BAGNALL, Edwin Cantello (1887-1969) BAGNALL, George William

Breathing Life Into Ancestors Long Gone

When it comes to relatives we’ve never met or created memories with, it’s easy for them to feel like flat, lifeless names atop the page. When ancestors are flat, they’re boring. They’re not always easy to research. We forget the very few facts that we know about them because we’re disconnected.

How quickly one artifact can change things!

Edwin Cantello Bagnall is my great, great uncle (the brother of my great-grandmother). To date, I’ve never found a single early family photo of him (the one close-up photo I’ve seen is of him as a senior). He was a farmer who never married, never had children, and who didn’t seem to leave much trace of himself. My grandma talked about him to me when I was growing up (he was her uncle), and the only thing I could remember about him was his funny name (he went by his middle name as most of the Bagnall siblings did)–Cantello.

“Cantelope?!” I remember asking her on a regular basis. “Who names their kid Cantelope?!” And my kid sister and I would laugh ourselves silly.

Sadly, when I began digging around for preliminary info on dear Cantello, other than his interesting name, this fellow was pretty dull from a genealogy standpoint. I found it hard to connect with his story, although I knew it was an interesting one. After all, he was one of two brothers who led our entire family out west to Alberta from Prince Edward Island; he and his brother, Louis, came out ahead of the family to stake a claim on homestead lands. As a result, they wrote letters back home to their parents and ten remaining siblings, urging a move west. Soon after, the family obliged and came to settle in Edmonton. So, he was important in the Bagnall family. He was beloved, too, to be a bachelor uncle that was included around my great grandma’s dinner table often enough for my grandma to remember.

Too bad on paper he was so dull I could scarcely remember even the approximate date range that he lived within (you see, he’s not to be confused with a different Edwin Cantelo Bagnall in my family tree! ;)

And then I found a good database to search at Peel’s Prairie Provinces through the University of Alberta. I plunked the names Bagnall and Bagnell into their old newspaper directory, just to see what would turn up. I had my fingers crossed that with 14 Bagnalls having moved out to Edmonton in the early part of the twentieth century, perhaps I would get lucky and score one small article or announcement. So, imagine my delighted surprise when I instead turned up PAGES of results for the Bagnalls in my family line! And, imagine my shock at seeing that Mr. E.C. Bagnall, formerly totally elusive, now actually seemed to be becoming the star of the show! Now, part of this was because he seemed to have a bit of an affinity for being a bit of a troublemaker in his day (see a full post on that here); nevertheless, I felt like with every article I read, this chap was coming to life before my eyes! And I found he was growing on me; I began to find I was rooting for him a little bit.

I then tried my luck at the old Henderson’s Directories on the Peel’s Prairie Provinces site. With great luck, I was now able to easily locate good old “E.C. Bagnall” or “C. Bagnall” as he was sometimes called. Through this, I found out that he was the owner and proprietor of the Strathcona (‘Scona) Garage, and that before he became a farmer, he repaired cars and lived in the Strathcona Apartments above the Garage (often with a sibling or two!). Again, fact by fact, he was become more of a flesh and blood person to me, and I found myself gravitating more and more towards his enigmatic story when I sat down to do my research.

The real highlight came for me just several days ago, when I stumbled upon an old packet of saved letters in some family files. I believe even my grandma (whom the packet last belonged to) hadn’t known they were in there as she says she can never remember seeing or reading a letter from Uncle Cantello in all her life. I told her the details in them and she too found them amusing, fascinating, and moving.

In this letter to his father dated 14 September, 1936, Cantello is obviously living in Northern Alberta (Beaverlodge) at this point, likely with or near his older brother, Louis, living the hard life of a farmer on a homestead thick with scrub brush and hard labour. Add to this the fact that it’s the “Dirty Thirties”, and with the Depression, most folks found themselves in hard times financially as well. Additionally, Cantello has 9 remaining living siblings (most married and with their own families to care for at this point). He also has two aging parents whom he obviously has some financial ties with. This letter details some technical details of his homesteading as well as the financial woes that he and father, George, are obviously mired down in. Lastly, the language, humour, and financial “strategy” that this letter reveals have made me fully endeared to Cantello all of a sudden. This man that I once felt was a stranger now truly feels like family. He was obviously a hard-working man who cared about his family and was charmingly rough around the edges. To see his character flushed out in his own handwriting in thick pencil strokes, and with his own signature (“As ever, E.C.B.”) is a true treasure among treasures.

Cantello, I’m glad I’ve gotten to know you.







Dear Dad [George William Bagnall]

Wed didn’t get quite through cutting have about 20 acres on the Oakford place and that piece of greenfeed home. Could of been done put (but) broke down one of those darn old binders and couldnt get Repairs for a week. However we got a Hell of a snow storm its fine today and the weather looks settled We may get some good weather from now on. The weather was cold windy & squally for a week before it snowed so held Harvest up to some extent. There arent much more than Half the oats in the country cut and the majority of them were still green They are as flat as a pancake now and a lot of them will never be cut this should put the price of oats away up. Barnard Has 150 acres down I don’t know if he will ever cut them or not. We will cut ours as soon as the snow goes off

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Tom Watt got some threshed His oats were very light I dont think more than 20 or 25 Ill find out some of those days. There was a few outfits started to thresh the day before the storm But didnt get much done. We would of been ready in another day if the weather Held out But However I guess well get some good weather yet. Aberharts new Legislation will make some change in the country give everybody a chance to get them old Bills fixed up without being swamped with Interest. It will make quite a difference with to us with Johnston & the International people. Ill pay Cockshutt and the rest of the Bills we owe. But we wont give them a goddam cent more than we Have to. I saw Mr Swinton he said the office wrote him to cut 500ºº off the Interest I told him I guess they will cut more than that off. I asked him if he read the new act in the paper. However he said we’ll just let it go for now

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and when we got threshed and ready to do Business we’ll settle up O.K. without any trouble. So I geuss they will may be cut all the Intrest so that will just Be 1100ºº principal. With Interest cut off the farm since 1932 will leave us owing Johnston around 6000ºº if he wants to take about 4000ºº we’ll settle up with him too otherwise he’ll have to take it in yearly instalments and nothing this fall. I wonder How he will like that. After Threshing we will have to arrange to meet Johnston and get this all straightned up so we will know exactly whats, what. Stan Davis went down last friday night for a new truck I told him to call you up Wilbur might come with him also to send up that rifle But I geuss the roads will be absolutely Impassable for another ten days. We had rain and about 8 in of snow. I geuss thats all for now.

