Solving Riddles…

I have 64 fourth-great grandparents, all with different surnames.  So do you.  Through my searches on Ancestry, aided by DNA testing, and Wikitree, and Gedmatch, I have been able to positively identify 29 of them, all born between 1740 and 1784 somewhere in the UK.

On my recent trip to Scotland I tried to track down something about one of these couples, John Riddle and Margaret Turnbull,  great, great, great, great grandparents on my Mom’s side of the family. (The photo accompanying this post has been identified as being this fine Scottish Borders couple).

This September, I stayed for a few nights in Melrose, a small town in the Borders District of Scotland and site of the Melrose Abbey.   I knew that this couple had lived in that vicinity, having been born just a few kilometers away. Coincidentally, the Crinklaw’s on my Dad’s side of the family also lived in this area.  I have written about them before and showed iconic photos of old Betsy Crinklaw, my third great grandmother and talked about her father’s fabled association with Sir Walter Scott, whose estate still exists and is a tourist attraction a short distance from Melrose.

Melrose Abbey pano 1

Melrose Abbey was built in the late 1300’s and  even when John and Margaret lived in Melrose, part of the Abbey was still in use as a parish church.  They would have walked these grounds.

I had hoped to find a gravestone from the Riddle couple but, alas, that was a bit of a wild goose-chase.  I saw lots of Riddle’s and Turnbull’s in the many graveyards I visited but none housed these relatives. It turns out that the Turnbull name had originated nearby,  assigned to a young man who saved Robert the Bruce sometime in the 1300’s from an attacking bull. He was named Turner of the Bull ( Turn-e-bull, eventually shortened to Turnbull) and given land.  There is even a statue commemorating this event in nearby Hawick (pronounced Hoyik). There is also a little hamlet named Riddell.  The Riddle name gets changed in the records from Riddle to Riddell with the wind so that makes some of the tracking a bit more difficult.

John Riddell Baptismal record

John Riddle/Riddell was born in Hobkirk, Scotland  on December 20, 1784 and baptized there along with three of his older siblings on December 28 (see the handwritten baptismal record)  was a shepherd, living at at Wauchope Farm, near Hobkirk. For more than 30 years he was a shepherd and spent some of his time fathering a large family.   In his later years, he rented a farm  not far from Walter Scott’s Abbotsford.   I was able to find this on old maps and correlate it with new maps of the area and tracked it down. It is now a running track sports field on the edge of Melrose.

Cavers 1

Cavers church.  Site of the church where Margaret Turnbull was baptized in 1777.

Robert married Margaret Turnbull in 1799.  He was only 16 and she was a mature 22.  Margaret was born near Hawick and  was baptized in the Cavers church in 1777.  I foumd that church which is on a narrow road out in the country with rolling hills and grazing sheep surrounding it one Sunday afternoon.  There are still some stones from the original church on that site as part of the building which has been renovated a few times in the 240 years since little Margaret was baptized there.

John and Margaret subsequently had 13 children, one of whom,  my thrice great grandfather, Robert S. Riddell, immigrated to Canada and is buried in Kirkwall Cemetery near Cambridge Ontario (and one concession over from the African Lion Safari).   Others in the family went to New Zealand and through finding DNA links, I have been happy to be able to correspond by email with two of them.

John died at Berryhall Farm on May 9, 1851 at the age of 66.   His wife, Margaret outlived him by 10 years and died in St Boswells, a stone’s throw from Melrose on January 21, 1862.  I have found the written record of her death.

Margaret Riddell death record

I thought I was on track to find them in the Bowden cemetery but got waylaid looking for them in another church yard where there were, indeed, Turnbull’s and Riddell’s but not this couple.  I guess I will have to go back! Many of the gravestones in these burial grounds are covered in moss or worn flat making the task of finding them more difficult.


This is purported to be a photograph of John Riddle (shepherd) and Margaret Turnbull Riddle.     I have no way of  confirming if this is factual but for the sake of my sanity, I will believe it.                                                                 The photographer is Duncan Menzies, Albert Place, Abbotsford Road, Galasheils, Scotland.                  Photo was taken less than 2 km from the home of Sir Walter Scott and within a couple of kilometres of where John and Margaret lived with certainty (Berryhall Farm,  Melrose).


