Monday, 20 May 2019

The Wildest Town in Canada: Donnelly Songs and Stories by Jeff Culbert

The Port Stanley Festival Theatre kicks off its 2019 summer season with The Wildest Town in Canada: Donnelly Songs and Stories.

The show's creator and star is Jeff Culbert, the great-great-grandson of our ancestors, John Culbert and Mary Ward. Jeff, who grew up in Lucan, Ontario is a talented storyteller, playwright, and musician.

Jeff Culbert
This new show about the Donnelly murders of 1880 presents the story in a unique way: It’s a concert featuring some of the best songs that have been written about the Donnellys over the years.

Songs by Stompin' Tom Connors, Earl Heywood, Maria Dunn, James Boyle and Jeff Culbert, played by a four-piece band featuring fiddle, accordion, guitar and banjo.
The show runs for a week from 21 May - 25 May 2019. Ticket information here.

And if you haven't already read my post about the Culbert family's connection to the Donnellys, click here.

Cousins Jeff Culbert (left) and Terry Culbert at Poplar Farm, the Culbert homestead near Lucan, Ontario. The Culbert homestead on the Coursey Line is located almost directly straight across and a couple of miles west of the Donnelly homestead on the Roman Line.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Walter Berry “Watt” Culbert (1909-1982)

Watt Culbert

If you grew up in a rural area, you’re familiar with “the farmer wave.”

You’re driving down the road and as another vehicle approaches, you wave to the driver as a friendly gesture. It can be as simple as lifting one or two fingers off the steering wheel...

 ... or you can enthusiastically stick your arm out the window. Walter Berry “Watt” Culbert was doing just that on 21 September 1929, and it almost cost him his life.

Watt, age 20 was on his way home when he encountered a wedding procession of cars, heading the opposite direction. They were guests at the wedding of Watt’s first cousin, Edith Marilla Culbert who was marrying Bert McLelland in the nearby village of Ripley.

Watt had thrown his arm out the car window to greet the people in the leading vehicle. The lead car was speeding so fast that it threw up a cloud of dust, obstructing the view of Elton McLelland, the driver of the car behind it. Elton (brother of the groom) couldn’t see Watt’s car for the dust, and Elton sideswiped him. Both cars had their sides sheared off and went into the ditch.

Watt was found bleeding with his left arm almost severed. He was taken to Kincardine Hospital where his arm was amputated.

Years later, Watt’s daughters said, “We were surprised that neither of us ever thought of Dad as someone with only one arm. That was probably because he never complained, and found ways to accomplish things that needed to be done. One thing that amazes us now is how he was able to tie his shoelaces with one hand.”

The Thomas Ezra Culbert family
Watt Culbert was born 15 August 1909 in Huron Township, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada. His parents were Thomas Ezra Culbert (1872-1949) and Sarah Ann Berry (1871-1953) of the 8th Concession, just east of Ripley.

Watt had an older brother, William Henry “Bill” Culbert (1906-1987) and a younger sister, Hazel Ann (Culbert) Charles (1911-2005). Bill was a secondary school teacher at Patterson Collegiate Institute in Windsor, and Hazel was a hairdresser in Lucknow.

When he was 31, Watt married 25-year-old Annie Louise Bowers on 5 July 1941. Annie, born 23 November 1915 was the daughter of Shirl Bowers and Kate Martyn who farmed on the 15th Concession, two miles south of Ripley. Annie attended Toronto Normal School in 1933-34 and taught at SS#2 Culross for four years. 

Watt Culbert & Annie Bowers on their wedding day
The maid of honour in the pink dress is Annie’s sister Dorothy Henrietta “Hetty” Bowers, and the best man (far right) is Watt’s first cousin, George Irwin Johnston (1910-1944). George was the son of Ellen “Nellie” Culbert and Robert William Johnston.
Here's a photo of the same group as above at Watt & Annie’s 40th anniversary celebration in 1981. Left to right: Watt Culbert, Annie (Bowers) Culbert, Hetty (Bowers) McLeod, and George Irwin Johnston.

On 1 August 1938, Watt and Annie opened a dry goods store in Ripley. Known as Watt’s Variety Store, they sold clothing, paint, school supplies, sewing notions, toys, and other items.

Watt's Variety Store in Ripley, Ontario
Watt’s Variety Store was located at 79 Huron Street in a long brick building which included several businesses. In the 1940's if you were to walk from their house on Jessie Street along Huron Street, it was the third store on the west side of Huron Street. The first store was Blue's Bakery, then McArthur's Hardware, Watt's Variety Store, McLennan's furniture, and several more. 
Inside Watt's Variety Store, November, 1952. That's Watt Culbert with his arm outstretched. The woman is Donalda MacKinnon, a part-time clerk at the store. The boy between Watt and Donalda is Watt’s son, Tom Culbert. The little boy making a purchase is Watt’s nephew, Andy Bowers. Photo by Andy’s father, John Laishley “Jack” Bowers.

Watt’s Variety Store specials, 1939

In September, 1941 Watt and Annie purchased the former home of Mr. Dan Ross at 16 Jessie Street in Ripley.

