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Chapter Fourteen Verne Skilling

Verne Skilling, the ninth and last surviving child of Agnes Ruxton and John Skilling, was born on August 8, 1900 in Teeswater, Ontario about four years after Norma.  Unable to complete her memoir before she died, Norma wrote very little about Verne. Some details survive in records and letters especially from John to his son living in Toronto in c. 1920s. Photographs of Verne also survive. I will piece together what I can.
Like his siblings before him, Verne was probably born at home with assistance of a midwife. By this time the older children had left home or were in and out. Floss, 22 years older than Verne, had been away working as a milliner in Aurora, ON when Norma was born 4 years earlier.  She was married in March 1902. Maude, 19 years older, taught music and often away from home though she didn’t marry until 1915. Orville 17 years older, left for Toronto the following year and was married in 1907. Gert was 13 and still at home for a few more years as was Bill who was 11. Harold, born after the loss of a son in 1891, was 7 and Norma was 4. Norma talks about herself, Harold and Verne being considered the younger group of Skilling kids.

Verne Skilling Age 9

By the time Verne was born, Agnes had had 10 pregnancies (that we know of) and was 40 years old. John was 47 years old. Their house was tiny and John earned a tiny sum as a choir leader, salesman of musical instruments and sewing machines, and painter. They were poor by any economic measure. But they were bright, musically gifted and enterprising. A daunting challenge for the younger Skillings.

Verne would have attended primary school and Continuation School in Teeswater as his older siblings had done. Following in their footsteps with probably many of the same teachers, he would have been expected to perform well. No record of his scholastic achievement survives.
We do have some record of his musical achievement. He was considered to be a gifted violinist and by the age of nine, was performing in the Teeswater Methodist Sunday School Orchestra directed by his father John Skilling.

Verne would have taken music lessons at an early age and learned at least two instruments like his older siblings. He seems to have settled on the violin and was said by family stories to have been very talented. By the time he moved to Toronto to work, he was still taking lessons as per his father’s letters chastising him to practice or it wouldn’t be worth paying the $1.00 per lesson.

He met and married Annabelle McMullin in Toronto on April 10, 1922. They were both 21, she, a stenographer, and he, a merchant. (Was he working for Orville?) It may have been a quiet civil ceremony as both witnesses appear to have not been family members and the marriage license shows his religion as Methodist and hers as Roman Catholic.

Verne left home at about age 16 in May 1916 and moved to Toronto where he boarded first with sister Mae at 83 Ellsworth Avenue.


He got a job about a month later with the Royal Bank as an administrative clerk; he says in a letter to his mother dated January 8, 1917:
“I have a lot of work to do since the stationary order came in. I have to stamp up all the statements  and there certainly are a bunch. All the statements need to be stamped ‘Gerrard & Jones’ (the bank branch?) and a lot of work like that. We get our stationary twice a year and get enough at a time to last, so it has to be quite a lot.”

In another letter dated March 18, 1917 Verne says he has been in Toronto almost 7 months and will have been at the bank for 6 months on the 25th of March. He mentions going to Timothy Eaton’s Memorial Church and enjoying Reverend Henderson. He attends a violin concert with brother  Will and sister Mae who seems to have procured the tickets through her contacts. He mentions expecting to be called up for military duty, like his older brothers, as soon as he is of age, in about a year and a half (by then the war was over). He apologizes several times for his bad writing and says he is practising his penmanship every night along with practising his violin.


Verne and Annabelle Skilling
1923

On February 6, 1930 a daughter, Mary Virginia was born to Verne and Annabelle.

To be continued......

Norma Skilling

Agnes Norma Skilling was born in Teeswater, Ontario on July 25, 1896 and officially registered on July 26th. She called herself Norma Agnes although her names were registered in the reverse order. She was the 5th daughter and 9th living child of Agnes Ruxton and John Skilling. Her oldest sister Floss had left home by then and was working as a milliner in Aurora, Ontario. Maude was 16, already teaching music, and away from home a lot.
Norma was always keenly aware of her birth order in the family as one of the youngest. She was treated as a bit of a nuisance by the older ones perhaps simply because she was one of the younger ones. She was surrounded by bright musical older siblings and often felt the comparison and the high standards set. She loved the musical harmony when they all sang together, she along with Maude in soprano. She loved her mother and admired her older siblings, especially Bill and Gert who were very good to her while growing up. By the time Norma was about 10, most of the older sisters and brothers had left home except Bill and Harold. She, as the only girl would have had to help her mother with household chores. Her father was often away conducting choirs or on the road selling musical instruments.
Norma completed her primary and secondary education in Teeswater, Ontario. She must have been a good student because her brother Bill tried to persuade their father to send her to university, though it wasn’t common in those days for women to go. Her father objected as he lacked the means to support her and thought it unnecessary for a woman.

