Category: Smithers

A Wedding in the Family

When my son Michael and his long-time girlfriend Jennifer get married this weekend, it will be a very traditional ceremony. The wedding will take place at Montreal West United Church, the same church where Jen’s parents were married. Jen will wear a long white dress, a borrowed pair of earrings and blue shoes.  

Here’s their story as they tell it: “This wedding is a love story 13 years in the making! We first met in CEGEP [junior college] when we were just teenagers. At the groom’s insistence, mutual friends organized our first meeting: a competitive game of pool at Sharx on St. Catherine Street. A new friendship was born and, after 10 years of ups and downs, we somehow managed to remain a part of each others’ lives. And it was all meant to be because this October, after almost four years of dating, we’ll be making it legal. It’s till death do us part now, and we couldn’t be happier!”

All this has led me to think about some of the other weddings in my family, and about how much courtship has changed. A huge change came in my parents’ generation. Prior to World War II, many Canadians married within their own social circles. Couples often grew up in the same small towns or went to school together. But during the war, as men joined the military and women joined the workforce,  people met new friends and were exposed to different ideas. My father was from Winnipeg and my mother grew up in Montreal, but they met in Ottawa during the war and were married in 1946.

This is a colourized photo of my grandmother Gwendolyn Bagg on her wedding day in 1916.

My father’s parents, Thomas Glendenning Hamilton and Lillian Forrester, probably met at the Winnipeg hospital where he was a doctor and she a nurse. They were married in 1906 at Lillian’s uncle’s home. Going back another generation, James Hamilton and Isabella Glendenning, who married in 1859, both grew up in a close-knit farming community in what is now Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. They may have met at the church both their families attended, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

On my mother’s father’s side, when Jane Mulholland, the daughter of a Montreal hardware merchant, met John Murray Smith, she was smitten. John, however, lived in Ontario at the time, where he worked at a bank. According to a family story, she told her nanny that she admired this young man and the nanny wrote a letter that brought couple together. It would have been difficult for Jane to pursue John long-distance on her own behalf. They married near Montreal in 1871.

A page from Clara Smithers’ autograph book with a poem from RSCB.

Going back another generation on the Smith side, James Avon Smith was an assistant school teacher in MacDuff, Scotland. When he married the schoolmaster’s daughter, Jean Tocher, in 1823, she was already pregnant. 

Most parents tried their best to prevent this situation. It was not considered proper for young couples to spend time alone together and when my future great-grandparents Robert Stanley Bagg and Clara Smithers began courting in 1880, they would have always been surrounded by friends and family members. He wooed her by writing poems in her autograph book. 

The 1844 wedding of Robert Stanley’s Bagg’s parents was a genealogically significant event on my mother’s side of the family because Stanley Clark Bagg and Catharine Mitcheson were first cousins once removed. Marriage between cousins was not uncommon, but I can’t help wondering how they met, since she lived in Philadelphia and he lived in Montreal. They were married in Philadelphia, with Catharine’s brother Rev. Robert McGregor Mitcheson officiating.  

The fact that Mike and Jen are getting married, as opposed to living common-law as many couples do in Quebec today, is a mark of their commitment to each other as much as it is a nod to tradition. I am very happy for them.

Further Reading 

For more on the courtship and marriage customs of our Canadian ancestors see this article prepared by Library and Archives Canada: “I Do:  Love and Marriage in 19thCentury Canada”,  

Marriages between cousins contribute to a phenomenon called pedigree collapse in which the family trees of these peoples’ descendants are smaller than they would be otherwise. There are many articles about this phenomenon online, including this one by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy,

Henry Smithers, Political Radical

Borough Market, Southwark, where Henry lived

Henry Smithers, London coal merchant and writer, lived some 200 years ago, but I think if we could meet, we would enjoy a great conversation. He was a keen observer of history and human behavior and, of course, I approve of his remarks on the benefits of education for women and the immorality of slavery.

Henry was born in London in 1762, one year before England and France made peace following the Seven Years War. His father was a teacher, and Henry was a product of the Enlightenment, an era when people believed in rational thought and questioned traditional institutions.

As a young man, he was something of a political radical and a member of a group known as the London Revolution Society. This organization was originally formed to plan centennial celebrations of the so-called Glorious Revolution. The Glorious Revolution was the 1688 overthrow of the Catholic King James II and the invasion, backed by a Dutch fleet, of the Protestant William of Orange, who became William III of England, and his wife, Mary II of England. These events helped established Parliament as the real power in England.

The French Revolution, an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, began in 1789. Before it spun into excessive violence, many Englishmen thought of it as the French equivalent of England’s Glorious Revolution. The London Revolution Society and similar groups supported the French revolutionaries. The English government became concerned that these organizations might not only encourage the French, but import the revolution to England. It charged several individuals with treason and, although they were eventually acquitted, the London Revolution Society folded in 1792.

In 1796, Henry Smithers testified for the defence at the trial for high treason of merchant William Stone.1 Stone was charged with conspiring to spy on behalf of the French government, which was planning to invade England. After that, Henry, with a young family to support, seems to have stayed under the political radar.

Some of Henry’s poems reflected his politics; he wrote, for example, about someone who helped bring constitutional reform to England:

In England now, the attemper’d law defines
Alike the monarch’s and the hireling’s claims,
And Life and Liberty, are sacred held,
And guarded with a reverential care 2

Although some of his ideas were considered radical, Henry had great affection for the monarchy. He dedicated his 1807 book of poetry, Affection, with other poems, to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, and he published a monody, or poetic lament, about the popular princess when she died in childbirth in 1817.


There are several records of Henry Smithers’ membership in the Revolution Society.


Search, Simon. Spirit of the Times: In a Series of Observations on the Important Events of the Age; Politics.  H. Gardner, France: 1790. P. 184


Revolution Society (London, England). An Abstract on the History and Proceedings of the Revolution Society: in London; to which is annexed a copy of the Bill of Rights, Volume 5 (Google e-book). London: 1789. P. 12. 

  1. The Trial of William Stone: For High Treason, at the Bar of the Court of King’s Bench, on Thursday the Twenty-eighth, and Friday the Twenty-ninth of January, 1796. Taken in Short-hand, by Joseph Gurney (Google eBook) p. 295.
  2. Affection; with Other Poems, by Henry Smithers of the Adelphi, London.London: Printed for the Author by T. Bensley and Sold by W. Miller, 1807. p. 12.;view=1up;seq=1