Thursday, February 16, 2012

Found Foote Photo #4: Ancient Order of Foresters

Winnipeg's Joan Lyons brought in an altogether fascinating collection of items that centered around a Foote photo of the Winnipeg 'court' of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

As we sat down in the St John's College cafeteria, she explained that her maternal grandfather, Timothy James Webster, is the gentleman on the extreme right of the image.

The photo is 12” X 14” and “Foote Photo. Wpg.” is written the photo just under Timothy’s feet. Joan inherited the framed photo and had it archivally re-framed a few years ago.

Timothy Webster came to Canada from England in 1905. He worked as a tinsmith for the CNR and brought his wife Edith and their two children to Winnipeg in 1906.

Eventually, he heard about available farmland in rural Manitoba. The family moved to Ashern in 1910, where Timothy started a mixed farm and eventually become Reeve. He and Edith had seven children, the last of which was born in 1920.

The farm was sold in the 40s and Timothy died in 1956 but the family still has a cottage in Ashern.

But between 1905 and 1910, when Timothy was still in Winnipeg, he joined the Ancient Order of Foresters. Given that the AOF originated in England, Joan thinks that her grandfather may have been a member before immigrating to Canada.

According to the Foresters Friendly Society, the modern incarnation of the AOF, the Ancient Order of Foresters

“seems at first to have been a purely sociable society until the members decided that they had a duty to assist their fellow men who fell into need ‘as they walked through the forests of life’. This 'need' arose principally when a breadwinner fell ill, could not work and, therefore, received no wages. Illness and death left families financially distressed and often destitute. Relief of this need has been the main purpose of the Foresters throughout their long history. It was achieved by members paying, initially, a few pence a week into a common fund from which sick pay and funeral grants could be drawn.”

It's sort of hard to reconcile the elaborate costumes, the medals on their chests and the plumes in their hats, with the very practical - and probably much-needed - social safety net that these kinds of groups offered their members.

But you have to remember that for men like Timothy Webster, these groups offered a chance to meet other recent British immigrants, men who had similar backgrounds. And there's nothing wrong with a little pomp and circumstance every now and then.

Thanks to Joan for sitting in the SJC cafeteria with me, sipping tea and sharing the story of her photo!

UPDATE: According to Esyllt Jones, the award-winning U of M historian who will select and also introduce the photos used in UMP's Foote book, Foote worked "as a recruiter for the Order of Foresters, playing his autoharp and hosting entertainment all along the south shore of Nova Scotia, encouraging people to join the Order." This would have been early in his career, somewhere between 1891 and 1902.

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