The Statue

There is a statue in downtown Edmonton, Alberta of a railway worker lounging on a bench. Beside him is a lunch pail and open thermos. Each time I glimpse it, a memory startles me; it’s my Granddad Dunn! It must be the overalls and cap that remind me of him. It’s not him, of course. It’s a statue, sculpted and forged by American artist, Seward Johnson, called “Lunchbreak”.

Photo by Michael Kuby for Avenue Magazine, July 4, 2017

David Walter Dunn was born the 18 June 1906 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was the third child of John Dunn and Christina Clayton. His older sister, Jessie was born in 1902 and Clayton was born in 1904 both in Hamilton, Ontario.

In the fall of 1907, when Granddad was just a year old, his parents moved to a remote area of British Columbia near Procter, a small village on Kootenay Lake. The BC Archives has a picture of Procter in 1911. The family lived in the area less than year when his father, John Edward Dunn, drowned. Christina, with 3 children under the age of 6, moved back home to Hamilton.

Walter Dunn with his older brother, Clayton

After their dad’s death it was decided that Walter and his older brother Clayton would live in Hamilton with their mother, Grandmother Clayton, Aunt Jane and Uncle Edward Cutriss while Jessie was sent to Hudson Township, just north of New Liskeard, Ontario to live with the Dunn side of the family.

His mother, Christina, remarried 10 years after the death of her husband to a widower, James Richardson. The 1921 census has Walter and Clay living with their mother and step-father in Hudson Township, Ontario. Jessie is a teacher, lodging with a family, in the same township.

Granddad Dunn’s obituary says he started working for the railway in 1924. He would have been 18 years old. He started in Porcupine (now part of Timmins), Ontario. He was promoted to foreman in 1940. Voter’s lists, 1945 in Cochrane, 1957 in Timmins, and 1962 in Cannaught all list his occupation as section foreman.

“Baldy and his Buick” is written on first picture. Granddad looks quite dapper. The second picture could be of Granddad at work. It looks like he is the second from the right.

After his retirement from the railway in 1966, he and Grandma moved to Yellowknife, North West Territories where he worked in one of the mines. In 1972 they were back in Cochrane. They then moved to Moosonee, Ontario, a community on James Bay, where Grandma Dunn worked as a teacher.

I don’t have many memories of my grandfather. When they lived in Northern Ontario we visited my grandparents once a year at the most. One summer they were living in Cobourg, Ontario. I must have been older because I remember him teaching my brother how to make a rose out of a deck of cards.

Walter ended up in the nursing home in Cochrane where he died in November 1987.


Canada, Voters Lists, 1935-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Voters Lists, Federal Elections, 1935–1980. R1003-6-3-E (RG113-B). Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

1911 Canada Census; Emily Clayton Household; Hamilton, Ontario; District 78 West Hamilton; Subdistrict 14, Ward 4; page 13; Microfilm T20376; Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

1911 Canada Census; David Dunn Household; Hudson and Lundy, Ontario; District 99; Subdistrict 65; page 5; Microfilm T-20386; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario.

1921 Canada Census; James Richardson Household; Hudson, Temiskaming, Ontario; District 129; Subdistrict 24; Ancestry,com [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:
Original data: Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada.

1921 Canada Census; Andrew Young Household; Dymond Township; Temiskaming, Ontario; District 129; Subdistrict 25; Ancestry,com [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:
Original data: Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada: Library and Archives Canada.

Family Tree of D. Roger Timms; Temiskaming Speaker Newspaper; May 8, 1908, page 1;; accessed 1 October 2013; article on death of John Edward Dunn

Obituary; David Walter Dunn; Joan Miller Collection; probably from the Cochrane newspaper shortly after November 8, 1987

Images through Time

AGS Genealogy Conference
April 26-28, 2019

I listened to a webinar with Sylvia Valentine, one of the speakers at the AGS conference. She is terrific! She has a great depth of knowledge about English records and so good at presenting it in a logical way. She’s going to be in Edmonton speaking at the Alberta Genealogy Conference. I highly recommend you come to hear her.

They came for land

A new tractor to work the land

I love land records! I’m not sure why; maybe because most of my ancestors came to Canada for the land, or maybe because when I was young my dad advised me to buy land as an investment. “You can’t go wrong with land”, he said.

Many people immigrated to Canada for the land. The Canadian government advertised the dream of owning land in many countries. Much of the advertising took place in the late 1800’s. However, in the late 1700’s, many settlers who were persecuted for remaining loyal to the British cause during the American Revolution, fled to Upper Canada. They were promised land and were quite persistent in their requests for that land. Some of my favourite documents are from the Upper Canada Land Petitions found on the Library and Archives Canada website.

Thomas Pettit, my 5 great-grandfather, was born in 1770, probably in New York or New Jersey. He came with his father, John, and brother, Charles, and other Pettit relatives in 1788.  The area they moved to was the Nassau District of the Province of Quebec. Soon after, it was called Saltfleet Township an area very close to Hamilton, Ontario. By 1807, Thomas had 7 children. The oldest  was nearly 13 years old.

