Published Poem!

Branches silhouetted against a morning sky, February 2022.
(Sonia Nicholson photo.)

The Winter 2022 edition of the Van Isle Poetry Collective publication is out and it includes my poem, “Trees of Remembrance”. You can enjoy the magazine for free online or purchase it in print on their website. (Purchases support the publication.)

Screen shot, Van Isle Poetry Collective website showing Winter 2022 edition.

The cover also features beautiful photography and art by Vancouver Island artists.

It feels good to get a “yes” in the writing world, so I wanted to share the happy news. Thank you as always for reading, and for your support.


Front of postcard, which reads “Greetings”. (Author’s collection)

Mr. Leon Homer
North Java
New York.

Nov. 1. 1912.

Hello Leon:-

I am still alive You see. I heard you looked about all in Isn’t this a lovely day? I thought I would send this to surprise you. Will look for you this eve if not to [sic] stormy. I am having a splendid time. We may come over town tomorrow. Bye Bye. You know who from.

Back of postcard. (Author’s collection)

Leon Elmer Homer was born on April 7, 1893 in Batavia or Alexandria, New York (depending on the source) to Elmer Homer and Eva Hyde. His parents were both born in the Java area.

By 1900, the Homer family was living in Alexander Township, Genesee, New York. The census lists 7-year old Leon with his parents; older sister Nellie, 12; and younger brother Howard, 4.

Census information for the Homer family, 1900.
Source: “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 31 December 2021), Leon Homer in household of Elmer G Homer, Alexander Township Alexander village, Genesee, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 2, sheet 10A, family 243, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,037.

At age 17, Leon was a hired hand in Wethersfield, residing with William and Dora Harris and their newborn son. The year was 1910. Like his father, Leon worked as a farmer early on.

After he had gone off on his own, Leon still made visits home. The July 11, 1912 edition of the Wyoming County Herald reported:

Leon Homer of Attica spent Sunday with his parents Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Homer.

The Wyoming County Herald, 11 July 1912, Page 11.
The Wyoming County Herald, July 11, 1912, Page 11.
Image provided by the Java Historical Society.

And on July 26, 1912, in the social section for North Wethersfield:

Mr. Leon Homer of Attica was in town Wednesday evening.

The Wyoming County Herald, 26 July 1912, page 7.
The Wyoming County Herald, July 26, 1912, Page 7.
Image provided by the Java Historical Society.

On June 25, 1915, he married Marjory Jennie Fancher; they had one child, Darwin Walter Homer, in August that same year. Sadly, Marjory died about two weeks after the birth of her son, at the age of 21. She is buried in Wethersfield Cemetery, Smiths Corner, Wyoming County, New York.

Marriage record for Leon Homer and Marjory Fancher, 1913.
Source: “New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 9 March 2021), Leon E Homer, 25 Jun 1913, Wyoming, New York, United States; citing ref. ID , county clerk offices from various counties, New York; FHL microfilm 989,420.
Grave of Marjory Fancher Homer. Source:

The widower did find love again, a year later marrying 18-year old Sadie Alice Walker on October 25, 1916 in Rochester. Leon, 23, was a railroad trainman while Sadie worked at a collar factory. The marriage record lists both as living at 162 Alexander Street; the Monroe High School was built on the site in 1923 and is still there today.

Marriage record for Leon Homer and Satie [i.e. Sadie] Walker, 1916.
Source: “New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 9 March 2021), Leon E. Homer, 25 Oct 1916, New York, United States; citing ref. ID 492, county clerk offices from various counties, New York; FHL microfilm 831,344.
James Monroe High School on Alexander Street, Rochester, NY.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

According to his WWI Draft Registration card from 1917, Leon had at that time a wife and two children to support. He worked as a farm labourer for a Martin Mosher.

“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, database with images, FamilySearch( : 26 December 2021), Leon Elmer Homer, 1917-1918.

Sometime after his father Elmer Homer died in 1918, Leon’s mother Eva moved in with her son and his family. The Attica News of March 7, 1918 published Elmer’s obituary notice:

Elmer Homer, a Wethersfield farmer, and son of Mr. John Homer of Main street, died at his home Wednesday morning at 11 o’clock of apoplexy. Several weeks ago he suffered a shock and had been out of health since that time.

Mr. Homer was born and had always resided in the town of Wethersfield. He was 58 years of age and besides his father is survived by his wife, five children, Roy Homer of Rochester, Leon Homer of Batavia, Howard Homer of Bason, Mrs. Frank Saulsbury of Batavia and Mabel Homer at home; a brother, Charles Homer of North Java and three sisters, Mrs. L. J. Hall, Attica, Mrs. H. H. Charles, Warsaw and Mrs. Henry Pfeiffer of Wethersfield.

Funeral services will be held Saturday afternoon at 1 o’clock at the house and at 2 o’clock at the church at Union Corners.


The 1930 census records Leon, Sadie, their 6-year old daughter Gertrude, and Eva as living together on Crestwood Boulevard, Gates Township, Monroe County, New York. Leon had made a career change: “Carpenter – House”.

