth family history that he learned as a boy. I have added, in italics, comments or information that I have learned in later years through research or travel. Throughout the narrative, his adoptive parents Alexander Forsyth (1850-1937) and Ann Campbell (1853-1941) are affectionately referred to as the ‘Old Man’ and the ‘Old Lady’.
“The ‘Old Man’ was born in Clashmughea, Clashmore, Dornoch, Sutherlandshire, Scotland, which is away to Hell and gone in the north, the only shire or county further north is Caithness. Birthday 26 January 1850. Youngest of nine, some of the other names were Mary, William, Wilemina, Andrew, Donald (called ‘The Blue’ and who lived west of Wedows). Mooneys called it Donald’s Bluff. Diane [Mooney] had a sentimental attachment for some reason, didn’t want to sell that bit with the farm. I don’t know any more of the names except that the Old Man used to speak about his brother Pat. The Old Lady said it was a nickname. He always told me when he found me climbing trees to come down out of that, because his brother Pat fell out of a tree and broke his leg. I used to tell our kids the same thing.
Researching through the “Scotland’s People” website I found nine children born to Alexander Forsyth (1808-1883) and Janet Campbell (1812-1897) at Clashmughea. There did not seem to be one called William but I later found that was the name of a first cousin of Alexander Forsyth (1850-1837). I could not figure out which of the boys would have been nicknamed Pat. The children were:
Isabella Forsyth (1835-1925) – married David Morrison in 1861. One son, 1 daughter.
Ann Forsyth (1837-1905) – married Peter McTavish in 1867. Three sons.
Mary Forsyth (1838-1928) – married John Russell Nevison in 1870. One daughter.
Andrew Forsyth (1840-1918) – married Isabella McKay in 1870. Five daughters, 1 son.
Christina Forsyth (1841-1919) – married Adam Sherrit in 1859. Two daughters, 2 sons.
Williamina Forsyth (1843/44-1865) – did not marry.
Donald Forsyth (1846-1914) – did not marry.
Roderick Forsyth (1848-1886) – married Annie McGregor in 1876. Two daughters.
Alexander Forsyth (1850-1937) – married Ann Campbell in 1884. Four sons.
“During World War II, I visited with the John Forsyth (1880-1961) family at Clashmore. [John was a second cousin of the boys at Boss Hill, son of William Forsyth (1842-1936) who was a first cousin of Alexander Forsyth (1850-1937)]
John Forsyth was a bookkeeper on the Andrew Carnegie estate. Clashmore is on the estate, no liquor allowed, one of the few places in the British Isles that has no Pub. Anyhow John showed me the remains of Clashmughea, three houses left in 1943. They were really just huts built of stone, about the size of a portable granary. This hamlet was also on the Carnegie estate. In the Old Man’s time Mr. Carnegie had not made his millions and I think maybe the estate belonged to the Duke of Sutherland. (Not sure about this, in fact many of the things I say may be incorrect, as I am depending on memory, which can be quite faulty). However, I know that the estate was known as the Skibo estate (pronounced Ski-bow by the Old Man), still is I think. However, Andrew Carnegie who was a lowlander, went out to America and became a multimillionaire in steel, purchased Skibo Castle and built a great new mansion, reminded me of the Royal Alex Hotel in Winnipeg. John Forsyth took me through the grounds, 30 men employed in peace time. Many of the trees and shrubs had a plaque beside them saying they had been planted by Lloyd George, the Prince of Wales or some other notable figure in British royalty, politics or whatever. There was a curling rink and an enclosed swimming pool with heated water, enclosure made of glass, precludes nude bathing which might have made those stern established church folk curious.
We called the Old Man ‘Sandy’ when I was young, in fact called him that all his days. The boys (Neil, Willie and Alec) called the Old Lady ‘Pug’ around home. When company came they were a bit more formal, called her ‘Say there’. Willie a bit more refined and polite. Names of the boys, Neil (Donnie) Alec (Cotton) Willie (Dolia)used these names up to the end of the first War. Letters from the boys overseas were signed Dolia and Cotton respectively. Alec ran away from home when a boy and got as far as Mr Cotton’s place (Billy Hill’s) so the name Cotton took hold. When Mr. Trudeau married the ‘Infant Ivens’ great -granddaughter, Lena Stewart wrote about it in the Virden Advance. I wrote to her afterwards and she replied and spoke about ‘Cotton’. Willie got his nickname through having his first public dance with Mrs Tom Haskett (Julia Reichart). They teased him and called him Julia. When I was small I could not pronounce Julia so it became ‘Dolia’. Neil inherited his nickname from Donnie Campbell who lived on the Harper place (Kennie Gray’s), no relation of the Irish Campbells. Don’t know what the connection was when it got applied to Neil.
