Alexander Gowan's signature

On this day in 1914 Alex Gowan, a machinist, signed up in Valcartier, Quebec. He was born on January 5, 1894 in Deseronto, the son of William Gowan and Sarah (née Stewart).

On his attestation paper Alex was described as being five feet and seven inches tall, with a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Gowan had previously served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps for one and a half years. His regimental number was 26656.

After the war Gowan worked as a chauffeur. He married Tera Evelyn Miles in Ottawa on October 4th, 1923.

Jack Martin's signature

On this day in 1914 Jack Martin joined up in Valcartier, Quebec. He was born on June 11, 1893 in Deseronto, the son of William Martin and Harriet (née Salter). He attended Deseronto High School but by 1911 was living with his mother and brother in New Westminster, British Columbia.

On his attestation paper Jack was described as being five feet and nine inches tall, with a dark complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. Martin  joined the 7th Battalion (British Columbia Regiment), No. 4 Company, with the regimental number 17142.

It was a full house at Deseronto Public Library this afternoon, as author Frances Itani launched her new novel, Tell, to an appreciative audience of more than fifty people.

Frances Itani talking to a full house at Deseronto Public Library

Tell is a follow-on story to Deafening, the author’s first novel, which was published in 2003. Like Deafening, Tell is based in Deseronto, and it follows the story of four of the characters from the first book. It is set in the period immediately following the end of the First World War. Frances made excellent use of the archives here in Deseronto in her research for the book and we were delighted to host her first stop on the promotional tour.

Frances Itani signing copies of 'Tell'

And we are pleased to report that every copy of Tell was snapped up by the audience!

Queen's WWI - MacTavish, Roswell Murray

Roswell Murray MacTavish – image courtesy of Queen’s University Archives

Roswell ‘Ross’ Murray MacTavish was born on September 22, 1888 in St. George, Ontario, the son of William MacTavish and Margaret (née McKay). His father was the Presbyterian minister of Deseronto between 1895 and 1905 and Ross attended both the Deseronto Public School and Deseronto High School.

He studied at Queen’s University, getting his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1907 and a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1913. He had obtained a travelling scholarship and was in England at the outbreak of World War I. On this date in 1914 he enlisted as a trooper in the 2nd King Edward’s Horse regiment. He obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment on March 13th, 1915.

MacTavish was the first person with a Deseronto connection to join the armed forces in the First World War. He rose to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Military Cross on January 1, 1919.

MacTavish continued to serve in France after the war, working at the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Brigade. He died of influenza in the No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Arques on February 6, 1919 and was buried in the Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery, Saint-Omer.

Ross MacTavish’s younger brother, Wilfrid, named his son (born in Saskatchewan in 1919) Roswell Murray. Roswell Murray MacTavish junior joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War as a flying officer and was killed when his Hurricane aircraft crashed in Scotland on March 18th, 1944. He was buried in Ayr cemetery.

Tell by Frances ItaniThe Deseronto Public Library and Deseronto Archives are delighted to announce that they will be hosting the launch of Frances Itani’s new novel, Tell on Thursday, August 28th at 1pm in the Deseronto Public Library.

Tell follows on from the author’s first novel, Deafening, which was partly set in Deseronto. It picks up on four of the minor characters from Deafening and follows their stories in Deseronto after the First World War.

After a reading from the novel, books will be available for signing by the author. Refreshments will be served.

Armies of Europe at a glance

Armies of Europe at a glance from the The Sun, New York, August 2nd, 1914: Russia, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, England, Serbia

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of war by Great Britain on Germany in response to the German invasion of Belgium on that day. At 11pm Greenwich Mean Time that evening (6pm Eastern Standard Time), Britain and its Dominions (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa) were officially at war. You can hear about people’s memories of their reactions to the declaration in this podcast from the Imperial War Museum.

During the next four years we will be marking the 100th anniversaries of local events in relation to the war on this blog. We plan to commemorate the enlistment and conscription of individual Deseronto and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory men, women, and boys, their deaths in action and from disease, as well as events associated with the local Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force pilot training establishments at Camps Rathbun and Mohawk, which operated between 1917 and 1918.

Our aim is to use archival materials from Deseronto and from around the world to demonstrate the local effects of a global war.

If you have photographs, or letters, or family stories about the First World War in Deseronto and the surrounding area, we’d love to share them here as part of this project: you can email us at

Estella Burkett was a teacher at the Deseronto Public School. She was born in Maynooth, Ontario in 1913 to Agnes Shields and Patrick Burkett. The picture below shows her with her class of children in 1949, outside the old Public School building. Estella retired in 1974 and lived in Belleville until her death in 2010 at the age of 97.


Estella did a considerable amount of travelling in her vacations and she donated some of her photographic materials and notes about her excursions to the Deseronto Archives in 2004. These materials include some photographs taken on a trip to Berlin in 1955, ten years after the end of World War II and six years before the city was divided by the construction of the Berlin Wall. Estella took photographs of the monuments her tour group visited, including this image of a statue of Joseph Stalin, which was removed in 1961 and melted down.

Statue of Stalin

She also photographed the Brandenburg Gate, which would be isolated by the Berlin Wall six years later and impassable until the Wall’s destruction in 1989. The damage caused to the Gate during the Second World War is visible in this image.

Brandenburg Gate 1955

These photos are good examples of the way that small local collections can be unexpected sources of information about entirely different parts of the world. It’s not until we dig into the boxes and do the work of describing the materials, that it becomes possible for everyone else to see what is in them.


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