The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Burlington, Ontario, Monday, 14 July 2008

In the beginning it was just to be a family wedding: my niece was to be married in Burlington, Ontario. Since my teenage children were visiting us this summer in Maryland, we decided, despite the rapidly rising cost of gasoline, to make a real “roots tour” of it to the homeland.

My kids were actually born in Europe but have largely grown up in Louisiana and Mississippi in the USA. They are in fact three-quarters Canadian but they have never visited Canada before except as babies, and had certainly never got to know their Canadian cousins, aunts and uncles, had never seen family-related sites. Even when it turned out that only two of the three children would be able to come along, we went anyway.

The wedding of course went off without a hitch. There were all kinds of relatives present, a real family reunion in itself. Why is it that they all seem so much older than I recall whereas I by contrast remain young and energetic. Must be the Canadian climate that ages these people so much!

Once my brother Ken had completed his brief tour de force as Father of the Bride, he was free to show us around. Ken is a genealogist (he has been the full-time executive director of the Ontario Genealogical Society: and is now in retirement working on his/our family history. I mean, Ken is the Real McCoy. He prepared a car tour to various family-related sites in Southern Ontario.

The Bird Family have been farmers in the Haldimand County area on the northern shore of Lake Erie since three brothers, Thomas, Miles & Henry, arrived in Canada West in the 1840s from northern England. The brothers occupied adjoining farms. Today, five generations later, one direct descendent named Bird, actually still lives with his wife and small children on one of the family farms. No doubt just to confuse genealogists, Miles Bird married an Elizabeth Bird (no relation). We visited Miles’s grave in the churchyard of the old Zoar Cemetery (misspelled “Zore” on the sign) where there was once the Zoar Primitive Methodist Church (the Presbyterians were far larger in number in Canada, but Haldimand County was Methodist territory. The Methodists later joined with the Presbyterian Church as well as the Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada in the 1920s). Elizabeth Bird’s father was named William Bird.

There has been a William in the family in every generation since. My own son, age 16, carries the same name as his great-grandfather, William Matthew Bird, whose grave we also visited at Stamford Presbyterian Church in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Son William was chuffed to see his name carved so frequently in marble and stone. Along with several other Bird and Stewart (my paternal grandmother's family) graveyards, we also visited the farm at Lowbanks, Ontario where my own father, Stewart William Bird, was raised. His dad, William Matthew Bird, had purchased this farm and moved farther away from his other relatives. The family farmhouse is no longer there and the 100 acres near Lake Erie is now sewn in one single crop; are they soybeans? The farm was sold during the Second World War as my grandfather had become handicapped by a severe hip injury from a farm accident and nobody in the family wanted to be a farmer any more. As well as being farmers in a rural community, my grandparents and their brothers were local worthies, being elected Reeves of Sherbrook Township and Wardens of Haldimand County. They were all Methodists.

The pictures for this blog are random although they are all related to one of the graves or farms connected with the Bird Family.

As an aside, Methodism was surprisingly diverse in form: Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, United Brethren, etc. were all strong in this region, i.e., Upper Canada, Canada West or Ontario, all names applied at one time or another to the modern Province of Ontario. Since Quebec was wrested in battle from the French in 1759 there had always been the same contest between conservative class-conscious Anglicans situated mainly in the cities, and the more `populist` and therefore democratic Methodists with a base amongst small farmers, tradesmen and merchants. Methodism was a big tent. The Primitive Methodists, on the one hand, were of the tent-meeting, field-preaching and personal salvation types common in England and the USA. Although known in England, the Primitive Methodists arrived in Upper Canada from the USA. The Primitives however were distained not only by the establishment-church Anglicans in Canada and England but even by the Wesleyan Methodists who arrived from England through Lower Canada and who were, in England at least, often made up of aspiring middle-class adherents. They were of course more than a trifle embarrassed by their uncouth, less genteel, fire-eating Methodist co-denominationalists. In England, indeed, these differences had political implications: during the never-ending wars with the French at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, when non-conformists in general and working-class and rural revivalists in particular were politically suspect for their democratic ideas, middle-class Wesleyans tried to distance themselves from their more common and radical, field-preaching fellow denominationalists. But it was the more primitive end of the Methodist movement which has led to one “Great Awakening” after another in ‘American’ history.

So, rural Ontario was strongly Methodist in one form or another. The land between Lakes Ontario and Erie is as flat as a prairie. Much of it is clay and farms have been abandoned altogether. Where the land is fertile the standard 100-acre homesteads, cleared in the 1830’s and 40’s, have been consolidated in recent years into bigger units. Still scattered around the countryside are the simple red-brick or white-painted Methodist (now United Church of Canada) churches and an occasional boarded up rural school. No spires, no manses nearby (the preachers would possibly have been itinerant at least in the beginning, or there were local lay preachers). Outside there was perhaps a graveyard with the names of the local farmers and their wives and children in stone. Sometimes the churches have vanished and only the graveyard remains. In some cases eve, the gravestones have been neglected and someone has pulled them all together since the graves themselves have vanished (e.g. Zoar/Zore Cemetery). Sometimes the church building has disappeared or a graveyard was started without any attachment to a building; there was one such country graveyard, Providence Cemetery, next to the Stewart farm where my Grandmother Bird had been raised. The counties and municipalities now have responsibility for the graveyards so they are looked after to a degree.

A big thank you to my brother Kenneth for all his efforts to trace these roots.

Burlignton, Ontario, 18 July 2008

I was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and raised there and in the village of Queenston a few miles down the Niagara River. It was fun to make a car tour to the spots I associate with growing up.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Burlington, Ontario, 17 July 2008

Here are some more ´pictures of farms and churches and graveyards associated withe Bird Family, three brothers of which emigrated form the north of England in the 1830s or 1840s.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Burlington, Ontario, Monday, 08 July 2008

Unfortunately, families too often leave it until a funeral comes along to get together. But weddings are a much better event around which to have a family reunion. For one thing, whereas at a funeral the atmosphere is sad and there is one less person present, at a wedding everybody is upbeat and you get at least one person more. Sometimes indeed, if children are entering this new family as well, you could get quite a few more people. So, go for weddings!

Of course, if the bridal couple leave for a honeymoon, you won’t see much of them and, if they are still on Cloud Nine, they won’t see much of you. But, weddings are still better.

Burlington, Ontario, Monday, 12 July 2008

On the way to Southern Ontario we stop for a night in Binghamton, NY, to visit briefly with old music friends from Frankfurt, Germany. Lots of gabbing about ‘old times’. And then a brief stop near Rochester to visit Kathleens cousin whom she had not seen in forty years.