Each one of those 64 fourth-great grandparents gave me, on average,  1.5% of my genetic make up so theoretically 3% of my being is from this couple.  And it is measurable and I can even tell you which chromosomes contain their material. I know for certain that segments of my chromosome 6, 7, 10 and 21 came from them because I share (as do my kids) certain segments of these chromosomes exactly with other descendants of these relatives – too many long continuous segments to be coincidental and we all have confirmed that this couple were remote ancestors.   Fragments on these  chromosomes are specific little bits passed down from John and Margaret, something measurable and finite from these relatives from over 200 years ago that exists within me today.  Although we all know that we inherited our DNA from our ancestors, the fact that it is measurable and traceable and finite is something that for me is quite astounding.

RIddell links

Long time running…

I was never really a huge fan of The Tragically Hip.  I didn’t not like them but I never caught on to their genre and lyrics like so many others did.   I think I was at the edge of a previous generation, more Beach Boys and Beatles. (I was reassured to learn that Gord Downie was a closet fan of the Bee Gees.)

But I did recognize their talents and knew there must be something to their music that appealed so broadly to the generation that followed me.  I did, however, join the rest of Canada Day on August 20, 2017 to celebrate this phenomenonal and truly Canadian  band.

Last weekend I was eager to see the documentary about their 2016 tour – Long Time Running.   It has been shown at TIFF and other film festivals with good reviews and had a few showings at Kingston’s Screening Room this week.

I was surprised what I got from this film.   Someone asked me if it was kind of sad.   Absolutely, it was not.  It was actually a very inspiring and positive.  It goes through the diagnosis of “terminal” brain cancer for the lead member,  Gord Downie,  his initial treatments and struggles to remember things and put sentences together after having his temporal lobe and hippocampus removed surgically and 30 radiation treatments.  (The surgeon, by the way, a Kingston neurosurgeon).

Despite this, Gord was keen to go on tour with the band once more.  Obviously the others were a bit skeptical if this would work but, no spoiler here, they finished the tour across Canada, culminating in the August 20 concert in Kingston, broadcast all across Canada and drawing thousands to Kingston, including our Prime Minister.

It was interesting to see the backstage preparations and angst about this tour but I got a lot of messages from this film that surprised me.

Several themes developed for me.

1.  Never give up.   This guy was sort of written off by a lot of people and was initially in no shape to perform, let along tackle a cross country tour.   But he did.  In doing so, he earned a lot of respect from the public, drew attention to cancer treatment and research, highlighted the plight of Canadian First Nations people and entertained thousands.  Make that hundreds of thousands.  Incredible really.   Maybe his cognitive deficits from his surgery and treatment made him naively bold or brave or fixated.  But what an example to set.   I am sure that his fortitude and positivity has helped many people who have been struck by cancer. And it was a gift to Hip fans to be able to celebrate their 30 year run before it came to a crashing close.

2.  The expression of true friendship.   These guys had worked together for 30 years and were a real team.  I am sure that there were bumps along the way, but it was incredible that Downie’s band-mates dug in and just supported his dream.  It was a huge risk.  Anything could happen.  It could have turned out to be a disaster.   It was incredibly touching to see them kiss each other – on the lips – and hug each other and genuinely show real love to each other prior to each performance. This is the kind of love that is meant by the Greek word, Agape.*  They were all vulnerable and all a team with a mission.  It seemed that egos were set aside.  You hear about this kind of teamwork and friendship but rarely see it so obviously.  It was very intimate material to be shared publicly.   But this support was also quite evident in their performances.   Another lesson for us all.  Downie’s diagnosis and fate overshadowed the rest of the band but they deserve great respect and accolades for helping their friend live out his dream.

3.  This was just so…Canadian.  The whole country was moved by this story.  We all wanted to be part of it.   And thousands were.   Fans bought tickets both to be entertained but also to support this band that was so loved.   And they were also ready for anything.   It could all be cancelled in a moment.  Or fall apart in the middle of a performance.   But no one cared about that.  This was about being part of this team and joining in to keep it going.