The people who had the farm [in Scotland] were a partnership, Campbell & Butchard. Sandy soon left home when old enough to earn his way, went to the Black Isle, near Inverness, and was a plowman. It is a district across the water from Inverness, not really an island. Then he worked in a brewery and a distillery and was a streetcar conductor in Edinburgh. The streetcars were horse-drawn, the floor of the cars were covered with straw. The Old Man and the driver were sure to shake out the straw at the end of the day as there were usually a few coins, lost by the customers. They apparently stuck pretty close to schedule. He told many times about starting out from the end of the route, the driver sat with his whip poised and the Old Man with the bell rope in his hand. At the Castle a gun was fired, someplace else a ball shot up to the top of a pole, all signalling the hour. Then the driver cracked his whip, the Old Man clanged the bell and away they went, hell-for-leather. This was probably in the 1870s. All this shows that the Old Country was well-organized long ago.
Sandy came out Canada the first time in his 20s, worked in Minnesota on a farm, saw his first binder, tied the sheaves with wire. Don’t know how they disposed of the wire when putting the sheaves into the threshing machine. However, they had an outfit similar to what we had at home, a portable steam engine, moved from set to set by horses. The farmer, a typical Yankee who believed their way was number one, said to the Old Man when they were moving the outfit around one day,
“Bet you never seen anything like that at home Scotty!”
The Old Man made one of his famous replies. He said,
“No, I never saw anything like that. Where I came from, they probably had outfits like that one, back about the time of the Covenanters [in the 1600s], but today they have traction steam engines that hook on to the separator and move it from farm to farm.”
The Yankee was impressed and said that he had heard they had such modern machinery in Kansas.
He went back to Scotland by cattle boat. Don’t know if he got free passage for working with the stock, but there was apparently some deal like that, because many of the old-timers spoke about going home by cattle boat. During the voyage the weather went bad and they had a terrific storm. The boat was pitching badly, throwing the cattle around. The Old Man was hanging onto a stanchion (a favourite word with the Old Man), expecting every moment would be the end. Then the Captain came on the scene and gave the order, “All hands to the cattle.” (When he was telling about this exciting adventure he always pronounced the word cattle as “kettle”. He didn’t do this ordinarily so it must have been the way the Captain talked.) Many of the beasts were down and piling up and would not stand on their feet, so the sailors went about pouring water in their ears and that seemed to make them get up. He may have been shooting a line, but that’s the way he told it many times. When our boys were growing up and doing the work at home, Neil would try to prod Alec and the Old Man to come out and help with the chores by calling out the order, “All hands to the kettle.”
The boys, particularly Alec, took great delight in playing tricks on the Old Man which he took in good part and enjoyed as much as they did. One time we had the preacher – in those days the minister came to visit in the afternoon, stayed for supper, and often all night. If they stopped the night the Old Lady always had them read some verses out of the Bible and pray around the dining room before we went to bed. One night we were all down on our knees, the Old Man was pretty stout in those days and his behind stood out very prominently. Alec was kneeling a bit back of him, had a yard stick in his hand and was trying to poke the Old Man in the rear passage. The Old Man could see him and he was edging away. This tableau amused me so much that I could contain myself no longer and broke into peals of laughter. The Old Lady could have happily murdered the whole bunch of us and left us lying in pools of blood. She was terribly embarrassed and so was I, but the two rascals who caused the whole thing were innocently bewildered by the incident.
When Sandy came out to stay, sometime in the 70s, he worked for a time on the Grey and Bruce Railway, on construction only, very hard work, through the rock and bush. He didn’t think much of Ontario farm prospects, years of killing toil trying to clear the land. Great rumours were circulating about Manitoba, 160 acres of prairie land, no stones, no bush, easily worked, just put the plow in the ground and let the oxen do the rest, all for ten dollars.
However, he had a good job in Toronto for a few years before making the trek west, working for the Northern Shedding Company, drove a team and lorry, best job far, $35 a month, just drove the team on the job. When they came back to the stables at night, stable men came out and took charge. The teamsters were all through until next morning, no unhooking, unharnessing, etc. He paid thirteen dollars a month for bed and board, thought it was pretty steep. He stayed long enough at the job to save $700 which was the capital on hand when they went homesteading. Came west in ’82 or ’83, just the Old Man and the ‘Blue’. They hired a team and wagon at Brandon and drove out by way of Pipestone where there were some settlers. Between there and the Virden area the only homestead was old Mr. Jimmie Brickley, on the place where Kenny Gray lives. Dave Brickley was born there in 1884. I think he would have to be the first white child born in our district. I am not sure what year they filed on the land, the Blue taking the southeast quarter 34-9-27, the Old Man on the southeast quarter of 4-10-27.