Neither Gertrude nor Eva are named in the 1940 census; but daughter Doris, aged 9, is; the whereabouts of Gertrude and Eva at that point are unclear. Leon was still working in the construction industry as a contractor. The family lived at #10 Geneva Street, Bath, Steuben County, New York.

Google Street View of 10 Geneva Street, Bath, Steuben County, New York. Screenshot captured 30 December 2021.

It seems the union with Sadie didn’t last, however; she later became Mrs. Otto L. Drews. Though the circumstances and exact timing of the split are undetermined, we do know that Leon married a third time. Wife Florence S. Dye had married Kenneth Miller in 1927; the couple had planned on making their home in Bath, New York. How she came to be with Leon is unknown.

Leon Elmer Homer died the day after his 80th birthday, on April 8, 1973 and is buried at Nondaga Cemetery, Bath, Steuben County, New York. He shares a headstone with his third wife, Florence.

Grave of Leon and Florence Homer. Source:

Leon’s son Darwin, from his short first marriage, went on to serve in the Second World War as a Hospital Apprentice, Second Class. He died in 1980, aged 64; and his half-sister Doris died in 1997, aged 66. Interestingly, some records reference another sibling: Carl Melvin Homer (1914-1996). If the birth year is accurate, he would have been Leon’s eldest child, born a year before Darwin. The identity of Carl’s mother was not confirmed during this research.

As to the sender of the postcard on November 1, 1912 — “You know who from” — that person remains a mystery.

Are you a descendant of Leon Homer? Do you have more information or images to share? Use the form on the Contact page to connect. I’d love to hear from you!

With All Good Wishes

Front of postcard. “With all good wishes.” (Author’s collection)

Postmarked Philadelphia, December 3, 1910

Miss Mary Lear,

Have lost your school address so send to Madison.

Dear Girlie; I am glad you like teaching as much.. Do you go home very often? I suppose you take the “Index” & do [several words illegible] much. My school is progressing nicely. I hope you will enjoy Thanksgiving. “Answer soon”, and I’ll be more prompt next time. [Anna] Lee.

Back of postcard. (Author’s collection)

Mary Engleton Lear was born in Madison, Monroe County, Missouri on September 4, 1891 to Elijah Thomas Lear and Mary Frances Willis. When she received this postcard, she was only 18 years old but already teaching.

Teaching, it seems, defined Mary. She never married or had children; rather, she devoted her life to her career.

After that teaching job referred to in the postcard, she didn’t stop learning. The September 1920 edition of Sigma Xi Quarterly (Vol. 8, No. 3), includes the Missouri Chapter report, which shared that,

During the academic year 1919-1920 seven scientific and business meetings were held. The first two meetings were devoted to a discussion of the research work being done, time available for research, equipment for research, and research projects. […] The first public meeting where active members presented papers was on March 18, 1920. […] At the meeting the following associate members were elected. All were graduate students.

Sampson, H. C., et al. “CHAPTER REPORTS: Ohio, Missouri, Illinois.” Sigma Xi Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, 1920, pp. 74–88,

Mary Engleton Lear, a chemistry student, was among those elected. She received degrees from the University of Missouri and by 1927, had begun teaching chemistry at Lindenwood College.

The Madison Times published a history of Madison, Missouri compiled by then-student Mary Humphrey in 1948-1949 as instalments. In the section on schools, she wrote that Miss Mary Lear was at that time honored by Lindenwood College with “a lifetime job as Professor of Chemistry.” Mary Lear would spend a total of 44 years in the position.

Information on school history in Madison, Missouri.

Mary Engleton Lear died on February 27, 1971 in St. Charles County, Missouri at the age of 79 — ten years after her retirement. She is buried at Sunset Hill Cemetery in Madison with her parents, and was survived by a number of cousins: Sam Cornelius, Mrs. Tura Foster, Mrs. Alphia Willis, and Mrs. Fannie Maude Roberts.

Lear grave at Sunset Hill Cemetery, Madison, Missouri.

A 1971 edition of The Lindenwood Colleges Bulletin included a short write up on Miss Lear following her death:

Professor Emeritus Mary Engleton Lear, who taught chemistry at Lindenwood for 44 years, died Feb. 27 in St. Charles.
A native of Madison, Mo., Prof. Lear earned degrees from the University of Missouri and was presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Lindenwood College in 1960, the year she retired.
In her honor the chemistry floor in Young Hall of Science is designated “The Mary E. Lear Chemistry Laboratories.”

The Lindenwood Colleges Bulletin, Vol. 144, No. 10, August 1971
Write-up on Mary Lear in The Lindenwood Colleges Bulletin
following her death in 1971.

And so, Mary Lear’s name lives on — and not just on a postcard.

Mary Engleton Lear. Source:

Are you a descendant of Mary Lear or do you have some connection with her? Please reach out using the form on the “Contactpage.

Birthday Greetings

Postcard to Mrs. Nellie French, 1924. (Author’s collection)

Mrs. Nellie French,
Kezar Falls,

Post marked South Hiram, Maine, December 19, 1924

Wishing you a very happy day and many more to follow. From your friend Alice
[B. or D.?]