As Ever

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P.S. Margaret rec your letter and was quite pleased to get it. Arnald Johnston told me them were 5 of the finest Hogs that were shipped from the Peace River country this year 4 selects 1 Bacon.


Taking Family History Beyond Facts and Into Stories

Isla Bagnall with her children, Helen and Howard.

Isla Bagnall with her children, Helen and Howard.

The deeper I get into my family history research, the more I’m learning to look at the “big picture”. When you spend all your research time honing in on one individual at a time, it can become very frustrating to locate some of the basic facts you need to find out about them, let alone answers to the bigger questions you may have about them (the ones starting with Why? or How? as opposed to only the ones starting with Who? and When?).

When I really get into a good afternoon of research, I keep as much as I can at my fingertips. I digitize every scrap I can find so that it’s only a mouse click away. I have a running notebook beside me which ranges from well-organized to (admittedly) completely haphazard. My phone sits only a hand’s reach beside me with my knowledgeable grandma on speed dial. The family albums and article snippings are only ever a few steps away.

Perhaps the best tool of all in my arsenal, however, is a sharp memory. I must confess that with a wee baby and toddler in my care, mine’s definitely not always at its best, but–that being said–I do try to reserve research for quiet times when I can really concentrate. This is because my best finds of all often seem to happen accidentally while I am reading a sheet full of names or facts or addresses and then–suddenly!–something jogs my mind to a happy coincidence or a curious correlation. That’s usually when I bookmark the physical or digital page I am on and abandon a commonplace ship for one more exciting. I allow myself to wander and ponder and digress a little bit. My best finds typically come from these pursuits, where my mind acts as repository and connections are made and–aha!–an entire chunk of narrative is filled into someone’s lifeline. It’s better than a single fact or date for just another list.

Just this week I had a discovery like this when a few names and dates overlapped while I was filling in an individual fact sheet for my great-grandmother’s sister, Isla. I was filling in the names and dates for her marriage and children’s births when suddenly a brain wave hit me. I looked beyond what I was doing in the microcosm of her immediate family and instead allowed the lives of her extended family–of her siblings–to envelop the frame I was focused on. While honed in, I was able to merely reiterate that her children were named Helen and Howard and Jane and that they were born in 1918, 1920, and 1927. It was a bit of a ho-hum detail that others before me had researched, and I was about to leave it when I allowed my mind to mull over this list of names and dates a little further. When I panned out to look at the bigger picture, I was suddenly struck by something.

To be precise, it was the name Howard that struck me as I had just finished looking at old album photos of (John) Howard Bagnall, Isla’s youngest brother who died of Spanish Influenza at the tender age of 16 (read more about that story here). I knew Howard had died on Boxing Day of 1918. I decided to overlay their lives in my mind’s eye a bit. At that time, Isla would have been married for about a year and a half, living only a few short blocks away from her family. It’s evident that she remained close with her family even after her marriage, since in 1920 she and her family moved in next door to them! Then, in 1924, while husband Harold is most likely trying to line up work in Ontario, Isla moves back in with her parents in their family home. All this goes to say that even after marriage, Isla would have maintained close personal contact with her parents and siblings who still lived “just around the corner”.

The fact that Isla’s son was named Howard when he was born on 25 January 1920 made me continue to inspect bigger picture. It comes as no surprise that Isla used a family name in selecting what her son would be called, but the timing of everything made my mind pan out to put myself in the shoes of what had most likely taken place in the span of those few years.

In 1917, Isla got married, moved a few blocks from home, and quickly found out she was pregnant. Her daughter, Helen Blanche was born in April of 1918, right before the start of the awful Spanish Influenza pandemic that began in October. Rapidly, Edmonton found itself in the throws of full quarantine, and bodies were very literally piling up in the morgues. It must have been a terrifying time to have a young baby and to be a new mother to a six month old. And then, in what must have been a horrifically gutting Christmas, Isla and the rest of her family witnessed the passing of their kid brother Howard, an asthmatic who, according to his obituary, suffered only a “short illness with influenza” before succumbing to his sickness on Boxing Day of 1918. Before the funeral could be arranged, the family first had to wait for one of the brothers (either Cantello or Wilbur) to return home from active duty in France (via Halifax). My grandma reminded me that this also being the era before airplanes, a journey such as that would have been by boat and then train and may have taken a while. The wait for the entire family, Isla included, must have been absolutely awful, made worse by continued fear of flu all around them. Mount Pleasant cemetery in Edmonton (where Howard is buried) reports that the paperwork for Howard’s headstone is dated January 1, 1919 and that his burial date was probably around that date. And so, at the precise onset of a new year, the rest of the Bagnall family must embark on a brand new year without dear Howard.

Approximately four short months later, Isla would become pregnant yet again with her second child. All things considered, perhaps it should really come as no surprise then when, just past the one year mark for burying her little brother, Isla gives birth to a healthy baby boy in January of 1920, and she calls him Howard.