Sandy went back east and married Ann Campbell on May 23, 1884 in Sarawak township, Grey County. They lived with the Blue for a year and then moved into their own new house. It was really a pretty good house for that day and age on the prairie. The east room, the warmest, Sandy called Ontario, the other room which combined kitchen and living room was known as Manitoba. When the family expanded another room was built on the west end, called the Klondike, very apt. One of my earliest recollections is of going into the Klondike where the boys slept and the top quilt was frozen with the moisture from their breath. Pretty tough times, a hard way of life, they knew no other and got along quite well, no worse than the average, better than many, and the good days were coming.
Actually, they had a very pleasant set-up. With the exception of the very cold spells, they were comfortable and in the summer the Old Lady had a show place. The door of the old house on the south side opened on the garden, Directly in front of the door, a lane led down between lilac bushes on one side and cherry trees on the other. This was the centre of her park-like garden. Russian poplar or cottonwood, as it was known by some, was planted as a border all the way around. In the enclosed garden there was rhubarb, raspberry canes, white, red, and black currents, gooseberries, chokecherries, apples and crabapples, and many different flowers. Mignonette, a great favourite with the Old Lady was grown in profusion and attracted bees no end. It was a most beautiful place. In hot summer days she churned in the little lane. It was shaded and there always seemed to be a breeze through it. She brought out chairs from the house and her big wooden butter bowl and the wooden butter spoon with which she kneaded the fresh golden butter till all the water was worked out. I can remember the great pans of raspberries brought in for preserving.
The Old Lady was a master gardener, she had a very green thumb, which really means that a great deal of intelligent effort goes toward producing such results, much back-breaking work, many tedious hours. Even after moving to Virden, she grew scads of vegetables in the sand and dry weather. She had Bob Wilson peddling her produce door-to-door on a 50/50 basis. They both did well and she was greatly pleased with herself.
To get back to the farm and the old buildings- to the north side of the house was the milk house made of stone and built into the bank of that sharp little knoll, still there. The Old Man had apprenticed at dry stone masonry in the old country. The people who worked at this trade were called Cowans. There was considerable bad feeling between the Cowans and the regular masons who bound their stonework with lime and sand. The Free Masons still preserve in their ritual a bit about the guard who stands at the door of the Lodge with a drawn sword to repel invaders and Cowans. Don’t suppose the Old Man was aware of this or he would have crashed in. Nothing pleased him more than deflating such class distinctions. I digress a lot. We were talking about the milk house. It was built into the bank with a dirt floor which was as hard as cement from constant traffic. Here we kept the milk and butter; it was our walk-in refrigerator. When the Old Man and the boys came in from the field in the hot weather, exhausted by heat and toil, they made their way into the milk house, sat on the wooden benches and quaffed foaming beakers of sour buttermilk, the most wonderful beverage ever concocted, the most refreshing pause I have ever known.
I don’t recall too much about the old house, but can remember the building of the new one. I think it was put up in 1907 or a bit later. I can still see us moving. Most of the stuff was just carried across. The first night after supper the Old Man sat reading the paper by the light of the coal-oil lamp which made a reflection on the plastered ceiling, a sort of halo. I was entranced by this phenomenon. The ceiling in the old house was tar paper, further blackened by twenty-five years of smoke from the cooking and firing of the old stove so didn’t reflect very much in the way of pretty patterns. The old stove was promoted to the new kitchen, no back or stylish warming oven, or such gewgaws. Later on we got the Malleable Diamond A range. Billy Bridgett [owner of the hardware store where the range was purchased] demonstrated how rugged it was by jumping on the oven door. I used to jump on the door for the entertainment of visitors, but these antics were soon forbidden. I don’t think the door ever was broken.”
[By Googling ‘Malleable Range’ I found information about this company and a picture of one of the popular ranges. At the time the Forsyths bought their range it probably sold for about $60 U.S., about double the price of normal ranges but the quality was so good that they sold well.]
To read more about Ann Campbell, her parents and siblings, click below to go to another section of this website titled:
During WW I (1914-1918)
The brothers William and Alexander Forsyth both trained at Camp Sewell, near Carberry, Manitoba. The Camp had opened in 1909 and was used extensively for training once World War I started. Wikipedia notes that at one time it had 27,000 people, making it the largest community in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg. There seem to have been a series of post cards featuring the Camp – the two below, numbers 89 and 79 were sent back to the family at Boss Hill.
