Life in Canada West 1843

In going through the Miscellaneous Collection, I came across this letter which I found quite moving.

This letter from Francis Willock to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Gray, sadly relays to her the death of her daughter, Margaret. Margaret died days after the still-birth of the Willock’s 12th child. The letter provides a poignant glimpse into the rural life of families in early Canada.

11 Responses to “Life in Canada West 1843”

  1. Marg Wilson Says:

    Thank you so very much for posting this letter. It was written by my GGG grandfather Francis Willock and I had not known it even existed until I happened upon it this afternoon. His daughter, Josephine Willock Nugent, my GG grandmother, lost her husband and she moved to California to manage a fruit farm. I have letters she wrote to my G grandfather regarding their struggles to make the farm work. One letter also shares the news of the death of her youngest son. It is heartbreaking, as is this letter. How these people struggled! I have written a family history and this letter will become a treasured part of it.

    Marg Wilson,

  2. Dan Willock Says:

    I’m Dan WIllock and my GGG Grandfather was also Francis Willock – Marg Wilson (above comment) told me about this letter – a great find! I have in my possession a Willock Family Tree.

    Marg and I have deciphered the letter as per below, which include spelling mistakes (there are still a few words that we can’t figure out!):

    Ops Feb, 1843

    Dear Mother,
    Tis with pleasure I Received yours of 12th Sep last it conveys great consolation to me in the present State of affairs. I am undoubtedly left with a heavy charge but by perseverance and the help of God I hope to be able to fulfill the obligation I am under in bringing up my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; I make it my constant study to provide for their moral and religious as well as their temporal wants to the utmost of my humble abilities, and no more will be required of me when I come to the bars of God’s justice – by course of nature I cannot expect to live many years with them but the time I am spared with them I shall endeavour to train them up in the way they should walk; and when they are old I hope they will not depart from it – we have Devine Service hear every second Sunday by a Presbyterian minister but I am sorry to say it is not well suported – we have a school house within sight of ours I have had four at it all last summer they have made great progress and during the winter I have sent all that can be spared from home since days more are ???? ???? life (less) ????
    In the margin I give you a list of the childrens Births taken from the family register:

    Isabella Born 1st Jan 1819
    Elisabeth do 13 June 1820
    Ann – 29 May 1822
    Mary – 12 Jan 1824
    George – 18 Jan 1826
    David Scott – 22 Feb 1828
    Margrett Fr – 11 Nov 1830
    Josephine – 31 Jan 1833
    John – 18 Jan 1835
    Francis – 25 Nov 1836
    Robert – 15 Aug 1840

    I move forward to give the account of Margretts last illness which is a sorrowful task for me to perform but I give it as persise as I can. She was within three or four weeks of her full time was scared with what is called hear a Rhumatic fever and inflammation accompanied with a difficulty in breathing which made bleeding indespencibly ????? about eight or nine hours after bleeding, Labour came on which did not last many minuts till she was delivered of a still born male child. She spoke a little after being delivered for the space of nine or ten hours, after that she lay in slumber apparently invisible of pain and expired without a struggle. She was interred on the eighth day that she was taken ill – we have had considerable sickness in the family since but thank God we are all well now –
    Dear mother last year about this time we was calculating quite different to what has come to pass we cannot forsee what a day may bring for the more so a year, we had in a large crop and a prospect of having plenty, we planted an orchard in the spring of two hundred and fifty aple trees in summer built a Frame Barn 33 by 50 feet and in harvest I filled it and a good deal over but I will not relize the profits as I expected owing to the field wheat being hurt by the rust I will not have above one hundred bushels to take to markett and the low price of wheat this season is very discouraging but it is no use to whine, we have to take fortune as it comes – we do not know whether we live to enjoy what we have – I shall write you again say about the end of sledging and give a full account of our circumstances.
    We all join in our best wishes for you and family and hope that we will keep up a Friendly correspondence with one another although the chief flower that lay nearest to your heart is blusted by the hand of Death.

    I am
    Dear Mother
    Your affectionate Son
    Francis Willock

  3. Bob Cox Says:

    Howdy Cousins!

