One hundred years really isn’t such a long time…
“However, the matter seems to slip into abeyance until the summer of 1919 when Ida Chadd saw an item in the newspaper which prompted her to write directly to Dr. Currelly”
I wrote these words in early March of this year stating, in a matter of fact style, that Mrs. Ida Chadd of Trenton, Ontario appears to have done nothing for well over a year to follow the directions of her late husband, G.J. Chadd (1837-1917) to sell his archaeological collection.
When I reread the above quote a few short weeks later, the light bulb glowed in my little brain. By god, I was living in a world where we all must triage those things that are necessary and urgent and those things that can and should be put into abeyance! Immediately, I understood that I was not really separated by a century from Ida Chadd. Her ‘Spanish’ flu and my Covid 19 had collided. I didn’t like that one bit. I realized that I prefer to look down my nose at the major events of the past and study, analyze and judge them from the safety of what was a very comfortable present.
The immediate empathy I felt with Ida Chadd was real but the recollection it evoked was visceral. ‘Me’ war bride granny, May Jenkins (1890-1986), arrived in Ville Émard/Cote Saint-Paul (southwest Montréal) in 1917 from east end London, England. She had two daughters from a previous marriage (widowed already). Another daughter was born shortly after their arrival and a son in early 1918. The ‘Spanish’ flu quickly took the dear baby boy and almost killed ‘me’ granny. People were dying so quickly that bodies were put out on the front ‘garries’ for collection by charnel wagons.
This is a story that I have known about “forever”, but that moment of connection with Ida Chadd and the realization that I actually had skin in the game circa 1918 was powerful. I had myself a cry like I haven’t had….well, I can’t remember the last time I balled my eyes out like that. It was certainly a profound tie to the past and, perhaps, a lament for the present.
Soldier: Harold Riley (Grampy)- his family from Blackpool had come to Canada earlier and settled in Ville Émard/Côte Saint-Paul. Enlisted in August 1914, met May Jenkins, married, returned to Canada 1917, twice wounded, gassed at Ypres Salient, shell shocked and tuberculosis. He may well have not been with my granny when the baby died as he was in the Sanatorium at Sainte Agathe-des-Monts in spring 1918…..imperialist cannon fodder
So, a century is not a long time. In archaeological terms, not even the blink of an eye. And here in Ontario one hundred years does not qualify, in legal terms, as archaeology.
I am happy to report that ‘me’ granny lived on to achieve working class comfort and success in her life, and therefore in the life of my family. I wish I could report that Ida Chadd and her epileptic spinster daughter ended their lives well. They did not. But, that is a story for another time.
Above: Children- my grandbabies Ivy and Albert (Ivy after my mother)
I am very grateful that our moment is 2020 and not 1918. I worry a lot about my grandbabies in Québec but I do not fear for them as I would have a century ago and I am as certain as one can be that they will not suffer the fate and indignity of my uncle in 1918 Montréal.
A caveat. If you have not done so already, search graphs that display the trajectory of the ‘Spanish’ flu. It is a cautionary note to any and all who might think that the possibility of a second wave is the product of exaggerators and doomsayers.
We’re living some big history in real time and the ‘final score’ is yet to be determined. May this pandemic be the major tragedy of this century and not be relegated to the status of footnote as 1918-19 was compared to the death and destruction that we wrought on each other in the twentieth century.
Despite having never been so physically separated from those I love, I have never felt as close to them…past, present and future.
I give thanks and gratitude to all those workers who have been and are continuing to be out there while I have the luxury to ‘hold in place’ and think about a lot of stuff.
With love, hope and optimism, David Harris
Ida Chadd did sell her late husband’s collection in 1921. It resides today in the Royal Ontario Museum. (ROM) My interest in the Chadds came about as a result of the opportunity to analyze glass beads from the Chadd Collection. My sincere thanks to Bill Fox for the opportunity and privilege of working with this fascinating artifacts and developing a curiosity about G.J. Chadd.
The Currelly referred to is the legendary Charles Trick Currelly who was, arguably, the most influential figure in the history of the ROM. When you research at the ROM library, his prominently displayed bust gazes down at you. I find it a bit spooky!
‘Me’ granny was a proud Cockney who was incapable of using the pronoun ‘my’. I didn’t know when I was young that her accent was a mark of social derision to her ‘betters’. None of her progeny has ever doffed a cloth cap to a toff!
‘Garry’ is, or was, anglo working class Québec slang for porch (from galerie).
I use the term ‘Spanish’ flu with hesitation as the ‘leader of the free world’ has pointedly followed the historical precedent of naming pandemics after their geographic or supposed geographic origin. For a fascinating lesson on the naming of plagues, listen to Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence radio program (11 June 2020).