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Timelines - a chronological list of events in the McQuesten family and corresponding historical events

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Jun 1 2006

1st Place:


Well Senator, 't must be my Irish luck
That brings together at this time your charge
With my ability to fill that need.
In your preamble you made mention of
A small factory or a carriage house
That with some labor and some infusion
Of cash could be refurbished as a place
For civil men allied in solemn purpose
To gather in privacy. No, let me muse
Aloud a moment. Toward the waterfront
A chandler's store sits empty: but 't would need
Much work to meet your specified outlines.
Wheeler's small factory, where he began,
He uses only for storage now. Perhaps
He would exchange...that sturdy building though,
Is situated on industrial lands.
Despair not. There's a widow, I have heard,
In straightened circumstance. Her husband died
Bankrupt, and left her with a brood of young,
An unencumbered home of quarried stone,
But no means of support.1 I think I could
Apply persuasive wiles and work a way
To place it in your hands. Yes, offer her
A house in good repair as an exchange,
And liquid assets over and above
To improve her solvency. That cottage lies
Toward the city boundaries but would cost
Less to maintain. Her house, Whitehern it's called,
Would eminently suit your purposes
With ground enough should you need to expand.
I shall persuade her that the imminent costs
Of urgent repairs will so overwhelm
Her meager budget that my generous plan
Shall seem an offer of God's own salvation.
So let us go and draw the contract up,
To set your limit and discuss my cut.
For sir there is no woman old or young
Can resist the magic of this Irish tongue!

by Jeff Seffinga

2nd Place:
Hilda's Scorned Lover Makes a Toast

A toast to Mrs. McQuesten,
She is the ice that cools my glass,
whose frosty edict swayed my lass
before our hearts could join together.

A toast to my lost, tender Hilda2
whose face swims within my whiskey.
With each sip, her liquid lips kiss me,
as ice cubes creak and shiver.

She has abstained from my heart
for it has absorbed the Devil's drink;
and my soul does surely shrink
each time I raise my glass.

I, the once loved Kenelm Trigge,
courted darling Hilda a full year,
I proved my heart true and dear,
Until Mother and sobriety clashed.

For though God approves of wine,
'tis a mortal sin to distill rye
When I asked the Matriarch why
she said 'The answer is clear as day.'

'Tis as clear as the barons and titans
who drink hard at the gentlemen's club,
who've never received a McQuesten snub
as Whitehern galas seek men of fame.

Hilda shall live as mere lonely spinster
I saw this truth in her mother's eyes
She shall remain an unclaimed prize,
shall never know the laugh of her child.

A final toast to Mrs. McQuesten,
who interfered before daughter could wed,
whose words dripped with feigned regret,
as Her Ladyship, the ice cube, smiled.

by Chris Butler

3rd Place:
Spirit in the Study
(In early 1888)

Here, where I used to live and breathe
and now drift through the garden's shade,
Longing for the sun, while you seethe,
My Son,3 in your anguish, betrayed
By your own upbringing--I say
Here have I come to warn you, Son,
My dearest Isaac, that the day
Draws near when you may be undone.

Why do you start and pull away?
Am I more frightening than she
Whom you've so aptly named "The O.L."?
"Mrs. McQuesten" she would be,
Mrs. McQuesten--bah!--the belle
Of "Canada's Birmingham" -- yea
And not "Mother," and therein lies
The crippling root of your demise.

Drink and drugs are no substitute
For missed affection; your distress
Touched my core, made me resolute
To build my strength for the express
Intention of a talk with you,
For bad investments may yet turn
To profit -- even if they do
Sink they may still bring good return.4

But if they fail, what then? If you
Should suffer poverty, at most
A blink of time will pass until
The love of Mary builds a new
Foundation for the hope, the will
To grow fresh fortune. So you must,
Dear Isaac, stay the course, and trust
This message from your mother's ghost.

by G.W. Down

Honourable Mention:
In Confidence
(Calgary, November 1908)

Thank you, gentle lady, for your kindness these afternoons. Our luncheons are a solace and a boon, you're the only one with whom I can unburden my aching heart. Quiet attention and the wisdom of your years are balm to my wounds. I know my secrets are safe here with you; no confidence will go beyond this room. Strange I've had to journey so far to be free to speak of these things.

