Thursday, 31 January 2019

Meet the In-laws

What do these two women have in common besides being extraordinarily glamorous?

Mary Elizabeth Patrick & Helen Needham c1940 at Wonderland Gardens, London, Ontario, Canada.

They both married Culbert descendants! 

Mary Elizabeth Patrick married Milward Taylor "Mel" Culbert, and Helen Needham married Mel's brother, Kenneth Arthur "Ken" Culbert. That makes Mary and Helen sisters-in-law.

You'll notice that it's not just Culbert descendants whom I post about on the Culbert Family History blog; I also include the men and women who married into our family. 


If you would like to write about a member of your family who married a Culbert descendant, please get in touch with me here...

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Helen (Needham) Culbert (1918-2018)

Please join me in raising a glass to Helen (Needham) Culbert.

If you haven’t yet read the tribute written to Helen by her daughter, Mary-Lynn Culbert, please click here.

Mary HELEN Needham was the wife of Kenneth Arthur Culbert (son of Myron Culbert and Effie Taylor). She lived to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Helen was born 25 January 1918 on a farm in London Township about nine miles north of London, Ontario, Canada.

Helen was from a pioneer family. According to the book, London Township: Families Past and Present [1], Helen’s great-grandfather, William Needham (1782-1867) married Jane Proctor (1787-1877). William and Jane were born in England but moved to County Wicklow, Ireland after their marriage.

The young couple were dissatisfied with conditions in Ireland, so they embarked with their children on a small sailing vessel bound for America, around 1820. After living for awhile in America, they set out for Upper Canada. They were met by friends who guided them through the forests to the south half of Lot 9, Concession 10 in London Township. This farm remained in the family for over a century, and it was here that Helen’s grandfather, Thomas Needham was born.

Helen's grandfather, Thomas Needham

Thomas Needham (1834-1929) married Helen Farr (1850-1904) after whom Helen was named, and they had three children, including Helen’s father, Gordon Needham (1887-1962). 

Helen's father, Gordon Needham (left) with her brother, Louis Needham

When describing her father, Helen told me, "In his old age, they would take up the rug for him to tap dance." Dancing abilities aside, Gordon Needham was well-respected in the County and provided loans to many a young man wanting to start his own farm with only a handshake as a guarantee of repayment. Helen said, “He was always repaid – people’s word and reputation really meant something, and folks came to him for help because he had a reputation as an honest man.”

In 1908, Gordon Needham married 18-year-old Mary Emma Smith (1889-1923). 

Helen's mother, Mary Emma (Smith) Needham

Mary Emma Smith was born in London Township but her maternal grandmother, Prudence Shotwell was from New Jersey, USA with Quaker roots going back to the 1600s in that state.

Gordon Needham and Mary Emma Smith had six children. Sadly, Mary died in 1923 soon after giving birth, from puerperal fever, known at the time as “childbed fever.” It was often caused by doctors not washing their hands. Today, antibiotics can cure the disease.

Helen was only five years old when she lost her mother. Helen’s father was left to cope on his own with six young children. Desperate for help, he remarried to a widow with children of her own.

The family moved to London when Helen was a child. Helen attended Victoria Public School on Wharncliffe Road South and then London South Collegiate Institute on Tecumseh Avenue East. She graduated from grade 13 in 1936. She was accepted to Western University and managed to get through most of her first year before she was forced to drop out for lack of financial resources. She would have been the first child in her family, and the first woman to have graduated from University had she been able to continue as she so badly wanted to. Unfortunately, Helen’s step-mother put the needs of her own children ahead of those of her step-children so it was with relief that Helen moved out of the family house.

As a young woman, Helen worked at the Smallman & Ingram Department Store at the corner of Richmond & Dundas in London, once Western Ontario's largest department store. (In 1944 it became Simpson’s Department Store). Helen worked in the millinery department at Smallman & Ingram, selling hats.  
Smallman and Ingram store, 1941. (via London Public Library)

During this time, she met Ken Culbert at a New Year’s Eve dance. 

Ken and Helen at the beach

Helen’s exemplary work at the department store had not gone unnoticed. Management had decided to groom her as a Buyer, and sent her to New York City with their Senior Buyer so that she might rise in the company. Ken wasn’t happy with this development. Jealous by nature, the idea of Helen having a career and travelling without him was the last thing he wanted, so he put the kibosh on her plans. Instead, they married and immediately started a family, according to what he wanted.

Even if Ken had been supportive, women often found themselves dismissed from their jobs after marriage as it was expected that their husbands would support the family. And that’s exactly what happened to Helen. 

