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People > Scots of Windsor Today > McLennan Family

People: Scots of Windsor Today

McLennan Family:

"Laird & Lady" McLennan
"Dum Spiro Spero
"While I breathe I hope""

~ Motto of the Clan MacLennan

Adele McLennan catalogued her family history in a 500+ page tome entitled A Voyage of Discovery: History & Memories, Skeletons & Mysteries. Completed in 2005 after several years of extensive research, the book contains more than "just names on headstones or in dusty archives;" it is a collection of social, historical, and familial memories. "Family history," writes Adele, "is important to me because it has brought to life those people who have gone before. ... They were human beings whose blood flows through my veins today."

Genealogical research indeed means more than uncovering one's past. As important as the preservation of one's heritage is, the pursuit of one's lineage through all the twisted, tangled ancestral threads is sure to leave a person in awe of how interconnected the peoples of the world are. "We've both come to realize who we are and where we came from," Adele explains in the introduction of her book. "We want [our children] to know what came before them, and to realize that they are of ancient blood, and that our families' migrations span the globe."

Rob and Rachel McLennan in Portobello
Rob and Rachel McLennan in Portobello
The city of Windsor is made up of a diverse mixture of people from all over the world. And although we might not understand the native language of our neighbour, genealogical research has the potential to reveal that we, as members of the human race, are more closely connected than we ever could have imagined. A soldier in the Bedfordshire Regiment of the British Army in the late nineteenth century, for example, founded a family line in India, giving Adele distant relatives on the other side of the globe.

The Solfleet Family

Cecil Alfred Vidler
Cecil Alfred Vidler

Herbert Jesse Vidler was Adele's maternal great-grandfather. A native of Horsmonden, Kent, Vidler met fifteen-year-old Grace Constance Beatrice Newland, a girl of English and Indian descent, while serving in India. They married in 1884 and had six children within ten years. Grace died of remittent fever soon after giving birth to her last daughter, who passed away a month after her mother. Vidler returned to England with his surviving children.

Cecil Alfred, Adele's grandfather, was Herbert and Grace's oldest child. Born in Bellary, India in 1885, Cecil enlisted with the British Army in 1900 and moved into the Ramillies Barracks in Farnborough. Cecil married Adele's grandmother, Margaret Solfleet Imrie, in 1909.

Margaret Solfleet Imrie's Birth Record
Margaret Solfleet Imrie's Birth Record

Margaret's great-grandfather (and Adele's great-great-great-grandfather), William Solfleet, was a master mariner and businessman involved in trade between Jamaica and Britain. A native of England, he eventually settled in Edinburgh, marrying Margaret Raeburn of that city in 1803. Very soon afterwards, however, they were either separated by death or divorce, and in 1814 William was remarried to Eliza Greenfield Whyte, the daughter of close friend and business associate, John Whyte. William and Eliza were married in Tolbooth Parish Church in Edinburgh on 5 October. Between 1818 and 1840 they had six daughters and one son, all of which were born in Saint Cuthbert's Parish, Edinburgh. Their daughter, Jane Brown Solfleet, married James Imrie, a Glasgow clothier and tailor from Dumfries-shire, in 1867.

The Williamson Family

James and Jane's son, James William, married his first cousin on his mother's side, Caroline Jane Williamson, around 1889. However, Adele's attempts to locate a marriage record have been unsuccessful, leading her to suppose that they might have been bound by a "handfasting" ceremony instead. This simple ceremony formed a legally binding contract between a man and a woman, and was performed outside of the church's jurisdiction with two witnesses and an officiator. This ceremony, in which couples only needed to declare their intentions to be husband and was, was considered immoral and invalid in the eyes of the church. Although it was banned in England and Wales in 1754, it remained legal in Scotland until 1940.

Caroline's family had moved to York, England, shortly before she was born in 1864. After she and James were married they continued to reside in that city, where James worked as a tailor. Adele's grandmother, Margaret Solfleet Imrie, was their first child, born at their home on 25 Garden Street, St. Maurice, on 2 March 1890. Sometime before the birth of their second child, Caroline moved to Edinburgh, where she gave birth to Caroline Agatha Williamson Imrie in May 1893. James Imrie left Scotland shortly thereafter, leaving Caroline on her own to care for two young daughters.