It's all over between David and me.3 He broke it off, seeing me here and it's clear they're treating me for the "Con," and I can't say I blame him. Mother still doesn't know, she thinks this dreadful cough is bronchitis and every day that I can spare her the truth is a day made easier in a life that's been too hard.4

My Mitherkins isn't hardy, you see, her iron will's just a facade. We took such a fright when father died and left poor Mither with no money, and six of us to raise by herself in that big house. She said we every one had to be strong for her, she'd never bear it if we weren't. So I had to help her every way I could, she'd never manage it all on her own. That's why when David proposed to me two years ago and she said NO--oh not in so many words, just Wait two years but what she meant was No--I dared not cross her, had to bide my time and hope for the best but all that's gone now.

Why this past spring she even blamed her heart trouble on my corresponding with David and seeing him! Did she really think "waiting two years" meant we'd no longer see one another? Oh, how different things might have been if only she'd embraced David's proposal, seen how happy we would be. But she could only conceive of material prospects. David's homesteading was too modest for her grander vision. "Ruby was fitted for a fine place" is what she said to Cal. So I went back to teaching, I had to help her, you see, and help Tom to finish school for he will be a great man one day, I know it. But I kept getting sick in Ottawa, and now it's come to this...

Thank you, yes, a cup of tea would be lovely. No cream, please. You see, I've never felt Mother's need of material comforts. A humble home with the man I love, a simple life in service of God and community, would suit me just fine. But there's no chance of that now; my poor health will never allow it. I feel as though some part of me died when we were denied; and her lack of faith broke something in David's spirit too. Strange that a wee frightened bird should wield such power over others' lives!

So my service has been to family, and that's as it should be. We are leaves blowing in the wind, after all, it's not for us to pick and choose. Now it's time for me to pick myself up and put on a cheery face, write thank-you notes to people back home who send me little books and other fine things. But oh! I'd trade these trinkets in a snap for one more day with my David, we two alone and him brushing out my long hair as he'd do. His gentle stroke; that's what I long for. That's the place where this broken heart belongs.

by Eleanore Kosydar

1 In 1888, Isaac McQuesten died suddenly and unexpectedly and left his wife, Mary Baker McQuesten, widowed with six children to care for and a debt of more than $900,000. See Mary Anderson's essay, Mary's Childhood, Marriage, Widowhood, six children and Lives of Genteel Poverty for details and links.

2 Kenelm Trigge courted Hilda for some time, but his suit was eventually rejected because he drank alcohol and his profession as travelling salesman encouraged him to treat clients to alcohol (W4635).

3 Estimate Esther Ruth Baldwin (1816-1851) became the second wife of Dr. Calvin McQuesten in 1844. She is the mother of Isaac Baldwin McQuesten 1847-1888 and of David 1849-1854.

4 Isaac made disastrous financial decisions which landed him in debt of more than $900,000 by the time he died on March 7, 1888. In the late 1870s, he invested money in a railroad car coupler patent produced by William Dunn who seemed to have never made anything of them and who may have swindled Isaac outright. It seems that Isaac may have been able to recover some or even all of his money, but this also serves as an indication of his poor choices of investment (W2554a footnote).

In the years immediately prior to his death, Isaac was involved with a woollen mill in Hespeler which failed sometime in 1887 and was one of the major causes of Isaac's deep debt and bankruptcy (W2652).

Isaac was an alcoholic from an early age and suffered from insomnia and mental instability. His sudden death created rumours of suicide.

5 Ruby received a marriage proposal from David Ross in 1906 but her mother disapproved. They quietly carried on a relationship for two years until David decided he could no longer continue. See W5622 and footnote.

6 For Ruby's struggle with tuberculosis, see W6135 and footnotes. Also see her bio. by clicking on Family and then on her picture

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Copyright 2002 Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
Please direct questions and comments to Mary Anderson, Ph.D.

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