Ken and Helen's wedding day, 19 October 1940.
Helen welcomed her first child, Kenneth Campbell “Cam” Culbert into the world in July, 1941. No sooner was Cam born than Ken was off to serve with the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) leaving Helen at home with a little baby. At some point, Ken must have been home on leave as another son, Brian Gregory “Greg” Culbert was born in December, 1943.

I don’t know how Helen coped from 1941-1945 while Ken was away at war. She was without a mother to give her advice.

Ken’s brother, Mel Culbert had a marvellous mother-in-law named Mabel Patrick who lived on King Street, just around the corner from Ken and Helen. Helen often enjoyed long talks and tea with Mabel. Mabel was 33 years older than Helen and had raised six children so she may have been a help to Helen. At least, Mabel was there to keep Helen company during that lonely time.

Helen told me that Ken’s grandmother, Jane (Fairhall) Culbert stayed with Ken and Helen for a couple of days following Greg’s birth. Jane was an old woman so Helen let Jane sleep in her bed while Helen slept on the chesterfield with the baby close by. When Helen awoke, she found Jane had kindly taken the baby into the bedroom to care for him while Helen slept. Helen described Jane as a “wonderful, very nice, smart woman.” So despite Jane’s advanced years, perhaps Helen could rely on her help from time to time.

Helen loved to paint and told me she used to “get lost in it.”

When I asked Helen how long she'd been painting, she said since age five or six! When she was a young girl, she exhibited a painting at London's Western Fair. She started taking art classes in the 1960s and painted steadily for about 10 years. Her paintings were later on display at City Hall in North York.

Few people in the family knew about her artistic talent as she was quite modest. When I asked why she’d hidden her light under a bushel, she replied, “It’s not something you go around boasting about.”

Following the death of her husband in 2000, Helen moved from Toronto to Calgary, Alberta into an assisted living centre.

Initially, she moved in with her son, Greg and his family and lived with them for a couple of years. But it was mutually decided that everyone would be happier if she had her own space. She moved into The Manor, just 10 minutes from Greg, and that worked well for everybody!

For her 99th birthday, the staff gave Helen an enormous cake. She told me, "At my age, I don't give a HOOT about dieting! I do anything I want!”

For her 100th birthday, Helen was surrounded by close family who celebrated this momentous day in style. 

Helen Culbert celebrating her 100th birthday in 2018.

Helen received birthday greetings from the Queen, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the Governor General of Canada.

She treasured her letter from the Queen, and displayed it proudly, but said, “I never much cared for that Trudeau boy – you can put his in a drawer.”

Birthday greetings from Her Majesty

My husband and I helped to create a book of memories for Helen’s 100th birthday, using photos sent to us by many family members and friends.

Helen, Mary-Lynn, and Cam looking at her memory book.

Helen had strong opinions on any number of subjects and I enjoyed engaging her in discussions about the world and life in general. One day she was talking about how young women should be taught how to care for themselves in high school so they don't make bad choices, especially where men are concerned. She made me laugh when she said “some men who don't marry choose not to marry because they're too damn cheap to support a woman."

I figured that after 100 years, Helen knew a thing or two about life and so I welcomed her opinions. One day I was complaining that I wasn’t enjoying my day because I had too much to do. She said, “Women think they need to be always working at something. It’s okay to put your feet up, have a cup of tea, and relax whenever you feel like it. Be good to yourself.” Thank you, Aunt Helen. That’s good advice for all of us.

Let's hear now from Helen’s granddaughter, Kim Oke Small ...

Kim Oke Small with her grandmother, Helen Culbert
My grandmother taught me to look at the world through an artist’s eye. She taught me to notice the colours and hues of the sea and sky. She taught me about flowers and herbs. I am reminded of her when I smell fresh lilac, pecan pie and Island Gardenia perfume, when I hear Perry Como or touch purple velvet.

She had a life sized poster of Clark Gable on the back of her bedroom door. She joked that she said goodnight to him always. She told the best stories! When I’d visit, we’d drink tea and eat from her gingerbread house cookie jar (which I now have) talking for hours and hours together. She loved me well all my life and taught me to be just the right amount of proud and brave - I am grateful for it.
Thank you 💕

Helen (Needham) Culbert’s Family Tree:
William Needham & Jane Proctor (paternal great-grandparents)
Thomas Needham & Helen Farr (paternal grandparents)
Gordon Needham & Mary Emma Smith (parents)
Descendants (Children):
Kenneth Campbell “Cam” Culbert
Brian Gregory “Greg” Culbert
Mary-Lynn Culbert

Extra family history details:

If you grew up in London, Ontario you’ll be familiar with Needham’s Funeral Service, a family-run funeral home on Dundas Street. The founder, Russell Needham was Helen’s second cousin. When Russell retired, his son Lloyd Needham took over.

