“I was toilet trained at 8 months (if only the next 70 years had been that simple)”
The following is the text of my remarks at the wonderful Farris Family reunion held in Vancouver June 10, 2012:
My name is Bruce Mackenzie Farris Housser . . . and you . . . you are my people.
It is important that clans, tribes, families such as ours gather periodically to examine our common history, to figure out ‘where do I fit in?’ To understand and appreciate our . . . our Farris-ness, those family traits that make us unique.
Let me start by expressing, on behalf of everyone here, our great gratitude to our cousins: Donald Farris, Heather Shemilt, and Haig Farris whose generosity and hard work have made this Farris reunion a reality. Thank you!
I am not going to speak long, but there are a couple of matters I’d like to touch on. I apologize in advance if I leave out names of people such as you or your favorite uncle. You see, I have vowed to speak only about things I know . . . which is unusual for me, but that might help ensure brevity.
I am a Housser and equally a Farris. With those names, in this city, you might mistake me for a lawyer, but . . . no, I come from the sandwich making side of the family – the ‘trade’ side, if you will – as did my grandfather.
Bruce Farris was the only one of the four Farris brothers who was not a professional: Hugh was a doctor; Wendell and Wallace became lawyers. but Bruce never went to college. He left home at the age of 17 and traveled by train to the west coast where he got a job in his cousin Ernest Purdy’s bank in Bellingham.
Just think about that: the year was 1899 (Canada was only 32 years old) and this 17 year old boy leaves the little village of White’s Cove on Grand Lake and travels across the entire continent and settles on the west coast. And, after two years of working in the bank, he had saved enough money to pay for his brother Wallace’s fare. And soon after that he was able to bring Wendell too.
By 1915 Bruce had moved from banking to the lumber business, married Katharine Hadley, had their first child, my mother Louise, and then they moved to Vancouver.
If it weren’t for Bruce Farris we might be holding our reunion in a club in Fredericton or Saint John. But Bruce blazed the trail to the west, and then he and Wallace and Wendell put down roots here and set about making their mark in British Columbia – and they did make their marks! The remarkable success of these three Farris brothers is well known: Wallace, cabinet minister and senator, Bruce, a leader in the all important BC lumber industry, and Wendell, Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court.
So one of the things we are celebrating today is the vision and success of the three brothers who came west: Bruce, Wallace and Wendell.
As for Hugh Farris, the brother who remained in New Brunswick, it seems old uncle Hugh had a trick or two up his sleeve. Although he had never married, he had fathered a child out of wedlock in 1917. None of us knew anything about this until two weeks ago today when we tracked down one of Hugh’s great grandchildren, and discovered a new, large branch on the Farris Family Tree. We are still very much in the process of getting to know our New Brunswick cousins. Pretty much all the information we have is on the Farris family blog, and I encourage you to take a look if you haven’t already done so.
So, I think a toast is in order: To Uncle Hugh and our new New Brunswick cousins.
Now let’s talk about Farris women, I’m kind of partial to Farris women, not only those who were born into this family but, perhaps more important, those gutsy women who chose to join the family through marriage. You all know who you are and which category you fall into – either genetic or gutsy – so I will only mention a few names:
- Evlyn Fenwick Keirstead, married to Wallace – a bright, university educated, enlightened woman whose life is well chronicled in an inspiring biography which you can borrow from just about any Farris female
- my grandmother Katharine Hadley married to Bruce – also university educated. Kathie Farris or Baba as we called her was the kindest, most generous person I have ever known
- Katie Baird, married to Wendell – what a character! Many of the elders here today were lucky enough to have known Katie. Afterwards seek out some of the grey heads and ask them to tell you Aunt Katie stories. In fact, ask me about her father’s magic elixir, which was sold as H. Paxton Baird’s Balsam of Horehound. You can still buy an original bottle of this cure-all liniment on eBay today.
- Clara Bessie Jamieson – the mother of the New Brunswick branch who, for reasons unknown, chose not to marry into our family – under the circumstances, perhaps the gutsiest move of all
- Betsy Farris Ballard, Bruce and Kath Farris’s youngest daughter and now the ranking elder of our tribe. Betsy and I share one trait – we’re never hampered by lack of facts. If we don’t know something, we’ll fake it. I’ve pretty well always been like that; but it’s something that has only come on Betsy lately.
- Patsy Goddard Farris, Dick’s wife. I have known Patsy since the day I was born. I was old enough to be saddened when she returned to England in 1944. I was ecstatic when Dick returned to Vancouver in 1947 with Patsy as his bride, I cannot imagine our family without Patsy’s calm beauty and stylish presence.
- finally, and I won’t get any thanks for this, my sister Katharine Kennedy Housser, the family’s most recent college grad. Kathie got her Master of Arts at Memorial University just ten days ago at the age of 66. Kate, I am so proud of you.
So today, in addition to the founding brothers, we also celebrate the women of the Farris family – truly a force to be reckoned with.
I’d just like to take a minute to clear up some confusion as to which branch of the family has the rights to the name ‘Grampoo’. I’ve almost come to blows with Wendy Porteous about this. I believe that it was I who coined that somewhat silly name just after my first birthday. Patsy Farris recalls overhearing one side of a 1943 telephone conversation between Wallace and Bruce that went something like this:
“Well Wallace, if you must know, Little Bruce has taken to calling me Grampoo . . . no, not Pa . . . it’s Poo! Gram . . . POO! Well I’m glad you think it’s funny. What do yours call you? Really? Your grandchildren call you Senator? Well that certainly makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. You tell those grandchildren of yours what Little Bruce calls me. Maybe you can be a Gram . . . POO too.”
I’ve had a lot of fun in the run up to this reunion, re-connecting with family members like cousin Ann and cousin Wendy whose names I had heard whispered reverently but whom I can’t recall ever meeting. Dealing with my cousin Heather Shemilt whom I had never even heard of until the invitation arrived and I found myself co-opted onto the Blog editorial board; and collaborating with Dick Ballard, whom I have known forever has been sheer pleasure.
My name is Bruce Mackenzie Farris Housser . . . and you are my people . . . and that makes me so proud.