Thursday, 28 February 2013

Autobiography: Chapter Three


The House that James Built

The original Meek home at 5, Major's Place, Falkirk, as it looks today.

‘Coll View’ is the main house with which my family has been associated over the past century, but there is another house in Falkirk which represents a significant part of my being.  It was built by my grandfather, James Meek, who was a master painter in the town at the beginning of the twentieth century.

From time to time, I am questioned about my Meek surname.  It is relatively unusual to find a Gaelic speaker who does not carry a surname beginning with Mac-, though the Highlands have accommodated a number of families who came into the area in connection with particular roles and responsibilities, such as shepherding.  Thus one finds Thorburns, Grahams, Moffats and Wotherspoons who belonged originally to the Scottish Borders, and who arrived in the Highlands as shepherds.  In the course of time, all was forgiven, and the guardians of the hated sheep became ‘more Highland than the Highlanders themselves’.   So did the sheep.  However, the Meeks are much more recent arrivals, and, despite their Gaelic, they have not yet been assimilated into the Highlands.  This process, it would seem, takes several centuries, and the Meeks have not yet reached their first hundred.  They are ‘Johnnies come lately’.  I therefore forgive my fellow Highlanders who find it difficult to accept me as a native Gael, and who insist on Gaelicising my surname (horribly) as ‘Meic’.  I apologise for the discomfort and inconvenience that I have caused to the guardians of traditional nomenclature. Despite its challenge to orthodoxy, the ‘odd’ name did have its occasional advantages. In fact, the Meeks were so rare in the Highlands and Islands that it was possible to send a letter to my father addressed to ‘Meek, Tiree’, and to rest assured that it would reach its destination quite safely, long before postcodes were invented.  More seriously, we have to accept that it is never easy to come to terms with the untidy complexities of language and culture, and to recognise that languages have a habit of crossing boundaries.

The commonest question that I am asked is where the Meeks came from.  I am happy to say, ‘Falkirk’, and let the matter rest at that, since my answer satisfies the average enquirer.  However, there are more knowing interrogators who pursue the point, and press me to offer theories about the origin of the name itself.  There are several such theories, none of which seems unassailable. I have heard it said that Meek is a nickname, given to ‘meek and mild’ people.  I find it hard to believe that, given my knowledge of the kindred and of myself.  I have also been told that the Meeks owe their origin to Huguenot refugees, who came to Britain from France bearing names which represented virtues such as ‘Kindness’ and ‘Patience’.  I find that even harder to believe.  Potentially the most convincing explanation was given to me in Dublin – of all places! – when I visited the city in the early 1980s.   I attended a service on Sunday morning, and, on being introduced to a member of the congregation, I was immediately welcomed as a native of Co. Meath.  This I found surprising, since I was unaware that Co. Meath incorporated Tiree, whereupon my new-found friend explained that in Ireland a person from Co. Meath is called Míodhach in Irish, whence the surname Meek in English.   It was certainly very pleasant to be welcomed as an Irishman in Dublin.  No greater compliment could ever be paid to a Scot.  As a result of such generous ethnic elasticity across the North Channel, I am often thankful to escape from the suspicious glances of Scottish Gaels to the warm acceptance bestowed by the Irish-speaking Irish upon their very own people, especially those of their number who have gone overseas but who occasionally return to their native territory.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that my Meeks originated in Ireland, or that they came to Scotland from Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century.  It is clear that some Meeks did migrate from Ireland, but an indigenous Scottish kindred also existed.  Nowadays, the surname Meek is to be found more commonly in the east of Scotland than in the west.  Those Meeks whom I have encountered beyond my own family are to be found primarily in the Edinburgh area, with a smaller scatter in West Lothian.   My family fits this pattern for most of its known history, as it had a particularly close connection with Whitburn, West Lothian, where there was a network of interrelated Meek families with a recurrent set of confusingly similar Christian names.