Russell Needham’s nephew, Garth Hudson has been described as “the most brilliant organist in the rock world.” Garth became a member of the world-renowned group, The Band but before that, he played the organ at Needham’s funeral home. Garth is related to Helen, and therefore to her descendants.

[1] ​London Township: Families Past and Present, Volume II. Arva, Ont.: The London Township History Book Committee, October 2001, 339.

We love you, Helen

Friday, 25 January 2019

Remembering Helen (Needham) Culbert

This tribute to Helen (Needham) Culbert (wife of Ken Culbert), was written by her daughter, Mary-Lynn Culbert.

January 25th would have been my mother’s 101st birthday.  She passed away just two months shy of this landmark, on November 20th, 2018.  While I grieve her loss, I am comforted knowing that she was ready to embark on her next journey.  

Helen came into a world without so many things we take for granted today.  And she lived long enough to see the world utterly transform around her in ways she could never have imagined.  Her life was filled with many challenges, love, loss, accomplishment, triumph, roads not taken, and some great adventures.  She faced it all with courage, a curious mind, and a wicked wit.  

She taught me to appreciate the beauty of ordinary things; to understand that everything is made better by a good meal; to know that anything can be endured if you keep a sense of humor; to realize that women are the strongest things on earth; to be good to myself.   

It’s a strange thing to realize we will all, baring accident, eventually be orphans in this world.  Yet we are never alone, because we carry forward within us the collective experience of all those ancestors who came before.  I know that my mother’s life will continue to inform and shape my own for as long as I live.  While she can no longer travel by my side, she will always be in my heart.  And I will be a stronger, better person for her presence.

Helen (Needham) Culbert and her daughter, Mary-Lynn Culbert, 2010 in Calgary. Photo by Paul Ciglen.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Kenneth Arthur Culbert (1916-2000)

Flying Officer Kenneth Arthur Culbert, Royal Canadian Air Force, 1940s. Photo courtesy of Mary-Lynn Culbert.

Kenneth Arthur Culbert was born 9 June 1916 on the Culbert homestead (Poplar Farm) at Lot 19, Concession 2 (The Coursey Line) in Biddulph Township near Lucan, Ontario, Canada.

Left to right: Brothers Cliff Culbert, Ivan Culbert and Ken Culbert. Photo taken in early 1919. Photo courtesy of Phil Culbert.

“Ken, the second son of Effie and Myron, has been a hustler from early boyhood.” So said Ken's cousin, Grant Taylor.

Grant goes on to say…

“He was a school janitor for three years while attending S.S. No. 2 [Atkinson’s School] – keeping the school clean and in the cold weather, getting there early to make a fire. For this he received $50 per term. He got into the chicken business while going to high school in Lucan. He fixed up the barn on the Cobleigh farm for a hen house and bought 75 pullets for $1 each, using money he had earned as school janitor. He shipped the eggs to Montreal and received 30-60 cents per dozen. The chicken business lasted 2-3 years, then at age 16, Ken left home. He attended business college in London, obtained a job as cost accountant with the head office of Metropolitan Stores and remained there for five years.”[1]
Ken Culbert in 1929, age 13, having already perfected the art of the hustle.

During his college years, Ken lived in an apartment above a store on Dundas Street in London, right in the heart of the action. His brothers, Ivan and Mel lived with him at various times, too.

City directories show that in 1939 and 1940, Ken was sharing an apartment with his brother, Mel Culbert and their friends, Bob Murray and Ron Laidlaw at 211 ½ Dundas Street, near the corner of Clarence Street. The apartment was above “The Joy Shop,” a ladies clothing store.

As well the opportunity to girl-watch from their window, they were lucky to live next door to Kent’s Confectionery at 209 Dundas Street, also known as G.W. Kent Lunch & Ice Cream Parlor...

Kent's Confectionery was an ice cream parlor that served lunch and pastries, too. This photo was taken in 1941, just a year after Ken was living in the apartment  above The Joy Shop next to Kent's. This would have been what the view from Ken's window looked like.

It was also during these years in London that Ken met his bride-to-be: the bright and beautiful Helen Needham.

Ken Culbert and Helen Needham in the late 1930s or early 1940s.
Helen recalls their meeting:

My family’s house in London backed onto an Anglican church. A friend asked me to come along to a New Year’s Eve dance in the church building. I guess that Ken must have had his eye on me that night because when an announcement came on telling the women to choose a partner for the next dance, Ken slid in front of me!