Nellie G. Ridlon French was born on November 28, 1867 in Parsonfield, York County, Maine to Magnus and Emily Emery Ridlon. She was one of eight children, including: Emery Stephen, Elizabeth R., John F., Stillman, Emily F., Mary F. and Marcia E. (later Hardy).

Nellie married Frederick Merl French, also from Maine. They moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and together they had two children: Clayton Hurd (also spelled Herd or Heard) (1895) and Emery Ridlon French (1901).

It was in Cambridge, at their home at 4 Leonard Avenue, where in 1908 Emery died at only seven years old. The cause? Diphtheria. He has a headstone in the cemetery in Kezar Falls, with other members of his family.

“Massachusetts Deaths, 1841-1915, 1921-1924,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 2 March 2021), Emery R French, 13 Oct 1908; citing Cambridge,,Massachusetts, 71, State Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 2,257,001.
Google street view of 4 Leonard Avenue, Cambridge, MA.
Screenshot captured 12 Dec 2021.
Headstone of Emery Ridlon French. Source:

Little Emery was likely named after his uncle, Emery Stephen Ridlon, who had died in 1887 at the age of 45, (and who had been given his mother’s maiden name.) Nellie’s eldest brother attended Parsonsfield Seminary in Maine in 1859 and was one of its prominent former students from that year:

[…] Emory S. Ridlon, who later attended Albany Law School and eventually took his place as one of the best lawyers at the Cumberland County Bar.

History of Parsonsfield Seminary. Accessed 12 Dec 2021.

He was also a Mason, initiated in 1863 and made a Member of Honor in 1883 — four years before his passing.

Records list the young lawyer’s cause of death as “Paralysis of Brain.”

Death record of Emery S. Ridlon. Source:

Nellie’s eldest son, Clayton, remained in Massachusetts. As reported in the Cambridge Tribune at the time, he married Gertrude Eleanor Hampson in Watertown on January 17, 1917. Rev. Vincent Ravi Brooth officiated. Described as a “Forwarder & Machine Mover,” Clayton lived at 47 Mt. Vernon Street in Cambridge.

Less than five months later, he registered for the United States World War One Draft. He stated on the draft registration card that he had a wife and child to support, and that he worked for the T. Libby Co., 39 Hartford Street, Boston, as Manager of the Truck Department. His eyes were grey and his hair brown.

“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, database with images, FamilySearch( : 23 February 2021), Clayton Hurd French, 1917-1918.

Clayton wasn’t the only member of the family working at T. Libby. The 1925 Cambridge Directory lists his father Frederick as a teamster at the company (at a different location: 186 Fifth), together with proprietor Tobias Libby. In fact, Frederick’s mother was a Libby, so perhaps there was a family connection.

The Cambridge Directory, 1925

Frederick and Nellie lived at 182 Upland Road, Cambridge in 1925. And yet, the postcard sent to Nellie in Kezar Falls was dated December 1924.

The Cambridge Directory, 1925

Maybe the discrepancy wasn’t that curious, though. Nellie’s connection to Kezar Falls was strong, despite having lived in Cambridge for many years. The book History of Porter, published by the Parsonfield-Porter Historical Society in 1957, explains:

Mrs. French was a native of Kezar Falls, the daughter of Magnus and Emily Emery Ridlon. She was the widow of Frederick M. French of Cambridge, Mass. She and her husband lived at Cambridge for 38 years, then returned to live on the family homestead here until the death of Mr. French. Mrs. French later went to live in Bangor, Me., for some time, then returned to Cambridge where she remained until her death.

History of Porter (1957)
Houses along a street in Kezar Falls, 1944. Photo by George French. It is quite possible that Mr. French was a relation of Nellie’s.
(Maine State Archives G547-210842-CF106)

On June 26, 1949, she died at the age of 81 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Kezar Falls. (Other records show her final resting place as Nathan Hale Cemetery in Porter, Cumberland, Maine; with the same birth and death dates). She was predeceased by her parents, husband (1933), all of her brothers and sisters, and her children — Clayton died in 1935 at age 40. No further record of his child (her grandchild) — the one mentioned in the WWII Draft Registration — was found during this research.

Nellie’s headstone. Source:
French family grave marker in Kezar Falls, Maine. Source:
“Maine, Nathan Hale Cemetery Collection, ca. 1780-1980,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 1 March 2021), Nellie G. Ridlon French, ; citing Porter, Cumberland, Maine, United States, Porter Village Cemetery, Maine State Library, Augusta; FHL microfilm 1,315,207.

When her friend Alice sent the postcard in 1924, Nellie would have still had her husband and son and other family members in her life. Happier times, indeed, even though the “Birthday Greetings” postcard was nearly a month late. It was mailed on December 19, and her birthday was November 28.

But of course, it’s the thought that counts, after all.