On the evidence currently available, our Meek family can be traced back to my great-great-great-grandfather, James Meek, variously designated as ‘crofter’, ‘satiner’, or ‘labourer’, who married Janet Thomson in 1794.  His son, John Meek, lived ‘the whole time of his life’ in Whitburn, and was a cotton weaver.  He was married to Jean Dickson, and had a family of ten, of whom the youngest died in infancy. John died in 1855.  On 7 July 1865, when his son William, usually resident in Whitburn, was married in Bathgate to Grace Liddle, the marriage witnesses included John Meek, William’s brother, and Agnes Liddle, Grace’s sister.  William was at this stage a journeyman plasterer, though he had begun as a cotton worker at the age of eleven. Grace, born at Carnby, near Linlithgow, was a dressmaker, though her usual residence is given as Bathgate.  Her father, James Liddle, was a cotton weaver. Her mother, of unknown occupation, was Margaret Wallace.   William and Grace were married in the Evangelical Union church in Bathgate, by the Rev. Andrew M. Fairbairn, a well-known and somewhat controversial figure in contemporary ecclesiastical matters.

Our Meeks, and especially William’s line, had begun to change their occupations by the 1860s, taking up trades as slaters and plasterers.  Diversification of skills followed the decline of the cotton industry, and former weavers were forced to move from their home areas as well as their traditional craft. William Meek had reached Dalkeith by 1865.  The 1881 Census shows that the first two children in his family, namely Maggie (aged 14) and John (aged 13), were born in Whitburn.  However, the third child, John (aged 10), was born in Dalkeith.  At the time of the Census, they were residing at the Old Skinnery in that town.  All later members of their family were born there: Agnes (aged 9), William (aged 7), James (aged 6), and Mary (aged 3).  James, born in 1875, was to become my grandfather.    William, his father, died of pneumonia on 6 January 1883 at the early age of 41, and his mother Grace died of 'alcoholism' eighteen months later.

The early deaths of William and Grace, when the majority of his children were still young, must have had serious consequences for the family.  It is likely that they would have been compelled to seek gainful employment as soon as they were old enough to earn some money.  James Meek, my grandfather, evidently served an apprenticeship as a painter in his teens.  By the 1890s he was working in Falkirk, where he chanced to undertake tasks in the main house of the Bantaskin estate (which ought to be distinguished very carefully from South Bantaskine estate).  Bantaskin estate’s eastern boundary, which is marked approximately by Maggie Woods Loan (formerly Bantaskin Port), lay immediately to the west of the ground currently occupied by Falkirk Royal Infirmary. It was at Bantaskin that James met the girl who was destined to be my grandmother, and also to form the connection between the Meeks and Tiree.  She was Ann (Nancy) MacDonald, who had gone into service in the ‘big house’ in Bantaskin.

Bantaskin House, Falkirk - the only known surviving photograph, for which I am deeply
indebted to Esther Harland (nee Fairlie), Minnedosa.
Bantaskin estate and its house, consisting of sixteen rooms, appear to have had a chequered history, and to have changed owners several times after 1800.  They were owned in the mid-nineteenth century by Thomas C. Haggart.  In the New Statistical Account of 1845 the house is described as follows:


‘Bantaskine House, the residence of T.C. Haggart Esq., is an elegant and substantial mansion of modern architecture.  It stands on an elevated spot, half a mile south-west of the town, and partakes of the fine prospect which has already been adverted to.  The grounds are encircled by luxuriant plantations.’

James Wilson, proprietor of Bantaksin estate, Falkirk

In 1901 the estate and house were owned by a family named Wilson. James Wilson (1823-1904), a native of Maryhill and a prosperous West India merchant who operated in both Trinidad and Govan, had bought the estate in 1879.  He was greatly respected for his Christian integrity and philanthropy, which included the building of Falkirk Baptist Church. His son James (aged 38 in 1901), whose wife Marion (aged 25) had been born in Trinidad, was in the sugar and cocoa business with his father.  The younger James and his wife, and a niece of the elder James, Margaret I. Miller from Lanarkshire (aged 27), were at Bantaskin in 1901.  The house was then maintained by several servant girls: Ellen Wilson from Ayrshire (aged 44), Christina McLean from Tiree (aged 32), Mary Fairlie from Killearn (aged 32), Flora McKinnon from Tobermory (aged 28), and Annabel McDonald from Tiree (aged 22).  

