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Ancestral Grave Hunting • Ireland • September 2016

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It took 36 years and one failed attempt to finally realize my teenage dream of visiting Ireland, but I’ve finally done it. On August 31, my intrepid husband and I set off for Toronto and flew with Aer Lingus non-stop to Dublin. Four days later we rented a car and headed off to Co. Sligo, the ancestral home of the Essex County Bretts.


Armed with a small stack of research notes and a list of key places of importance to Brett family history, I set my expectations quite low. To my way of thinking, it was unrealistic to expect evidence of our ancestors to still exist 150 years or so later. Boy, was I wrong!

With a full Irish breakfast in our bellies, we set out on Tuesday, September 6 to find the ancestral graveyards. Reasoning that the most recent death of interest might have the best shot at discovery, we headed off to Coolaney in search of Rathbarron Church and the grave of George Brett, the letter writer, who died in 1899.

Family History Refresher

To help with recollection, here is the condensed backgrounder:

Our confirmed first-level ancestors were Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry, who obtained a marriage licence in 1812 from the Diocese of Killala and Achonry. Their oldest son George (the letter writer) remained in Ireland and was reported to have a large cattle farm. Another son, Patrick, flirted with emigration to the U.S. but ultimately settled back in Ireland. Eldest daughter Mary emigrated to Philadelphia. The remaining four children emigrated to Canada. Our ancestor, John, came to Canada as a young man in the early 1840s, before the potato famine of 1845. He made the voyage with his sisters Cecelia and Catharine. Sister Jane appears to have immigrated to Canada earlier and settled in the Ottawa Valley where her three siblings initially joined her. Now back to the graveyards…

Rathbarron Church (United Dioceses of Tuam, Killala & Achonry)

How excited were we to find Rathbarron Church, an active church with a well-populated graveyard! The ground that day was wet with morning dew and our feet were quickly soaked. Art started on one side of the graveyard and I on the other. Eventually we met in the middle but neither of us could report any success. As we stood at a family plot pondering the unusual trees surrounding the site, Arthur spotted the name Brett on the stone right in front of us. Very difficult to read today, the inscription has been recorded in a series of volumes available at the Sligo County Library. Many thanks to Bill McGee as well for making the Brett family inscriptions available at http://www3.sympatico.ca/wfmcgee/Brett/

George Brett’s Tombstone Inscription

“In Memory of Isabella Brett of Cornabbey died 23rd April 1887. Also George Brett 12th May 1899. Catherine their daughter died 2nd Jan 1917, Robert, their son of Thornhill died 14th June 1918. He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live.”


The stone is set within a family plot with a stone border and appears to contain six plots. A second headstone in the plot is for George and Isabella’s son John and says: “Sacred to the Memory of John Brett of Cornabbey 13 Dec 1925, 65 years. Dearly beloved husband of Jeanie M. Brett.”

Having found George Brett and being delighted with our success, we lingered a while for photos (because everything is scenic in Ireland!) and then embarked on our search for Achonry Cathedral.


Achonry Cathedral

Signage in Ireland is simple and plentiful. When GPS fails, you can generally count on a visual scan of the environment to set you on the right course.


So it was with Achonry Cathedral.

Achonry Cathedral is a de-commissioned church with three adjoining graveyards and an old stone arch from a previous church building.


The newest yard was easy to navigate and contains at least seven Brett headstones, all within close proximity of each other, including Henry of Streamstown (1866-1947).


In a 1932 account written by Ada Brett Kerr, which some readers of this blog may be familiar with, she reports on her visit with Henry of Streamstown. She writes:

“A Jasper Brett had lived just opposite the cathedral, but his house had entirely disappeared. In the graveyard was the tomb of John Brett, who had been of some importance in Tobercurry. This man had nine sons, one of whom was Patrick, the grandfather of this Henry himself. Two or three of these nine sons emigrated, who, we conjectured, must have been Henry, my great great grandfather and his brothers, who came to Canada.”

Ada refers here to Henry of Rosemont, her great-great grandfather from whom a number of other Ontario Bretts are descended.

She also refers to John Brett of Tobercurry, a man with nine sons.