*STORIES BAGNALL, Christy Jane BAGNALL, Edwin Cantello (1887-1969) BAGNALL, George William BAGNALL, Miller Rennie BAGNALLS

When Ancestors are Trouble Makers

All us genealogists find ourselves in the same boat, hunched over a computer screen or film viewer or library index or finding guide for hours, skimming words and names and directories and census results in fading ink or flickering light or illegible handwriting. We subject ourselves to this mind-numbing banality all for the thrill of the chase and because maybe, just maybe, after we’ve spent 52 minutes reading directory pages from 1904 through to 1948, we like to believe that maybe, just maybe, in that 53rd minute, or in the 1949 directory, we will finally find a gem–that surname we’ve been searching for, or that occupation listing, or one small italicized abbreviation: wid. or some other clue on our treasure hunt.

We follow nothing more than breadcrumb trails most of the time. Our ancestors left us little meat, few potatoes, and we must be satisfied to take our journey One. Crumb. At. A. Time. Even so, even that is satiating enough for us; even the smallest morsel whets our appetite and spurs us on towards another small bite. And so, we trail on, peering down dim rabbit trails and scratching our heads at forks in the road wondering where exactly our next meal may come from.

Oh, it’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

But then, once in a while, on those special, rare days, we hit the genealogical jackpot. We find a score, a cache, a real trove of research treasures. We inherit an album, find a scrapbook in a trunk, or get mailed a family bible. In my case, I’ve hit a recent jackpot upon finding that a few of my Bagnall ancestors seemed to have a real affinity for getting in some minor brushes with the law, for turning up in the courts to sue people for wrongdoings or moneys owed, or for gravitating towards the newspapers to challenge city ordinances, police investigations, or hospital fire codes.

For example, a couple of Bagnall brothers, Miller & Cantello, nothing more than “boring old farmers” to the naked eye, were actually bigger trouble makers than would have been expected! Before these brothers moved out to the farm (where they spent the rest of their undocumented, unmarried lives), they lived in the “big city”, a place where prohibition was just taking hold and the local newspapers were there to relay any juicy violations to their readership.

Cantello Bagnall, my grandmother’s uncle, was often nothing more than just a boring old uncle or a silly old farmer to her when he joined her family at her mother’s dinner table from time to time. However, I’ve recently been poring over digitized old newspapers from our city, and his name happened to come up quite a bit. In September of 1917, Cantello gets in a rather peculiar car accident at the entrance to a prominent bridge in Edmonton–at one o’clock in the morning, no less. The article below recants some of the confusion (or rather, suspicion) surrounding the incident (full transcription additionally below).

The Edmonton Bulletin, September 19, 1917, Page 3, Item Ar00307 (Accessed:|bagnell|%28publication%3AEDB%29|score)

The Edmonton Bulletin, September 19, 1917, Page 3, Item Ar00307 (Accessed:|bagnell|%28publication%3AEDB%29|score)


Will Be Asked To Supply Facts

Police Receive Complaints From Two Men in Same Accident–See Only Confusion

C. Gagnell, (editing note: should be C. Bagnall) 9519 106th avenue, walked into the central police station at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning and told the desk sergeant that he had been the victim of an accident on the south side approach to the high level bridge as a result of the carelessness of a chauffeur for a local laundry. Bagnell claimed that his car had had its running board destroyed and its fender torn off, all because of another man’s carelessness.

Shortly before the complaint was made, officers at police station No. 2 were listening to a complaint from the laundry chauffeur who said that his car had ben run into by Bagnell at the approach to the high level bridge and that a small boy who was with them had been injured as a result of the smash.

In the meantime the officers from central station accompanied Bagnell to the scene of the accident. As the road was being searched by the investigating party they suddenly came upon a Ford car drawn up at the side and bearing signs of rough treatment. Bagnell was then put up to a close questioning but he failed to recognize this car and maintained that it had nothing to do with the accident. The police became suspicious when the third automobile was introduced in the already muddled case and in order that the whole affair may be straightened out a summons is being made out against Bagnell for his appearance in the police court on a charge of breach of the Motor Vehicle Act.

Just a few months after this, around New Year’s Day in 1918, Cantello again got into trouble with the law, this time alongside his brother Miller. The Edmonton Bulletin, on January 3rd, 1918 writes: “Miller Bagnell was arrested in an intoxicated condition on Jasper avenue. As he refused to tell in court where he obtained his liquor he was sent back to the cells until he supplies the magistrate with this information.” On January 4th, 1918, it follows up with some further information, stating: “Edwin C. Bagnell and Miller Bagnell, brothers, were each fined $5 and $3.75 costs for being drunk on New Year’s Day.” (Read both full articles here). I had to chuckle about the triviality of such “offenses”–what a different era they lived in–being fined and jailed for being drunk on New Year’s Day! The newspapers would run out of room to print the names that are guilty of this same offense nowadays…

At any rate, trivial by modern standards or not, these fellows and their run-ins with the law (and newspapers) make not only for a few good giggles nowadays, but also for some good genealogical documentation! Cantello reappears in the news again in 1922, when he gets his lawyer to draft up a warning to one Mr. Andy Leary, who owes him $136.20 in unpaid automobile storage fees at ‘Scona Garage, which Cantello owned and operated at the time. These Bagnalls know their rights and how to exercise them!

Father George William Bagnall also makes the news for similar reasons back in 1916 (read the full article) when he takes on one Mr. Edgar W. Chandler and his wife, L.S. Chandler, in Edmonton District Court to recover some $176.64 owed to him via an unfulfilled promisory note. After some proceedings, the judge rules in his favor and orders the moneys be paid to George in full.