The 1901 census showed that family lived in a one-room tenement house at 12 Leith Street Terrace in Edinburgh. A single mother, she worked from home as a dressmaker, augmenting her meager income by acting as a "gentleman's traveling companion" on occasion. This occupation was not synonymous with prostitution, as there were several legitimate reasons why an upper-class gentleman would require a traveling companion in those days. Caroline's duties may have included sewing his clothes, drawing his bath, babysitting his children, or accompanying him to dinner.

Wedding Invitation
Wedding Invitation

Margaret was not yet twenty when she married Cecil Alfred Vidler on Christmas Day in 1909. The ceremony was held at Old St. Paul's Church in Edinburgh and performed by Father A. E. Laurie. Cecil at that time was a lance corporal in the 1st Worcestershire Regiment and stationed at Guadaloupe Barracks in Bordon, Hampshire. Cecil and Margaret (or Maggie) had their first child, Cecil Alfred, in October 1910, and baptized him at the church in which they had been married. Their other four children were all born in the London area: Margaret Solfleet Grace, Adele's mother, was born in 1913 in Willesden; Douglas Menzies was born in 1915 in Marylebone; and Wallace White was born in 1916 in Hampstead. (Wallace's twin, Alastair, died of pneumonia at two months.) Adele recalls her uncle Fred teasing her mother about having been born in England, sometimes referring to her as a Sassenach (a Gaelic expression meaning Saxon, used by Scots as a slur against the English). A letter Cecil wrote to his sister-in-law in 1915 (who had by that time immigrated to Canada) reveals the affection he had for his children: "I am very proud of our Bonnie Bairns, Freddy, Gracie and wee Douglas," he gushed. "Gracie takes after you, you know. She resembles you a great deal. Oh she has such saucy winning ways with her. You would love them all if you could see them. ... You should see Freddy & Gracie, they know your photo and when either Peggy [Margaret] or myself say to them where's Auntie Carrie, they both point to your photo & say Gone away over the water."

In March 1915, the Worcestershire Regiment was subsumed into the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, which commanded the Allied forces at Gallipoli on the Turkish peninsula and Salonika in Macedonia. Cecil then served the C Company of the 6th Battalion with the rank of sergeant and was stationed in Devonport, England, during that summer. After fighting in the Balkans, he was discharged in 1916 for being "no longer physically fit for war service, having contracted tuberculosis – most likely during the Gallopoli campaign. His superior colonel described him as "thoroughly reliable, Steady and Sober, Painstaking and hardworking" on his Character Certificate, and he was awarded the Silver War Badge for his service. His illness, however, kept him from finding steady employment in peace time, and he was only able to take on odd jobs. He was a bank messenger at the time of little Alastair's death and was working as a shipping clerk when he passed away in 1921 from pulmonary tuberculosis. Too impoverished to afford a permanent headstone, Cecil, like his infant son, was buried in a public grave in Hampstead Cemetery in London. Adele and her husband placed a small marker on baby Alistair's grave when they visited Britain in 2004.

Scottish Border Sign
Scottish Border Sign

Margaret suddenly found herself a widow at thirty-one and destitute to the point she had to place her two oldest sons in an orphanage. Unable to sustain any sort of livelihood, she determined that the only way her family could survive was to leave Britain. She took her mother and children aboard the S.S. Melita in early October 1921 and arrived at St. John, New Brunswick, on 16 October. The family continued on to Windsor, Ontario, to seek refuge with her sister Carrie, who was living on Montmorency Street. Margaret was supporting the family with various jobs on both sides of the Detroit River and was able to move into her own house in a short amount of time. Caroline passed away in 1934 and was buried in Windsor Grove Cemetery. Afterwards, Carrie and her husband, Peter Dulea, left Windsor for Alpena, a small Michigan town on the northwest coast of Lake Huron. While Margaret was visiting them, she met Carl Spigelmyre, a widowed farmer who had a large family of his own. They married in 1937.

