PRESENTATION GIVEN BY GEORGE J. McLEOD
AT THE McLEOD FAMILY REUNION
SAVONA, BRITISH COLUMBIA JULY 7, 2001
My thanks to Shirley Donaldson, Jack LaBrier and Diane McLeod for their hard work over the last several months in organizing this reunion.
We bring greetings and our very best wishes from the descendants of Ira Elwell McLeod to the families of his brothers, Herbert and Fred McLeod who are gathered here with us today. Ira was the youngest brother, born in 1889 in Florenceville, New Brunswick. He started railroading as a boomer telegrapher at the age of 15 and met his future wife, Josie Belle Heal, in LaGrange, Maine, around 1908/1909 while Ira worked for the Canadian Atlantic Railroad. He moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1910, working for the C.P.R. Mother came to Saskatoon shortly after, travelling with John Irvine and Abigail McLeod. She had promised her mother that she would return to LaGrange after a short vacation. Being a bit of a free spirit, Josie Belle did not keep this promise, staying in Saskatoon and marrying Ira in 1911. Their union was responsible for the lives of five children, 13 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and four great, great grandchildren, a total of 44 descendants, 43 of whom are still alive. My sister Hazel, born in 1914, is the oldest first cousin of the reunion, although she thinks she is still a teenager, always on the run. My oldest brother, Carl, passed away in 1991 at the age of 71.
My grandfather, John Irvine McLeod, visited us in Saskatoon in the late 1930s. As a child, I always thought my father, Ira, was stern and austere until I met John Irvine, who really defined both of those attributes! Ira, like all of us, had his strengths and weaknesses. He had a particular love for gambling, enjoying poker and billiards. He was the second best player in Saskatoon. The best players, not always the same person, kept our family from fully enjoying the higher standard of living that should have resulted from the good salary that he earned as wire chief for the C.P.R. in Saskatoon through the Depression. In spite of this, Ira was a very good father to his children, encouraging us to be decent, hard-working people. There was an absolute minimum of corporal punishment, but when there was, it was usually well deserved. He was a "roll your own" cigarette man and was highly incensed when he caught me, at the age of 12, smoking tailor-mades. He introduced me to the buckle end of his razor strap at which point, I became a non-smoker for life!
Like most men, Ira married a woman far too good for him. Josie Belle was a kind, generous and warm-hearted woman who was liked by all who knew her. During the Depression, our home was a favourite stopping place for hundreds of those unfortunate people who were jobless and hungry. Mother never turned anyone away and was known as an excellent cook. One young man said to her "Mrs. McLeod, do you have any idea why so many hobos call at your house?". Mother said, "I think it has something to do with that piece of ribbon that's tied on the side gate."!! It was the mens' way of marking a house at which they knew they would be welcomed.
Josie often said that her ancestors came over on the Mayflower and that we were related to one of the witches of Salem, Massachusetts. We took this with several grains of salt until one day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the late 1970s, I met a banker who said he was from LaGrange, Maine. I told him my mother was from there and he said "we're related!". In fact, we were, and he confirmed Mother's story about the Mayflower and also our relationship to Bridget Bishop, one of the witches. It truly is a small world.
As children of our mothers and fathers, who gave us the marvellous gift of life, it is not our place to judge them. We must leave that to others. In Mother's case, I never knew anyone who didn't like and respect her. In my Father's case, I never really knew the people he worked with or socialized with until I was introduced to Carl Anderson, a retired house painter and neighbour of my Mother-In-Law, in Saskatoon. When I told him my name, Carl said "Would you be Mac's son?". I said yes. He said "We lost a good man when your father died. If anyone got in a bind, they could always count on Mac for a five or a ten to tide them over. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it more than him!". What better epitaph could a man have?