The Culbert family home at 16 Jessie Street, Ripley, Ontario
16 Jessie Street many years later in 2013.

Furniture receipt dated 1941 for a breakfast suite, bedroom suite, chesterfield suite, and a mattress for the house on Jessie Street. All for $237.00! Purchased from McLennan's Furniture store in Ripley. Note that the letterhead also says Funeral and Ambulance Service. This was back in the day when furniture and funeral services were sold in the same store.

Here on Jessie Street, Watt and Annie raised their three children: Shirley (born 1942), Thomas (born 1944), and Katherine (born 1947).

Watt sold Watt’s Variety Store and retired on New Year’s Day in 1982 after serving the community of Ripley for 44 years.

At the time they retired, Annie commented, “Years ago the store was opened every Wednesday and Saturday nights and the streets were lined with people. But today you could shoot a canon down the street.”

Photo of Huron Street in Ripley as it looked in October, 2015. The building on the right with the blue front is where Watt's Variety Store once stood.

The building that housed Watt’s Variety Store still stands today. MacAdams’s Mini Mart has taken the place of Watt’s Variety Store and the furniture store.

The Culberts admitted they would miss the store but they planned to enjoy their retirement “even if we don’t know what we’ll be doing.”

In the summer of 1982, Watt was at the family cottage at Bruce Beach on Lake Huron, about seven miles from his home in Ripley. He was getting the cottage ready for use after renovations. Shortly after this, he began to feel unwell. He was taken to Kincardine Hospital, and then to University Hospital in London where he died on 31 July 1982, age 72. Watt was just six months into his retirement.

Annie died 19 years later in 2001, age 86. Watt and Annie are buried in Ripley-Huron Cemetery, located at 1 Park Street in the southwest part of the village of Ripley.

Watt and Annie had been long-time members of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Ripley. The church was built in 1891, and attended by generations of Culberts. St. Paul’s was deconsecrated and closed on 24 June 2005. Nonetheless, it still stands today at 10 Jessie Street, just down the street from the Culbert's house.

St. Paul's Anglican Church, 10 Jessie Street, Ripley, Ontario

The beautiful stained glass window (above) overlooked the altar. It bore the inscription: In memory of Moses Wall aged 85. Died Feb 28, 1891. (erected by his family). Moses Wall (1806-1891) and his wife, Ellen Greene were the parents of Margaret Wall who married Watt’s grandfather, Henry Culbert. (Henry Culbert was the son of John Culbert and Mary Ward.) The stained glass window was removed when the church closed, and is now in the possession of a member of the Wall family.

Henry Culbert (1837-1920) was a devout Anglican, as was his son, Thomas Ezra Culbert. Thomas Ezra Culbert was caretaker of the church until his son Watt Culbert took over these duties in 1940, and continued until his death in 1982.

Below is an appreciation letter for Watt’s work with the church...

Walter Berry Culbert’s Family Tree:
John Culbert & Mary Ward (great-grandparents)
Henry Culbert & Margaret Wall (grandparents)
Thomas Ezra Culbert & Sarah Ann Berry (parents)
Shirley Ann (Culbert) Sled
Thomas John Culbert
Katherine Margaret (Culbert) Kirkland

Walter Berry Culbert (1909-1982)

Note: Thanks to Shirley (Culbert) Sled and Katherine (Culbert) Kirkland who provided information and photos of their father, Walter Berry Culbert.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Captain Robert Milton Culbert (1939-2019)

Bob Culbert, 1987

Dear Bobby was our first born boy,
A gift from heaven to enjoy.
We were so proud we had achieved
The trick of getting him conceived.

The verse above was written by Richard Milton Culbert (1908-1996) in tribute to the birth of his first-born child, Robert Milton “Bob” Culbert.

Bob Culbert (right) in 1996 with his father Milton Richard Culbert whom he referred to as “my great pal.”

Bob Culbert was the great-great-grandson of John Culbert and Mary Ward. Bob was descended from John and Mary’s son, Thomas Culbert who you know all about from this previous post.

Bob’s great-grandfather, Thomas Culbert (1846-1930) was a successful and well-liked representative of Carling Brewery. Thomas was also the proprietor of the Central Hotel in Granton, Ontario: an establishment frequented by the infamous Donnellys.

Bob Culbert was born 15 February 1939 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Two brothers followed: Peter Somerville Culbert and Michael Gordon Dunsmore Culbert.

Bob attended Islington Public School, University of Toronto Schools, and the University of Guelph on a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) scholarship. He graduated in 1961 with a degree in Economics. That same year, he married his first wife, Catherine Moffat and they had three children: Jocelyn, Virginia, and Tom.

After graduation, Bob remained with the RCAF as a flying instructor; two years at Centralia just north of Lucan, Ontario, and two years at Gimli, Manitoba. 

Bob was a flying instructor on Tutor aircraft (the same kind used by The Snowbirds) at Gimli. Bob related a story to me:

The scene is the summer of 1966. One weekend I was to take a student on a cross-country training flight.  I decided to go as far as North Bay on the first leg and overnight.  I picked North Bay because my parents were at the family cottage on an island on Trout Lake, just east of North Bay.  In those days we had not installed a telephone on the island so I wrote ahead telling them what day I was coming down and at what time.  I told them that I would fly over the island to alert them I was in the vicinity, and then Dad could boat over to the shore where we parked the car and he could drive up to the airport to collect me for an overnight visit.