It was common practice for young girls from the Highlands and Islands to go into service in the ‘big houses’ of the Scottish Lowlands.  Sometimes young men were also employed there; Bantaksin House had a ‘bothy’ which accommodated three gardeners in 1901.  Nancy’s employment in Bantaskin may have owed much to her older brother, Alexander (Sandy), who had learnt his trade as a joiner, and had gone to work there at an earlier stage, though he may not have ‘lived in’.  Sandy himself found his wife, Mary Fairlie, at Bantaskin, and they were married in 1902.  As the records confirm, another member of the MacDonald family, Annabel, also went into service in Bantaskin. She was to become a very close and loyal supporter of her sister, Nancy, in the forthcoming adventure of the Meeks’ emigration to Vancouver around 1913.

It was Sandy who, in 1899, issued the invitations to attend the wedding of his sister to James Meek.  Sandy’s marriage to Mary Fairlie also took place at Bantaskin.  The marriages at Bantaskin suggest that it was a very happy household, and that the owners were glad to provide a congenial location for their servants’ nuptials.  The wedding invitations, which ask simply for replies to be sent to ‘Bantaskin, Falkirk’, have their own homely sense of pride and achievement, although they reflect the servants’ inability to aspire to grand occasions.

My Aunt Annabel always spoke of Bantaskin with great warmth and wistfulness.  As a boy with little detailed knowledge of mainland Scotland beyond Glasgow, I used to wonder where this very special ‘land of lost content’ was located.  It sounded like an El Dorado to my untutored mind.  Frequently, when Aunt Annabel was spending her latter years in ‘Coll View’, she and my mother would talk about her time at Bantaskin, the people she met, and the friendships she made.

James Meek and Nancy MacDonald, photographed in Falkirk around the time of their marriage.
James and Nancy Meek settled in Falkirk following their marriage, and were living in Scotia Place in 1901. They had five children – Effie (1901), William (1903), Mary Flora (1904), Hector (my father, 1906) and Grace (1909).  James appears to have done well in his trade, becoming a master painter in the course of the years. In 1901 he joined with a partner by the name of John O’Brien in establishing a ‘Painters, Paperhangers and Decorators’ business, located first at Crichton Park, and then Manor Street, Falkirk.  They opened a branch in Bonnybridge in 1906.  Interestingly, John O’ Brien and his family lived beside the Meeks in Scotia Place in 1901.  The notice intimating the new business indicated that both O’Brien and my grandfather had been employed for five years by a Mr Graham, apparently John Graham, 20 Vicar Street, Falkirk.  O’Brien, the senior partner and a native of Kincardine on Forth, had previously spent eleven and a half years with ‘Messrs Moxon & Carfree, Edinburgh’. Newspaper accounts of contracts for public buildings, such as Redding Village School and Grangemouth Infant School, refer from time to time to O’Brien and Meek as successful bidders for painting engagements. 

In this photograph, taken by Thomas Greig, Coronation Gallery, Falkirk, about 1911,
my father is standing on the right, and his sister Grace is in the chair.