    I am Robert Ian (Bob) Cox of Calgary, Alberta.

    Francis Willock was also my GGG Grandfather.

    His son Francis was my GG Grandfather who brought his family to, and settled at, “the Willows” on the Pincer Creek, Alberta in 1883. His daughter Mary married my GG Grandfather, Arthur Edgar (Arthur) Cox, in Fort MacLeod in 1887 and they raised their Family (11 of 13 children) 6 miles west of Pincher Creek.

    Their house is now in The Koonenai Brown Hisorical Village in Pincher Creek.

    My Grandfather, A.E. (Edgar) Cox was born in the house in 1897, my father A.E. Cox (Ed) was born in High River in 1927, he and my Mom, Dorothy Jean (Francis) live in Calgary and I was born here in 1957.

    I was to be ‘Arthur Edgar Cox IV’, but my Mom named me ‘Bob’.

    I married Kimberly Anne Warkentin (born Kimberly Anne Treat in Kansas City, Mo., 1957) In 1991 and our children, Victoria and James were born in 1993 & 1994 in Calgary.

    I think that covers 8 generations…

  4. Bob Cox Says:

    Sorry, they settled at “the Poplars” on Pincer Creek.


  5. oldnbob Says:

    This letter was to Mrs. Gray, the GGGGG (5) Grandmother of my Children.

  6. Dan Willock Says:

    Hi Bob,

    Great to know about another relative!

    Funny, I visited the Cox house at the Kootenai Brown Vlliage museum in November, and was in the Cox house – it was very interesting.

    Do you know a Don Cox? I believe he was a realtor in Calgary, and cousinn of my father Gordon Willock (his Dad was Herb Willock). Don Cox would be in his 60’s or 70’s.

    I have a “Willock Family Tree” book in my possession that I could e-mail you – you and your family are in it. It says you married on March 23rd, 1991, and Victoria and James were born on 12 March and 11 April respectively.


  7. bob cox Says:

    Hello Dan,

    I do not know of a Don Cox, but my Uncle Doug Cox was a realtor in Calgary.

    I saw him an hour ago, today is his 72nd birthday and he was visiting my Mom and Dad and Uncle Fred Cox at their residence in Calgary.

    I left them with a copy of the letter just before you replied.

    Herb Willock was a first cousin to my Grandmother, Mary Margaret McKenzie and my Grandfather, Edgar Cox.

    They shared cousins, but not blood…

    My experience with Willocks is limited to a Cox Family reunion in Pincher in 1966 (I was 9) and I met a very old “Aunt Frankie’.

    She was my Great Grandmother’s sister and may have been a Cook.

    I believe that she was the last of her generation and died shortly after the reunion.

    I remember that they shipped a whole generation of us to the movie theater on the second night and we saw “The Sons of Katie Elder”.

    If you have a digital copy of Willock Family I would really appreciate a copy too:


  8. Dan Willock Says:

    Right…it must have been Doug Cox. I’ll send you a copy of the Willock book.

    Take care,


  9. Liane Kennedy Says:

    I am researching the family of the eldest daughter Isabella Willock’s (also written as Willcock) husband William Robert Dick (1819-1904). They had four surviving children: Margaret Ann Dick (1845-1936) who married John A Ellis, George Dick (b. 1854) who married Agness Morrow, Francis Dick (1852-1930) and John Dick (1854-1927) and two who are known not to have survived infancy. William and Isbaella and the two youngest boys went west to Winnipeg in the mid-1870s. WR Dick’s step-father, William Allen, went with them for a time before returning to Fenelon Falls. If anyone can help me with this branch of the family it would be appreciated.

    Liane Kennedy
    Sturgeon Point History Project
    E: stptphotoproject at hotmail do com

    • Marg Wilson Says:

      I have some info on this family. A few pictures. John was my Ggrandfather’s cousin and best friend and they worked together at a lumber mill on Lake Winnipeg. Let me know what you’re looking for. (

  10. Marg Wilson Says:

    Did you know that in these times they didn’t use envelopes? They folded a letter up and added an address. The recipient paid for the postage.

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