Tuesday Writing Conversation: A treasure from the 1920’s

Note: Footage revised 31/5/2015. It is an amazing gift for me to watch this silent footage of my parent’s wedding, July 25th 1929 at Donlands Farm. The farm stretched way back to the Don River from Don Mills Road, then a two-lane country road on the eastern edge of Toronto.

It is such fun to see all the guests arriving in their distinctive Twenties outfits.

There is my dad, Walter Turnbull, serenely happy standing beside his bride, Victoria Turnbull. As a young man he was quite a rebel. At Stoney Lake in Ontario, he would go out in the family canoe alone, give a great war-whoop and fall overboard backwards just to scare his poor mother. There was one apple tree in the backyard at the home of his parents in Peterborough, Ontario where his dad owned the local hardware store. When the Baptist minister opened the basket of apples from Mr Turnbull, he found an indignant bite had been taken out of each one.

Later my dad and his brothers built an orphanage in India during the great famine. His first wife died in childbirth after their return on the long voyage home from India. He went on foot through South America looking for locations for missions, then became Dean of men at Nyack, the headquarters of the Christian Missionary Alliance.

My grandmother still could not quite believe that this famous man — who had spoken from platforms across the US and Canada – was about to marry her rebel daughter Victoria, who wanted to wear bloomers on Sunday of all things. Grandmother, whom we see in her distinctive peaked hat, insisted the wedding be a quiet one, out at the farm, no white dress or long train for this bride. The minimum of fuss, which suited my mother to a T. Later my grandmother would go three times on that long ocean voyage to India, where she was supporting medical services for women, along with her surgeon-daughter, my aunt Evelyn.

We also catch glimpses in the film of my uncle Russell, then still a stockbroker in New York, dapper uncle Murray and their brother Goldie. There are the blissfully engaged couple, Agnes, my aunt, and her fiancée Eric Bentley.

A very special moment in time. My parents spent their honeymoon in Quebec, part of it on the Peribonka River, which later provided the name for their cottage on Lake Simcoe, where I enjoyed many happy days as a child. Mother and Dad made their home in Nyack, New York where they bought a house, and Dad continued his work as the much-loved teacher who thought nothing of the occasional pillow-fight with his students. He had found a whole radio station on a Russian ship, established it in New York, and used it to broadcast a message of faith, hope and love to South America.

Faith, Hope and Love – these themes resonate for me as I watch this film — this eternal moment in time. This footage is the closest I have ever come to seeing my dad alive, as others saw him. Ten months later, my mother was four months pregnant with me when she received the news in the middle of the night that dad had been killed instantly in a car crash.

At crucial times in my life I have felt his presence. Most notable was an occasion when I was suddenly called on to speak to a large and intimidating audience in England following my husband Neil. Shaking in my boots, I walked up the steps to the platform. Suddenly I knew exactly how dad felt — as though I was standing in his shoes. I was able to handle the microphone with ease, and was told afterwards I had riveted my audience.

Not long ago, I was shown a letter that my mother wrote her brother Goldie at the time of dad’s death. In it she wrote of her determination not to go under, and her sense of a spiritual strength being given. She ended with the words “grateful beyond measure”. I can only repeat those words as I think of the enduring legacy left to me by both my parents, faith, hope and love.

Catharine Fleming McKenty


  1. 1
    ssstephaniep Says:

    This is really a treasure !! It must be very special for you to see this video !! If I could see my parents wedding, like this, I know I would be emotional. Our family history is, for all, a deep feeling of being part of something that came before us but also will live on after us !! Lots of love xx

  2. 2
    Joanne Says:

    This is amazing. I never thought I would ever see footage of these people when they were young. I recognize a few of them…but I need help figuring out who a lot of them are. Thanks for posting, Cath!

  3. 3

    I found it uplifting to be with Catherine McKenty ,a family friend who I took her to the railway station and who shared some of her life and times story and i hope I didnt exhaust her and tire her by my questiosn as I also shared some of my life experiences with her.
    At age 85,nearly 85,she has her wits about her and I said to her she would be a good fund raising speaker or after dinner speaker and inspire lots of folks with her life and times and experiences and ups and down of life.Indeed,if she had lived in Uk,I would have definately requested her to a fundraising event to promote veganis or raise fund for an animals sanctuary even though she may not be avgean or vegetarian.Jai ho.

  4. 4
    ssstephaniep Says:

    Reblogged this on Exchange and commented:

    Here is a repost from May 26, 2015
    A treasure to see

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