Front of postcard to Mrs. Nellie French, 1924. (Author’s collection)

Do you have information or photos to share relating to the French family? Are you a descendant? If so, I would love to hear from you! Please reach out via the Contact page.

Success! I’m pleased to report that this postcard has gone to Nellie’s grand-nephew.

All Good Betide

How much can a single postcard tell you? Quite a lot, actually. All it takes is some effort, a bit of luck, and most importantly, just enough details to launch a viable search. And always, “hope’s beacon” pointing the way.

Front of New Year’s postcard. (Author’s collection)

This particular story begins with a postcard sending good wishes for the New Year, 1912.

Dec. 28, 1911

Zero temperature in our town this morning.
Am having hard work to settle down to every day affairs again. Hope Howard’s cold is all well.
Love from Mama & Papa.

Part of Raphael Tuck & Sons’ “New Year” Series No. N. 5016, the postcard was sent to a Mr. & Mrs. R.E. Duchine, Elmira, New York, #405 Franklin Street, and postmarked Beloit, Wisconsin.

Reverse side of postcard.

It was purchased as part of a miscellaneous (i.e. unrelated, as far as can be determined) group from the Just Stuff antique store in Lake View, Oregon on July 13, 2011: souvenirs that were bought during a motorcycle trip, brought to Victoria, British Columbia, and gifted to me.

The Just Stuff store in Lake View, Oregon, 13 July 2011.
(B. Nicholson photo)

Since then, they’ve been tucked safely away, waiting until the time when someone (that is, me) was ready to look deeper, beyond the holiday greetings and the floral designs. Now, as another New Year approaches, that time has arrived. The plan? To learn as much as I can about each one, and to share the stories that emerge — even if they’re incomplete. If I’m really lucky, the postcards will make their way back to family members, or at the least, an appropriate archives.

More on the other cards later, though. This first chapter belongs to the Duchine family.

The 1917 “Elmira-Made” directory for Elmira Heights and Horseheads lists Ray E. Duchine, of 405 Franklin, as a foreman for the A.L.F.E. Company. A Howard S. Duchine, along with Louise Duchine, are also included in the directory. Both were employees of A.L.F.E. as well; as a clerk and stenographer, respectively. They lived at 377 Fulton — two and a half blocks from Ray and his wife Anna.

The “Elmira-Made” Elmira Heights and Horseheads Directory, 1917.
Google Street View, 405 Franklin Street, Elmira, NY.
(Screenshot captured 5 December 2021)

A.L.F.E. most likely stands for the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company, which was one of the oldest fire apparatus manufacturers in America. It was most well-known for its fire engines, producing its first motorized engine in 1907. The company went through a number of names and iterations, before forming in 1903 under the A.L.F.E. name. It ceased operations in 2014. (It is here that we find a small local connection: through its history, the Saanich Fire Department had a number of LaFrance engines in its fleet. For those of you from elsewhere, Saanich is a municipality in the Greater Victoria area.)

1929 GMC La France outside Saanich Fire Department Station No. 1,
3681 Douglas Street (Saanich Archives 2006-014-031)

According to a November 10, 2015 article in the Elmira Star-Gazette titled “Elmira, Fire Engine Capital of the World”,

The company began to manufacture other firefighting equipment and in 1880 became the LaFrance Fire Engine Company. The 1890s was an era of business consolidation with the growth of trusts. A rival firm was created named the American Fire Engine Company. With the idea of creating a monopoly, in 1900 the International Fire Engine Company was announced. It included the American Fire Engine Company, LaFrance Fire Engine Company and Thos. Manning Jr. and Co. Three support equipment manufacturers were included, three fire extinguisher manufacturers also joined the company. In 1903, the company reorganized into the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company and in 1906 company headquarters were relocated from New York City to Elmira.

Elmira Star-Gazette, 10 November 2015.

So, the American Fire Engine Company was a big part of life in Elmira, and certainly for Ray Duchine. But let’s go back even earlier, following vital, census, and other records available online.

Ray Elwood Duchine was born in 1888 or 1889 in Rhode Island to Frank T. Duchine and Carrie C. Steadman. His future wife, Anna Elizabeth Hoxsie (spelled in some sources as Hoxie), also hailed from the same state (born 1889 or 1890) as did her parents, James T. Hoxsie and Mercy A. Harris. Ray and Anna were married at Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island on December 29, 1909. The postcard sent to them two years later by one set of parents (unclear which) would have coincided with their second wedding anniversary.

In 1910, the year before the postcard was mailed to them, Ray was 22 and Anna was 20. They lived at 213 Hudson Street. According to the Census, he was a clerk at the Fire Engine Company. As we have already learned, by 1917, he had moved up to Foreman.

Sometime after 1910, Anna’s parents moved in with her and Ray; they show up in the 1915 New York State Census but as of the 1905 Rhode Island Census were still living in Hopkinton. They weren’t the only members of the family to make the move the Elmira, however.

