Saturday, 15 March 2014

Week 11 - Alexander Simms

Alexander Simms (1885-1941)

Alexander Simms, my paternal grandfather, was born in Mountain, Dundas County, Ontario on September 28, 1885.  He was the fourth of eight children born to William and Agnes Simms, Irish immigrants and farmers.  His grandfather Henry Simms was the subject of Week 9 of this blog.
Alex is the man on the bottom right of this picture. On the back of the photo it says the curly haired man on the left is Fred Glinz. He was the son of a store operator in Oak River, Manitoba and he died in 1912. The man behind them is Dave Todd, also the son of a general and furniture store owner on Main Street where the Bank of Montreal was later built in Oak River. The Todds later moved their store to Crandall.  Dodie, Alex's eldest daughter, wrote on the back that the photo was taken in 1903 or 1910, making him about 20 years old.  The portrait at the top of the blog seems to have been made from this photo, or is he just in the same clothes?  It was taken at W.A. Martel & Son photographers in Brandon, Manitoba. 
In 1903, as a young man of 18 he came to Manitoba and worked for various farmers in the Blanshard area.  At one point he had been to Banff, Alberta (likely at Bankhead) and worked for 3 months in a coal mine.  This occupation did not agree with his health so he returned to worked on farms instead. The 1911 census of Canada shows Alex living and working on the farm of  Week 4's James Sinclair who will be his father in law four years later.   In 1912 Alex took up farming for himself on a farm about 4 miles south of the village of Oak River on 10-13-22.  He married the eldest Sinclair daughter, Mary, on my birthday - July 28 - but in 1915. 

In 1919 they purchased the quarter section where I grew up, SE 15-14-22, and he lived there until his death.  It is located north of Oak River about the same distance.   Alex and Mary had a family of six - three boys  and three girls.

My Aunt Dodie gave me a large oval portrait of her Dad several years ago and I was able to have it restored in a digitized version.  Aunt Dodie tells the story of the portrait in her memoirs of the fire that burned their house.
Our two story unpainted frame house which I don’t ever remember, burned down December 31, 1923 when the twins Gwennie and Glennie were a little over five months old. Bobby was over at Grandma and Grandpa Sinclair’s for the Christmas holidays, so told to me many times by Mum. She had put the twins and I to bed after supper and then she and Dad went to the barn to milk the cows. During the milking process, Dad said he looked out for some reason and that was when he saw the flames coming out of the roof. The upstairs was not used in the winter months and that was where they had stored the dining chairs and table and other possessions. By the time they reached the house, all they could do was to wrap the three of us in the bedding and put us in the sleigh box to be hitched to a team of horses and over to Grandpa’s. After they reached Grandpa’s and deposited us, my dad, Uncle Jimmy, Uncle Bill, (maybe more) came back and got a few things out. They snared the cream separator, and Mum’s sewing machine. She said she grabbed Dad’s oval picture off the wall, as she took the last final glance.
A new house was built that is the present home of my mom and dad.  Dodie said:
Then I remember when they started to build the big white house, about 1926 or 27. The carpenters were Tommy Hayhurst who was married to Violet McKenzie (Mum’s cousin) and also a very tall man who originally came from Prince Edward Island, Calvin Bearsto. He was sort of a travelling jack of all trades and worked at many jobs for years to come.
Dodie had such fond memories of her Dad and talked about him often to me.  When Aunt Dorothy was cleaning out her belongings after she died in 2010, she found a cigar stub about an inch long with a label, "the last cigar that Daddy ever smoked". Dodie wrote the following about a memory with her dad: 
I can remember one time coming home from Grandma’s with just my dad and I in a buggy and a horse. As we came through the Cleaver place, Dad was singing and humming, the stars seemed so bright and I wondered how the horse could ever see the way.

The 1940 National Registration card pictured above of Alex's resulted from the compulsory registration of all adults in Canada from 1940 to 1946. It would seem that Alex was not a man of good health and was not in the wars but dutifully signed this certificate and it was saved in a box of papers in the attic.

This photo was taken in front of the Simms home in 1940 on the occasion of Alex and Mary's 25th anniversary. Bob, Mary and Alex in the back, Dodie and Gwennie in the middle and Don (my dad) and Dorothy in front. Other than the portrait, this is the only other photo I have of Alex.  Aunt Dorothy remembers that they made 3 different kinds of ice cream for the celebration.

Alex died young at the age of 56 on December 2, 1941, just days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, due to a leaky heart valve from an earlier case of rheumatic fever. My dad and his twin sister Dorothy both remember his funeral in the living room of their house and Dad remembers going across the field to the burial at White Bank Lea. What a sad time that must have been for their family. Alex and Mary's five surviving children were ages 9 to 25.  There was plenty of hard work to do on the farm and Mary and her family continued on and made it a successful operation. 


  1. My great uncle Peter Deans Rae had a wheat farm at Oak River, Manitoba. He emigrated from Scotland aged 19 in 1910 and ended up with the farm. He came back to Scotland in the 1960s and lived with my grandparents until his death. Thank you for sharing your photographs. I have only one of Pete in his time there. He is in a farm truck with one of his neighbours. I wonder if he knew your family?

    1. Wow! I think I do have a picture of Pete! Please email me