John Brett of Tobercurry (1765-1844)

Although I have not been able to prove conclusively that John Brett of Tobercurry is our Jasper’s father, I believe the circumstantial evidence is convincing. George Brett, the letter writer, refers in three different letters to “Uncle Patt” and clearly identifies Uncle Patt’s son John, who is Henry of Streamstown’s father. In 1932 Henry confirmed to Ada Brett Kerr that his grandfather Patrick was a son of John Brett of Tobercurry. If Patrick is an uncle to George, then, strictly speaking, Patrick is the brother of our ancestor Jasper. By extension, Jasper is also one of the nine sons of John Brett of Tobercurry.

With that logic in mind, we went in search of John of Tobercurry’s tomb in the second and much older graveyard. In a repeat of the Rathbarron Church experience, we searched the entire yard and met in the middle, directly in front of a very large tomb situated close to the church. This old graveyard contains a large number of broken stones, many of them cracked off at the ground. The stones that remain are extremely weathered and virtually impossible to read. The ground was wet and spongy on the day of our visit…and treacherous! In no time we were wet to our knees from wading through high grass, carefully finding a firm foothold before taking the next step. Perhaps the iron gate was locked for a good reason. Nonetheless, Intrepid Art’s long legs were over the stone wall separating the two graveyards in a jiffy. I followed suit with far less grace.

Thank goodness for Arthur’s eagle eyes. As we puzzled over how we had missed the grave, Art glanced over at the large tomb, now overgrown with ivy and blackberries, and caught a hint of the word “Brett”. Sure enough it was John Brett of Tobercurry’s grave. The face is nearly impossible to read, but we know from existing cemetery inscription records that it says:

“Sacred to the Memory of John Brett, late of Tubbercurry who departed this life September 6, 1844, aged 79 years. Also to the memory of Ellen, the beloved wife of John, his son, departed this life September 1, 1858, aged 43 years. May they Rest in Peace.”


The headstone for Patrick’s son John (1822-1907) and his wife Cecelia Brett (1838-1913) stands just a few feet away. The genealogical theorist in me thinks it would make perfect sense if Patrick and his wife Eliza Craven were buried somewhere nearby. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Jasper Brett and Celia Meuberry are among their neighbours.

I think it’s very interesting that Henry of Streamstown told Ada Brett Kerr that a man named Jasper Brett had lived across from the Achonry church but that the house had completely disappeared. It’s hard to say what “across from the church” means because the church is at the end of a dead-end road. But there is a farm property along the lane leading to the church and these very curious occupants.


I hope to share more information about the Bretts in Ireland in a future post.

If you have questions or information you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.


Written by Laurie Brett

September 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Brothers and Eldest Sons

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Although I’ve collected all kinds of family history tidbits (and tucked most of them safely away on ancestry.ca), I’m often drawn back to the tidbits in a renewed effort to find meaning. For me, it’s not enough simply to collect the facts; I’m always trying to read between the lines for the untold stories.

In this post, I’m looking at Richard Ruddy Brett (1869-1937) and his older brother, William James Brett (1864-1943). R.R. went by the name “Bert” for most of his adult life. More predictably, his brother was known as “Bill”.

(Aside: If anyone ever explained to me how Richard Ruddy came to be called Bert, I must have quickly forgotten. I do have many memories, however, of town elders telling me about my great-grandfather, Bert Brett, walking through town whistling. Apparently it was his thing! Unfortunately I don’t have any anecdotal asides to offer in the rest of this post, just some facts.)

John Alexander Brett

John Alexander Brett

John Alexander Brett (1892-1918)

A while back I wrote a post called 2nd Generation: John Brett & Ann Elliott. Near the end of that post I listed their children and provided a few details on each. Under William James Brett, I mentioned that he and his wife Etta had four children. John Alexander Brett was their second-born and eldest son, born on 24 February 1892 in Ruthven and killed in action near the end of World War I.

When I was looking through the new batch of photos I received from Sandy, I was amazed to find this photo of John Alexander Brett. On the reverse it says: “John Brett – 241st Regiment – Killed Sept 1918 – Buried in France”.

At age 24, John enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 9 September 1916. The 241st Battalion was based in Windsor and the unit was known as the Canadian Scottish Borderers (a precursor to the Essex and Kent Scottish), hence the kilt and the sporran. The battalion had one commanding officer, Lt.-Col. W.L. McGregor (or at least that’s what Wikipedia says).

It would appear that John was overseas for the next two years. At the time of his death on 27 September 1918, he was a Private in the 15th Battalion of the 1st Central Ontario Regiment, which fought in France and Flanders (Belgium).