As it turns out, the Howard S. Duchine mentioned above — and most likely the same Howard referred to in the postcard — was Ray’s younger brother. Howard, born in 1893, was still living in Hopkinton in 1910 with his mother Carrie, grandmother Emma Steadman, uncle Trederick E. Steadman, and aunt Mary E. Briggs. His mother, grandmother, and uncle were all widowed, according to records. He was 16 years old at the time and like his mother and uncle, worked at the Woolen Mill, (Carrie and Howard as weavers).

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 8 December 2021)
Google Maps directions between the different Duchine addresses.
(Captured 7 December 2021)

He married Louise E. Hatfield on November 23, 1916 in Chemung, New York. And as we learned earlier, Ray, Howard, and Louise all worked at the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company in 1917. Howard and Louise had a son, James H. Duchine, in 1919. Howard’s (and Ray’s) mother had joined the family at 377 Fulton Street by 1920. Later, they would move to 517 Jefferson Street. In Elmira, the various members of the family never seemed to live more than a few blocks away from each other, despite their multiple moves.

Meanwhile in 1920, the United States Census recorded only Anna’s mother as living with Anna and Ray. Ray’s occupation was “Stow Mgr, Factory Office”. They had moved four blocks away from their home on Franklin Street to 516 South Avenue, built in 1900 — still within a close distance of Howard and his household.

Google Street View, 516 South Avenue, Elmira, NY.
(Screenshot captured 5 December 2021)

A quick internet search turned up a matchbook imprinted with the same South Avenue address and the name R.E. DuChine (RED on the other side). Ray is listed only as “Representative” — of what, it doesn’t say.

R.E. DuChine matchbook for sale on eBay.
(Accessed 6 December 2021)

The whereabouts of Anna’s father, James T. Hoxsie, from 1920 to 1925 aren’t clear. Records show he died on September 30, 1925. His ashes are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira; however, he died in Yokohama, Japan of what is described as “fracture of spinal column”. His wife Mercy remained with her daughter and son-in-law.

By 1930, Ray was a salesman in a tire store. One could presume his work with the manufacture of fire engines would have provided him with some relevant experience. Sadly, he would die eight years later at the age of 49 or 50. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, Chemung County, New York.

“United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 8 December 2021)

After Ray’s death, Anna and her mother continued to live together at 516 South Avenue. Anna was listed as the head of household in the 1940 Census; the document notes her highest level of education as high school, 4th year. There is never any mention of children over the years, which would leave nephew James as Anna and Ray’s descendant. James married widow Ruth Elizabeth Ford in Broward, Florida on March 31, 1943.

Mercy died in 1949 and is also buried at Woodlawn, Elmira. I have not been able to locate any record of Anna’s life after her mother’s passing, nor could I find her death certificate.

And so this story both begins and ends with a mystery: just how did this postcard come to find itself at an antique shop on the opposite end of the country; and what became of one of the addressees, Anna?

The question of the sender, at least, is easier to surmise. Given that Ray’s mother was already widowed by the time the postcard — signed with love from Mama and Papa — was sent, it probably came from Anna’s parents. Did it bring good tidings to the Duchine’s? While genealogical records can’t tell us the answer, on its 110th anniversary, the hope is yes. As far as this research journey, it certainly gave me the “blithe success” it wished upon its recipients.

Front of postcard (detail).

Do you have any information to add about the Duchine and Hoxsie families? Are you a descendant? If so, please reach out via my Contact page. I’d love to hear from you!

Trees of Remembrance

October 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the dedication of memorial trees planted along Shelbourne Street (Memorial Avenue) in Saanich and Victoria, British Columbia, following the First World War. Recently, Dr. Geoffrey Bird of the War Heritage Research Initiative at Royal Roads University produced a film about the history of these trees. The documentary inspired this poem.

Re-dedication of Memorial Avenue, Saanich, British Columbia, 29 September 2018 (Sonia Nicholson photo)

Roots run deep on this street of memories.
Seedlings planted in the name of the lost
A century ago
Watch silently, ever mourning
Long after the mourners have gone

They remember, the broad leaves whose
Colours have counted the seasons of
A hundred years,
Branches constant and enduring in
A neighbourhood changed

Through time

The sentinels listen, incline shoots to hear,
Record the stories above the noise
Growing steady
To give voice to the voiceless and
Hope for generations

In their silence they speak, lined up along
The boulevard of unfinished dreams as
A living cenotaph
Dreaming, gentle giants holding then and now
Through earth, across sky

They stand

Unveiling of Memorial Avenue marker and interpretive sign, Saanich, 29 September 2018 (Sonia Nicholson photo)

Tragedy’s Heir

I’m the Shell,
The Dark’ning Shell!
My smoke-clouds shroud Dominions where my red rain
never fell:
Far beyond the seven seas,
On the mountain and the plain,
Hearts are shrunken to the lees,
Souls are withered for the slain.
I am the Shell!
My dread reverberations echo over hill and dell,
Where the grey-haired Mother sits,
Fearful that the sock she knits,
Will never reach the boy whose face before her vision
And the widowed matron sews
While her strained eye overflows,
As the toddler by her chair
Gazes ‘tranced at her despair,
Awed by the blighting tragedy of which he is the heir.