I learned these facts about Thomas from the Upper Canada Land Petitions. People who came to Canada wanted land and to get it they had to petition the government. Many of the petitions contain personal information about the petitioner and his family.

Thomas Pettit Land Petition  page 1

Thomas petitioned for land twice. The first time was in 1791. Since he had to be 21 to acquire his 200 acres, it is inferred that he was born around 1770.  In 1791 he was granted land in the 1 and 2 Concessions on Lot 20 and a broken front lot. The land he received fronted on Lake Ontario for a bit and then went away from the lake.

Thomas petitioned for more land in 1807. It is from this petition I learned that his father is John Pettit of Saltfleet, a United Empire Loyalist. An affidavit signed by Mr. Swazey who “knows the petitioner” stated the number of children he had and the age of the eldest child. From the oldest child’s age we can extrapolate that Thomas married around 1795.

Another petition was submitted by Charles Pettit who also states his father is John Pettit of Saltfleet. so Thomas had at least 1 brother, named Charles.

Early settlers had to prove to government officials that they met the criteria for receiving the land and, because the rules were modified over time, they had to prove who their fathers were. This resulted in petitions with genealogical information. It isn’t precise but can lead you to where and when they were born, who their father was, and how many children they had. The latter was to prove their need for more land.

Finding the petitions isn’t difficult but it can take a bit of time. It’s a 2 step process. First go to the Database of Land Petitions of Upper Canada to see if your ancestor has a petition(s). Take down all the information, the microfilm number, year, volume, bundle, petition, and reference. The second step is to go under the digitized microforms at the same url as above and find the Upper Canada Land Petitions. Once you have correct microfilm number, you have to manually search the microfilm, looking for the year, volume, bundle, petition, and reference numbers to help you find your ancestor

I highly recommend using the Land Petitions of Upper Canada to search for your family. The records go from 1763 – 1865. You can also check out the records for Lower Canada that are also digitized; although many of them are in French.

Sources or where I got the information

Upper Canada Land Petitions; Thomas Pettit; 1807; “P” Bundle 8, 1806-1808; RG 1, L3, Vol. 402; microfilm C2490; Image 112 – 115; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Township Papers (ca 1783 – 1870); Thomas Pettit; 1791; Land Certificate; MS 658 Reel 430; Series RG 1 – 58; Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Upper Canada Land Petitions; Charles Pettit; 1819; “P” Bundle 12, 1819 -1808; RG 1, L3, Vol. 404; microfilm C2491; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.




I finally decided to challenge myself and start researching my Irish families. AncestryDNA says that I am 20% Irish and Scottish which seems reasonable since I have a few ancestors from Ireland with Scottish sounding surnames; the surnames I’m aware of are McCall, Ross, Macham,and Cranston. I’ll include the Miller, Young, and Smeltzer surnames. Even though my DNA from them is Western Europe, they did live in Ireland for about 125 years.

The first step in researching is to figure out exactly what I know about each of the families. This will help determine what information I”m missing, making it easier to decide what my research goal will be. I decided to start with the McCall, Ross lines. Robert McCall married Ann Ross in Ireland and they had at least 1 child, probably 2, before immigrating to Canada West.

In 1972, one of the McCall families in Michigan hired a researcher in Ireland. I have a copy of the report and will log all the information in it onto a spreadsheet so I don’t duplicate the research.

My ultimate goal is to take a research trip to Ireland next year.


I’ve been researching William Elbourne Atkins who is the father of Kate Atkins. Kate is the mother of my biological grandfather, the one I never knew. William was born in Chesham, Buckingham. An Ancestry tree had his mother’s name, Hannah Atkins, but nothing on his father. So I ordered the birth registration in from General Records Office in England to find out who William’s father is. Well, the birth registration lists his mother but not a father. William was illegitimate! My first time researching a child born out of wedlock. That’s exciting, now I get to try to find his father.

Since William was born in June 1861, my first step is to find more information on Hannah by checking out the 1861 census. This census was taken about 2 months before William is born. In this census, Hannah is listed as the head of household; she has an 11 year old daughter, and get this, there is a 31 year old male lodger living with her and his name is Thomas Elbourne. Does his last name not suggest that William “Elbourne” Atkins is his son?

An expert in English genealogy confirmed my theory. She said it was common to give an illegitimate child the last name of the father as a middle name. However, since the couple wasn’t married when William was born, he would always have his mother’s maiden name as a surname. Hannah and Thomas Elbourne eventually married 6 months after William was born. But since Hannah wasn’t married when her son was born, he would always be William Atkins.

Hannah Atkins lived in Duck Alley, a row house in Chesham

William is not Hannah’s first child born out of wedlock. In 1851, she is unmarried and has a one year old daughter named Sarah. She is living with her elderly parents, William and Sarah, at 20 Duck Alley in Chesham, Buckingham, England. Her father had been a farm labourer but at the age of 81 he can’t do much work so is on parish relief. Hannah works as a straw plaiter. In this occupation women and children prepared straw to be made into hats and ornaments.

My first experience researching the father of an illegitimate child was exceptionally easy. It’s not always this straight forward. I think it’s going to be harder to discover who is the father of Hannah’s daughter, Sarah.