When the village of Sains-les-Marquion in France was captured on 27 September 1918, John A. was there. His military burial record says that he was killed in action: “This soldier was instantly killed by an heavy enemy shell, during operations in the vicinity of Keith Wood.”

On the following day, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade established a new cemetery, the Sains-Les-Marquion British Cemetery. It contains 255 WWI burials. John Alexander Brett is buried in Plot 1, Row B, Grave #24.

Ruddy Brett

Ruddy Brett in cadet uniform

Ruddy Brett in cadet uniform

John Alexander Brett’s cousin Ruddy also enlisted. Bert Brett’s second-born and oldest son was an18-year-old drug clerk when he signed his enlistment papers on 1 July 1915. Ruddy was planning to become a pharmacist, a goal he accomplished after the war was over, and had been working at a local drug store.

In this photo, also received as part of Sandy’s collection, Ruddy is wearing military gear, probably his cadet uniform from high school. By September 1916, just about the time that his cousin John was enlisting, Ruddy was stationed in France with the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance, which was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division. Soldiers in that division were at the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. As a medic, Ruddy probably worked near some of the worst battles that the 4th Division fought. He stayed in France until the Armistice in 1919.

To refresh your memory about Ruddy, re-read my post called 4th Generation: Richard Ruddy Brett Jr.

Bert and Bill

IOOF Centennial Lodge, Windsor, May 12, 1927 - Bert Brett sitting on the far left and William Brett on the middle right

IOOF Centennial Lodge, Windsor, May 12, 1927 – Bert Brett sitting on the far left and William Brett on the middle right

Brothers Bert and Bill must have shared a great deal of anxiety and sorrow about their second-born and oldest sons. Although Bill lived in Windsor and worked in Detroit for many years, I believe the brothers also kept in touch and shared something else – a club.

The brothers were both members of the charitable organization known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or IOOF. Bert originally joined Rose Lodge No. 28 in Amherstburg around 1891, then moved to Enterprize Lodge No. 218 in Essex when he and William H. Auld purchased the Essex Free Press in 1896. He was elected as Grand Master in 1907 and was the oldest living Grand Master in Ontario at the time of his death.

According to Bill’s obituary, he joined Rose Lodge No. 28 in Amherstburg around 1886, then joined Centennial Lodge No. 463 in Windsor upon its founding in 1919. At his death, he was a Past Grand Patriarch of the Grand Encampment of Ontario and one of the oldest Oddfellows in the district.

This IOOF photo from 1927, shows the two brothers seated in the front row, Bert on the far left and Bill on the middle right. The names and number of years of service for each person is listed on the reverse. Bert is listed as having 36 and Bill with 41 years of service. You can certainly tell that they’re brothers!

Written by Laurie Brett

September 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm

The R.R. Brett Children

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It’s been over a year since I posted to this blog. The first rule of social networking is to post often. Since I’ve broken that cardinal rule, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I find out that I’m writing this simply for my own edification.

In any case, it’s good to have something new to report. Thanks to Sandy Cascadden, I now have many additional photos of the Brett children to share. In her teens and early twenties, Aunt Elaine kept a few scrapbooks containing photos dating from 1912 to 1916. Although the names associated with most of the faces are unknown to me at this time, many of those faces appear over and over again. Some of them are certainly from the Roberts family, and others likely from the Brett-Elliott family.

Elaine, Ruddy, Ken and Lillian figure prominently. Photos of Marwood and Jack, however, are scarce. Below you’ll find the best group shots.

Elaine, Ruddy and Kenneth

Elaine, Ruddy and Kenneth – 1900

The first photo dates from 1900. At first glance, you think it’s a picture of three little girls. Look at those curls!

According to information found on the back of the photo, Elaine is 5, Ruddy (on the right) is 3 1/2, and Kenneth (sitting on the left) is 2.

A further note explains the dog: “Shep come as a puppy when Rud was 1 year old. Died when he was 14 years old. Took us to school each day and then went back home.”

Kenneth, Elaine, Ruddy and Lillian circa 1903

Kenneth, Elaine, Ruddy and Lillian circa 1903

R.R. Brett Family - 1907

R.R. Brett Family – Summer 1907
Left to right: R.R. Brett (38), Jack (2), Marwood (5), Elaine (12), Lillian (6), Ruddy (10), Frances (42), Kenneth (9)

Bert and Frances with their three youngest - Lillian, Marwood and Jack - circa 1912.

