The below is an oral history that was written by an unknown grandson of Charles Rowland Jackson [Sr.] and copied and sent to various family members.
Above the hearth, centered on the mantelpiece, was a model sailing ship with masts and full rigging, mysteriously inside its bottle showcase.
Grandfather Jackson told how it was carved and rigged to lift the masts once inside its container. So simple to explain the mystery, but it took skill to make it and mast it inside its perfect enclosure.
Then he picked up a piece of darkened metal, a copper cube less than an inch to a side, fingered it, and said “I could draw a mile of wire from that – – the finest wire in Canada”.
When he sat back in his rocking chair and I asked for stories of the past, he said simply, “I’m sorry, but my memory has failed and I cannot recall what happened yesterday”…
And so, let me tell you what he did say, in bits and pieces conversation that I have treasured for nearly sixty years.
He was a little man sitting there, not quite 5 feet tall when he stood. his face was somewhat long, find featured, a heavy mustache, and a noticeably high forehead. There was an air of tranquillity about him. Peace and quiet prevailed in all he said and did.
“Least said, easily mended” was one of his mottos. Clear-voiced, his words bore traces of a good Lancashire background. But he could speak with perception, sympathy, and intelligence on man a matter, and well he knew Canada (Ontario and Quebec), the USA, east and west, and Britain.
What was his story?
We went for a walk from his #8 Humberside Avenue home, over to Keele Street and the houses beyond the tracks.
“I know I’m slowing up. A young couple passed me the other day, and I’ve always been a good walker”. “In the plant (Canada Wire and Cable Company) I went to pick up a roll of wire which was out of place and I could not lift it”.
I’ve lived to see five men doing my work”. His work had been foreman (and wire drawing expert), and when the plant moved to its Leaside site he went every morning early by street-car across the city, into his 80th year. How could such a quiet little man be a boss in so big a factory?
We passed some freight cars on the siding known as “the junction”, a busy industrial area made famous in J.E.H. MacDonald’s painting by that name. “We started here”, he said, “in a freight car – – materials at one end and a bench and tools at the other. One day the owners came to me and said to lay the men off as there were no more orders.”
Charles Jackson said “No”. “We’ll keep them on, and I’ll keep them busy, if it’s only sweeping the floor. Then when you get orders we’ll turn out quality products, and your business will grow. This will be best for you, and for the men, and for myself. I’ve trained them, and we need them.”
(A plant manager of RCA Victor once commented on this, “We don’t get that type of person nowadays”). What then went into the making of this man?
Born in Kentucky, September 5th, 1857 at Newport, Kentucky, USA., Charles’ family was apparently engaged in raising horses. Young Charlie was tiny, agile, and bright, and it was thought what a great jockey he might be. (In later years he went to the Woodbine Rate Track in east Toronto to enjoy the horses and racing).
Kentucky must have been a good place to live as a child. The name has been said to mean ‘Land of Tomorrow’ — (Iroquois). Kentucky’s motto is “United We Stand — Divided We Fall”.
‘Kentucky thoroughbreds’ were raised on its ‘Blue Grass’. In the east and west of the state, coal was mined for new industries. Agriculture flourished and in particular tobacco was grown extensively on plantations.
Kentucky was therefore a “slave” state, but did not secede in the Civil War. In 1861 it was occupied by both Federals (north) and Confederates (south).
The story is that when the shooting began from both sides of the valley, the Jackson family packed and moved back to the safety of England. As a southern Virginia friend said, “The best place to be then”.
The more generally accepted meaning of Kentucky is ‘dark and bloody ground’, from conflicts of Indian tribes.
The Civil War was to far exceed anything in the past, a symbol indeed of modern war’s long , drawn-out stalemate and great loss of life.
As he fingered gently the little copper ingot, one noticed two fingers missing. “Lost in a planer in early days in California — could not play the piano well after that”. But he could sing with a good tenor voice, happy with the old songs, popular in their day. ‘Juanita’ was a favorite. “Nita, Juanita, ask my soul if we should part, Nita Juanita, lean thou on my heart”. Southern songs often had lyrics to appeal to the tender and best sentiments.
But we should review the years in Manchester, growing into England’s second major city.
My mother would say how well he did in school, finishing the curriculum of those days before legal quitting age, and that he had to repeat three times before graduating. One can imagine a gifted child perhaps helpful to the teacher, perhaps a problem.
Adolescence then was an invisible line passed over as one went to work, and into the family business of wire-drawing.
The family included brothers and sisters, all to be looked after, and striving to fill an adult’s role in the great industrial society of Lancashire in the later 19th century.
From a friend of the family I’ve been told that Charles married, wanted to return to America, but his young wife was afraid, dreading the sea and ocean voyage.
The ship then on the mantelpiece was a symbol of journeys, family ventures of earlier days, and others to come.
When his wife died, Charles was free to go at last, at 28, in 1885.
His goal was adventure — to reach the Golden Gate, San Francisco, California.
The log of his sea and rail journey gives interesting views of the immigration and travel — some beauty, some distress, friends, strangers, and newcomers all a-mix, seen though the eyes of a young man eager and hopeful.
