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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tracing our roots in Kemptville


On a hot summer day, the doors of Kemptville’s Grahame’s Bakery are left wide open to let some of the heat escape. The aroma of bread baking in a wood-fired oven escapes too, and wafts through the neighbourhood to where I grew up, on George Street. That could explain why I don’t really appreciate baked goods from anywhere else – they just aren’t as substantial and authentic as Grahame’s donuts and pies – and the scent reminds me of my early years in my hometown. But it turns out my connection to the bakery runs even deeper than that.
To get the facts straight, I interviewed my grandma Mabel Leeson, on the occasion of her 93rd birthday. She has the family tree documented carefully on paper, but she doesn’t really need it. All of the names and dates are still easily retrieved from her razor-sharp memory. It frustrates me that my memory is so bad. I suggested Mabel’s mind was still sharp because of her long career in finance with the federal court. Mabel put herself through accounting courses after her two sons were born, and had her fees reimbursed because her marks were so high. The only woman at the boardroom table in the 1950’s, she earned the respect of her colleagues and a reputation as a very tough manager. Grandma says my memory is likely bad because I fill my brain with too many other things. She could have a point there.
Mabel’s Uncle Burt and Aunt Esther Frisby owned Grahame’s Bakery in the 1930’s. In 1939, a young man named Leonard Grahame began working for Burt, learning the techniques of baking in the traditional wood-fired oven. Leonard worked very hard, and showed a keen interest in the business. When the Frisbys retired twenty years later, Burt found a way to sell the bakery to his protégée. Leonard’s son Ken took over the family business from his father and now the grandchildren, Rick and Debbie run the bakery together.
It’s interesting to trace the history of a place, or a family, and fascinating to learn how many of our families started out with one person travelling across the ocean to land on a dock in Canada. Many of these first branches of the Canadian family tree came over as home boys. They were sent over from orphanages and other facilities in the UK to live and work on farms in Canada.
My grandfather Garnet Leeson’s family comes from Ireland. As there is a Leeson street in Dublin, I imagine our roots are there. Guess where I would like to visit someday? Grandma Mabel was a Costain, and her tree branches back to the Isle of Man, a little island in the sea between Ireland and England. There is a rich history there tracing back to the Celts and the Vikings. That might explain the fighting spirit of the Manx lineage. Their emblem has three legs: no matter how they fall, they always land on their feet.
You don’t have to trace your family tree back too far to see where it began in Canada. A young child, in many cases an orphan, endures a long, hard journey at sea, which ends at a port in Montreal or maybe Nova Scotia. Many of those youngsters were ‘adopted’ by farmers in Eastern Ontario. They began their lives in Canada taking care of animals on a farm, or working in the lumber yards. These children were often given their meals and left to sleep in the barns as well. There is a home boy at the top of the family tree in both my family and my husband’s family. It was a rough start for many of our families. Look how easy we have it now.
Grandma Leeson, in her 94th year, has had two sons, seven grandchildren, fifteen great- grandchildren and one great, great grandchild. The branches of this tree are long and its roots are firmly planted.
Happy Birthday, Grandma.


email: dianafisher1@gmail.com

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