What’s in the database right now?

Number of schools: 120
Other organizations: 3
Names on memorials: 47,679
Latest additions:
St. Michael’s College
Newman Club of the University of Toronto

Earlier posts

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Degrassi High and De Grassi Spies

Degrassi” evokes realistic high school drama for fans of the long running Degrassi TV series. There are no schools on Toronto’s Degrassi Street in Riverdale, though nearby Earl Grey school is one of several used as a setting for early episodes. While teaching at Earl Grey, Linda Schuyler, aware that there were no compelling depictions of teen school life, got the idea for the groundbreaking series, still running after more than 30 years.

Long before Degrassi TV, two De Grassi sisters, Charlotte, 15, and Cornelia, 13, starred in a real life drama of 1837 Ontario. Their father, Phillipe, supported the government against William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebels. His young daughters, excellent riders, rode with him one moonlit early December night from their Forks of the Don homestead to Government House in Toronto. Lieutenant-Governor Sir Francis Bond Head, had to know the numbers and strength of the rebels before confronting them.

Cornelia and Charlotte risked their lives to spy on the rebels and report vital information to Bond Head.

At a wheelwright’s shop near Montgomery’s tavern Cornelia pretended to ask the price of a sleigh. The rebels, suspecting her of spying, ordered her to dismount. She rode off at high speed. One musket ball went through her saddle; another grazed her clothing. When Cornelia told Bond Head that the number of rebels had been exaggerated, he revised his strategy. Mackenzie later wrote that one of the loyalists “had employed a woman as a spy (De Grassi, I think he called her) who we had let pass.”

Charlotte relayed messages behind enemy lines, carrying an important dispatch along Kingston Road and returning to the city with the answer. As she headed home, rebels shot at her, wounding her and her pony.

On December 7, Cornelia followed loyalist troops to Yonge Street to observe the cannon and gunfire and report to the chief justice. Homeward bound, she saw that rebels had set fire to the Don Bridge. She raced back to the city to raise the alarm.

The short-lived Rebellion of Upper Canada soon ended. Phillipe De Grassi recorded his family’s contributions in a diary. The exploits of Charlotte (d. 1872) and Cornelia (d. 1885) seen as inspiring examples of courage at the time, were not widely remembered as years passed. The De Grassi property was expropriated in 1968 for recreation and flood control.

Degrassi Street in Riverdale honours either Phillipe or a son, Alfio, a merchant and Mason well known in Toronto in the 1870s.

The De Grassi Family

Phillipe De Grassi (1793-1877) his English wife, Charlotte Hearn, and eight children came to Canada in 1831. Born in Italy, De Grassi served under Napoleon, was taken prisoner by the British, but later obtained a commission in the British army. On their 200 acres in the “Boatbuildery” area of the Don River and a further 200 acres added later, the family suffered setbacks including a devastating fire that left them with just the clothes on their backs. They moved into a shelter built for horses, where De Grassi said one child was “literally born in a stable and laid in a manger.” Phillipe died penniless in Lindsay, Ontario.

De Grassi Family papers are held in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, and among the Boyd Family papers (Series F) at Trent University Archives, Peterborough.

Print sources include:

Foster, Merna. 100 More Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces. Toronto: Dundurn, 2011.

Sauriol, Charles. Remembering the Don: a Rare Record of Earlier Times within the Don River Valley. Scarborough, Ontario: Consolidated Amethyst Communications, Inc., 1981.

The Macmillan Dictionary of Canadian Biography, by W. Stewart Wallace. Toronto: MacMillan, 1963.

If you have comments or questions about this post or the For King and Country project, we’d love to hear from you. Please visit our contact page.

Women in World War I

More than 3,000 women volunteered for the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) in the First World War. All had trained as nurses before the war; average age was 24. Nicknamed “blue birds,” because of their blue uniforms and white veils, they assisted with surgery and cared for convalescing soldiers. Though not in the trenches, they often worked close to the front lines. Of the 2,054 Canadian nurses who served overseas, 53 died from enemy fire, disease, or drowning.

On 27 June 1918, a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the Canadian hospital ship, Llandovery Castle, bound from Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Liverpool, 114 miles southwest of Fastnet Rock, off the coast of Ireland. Carola Douglas, a graduate of Harbord Collegiate, was among the 14 nursing sisters who died. As the ship was showing regulation Red Cross lights and many survivors were machine-gunned, Llandovery Castle became a rallying cry for Canadian troops during the Last 100 Days offensive of the war.

Carola Josephine Douglas was born 7 April 1887, in Toronto. She enlisted 2 March 1915, at the age of 29.

A memorial photograph of Miss Douglas hangs in Harbord Collegiate. Further photos and her attestation paper can be seen on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website.

Alberta writer Debbie Marshall shares info about Canadian WWI nurses on her blog “Finding the forty-seven: Canadian Nurses of the First World War”.

More about Llandovery Castle — the 24 survivors, the 258 dead, and the post-war trial about the sinking are at The Great War Project.

Carola Josephine Douglas, 1887 – 1915

Carola Josephine Douglas, 1887 – 1915

If you have comments or questions about this post or the For King and Country project, we’d love to hear from you. Please visit our contact page.

Amazing Databases at Great War Workshop

(including For King and Country)

For King and Country will be featured this March in the “Finding Your Great War Ancestors” Workshop presented by the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. This will be an excellent opportunity to update the community on our progress—3,600 names recently added to the database—and remind those who’ve forgotten what the project is about.

The program for the workshop is both extensive and intensive, with some of Canada and the world’s leading experts. It’s unlikely you’ll encounter a more focused opportunity to learn about Great War family history research during your genealogical lifetime!

You’ll find more information on program and registration here.

We are particularly pleased to be sharing a session with the Far From Home project, which, so far as we know, has received little publicity in Canada. The project is the mission of Diana Beaupré and Adrian Watkinson, two researchers in southeast England, who have arranged for well-known Canadian Great War expert, Glenn Wright, to present on their behalf at the workshop.

Their goal is to locate and photograph all of the First World War Canadian graves and memorials throughout the United Kingdom—and create profiles for each of the nearly 4,000 men and women in whose memory they stand. With 2,200 profiles completed, their work is spectacular as in this example for Private Harry Francis Culliford, who enlisted in Toronto on 6 January 1916 and died in London on 8 October 1917 from wounds received at Vimy Ridge. In addition to information on individuals, they also profile each cemetery to offer a “snapshot” of the last resting places.

If you have comments or questions about this post or the For King and Country project, we’d love to hear from you. Please visit our contact page.