Are You A Grandchild of Confederation?

Source: fort-francis.comEvery July 1st when we celebrate Canada Day, I have always taken pride that I am a grandchild of Confederation. How is this possible? Well, it is like this.

My father’s mother was Priscilla (Monteith) Baker. She was a fourth generation Canadian, born on July 1, 1867. Priscilla is a descendent of William Brayall. He was born in Ireland and during the war with Napoleon served in the British Army with the Royal York Rangers in the Caribbean.

My father’s dad was Edward/Ward Baker. He was a third generation Canadian and a descendent of John/Johannes Baker. He was from a village near Hanover, Germany. John also served with the British Army with the Royal West India Rangers in the Caribbean.Priscilla Monteith.

The Royal York and the Royal West India Rangers took Martinique in 1809 and Guadeloupe in 1815 from the French. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, the British started to downsize (sound familiar?) its army.

At the end of April in 1819 seven hundred and fifty Rangers, including William Brayall and John Baker set sail from St. Kitts in five boats. They arrived in Halifax Harbour May 17-18. Their regiments would soon be disbanded and when discharged they were given the option of free land or currency for their service.

Sergeant John Baker choose a land grant of 200 acres in Northwestern New Brunswick in what came to be known as the Ranger Settlement. Private William Brayall stayed in the Halifax area and took the currency option of 10£. Eight years later in the summer of 1827 William moves his wife and two children to the Ranger Settlement.

The Ranger Settlement was located in the Upper Saint John River Valley, south of Grand Falls. It was a heavily forested area, you might say the forest met the river’s edge. This was pioneer country in every since of the word. Land had to be cleared, crops planted (Indian corn, potatoes) and  the beginning of farm animals.  

The winters were severe. I remember my dad (Barney Baker) telling me when as a young man he worked in the woods there were days it was too cold to harness the horses. Then there were the dog days of summer, mostly in July. Barney was the last of the children to be born in the pioneer log cabin located on top of a hill. From there you have a panoramic view of the valley and its river.

You were very isolated even from your nearest neighbour. There were no roads, schools, churches or hospitals. Source: virtualmuseum.caTheir version of a country store was a steamboat, The Reindeer, that came up the river from Fredericton in the spring and fall. Better have an up-to-date shopping list! As today’s radio add says, ” If you miss it, you miss it!” Glad I was born in January 1937. The year of my birth was also the year Priscilla died.

Were other babies born on July 1, 1867? I am sure they were. Certainly grandma Priscilla was one of them. She had 40 grandchildren. We are all grandsons and granddaughters of Confederation. Although our number is greatly diminished (after all we are the fifth generation) celebrate with us on Canada Day! As a friend of mine remarked, “Priscilla was one of Canada’s first citizens.” Isn’t that remarkable!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are from Paul Baker, SJ

Paul Baker, SJ, is a Jesuit Brother in the ministry of prayer at Rene Goupil House in Pickering, Ontario.

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