John's Canadians

Patrick & Mary Louise

There was quite a social life in Dublin for young girls: teas, tennis, boating, etc.  Dot, Goog and several of their friends used to play tennis on week-ends with young men from University College and Trinity College.  Iris Glenny relates her mother's (Dot) account of how Patrick met Mary Louise:  "In 1908 the three Glenny brothers, Robert, Sidney and Percy, attending Trinity, had invited the Henebery sisters and their close friend Agnes Daly to one of the season's big tennis dances:  Dot and Bob, Goog and Sidney, Agnes and Percy were all going together.  At the last minute Sidney took sick and asked an acquaintance, Paddy Burke-Gaffney, to squire Goog – that was where it all started."

Remembering her own mother's stories, Mary Burke-Gaffney, RSCJ, believes Mother met Jack first, when she frequented the National Bank where he worked, and knew the family through him.  However, Jack was about three years her junior and joined the bank in 1909, the year Robert Glenny left for Canada with a promise to send for Dot the next year.  The time-frame favors the tennis theorem.  In any case, they found a great deal in common.  Both liked music.  Mary says, "I recall the joy with which Mother spoke of being invited by Dad to Victor Herbert operettas in seats 'up in the gods.'  Dad played the violin:  I remember only a few times his attempt to take it up again accompanied by Mother on the piano. He had lost his touch and regretted it.  Mother never lost her ability to play by ear and could easily take up current dance tunes. We used to ask her to play "The Spinning Wheel," a showy piece, just to watch her hands speed across the keys.  I wonder what became of the violin and mandolin in their bedroom closet?"

A faded photograph in Patrick's collection marked 1911 10 VI "Howth" shows a young woman formally dressed in overcoat and big hat.  It must be Mary Louise, especially when matched with another photo of a group of young men with surveyors' equipment -- clearly Patrick's engineering class -- is also captioned "Howth 1911."  Paddy and his fellow students may have been doing field work around Howth.  A photograph of Thomas Burke-Gaffney and several family members, taken in 1913, shows Mary Louise seated in the centre, smiling.  Patrick doesn't appear in the picture, and since he had become a proficient photographer, he likely took the photograph of his fiancée to carry with him to Canada.

The Canadian Story

This chronicle begins when Patrick, newly graduated in 1912, having spent a term lecturing in mathematics at University College of Dublin, applies for a position in a Shannon River power project but places second.  Attending a reception early in 1913 for the successful candidate, he met an agent for the Canadian Pacific Railway which was searching for an engineer for projects based in North Transcona, Man.  The agent urged Patrick to apply, he did, was accepted, and left for Canada April 1913.

We believe he fully intended to complete the Transcona project as field work in preparation for doctoral study back home and probably a career in education.  He obviously was attracted by his prospects in Canada and by year's end had persuaded Mary Louise to join him.  He never returned to Ireland.

Patrick arrived in Manitoba at a turning point in its history:  A map dated 1914 showed Manitoba's "frontier of settlement" at a line just above Gimli, about 50 miles north of Winnipeg, although Manitoba's border in 1912 had moved north to include Hudson Bay and a seaport.  Wheat dominated the economy.  Boosted as "the Chicago of the North", Winnipeg had gone through a decade of overheated expansion in population and development.  North Transcona, his workplace, was little more than a major railway junction on the north-eastern limits of Winnipeg.

Patrick's 1920 application to the new Association of Professional Engineers of Manitoba contains a valuable outline of his early engineering career:  his first CPR assignment from April to July 1913 he described as "Rodman C.P.R., maintenance of way."  He was given an opportunity to appraise his new domain while examining the railway's properties.  In July his title changed to "Instrumentman."  Then "October 1913 - March 1915 - Inspector C.P.R."  One might speculate that this position brought enough pay and stability that he could send for his fiancée.

Marriage & a New Home

Mary Louise sailed from Bristol on the 25th of August 1914 on board the 'King Edward' and arrived in Montreal on September 4 where Patrick met her, accompanied by Robert Glenny who had married her sister "Dot" in 1910 and resided in Montreal; by odd chance, the sisters weren't able to share the joy of the occasion -- Robert and Dot had returned to Ireland to visit their families earlier that summer, and she had stayed on to have an operation.  When she was ready to return, her ship was delayed by the outbreak of World War 1.  Because Mary Louise couldn't spend the night with two bachelors, they went directly from the ship to St. Patrick's Church (now Basilica) and were married with a witness from the street.  The newly wed couple spent their wedding night at the Glenny's downtown flat then caught the train the next morning for the long trip back to Winnipeg.  For a girl who had led a sequestered life, of which 10 had been spent boarding in a convent, the vast, unpopulated countryside she saw from the train must have been a revelation.  Harvesting would have been at its peak -- and, perhaps as a portent, Manitoba that year enjoyed the largest wheat crop in its history.

They made their first home in a converted caboose, parked on a spur line close to Patrick's Transcona office in the CPR yard.  Among Patrick's photographs is a snapshot dated 1914;  on its back, Mary Louise had written affectionately "Chez Burke-Gaffney."  It shows a narrow room, immaculately kept, with clusters of daisies on the dining table, on a bookcase and even on Patrick's big oak desk on the opposite wall.  There are tidy curtains, prints and photos on the walls, and the young bride is seated at the table, looking solemnly at the camera over her Irish linen tablecloth and a large Ironstone serving dish.  She had cause to be grave:  the Manitoba winter had set in.

Years later, Mary Louise would regale her children with chilling stories about the several-mile walks that winter to reach the streetcar line to attend Mass in Winnipeg.  Another photograph shows a farmer and his wife in their wagon, wrapped in fur and scarves, their breath steaming, only their eyes and noses showing.  The Irish immigrants must have adapted quickly to local customs: she told the story of making her way alone to Winnipeg on a cold day wearing kid gloves and tightly-fastened leather boots which she exchanged for heavy mittens and felt boots bought at Eaton's.

Still, the caboose had electricity and on-board water, with fresh milk delivered daily and fresh food not available in Ireland, including novelties such as bananas and corn.

next >>