An Ontario-Born Canadian

An Ontario-Born Canadian
by Patricia Bush
December 1991 / January 1992

Like most people in Canada my culture is derived from lands across the ocean. The difference with me is that according to research into my family history, I am several generations removed from these roots. Members of my father’s mother’s family have been traced back to the 1700’s and my paternal great-great grandfather David was born on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic in the year 1818. As far as we can tell he was of French descent. The family name was changed from Boucher to Bush when the family converted to Protestantism, and it seems that they were of Huguenot background from the area around Alsace-Lorraine. My father’s ancestors who were born here in Ontario, were farmers or workers in the lumbering industry who settled around the southern shores of Georgian Bay.

My mother’s family has also lived in North America for several generations. Her paternal grandmother moved to Canada from the United States sometime in the 1800’s. Her grandfather’s parents emigrated from Dumfries, Scotland during the 1850’s and settled in Quebec, where my great grandfather was born in 1862. The family moved to Ontario in 1895 and have lived in the city of Hamilton since that time. My great grandmother on my mother’s side emigrated to Canada from Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in 1910. I have a “great” Uncle Jack who was born in Hamilton not long after their arrival in Canada, and he has become a source of much family information and stories about family members and what it has been like to live in the Hamilton area through the years. Both of my grandfathers were tradesmen. One was a carpenter and the other a plumber. Both of my grandmothers raised families of 6-8 children so I have a large family of aunts, uncles, and several cousins. My “culture” then seems to be the results of these four streams: the French, the English, the Scottish and the American as they merged and flowed throughout the early development of this province.

As I was growing up it seemed very important to know where the family came from and we have tried to keep family ties strong through regular visiting. The most important gathering for both my mother and father’s families was during the Christmas holidays, when we travelled from our home in Cambridge, then called Galt, to Hamilton and Burlington to visit with our grandparents and extended family. We had the traditional turkey dinner at my maternal grandparents’ house.

My grandfather would dress up as Santa Claus and distribute the gifts from under the tree to everyone who had gathered for the holidays. This tradition continues to this day in the home of one of my aunts or uncles and someone always surprises the rest of the gathering by coming down the stairs dressed as Santa (or Mrs. Santa Claus) carrying a sack of goodies for the
children. All of us, adults and children alike, have to endure the customary sitting on Santa’s knee to answer the yearly question of whether we have been good or bad before we can receive our “goodie” or special kiss. The Christmas meal is not eaten around the table as it was when I was younger. As the family grew a second table was put into service for the younger
members of the family. Moving from the “kid’s” table to the “big” people’s table became a rite of passage for my sisters, brothers and numerous cousins. Eventually even this second table was not sufficient to accommodate everyone and the meal is now served buffet style to whoever made it to the feast. Over the years relatives by marriage and their families, as well as my aunt’s and uncle’s friends have become welcomed additions to this family celebration. It has been a tradition that the men play cards after dinner. Some brave female members of the family have tried to infiltrate these cards games but without much effect. There is often a time set aside for stories or joke-telling, and there is always lots of carol singing in which both adults and children participate. The songs we sing and the Christmas food that we eat reflects our connection to our English and Scottish heritage and culture. Since most of the family are Presbyterian church members, there are always a few Christmas hymns to sing. A traditional nativity scene with figures of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus is set up by my aunt and uncle and their children in their living-room for everyone to enjoy. The women of the family out-do themselves every year with the variety and distinctiveness of the potluck dishes they prepare. These family dinners mean very much to me and it is when I am amongst family and friends in this way over Christmas holidays that I feel the most appreciative of my ‘culture’ because it is expressed in and through the intimacy of my family group. Such celebrations keep us connected, because, it is during these times that we hear about our great-grandparents, and we see the next generation growing up around us, greeting Santa, singing the same songs, eating the same holiday food, and enduring the same teasing and joking from their elders that we endured when we were young. I have learned a lot by talking to the older members of my family about our origins. Keeping
family stories alive from year to year is a precious gift that we pass down from generation to generation, I am so glad to have received my portion from the elders, and I cherish the opportunity to pass them on to my own daughter.