4.  It was a lesson in closure.  All good things come to an end.   Concerts, vacations, childhood, holidays, friendships , life.  Things come to an end.  It’s natural. It helps to deal with that fact if we learn to accept it with some stoicism and dignity.   It is helpful to fondly remember good times past and friends and family who have departed.  And maybe it is helpful to others if we acknowledge the end of something, celebrate and share our acceptance.   I think this is what Gord Downie and the Hip did, most graciously and unselfishly.

Little did I know when I wrote this earlier in the week that Gord Downie would die last night, October 17, 2017.  It makes all of the above lessons more poignant and pertinent today.

I took my 15 year old granddaughter to the show on Saturday and we went early because I thought it would be packed.  There were only about 10 people in the audience!  I do hope that more people see this show as it not only provides some concert-like Hip music but it caused me to reflect on many other things – life in general.   I think that is what Gord Downie (and his band-mates) would have liked.

The Hip concert on August 20, 2016 in Kingston was a celebration of the past and acknowledgement of an ending.

Hip Concert pano

* Agape – Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in the Bible.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13 4-7.


Scotland – September 2017

Apple has conveniently helped in selecting photos of my recent trip to Scotland off my iPad and put them into a nice little 2 minute video.  So here it is – a quick selection of images from my recent 2 week trip to Edinburgh, Skye, the Highlands and the Borders district in September.

October 16, 1917 – 100 years ago today

My penchant for finding my ancestors has become a bit of an obsession. Not sure why.   And I don’t have to go all the way to Scotland to chase up some reminiscences.

Last weekend I was in Toronto and staying at a hotel near the Annex district.  For some reason I remembered that my grandfather,  Joseph Alison Vardon,  his parents and his sisters, had lived somewhere in that area when he was younger.

I happened to have found a copy of my grandfather’s record of recruitment when he was drafted into the army just shortly after his 20th birthday, on October 16, 1917, exactly 100 years ago. From this document, I discovered that his address then was 188 Delaware Ave in Toronto, about a ten minute walk from where I was staying.gpc016-645604a


My grandfather lived in this house when he was conscripted into military service in 1917.

So, on Sunday morning, I wandered down to this neighbourhood,  found the house (upgraded but still the original three story house) and stood outside it wondering if my grandfather’s bedroom was in the dormer on the top floor and how many times he might have walked down that street as a teenager.   I went down to the corner of Bloor and Delaware and sat for half an hour on a cement bench by the street, conjuring up images of streetcars going by on Bloor,  old model cars, people on bicycles.



Black horse copy

I looked across the street at an old building that is now called the Black Horse Restaurant and Bar and knew that building (built in 1892) was there when my grandfather lived in the neighbourhood.  The building has a horse’s head sculpture coming out of the second floor. It was originally built as a store.  Did he ever go in there? How many times did he look at that horse’s head?



I thought about my grandfather signing up to go to war in Europe.  A boy, heading off to battle.  I wished that I had taken the time or the interest when I was younger to ask him about those experiences.

As I sat there, thinking about my grandfather, I wondered if my own grandchildren would, some day, 50 years from now,  sit on a bench somewhere and remember me in a similarly curious and fond way.  I hope so.

Joseph Allison Vardon 1917

This was my grandfather, Joseph Vardon – exactly 100 years ago – aged 20 – going off to WW I. 


Lively weekend in downtown Kingston Ontario

Have I said how much I love living in Downtown Kingston?  All these photos were taken within a 5 minute walk of where I live!

This weekend had perfect end-of-summer weather and  the downtown was full of activity ranging from Bollywood to jets to skydivers to a wonderful multicultural arts festival.

Here’s a five minute taste of how the weekend unfolded.   Never a dull moment…or a quiet one.

Pasta genovese – at least my version

Whenever I visit my friends in San Michele, Italy,  Gloria makes me this pasta dish and I love it.  Adis Pasalic and I used to get a similar version of it at a restaurant in Zenica, Bosnia.   Today I saw the new potatoes and green beans at the market and decided to indulge.  