Daughter Jane Bagnall, sister to Cantello and Miller mentioned above, also makes the news numerous times in Spokane, Washington, where she regularly challenges the authority of the courts and fire code coming at her for bylaw violations in the nursing home/sanitarium that she operates. In one article clipped by an old family member, she calls other nursing homes in the area “snake pits”, referring to how terrible they are and how much better the quality care is at her sanitarium. Later, the fire department threatens to take her to court for having too many patients living in her building, and she regularly insinuates she will go to court against them and that she is not in the wrong. In the Spokane Daily Chronicle on 9 April 1949, a notable quote reads:

[Jane] said Captain Roy McDirmid, chief fire inspector, told her that in the event of a serious fire at the sanitarium, the department couldn’t remove more than 50 persons.

She said her reply to that was “Captain, what’s the matter with your department?”
(Read the rest of the article here)

So, the Bagnalls always had a lot of spunk. As a result, I’ve got reams of stuff regularly turning up to surprise and delight me. I save the articles, scribble down my immediate reactions, have a good chuckle, and then get on the phone with my grandma.

“Grandma! I found another one about your uncles–drunk in public this time, and refusing to tell the judge where they got their liquor from!”

“Who’s that? Cantello and Miller?” she inquires.

“Yes!” I squeal into the phone.

“I’m not surprised,” she admits with amusement. “My mother always said they secretly were rum runners!”

And out comes another story I’ve never heard before–so much for those “boring old farmers” she had referenced only a week before.

Oh, those troublemakers; they sure know how to charm a family researcher!

BAGNALL, Martha Blanche BAGNALL, Mary Blanche BAGNALL, Richard Edwin BAGNALL, William James Howard BAGNALL, William Mark JOHNSTONE, Mary STEVENSON, Jane

A Namesake: A Letter to my Great Grandmother, Mary Blanche Bagnall

This past week, my grandmother passed along to me a dainty, two-page letter that her mother–my Nana (or great-grandmother), Blanche–had received in 1940 from a nearly ninety year old widow. This elderly woman who wrote the letter and who is also called Mary Bagnall, wrote from New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island, not far from where all the Bagnalls on my side of the family were born and raised in Lot 22 (Hazel Grove).

In her own delicate penmanship, this other Mary Bagnall tells my great-grandma (Mary Blanche Bagnall) how she got her name, among other lovely tidbits. It turns out that my Nana was named after this woman’s daughter, Blanche, who died at the tender age of only 14. Besides the namesake portion of the letter, of special interest is also the mentioning of several old Bagnall graves (which spunky Mary had ordered a man to clean the moss off of since she “was not going to see a Bagnall plot like that”!).

In doing some further research, I believe the Mary Bagnall who penned this letter is actually Mary Johnstone (1851- ), who married Richard Edwin Bagnall (1839-1924) in 1872–this would also correspond well to her mention of first arriving in New Glasgow, where they were married, in 1872. In my research at The Island Register, I can see that this couple had three daughters, the youngest of which was Martha Blanche Bagnall (1884-1898), who died at the age of 14, which corresponds to the facts mentioned in the letter below.

Richard Edwin Bagnall is the son of William James Howard Bagnall (1815-1886) and Jane Stevenson (1816-1872), who are both buried in New Glasgow, PEI–these are likely the “Grandpa” and “Grandma” whose graves are referenced in this letter. Additionally, one of Richard’s younger brothers was also William Mark Bagnall (known as “Mark”; 1849-1937), who is also referenced in the mention of the “three” graves on page two of the letter.

William James Howard Bagnall is the son of John Richard Bagnall and Elizabeth Ann Dix Cantelo, which would be where our family lines intersect as (John) Richard and Elizabeth are my direct ancestors. This means that Mary Johnstone Bagnall who penned this letter would be the great aunt of my Nana, Blanche (or the aunt of her father, George).

What a treasure this original letter is to me–now threadbare and nearly thin as a silk handkerchief, but still well-preserved after all these years! I’m relieved to have finally taken a scan and transcription of it so that it can continue to be passed along as part of the legacy associated with the names Mary & Blanche Bagnall.

If you find the letter difficult to read, it is also fully transcribed at the bottom of this post.




New Glasgow
Dec 17 1940

Dear Mary Blanch

You will be surprised to get this but it is only a little remembrance. I hope you are all well. I think it was my dear sister that wrote me that you and your husband had joined the church. I was pleased to hear it. did your father ever tell you how you got Mary to your name I had a daughter died when she was 14 year old a very fine Christian girl and her name was Blanch and your father told my husband that he was going to call his little girl Blanch after her and asked him what would go nice with it and he said Mary. One reason I am writing this I want to thank you for getting Ernest Bulman to go and see my sister and he went and had tea with them and they had such a nice time talking about back here and he promised her he would come and tell me about it so he came up and told me she was smart but I think she did not live long after that she died so suddenly it was such a shock to us all they all will miss her so much and I will miss her nice letter. I cannot think my dear sister has gone. You can also tell your father I had a man out from town and he

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fixed up Grandpas monument there was a ball got broken of and he put it on cost $5 and also Marks death and he cleaned it all over and it is lovely now Grand papas and Grandmas and Marks the three. My husband has a nice monument further down with his name and Blanch it cost $275. I want to say is the old Bagnall plot is near Grandpas and my the stones were all so mossey you could hardly make out so I asked him if he could clean them and he said yes he said a $1 a piece so I told him to clean them. Uncle Richards first wife and your fathers father and two or three others I was not going to see a Bagnall plot like that I paid him $20 but I am pleased. it is 68 years since I came to New Glasgow and it is strange Nov 27 1872 Wednesday, nice for a waggon but the next day snow came and winter sat in and this Wednesday 27th fine no snow and next day snow and winter sat in. If I am spaired 6 more months will be 90 years old I am very well for that. we are all very well Richard my grandson is married and she is very nice and they have a baby girl 9 weeks old. give my love to all. I remember being out there and seen your father and mother so well. I guess your brother are all well Lovengly Mrs Mary Bagnall


The Heartache Hiding in Historical Dates: A Personal Story of Pandemic Flu in Edmonton, Alberta

Howard Bagnall with his mother and oldest sister, Jane.  Around 1912, probably in Edmonton AB

Howard with his mother and oldest sister, Jane. Around 1912, probably in Edmonton AB

For some ancestors tucked away in the pages of our genealogical notebooks, the details on them are scant. They are reduced to a name, a few lines of dates, and perhaps a photo or two (only if we are lucky!). And yet, to a careful eye, it is amazing how empathetic we can still become to these elusive figures and to the loved ones they left behind.

