Early Days in St. Lambert: Daisy Wickham (1881-1980) remembers…

Selected from Daisy’s memoirs* by Leslie Farfan**
La maison de Patrick Martin Wickham au 408 (aujourd'hui 652) avenue Victoria, vers 1905. (Photo – collection d'Aurelie Wickham Farfan

When married and still living in Montreal, Mother [Mary Ann Swift Wickham] took us children to St. Lambert when ill in summer. She boarded at an inn on the riverbank kept by the Irvings and known as Irving’s Hotel. This was then a roadhouse, where farmers passing to market in the city by ferry, or ice-bridge, stopped to refresh themselves. St. Lambert air was thought to cure “summer complaint” a cause of great infant mortality in those days. The sufferer was rowed upon the river. However, the fresh milk obtainable was more likely the cause of improvement. There was insufficient refrigeration, and no sterilization at that time….

The Swifts [my Mother’s family], while living in the city, as with many English people, longed for the country life. It was, therefore, Mother who urged Father [Patrick Martin Wickham] to move to St. Lambert….It was then a very small town, part of the parish of Longueuil….We – my parents, my brother Tom and I, moved to St. Lambert in May 1883 from St. Elizabeth Street in Montreal. I was eighteen months old….

Our first home in St. Lambert was a cottage…called “St. Dymphna’s”… on Prince Arthur Street….[at that time] No doctor lived in St. Lambert. Mother’s only help [in childbirth] was a midwife called Mrs. Brady. Father went away, leaving his brother John with her, a tubercular lad of seventeen. The night of Jan 27th, 1885, was a cold one. Mother woke and knew her time had come. “John, John,”she called, “Go quickly for Mrs. Brady.” When at last he returned with the woman, Mother said to her, “Look under the blanket.” A big healthy boy lay there….

Wickham houseWe were all born in winter and obeying the Church rule of the day, were taken by the third day to Longueuil for baptism. Indeed, the French priests sometimes scolded at so long a delay. A sleigh drive of three miles, over heavy snow, was only pleasure to little sisters and brothers, but to parents, an ordeal….

Our milk was delivered by an elderly man, Toussaint Trudeau, who poured it from a big can into mother’s jug. His sons Freddy and Lidule were our drivers, in coach or sleigh. They drove Mother and Father to Longueuil to Mass on alternate Sundays – in summer in a carriage, in winter in a red sleigh under buffalo robes, often through heavy snow on a little-used road. St. Lambert was then part of that parish [St.Antoine de Longueuil] and there was no nearer church. Finally, irritated by delay and expense and finding the trip to Mass in winter too hard as more children came to them, they remained at home two years, going only at Easter. This did not please my pious Mother….She encouraged Father to go and see the Bishop[in Montreal], asking for Mass in St. Lambert….

The roads were deep with snow in winter and unpaved in summer, so the new home on Victoria Avenue [now # 652] was built rather near the railway for quick access. Still, in suitable weather, Father would join other gentlemen and walk over the road laid out across the ice of the river to the city. They would follow the little pine trees that had been cut and stuck up along the route to mark the way. The ice-road became dangerous as springtime drew near, and the ice grew soft….

Victoria Avenue was soon lighted by lamps on posts. At dusk, we children would watch Mr. Boileau, the lamplighter, with ladder and oil can, climb up and light them. Our house was also lighted by oil lamps. When I was thirteen, I was given charge of them. The work took me an hour each day and “woe betide me” if they smoked or flared!...

Patrick Martin Wickham and his family.In big snowstorms, we were practically snow-bound. One morning Father arrived from a trip and Mother threw him the shovel from the doorway so he could make himself a path in. Sometimes, she was hard put to get firewood chopped and passing tramps were urged to earn a meal this way. On one occasion, she asked the Stationmaster, a Mr. Weston, to send her someone. Next morning on waking, she heard chopping and , looking out, saw the Stationmaster, kind man himself, at the pile. Years afterward, she recalled his goodness….

A beautiful and timid woman, Mother felt nervous about tramps and peddlers. The latter, chiefly Syrian or Polish Jews, put down their packs at the front door, the former came asking for food at the back. There was a depression in those days. Nothing bad ever happened, but on one occasion a noisy peddler was shouting. “Hush! Hush!”, Mother cried, “My baby is asleep!” On a second occasion, another peddler walked into the house uninvited while Mother was upstairs. Down she ran and past him, opening the door and crying imperiously, “Out!Out!” He went. Why she left the doors unlocked when alone I know not, but the man with the dancing bear was a joy to us all….

Paul Wickham (my grandfather) and his sister DaisyThe Spring brought the ice shoves and the cry, “The ice is moving!” made us hasten to the river bank. It was an exciting thing to see. Then followed the flood. The last one I remember in 1902 [sic] came as far as our church. It was the Sunday after Easter. We got in to the church over boards. An earlier flood, about the Spring of 1887, came half way up the fields behind our house. A Mr. Cook and his wife rowed up as far as they could from their home on the river, took refuge with my parents and remained until it was over. … My father was Mayor at that time. [In 1901]He was responsible for getting the retaining wall built….

Mother had always made a little garden in whatever space she had, and when she first met Father, “he didn’t know a garden plant from a weed,” although his father had been a farmer in Ireland. She taught him gardening and took him to live the rest of their lives outside the city [in St.Lambert]. Despite years of difficulties there, Mother told me near the end of her years that she had never regretted it….

*These passages are excerpted from an edited version of "Daisy Wickham's Notes," which were painstakingly transcribed, edited, supplemented and reorganized by Kevin Michael Keough, with the assistance of his mother, Mary Lillian Keough, in 2003. Kevin Keough is a great grandson of St. Lambert mayor P. M. Wickham. Daisy Wickham was his great aunt.

**Leslie Farfan grew up and currently resides in St. Lambert. She is a great granddaughter of Mayor P. M. Wickham. Florence (Daisy) Wickham was her great aunt.