(see attached ‘The Log of Journey from Liverpool, England to San Francisco, California, US’ Liverpool March 14th, 1885)
How long he stayed in California we know not. But it always remained a part of him, and at the end of the Golden Gate Bridge, mighty cable strong, seemed to symbolize the best in progress, across the bay and great harbor, linking San Francisco to the more northern parts of the west coast.
He had missed the California earthquake and Great Fire in San Francisco, but more particularly he spoke of escaping (missing? surviving?) the Johnstown (Penn.) Flood, a natural disaster in 1890.
(By this time he was back in the eastern states).
It was only on reading of that tragedy (the Johnstown Flood) that the connection seems relevant. A broken dam, (clay based), let a man-made mountain lake (20 million tons of water) tear through the valley.
Woodvale got it next, and got no warning. It was prosperous, new, and the pride of the Cambria Iron Company, a sort of model town. It was connected to Johnstown by a horsecar line that ran along its main thoroughfare, Maple Avenue. At the western end of town, the end almost touching Johnstown, sood the huge Gautier Wireworks, A terrific geyser of soot and steam when tup when the water hit the factory’s boilers, and then everything simply slid off with the wave. The streetcar shed went, with eight-nine horses and thirty tons of hay. When the water had passed, there was not a tree, not a telegraph pole, not a house, not a sign of the railroad. About a thousand people lived in Woodvale. The figure for its dead would be set at 314.
The wireworks contributed miles and miles of barbed wire to the mountain of wreckage and water that had only a few hundred yards to go until it struck Johnstown. it was now not quite an hour since the dam had given way.
Most people in Johnstown never saw the water coming; they only heard it. It began as a deep, steady rumble, then grew louder and louder until it became an avalanche of sound. Those who did see it seem to have been most impressed by the cloud of black smoke from the Gautier works that now hung over the front of the wave. It was talked of as “the death mist” and would be remembered always.
Charles Rowland Jackson was married in New Haven, Conn. USA on May 11th, 1887, at Grace Church by the Rev. Elihu Sanford, to Alice Dyson, born June 15th (?) at Biswick, Manchester, England.
In the Family Bible their children were recorded as follows:
- William Thomas, born Sept. 18, 1888, New York, D. Nov 18, 1899, Astoria, Long Island.
- Charles Rowland, b.Nov.22, 1890 New York
- Margaret Emma, b.Sept.10, 1892, Lachine (Montreal), Quebec.
- Elizabeth Alice, b.Aug16, 1895, Turcot, Quebec, d.Aug.1, 1897 Montreal
- Albert Yarwood Dyson, b.June 14, 1899, Motreal
- Robert Wilson, b. July 30, 1902, Montreal, d.Oct.5.1910, Toronto, Sick Children’s Hospital.
—–The family story continues with the move to Montreal and work at the Northern Electric Company.
Margaret Emma (my mother) was born September 10th, 1892 at Lachine, Montreal, Quebec.
Elizabeth Alice born 1895, died at Montreal 1897.
Albert Yarwood Dyson was born 1899 in Montreal. He grew up there and Toronto, and went to Detroit in the automobile industry, and was active in labor relations.
Robert Wilson, born 1902, died in Toronto 1910 after a long illness with a ‘rheumatic heart’ condition.
Charles Rowland Jr. joined the Toronto 48th Highlanders. His name is entered in the Honor Roll in the Edinburgh Castle, died June 17th, 1917 after serving in the trenches of France and Belguim.
A book at Grandpa’s was “On the Side of the Angels” (I beleive) which told of soldiers’ experiences, and the spontaneous truce and carol singing in “No-Man’s Land” the first Christmas of the war.
Grandpa, C.R. Jackson served in the Home Guard, and factory work. All others who could went overseas.
Mother married (April 1915), and went with my father, returning to England. he was R.S.M. in the 1st Canadian Contingent, and was back on recruiting business.
Mother’s diary of 1916 tells of family in Manchester, and many friends from home in the services mostly station, or in hospital, or on leave in the south of England.
In their family days mother recalled how her father took the children to Church and she would practise her short-hand recording the sermon. Her mother would be preparing dinner at home.
Grandmother Alice (Dyson) Jackson died February 10th, 1920, after a kidney stone operation.
—-Let us now continue our last long walk, begun on such a lovely day.
We looked in on an Orthodox Chapel, a small sanctuary near Keele Street. It was candle lit and icon bright. Then we went over to the parish Church of St. Martin in the Fields. In the garden-like surroundings was a life-size Calvary. Grandpa recalled the ritual riots when the first surpliced choir appeared back in Manchester.
—-Then one final day, when he grew weaker, I was called.
For some time he had been unable to go to the plant to see the men and lend a hand or give word of encouragement.
This now was his final hour, and the Rector administered Holy Communion. Grandpa seemed so still, until the “Our Gather” of thanksgiving. Then his lips moved in cadence with the Lord’s Prayer.
Peacefully, he went to his Rest in Christ.
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The writing is well, not the greatest, and the facts a little vaug, but all in all a little part of the Jackson Family history.