My maternal grandfather, Hugh Brawley was one of twelve siblings born between 1887 and 1908 to Daniel Brawley and Ellen Keenan. Of the ten children who reached adulthood five of them left Scotland for new opportunities in Canada.
My great uncle John Brawley was born on 21 June 1897 at the family home at 8 Store Row in Newmains, Lanarkshire. He was baptised in the parish of St Brigid. I was fortunate to be able to visit the parish house and view the original baptismal records.
By the 1911 census the family had moved to 3 Main Street and they are recorded here on the census with 9 of the children. Whether due to lack of room, financial issues or to help her grandparents, daughter Sarah never lived with the family. My mother recalls my grandfather talking about Sarah Brawley as more of an acquaintance than a sibling.
At 13 John was still at school but I would imagine it wouldn’t have been long before he joined his father and older brothers at the Coltness Ironworks. And of course it wasn’t long before the country was at war. The thing is, I can’t find any record of John in the military. That’s not to say he didn’t serve but I can’t be sure that the few John Brawley records I have found relate to this John Brawley. The records are medal records which don’t list anything other than the name.
The next record for John is his marriage record. On 30 April 1920 he married Mary Collins, a hosiery factory worker, at her parish in Carluke. The witnesses were my grandparents who were married 4 months later. John and Hugh were born just two years apart and were always close.
In 1921 Mary and John welcomed a daughter, Rosemary Harkin followed by Ellen Keenan in 1925. The two girls were the same ages as my aunts, Sarah and Catherine and I imagine both wives spending time together with the children as playmates. But my the time Ellen was born John and Mary were making plans to leave Scotland. Times were hard after the war and families struggled to make ends meet. Between 1921 and 1930 550,000 people left Scotland. That’s one fifth of the working population. Over half of the iron furnaces closed and unemployment was high. In the nearby town of Motherwell the numbers of unemployed rose from 2,000 to 12,000.
Canada offered opportunities for better paid jobs and a more steady income. Companies in Canada were even prepared to pay for workers passage. John’s brothers James, Daniel and Peter had already made the move and must have written home with stories about their new surroundings perhaps encouraging the siblings to join them. I believe my grandfather was also tempted to go but my granny didn’t want to.
I imagine all the talk of emigration must have been hard on my great grandfather, Daniel who had himself attempted a new life when he left Scotland for America in 1887. Things did not quite go to plan (you can read more here) and he returned to Newmains.
On 20 January 1926 the SS Montcalm sailed from Greenock to New Brunswick with John on board. Also on the passenger list is a Daniel Collins from Carluke who I believe was Mary’s brother. The Canadian arrival records show that both John and Daniel Collins had arranged to stay with Patrick Brawley on their arrival at his home in Montreal. By that time Patrick had been in Canada for over two years.
Mary and the children followed in June of that year. I feel for her making that journey with two small children after saying what must have been heartbreaking farewells to her family and friends. She would, of course, have been excited to be reunited with her husband and at the prospect of a better life for her daughters.
For a long time I couldn’t find any further records of John and Mary but I knew they had remained in Canada. John and my grandfather kept in touch and my mother recalls her father packaging the Sunday Post and Wishaw Press newspapers and sending them to John along with news of the family and the village.
New records became available online so I was able to trace John and his family through the electoral registers. Skipping forward to 1940 John is living in Montreal, where he is employed as a mechanic. By 1948 he had been promoted to a foreman position.
It’s interesting that the records are in French. I wonder if he ever learned the language. The story goes that he never lost his Scottish accent saying that he never found a better one! (Or perhaps that was his brother Pat.)
Moving to Canada definitely seems to have been the right move for John. He did well at work and while he was never rich he had a better standard of living than the family back in Newmains. In later years of course life in Scotland improved and when brother Patrick visited Newmains in the 1950s he told my grandfather that if Newmains had been like that then he never would have left.
John never returned to Scotland as far as I know. He died in 1964 and is buried in Pointe-Claire cemetery.