Bert and Frances with their three youngest – Lillian, Marwood and Jack – circa 1912.

Ruddy, Elaine, Kenneth, Lillian, Marwood and Jack, circa 1915

Ruddy, Elaine, Kenneth, Lillian, Marwood and Jack, circa 1915

Elaine, Ken, Lillian, Marwood and Jack in 1915, after Ruddy enlisted

Elaine, Ken, Lillian, Marwood and Jack in 1915, after Ruddy enlisted

Written by Laurie Brett

September 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm

4th Generation: Richard Ruddy Brett Jr.

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Ruddy Brett - 1921 Graduation

Ruddy Brett – 1921 Graduation

Ruddy Brett was the eldest son of Richard Ruddy Brett and Frances Lillian Roberts, born on December 25, 1896. To differentiate himself from his father he signed his name “R.R. Brett Jr.”

Like all of the Brett children, Ruddy progressed through the Essex school system, often with honours (as newspaper reports of the day show), and graduated from high school around 1914. He immediately went to work as an apprentice druggist with T.B.S. Tweedale, both at the Essex and Windsor locations, but his workplace education was about to be interrupted.

On July 1, 1915, Ruddy enlisted as a Private with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. According to the September 3, 1915 edition of his father’s newspaper, the Essex Free Press, Ruddy shipped out on August 7, 1915 and arrived at Plymouth, England on August 18. A year later, on Sept. 8, 1916, the newspaper reports that Ruddy is stationed in France with the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance, a unit that was newly established in August 1916.

Parts of a letter dated October 23, 1916 were reproduced in the November 17th edition of the Free Press that year. The 13th Canadian Field Ambulance unit was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division, which fought at the Battle of the Somme from July to mid-November 1916, claiming over 24,000 Canadian lives and securing the Canadian unit’s reputation as a formidable assault force. Ruddy was working as one of two night dispensers, administering tetanus shots to one patient after another – “500 or 600 come in in three hours,” he wrote. Although he reports being three or four miles away from the firing line, he was witness to the muddy conditions that the soldiers had to endure:

The weather here is rotten, the mud in the trenches waist deep. Men got stuck fast, and could not get out till morning. Yesterday it turned cold and froze, now it is raining again. I tell you, the men that come in here are in an awful state, mud all over. The face is hardened with mud. You cannot remove it or you are liable to take skin and all.

He also writes about “the rum”, how it saves lives and keeps thousands from pneumonia:

It keeps them warm for a few minutes anyway, and a man cannot possibly get warm in wet clothes and mud to the knees, feet wet, week in and week out, and yet some men try to stop the only thing that gives them a little warmth.

Ruddy remained in France until the Armistice in 1919 and probably worked with the medics near some of the worst battles that the 4th Division fought. These would have included Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

At the end of the war, a report in the Free Press for January 17, 1919 says that Ruddy, now 22, had been promoted to Sergeant and was at Namur, Belgium with the 4th Division, marching towards the Rhine.

After the war, Ruddy enrolled at the Ontario College of Pharmacy and graduated in 1921.

On September 14, 1922 he married Berniece Beech of Leamington. In 1928, a daughter named Betty Lou joined the family.

After his father’s death in October 1937, Ruddy worked at the Essex Free Press, sometimes listed as the assistant publisher.

Ruddy Brett died at the age of 43 in a tragic turn of events. On August 16, 1940, he was a passenger in a car driven by Lee Shanyfelt. The two men and Shanyfelt’s wife had driven from Essex to Belle River collecting subscriptions for the North Essex Baseball League. From a newspaper clipping that came from the Windsor Star, it appears that Ruddy started to experience chest pains and asked Shanyfelt to take him back to Essex. Driving down the Belle River Road, Shanyfelt failed to stop at Highway 2 and hit a car full of soldiers. One man was fatally injured. Although Ruddy climbed out of the car and sat on the running board for a time, he collapsed just seconds before Dr. Dupuis of Belle River arrived at his side.

The clipping that appeared in the Essex Free Press is attached here.

Written by Laurie Brett

June 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

The Essex Free Press: A History

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The Essex Free Press as it existed in 1890-95. R.R. Brett and W.H. Auld purchased the business from Mr. Ed Lovelace in 1896. None of the men in the photo have been identified as Brett or Auld.

