“Where did you ever get these letters?” This is the question I am often asked when I describe my project of organizing the family archives and transcribing the letters Aunt Bess brought when she emigrated from Ireland.
The experience of touching these fragile sheets of paper containing messages written over a hundred and fifty years ago by my relatives is a marvel to me. I will never know why Aunt Bess brought the letters that family members and friends had written to her from Canada from 1852 to 1869. Obviously they were precious to her, as they are to me now. I first learned of the correspondence while vacationing at the cottage near Shanty Bay, Ontario with my maternal grandmother, Jean Kaine or Nan as we called her. The time I spent with her was idyllic and we passed many fascinating hours talking about the experiences and adventures she had in her life.
On one of these lazy summer afternoons in the 1960’s, Nan revealed a secret hiding place at the top of her bedroom closet behind some panelling held on precariously by a tiny nail. She then showed me the treasure trove of family documents, letters, memorabilia and photographs from the Kaine family that intrigue me as much today as they did over fifty years ago when I first saw them. It was apparent that the mice were feasting on the family treasures so I protected them in plastic bread bags and took them out to look at every summer with a sense of reverence and curiosity.
I learned that my grandfather, Irving Brigham Kaine was the executor for his aunt, Robina Victoria Kaine and thus became the custodian of her personal effects including the letters after she died at age 70 in 1941. Aunt Bina never married and like a true Victorian young woman painted watercolours and china. Her creations grace my home to this day. Her accomplishments did not end there as she became a teacher and taught in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario for many years. I will devote a future post to what I know about her. I am grateful that Aunt Bina preserved the letters and that my Aunt Helen passed them on to me when Nan passed away in the early 1990’s. My fascination with the family history was born on those summer days of story telling at the cottage and I am enjoying every moment of delving into it further.
Stay tuned for for the next post in which I will share and comment on the first Kaine letter which was written in 1852 from St. Helen’s Island in Montreal. My goal is to post every two weeks but I am researching each letter and that can take me down many fascinating detours along the way!