As the business prospered, so also did James.  He engaged in fine work, as he was an artist of considerable ability, employing wood and glass in his creations, and occasionally making violins and fiddle-bows.  He was moving up the social ladder, and, with a growing and expanding family, acquired a new home at 26 Griffiths Street, Falkirk. In 1910, however, he decided to build his own house in Major’s Place, close to Falkirk High Station.  Although my family had a black-and-white photograph of the Meeks’ home, and I was well aware of its existence, I did not visit the house until 1975, when I was working in Glasgow.   I was able to identify it immediately from the photograph, as it had scarcely been altered from the time of its completion.  The then owners of the house very kindly allowed myself and my fiancee to go inside, and they gave us a tour of its rooms.  In the course of the visit, they commented several times on the excellence of the house as a family home, with its extensive loft, which allowed their children to have a large play-area.  It was something of a revelation to me to see such a high degree of artistic sophistication in its design.  It was built on a symmetrical pattern, with identical sizes and positioning of rooms on either side of the centre-line, and perfectly matching porches on each gable.  Its symmetry was broken only by the angular ‘bay window’ at the front.  It also had a striking and memorable staircase, which rose directly in one flight from the main lobby to a mid-level half-landing, and then divided into two flights, one for each side of the house. The mid-level landing was lit by a stained glass window.  I marvelled at the house’s ingle-neuks and fine woodwork, and I felt that I could identify my grandfather’s hand in some of the ornamentation, as I had seen examples of his work in Tiree.  The outside of the house was, however, what struck me most forcibly.  The walls were very plain, finished with rough-cast cement, and the windows were relatively small.  The roof was of Japanese style. 

5 Major's Place, Falkirk, as built.
As I went back to Glasgow that day in 1975, I tried to figure out what this remarkable house told me about my grandfather, James Meek. It was very clear that this was the home of a man with considerable artistic aspirations, which had been worked out meticulously by his architect, and had been fashioned with great care.   It contrasted very markedly with the design of ‘Coll View’, in Tiree, which is the plainest of farm-houses, with immense stone walls, and rather rough-and-ready woodwork. ‘Coll View’ represents the high point of late nineteenth-century crofting architecture;  Major’s Place is the product of the early twentieth-century urban artisan class, and it is finished to the highest degree of detail.  However, if the home of Grandfather Meek was quite different from ‘Coll View’, it was – and remains – completely different from the other houses that stood in Major’s Place, which were much more ‘traditionally Scottish’ in their styles. The area does have other houses which, in their architecture, belong to what is sometimes rather loosely termed the ‘Arts and Crafts’ school of design, which picked and mixed traditional and modern styles.  My grandfather’s house, while fitting within this catch-all designation, was, and is, distinctive.

Very soon after my 1975 visit, I purchased my own flat in Glasgow, in the Broomhill area of the city, and as a consequence I became interested in urban architecture.  The red sandstone tenement in which Rachel and I lived in Beechwood Drive following our marriage had beautifully wrought staircases, with foliage designs cut in the wood.  As I investigated the origin of these designs, the name and style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh became familiar to me, and gradually it dawned on me that, if I was not mistaken, my grandfather’s house in Falkirk appeared to incorporate some of the standard characteristics of Rennie Mackintosh’s era into its plans.

I did not visit the house again until almost thirty years had elapsed.  This time Rachel  and I were accompanied by one of our two daughters, and we were about to move south from Aberdeen to Falkirk.  Having purchased a house in Brightons, we had come south to let our daughters see the new dwelling, and to ‘measure up’ for curtains and other essential items.  We decided to pay a visit to 5 Major’s Place on the way back to Aberdeen.  On this occasion, seeing the house beautifully washed in white snowcem, I was even more aware of the evident link between Art Nouveau fashion and my grandfather’s former home.  The plain walls and narrow windows, the angular design and the symmetry of the overall plan, reminded me forcefully of the Rennie Mackintosh era.