The Early Days

The history of newspaper publishing in Essex dates back to 1879. According to available records, we know that the first paper published in the settlement that would officially become Essex Centre on January 1, 1884 was The Essex Centre Chronicle. Publisher Robert Fair printed and distributed the first four-page issue in May 1879.

According to his memoirs, John Milne, an industrious pioneer, constructed a two-storey building around 16 Talbot Street in 1878 and persuaded Robert Fair of Leamington to install a printing press and all the machinery needed to publish a newspaper. The Talbot Street office would be the location of the town’s newspaper through numerous changes in editorial leadership and ownership over the next 65 years.

A photo of the Essex Industrial Works, published in the March 5, 1892 edition of the Toronto Mail, shows a prominent sign on the side of the building that says “Essex Free Press”. Given the logistical difficulties involved in moving printing presses, it is unlikely that Milne moved the operation to his factory (but not impossible). It is more likely that Milne used the walls of his buildings merely as advertising. Another photo from 1890-95 clearly shows the Free Press operating at 16 Talbot Street, but other Milne enterprises are advertised on the face of that building.

Fair’s tenure at the Chronicle was short-lived. By the end of 1879 he had sold the newspaper to Milne, who changed the newspaper’s format to an 8-page, 5-column paper.

In July 1882 Milne sold the paper to John Curran, its editor, who continued as owner until 1884 when he sold to A.E. Lovelace.

A second newspaper called The Advance was founded in 1882 by John Stafford. In early 1885, Stafford and George Laing bought The Chronicle from Mr. Lovelace and amalgamated the two newspapers into one, The Argus.

By the end of 1885, ownership of the newspaper had changed yet again, this time assumed by a joint stock company with Dr. James Brien as chief stockholder. The name was changed to The Essex Liberal.

In August 1886, management passed to J.M. Kennedy, and then to J.E. Johnson of Leamington in 1888, who sold it a year or two later to Henry and Frank Walters. The Walters carried on until 1892 and changed the name to the Essex Free Press around 1889, a name suggesting an independence from all political affiliations.

The Walters subsequently sold to Ed J. Lovelace, who then sold to Richard Ruddy (“Bert”) Brett and William H. Auld on June 1, 1896.

R.R. Brett & W.H. Auld, Publishers

Richard Ruddy Brett

Richard Ruddy Brett made his way into the newspaper business when he was only 15. In 1884 he had already received a second-class teaching certificate but was too young to teach, so he went to work as an apprentice printer at the Western Herald in Amherstburg. Three years later he received his full teacher’s certificate and left the Western Herald to work as a teacher, first in Harrietsville in Elgin County, followed by a one-year appointment at the Webb schoolhouse in Colchester South.

Brett left teaching in 1890 to join the staff of the Amherstburg Echo. Owned by William Douglas Balfour and John Allan Auld, the Echo was an important newspaper in Essex County, with prominent politicians at its helm. Balfour and Auld were both only 21 years old in 1874 when they left their jobs at a St. Catharines newspaper to found the Echo. Balfour had some experience in writing and Auld in printing. By 1878 Balfour was elected Reeve of the town. In 1882 he became the Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature for South Essex, a seat he held until his death in 1896. Auld was also politically inclined, serving as Reeve of Amherstburg from 1886 to 1896, and then winning the provincial by-election for South Essex after Balfour’s death. Auld retained the seat until 1908.

R.R. Brett’s formative years at the Echo prepared him well for a life as a newspaper publisher (and politician). In 1893, R.R. Brett and William H. Auld (brother of Balfour’s business partner John A. Auld) learned that the Essex Free Press was for sale. Like his brother, William Auld was a printer. He had formerly partnered with H.J. Pettypiece, a reporter who had learned the trade at the Amherstburg Echo, to purchase the Forest Free Press. Auld and Pettypiece eventually dissolved their business arrangement, paving the way for Brett and Auld to form a new partnership. In June 1896, ownership of the Essex Free Press passed to Brett and Auld. This partnership faired better than any other in the volatile history of newspapers in Essex and lasted until Mr. Auld’s death in 1932. At that point in time, R.R. Brett bought Auld’s interest in the business and his son, Kenneth E. Brett, joined him in the business.