This is not really a recipe, but an ad hoc version of how to make Pasta Genovese that is close to what Gloria taught me.   It is delicious and very easy.

Ingredients: (I dont measure, use what you think you need)

Pasta ingredientsPotatoes (sliced in 1 inch cubes or thereabouts)

Green Beans

Pasta ( Tagliatele is the traditional pasta for this dish but I usually use penne)

Pesto (you can make your own or buy a jar)

Pine nuts, lightly toasted


Put a big pot of water with some salt in it on the stove to get boiling. While the water is coming to a boil you can cut up the potatoes into cubes, prepare the beans, and lightly roast the pine nuts under the broiler (watch them).


Throw (gently) the potatoes into the boiling water and boil for about 5 minutes.  Add the pasta and boil for about 9 minutes.  Add the beans (I cut them up into one inch pieces with a scissors into the water). Boil for another 2-3 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and the pasta is al dente. 

Drain.    Add the pesto and pine nuts and mix.  Add salt to taste.

Sprinkle with some good quality Parmesan cheese.

This is so easy and tastes so good!

Pesto genovese

ADDENDUM:  I had this with a glass of OPEN  Cab2-Merlot  VQA wine from the Niagara Peninsula.  Generally I don’t like Ontario Red wines but this one is really good and has drawn me from California Cabs.  $12.95 at the LCBO or Wine Rack (where you can get a case at $10.95 a bottle!)


August 17, 1947

Last week I found my hospital birth certificate from August 17, 1947 complete with a little foot print and thumb print. ( Don’t worry, privacy freaks, I altered the prints  to post the photo here.)

Birth Certificate altered prints

What else was happening on the day I was born?

  • William Lyon MacKenzie King was Prime Minister of Canada
  • George VI was king of England
  • Other Canadians born in 1947 included Andrea Martin, Doug Henning, Ken Dryden and Burton Cummings
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadians 4 games to 2 to win the Stanley Cup.  Maurice “the Rocket” Richard was named MVP after scoring 45 goals in the regular season.
  • Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play baseball in a US major league team (Dodgers) and on Feb 3, the first black reporter was admitted to the US Congressional press gallery.
  • Life with Father was the Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Tex Willams country tune “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette topped the hit parade.

  • Dec 27 1st “Howdy Doody Show” (Puppet Playhouse) was first telecast on NBC with Claribel the Clown and Buffalo Bob.  620-boomer-history-howdy-doody-tv

Here is how my Mom recorded my birth in my “baby book”.

Baby book

I have always enjoyed a good party.

Last fall, my friend Margi McKay interviewed me as part of a Kingston Public Library project to have people select an old photo from their past and talk about it.  You might enjoy listening to the 22 minute interview.  I am happy to have it preserved.  Some day my grandchildren or great grandchildren will be able to hear me talk about my childhood.

And how things have changed in my lifetime.  I feel like a bit of a pioneer.  The TV set in the photo was the latest technology.  Now everyone has this in their pocket.

There is a link below to an edited version of the interview but if you have the 20 minutes, the longer interview is better as it is more thoughtful and complete.  You can access it by clicking on the photo below or here.


For the shorter edited version you can click here.  It is a bit more rushed and the editing sounds like I have had about 4 cups of coffee prior to the interview.  But in these days of shorter attention span, this works well.  Click here for the abbreviated version.

I talk about 448 Mornington Ave, London in the interview.  It is where the party took place. Here is my brother Bob and I on the front porch of that house about the same time.


My Stratford Festival trip for 2017

I have been going to the Stratford Festival since 1964.  I saw King Lear with a Canadian All-star (of the day) cast including John Colicos, Leo Cicero, Bruno Gerussi, William Needles, Douglas Rain, Frances Hyland and Martha Henry. I may not have realized then that I was watching the creme de la creme of Canadian Theatre but the effect on me was lasting.  And I have probably gone to 30 productions or more there since that time.

Last weekend I took in three plays at Stratford.

