Barker Family 1970sLast week we looked back at my Dad’s Vernon family and their roots dating back to the 1500’s. This week we look at my Mom’s family, The Barkers, and her mother’s family, The Booths by association.

In a stroke of absolute karmic timing this week I was sent several photos from my cousin Joane (Robertson) Medill in Australia while my sister received my great grandfather Robert Winter’s military records from World War I from the National Archives.

Ruthann Barker_youngRuthann (Barker) Vernon, my Mom, is one of seven Barker siblings. She’s a middle child and 70 years old as of this past October. By contrast, her oldest sister, June (Barker) Robertson, turned 80 this past November which found many of us assembling for the first time in a long time on a happy occasion and not a sad one. The running gag with us Barkers when we see each other is to say, “See you at the next funeral. Could be yours. Could be mine.”

It’s a dark and twisted thought, but with most of us over the age of 50 it’s become all too apparent that we’re merely gambling with mortality.
The GrandmasWith that said, the odds are in our favour for a long life rather than a short exit. My grandma, Marjorie (Winter) Barker, lived to the ripe old age of 95 – passing in 2011. Her mother, my great grandma Gladys (Booth) Smithson was 85. They, of course, married into the family so I’m thinking the longevity gene lives in their DNA and not in the Barkers’.
Herbert Barker posedMy grandfather, Herbert Barker, died at 69. He and my grandmother had been estranged for many years so I didn’t know much about him. I remember as a child going to visit the house that the entire 9 member Barker clan occupied at 75 Seymour Avenue near Jones and Danforth Avenues in Toronto. When he passed in 1984 I inherited his 1979 Cordoba and got to see the old homestead one last time to help my aunts and uncles prep it for re-sale.

The place was a lot worse for wear, but was filled with a ton of memories. It was not unlike the place in Jean Sheppard’s ‘A Christmas Story’ – parts of which were filmed not far from this very house because of the neighbourhood’s pre-World War II look. My relatives thought highly of it as well because the family photo archive is filled with pictures of everyone, during various periods, standing on its front steps – including my father who had just started dating my Mom in the late 1950s.

William BarkerHerbert’s father, William Charles Barker hailed from Northamptonshire, England leaving there at the age of 20 to seek a better life in The Colonies. Not long after his arrival he met and married Maggie Docherty Russell. Maggie’s story is a complex one punctuated with a lot of question marks. Apparently, her real father was a doctor and her mother a nurse who both succumbed to a flu pandemic, leaving poor Maggie an orphan. What we do know of her is that the Thomas Russell family adopted her after she was sent to Canada somewhere between the age of 7 and 11 as one of the ‘Home Children’ – a long and tragic line of kids sent to Canada and the USA either as foster children or as a means for their family to make some money by selling them off to people in the New World. Worst case scenario was that these kids ended up as child slaves to adoptive rich, but abusive, patrons in Canada or, like my great-grandma, treated just a little better than the family dog as a farm hand.

Everett BarkerIn this case the farm was near Manila, Ontario – where William Barker had settled. He and Maggie were married in 1906. It’s where my Grandpa Herbert – who was named after one of William’s brothers – was born in 1915. They also had two daughters (Daisy and Pansy) and another son, William Charles “Everett” who would, as family legend has it, be thrown from a merchant ship in a drunken brawl and drown in Lake Erie in 1940. His body was never found.


William Barker_Seagrave England
Old man William was a labourer and worked in and around the Lindsay/Peterborough, Ontario area. The photo below is from a small town in the area called Seagrave where he is seen with a crew of rail workers. William is on the far right. He lived until 1971 – apparently I met him but don’t recall it. Maggie, sadly, died in 1939 at the age of 58.

DONKEYWilliam’s father was Charles Barker of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, England and his mother was Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Aldridge) Barker – originally from Piddington, Northamptonshire, England. Apparently, Lizzie liked to travel and there’s plenty of photos to show that she spent summers with any number of her six children. Witness this shot of her sunning at the beach somewhere in Manchester on a wooden donkey with one of their daughters and a grand daughter.

William_Maggie_Marge_ElizabethBarkerIt’s unknown when she died, but she did manage to visit both William and Maggie before Maggie’s death in 1939 but after my Grandma Marjorie and Grandpa Herbert were married in 1933. We know this because of the picture above (left to right, Marjorie, Maggie, William with Lizzie at the back).

Charles_LizBarker_w_GrandchildrenIt’s possible that Charles and Lizzie lived with William and Maggie in Lindsay, Ontario for awhile as a family photo exists of the Barker Familia in the mid-1920’s showing Grandpa Herbert as a young boy (centre with striped sweater & tie).
Charles_LizBarker-w-unknownCharles Barker was one of seven children born in 1864. His father was Thomas and his mother Rebecca (Watkiss) Barker. She passed in 1923 – but not before this photo was taken of her with Charles and Lizzie.

Prior to this the Barker story is fuzzy and unreliable in the family tree. It appears all the Barker men back through the 18th Century were either named Thomas or George where the roots of the tree are buried before 1775. George became a common name for us modern Barkers. My Mom’s oldest brother is George. My aunt June married a George and their son, my cousin, is also George. Interestingly, there are no Robert Barkers in our line – Bob or otherwise.

Robert WinterEarlier I spoke of Robert Winter‘s military records in World War I. Robert Winter was the estranged father of my Grandma Marjorie. She never really got to know him as my Great-Grandma Gladys (Booth, Winter) Smithson booted his ass to the curb shortly after he returned from the war due to excessive drinking. The extent of his military service as a private (and then Corporal) in the 58th Battalion stationed in France lasted from September 1915 through July 1919 where he was hospitalized four times including once after being wounded in battle (earning him a purple heart) and a court martial for leaving a parade in mid-step and going AWOL. He most probably suffered from what we now know as PTSD. In post World War I we just considered these people drunken bums. He and my Great Grandma finally divorced in 1926.

The Farm1


She would re-marry in 1927 to a farmer named Herbert Smithson near Fenelon Falls, Ontario. In our family archives are shots of various members from her own family – The Booths of Yorkshire, England – and the Smithsons frolicking at a farm known as Sunny Breeze. The photo above is typical of Canadians during the late 1920’s/early 1930’s. I believe Gladys is at the back, second from the left.

Marge_ArthurBooth_1919I highly recommend to everyone out there that you invest in a subscription to Ancestry.com . At least for a month. Contrary to the advertisements on TV, you can’t just ‘start searching’. It requires two pieces of information critical to a search: the names of both of your maternal grandparents or great grandparents. The reason for this is that most government records – especially in Canada – are sealed for 90 years. The Canadian government has finally released the 1921 Census. So any data after this date is pretty much unavailable short of the occasional marriage record. So, pick a name from your family that pre-dates 1920 and you should be able to start assembling your family tree. Others searching and assembling similar trees will then intersect with your own and eventually you will meet people you didn’t know you were related to. Go and see. It’s fascinating looking back at the people we never got to meet but are inextricably linked to…forever.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com


  1. michael t. Says:

    You are very lucky to have archives of your history and had the chance to have met your kin.

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