1851 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005[ Registration district: Amersham; ED 1b;Piece: 1717;Folio: 119; Page Number: 19; Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1851. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1851

1861 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005; Registration district: Amersham; Sub-registration district: Chesham; ED 2e; Piece: 845; Folio: 26; Page Number: 15; Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1861. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1861. Data imaged from The National Archives, London, England

For information on Straw Plaiting see;

Photo from Chesham Heritage Facebook Page;

Remembrance Day



My grandfather, even though he had a wife and 3 very young children, enlisted in World War 2. He joined the war effort on August 20, 1940,”because every body else was.” Clifford Francis Miller enlisted with the Canadian Forestry Corps, Company 17 and did his basic training in Valcartier, Quebec. Then on April 4, 1941 was shipped out to Scotland where the Canadian soldiers were asked to be lumbermen.

The Canadian Forestry Corps provided lumber for the Allied war effort by cutting and preparing timber in the United Kingdom and on the continent of Europe in both the First World War and the Second World War. Forestry units also cleared terrain for the construction of installations such as airfields and runway, prepared railway ties, as well as lumber for the creation of barracks, road surfaces, ammunition crates, trench construction, etc.

There’s a British promo video about what they did that’s kind of fun to watch.
Canadian Forestry Corps

In 1943, Cliff was transferred to the 30th company and was sent to France. He was employed mainly as a driver mechanic throughout his service. A daughter said one of his jobs was hauling the bodies of dead soldiers; a job he didn’t like much.

Cliff served in the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany for a total of 52 1/3 months of overseas service. He was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the France and Germany Star, the War Medal 1939-45 and the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp.

In one of the army forms he is described as “an alert, cheerful young man”. At the Canadian Repatriation Depot, 16 August 1945 Lieutenant E.R.Bruce says “Miller appears to be a good steady sort of man”.



Another relative, Cliff’s brother, my Great-uncle Holmes Andrew Miller also enlisted. Growing up I knew him, but was never told he was a soldier in the war. He met and married his wife, Edna Richardson, while at Petawawa so he enlisted before July 1940.

While going to university, my summer job was working at an historical site and one day he and my aunt showed up on a reunion tour with his regiment. That’s how I learned Uncle Holmes fought in the war. Later, when I was a bicycle courier he commented to me that he was a bicycle courier in the war. I imagine that it was lonely and scary  bicycling through the countryside delivering messages.  If only I’d asked more questions.

The leader of the reunion tour was so excited I was related to someone in his regiment that he gave me a pin-on copy of the regimental insignia that I still have. That’s how I know Uncle Holmes was in the 17 Canadian Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.

After much training in Canada and Britain, the regiment fought first in Italy and then France, Belgium, Holland and fi­nally in Germany  If you are interested in reading more about the regiment’s history there is an on-line history.   Uncle Holme’s regiment fought in several famous battles, including Monte Cassino in Italy.



My Great-Uncle Bud also fought in World War 2. I don’t know anything about his war experience but his sister, Aunt Jo says,

Bud went to Kiska (island between Alaska and Japan).  He was the second best shot in his army.  He said it always rained out west.  He was glad to get off the island because it was forever rumbling with earthquakes.

According to Aunt Jo, Uncle Bud didn’t enlist until he was 21, because their mother, who got upset easily, was nervous about his going to war. She also mentions that no one would hire Uncle Bud because he hadn’t gone to war. Uncle Bud wouldn’t have joined the army until about 1943.

Kiska Island Video
The pictures of him are from relatives in Essex County, Ontario who he kept contact with,



Not all the war effort was outside the country. My Great-Aunt Jo and her cousin left the small community of Crozier in Northwestern Ontario to work in the War Plant in Toronto making Bren guns. Aunt Jo was on the row that made triggers. She did this job for a year before starting at the Toronto Bible College.

She was in Toronto the day the war ended. She says,

One day as I walked downtown, everything had stopped.  All the army vehicles were left right on Spadina Road.  The soldiers were gone, the war was over.



On Remembrance Day, we think of family members who fought and the huge impact it had on their lives. Alcoholism and chain-smoking were the manifestations my relatives. One relative eventually died from shell shock. I can’t imagine it was easy for the women left behind to care for children alone and look after everything else.


War Records; Clifford Francis Miller, my aunt requested the war records for her dad. The records are quite detailed and give some details about my grand-dad that I didn’t know.


Harvest your Family Tree

Kelowna and District Genealogy Society hosted a conference and marketplace September 28-30. It was filled with wonderful speakers, activities, and vendors. There were a vast amount of door prizes. The lineup for winners never seemed to end. The foyer of the Okanagan College was filled with displays and vendors. There were lots of chances to purchase genealogy items.

It was a privilege for me to speak alongside Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List, Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist, Lesley Anderson of Ancestry Canada, Dave Obee a renowned Canadian speaker, and other local and regional speakers.

Kelowna hosts this conference every two years. It’s well-organized and filled with learning opportunities for all genealogists. I had a great time.

Me speaking in Kelowna