Before Mr. Auld’s death, Ken Brett worked in the office of the Essex Canning and Preserving Company (later bought by Stokely-Van Camp). Although he never held public office, he followed in his father’s footsteps in many ways. He attended council meetings with his father, a councillor at the time, and assumed the task of looking after the town expenditures. He continued in these duties on a voluntary basis until being appointed Clerk and Assistant Treasurer in 1933, succeeding his father who had been Clerk since 1916.

When R.R. Brett passed away on October 5, 1937, he left the entire business to his son Ken. In a letter Ken wrote to his brother Marwood a week after their father’s death, he reproduced some of the will:

I give, devise and bequeath unto my son, Kenneth Elliott Brett, my business known as the Essex Free Press, together with the lands and premises occupied by the said business and all machinery, type and equipment of the said business, including all stock of paper and other chattels, together with all accounts and notes receivable and all monies and bank accounts belonging to the said business, for his own use absolutely forever; subject to the payment by the said Kenneth Elliott Brett of all the debts of the said business.

The will gave the residue of R.R. Brett’s estate to his wife, Frances Lillian Brett, and appointed his wife and son Ken as the executors.

K.E. Brett, Publisher

A fire consumed the original Free Press building on Talbot Street on January 19, 1943.

Kenneth Elliott Brett owned the Essex Free Press for over 40 years – from October 1937 until January 31, 1979. Although he lived through the war years and must have reported on many local, provincial, national and international developments, one of his biggest challenges came in January 1943 when a fire destroyed the Free Press building.

According to a report that appeared in the Free Press on Friday, January 22, 1943, the fire started at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday, January 19.

Mr. Hunter had been in the back room about five minutes earlier and had lighted a gas fire under the metal pot in order to cast some cuts for this week’s issue when on going back to see if the metal was hot enough to pour, he was met with a burst of flame as he opened the door, however, in the meantime Bruce Beam and John Dodson, of Hicks Furniture, next door, had noticed the fire and turned in the fire alarm. We doubt if there was ever a fire fought in town under worse atmospheric conditions the day being extremely cold.

This editorial appeared in the July 20, 1979 edition of the Essex Free Press. K.E. Brett had passed away just a few days earlier on July 14.

The letterpress survived the blaze and was moved to the backroom of the town’s bowling alley where the paper was published until construction of the current office on Centre Street was completed in the mid 1940s.

At the Centre Street location, production of the paper progressed from “hot type” set on Linotype machines, to “cold type” produced on Compugraphic phototypesetting machines. A busy commercial printing operation ran alongside the weekly newspaper, producing business stationery, flyers, posters, signs, small books and an assortment of ephemera.

Ken Brett and his wife, Gertha, ran the Free Press operation until Ken was over 80 years old.

W.R. Brett & G.W. Ramsay, Publishers

On February 1, 1979, two longtime employees of the Essex Free Press joined together to purchase the paper. K.E. Brett’s nephew, Wilber R. Brett, and commercial printer Garth W. Ramsay took over the operation and continued to build the business, transitioning from Compugraphics to Apple computers in the late 1990s.

Both men were civic-minded. Ramsay served on the Essex Public Utilities Commission for many consecutive years, while Brett served on town council, first as a Councillor from 1970 to 1974, as Deputy Reeve from 1974 to 1976, as Mayor from 1976 to 1980 and once again as Reeve from 1985 to 1999. When the amalgamated Town of Essex was formed in 1999 (joining Essex, Colchester North, Colchester South and Harrow), Brett was elected as Councillor for two consecutive terms and retired from politics in 2003.

In the year 2000, after 21 years of partnership, Garth Ramsay sold his shares in the business to Brett. By the time he retired in 2004, Wilber Brett had earned the singular distinction of being the only Brett publisher to work in every production mode – hot type, cold type, and digital.

L.A. Brett, Publisher

On January 1, 2004, with nearly 50 years of newspaper experience under his belt, Wilber Brett sold the Essex Free Press to his daughter, Laurie Brett. That, of course, is me.

With the help of a very talented and hard-working staff, we transitioned the paper from paste-up to digital layout, added full colour to our advertising options, and streamlined our pre-press production. To much acclaim, we launched several new publications, including the quarterly newspaper Crafter’s News, an annual tourist guide called Discover Essex, and the quarterly magazine Spotlight on Essex County. We also built (and rebuilt) the Free Press website and created websites for the Fun Fest Guide and Discover Essex. In 2007, we were honoured to win the Ontario Community Newspapers Association’s Best Newspapers Award in the Heritage category for a spread on the 1907 explosion at the Essex Railway Station.

