More Tell your Stories

Every family has its stories, that get forgotten if you do not tell them. Our family stories are wound up in the furniture which we save from one generation to the next, and which I refinish on a regular basis. There are only two family members left; these stories will soon be forgotten.

To prevent that from happening, I am telling you some of the stories that belong in my family. I seem to be the curator of our family artifacts, and so I am writing their stories.

Tell your stories: The “Poison Chest”

The Poison Chest

The Poison Chest

I got this story second-hand so it might not be absolutely correct, but here goes: My aunt Moy (grand-daughter of Alexander Caulfield Anderson) owned this chest. As she aged, she feared dying, and so she obtained some strychnine and hid it inside this box. Her health failed suddenly before she was able to use it, and from her hospital bed she begged my mother to bring her the bottle she would find in this box.

Curious, my mother looked inside the box and discovered the poison. Horrified, she delivered it to a pharmacist who told her my aunt would have died in horrible pain had she taken the dose — I think he said she would be doing convulsive “hoops” around the room.

My aunt did die, not in horrible pain but in uncomfortable circumstances nevertheless. My mother inherited the chest, and in the forty or more years since my aunt died this box has been known as “the poison chest.” But the story will be forgotten when I fall off my perch, and so now is a good time to tell it to you.

The lesson: Tell your family stories, or they will disappear. It doesn’t matter how important or unimportant the stories are — they are your stories.  It is even possible that this is a family artifact — that it might have been built by my grandfather’s older brother Walter, who built boxes. But we don’t know. The all-important “provenance” has been lost. That, too, is why you want to tell your stories.

Tell your stories: The Cedar Chest

Cedar Chest

Cedar Chest

Everyone has a Cedar Chest, fancy or plain. This one is very plain, but it has a fascinating story about someone else’s family — not ours. In 1938 my mother lived in Winnipeg, where she dated a young man named Reid McVicar. She must have liked him, because she remembered his name all these years.

Reid McVicar built my mother this cedar chest. Then he went off to war– not to fight the second world war, but the war in Spain between the “Communists” and the “Fascists,”according to my mother. And he died there, in Spain. On occasion I search on for his family and I never find him listed. But they might stumble on this post, and know that he and my mother dated, in Winnipeg, before the Second World War, and that he built her this cedar chest.

This has been in my family forever, as far as I am concerned. My mother owned it ten years before I was born, and so she brought it from Winnipeg to Vancouver, where she met and married my father. After that it traveled up to Cortes Island where I was born and where I grew up. I still have this chest, and because I asked my mother its history, I know a little bit of Reid McVicar’s story too. So, tell your stories — sometimes you are also telling someone’s else’s story.

Tell your stories: Walter Birnie Anderson’s Carved Boxes

Walter Birnie Anderson box

Walter Birnie Anderson box

This is why you tell your stories! We uncovered this story by accident — my sister had the box shown above, which she inherited from our Aunt. This box was part of our childhood, as Moy had always used it as her cigarette box. However, we had no idea where it came from. It was just a box, with a nice little carving on the lid.

Then our long distant cousin came up to visit us in Victoria, and he hauled out a little box much like this one, that had been carved by his ancestor, Walter Birnie Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson.

Walter Birnie Anderson box

Walter Birnie Anderson box

I recognized his box immediately, and I searched for and found my sister’s box and brought it to him. We both knew then that it was Walter Birnie’s carved box, and with my sister’s permission it traveled home to Seattle with Walter’s descendant.

That last story was an amazing experience which still astonishes me today. So here is the lesson: Tell your stories. Write them down. They may not seem important to you at the time, but stories are important to family history. Stories tie you to your family’s past, and keep you attached to them.

Copyright Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2013/2014. All rights reserved.


8 thoughts on “More Tell your Stories

  1. Jackie Corrigan

    I live in Winnipeg and couldn’t resist trying to find Reid! There is a William George Reid McVicar born 6 Aug 1911 in Dauphin with his mother listed as Lettie Henderson. John McVicar and Lettie are in the 1911 Census and 1921 Census in Dauphin. In 1921 there are 3 siblings, Fern, Ivy and John A. The family must have moved back to Ontario briefly, because that’s where Fern was born. The 1935 Voter’s List shows Reid as a student living with his parents at 186 Home Street, Winnipeg South Centre. There are a few family trees on Some show Fern married to a Duncan Ferguson. One tree called James MacRae of Cherrywood, shows Fern and Duncan having a son Duncan Archibald with spouse and child marked as living.
    Hope this helps!

    1. nancymargueriteanderson Post author

      Yes, indeed, Jackie. He was easy to find — someone else found him almost immediately. I think this must be him. What fun! and thank you.

  2. Barbara Warman

    Actually, Reid McVicar lived in the Duncan area and gave Mom the trunk there is the story I heard. He may have been somewhere just outside Duncan or Maple Bay.
    The poison in the poison chest was a tobacco tin of strychnine. We phoned Poison Control and they would not believe it but we finally convinced them. They came and picked it up. They were shocked because this stuff is not available to be bought by anyone in BC and has not been for many years. Aunt Moy had a friend who was living off the grid outside Sooke and she got the poison from her. Her name was “Flood” I believe.

  3. nancymargueriteanderson Post author

    No, I got this story straight from our mother, and I have the original notes to prove it. He was in Winnipeg.

  4. Marguerite Sylvia McVicar

    I am the daughter of Reid William George McVicar. I was born in Winnipeg in 1941 and my Mother ran a nursing home at 1330 Wolsley Ave. Reid was a friend of my grandfather and that is how he and my mother met. My parents were later divorced and my mother, grandmother and I moved to BC in 1947. Reid later moved to Toronto where he died. There is an obituary in the Globe and Mail dated Dec 1969 which I believe is his. My aunt saw him in Toronto in the early 1960’s. He worked for some time in a book store in Toronto but I have not been able to find any bookstore owners from that time to confirm this.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      How interesting. The Reid McVicar my mother (who is now dead) would have known would have been born about 1915-1920. He may be in the same family as your Reid McVicar. Do you have any other Reid McVicars in your family, as far as you know???

      1. Marguerite McVicar

        I don’t know any McVicars at all but I do know that my Dad had siblings and his family came from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. My great great great grandfather’s name was George Munroe and there was a 2nd cousin by the name of Finlay McDiarmid. There is a book with references to the McVicar ancestry called “The Pioneer Days in Aldborough”.

        1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

          My mother was in Winnipeg when she met him. She worked at Moore’s Restaurant, and it was the depression years, but early depression years because she was back in Vancouver before the war. I love these little stories — the research on the McVicar was done by a genealogist with whom I talk fur trade genealogy, and she might have got the wrong Reid McVicar.
          I am less a genealogist than a *family historian.* I like the stories, more than the details of the dates, etc. You might stumble across the answer some day, and if you do, you have a little story to tie to it.