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"Happiness always looks small when you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and at once you learn how big and precious it is."
Maxim Gorky

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finding great grandma's house...

The continuing saga of our adventures on Saltspring Island brought us down 
from Mount Tuam and to the pretty little church in Fulford Harbor...
This is St Paul's Catholic church.
The oldest one on the Island.
It was built between 1880 and 1885 with many old tombstones along the front and 
up the hill from here.
The materials were brought from Cowichan Bay by Indian canoes to Burgoyne Bay
and then from there by ox cart to it's present location.
Quite a feat back in the day.
I imagined little horse drawn wagons bringing 
the congregation to mass on Sunday mornings.
 Our next mission was along the Fulford Ganges road to search for the 
little house where my great grandparents homesteaded in the early 1900's.
The road meanders through a beautiful valley, rich in history of many
settlers who braved the rugged land to try and carve out a life here.
This is Bruce's Peak looking from the vicinity of the house.
Many family photos included this view, like this one of my
mom and my great grandpa Cairns...
While we were looking for the house with a few vague descriptions from my elderly aunt,
we saw this broken down house and of course gasped and had to pull over to explore...
For all of the years I've known Irma, this is one thing we thrive on!
Finding bits and pieces of times gone by.
Wanting to find out more. 
Wanting to see what lies beneath the broken bricks and weathered boards. 
Wishing the windows could give us more than just a reflection of the sky...
On this day we were the lucky ones.
As we gingerly approached the house, I noticed a man coming down the drive and he was 
kind enough to come and have a chat with us.
This is George Laundry...
...and this was his grandmothers house where he grew up.
I asked him if he knew where the Cairns' old homestead was and he said that it 
was the property next door. He remembered my 2 great uncles, 
Bill and John since they were about the same age as him.
He knew the midwife across the road, who delivered my grandma on a cold, snowy night
in December when Doc Maxwell couldn't make it
When he was old enough he went out into the world and became a physicist, married,
lived in New York and Toronto and then lo and behold, came back 
to live on the farm of his childhood.
He had an engagement that night but invited us back another time for a proper visit
to tour his place and hear some stories of the past.
The place is derelict now and he lives in a newer house up the drive,
but local people have been trying to use 
parts of the house to replace pieces of their own heritage homes
which are all but impossible to find.
So off we went down the road, past the Burgoyne Bay church...
Can't you just hear the church bell ringing through the farmlands on a Sunday morning?
Up the next driveway we found the house.
I recognized it from the few pictures I had seen and felt such a sense of connection even though
my great grandparents moved from here many years ago...
Now there is a young family who calls this little house their own and have been fixing it up.
While I was getting Irma to take my picture on the stoop, young Emily came out for chat...
Here's a (kind of blurry) picture of my great great grandpa with my grandma,
great aunt San and great uncle John (and Bob the dog) in front of the same house...
Emily and I were talking about grandparents and dogs and such
and then she told me something quite interesting. 
She was also born in this little house where all of my great grandma's children were born.
Then her mom Debbie came out and told us that Emily was born on the 19th of December.
My grandma was born on the 18th of December!
About 80 years apart. Isn't that something?
So this kind family let us intrude on their day for a few minutes, 
letting us walk around a bit and take pictures...
I will send Debbie some photos of the place when I can find a few from my mom's collection.
It really made me feel good to know that this lovely family is now creating their own history 
here on the Fulford Ganges Road. 
Bringing new stories to add to some of the old ones.
Perhaps catching a glimpse into the past of a life that in some ways is very
much akin to their own.
These places are echoes of those who paved the way for us.
The people who once lived here, as my great Uncle Bill once said,
are 'The Origin of the Species' which is our family.
They are the reason why, when I plunge a spade into the soil, I feel connected to the earth.
Or when I can peaches in late August,  I am once again taken back to the farm.
I have a mirror in my hallway that belonged to my great grandparents, 
which hung in their house here on Saltspring and every once in a while, when I pass it, I catch a shadow of a young pioneer wife and husband and hear the cluck of chickens in the background...
Jack, May and Agnes (San) 1922
Great Great Grandad Cairns, 1930
Bill, John, Agnes (San) and Marge (my grandma), 1938

7 comments:

JeannetteLS said...

What a wonderful trip you took us on today. I treasure bits and pieces of the past, myself. That first church touched my heart very strangely... deeply. I love it. But all the pictures, along with your explanations gave me a few minutes away from here, to someplace I'd have never known. Thank you so much.

the wild magnolia said...

This was an amazing visit, to the place of your ancestors, thanks for the tag along.

Suz said...

oh thanks for getting to the grandma's house so soon. I really enjoyed the journey today with you
Your grandmother looks a bit like Anne Lindbergh

farmlady said...

I must be getting old and weepy. This post made me so melancoly and took me back to the homestead of my great grandparenta in the Napa Valley here in California.
What is it that connects us with our past, our heritage?
I think that it's something to do with place and wanting to know who they were and what their lives were like... to know what part of us was in them.
Thanks for this lovely story and the wonderful trip to this beautiful island.

acornmoon said...

What an amazing journey into the past and the present.
I enjoyed walking in your footsteps.

gz said...

That house obviously nurtures families.

The Gorsoon said...

A fantastic mix of past and present;I really enjoyed this.