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(see ‘Thomas & Jane (MUIR) WATSON Family’ under heading ‘WATSON’;  for photograph of WATSON family see post 29 April 2012)

[this post last edited, new information and/or images added 12 March 2013. Unless otherwise indicated all photos are from the author’s collection]

[For more Watson family photos also check out Donald Slater’s family history Flickr account www.flickr.com/photos/palaeoecogeek]

The Thomas and Jane (MUIR) WATSON family came to Canada in four stages.

First to arrive was 17 year old James Muir (Jim) WATSON, who arrived in Montreal on the 19 June 1906, after a ten day sea journey from Galsgow, aboard the ship ‘S. S. Corinthian’. He travelled to Winnipeg by train and worked for a Manitoba farmer as an agricultural labourer.

The second of the Watson family to arrive in Canada was 17 year old William (Bill) Watson Muir WATSON who sailed from Glasgow on the ship ‘S. S. Hesperian’ and arrived in Quebec City on 19 July 1909. His eventual destination was Rapid City, Manitoba.

The main group of the WATSON family (father Thomas WATSON, mother Jane MUIR, Nell, 20 [Helen McNab WATSON], Alex, 15 [Alexander Hunter WATSON], Jane, 11 [Jane Muir WATSON], and John, 7 [John Mcconnell Muir WATSON]) left Glasgow, Scotland on 2 April 1910 on the ship ‘S. S. Hesperian’, which docked in Halifax on 11 April 1910.

Thomas (Tom) WATSON, 25, the last of the family to move to Canada, sailed from Glasgow on 17 June 1912 on the ‘S. S. Pretorian’, and arrived in Montreal about eight days later.

The Sea Voyage 

The Watson family (Thomas, Jane, Nell, Alex, Jane, and John) boarded the ‘S.S. Hesperian’ in Glasgow on 2 April 1910 with all their worldly possessions. The next day the ship stopped in Liverpool to pick up additional passengers. The sea voyage from Liverpool to Halifax took eight rough, sea sick days.

 S. S. Hesperian, Allan Line, Glasgow, Launched 1907, torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine 4 September 1915

The S. S. Hesperian’s Manifest listed the ‘Number of Souls’ on board as 1,416. Of that number 1,150 souls were housed in the bowels of the ship in 3rd class or ‘steerage’ even though the allowed legal limit was 1,000 people. In this overcrowded, cheap and substandard accommodation, hundreds of immigrants were housed in one large room, with shared sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities. One can only imagine the claustrophobia of bouncing over the Atlantic Ocean during the April storms, enduring sea-sickness in the dimly lit area, surrounded by hundreds of other sea sick passengers.

Newspaper headlines of the time gave some indication of the situation “Steerage conditions called appalling”, “Abuses among emigrant passengers” and “Horrible conditions endured by emigrants in steerage”.

The six Watson family members were among the miserable steerage passengers. My grandmother Nell [Helen McNab Watson], would speak only rarely and reluctantly about the trip, and never wanted to return to Scotland. And she never did.

However, for the Watson family and hundreds of thousands of other immigrants, however horrible the conditions in steerage, the price was right and this was the way to the promised land and a new start on life. The total fare for the six Watson family members was $25, covered by ‘British Bonus Allowed’. This was a commission paid by the Immigration Branch of the Canadian Government to steamship booking agents in the United Kingdom to encourage immigration of desirable settlers, mainly farmers, who were prepared to move to Canada. It encouraged steamship companies to recruit settlers and was a marketing tool of the Canadian government.

The family landed in Halifax on 6 April, 1910 at 6:45 a.m. I have always imagined that it was a cold, dreary, rainy April morning. Port of entry was not the now famous Pier 21, but Pier 2, which combined a deep water shipping terminus with a Canadian Pacific Railway terminus. [Pier 21 was not opened until 1923].

Once landed in Halifax the travails of the passengers were not over as all had to pass medical inspection. The ‘S. S. Hesperian’s’ Manifest for this voyage noted that the medical inspection of the steerage passengers commenced at 8:05 a.m. and was not fully completed until 4:00 p.m.; two passengers were detained. Connecting trains left at 2:00 p.m., 5:00p.m., 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

Arrival in Wolseley

After several days the train reached Wolseley, Saskatchewan. It is not known how Wolseley was chosen as a destination, however Thomas had probably answered an advertisement for a farm labourer through a newspaper in Scotland. Once they arrived in Wolseley, the six Watson family members received a terrible shock. When the farmer who had hired Thomas showed up with his horse and cart and found out that there were six family members and not just one man, he turned around and left them standing at the railway station. In Scotland when a tenant farmer was hired it was understood that the whole family was included and all were expected to work. In Canada this was not the case. Although the misunderstanding was easily explained it did not make it any less serious for the Watsons. The Watson family was devastated, they had come all the way from Scotland and had nowhere to turn.

Fortunately for the Watson family, Mr. G. P. Campbell heard of their situation, picked up the family and took them home. Several Watson family members worked as hired help for the Campbell family until they were able to establish themselves on land.

Gradually the family established themselves, bought land, married, raised families and became involved in the community. For the Watson family members Canada was indeed the start of a new life, and provided opportunities they would never have had in Scotland.