“In the fall of 2017, my cousin from Quebec visited with a surprise for me. In her hand lay a small ring box containing a bronze medal. As we sat together on the sofa, a tale was unwoven so intricately that I called my aunt Ruthie in Kanata, and this is what she said…
My grandfather, James Gray was born on April 2nd, 1886 and raised in Hudson, Quebec. He learned first-hand, the value of an education in becoming so gravely ill as a young boy, that the doctors held little hope for his recovery. Despite losing a lung and having to leave school in the third grade, James went on to amazing heights with his Scottish/Irish roots.
When he was 10, James was sent to work on the ships that ran the Saint Lawrence River, from Quebec on into the Great Lakes. While journeying through inclement weather, he was taught by another seasoned mariner, how gears and engines were put together. James enjoyed this so much that it became his passion.
In the winter of 1910 while on the Great lakes, his shipmate Wilfrid Malette fell overboard through the ice, into the freezing water. Throwing himself down, James used his body weight to break through the ice and saved his friend. The next year he was awarded a bronze medal for promptitude and courage, with a special citation by the V.I.P. Leslie H. Clark, in Cornwall, Ontario.
A year later, James met Annie St. Amand, while unloading a ship in Cornwall. Her father, Duncan, was very protective of his daughter, as he had lost his wife not six years earlier. Over time, Duncan softened to the young man with the medal, and advised James of the importance of family values, and getting off the ships to secure a land job. After tinkering with engines for almost 18 years, James was hired as a Millwright at the Crabtree Paper Mill in Crabtree Mills, Quebec. Thus began their life together, when James and Annie married on January 12, 1914.
In 1917 when Wilfrid went to war, James worked in munitions factories. When the two met up again to raise their families, they lived side by side in company houses making paper for Mr. Crabtree. Raising nine children a piece, the large crew played wildly together for 12 years, with Wilfrid naming one of his sons, James, in honor of their special friendship. (Found as factual on nosorigines.ca)
Speaking with my godmother – Ruthie Lussier, about her father – it was great to finally learn that my grandfather was very much like my own dad (Duncan Gray). With the exception of a full head of white hair, James had a good appetite and could eat just about anything. He loved fried kidneys and pickled beef tongue was a staple at every meal. He loved a certain kind of old cheese that smelled so awful that Annie made him keep it in the shed, in a metal box located in the farthest corner of their yard.
Despite his lack of athleticism, James made ice rinks in the backyards of both provinces for all the neighborhood kids. Known for being loud and a teaser, anyone visiting was met with raucous laughter at the dinner table. Playing Santa for many years, he spoiled his young daughters to bits. His altruism for those who struggled was passed onto each of his children. So generous with his time, yet protective of his dearest relationship to Annie, James’ best was with family surrounding. In 1938, James moved his family back to Cornwall and it was here that his sons would sign up for the war effort, fall in love – get married and start their own families.
In 1980, those that were able (Duncan, Marguerite, Ruthie and Kathleen) made the trip down to Crabtree Mills to see if their childhood home was still standing.
On the day of their visit, they were told that the city had moved their house. Their old school was now a provincial building and when they knocked on the door to explain who they were, a young couple let them in. It wasn’t long, before everyone was talking noisily about the old days.
The owner mentioned that a Fred Malette still lived in the vicinity, which brought many a smile and more stories, because Fred junior was one of the original nine!
We are warmed, that our parents were well enough to take that walk down memory lane in their older years.
And to Ruthie – James’ youngest and the storyteller in all of us, who shared her zest for life with anyone with an ear to listen, and who kept those people alive for us — God Bless You!
Lisa Gray, Copyright October 2017 – Dedication: Anna-Ruth Gray – Lussier
Lisa is a member of the Cornwall Writer Society, a group that meets at the Cornwall Public Library on the 3rd Monday of each month from 6:15 to 8:15 pm. For more information about this or any program at the library, please call 613-932-4796. To reach Lisa, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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