Working for his uncle, K.E. Brett, Wilber Brett watches as the 8-page weekly edition of the Essex Free Press rolls off the press.

My father continued to work in the business, labeling newspapers every Tuesday afternoon and delivering them to post offices and newsstands on Wednesday morning. His knowledge of the business was vast and he readily shared it with me as I transitioned from law librarian and educator to newspaper publisher and commercial printer. In mid-2009 my dad became ill and passed away in November of that year.

As the fourth-generation owner of the Essex Free Press, I can tell you that it has never been easy to be a publisher of a community weekly newspaper. It’s not hard to find editorial content; it’s generally abundant and overflowing. The harder task is to find enough advertising and other revenues to cover your costs. It’s the same struggle that I believe scared off many of the early Essex newspaper publishers and a persistent problem that continues to challenge the industry. In 2006 the Ontario Community Newspapers Association reported that the Essex Free Press was the third oldest family-owned community newspaper in the province and was among only 25 community newspapers in Ontario that continued to be family owned and operated. Large media operations had by that time purchased many of the oldest community weeklies or launched competing newspapers in key markets. The tide had already turned in favour of corporate ownership.

In May 2011, the Essex Free Press was purchased by London Publishing, a new media company that had recently purchased a controlling interest in the Essex Voice, a competing newspaper. Nearly 115 years after Brett & Auld purchased the Essex Free Press from Ed Lovelace, the family legacy has come to an end. The merged operations, however, continue to publish a weekly newspaper called The Essex Free Press, a name that is now over 123 years old.

Written by Laurie Brett

June 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm

New Information: Catharine Brett (1859-1863)

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I am fascinated by history… especially local history. No matter how much I read and no matter how much I think I know, there’s always something more that’s out there waiting to surprise me.

Yesterday, Art & I headed off to Fort Malden in the hopes of learning more about Private James Elliott. The museum has been beautifully refurbished and is well worth a visit. Unfortunately the second floor was closed. That’s where they have the Upper Canada Rebellion exhibit – a collection that quite possibly has more significance to Canadian history than the War of 1812, but I fear it might be blasphemous to suggest such a thing during this year of bicentennial celebrations. So we settled for viewing the War of 1812 exhibit on the first floor. Authentic artifacts from Col. William Caldwell, his sons, Chief Tecumseh, and Simon Girty (who, coincidentally, helped to free some of my Quick family ancestors from their Indian captors – a story for a future blog posting) have been carefully and tastefully displayed. We especially liked Simon Girty’s gnarly cane.

Although we had an opportunity to discuss James Elliott with the museum’s collections specialist, we did not manage to learn anything new about James Elliott. The museum’s file on the 34th Regiment is full of information, most of it from secondary sources, but James Elliott’s name did not stand out.

With some time on our hands before dinner at Ricardo’s (located at the back of the historic Amherstburg Echo building on Dalhousie Street), we decided to stroll through the Christ Church cemetery to see if we could find James Elliott’s tombstone, knowing full well that it was unlikely. We tried to read every tombstone this time, even the weather-worn ones, using shadows and our fingertips to detect small hints of detail. James Elliott was nowhere to be found, but what a surprise to find little Catharine Brett’s tombstone hidden behind a dense growth of English ivy!

From my research on Ancestry.ca and at the Marsh Collection, I know that Catharine was the second child of John and Ann Brett, born in the autumn of 1859 in Clinton, Iowa where her father worked as a shoemaker. Catharine’s name appears in the 1860 U.S. federal census alongside her older sister Cecelia and her parents. By September 1861, the family had returned to Amherstburg where Catharine’s little sister Jane was born on Sept. 9. Catharine was only 4 years old when she died on December 2, 1963 (source: Christ Church burial records). Her little sister Jane had lived a short life and had already predeceased her. No cause of death for either girl has been found.

The bleached-white tombstone is partially worn away and two of the names are misspelled – Britt instead of Brett and Anne instead of Ann – but her birth month appears to be identified as September (which adds to our information) and the month of her death is confirmed as December.

It’s very exciting when you find visible evidence (as opposed to documentary evidence) that your ancestors were here. I think this tombstone is likely the oldest Brett tombstone still standing in Essex County, older than John and Ann Brett’s tombstones in Rose Hill Cemetery. Plus it’s our one remaining link to historic Christ Church.