I’ve spent the last few days digging around for details on the life of Howard Bagnall, a boy who could have been a great-great uncle I may have possibly known in my lifetime, had he not succumbed to a tragic turn of events at the tender age of 16.

John Howard Bagnall was born the year after my Nana (my great grandmother), a woman I grew up having in my life until I was twelve (she, like the majority of her 12 siblings, lived a long life and died at the age of 94). Nana–(Mary) Blanche Bagnall–was born in 1901, which always made it easy to keep track of her age, even for a young person like me (I needed only to subtract one from whatever year it currently was). Her younger brother, John Howard (or simply Howard, as he was known to his family), was born the year after her, on August 27, 1902. The second last of twelve siblings, I imagine he was a baby surrounded by love, and liveliness, and guardians looking out for him at every corner (surely it would be both a blessing and a curse to be the baby boy to eleven older siblings!). The pages of history don’t tell me much about this boy, and the bit of information that I do know comes to me passed down the generations from my Nana to my grandmother to me; historical dates I’ve been finding out serve to back up the tales.

Apparently, Howard, along with his father George, suffered badly from asthma. After having some health troubles in their home in Hazel Grove, Prince Edward Island, they had heard or been told that perhaps a change in climate and location would help their health to improve. Since the two oldest Bagnall sons (Louis and Cantello) had already made a move out to Alberta for work, Edmonton seemed like a likely place to relocate. And so, the remaining twelve family members made the long train journey from Prince Edward Island out to Edmonton, Alberta, coming in two waves. Howard and his baby sister Hilda came out first, with their parents, George and Margaret. Soon after, the rest of the siblings who still lived at home came on out, chaperoned by Grandfather MacMillan. I am still trying to pinpoint an exact date for when they made the move, but, to be sure, it was between 1911 and 1916 as can be inferred from the location change in the census records for those years.

Regardless, the family settled in blossoming Edmonton, Alberta on 95 street and 106 avenue, in the heart of downtown. Howard’s sister, Uldene, recounts in her memoirs that she remembers wandering the streets of their new city, exploring their strange new surroundings and fearing getting lost in such a big city. She also pleasantly recalls memories of skating outdoors in the winter to live band music in the park.

Then the years of war hit, and several of the older Bagnall brothers are conscripted under the Military Service Act of 1917. Although no memories have been specifically recorded about this period, no doubt these must have been times of tension, or fear, or economic stress. And yet, even through moving across numerous provinces and surviving a hard period of war, the Bagnalls could never have known that the most stressful and taxing and tragic event loomed just beyond this, in 1918.

As 1918 drew to a close and the relief from war was just around the corner, the unforeseeable happened when the Spanish Influenza–a worldwide pandemic–hit Edmonton, Alberta in October. recalls: “During the last two weeks of October [1918], 337 patients were treated in city hospitals and 1,926 others treated at home. Twelve people had died by Oct. 26. Between October 1918 and May 1919, more than 600 people in Edmonton died of influenza and its complications.” (view an eye-opening account of the full events in this online article). also shares an article relating other gruesome events from this period in Edmonton’s past–of an undertaker so overwhelmed by bodies that he had to keep 54 of them stacked in his personal stable, of the heroic doctors and nurses that fell ill and died after caring for the sick, and of the mass public fear and quarantine (read more in “A deadly path tore through the city” at

In an aggressive move, Edmonton shut down the majority of the city’s public places, hoping to contain the plague-like outbreak. They issued mandates for citizens to wear self-constructed masks (made from household gauze or even cheesecloth) whenever they left the house, and signs were posted all over the city illustrating how to make a homemade mask. Unfortunately, in a time before vaccinations or even antibiotics, there was no stopping the deadly virus, and it would over half a year for it to fully run its course. By that time, in May of 1919, it had killed off over 1% and infected over 10% of the fledgling city’s 60,000 citizens, affecting primarily those who were young and fit and strong. Considering what it could do to even a strong, healthy twenty year old, it was no surprise that the virus also preyed on the vulnerable; in my family’s tragic case, it claimed the life of vibrant, sixteen year old Howard, the asthmatic that had, only a few short years before, uprooted his whole life to come to Alberta seeking a better quality of life and health.

As if this bit of cruel irony weren’t painful enough, I recently tracked down Howard’s precise death date, along with a stark headstone to serve as a visual reminder of it; Howard died on December 26, 1918. On the first Christmas Day since the war had ended and families should have been reunited by homecomings and hope for a brighter future, this tiny genealogical record weighs me down by the cruel reality my Nana must have faced that bleak Christmas. At age seventeen, she most likely sat at her younger brother’s bedside with a heavy heart, possibly even sick with flu herself, instead of rejoicing in presents and carols and festive meals as should have been the case. Twenty four hours later, this tender boy that brought the entire family out to their new home in Alberta, would be snatched from them painfully early.

To date, I’ve not located an obituary or funeral announcement for Howard’s death. From the articles I’ve read, it’s evident that some families waited days, or even weeks, to bury their dead. Funerals were held around the clock, at all hours of the day and night, just to accommodate the huge strain from the pandemic. I contacted Mount Pleasant cemetery in Edmonton, where Howard is buried, and they said their records do not indicate an exact burial date but that the date of January 1, 1919 indicates the likely date for when the grave marker was made or placed.