Romeo and Juliet

I wondered how to write about this one. Everything has been said.  It also made me realize how it must be daunting to put a unique spin on it as a director.  I have been in the play twice and seen it another two times.  What was new?  Well, this time I was certainly more aware of Romeo and Juliet’s teenage youth than I usually am.  Most productions tend to make their quick infatuation with each other ooze with sexual tension and palpable emotion.  In this one, both Romeo and Juliet seemed like impetuous teenagers who made impulsive silly decisions that led to their eventual demise.  Juliet screamed at her nurse in a hissy-fit more than once.  Romeo lay on the floor like a five-year-old  bawling his eyes out and thrashing.  Whereas I am used to the Friar’s lines “Art thou a man?…Thy tears are womanish…I though thy disposition better tempered” given in a sort of avuncular empathetic fashion, this Friar delivered them with a “Grow up, you wimp!” tone.

I did enjoy the interaction between the Nurse and Juliet and  I also liked the Friar.  They were able to accomplish the play in less than three hours (we never did) but sometimes that was because they thrashed through some lines without taking a breath.  I am very familiar with this play and still missed some of the lines.  If you were at all hard of hearing it would have seemed like garbled nonsense.  The couple beside me left at intermission.

Later in the week someone asked me if the acting at Stratford was that much better than the productions I have been in.  I thought for a moment and then realized that we likely did as good a job on the acting. It is all the rest of the production accoutrements that comes with a big budget that makes a difference to the how the show looks.

(Remembering our Kingston  production of Romeo and Juliet in April 2013.)

My friends will be glad to know that they put the intermission just before Prince Escalus returns to asks “Who are the vile beginners of this frey? – presumably so he would not miss his entrance  (See an earlier post in this blog – Better late than never) as it started the second act and the actor had all intermission to be in his place.   I  give this production three stars out of five.

HMS Pinafore

IMG_7337I also have wonderful memories of Gilbert and Sullivan productions at the Avon Theatre, particularly recalling the late Richard McMillan and Eric Donkin in the Mikado (1982) or a hefty Maureen Forester as the Fairy Queen gliding in on a rope in the 1988 Iolanthe.

This production took me by surprise.   Mainly because I thought it was Pirates of Penzance and only realized on my way to the theatre that it was a different G&S.  No matter.  They are kind of all the same anyway.

And it was delightfully silly and airy and visually lovely.  What is not to like about a good G&S? I give it 4 out of 5 stars since it is hard to go wrong with a good cast and orchestra and, once again, money for costumes and staging.

Treasure Island

IMG_73692I was happy to take two of my granddaughters to this and we had a fun day that started at 11 with a “Treasure Hunt” lunch where we dressed up as pirates, met one of the pirates who later was seen in the show, got tattoos and then walked through town stopping at various places on our map to say “Arrh” to a pirate and get more candy or a cupcake or ice cream.  By the time we reached the theatre for the production the kids were high on glucose and food colouring.

The show was pretty thin on plot and dialogue and anything meaningful but it was entertaining. Paper mâché birds flying in from the balcony.  A trap door to the belly of the ship, a boat sailing through dry ice fog, pirates giving lines from one of the boxes with wide-eyed audience now in the show.

The kids liked it and I did too, but only because there were lots of kids in the audience who got into yelling back at the actors and looking for the treasure on their maps.  Maybe the highlight of the weekend for me was when my six year old granddaughter whispered to me during a particularly vigorous storm scene in Treasure Island  “It must be fun to be an actor in this.” and then “I think that their fights with those real swords were all planned”.   I know my theatre friends will smile at this, knowing that this is why we do it!  I hope that some day Maia joins the fun of participating in theatre. Her happy discovery made the weekend for me.   Treasure Island as a production, however only ranked  3 out of 5 for me.


I was a bit disappointed in professionalism at a couple of spots in two of the plays. Once, in a quiet part of Romeo and Juliet, there was laughter and talking going on in the hallway behind the audience that was quite noticeable.  Not sure if it was ushering staff or even actors who soon after entered through the audience doors. Twice I momentarily saw actors in the wings waiting for an entrance.  Nevertheless it detracted from the show (as did the mobile phone that went off for a minute at least).  In Treasure Island I could see some backstage light and movement and actors waiting to come on stage and one could see in a gap in the curtain by the orchestra pit where actors were descending down through the stage floor.  These things tend to spoil the magic and really are not expected in a professional production company like the Stratford Festival.