It was a brilliant summer day, so I flew down to the east end of the lake, descended, and made my approach westbound to fly past the island.  The devil was in me.  I went past the island at about 200 feet, doing about 300 knots.  As I hurtled past I could just see my parents and my 17 year old cousin who was visiting who were standing on the dock.  My mother got so excited she wet her pants!

In 1966, Bob transferred to Air Canada where he was employed as a pilot.

Bob remarried in 1987. He said, “I married Virginia Coleman with whom I had attended public school and dated several times in high school before her parents moved.  I lost track of her until meeting again in 1983 at the public school’s 150 year reunion; the rest is history.”
Bob in 2014
Bob retired from Air Canada in 1996 after 30 years of service.  

During his retirement years, Bob enjoyed travelling from coast to coast with Ginny. They took a train trip through Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and enjoyed a 12-day tour of Newfoundland.

After 26 years in their Port Credit house, Bob and Ginny moved in 2017 to a retirement facility just six blocks from their home.

When Bob started experiencing health issues a few years ago, he exclaimed to me, “The Golden Years are a myth!”

“We are well enough, but I am waiting on treatment for pinched nerves in my back. Such are the consequences for
  • about to turn 76
  • 15 years playing squash
  • 32 years playing golf, and
  • 8 years flying aerobatics in the RCAF
and all this time I thought I was trying to avoid being a couch potato!"

Bob Culbert passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on 10 May 2019 age 80, following hip replacement surgery.

Bob Culbert (kneeling, front and centre) with other Culbert descendants and their families at the Culbert homestead (Poplar Farm) on the Coursey Line near Lucan, Ontario. Photo by Terry Culbert, November 2004.

Bob shared our enthusiasm for family history. I’m grateful to Bob for filling me in about his line of the family: the Thomas Culbert – Letitia Dempster branch.

Bob’s sense of humour shone through in his emails to me with subject headings such as Dad’s distant cousin, bowlegged Jessie.

Bob was happy to answer my endless family history questions. After one particularly long recollection of assorted ancestors and relatives, he said, “My head is swimming with this research, and I shall seek relief in a gargantuan tumbler of Forty Creek Premium Barrel Whisky abetted with Canada Dry.”

Bob paid a visit in 2017 to Woodland Cemetery in London, Ontario to visit the Thomas Culbert family’s burial site. Bob described this particular trip as grave-hopping.

Thomas Culbert's headstone is in Section P, Lot 167, SE. Thomas, his wife, Letitia, and five of their six children are buried at Woodland Cemetery.

Milton Thomas Culbert (1880-1911) was Bob’s grandfather. A geologist and mining engineer, Milton was well on his way to a brilliant career as the manager of the O’Brian silver mine at Cobalt, Ontario. His life was cut short at age 30 by post-appendectomy septicaemia in the days before antibiotics.

Bob often ended his email messages to me with one of his father’s many limericks or poems. And so I think it's fitting that we end this tribute with the complete text of “Our Bobby,” the poem Milton Richard Culbert wrote to commemorate the birth of his son, Robert Milton “Bob” Culbert.
Our Bobby

Dear Bobby was our first born boy,
A gift from heaven to enjoy.
We were so proud we had achieved
The trick of getting him conceived.

When he emerged, the doctor said,
He wouldn’t breathe: they thought him dead.
They tried and tried, he wouldn’t start;
The best he did was feebly fart.
But in a final frantic try,
They grabbed his heels and held him high,
Administered a mighty thump
Upon the newborn’s tiny rump;
And thereupon our little fellow
Started living with a bellow.
And in his mother’s biased view
He never quit till he was two.

His bright blue eyes and angel face
Gave promise he would grow in grace:
But when he was a tiny tot,
A tranquil toddler he was not.

I often heard my wife complain
That raising Robert was a strain:
“The other babies in their prams
Lie placid there like little lambs,
But Bobby throws off all his wraps,
And hangs down over by the straps
Until he’s half way to the ground:
So he can watch the wheels go round!”

Around the house he roamed the rugs,
Twisting dials, pulling plugs,
Yanking cords that closed the drapes,
And pounding pans to horrid shapes.

But put to bed our little demon
Would instantly begin his screamon:
His hollering went on and on
It seemed, almost until the dawn.

Did open pins cause his distress,
Or had he merely made a mess?
What was the trouble, what the cause?
Could it be colic, or the yaws?
Could he have ruptured in his nest?
No: all he ruptured was our rest.

We found what made him wail and weep:
Like his old man, he hated sleep.

Robert Milton Culbert’s Family Tree:
John Culbert & Mary Ward (great-great-grandparents)
Thomas Culbert & Letitia Demptser (great-grandparents)
Milton Thomas Culbert & Laura May Yeo (grandparents)
Milton Richard Culbert & Gwenyth Mary Somerville (parents)
Jocelyn Culbert
Virginia Culbert
Tom Culbert