After we had settled in Brightons in August 2002 – only ten minutes’ drive away from Major’s Place –  we decided to investigate the circumstances of the Meeks in Falkirk.  We were able to trace references to the firm of O’Brien and Meek during the first decade of the twentieth century.  However, when Rachel visited Callendar House, she made our most interesting discovery to date – a full set of plans for the ‘Proposed Villa in Major’s Place for James Meek Esqr’!   The plans had been drawn by J.G. Callander, a well-known Falkirk architect who was at the height of his powers in the 1930s – the era of Art Deco –  and who has left his mark on the town in the design of premises such as the former Co-operative building. Callander was evidently under the spell of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), though planning of domestic houses does not seem to have been one of Callander’s main concerns.   He would have been a comparatively young man when he drew the plans for my grandfather’s house in February 1910, towards the end of Rennie Mackintosh’s Scottish career.  Precisely how James Meek and J.G. Callander came into contact, and why Meek asked Callander (rather than any other architect) to design his villa, are questions to which we have no answers at this stage.  Presumably his trade as a master painter brought him into contact with significant architects and builders, and it may well be that he was able to capitalise on his contacts, as such men often do.  The house is well known to architectural historians.   It continues to be a family home which is still appreciated for its excellent, practical design, eschewing the sometimes self-indulgent flourishes and combinations of the ‘Arts and Crafts’ school.  In many respects, it anticipated the main features of the modern, late twentieth-century ‘ideal home’, with its generous provision of the ‘latest’ facilities for family life.   These have not aged as the century has passed.

My grandfather’s former home appears to represent an unusual combination of artistic response to Art Nouveau, architectural flair and building opportunities in the new Falkirk – as might be expected from an alliance with J.G. Callander.  Clearly James and his architect were part of the network of builders, painters and architects who were absorbing and implementing new designs for this exciting phase of building and town-planning.   It also hints at very considerable prosperity, or at least a desire to appear 'prosperous', even allowing for the likelihood that contacts ‘in the trade’ would have reduced the building costs to some extent.

A point which struck us forcibly about my grandfather and his family was that they had spent so little time in their splendid home before emigrating to Vancouver, Canada around 1913.   Before developing an understanding of the wider context of the family and their house, we had presumed that they had emigrated about 1910, and that the house had been built about 1906.  This was not the case.  We were confronted by some very basic questions about why, given such evident prosperity in Falkirk, James Meek had concluded that his future, and that of his family, lay in Canada and not in Scotland.   The advertisement for the sale of his home, clipped out of a newspaper, is tucked into the Valuation Roll for 1912-13, and reads poignantly as follows:

Falkirk – For sale, excellent villa in own ground, recently built, consisting of Three Public rooms, four bedrooms, large attic, Bathroom, Kitchen, Pantry, Scullery, Garden etc. Owner going abroad.
Apply Mrs Meek, Major’s Place. 

Why did James decide to leave? According to family tradition, my grandfather’s emigration had a close link with the island of Tiree.  He had gone to Tiree to repaint the inside of Ruaig Congregational Church, of which his father-in-law (my great grandfather) was a Trustee.  As a boy, I was well aware that my grandfather had indeed painted the numbers which were executed in gold lettering on the pews, and were still to be seen until the 1960s, but I was quite unaware until my later years that they might have had a connection with his departure to Canada.  My grandfather spent a fortnight in Tiree undertaking the work, which he did at no charge.  When he returned to Falkirk, he disclosed to his business partner, O’Brien, that he had not charged any fee for his work.  It is said that O’Brien reacted angrily, and that the partnership foundered at that point.   According to one version of the story, O’Brien took his money out of the business, leaving my grandfather to get on with it, in every sense.  Whether O’Brien was right to act as he allegedly did is not now clear.  If the later interests of the Meeks (including my own) are anything to go by, my grandfather may have been more of an artist and painter than he was of a businessman.  If so, O’Brien may well have had good grounds for taking the action that he did.

This, however, is the merest speculation.  There are no signs of a faltering or failing business, or even of a serious rupture between himself and O’Brien.  The business continued for many years, under the name ‘O’Brien and Meek’, which was used by the firm until at least 1930.  This suggests a well-established and highly esteemed company, which was not prepared to forfeit its good name, despite the loss of a founding partner.

Was James Meek a victim of success, not failure?  Did his success kindle his enthusiasm for even more independence, and for greater prosperity?  The fairest assessment of the surviving evidence may point in that direction.  Vancouver may have offered the broader prospects that he wanted.  Yet, had he wished to remain in Scotland, there were many business opportunities in Falkirk, as it expanded at the beginning of the twentieth century.  He was an enterprising and very talented man.  He had a splendid house, which he would not have been able to match very easily, and certainly not immediately, even in Vancouver. 