Ken and Helen married 19 October 1940 at Robinson Memorial United Church on Richmond Street in London, Ontario.
Robinson Memorial United Church at the corner of Richmond Street and Sherwood Avenue before it became a condo development.
Ken and Helen's wedding day, 19 October 1940.
Helen told me, “Nobody had money for a honeymoon at that time (World War Two) so we went straight to our nice new home: the Jarvis Apartments in London at 390 Princess Avenue near Colborne Street.”
Built just five years before Ken and Helen's wedding, the Jarvis Apartments were considered modern and desirable accommodation. The bedrooms had Murphy beds and the building was air-conditioned. This building still stands today although it's been renovated and has a different name. Photo via London Public Library.

Nine months after their wedding, their first child, Kenneth Campbell "Cam" was born in July, 1941.
Ken Culbert with first-born child, Cam in 1941.

Around this time, Ken and Helen moved into the main floor of a duplex at 386 William Street, London, near the corner of King Street. I don’t suppose they had any complaints about noisy neighbours -- the house next door was a funeral home.

384-386 William Street (left) as it looked in 2018, many years after Ken and Helen lived there. The white building was a funeral home owned by G.L. Ferguson, undertaker.

During the same year as Cam’s birth (1941), Ken joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) and took operational training as a wireless air gunner at 111 Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.) in Nassau, Bahamas. His squadron was in Transport Command, flying V.I.P.s and secret documents between Dorval, Quebec and Prestwick, Scotland. He was then transferred to Coastal Command at Comox, British Columbia, flew on anti-submarine patrols, and was discharged with the rank of F.O. (Flying Officer) in late 1945.[2]

Ken Culbert (left) with his brother, Mel Culbert, 1940s, hamming it up for the camera. Both were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.)

Ken must have had leave at some point as another son, Brian Gregory "Greg" was born in December, 1943. With Ken away at war from 1941-1945, one can’t help but marvel at how Helen coped on her own with two babies.

During the post-war years, Ken held various jobs. In 1949, he joined the Protective Association of Canada, a general insurance company with their head office in Granby, Quebec. He was appointed assistant general manager in 1952, and moved his family to Granby the next year. 

83 Vittie Street, Granby, Quebec as it looks many years after Ken and Helen and family lived here.

Ken climbed the corporate ladder at Protective Association of Canada and by 1961 he was chief executive officer (CEO). At this time, the head office moved to Toronto, along with Ken and his growing family. A third child, Mary-Lynn had come along in August, 1959.

#7 Blithfield Avenue, Toronto, off Bayview Avenue. Their home from the early 1960s onwards.

In the early 1960s, Ken was a management consultant to several life insurance companies. In 1970, he became a full-time consultant to Eaton Financial Services and remained there until his retirement in 1981.

Ken could often be found on the golf course where he had a lifetime membership.
"Funny story about his "lifetime" golf membership," says Ken’s daughter, Mary-Lynn. "He got kicked out of the golf club because instead of golfing, he spent most of his time scavenging for golf balls hit into the rough, the water hazards, etc.  Then he would clean off the balls, package them up in packs of six, and sell them out of the trunk of the car in the club's parking lot.  Club management took exception.  We found this out because he came home in a big, red-faced huff one afternoon. We caught him unloading dozens of cartons of balls and trying to stash them secretly in the basement.  That was one of the many things we had to deal with after his death - disposing of dozens of cartons filled with golf balls.  Like a squirrel with nuts, he'd stashed boxes of them all over the house and garage. A "hustler" indeed!"
Left to right: Cam Culbert (Ken's son), Terry Culbert (Ken's nephew and son of Mel Culbert), Ken Culbert (the year before he died), and Greg Culbert (Ken's son), 1999. Photo by Mary-Lynn Culbert.

On 12 April 2000, Ken died of multiple myeloma in North York General Hospital, age 83. Ken was the last of Myron and Effie’s six sons to die, and he was the son who enjoyed the longest life.

Ken Culbert with his brothers and parents. Back row, left to right: Ken Culbert, Mel Culbert, Mert Culbert, and Earl Culbert. Front row, left to right: Cliff Culbert, Myron Culbert, Effie (Taylor) Culbert, and Ivan Culbert.

[1] "A History of the John Culbert-Mary Ward Family and Their Descendants 1828-1995, Volume 1, Branches 5-6-7-8-9" by Grant W. Taylor, page 96.
[2] Ibid., page 97.

Kenneth Arthur Culbert's Family Tree:
John Culbert & Mary Ward (great-grandparents)
Richard Culbert & Jane Fairhall (grandparents)
Myron Culbert & Effie Taylor (parents)
Descendants (Children):
Kenneth Campbell "Cam" Culbert
Brian Gregory "Greg" Culbert
Mary-Lynn Culbert