My grandfather Roy Elmore Boyce (photo left) was born in 1891 in Yarker, Lennox and Addington County, Ontario. Roy’s parents were George Wellington Boyce and Eva Eliza Smith (photos below). Roy was George and Eva’s fourth child and the second son in a family of eight.
By the time Roy was born his father, George, had left his original occupation – farming – in order to work for the railway. At the age of 21, George had married 18-year old Eva Eliza Smith. Their marriage in 1885 took place the same year the Last Spike was driven, completing Canada’s first trans-Canada railway. Aside from the first few years of their marriage, George spent most of his life working with the railway.
Roy’s father George had probably left farming because of the financial uncertainty of that type of enterprise. With a quickly growing family, George and Eva no doubt welcomed his getting a job that offered a regular income and some security.
The records suggest that George became a railway labourer with the Bay of Quinte Railway, a primary employer in the Harrowsmith area. Although it’s not clear precisely when, or even if, he was a labourer, documents indicate that by the time their sixth child, James (‘Bill’) BOYCE, was born in 1895, George held the position of railroad foreman. Two more children followed, so that by 1901, the Boyce household numbered ten, including adults and children. From family birth and death registrations we learn that George spent the last 30 years of his life, from 1895 to 1925, as a railway section foreman. His obituary states that he was “61 years of age and … was for many years section foreman on the C.N.R., which position he held at the time of his death.” The obituary goes on to say that “practically all of his life was spent in Harrowsmith”, a fact supported by census records and the locations of the children’s births.
Growing up in Harrowsmith, situated close to Kingston in Frontenac County, Roy and his siblings grew up with regular contact with other communities served by the railway. In this thriving community the family would have had access to general stores, a post office, hotels, blacksmiths, hotels, taverns, butcher shops, an undertaker, tailor and millinery stores, bakeries, churches, livery stables, and other amenities associated with ‘town living’. The children would have had numerous friends to play with, and would also likely have come to know all types of personalities and characters in the community.
Roy and his siblings grew up at the time their father was permanently employed by, and receiving a salary from, the railroad company. From several family photos it appears that the family may have lived in close proximity to the railway and, if so, would be used to the frequent sounds of trains passing their home.
A family story relates that the Boyce family home was a ‘railway house’ supplied by the company to railway employees and their families. Because of their proximity to other railway employees, my grandfather may have taken for granted the constant stream of railway colleagues and their family members, and played with other ‘railway children’. Roy would have grown up understanding the importance and inflexibility of railway schedules, having knowledge of railway jargon and operations, and being mesmerized by the magic of telegraphy and other developments considered modern technology at that time.
While the position of railway foreman was a posting with considerable responsibility, the Boyce family was by no means affluent. However, a foreman’s position did provide a regular pay cheque which offered a degree of stability and security which the family could count on for the foreseeable future – a major consideration given the large brood of Boyce children. Being the middle child, Roy must have seen the energy and resources required to raise a family, something that may have influenced his thinking about the need to become self-reliant as soon as he could.
It seems likely that the Boyce household was that of a young, large, boisterous, family with lots of teasing and jokes.
The Boyce’s were a close family, and this strong familial connection continued throughout the siblings’ lives. Roy had four younger siblings, Vera, ‘Bill’, Percy and Velma, whom he helped nurture and protect. His two older sisters, Gert and Nell, and older brother, David, in turn, often came to his rescue, extricating him from scrapes and misadventures from school bullies, and so on. Nell, in particular, felt a duty to look out for Roy, long after he was married and had his own family.
As staunch Methodists the Boyce family adhered to the strict tenants of that faith regarding church attendance, Sunday school for children, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness, of dress and activities such as gambling and dancing. George’s obituary notes that he was “well-known and much respected …a Methodist in religion and a member of St. Paul’s church”. One family story relates that Eva was involved in the temperance movement, although whether this was because of a personal experience (did a member of Eva’s family drink to excess?) or support for a cause that was sweeping the country at the time, is unknown.
Roy attended school until he was 14 years old and, as was normal at that time, left after Grade 8, referred to as “Senior Fourth”. After he left school in 1905, he worked as a box maker at the Harrowsmith Cheese Factory. At that time Harrowsmith was famous for the cheese produced by this local factory. However, the factory only operated from May to September because the cows did not produce enough milk during the winter months to keep the plant open. Realizing there would be no secure future in making boxes at a seasonal cheese factory he at some point, probably with his father’s urgings and using his connections, started working for the railway.
Telegraphy appealed to Roy more than physical labour, or track or locomotive maintenance. He studied telegraphy in Yarker, Ontario while he worked for the Bay of Quinte Railway, earning $10 a month. Yarker was a community on the same railway line as Harrowsmith, and might have been close enough to allow him to stay at home between work shifts. Although his career is uncertain, it is believed he moved to Moscow, Ontario where he worked as an assistant agent, and then to Bannockburn, Ontario, probably as an assistant agent. After he became more established, Roy appears to have worked various positions and shifts (e.g. night clerk, telegrapher, assistant agent), which meant moving around, living and working in different communities.
Roy must have seen opportunities for a full agency in western Canada; opportunities that didn’t exist in the east. Moving West offered him a chance to expand his horizons and his career. “Railway work at that time was probably seen as an exciting career, not unlike going into aviation 20 or 40 years later.” (M. Boyce)
In all his positions, Roy dealt with a wide variety of railway employees and a cross-section of the public, becoming skilled at what we now call ‘public relations’. He was outgoing and affable, had a hearty laugh, loved a good conversation and seems to have thoroughly enjoyed socializing with a wide variety of people. By 1910, possibly earlier, Roy had become a member of the Telegraphers’ Association of _______ and his railway career was fully launched.
Like many young men from Ontario in the early 1900s, Roy migrated West where railway branch lines were quickly spreading across the prairies. Grain elevators and railway stations often became the hub of these towns, servicing both town people and those living in nearby farms. After various transfers and positions, my grandfather found himself in Virden, Manitoba where he worked as night telegrapher with Mr. Simpson, with whom he became lifelong friends.