I often think about this young boy, a kindly-faced lad who brought his family west, and–in an indirect sort of way–is the very reason my Nana was able to meet her husband here in this same city, and ultimately why I am here today, as well. For years I’ve commuted to work down Edmonton’s 97th street, whizzing by 106th avenue daily, all this time only two blocks away from where my great-grandmother grew up, made memories, and gave her young brother a final kiss. It more than tugs at the heartstrings.

This spring, when the snow thaws, I plan to visit Howard’s grave at Mount Pleasant–not so far from my current home, in fact–and lay some flowers down beside him, a full 95 years after he himself was laid to rest. He may never have married, nor had children of his own, but I still remember him.


The grave of John Howard Bagnall at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Edmonton AB (via Alison at

The grave of John Howard Bagnall at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Edmonton AB (via Alison at


From the Grave to the Storybook: Ponderings on Preserving the Dignity of the Dead

There are so many aspects to consider when completing family history research, compilation, and story-telling, only one of which is the factual side of nitty gritty details of sheer existence. To be certain, I absolutely adore the factual side–finding nearly un-contestable truths in the pages of census notes, court records, or war documents. These treasured findings let history speak for itself in what is pretty much an unfiltered lens–this person was born; he lived here with this person or that person; he carried on in this manner with his blue eyes, brown hair, short stature; he died. These facts are the critical basis upon which all other research is founded, and yet it leaves us wanting so much more–it leaves us wanting the human connection, whether funny, sympathetic, tragic, or inspiring. Stories of romance, grudges, family dynamics, and merriment are so much more intriguing–yet so much more subjective, too. After all, as the saying goes, every story has at least two sides to it, and often, even in interviewing an original party, we are probably only getting one take on things. This is not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t be retelling these stories!

My grandmother, for instance, has been a treasure trove of anecdotes all throughout our lives, and even moreso with me now that she knows I’ve taken up the family history search. With every name or concrete piece of evidence I am able to bring forward to her, it seems she has a leg up on me already–she has a personal story about the person who existed, in the flesh. She has funny stories to tell about practical jokes and picnics and happy times. Then she has the scoop on everyone’s scandals of the day as well–people with questionable love interests or a knack for creating family drama, for being rude, or spiteful, or dishonest. I adore these stories and they often leave me in stitches or with my eyes wide open–usually, as many stories go, at the expense of one of the anecdote’s primary “characters”. And then, I must stop to remember that each of these characters was actually a real person, and may remain transcribed in alternate notebooks as somebody else’s beloved mother, aunt, grandmother, or cousin.

So, in transcribing these types of memories and stories to eventually share with others, the question must be asked: to what extent must a historian audit the truth (or a version of it) in order to preserve a sense of dignity (or fairness) for those who have passed and can no longer defend themselves? The historian of me is quick to answer “to no extent!”. After all, should we not let these tales speak for themselves, taking them with a grain of salt, and keeping in mind that with every historical story that is told, not only do we learn about the lives of the “characters” in the story, but also about the life of the narrator him/herself?

All this keeps me up at night wondering, though. In my family tree of (so far) several hundred people, I’ve inevitably developed quirky favorites; I often feel like I have special relationships with each of these strangers that I never knew. Some of their dates, or stories, or timelines draw me in, and I gravitate to wanting to know more about them. I think about them during the day. From time to time, I’ve found that I’ve asked myself, “I wonder what so-and-so would do?” or some other equally empathetic question. And yet, the troubling part is, the law of probability would seem to state that, in a family tree as large as mine, hiding somewhere within it must be some less-than-favorable characters, too. So, who are they, the wife beaters, the mentally ill, the alcoholics, the liars, the cheats? What if the family man I pictured was actually such a horror to live with that his sixteen children instead rejoiced when he finally died at an early age? Of course, leave it to someone with such a hyperactive imagination as mine to conjure up hypotheticals like this–but still, it makes me wonder what the “true” stories were about each of these individuals I’ve so carefully recorded in my notebooks. Were they really the darling mother I envisioned them to be, or some kind of sociopathic abuser instead?

And so, when my grandma is able to tell me stories of people long passed–people that she actually knew and met and visited and dined with throughout the course of her lifetime–even unglamorous, unflattering, scandalous stories–the historian in me secretly squirrels them away, as is, in all their cringe-worthy, jaw-dropping glory, until I can resolve within myself the question of to what extent the dead need to be protected, or left alone, in peace, from here on in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!

BURTON, Jessie Theresa

Jessie Theresa Burton (1863-1951)

Birth: 14 November 1863 in St. Giles, Middlesex, London, England

Marriage: 6 April 1886 in London, England

Death: 1951 in Ilford, Essex, England


Parents Siblings
Alfred Alexander Burton abt 1835 –
Sarah Harman 1835 – 1908
Frederick William Burton abt 1860 -
Amelia E Burton abt 1862 -
Albert L Burton abt 1867 -
George Henry Burton 1873 –
Spouse Children
Charles James Temple 1863 – 1929 Charles Albert M Temple 1888 -
Hilda M Temple 1890 -
Jessie F Temple 1892 -
Edward G Temple 1894 – 1950
Dorothy S Temple 1896 -
Winifred P Temple 1898 -
Millicent Temple 1900 – 1989
Mable Ethel Temple 1905 – 1978
Leonard Sidney Temple 1907 –



14 November 1863


  • Residing at 17 Hampden Road in the Islingdon, St. John area of London, England with her father and three siblings born to date. There is no mention of her mother on this census, and younger brother George is not yet born. (View 1871 Census of England; household 25)

25 January 1874

  • Baptised in the Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Red Lion Square, in the County of Middlesex, in London, England. (View parish baptismal record


  • Residing in Edmonton, Middlesex, London, England at 5 Broomfield Cottage Bowes Road with her mother (Sarah) and all her siblings. It seems implied that her parents are still married as her mother is not listed as a widow and is listed as the “wife”, not the “head”; however, her father is not mentioned on this census. Jessie is 17 years old and working as a monitress at a day school. (View 1881 Census of England; household 38)

28 March 1886

6 April 1886




  • Residing at 51 Connaught Gardens (Enfield, Edmonton, Middlesex, London) with 3 of her children (including married children Leonard and Winifred and their spouses) and occasionally another boarder. (View electoral registers from 1934 or 1935)


  • Residing at 71 Pembroke Road (Edmonton, Middlesex, London) with her married daughter Winifred and her husband, Philip Hatton. (View electoral registers from 1937, 1938, or 1939)


TEMPLE, Leonard Sidney

Leonard Sidney Temple (1907- )

Birth: 1907

Marriage: 1933 in in London, England.

