Saturday, November 25, 2017

A glimpse into family history


So, last week a long-awaited (16 years!) package arrived at the post office for me. It is a painting that was given to my grandparents back in the '50s that my mother inherited and I in turn inherited from her. But it came with a condition: it must first go to my mother's sister for the rest of her lifetime. Who knew she would be so long-lived (95 years)! She died a year ago so the painting finally became mine, but since she lived and died on the west coast her children gave the painting to my brother (also on the west coast) to take care of sending to me. We dithered for a year about how to do that and finally he put it in the mail a few weeks ago. Surface mail being the cheaper option and an extra week or so of waiting after 16 years not being outlandish, that was how it arrived. Unscathed (we worried about it).

I posted a photo of the painting on Facebook and then in the Comments section my brother and I argued about its origins and meaning. It was an interesting argument that among other things involved internet searches of family history and the posting of various photos supporting our differing opinions. Yesterday my brother sent an email message to various family members seeking further information, it will be interesting to see what evolves from that.

Portion of a wartime letter from family friend to my grandmother, 1916 give or take
The painting supposedly represents a visit to my grandparents' summer place by persons unknown (or rather, disputed). I believe it was painted by our great-aunt Evelyn and that she is one of the figures in the painting. My brother thinks it might have been painted by a family friend representing his visit to our grandparents. The family friend was a wartime buddy (World War I) of our grandfather's with a great sense of humour and cartooning ability. My brother's supporting evidence is the photocopy of a letter written by the friend taped to the back of the painting when he received it. My evidence for supposing that Evelyn painted it is a written inscription on the back of the painting gifting the painting from Evelyn to our grandparents, and another painting I possess that she painted (indicating that she was indeed capable of producing this piece of art).

The family mansion, 1896. My great grandfather and possibly Evelyn sitting on the verandah
In the course of our internet research, we found several photos of Evelyn and our grandmother at the home of their grandparents in Toronto (actually, I think it would have been the outskirts of Toronto at that time). Turns out our great-great-grandfather was very wealthy (the founder of a bank that still exists today) and his home was a mansion that might be considered a Canadian version of Downton Abbey. I have a notebook written by Evelyn in which she describes the life at her grandparents in very Downton Abbey-like terms: servants, stables, governesses, and her mother having no idea how to cook or even hold a broom. And as it turns out, I briefly attended the church (as a child) that stood on land that he donated from his large country estate. That church is a prominent church in central Toronto today.
Evelyn is the young woman in a white blouse standing on the steps, my grandmother is the young girl all in white sitting on the grass. 1900
The thing I found most interesting about all this is that the photo of my grandmother at age 7 or 8 looks remarkably like me at that age. I was not fond of this grandmother when she was alive, but she played a big role in my young life. Among other things my father disliked her intensely and my parents very nearly divorced over that. I remember that period of time too well, it was quite frightening for a young child. However the storm passed, my father did come to terms with his mother-in-law, and the marriage survived. I regret that I did not get to know her better, from what I have learned of her life she was an interesting person in interesting times.

1 comment:

Wisewebwoman said...

Absurdly fascinating stuff. I love the old photos of bygone times.

And the painting us amazing. May u solve the mystery.

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