My siblings have asked me a few times over the years to write the stories I have heard or the things that I remember about our father. Dad passed away in 1969 leaving behind his wife Marion who was only 44, 2 married daughters aged 25 and 23, myself age 13, an 8 year old son and two more daughters aged 4 and 2. Sadly my Mom and two oldest sisters are now gone and I am the only one who remembers anything about Dad. Although Mom was with us until 2003 and was an amazing women, she didn't tend to talk much about her early life, so even her stories are few and far between. I had planned to scrap pages about our parents to share with my siblings and still hope to do that some day. In the mean time I have decided to start writing up some of the stories, for fear that they may never be told. What better place to do this then on my blog, where I can not only share the stories but the many photos I have and all my family is able to see them.
Dad's Early Life
My father, Frank Harrison was born May 7, 1916. He was the first child of Edwy and Lilian Harrison and was named after his mother’s youngest brother Frank, who lived in England
. Like his parents, he wasn’t given a middle name. My grandparents owned a home on Chambers St.
on the outskirts of Smiths Falls
and it was in that home that they were married and their children were born.
Dad’s cousin Kathleen (Kay) Weston was 6 years old at the time of his birth and remembered it well. She was kind enough to share a photo of the house they lived in and what she remembered about the day Dad was born.
This photo was actually taken in 1910, Kay is the baby being held by her mother, Grandpa's sister Eva , her brother Charles is in the carriage, her sister Beatrice standing and Great Grandma Annie is on the right. But the house still looked the same at the time of Dad's birth in 1916.
Here is what Kay had to say about that day. “Your father was born in the front bedroom, which is where the upper window is in the photo. I first saw your Dad in that room as a tiny red faced, black haired baby. I was told that he had been brought during the night by Dr. W.S. Murphy, in his little black bag. I never remember wondering why Aunty Lil was in bed and being cared for by “Granny Clark” (no relation to Tom) who was a sort of midwife, nurse, housekeeper in such situation. I thought that this new cousin was the cutest thing I had ever seen.”
Here are some pictures of Dad as an infant and toddler.
Kay Weston and Dad
Now isn't that quite the hat he's wearing.
This photo was the first one they had taken by a photographer. The photo was blown up very large and put into an ornate frame which hung for many years in my Grandparents home. It was later given to Dad and he and Mom held onto it, and then a few years after Dad passed away it was given to me. I still have it here at the house.
Grandma and Dad
Another professional photograph
Dad's only sibling, a sister, was born 19 months after he was. She was named Lillian after her mother, only her name had 2 L’s as that was more popular then the spelling of her mom’s name with one L.
Lillian and Dad
Lillian 1 year old and Dad 3 years old wearing a Scottish outfit. I'm sure no one at the time ever thought that this outfit would become a family heirloom and his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would later wear it to have their photos taken.
I know very little about his early life. From what I have gathered over the years Grandma always had big birthday parties for Dad and Aunt Lil. She would invite the cousins and friends from the neighborhood and they would play games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Snakes and Ladders. She would also have lots of special treats for everyone.
My grandparents belonged to the Anglican Church and were fairly religious and passed their faith on to their children. Dad rarely missed going to Sunday school as a child or church as he grew older. I do believe that the family, although not rich by any means, were reasonably well off. There was always plenty of food to eat and the opportunity for nice clothes and toys. Grandpa Harrison worked on the railroad but was also very good with his hands and would do woodwork or fix things in the upper part of the shed. Dad may have learned some of these skills from him as I remember Dad building cupboards, work benches and other things when I was growing up. The last thing that he built before he took his stroke was a large desk for me. It isn’t anything fancy but I was so thrilled that he made it for me and I still have it.
Here are some photos of Dad and Aunt Lil as they grew
Grandpa with the two of them
Obviously a happy time spent paddling their feet at the beach. Lil is on the left and Dad on the right. The other boy was someone from the neighborhood. Don't you just love Dad's little bow tie.
Grandma with her two children
Aunt Lil and Dad
Dad on the right with his bike.
I'm not totally sure but I believe this to be an Army Cadet Uniform The high schools for many years had cadets in them so I am thinking that this is what it was for.
Fishing on the Rideau
Dad and Lillian in their teens.
A few years ago I looked up a couple of people who had known Dad when he was younger. One of them was Howie Reynolds. Howie was well into his 80’s by then and at first didn’t remember who Frank Harrison was. He then said I was good friends with a Newt Harrison but don’t remember a Frank. Will I had to laugh a little, because Newt was Dad’s nickname. Howie had no idea how he got the nickname but he said that they started calling him that when he was in his very early teens. I can remember hearing friends of Dads from the railroad calling him Newt even years later when I was a child
. Howie told me that grandpa bought Dad his first car, which was a 1931 Buick Deluxe. According to his diploma, Dad graduated from grade 13 in July 1931, when he would have only been 15 years old. It makes me wonder if Grandpa got him the car as a graduation present. What ever the reason, Howie said it was a grand car and that Dad was the envy of all his friends.