Death: Glasgow, Scotland


Parents Siblings
Charles James Temple 1863 – 1929
Jessie Theresa Burton 1863 – 1951
Charles A M Temple 1888 -
Hilda M Temple 1890 -
Jessie F Temple 1892 -
Edward G Temple 1894 – 1950
Dorothy S Temple 1896 -
Winifred P Temple 1898 -
Millicent Temple 1900 – 1989
Mable Ethel Temple 1905 – 1978
Spouse Children
1. Ethel Chase abt 1911 –

2. Josephine

Derek Oswald Temple 1934 – 2010




December 1933



  • Divorces his wife, Ethel Chase.


  • Marries Josephine.


  • Dies in Glasgow, Scotland.
KING, Derek Oswald TEMPLE, Derek Oswald

Derek Oswald Temple (King) (1934-2010)

Birth: 1 November 1934 in Pancras, London, England

Marriage: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Death: 4 September 2010 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Parents Siblings
Ethel Chase 1911 –
Leonard Sidney Temple 1907 –

Vincent M.C. King 1941 –

Spouse Children
Living Ferguson 1929 – Living Female King
Derek Scott King



1 November 1934

29 April 1952

  • Departs Southampton, England on the “SS Liberte” and arrives in New York, New York on 5 May 1952. Age is incorrectly recorded as 20 when he would only have been 17. He was traveling alone. (View the ship’s passenger list; line 3)

22 January 1959

  • Arrives in Southampton, England on the R.M.S. Queen Mary (departed from New York, New York). He is traveling with his wife, and they intend to stay as visitors at 61 Whithawk Ave, Brighton, London. He is a salesman at the time. His wife is about one month pregnant with their first child. (View the passenger list from the R.M.S. Queen Mary)

4 September 2010

  • After being diagnosed with cancer only about one week prior, Del passed away at the Grey Nun’s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
BAGNALL, Marion Etta

Marion Etta Bagnall (1888-1958)

Birth: 5 December 1888 in Hazel Grove, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Marriage: 5 August 1921 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Death: 16 April 1958 in Spokane, Washington, USA


Parents Siblings
George William Bagnall 1861 – 1947
Margaret Jane MacMillan 1862 – 1953
Charles Louis Bagnall 1883 – 1978
Christy Jane Bagnall 1885 – 1980
Edwin Cantello Bagnall 1887 – 1969
Ella Mabel Bagnall 1890 – 1981
Miller Rennie Bagnall 1892 – 1985
George Wilbur Bagnall 1895 – 1993
Isobel Isla Bagnall 1896-1984
Uldene Mae Bagnall 1899 – 1998
Mary Blanche Bagnall 1901 – 1995
John Howard Bagnall 1902 – 1918
Edith Hilda Bagnall 1904 – 1932
Spouse Children
Robert Alexander Gibson 1890-1938 Margaret Helen Gibson 1924-2007
Gordon Robert Gibson 1925-2009



3 December 1888

  • Born in Hazel Grove, Prince Edward Island, Canada


About 1910


About 1914

  • Moves out west to Edmonton, AB to join her parents and two youngest siblings (Hilda and Howard), who had gone ahead to establish a more suitable home for asthmatics George (father) and Howard (youngest brother). Travels with her remaining siblings (along with Grandfather MacMillan) by boat and then train to get to Edmonton.


  • Listed in the Henderson’s City Directory for Edmonton as a “student” living with her family at 9519 106 avenue in Edmonton (View the directory listing)


20 May 1917



  • Residing with her parents at 9519 106 ave in Edmonton, Alberta, working as a Stenographer for the Provincial Government. (View Henderson’s City Directory Listings for 1920 or 1921)
Wedding photo for Marion Bagnall and Robert Gibson (submitted by Marion Vermazen)

Wedding photo for Marion Bagnall and Robert Gibson (submitted by Marion Vermazen)

5 August 1921

  • Marries Robert Alexander Gibson, son of Alexander Gibson and Fanny Armitage in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada at St. John’s Presbyterian Church. (View their marriage license)

25 December 1938

  • Arrives in Eastport Idaho with her two children, bound for her sister Jane’s home in Spokane, Washington (201 W 6 Ave). (View the border crossing card)

23 August 1939

  • Leaves New Westminister, British Columbia, Canada via Great Northern Railroad and immigrates to the United States via the port at Blaine, Washington. (View her Certificate of Arrival)


23 January 1940

19 March 1945

  • United States Naturalization granted. (View documents here: Page 1 & Page 2)

20 June 1945

  • Swears the Oath of Allegiance in open court. (View source)

16 April 1958

  • Dies in Spokane, Washington, USA at age 69.
Photographer: Marion Vermazen

Photographer: Marion Vermazen


Helen Mandrusiak (1922-2010)

Birth: 1 October 1922 in Musidora, Alberta, Canada

Marriage: 27 August 1951 in Musidora, Alberta, Canada

Death: 4 July 2010 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Parents Siblings
Ivan Mandrusiak 1877 – 1966
Wasylyna (aka Vasuta) Ilkow
Dmytro Mandrusiak abt 1898
Mike Mandrusiak abt 1901
Annie Mandrusiak
Bill Mandrusiak
Nick Mandrusiak
Pearl Mandrusiak
Alex Mandrusiak
Steve Mandrusiak
Walter Mandrusiak
Spouse Children
John Dmytro Barabash 1910 – 1995 Living Male Barabash
Living Male Barabash



1 October 1922

  • Born in Musidora, Alberta, Canada

As a Child

  • Educated at Chornik school before becoming a farmerette, staying home to help her parents on the Mandrusiak homestead

27 August 1951

  • Marries John Dmytro Barabash at the Musidora Orthodox Church in Musidora, Alberta, with a reception to follow on the Mandrusiak homestead.

