Monday, February 12, 2007

Fergus and Frank: Part 2, The Gananoque Years

In September, 1907, immediately following their marriage, Fergus and Frances O’Connor moved to Gananoque, Ontario, where the young doctor set up his first practice. He designed and built their house as well as maintaining the family farm at Long Point. The first of their eight children, Norah Marie, my grandmother, was born on June 29, 1908. She was followed by Margaret in 1909, then Maurice, Eileen, Fergus, Mary, Pat and Sheila. Each had a very unique personality and I have been honored to have known all but two of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters.

Charles and Emily were delighted with each succeeding grandchild, and Charles got over his original prejudice against Frances (Frank.) The little ones were often at Long Point farm, especially when a new baby was due. As Charles wrote of the grandchildren in his diary on New Year’s Eve of 1912: “But God has been good to us. We have been spared to one another. Thanks be to God and one more added to our family the lovely little girl Eileen but no lovelier or no dearer than Norah and Margaret or wee Maurice. Each has her or his place in our hearts – all dearly loved says Emily as she reads over my shoulder. Amen I say in answer.”

Fergus' practice involved house calls, as was the custom in those days. He was often called out at night to deliver a baby, and often had to travel unlit roads into remote areas. It was vital for a country doctor to have a reliable horse so as to get him to his patients; my great grandfather had many stories of horse traders. After tending to a patient in the countryside, he could doze in the buggy or sleigh, since the horse knew the way home. Once he was helping a young mother through a very difficult delivery on Howe Island, assisted only by a midwife. The father of the baby was downstairs getting drunk and several times rudely expressed his imp
atience that the labor was taking so long. Around midnight, quite intoxicated, the man “threatened that he was coming up to get things going.” (from Because You Asked For It by Dr. Fergus James O’Connor) Fergus went to the top of the stairs, brandishing his large delivery forceps, and told the man to be quiet and go to sleep or else come on up and have his skull bashed in. Now Fergus was short but very imposing, especially when provoked. The drunken father cowered and finally went to sleep. In the morning Fergus presented him his healthy, baby son.

In December of 1916, Fergus was elected mayor of Gananoque. His election was a tribute to the respect generated by his professional dedication and personal integrity. It was remarkable given the local history of conflict between the few Irish Catholics settlers and the Protestant majority, especially the Irish Protestants, called “Orangeman.” Fergus, without compromising any of his beliefs and principles, was able to overcome a great deal of anti-Catholic prejudice, and became the popular “little mayor.” Every July 13 in Gananoque there was the Orangeman parade, and to everyone’s surprise, Fergus said he would ride at the head of the parade, as was the mayor’s custom. There is a picture of him riding at the head of the Orangemen, with a policeman at his side; when later he acquired a MacLaughlan touring car, he led the parade with the entire family.

The O’Connors raised miniature horses. My grandmother Norah and her siblings as very small children were able to ride the horses and drive them throughout the town in a basket cart. (Those were the days when little children could safely roam the streets of a small town.) Once Norah drove down to the Town Hall in the cart to deliver a message to her father, but the horse and cart followed her into the building, to be removed with difficulty.

In 1918, Fergus and Frank decided to move into Kingston so that their children could go to the Catholic schools available there. They would not be so close to the farm; eventually, Charles, Emily and Madeline all moved into Kingston, too. In the meantime, the O’Connor children would celebrate birthdays at the farm, with Charles’ homemade ice cream, and Emily’s cakes. They would play on the Saddle Rock and in the summer, make daisy chains and go berry picking with their Aunt Madeline. But as Charles and Emily became older, maintaining the farm became more difficult, and so a chapter in the family saga came to a close.



Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading what you wrote about your great grand parents. What a lovely time to grow up in, unless one was poor.

Anonymous said...

How luxuriously uncomplicated by gadgetry was life in those days. Just reading about it you get a certain peace. I await more wonderful stories. sst

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, ladies! I heard all of these stories from my grandmother, and we also have the memoirs of her brother and her grandfather's diaries in the family archive. I am glad that such treasures were preserved.