Surprise. I do have a spiritual side.

I have spent the past few days on what has turned out to be a Reminiscence Tour of Huron and Bruce counties, visiting longstanding friends and familiar locations from my past.
I have camped out for a couple of nights at my brother’s cottage just south of Kincardine and on the wall in the living room is a painting that was done by my late mother sometime in the 1960s. This morning when I looked at the painting, I decided to go there, to sit on that beach and see if that rock was still in the water.
For years, our family had a cottage at the top of the hill in the community known as Bluewater Beach. I spent many summers there from about age 5 on. My kids also remember Grandma and Grampa’s cottage well.   
I picked up a coffee in Goderich and a Danish at Culbert’s bakery. I parked at the top of he hill across the street from where Vasiloff’s had their cottage and walked along the road past Hartman’s and Haskett’s and Footwinkler’s and Halpin’s. None of those people are there – most of them are dead. The buildings, most of them drastically changed are there but with different owners they feel empty and foreign.

No one was home at the cottage that used to belong to my family – we had called it Tip Toe Inn –so I went out onto the front yard, sat down and had my coffee there looking out over Lake Huron. The cottage was built by my Dad starting in 1952. The structure remains the same although it is now brown, not white with red trim.

I then took the well-worn path and steps down to the beach.

At the bottom of the hill I could see the rocks in my mom’s painting. It’s true, she did take some artistic license with the size and perspective but the rocks are still there with waves crashing over them just as in the painting.

While I was on the beach, I met a fellow who was wandering along with his dog. He had a beard and long hair pulled back with an elastic. I know he would not call it a man-bun.  He said he had a place at the top of the hill that sounded like it was where Art Johnson, the local woodsman, used to live fifty years ago. He said he spent a lot of his time wandering the beach and kayaking, – a bit like a Robinson Crusoe.  He has built a little hideaway up against the cliff under some trees. His kayak was there, some places to sit and a painting of a whales tail in the water. We talked at some length about the beach, the way the lake changes from year to year but also the way that certain things stay the same. I told him about Benny Daer, the local bootlegger, and Miss Salkeld’s blue cottage tea room. I may have bored him but he listened politely. For me it was a flood of memories. 

This year the water level in Lake Huron is high. Everyone thinks this is an anomaly. But I remember this beach in many years past exactly as it is today. We would have to clear rocks away to make a sandy spot to put our beach towels. Some years there was sand in the water and some years there was not. Some years the shore was polluted with seaweed, other years it was clean.  Some years we would have to walk a couple of kilometers along the beach to Black’s Point to have a good swimming. Along the way we would stop at “the big rock”, another large flat table-like rock 100 m from shore. My new-found friend assured me he knows that rock well. And yet another  “big” rock –in the picture below– at the base of the stairway to the beach was sometimes almost out of the water. But I also remember it exactly as it is now. When I was 10 we would go out to that rock and jump off of it into the water. All the rocks seemed bigger then.
As I stood there, I  reflected how the rocks in my Mom’s painting will be there 100 years or 200 years from now as well. But I won’t. There is something both comforting and disturbing about that thought. How small and temporary we are in the grand scheme of things.
I’m not religious but sometimes I do have a spiritual side. These rocks are as close to God that I can get. They are steadfast, immovable, reliable and enduring. And there is something reassuring about knowing that, although we are only on this planet for a very short time, there is something greater that lasts… and lasts…and lasts.
Addendum: As I stood taking the photo above, looking toward Goderich, beyond the point in the distance,  it reminded me of the time when my “cousins”, my 7 year old brother and I decided on the spur of the moment to walk along the beach to Goderich, maybe 5 km away.  We neglected to tell our parents and, needless to say it took us longer than we anticipated. It was before the days of mobile phones or even a phone at the cottage.  Our parents were frantic and at 4 pm found us walking along the highway in an attempt to head home.  Brother Bob was exhausted. Parents were relieved to find us safely but were pretty angry with us.  As a kid, this just seemed like a reasonable adventure.  As a parent and grandparent I can understand our parents’ panic.