It is, of course, easy to assume that the 'big house' in Major's Place represented 'success', but at what cost to himself did James 'succeed' in Falkirk?  Did he, in truth, 'succeed'?  Or did he, in reality, 'fail' in the midst of seeming 'success'? In building his large, 'aspirational' house along Rennie Mackintosh lines, it seems more than evident that James had indeed over-stretched himself, and that a growing burden of personal debt, accumulated through loans for the house (including a substantial debt of £200 to his sister-in-law Annabel) hastened his emigration.

Nancy Meek, accompanied by her sister Annabel and the Meek children, with the exception of my father,
travelled from Liverpool to Montreal in 1913 on the Canadian Pacific steamship, Empress of Ireland.  A year
later the liner sank in the St Lawrence in an accident of 'titanic' proportions.
James was the first member of the family to leave Scotland, and he was in British Columbia by the early summer of 1913.   Several postcards apparently written by him (signing as 'Jim' or 'Jim(m)ie', without a surname) have survived in the collection of John MacDonald from 'Coll View', Nancy's brother.   Somewhat startlingly, these show that Jim spent the summer of 1913 in the Tranquille Sanatorium in Kamloops, B.C., where, as he himself wryly noted, 'all the stiffs hang out'.  This was not, however, a painting or decorating assignment.  Jim, sad to say, was an inmate.   In that period, sanatoria were sometimes used for the treatment of people with a 'drink problem' (known colloquially as 'stiffs', a term also used of corpses).  In these recently-discovered postcards, whose poignant messages were concealed by their picture-upwards mounting in the album, we appear to have another key to the troubles which may have afflicted the Meeks in Falkirk, and precipitated their somewhat hasty emigration.  A fresh beginning was, perhaps, urgently required.

Nancy Meek and their children (with Annabel as 'nanny') left for Canada just before the outbreak of the First World War.  The war may well have added to the woes of the family.  The Meeks were, in fact, unable to sell their home in Major’s Place until the war was over.  For a number of years after their emigration, it was rented out through James Anderson of Myrtle Cottage, Bonnybridge, acting on behalf of James Meek.  The Valuation Roll for 1917-18 shows that it was occupied by Arthur Dillon, Draper, but it was apparently not sold until 1919-20, when it passed to ironmasters by the name of Smith.

The new Meek family home, shown here, was at 939 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
It has been demolished long since, but the original Falkirk family home, now known as 'Abercorn',
remains almost unchanged as a small jewel of Scottish domestic architecture.
According to notes with key dates placed in her passport, Annabel left Scotland on 30 October 1913, and reached Vancouver on 12 November of that year.  Her brother Charles, who was living with James and Nancy in Scotia Place, Falkirk, in 1901, also found his way to Vancouver, although he had been in Canada at an earlier stage, and had attended the wedding of his sister Ishbel to Dan MacLean.  John (or Iain), the youngest member of the MacDonald family, also went to Vancouver, though he returned to Tiree during the war, and later joined the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.  Iain’s war diary shows that by 1916 James Meek and his family were settled in the Fairview district of Vancouver, and that Annabel was living at Shaughnessy Heights. 

My father, Hector MacDonald Meek, photographed about 1930, when he was in his mid-20s.
One member of the Meek family never went to Vancouver – and that was my father  Hector.  He had been sent to his Tiree grandparents’ home on several occasions, but most recently when his mother was expecting the fifth member of the family.  He became very fond of Tiree, and it is said that, as a small boy, he would wander from Major’s Place to Falkirk High station, where he would ask the ticket clerk for a ticket to Tiree!  Gradually, my father became a naturalised Tirisdeach, whose instincts and identity lay with his grandparents in ‘Coll View’, who were unwilling to part with him when his parents went to Vancouver.   Hector and Effie MacDonald brought him up as if he were their own son.  When Hector and Effie died, his parents in Vancouver sent him his fare, so that he too could emigrate and join the family.  However, he refused the offer, and remained in Tiree.  He always took the view that he had been given by far the better 'deal', and he didn't for one moment regret or resent the departure of the rest of his family to Vancouver.