 In 1917 she entered Normal School and lived with her father’s sister Aggie and her husband Richard Offord in Stratford, Ontario. She enjoyed being with Aunt Aggie and studying to be a teacher.
But before she finished her year, at Easter on March 31st, 1918, Norma had an attack of appendicitis and was rushed to hospital for immediate surgery. She developed serious complications from a bowel perforation and gangrene. This required a second operation. Norma was delirious and extremely ill in hospital for a month and did not return to Stratford until late June. She had to write some of her exams in bed but managed to pass.
Her sister Mae paid her board to Aunt Aggie and her fees to Normal School. She also supported and encouraged her to take her exams in bed in a private room of the hospital. Norma passed her exams and began her teaching career September 1918 in a rural one room school on RR#3 in Mildmay, Ontario.
The following summer of 1919 she attended the Summer session at the University of Toronto and received her Interim Certificate in Elementary Vocal Music.
She visited her oldest sister Floss and Will in Neepawa the summer of 1920.
In November 1920 while still teaching in Mildmay, she received her Permanent Public School Second-Class Certificate.
In 1921 Norma’s sister Gert encouraged her to come out to Winnipeg to teach. With her certificates and letters of recommendation from a former Normal School Music teacher, J. Bottomley, and a W. A. Wilkinson, Methodist Pastor from Mildmay who described her as “excellent in character, versatile in gifts, and worthy of the confidence of all”, Norma was able to get a one year Manitoba Teaching Certificate and a contract to teach at River Heights Public School (later renamed Robert H. Smith School) in Winnipeg for which she was paid $1200 for the year. 

River Heights School 1919
Winnipeg School Division photo
She gives her address on the Teacher’s Agreement as 72 Niagara Street, which may have been the Kavaner’s address at the time. During this time she had some success with her vocal music program and discovered her talent for conducting choirs.
After her one year contract with the Winnipeg School District was over, Norma returned to Toronto and taught on an occasional basis until she got a full-time job at Rosedale Public School. Once again her class was singled out in April 1923 for its musical achievement in the local newspaper, Rosedale Topics.
While living in Teeswater, going to the Methodist Church and going to primary and secondary school, she met the Jackson family who were living on a farm just outside of town. One summer around 1910 when she was about 14, Mrs. Jackson asked her to come to their Sauble Beach cottage with them to work as a mother’s helper. Her job was to help with the housework and look after the younger Jackson kids, Irene and Jud.
She got to know the older Jackson boys while at Sauble Beach, if she hadn’t already, and was kind of sweet on Bert at first. Later, Ray won her heart and, when he enlisted in 1916 at the age of 17 (he lied and said he was 18) and went overseas, Norma wrote to him, sent parcels and waited patiently for him to return.  He was wounded in the shoulder on August 30, 1918 and spent a long time convalescing in England in the days before the wonders of penicillin.

When he returned to Canada they were married at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on April 24, 1926 in Toronto. Witnesses were her brother William M. Skilling and Anna J. Thompson. She was 29 and he was 28. Her sister Maude catered the wedding supper for 30 guests. As there was no refrigeration, the plates were all taken down to the cool basement and carried up again for the meal.
Although Norma loved teaching at Rosedale Public School, she was required to resign once she married. In 1926 married women weren’t allowed to teach as the Board believed they were taking a job away from a man who really needed it to support his family.
Norma and Ray were thrilled to be expecting their first child the following year. Barbara Ann Jackson was born on October 30, 1928, a perfectly beautiful and healthy baby girl. Before Norma could take her home from the Toronto General Hospital, Barbara Ann developed an infection. Lacking modern drugs like penicillin, the baby was unable to resist and died 19 days later. They buried her in Park Lawn Cemetery and tried to resume their lives.
Norma was shattered and couldn’t believe what had happened through no fault of her own. She had waited so long for this child. Her anger at the Toronto General Hospital was suppressed. Condolences of disbelief from family and friends poured in and she kept every card and every note. This loss altered her very core and she worried about having more children. She was now 33.
Finally she became pregnant again and, just after her 34th birthday, gave birth to a son, John David on September 25th, 1930. She and Ray were over the moon with joy. She adored him and wanted to do the best for him. She studied the latest theories of infant and child rearing and followed them to a ‘T’, even when it went against her instincts, so committed was she to doing the right thing. 
Four years later a daughter, Rosemary Elizabeth was born on August 24th, 1934 and Ray and Norma were delighted their family was now complete. 
to be continued...