September 1951

  • The week following their marriage, John and Helen have wedding photos taken at Sigerest Studios in Edmonton, Alberta. One is published in the Edmonton Journal.


  • Suffers from a stroke and is moved to a long term care home in south Edmonton.

4 July 2010

  • Passes away at the age of 87 in Edmonton, Alberta. Her remains are interred alongside her husband’s at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Edmonton, Alberta. (View obituary from The Edmonton Journal)

Obituary for Helen Mandrusiak (1922-2010)

Published in The Edmonton Journal, July 6 & 7, 2010:

HelenSmallPortraitBARABASH, Helen On July 4, 2010, Helen Barabash of Edmonton passed away at the age of 87 years. Helen is survived by her family, Robert (Shelley) and Terry (Marianne); nine grandchildren, Chad (Brigid), Kevin (Shelly), Chris (Lisa), Lisa (Derek), Amy (Ray), Trevor, Jessica, Lori (Charles) and Lisa (Mark); thirteen great-grandchildren; also numerous nieces, nephews, relatives and friends. Predeceased by her husband, John. Funeral Rite Thursday, July 8 at 10:00 a.m. at St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, 10951 107 Street. Right Reverend Stephan Semotiuk officiating with interment in St. Michael’s Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer Society, Alberta & NWT, 10531 Kingsway Avenue, Edmonton, AB T5H 4K1. To send condolences, visit Park Memorial Edmonton 780-426-0050 Family Owned Funeral Home, Crematorium, Reception Centre.

BAGNALL, Martha Blanche

Obituary for Martha Blanche Bagnall

The Guardian, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, 6 July 1898

The following obituary is for Martha Blanche Bagnall, a girl who died at the tender age of only 14, and who later became the namesake for my Nana, Blanche Bagnall (read more about that story here).



OBITUARY — Death with chilling touch has again visited this place and has taken from our midst a dear young life; truly he is no respecter of persons, but with impartial hand he takes away the old and the young. This time we are called upon to mourn the loss of Martha Blanche Bagnall, youngest and dearly beloved daughter of Richard E and Mary Bagnall. How young she was–only 14 years, and yet the grim destroyer did not scruple to take her away from her loving parents and sisters. The expression, “Oh Death, thou lovest the beautiful” has again been verified. Although she had been failing in health for some months it was thought that by careful nursing she might recover her usual good health. All that was possible for human agency to do was done for her yet to no purpose. Disease had laid hold upon her and she gradually faded away until the end came early Sunday morning, June 26th. On Tuesday afternoon, all that was mortal of the dear young girl was laid to rest. Many sorrowing friends followed the remains to the cemetery, the funeral cortege being one of the largest seen in this place; all came to render their last respects to the dead and to mingle their tears with those of the grief-stricken family. Blanche was a good girl, with heart and hand always willing and ready to perform acts of kindness and love. Her daily delight was in brightening some life. Her sunny and lovely disposition endeared her to all who knew her. Although young she had put on Christ by faith and obedience and she died firmly trusting in the promises of her Redeemer. She looked forward to the change not with fear but with the thought, which she often expressed to her friends, that “God knoweth best and doeth all things well.” Surely her young life was an exemplary one and her faith shows the truth of the Saviour’s words when He said, “These things are hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed unto babes.” The loss of friends is hard to bear and in this instance particularly so, but we are cheered by the words of the Master, which He uttered when He Himself stood by the side of another child, the young daughter of Jairus and said, “She is not dead but sleepeth.” This thought is cheering to her mourning parents and two sorrowing sisters, for they “sorrow not as those without hope.”

BAGNALL, Christy Jane

Jane Bagnall (O’Brien) Threatens to Sue Fire Department, City of Spokane

The Spokane Daily Chronicle; Saturday, April 9, 1949:



Sanitarium Owner Says Institution Is Far From Crowded

Mrs. Jane O’Brien, operator of a sanitarium at S518 Browne, said today her institution could accommodate 106 patients without over-crowding.

This was her answer to yesterday’s city council order to reduce the number of patients at the sanitarium from a present 70 to 50.

She said she has instructed her attorney, H. Earl Davis, to seek court action against the city fire and public health and safety departments and the city council. Specific city charges against the sanitarium will be asked, she said.

Mrs. O’Brien asserted safety and fire prevention practices at the three-storey former apartment house which she purchased four years ago are of a high order.

In issuing its order, the council said it had been informed Mrs. O’Brien’s sanitarium is “unsafe as it relates to fire hazards.”

“That’s nonsense,” she said. “Seventy-five per cent of my patients are ambulatory. Three steel fire escapes are available, each lighted by a fire light. Stairways are well lighted. There is no ether or any other combustible substance of the type you find in a general hospital in my building.”

She described the building as of extra heavy brick construction.

She said Captain Roy McDirmid, chief fire inspector, told her that in the event of a serious fire at the sanitarium, the department couldn’t remove more than 50 persons.

She said her reply to that was “Captain, what’s the matter with your department?”

The maximum number of patients in any one room is three, she said.

She employs approximately 30 people, including a 15-member nursing staff, she added.