Howie told me a story about how one of the guys in the group they hung out with was fairly well off and always had the best of the best but he didn’t have a car. So he was very jealous of Dad and would take advantage of his good nature. When they would go out this guy would make a big show of how he was going to pay for the gas for the drive. Gas at that time cost 50 cents a gallon and this guy would tell the gas attendant to fill her up but then quietly tell him to only put in a gallon of gas. Howie said there were a couple of times that they ran out of gas on their tours around because they would think they had lots of gas only to find out that they had very little. Dad soon caught on and made sure that he paid for the gas after that. Howie remembered Dad as a wonderful friend, kind hearted and willing to do anything for anyone.
Aunt Lillian’s best friend, Doris Williams, shared some stories about Dad with me. She too remembered his car. She said that Dad would take his sister Lil and her to dances at the Pavilion in Perth
or the Canoe club here in Smiths Falls
when ever they asked. Other friends in the neighborhood would get him to run them all around too. She said he probably had many other things he would have rather have been doing but never complained when anyone asked him to take them somewhere.
Life was probably difficult for the family when Dad was in his late teens. His mother became ill and was admitted to the Brockville Hospital
where she remained for many years. It is unclear whether she had a nervous breakdown or if it was dementia, but she was never the same after that.
Doris vividly remembered a trip Dad, Lillian and she made to Brockville
to visit his Mom. She said they went one day after church and they were all dressed up in their best outfits. Lil and Doris were having a great time chatting and laughing as they went through the wee town of New Bliss
on the Brockville Hwy.
when all of a sudden the car got a flat tire. Dad striped off his suit jacket and vest, rolled up his white dress shirt sleeves and went to work replacing the tire. She remembers him getting the tire from the front right side of the car. He had the tire fixed in record time and he quickly got him self cleaned up, vest and jacket back on and all. They headed out again but only a mile or so down the road another tire blew. So he had to take the spare of the left side of the car to fix this one. She said any other man would have become angry but not Frank. He just took off the vest and jacket and rolled up his sleeves once more and went to work changing this tire. This time the tire wasn't as easy to get off and he had to work quite hard to get it changed. Doris
said she can remember the sweat was pouring down his face and his trying so hard to stay clean. She said he must have been so angry about having to change the second tire but she said he never let on. But she said, that was Frank, he never, ever got mad and he would never think of swearing or yelling. They all sat in the car for a while trying to decide whether they should turn around and head home or take a chance, with no spare tires left, of heading to Brockville. She said Dad just said, “Mother is expecting us and it would break her heart if we didn’t visit, so we’ll go on.” So off they set to see Grandma, with no more problems.
Here is a picture of what a 1931 Buick Deluxe looked like. Take note of where the spare tire is, there was another one in the same spot on the right side of the car.
And here is a photo taken with some of the gang leaning on the car. In the photo I believe that the girl in the first row far right is Doris Brinkman (who later became Doris Williams). In the back row far left is Grandpa Edwy and beside him wearing the hat and half hidden is Dad’s sister Lillian.
Here is Dad with a bunch of his pals, who were probably getting ready to head out for a ride. Don’t they all look quite dashing with their hats on. Dad is the second man on the left with the his arm around his friend and the last man on the right is Harry Plunkett. He had been Dad’s best friend for years and he and his wife would become good friends with Mom and Dad after they married. I remember going to visit them many times when I was young.
remembered Dad as a kind hearted sole and a hard worker. He worked on a farm down the road for a couple of summers and was always looking for odd jobs to make a bit of money. Back in those days there was no such thing as a snow day if it snowed to hard on a school day. They would walk all the way up to the high school sometimes trudging through thigh high snow. The route that Dad and his sister Lil would take would bring them past the Canadian Pacific Railroad station and if there had been a big snowfall the railroad would be looking for men to shovel the snow. Dad would go on to school putting in a half day and then head to the railroad to make a bit of money by helping with the shoveling.
Here is a picture of the high school he attended. This school was between where the hospital is now and the high school that we attended. The arch from the main door is all that is left standing from it.
I believe Dad started working fulltime at the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) in Smiths Falls
when he was around 24. His first job was that of shoveling coal, which was what made the engines run. Then for a few years he worked on the riptrack, which stood for Repair In Place. The riptrack was in the CPR train yard and the men would do the repairs on the trains there. He was paid 25 cents an hour, which was descent money at that time.
That’s all I have about Dads life growing up. Stay tuned for the next chapter in Our Family Story, which will talk about Mom’s early years.