Adele's mother, Margaret Solfleet "Grace" Vidler, was only eight years old when she made her trans-Atlantic voyage. She attended Patterson Collegiate High School but had to drop out after Grade 11 to care for her ailing grandmother, Caroline. At the height of the Great Depression, Grace and her husband, Ted Austen, relocated to Edmonton where they remained through the Second World War. After their marriage ended, Grace returned to Windsor with their adopted daughter, Elizabeth "Betty" Ann Marie Austen. Shortly after resettling in Windsor, Grace met Ernest Fields, a descendant of Windsor's French pioneer families that settled the area in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

On 27 February 1949, Ernest and Grace were blessed with the arrival of their daughter, Adele Margaret Fields. The family lived on Albert Road in the neighbourhood that had been built up around the Ford Canada plant, where Ernest worked as a millwright.

This new life, however, would not last long: tragedy struck on 15 April 1954 when forty-two-year-old Ernest passed away from complications from pneumonia. Although the family struggled, Adele later recognized that that the poverty they had suffered in post-war Canada was not quite so harsh as what their ancestors endured in the old country: "When I look back, it was not so bad, considering that my grandfather's siblings had to live in a workhouse school, and my grandmother had lived in a one-room tenement as a child."

After Adele graduated from Walkerville Collegiate Institute in 1967 she began working at the University of Windsor Library. This new job allowed her to help her mother with finances and still set aside some savings for herself. In October 1968, she met Rob McLennan, a colleague's neighbour, and the two shared an immediate chemistry. On 18 April 1970, just a year and a half after meeting, they married at Our Lady of the Rosary on Riverside Drive. Three years later they welcomed their first son, Robert Finlay McLennan, Jr. The family grew to include a Scottish terrier named Laddie, who was "not verrra impressed" when his owners brought home Rachel Ann Margaret McLennan in February 1979.

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games
Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

The McLennan Family

The Clan MacLennan historically populated lands in the northwestern part of Scotland. In Gaelic, the surname is rendered Mac Gille Fhinnein, meaning "the son of the follower of St. Finnan." According to tradition, the clan was founded as a result of a feud between the Logans and the Frasers. During a battle at North Kessock, the Clan Logan chief was killed, and his pregnant widow captured by his enemies. When she gave birth to her son, the Frasers broke his back. He became known as Crotair MacGilligorm because of the deformity that resulted from that injury. MacGilligorm was educated by the monks at Beauly Priory in Inverness-shire, and later founded churches at Kilmor, Sleat, and Glenelg. His son, Gille Fhinnein, is the supposed progenitor of the Clan MacLennan.

The MacLennans are recorded as having been in residence at Eilean Donnan Castle before 1263. From there they spread to Strathearn in Perthshire, Kirkcudbright, Dumbarton and Galloway. In Kintail, they lived with their kin, the MacRae, who were granted ten davochs (an ancient land measurement based on how much livestock could be supported) of land by King David II of Scotland in 1342. Both clans were staunch supporters of the Clan Mackenzie of Kintail and were honourable and valued allies of the clan. During the English Civil War, the MacLennans fought for the Covenanter MacKenzies against the Royalist forces led by James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose. They were decimated at the Battle of Auldearn in 1645, fighting until the last man.

For over three hundred years the MacLennans were without an official chief. It wasn't until 1978 that Ronald George MacLennan was recognized by the Lord Lyon King of Arms as the Chief of the Name and Arms of MacLennan.

Rob McLennan's ancestry can be traced back to the MacLennans who settled around the Black Isle in Ross-shire in Moray Forth in the eighteenth century following the defeat at Culloden. His family hailed from Avoch, a fishing village on the south coast of the Isle in a hollow in the surrounding hills. Its story begins with Alexander McLennan, who was born around 1796. In 1821 he married Christian Munro of Cromarty, and worked as the parish tailor. Between 1822 and 1840 they had eight children, including two sets of twins. Christian died some time between 1841 and 1851, and Alexander died before 1861.

Sir William Wallace Memorial
Sir William Wallace Memorial

Their oldest son, John McLennan, was Rob's great-great-grandfather; he married Margaret MacKay, who was already pregnant with their first child, in February 1845. John was a tenant farmer residing in Drum at the time, but eventually was forced to migrate to the Glasgow area to find work. They raised their four children in Coatbridge, a coal town smothered by smoke, ash, and the incessant blare of the blast furnaces. Their first child, Finlay, met Isabella Finnie in that town and married her in 1860 at the Manse of Old Monkland in her native Lanarkshire. Although eight years of marriage passed before they had their first child, they would go on to have seven children within the next twelve years. Finlay and Isabella moved to another house in Coatbridge sometime between the birth of their second and third children, which would have been about 1873. Finlay worked in his wife's hometown as an annealer in the tin works before moving on to the coal mines.