Alex Wounded: In October 1915 Alex was wounded and sent to the Lewisham Military Hospital in London to recover. It had 24 beds for officers, 838 beds for service men and 190 beds for German prisoners of War. From there he sent a post card to his mother to assure her that he was well.
1916 William Wounded: In mid 1916 William Forsyth (Willie or Bill to the family) was wounded and sent to hospital in Aberdeen. From there he sent this card to my father:
Backstory: The story behind this injury was told to me by Bill Forsyth’s daughter Jean. He was wounded during the Battle of the Somme which started on July 1, 1916 and continued until November. Over three million men took part in the battle and a million were killed or wounded. He had a severe leg wound and had lain on the field for three days and nights, pretending to be dead. One night he had been able to crawl toward a trench and was about to show himself when he realized the men were speaking German. Eventually, he was able to crawl back toward the Canadian lines where he was picked up and taken to a field hospital.
He remembers being strapped to an operating table where the doctor was going to amputate his leg, very much against his wishes. Before the chloroform took effect he was able to see a white light bulb swinging back and forth above him and he decided that if he could smash the light they would not be able to operate on him. Gathering all his fading strength, he managed to get one arm free and punched the light which went out. Before he lost consciousness he heard the doctor say, “Get him out of here.”
When he finally came to, he discovered he had been transported to a hospital in London. The first thing he did was to feel for his leg, to know if it was still there. He was elated to find that it was. When the nursing staff noticed that he was conscious they came to speak to him and told him what had happened. It seems that the “white light” he had seen above him and smashed was not a light bulb but a nurse, wearing a white cap or head dress. She was hovering over him trying to apply the chloroform but he had punched her white head and knocked her out. This, naturally, infuriated the doctor who ordered that Bill be removed from the field hospital and sent on to England. From London he was sent to a hospital in Aberdeenshire where his leg healed. He returned to the Front some months later.
For an interesting account of the experiences of a Canadian nurse during the First World War I consulted a book called, “Nobody Ever Wins A War, the World War I Diaries of Ella Mae Bongard, R.N.”, edited by her son Eric Scott. It was doubly interesting to me because the author, Ella Mae Bongard, was a third cousin, once removed, of my father. She was born in 1891 in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where several of my Dad’s and her ancestors settled when they came to Canada in 1784. Ella Mae took her nurse’s training at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, graduating in 1915. She worked for two years in hospitals in New York then volunteered for overseas service with the U.S. Army Nursing Corps. She arrived in France in October 1917 and was posted to work at a British hospital in Etretat, Normandy, not far from Dieppe and about two hundred miles from the trenches where most of her wounded and mutilated patients had been fighting.
1917: The photo below was taken in Edinburgh while both were on leave from the Canadian Army. They had many cousins in the city, children of their father’s brothers and sisters.
1918 Death of Alexander Forsyth
Alex Forsyth (1892-1918) was killed in action in France on October 9, 1918 at the age of 26. The photo below is of the Memorial Plaque given to his family. One of these plaques was issued to the next-of-kin of every service man or woman who died as a result of the First World War. It was about five inches in diameter and made of bronze. It became known as the “Dead Man’s Penny”.
[Insert Dad’s story about the news of Alex’s death reaching Boss Hill. Also the photo of his girl friend Clara Knight.]
On 14 January 1920, the eldest son of the family, William (Bill) Forsyth (1885-1939), married Annie Elizabeth Sutton (1890-1982) in Brandon. The couple lived in Brandon where Bill was employed by the CPR until about 1938 when he transferred to Winnipeg. In the late 1930s Bill also served on Brandon City Council.
A few months after Bill’s wedding, the family’s second son, Neil Campbell Forsyth (1889-1966) married Elizabeth McAlonen (1891-1959).
From a local newspaper: – MATRIMONIAL- Forsyth-McAlonen: The home of Mr. Anderson McAlonen, Hargrave, was the scene of a pretty wedding, in Wednesday last, July 14th, when his daughter Elizabeth, was united in marriage to Mr. Neil Campbell Forsyth, son of Mr. and Mrs. Alex. Forsyth, of Woodnorth district.
The ceremony was performed by the Rev. D. B. Kennedy of Elkhorn, in the presence of about twenty relatives and friends of the contracting parties.
After the wedding repast the bridal couple took the train for Winnipeg, where they will spend a short honeymoon and on their return they will reside on the bridegroom’s farm, north of Woodnorth.
The presents were both numerous and valuable and were tokens of the esteem in which the young coupe are held.
Death of Alexander Forsyth: November 3, 1937.
World War II (1939-1945)
The children of Neil Forsyth (1889-1966) and Elizabeth McAlonen (1891-1959):