James and Nancy Meek in Vancouver in their later years, probably about 1930,
with Willie Meek (my father's brother) standing behind.
In Vancouver James Meek pursued his earlier business interests as a painter and decorator, first on his own account but later taking his son William ('Willie' or 'Bill') as his partner in the firm of James Meek & Son.   It is said that he also built houses, which he let out to others.  My late friend, Hector MacPhail from Tiree, who gathered family lore and island traditions, told me on the evening before his death, as we conversed at the door of Gartnavel General Hospital, Glasgow, that when he had visited Vancouver some years previously, he had been told that James Meek had refused to take any increase in rent from the tenants in these houses during the depression years of the 1920s and 1930s.  He allowed them to remain in their homes, despite financial loss to himself.  This story is consistent with what is said about his painting of the Ruaig church, which allegedly precipitated his emigration.  However, James Meek was not destined to live long and to enjoy further successes.  He died in 1937, and was buried in Ocean View Cemetery, Vancouver.

My grandparents maintained contact with my father to some extent, but my mother was the one who corresponded regularly with my grandmother, Nancy, whom she admired greatly for her gracious and generous ways, and her lovely, warm letters.  She was apparently a beautiful lady.  She was wonderfully kind to me as I grew up in Tiree.  Her regular parcels from Canada were a delight to the heart and mind of a small boy growing up as an only child in a comparatively restricted and not particularly well-off home.   All manner of good things tumbled out of the boxes – sweets (called ‘candy’), apples, books and toys.  The fragrant smell of Canadian parcels will remain with me for ever.  They were surely heaven-sent!  

Posh, posh, posh! My Aunt Annabel (left) and my grandmother, Nancy Meek (right),
go shopping in Vancouver, and are 'caught' by a street photographer!

On one occasion, a teddy-bear came out of a parcel.  I took him in both arms immediately, and I can still remember the moment.  He remains with me to this day, and I will not exchange him for any price, though I know that, according to experts in these matters, my teddy is a very rare breed, worth hundreds of pounds, just like his owner!  He was my constant companion in Tiree, sharing all my deepest and darkest secrets, with his quiet smile and knowing look.  I talked to him when nobody else would listen, and I still do.   His sympathy was, and is, invaluable.

Freddy the Teddy, as we call him, has also served his time as a companion and confidante to my two daughters, who are now grown up.  He is a reminder to all of us that emigration does not sever the bonds of family or stifle affection, and that there are many different reminders of those whom we love, even at a distance.  Today my teddy sits in Brightons, Falkirk, not so far from James and Nancy’s former home.  I wonder, as I look at him, if he knows things about my family and its history that I have not yet discovered.  Perhaps he will tell me some day what circumstances were really like in Vancouver.  When we found the plans for Major’s Place, I thought that his smile was a little bit broader, and that there was a twinkle in his eye.  After all, he is my very last link with the Meeks who once lived there.             

James Meek painted the name-board, 'Peace & Plenty', which is now in the hallway alcove
of our home in Falkirk.   He painted it for the sailing smack owned by my Tiree great-grandfather,
Hector MacDonald.   It is the last remaining example of his sign-writing skills, and is all the more
poignant, as Canada, to which he emigrated, was known as 'The Land of Peace and Plenty'.  The
name-board was preserved after the old boat disintegrated.

1 comment:

  1. Donald,

    Your blog was recommended to me from a fellow family researcher. My name is Anthony Meeks and I live in America. I am currently researching my family history and there is no documentation to link my ancestors back to Europe.
    Thanks to the meek DNA project, I know that I am related to the Meek family from Fortissat, Lanarkshire Scotland. This family originated in West Lothian. This is way I’m interested in your family history.
    I invite you to check out and learn that your can potentially find meek families around the world that you might be related to. The site administrator is Christopher Meek ( and he can answer any potential questions you might have. Thanks for your time, and I enjoyed your blog.