From “The Shell”, by A.C. Stewart.
Published in
Canadian Poems of the Great War (1918).

At the age of ten, Norma Bayntun lost her mother Cassie. Tetanus, according to the death certificate, with miscarriage listed as a “Remote or Earlier Pathological or Morbid Condition.”

Just over two months earlier, soon after the declaration of war, her father had enlisted. The year was 1914.

And on March 24, 1916, Norma became an orphan. She was twelve years old.

Saanich Archives has captured her father’s story through the Saanich Remembers World War One Project. Corporal Andrew Henry Bayntun was Killed in Action and buried at Menin Road South Military Cemetery in Belgium. In June 2016, Military Researcher Steve Clifford visited his grave as part of the Project, placing a commemorative certificate from the District of Saanich (British Columbia). Corporal Bayntun resided in the municipality before the war, on Alder Street.

Grave of Corporal A.H. Bayntun. A Canadian flag and a Saanich Remembers certificate have been placed against the headstone.
(Photo courtesy of Saanich Archives)

After his death, his young daughter remained in the care of a Mrs. William (Constance) Block of Victoria, who had been receiving military separation allowance payments on Norma’s behalf. Corporal Bayntun’s mother died on James Island a few months later.

For Norma, this latest tragedy was one of many that would mark her life. The arm of war, it seemed, had a long reach — even if it was indirect. What began with the unimaginable pain of losing both her parents under the shadow of the First World War became a heartbreaking tale of history repeating itself. Of death. Of lives cut short.

At first it seemed she had disappeared from the record; project researchers were not able to locate any information as to her life after the war. For years, I wondered what had become of that orphaned girl. I tried to find her. But after exhausting my usual research sources, I still came up empty. And for a little while, I’m ashamed to admit, I forgot about her.

That is, until I saw a familiar name pop up on Twitter.

Screenshot of Twitter post, 14 May 2021. The account @WeAreTheDead commemorated Cpl. Andrew Henry Bayntun.

I recognized Bayntun right away. Within seconds the story came back to me. And with it, my questions about Norma. I wanted to believe she’d gone on to lead a full, happy life. What I needed was some kind of confirmation. To know it hadn’t been all bad. And so, I put out a call for help. Someone out there had to know how to track her.

Screenshot of Twitter post, 17 May 2021, asking for any genealogy experts who could find out more about Norma Blanche Bayntun.

I am grateful to Sidney Museum and Archives for taking up the challenge. If not for the combined efforts of their Executive Director and one of their determined volunteers, Norma’s story would have remained lost to history. For her to be forgotten forever would have been the final, greatest tragedy of all.

Even if the story is not a happy one. Far from it.

Corporal Bayntun’s Attestation Papers indicate that Norma’s guardians, William and Constance Block (sometimes written as Black), were at one point during the war living at Rosebank Lime Co. in the Langford/Colwood area. As far as I had been able to determine, the trail ended there. Though the contact address on file changed a fair number of times during those years, it was always somewhere in the Greater Victoria area. And yet, there was no sign of them in the 1921 Canadian Census.

What I hadn’t uncovered was that the Block family moved to Roseburg, Oregon in 1921. The last mention of Norma (last name incorrectly spelled “Bayntum”) was in a September 1919 article in the Victoria Daily Times: “Soldiers’ Orphans to Strew Flowers — Children Whose Fathers Were Killed in Service Will Line Pathway of Prince to Queen Victoria Memorial.” She was the only child listed from her school, Girls’ Central.

News article from the Victoria Daily Times, 24 September 1919.

By this time, Norma would have been fourteen.

Strewing the flowers for the Prince on his way to officiate the laying of the foundation stone of the Queen Victoria Memorial Statue was described in the article as an honor for the “school children whose fathers were killed serving their King in the Great War.”

On April 15, 1921, a Norma Beryl — now with the last name Black — married Arthur Cecil Hancock; William Black of Rosebank Lime Co. witnessed the union. Her new husband was a driver, and a resident of 280 Burnside Road. The marriage certificate records her age as 16 — confirmed, one could argue, by the loopy signature style more reminiscent of that found on a school notebook than a marriage registration.

Marriage certificate for Arthur Cecil Hancock and Norma Beryl Black, 1921. Source: BC Archives.

Official records don’t tell us whether their marriage was a happy one or not. But they do tell us it was short.

A year and a half after that day at St. Andrew’s in Victoria, it was over. Just as complications from childbirth contributed to her own mother’s death, Norma died with the arrival of her child while still nearly one herself. Her death record shows her age as 17, while the obituary in the Daily Colonist lists it as 18.

Obituary for Norma Beryl Hancock, Daily Colonist, 22 October 1922. Her address at the time, 3296 Harriet Road, is located in the District of Saanich.

One final tragedy came after Norma’s passing. Her daughter Gwendoline (also known as Ena) died in 1935, only 13 years old. According to Ross Bay Cemetery records held by the Old Cemeteries Society, the cause was miliary tuberculosis.