Written by Laurie Brett

June 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm

New Information: Jane Brett

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You might recall one of my earlier blog posts about Jasper Brett and Celia Mowberry, my “first generation” ancestors. We don’t know very much about Jasper and Celia but we do know that they had at least 7 children: George, Jane, Cecelia, John (my ancestor), Catharine, Mary and Patrick. About Jane I wrote:

What little we know about Jane is found in George Brett’s letter of June 16, 1875. In that letter, George asks about Jane and her husband Thomas Clark, who George appears to know. George writes to John: You said you expected to pay Jane & Thos Clark a visit this summer. If so ask them to write to me & let me (k)now how they are going on & how many in family they have. I suppose age is beginning to pray a little on Tom for he is older than I am.” There is no clue in the letters to tell us where Jane and Thomas Clark live, but they are most certainly in North America and are probably close in age to George.

It bothered me that I couldn’t find Jane anywhere in the census data. Searching for common names like “Jane”, “Thomas” and “Clark” is like looking for a needle in a haystack on Ancestry.ca, but I decided to hunt and peck my way towards success. And I did it! Here is what I found…

1861 Census – Montague, Lanark County, Canada West

Jane was born on June 10, 1816. The month and day of her birth come from the 1901 census and the year from the 1861 census. She was 45 years old in 1861. The 1871 census, however, reports her birth year as 1821, the 1891 census as 1818, and the 1901 census as 1823. I’m inclined to believe that 1816 is more likely to be accurate than the rest because we also know that she immigrated to Canada in 1833. If she was born in 1816, she would have been 17 when she boarded a ship for Canada. We don’t know who she travelled with – whether she travelled with her sister Mary, who also immigrated but ended up in Philadelphia, whether she travelled alone or with Thomas Clark. But, in any case, it’s unlikely that she would have left home as early as age 10 to seek her fortune in the new world.

From the 1861 census, we also know that Thomas Clark was born in 1811, that he was a farmer and that he married Jane Brett in 1838. Both were born and raised in Sligo, Ireland. Thomas Clark was indeed older than George Brett (b. 1812) by about one year.

You might recall that Jane’s sisters, Cecelia and Catharine, came to Canada with their brother John around 1841 and married men from the Ottawa Valley. The connection to the Ottawa region was always a mystery until I found Thomas and Jane Clark in the 1861 census for Montague, Lanark County, Canada West, a small community near modern-day Smiths Falls. With this new information, it seems likely that John, Cecelia and Catharine came to Canada on the heels of their sister Jane and headed straight for the Ottawa Valley. A further search of passenger lists (on Ancestry.ca and www.theshipslist.com) continues to come up short.

The earliest I have found Jane and Thomas Clark in the census is 1861 (a search of the 1851 census has been unsuccessful). At that point they had 7 children: George (20), John (18), William (16), Uriah (14), Thomas (12), Catherine (10), and Jasper (8). By the time of the 1871 census, they had added Joseph, who was about 10 years younger than Jasper.

By 1871, the Clarks had moved about 100 kilometres north, from Montague in Canada West to Onslow in Canada East. Onslow, Quebec is just across the Ottawa River from Arnprior, Ontario. Thomas continued to farm. A note in the 1871 census says: “This man’s produce belongs to Ontario.” What this means is unclear to me, but I suspect that the boundary between Ontario and Quebec was about as insignificant to the average settler as was the border between Canada and the U.S. at Windsor-Detroit before the mid-1900s. Perhaps Thomas Clark had property in both provinces, living in Quebec but trading in Ontario.

I’ve been unable to find the Clarks in the 1881 census, but Jane reappears in 1891 as a widow of 73, living in the home of her son Uriah and his wife Kate. Her son Joseph, 26, is also residing in that household.

Jane appears again in the 1901 census, still living with Uriah who is now a widower. By the 1911 census, Uriah is living alone, on property that is adjacent to his brother Joseph and his family. It is likely that Jane died between 1901 and 1911.

I have been unable to find the death records for Thomas or Jane Clark.

One final word on the name “Jane”. There may be another explanation that I have yet to discover (and would be happy to be informed about if anyone knows different), but I’m wondering if Aunt Pat Croft (Patricia Jane Brett) was named after Jane. It would make a lovely ending to this story if she were.

Written by Laurie Brett

May 31, 2012 at 9:33 am