In autumn 1895 Rory A. Merkin left his widowed Mother and 13 siblings in County Mayo, Ireland and stowed to Liverpool. After working for 2 years as a docker with The Allen Line/Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, he was determined to leave his life of extreme poverty and emigrate to Canada. He took a job shoveling coal on the passenger ship SS Vancouver. The year of his departure, 1897 was a particularly trying time for him, as the Liverpool FC finished 9th in the English Division One – with Sheffield finishing first.
The journey was not without tragedy, after 6 days at sea, the ship was stricken with a Small Pox outbreak. 20% of the crew and passengers were lost and buried at sea. Mr. Merkin’s duties tripled and potentially formed his aversion to dampness and coal. (Autumn house was one of the first in Sunalta to be converted to natural gas after the Turner Valley discovery in 1914.) It is also rumoured that Mr. Merkin and Rudyard Kipling, during an all night kitchen discussion coined the term “All Hell for a Basement”. This event occurred in the original kitchen of Autumn house.
Eventually the SS Vancouver arrived in Halifax. Mr. Merkin again found work as a dock hand and within a few months, met his 17 year old bride Demelsda. They rented a small apartment on Argyle Street. Having heard of the new prosperity out West, Mr. Merkin set out to find a homestead (this trend of moving from East to West continues today). Quickly realizing that he very much disliked dirt and seeds, he continued on through the Prairies, eventually landing in Calgary where he set to work building a home at 1717 – 13th Avenue West. The house was completed and occupied in 1911.
His intention was always to return to Halifax and bring Demelsda to their new home and future. However, before he could make the journey she fell ill with the Consumption. Her condition deteriorated rapidly and was further complicated when she was bitten by a rabid wharf rat, causing infection and lock jaw. She was placed into a sanatorium with hundreds of others. There were few amenities so she turned to creating needlepoint sheets, selling her work for a meager living. It was a fateful yet merciful day on December 6, 1917 when she felt well enough to set out to purchase a Hudson’s Bay Blanket for warmth in the cold dank hospital. This of course, was the cruel day of the Halifax Harbour explosion, Demelsda tragically perished in that event.
Mr. Merkin, heartbroken and a shattered shell of a man, retreated inside his home and was rarely seen. His final gesture of love to Demelsda was to name the house after her favourite season …
The Allan Line/Montreal Ocean Steamship Company
The Allan Line, more properly the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, was founded in 1854 and began sailing in 1855. They continued to sail until about 1911 when negotiations with the Canadian Pacific Line took place. The company was merged with CP and became known as the Canadian Pacific Ocean Services Limited in 1915. However, it was not until 1917 that an official announcement of the merger finally became public.
Fares in 1855 were 18 guineas outwards and $80 homewards. They sailed from Quebec at 9 A.M. every alternate Saturday and from Liverpool on Wednesdays.
The SS Vancouver:
Although a great favourite with passengers, she had several mishaps during her long career. In August 1890 she struck and iceberg near Belle Isle during fog but escaped with little damage. Three months later her commander and a quartermaster were swept overboard and drowned during a storm. In November 1894 she was stranded at the entrance to Lough Foyle, Northern Ireland, and had to be towed to Liverpool for repair. Finally, in 1896 she was involved in a head-on collision with the Beaver liner ‘Lake Ontario’ in the St. Lawrence. The Beaver ship’s clipper bow prevented critical damage to either ship but the ‘Vancouver’ was out of service for three months.
In 1902 the old ‘Vancouver’, with the rest of the Dominion Line fleet, came under the control of the American J.P. Morgan’s International Mercantile Marine. In 1910 after over twenty years of regular service on the St. Lawrence, she was sold to ship breakers and scrapped.
All Hell for a Basement
It’s been 100 years since Rudyard Kipling visited Medicine Hat and claimed it had “all Hell for a basement.” Observing a vibrant economy and natural gas streetlights burning 24/7, Kipling’s metaphor described the reserves of natural gas that underlay the city. Since his visit, Kipling’s “basement” in southeastern Alberta has been jackhammered with tens of thousands of low-productivity shallow gas wells.