Obituary for Gwendoline (Ena) Hancock, Victoria Daily Times, 12 April 1935.

Arthur Cecil Hancock went on to marry twice more. (In a twist of fate, his third wife was also named Norma. Interestingly, her mother had died when Norma was about two; while her father served overseas in WWI, she remained in the care of an elderly couple for six years.) Arthur died in 1977 at home in Lake Cowichan and was survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.

Norma Blanche Bayntun (also known as Norma Beryl Black and Norma Beryl Hancock) and daughter Gwendoline are interred in the same, unmarked plot in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria.

Photo showing location of Norma and Gwendoline Hancock’s grave, Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria. Source:

Half a world away, Corporal Bayntun’s headstone rightfully displays the maple leaf, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission tends his grave. His death — representing another lost son in the Great War — arguably changed the course of his daughter’s life.

Now that I have finally, with a lot of help, found Norma and shared her story, I will seek out her final resting place and pay my respects. I have been to Ross Bay before. Just a couple of months ago, in fact; I could have walked right past the grave without realizing it. Nearly one-hundred years have passed since she died. Maybe there’s a way to ensure Norma and Gwendoline are commemorated, remembered. It’s the least they deserve. A headstone. A bronze plaque. Something.

The next person shouldn’t have to look so hard.

Again, I am grateful to the Sidney Museum and Archives for picking up the trail where I hit a wall. If not for them, Norma’s fate would have remained a mystery. Most of the images used here were originally found by the Sidney volunteer. The original research has been deposited with Saanich Archives as Norma, her father, and her husband were all residents of the municipality. My thanks also to Yvonne Van Ruskenveld of the Old Cemeteries Society for finding Gwendoline’s cause of death; the death certificate has not, as of this writing, been digitized by BC Archives and so the Old Cemeteries Society records were critical in finding the last piece of the story.

Shameless Self-Promotion (A Request)

A very wise friend of mine recently made an excellent point: subscribers to my website might not necessarily know about, or have checked out, my Facebook writer page. And this very wise friend of mine suggested that I ask said subscribers to give me a like over on Facebook.

I do post all sorts of different things there that you would not see on my website, including recent hands-on book research involving a cowboy hat and a goat. So…

This is me asking. If you’re a fan of my work, please consider following my page!

Writing Update

Since I’m here, I’ll let you know what I’ve been up to lately, creatively-speaking. (Except for the goat thing; you’ll have to head over to Facebook for the details on that one.) I’ve received a few — maybe more than a few — rejections on Provenance Unknown. However, it’s still sitting with a number of agents/publishers who had been interested enough to ask for more and I’m awaiting decisions from them. My second novel, A Year of Summer, is fully outlined and well underway. Find out more about both on my Books page.

Poetry is my usual go-to for shorter pieces, but in the past while I’ve ventured into writing short stories. I’ve submitted two of them to literary journals and one to a festival/competition. Fingers crossed!

Finally, I’ve been getting back to photography, something I’ve always loved. I’ve even submitted an image to a journal! Here is some of my work from the past two months. Want more? Have a look at my Photography page.

Gold lettering on wall above wooden chairs: “Ice cream is love and love is all you need”.
Ice cream philosophy, Langford, British Columbia. July 2021.
Floating on the river channel during forest fire season, Penticton, British Columbia. July 2021.
Two chairs on the shoreline, facing the water, on a sunny day.
Room for two, Gorge Waterway, Saanich British Columbia. August 2021.
Pink flowers dangling through gap in fence.
Flower dancer at Summer’s end. September 2021.

Thank You

I’m amazed and humbled every time someone reads my writing or comments on one of my photos. Thank you to all of you — I appreciate the support! And if you would like to connect, please reach out via the Contact page.

With love from rainy Victoria, British Columbia, Canada,


Eden’s End

rise cool
from the bowl


in the heat
they can only do
so much

when flames
at the edge
there is no
in the
where Birds

smacked lips
still crack
like earth
take another
to (out)last
tinder dry
fail us

we lapse
into a
that comes
too many
too much
to witness
the garden’s
Last Days
in ash
and dust.

Wildfire smoke just off a highway through the mountains, as seen through the windshield of a vehicle.
Wildfire smoke at Eastgate near Manning Park, British Columbia, August 2021. (Sonia Nicholson Photo)

“Homestuck”: Podcast News

I’m so excited to share that I’m a guest for Living Hyphen’s brand new podcast! Season 1, ‘Homestuck’, draws parallels between the pandemic and the grander experiences of Canada’s diverse communities. Like all things Living Hyphen, the podcast uncovers what it means to live in between cultures as hyphenated Canadians.

Catch me on Episode 7, Love From Afar! Support me and this community by listening now and subscribing at

Living Hyphen’s Homestuck podcast, Episode 7 graphic for writer Sonia Nicholson.

Podcast Synopsis (From Living Hyphen)

Living Hyphen uncovers what it means to live in between cultures as a hyphenated Canadian – that is, individuals who call Canada home but with roots elsewhere. From the Haitian-Quebecois commuting along the Montréal Métro to the South Asian trans man applying for permanent residency, from the young Filipino-Canadian woman texting her immigrant mother to the Plains Cree and Métis man meeting a traditional healer, we reveal the rich inner lives of Canada’s diverse communities.

Our stories are beautiful, heartbreaking, uplifting, contradictory, and constantly unfolding. Living Hyphen’s aim is to reshape the mainstream and to turn up the volume on voices that often go unheard.

Episode 7, Love From Afar

In this final episode of the Living Hyphen Podcast, we’re talking about all the ways we send love from afar, both tangible and intangible, through both space and time, in whatever form we have available to us.

Living Hyphen’s Homestuck podcast, Episode 7 graphic.

Featured pieces:
“Balikbayan,” Sam Castaneda
“Objects of Affection,” Sonia Nicholson
“A Letter to An Ancestor Whose Existence I Cannot Confirm,” Vanessa Vigneswaramoorthy
“Love From Afar,” Anne Claire Baguio

Living Hyphen’s Homestuck podcast, Episode 7 graphic, showing featured writers.

Sonia Nicholson
Sonia Nicholson (nee Resendes) is a first-generation Canadian; her family has lived on the island of Santa Maria, Azores (Portugal) for hundreds of years. Born and raised in the small town of Osoyoos, British Columbia, Sonia went on to study French and Spanish at the University of Victoria. She remained in Victoria and lives there with her husband, two children, and two rescue dogs. When she’s not writing, she works as an executive assistant and archivist. Read more of her writing at or follow her on Twitter at @nicholsonsonia_ or on Facebook.

Living Hyphen’s Homestuck podcast, bio graphic for writer Sonia Nicholson.

Living Hyphen is a community seeking to turn up the volume on the voices of hyphenated Canadians. You can purchase their magazine at, support them on Patreon, or find them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Graphics and podcast information courtesy of Living Hyphen. I’m honoured to have been asked to participate. —SN

Summer Solstice

I didn’t write yesterday. Not a word. Despite setting aside the entire afternoon, a glorious few hours for uninterrupted productivity, on the longest day of the year.

June is busy, even during a pandemic.

When All the Things that come with season’s end take over, time is hard to come by.

So I’d settled myself at the bistro table on the front porch with my laptop, ready. I would finish that elusive chapter.

Except I wouldn’t.

Sunglasses and iPad keyboard visible on a bistro table, with a chair behind.

I wouldn’t because just as my fingers lined up along the keys, my mother came up the steps.

A few days earlier my parents had arrived. Tired. Hair a little thinner. But rosy-cheeked and beaming. They’d had over twelve months to imagine what it would be like to see their children and grandchildren in person again instead of through a screen.

The setting didn’t matter — a driveway or a backyard or a porch would do well enough.

At first, the company was more important than the conversations. Embracing the chaos. Kids with water guns. Gates opening and closing, in and out. Laughter new yet familiar.

Panting dogs basked on the blacktop. They, too, were smiling. They felt the shift along with the rest of us.

Happy dog enjoying a bit of sun on a deck.

When my introvert self craved quiet, I turned to my work-in-progress. It had already been too long. I wanted to get back to the story, drawing it out word by word.

And then my mother came up the steps.

For company, yes, but it was time for more. While we had it.

Beginnings. Endings. Some we choose and others we can’t control. Life is the story of both. On the cusp of summer, I sensed the start and stop. Time moving but standing still.

And it was her turn to tell the tales. Her story. My father’s. About an island in the middle of the Atlantic. Sacrifices and celebrations. Hardships and heartache. Peacekeeping on another continent in a time of political upheaval. Family. Love.

Questions flowed naturally. How did you feel? What were you thinking then? Were you afraid?

When did you decide to leave the only home you’d ever known and cross the ocean to a new one where you’d never set foot?

Why did you stay?

Beginnings. Endings.

Some we choose and others we can’t control. Life is the story of both. On the cusp of summer, I sensed the start and stop. Time moving but standing still.

I chose to listen. Fiction could wait.

And I knew, in those hours that felt like minutes and a lifetime, that I would always remember that conversation. Words and memories and moments, to care for as if they were my own.

Part of a teal bench visible, with a small, white plastic table beside it. On the table are a candle lamp, clock, old milk jar, and some yellow flowers.

In a way, they are. An inheritance of incidents that together make a life. Lives, combined.

Non-fiction better than anything I could make up.

I didn’t write yesterday and I’m not sorry. Because after the Solstice, the days get shorter.


Outbuilding at British Columbia Government House (Sonia Nicholson photo)

Look at me,
Not a glance as you pass
through the daily grind
that grinds you down to function and no
of emotion
to see

my heart,
this space is
more than the sum
of its
and peeling oil

where I see a picture,
do you?
Am I only four walls on a foundation,
roof overhead, a
too hot
too cold
just right


Look closer,
features and paper-
work to find
structure with story,
pancake Saturdays



oak floors.

There is history
in place,
expressions of faces past
to frame
your obstacles,
blocks to progress,

if I fall, do you hear