Rob's great-grandfather, Finlay and Isabel's second son, John, married Jane "Jeanie" Ritchie McQueen on the last day of 1901 at her home at 118 Whifflet Street in Coatbridge. John was an iron shingler (an iron worker who operated a steam hammer on wrought iron from the furnace) by trade, and moved to 19 Hozier Street for his new family. Of the five children born to them between 1902 and 1907, only Finlay and his sister Bessie survived..

Twenty-nine-year-old Jeanie was struck by a triple tragedy in the spring of 1908. Her three-year-old son John passed away from meningitis early in February and one month later she lost her husband to tuberculosis. And just a few weeks after she had taken her three small children and moved back in with her parents, she lost her youngest daughter, one-year-old Isabella, to measles.

Burns Night at the Scottish Club
Burns Night at the Scottish Club

Jeanie struggled to raise her remaining children, six-year-old Finlay and three-year-old Elizabeth ("Bessie"). Forced to take a job as a "pit-heid lassie" in the mines, she eventually had to move her family to the squalid Rosehall Rows, "some of the worst houses in the whole of Scotland." As a mine worker, Jeanie performed jobs on the surface such as picking stones from the coal that rolled passed her on a conveyor belt. Little Finlay had to go into the mines as well to help support the family. He was given the job of caring for and feeding the little pit ponies, whose underground lives were as miserable as the miners'. One day, Finlay forgot to put a block in front of the wheel of the coal cart while he was hooking it up to the pony. The pony moved and the car rolled forward, breaking the boy's leg.

Jeanie married a Bellshill coal miner named Thomas Lachlan in 1912. They were married over forty years before Tom passed away in 1953. Jeanie died five years later, and was buried with her second husband in Bothwell Park Cemetery in Bellshill.

Finlay escaped the coal mines when he went to live in Portobello, a beach resort three miles east of Edinburgh. When whalers came to dock in Leith after having spent several months at sea, Finlay earned money by scrubbing their decks. Eventually he got a job as a blacksmith's hammerman (a person who operates a hammer for a blacksmith) and fell in love with a local girl named Catherine Agatha Boyle. Catherine lived with her parents at 52 Bath Street, close to Portobello's beach and promenade; at the time of their 1926 marriage (they were both twenty-four-years-old), Finlay was living just a few doors down at 25 Bath Street.

Finlay and Catherine had their first child, Catherine Honora, one year after their wedding. A short time after that, however, it became obvious to the new parents that a better life awaited them elsewhere. Finlay's sister, Elizabeth, had already left Scotland and was settled in Windsor, Ontario, where she married William Bryson, another Coatbridge immigrant, in 1927. So on 28 April 1928, Finlay left for Canada aboard the Andania and found work with the Chrysler plant in Windsor. Catherine followed with their daughter, setting sail on the Athenia on the last day of summer. Finlay, meanwhile, left Chrysler to work at the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, and finally transferred to the Ford plant on his own side of the border. Although he began his career in the automotive industry performing the most menial of tasks – sweeping floors, painting the stacks of the Ford Power Plant – he eventually worked his way through the company's ranks to become General Foreman of Plants 1, 2, and 5 (the foundry).

Robbie McLennan
Robbie McLennan

Finlay and Catherine had two more children after settling in Windsor, John and Joseph, who was called “Buddy.” After Catherine passed away in 1945, Finlay found solace with Dorothy “Dot” Ward, a war widow whose husband had been killed in the Italian campaign in 1944. On 26 August 1947, Dot and Finlay welcomed Robbie Finlay McLennan into their blended family.

Rob grew up on Josephine Avenue in the West End. While attending W. D. Lowe Technical School, he discovered a passion for subjects such as drafting and electricity. Because of his own background, his father never believed in the importance of education; so Rob dropped out in Grade 11 with the intention of joining the Canadian Air Force. While waiting for his letter of acceptance, Centri-Spray offered him a job as a draftsman. Abandoning his plans to join the military, Rob accepted the job and began his life-long career in the machine tool business. He dedicated nearly forty years to the trade, finally retiring in 2008 form Valiant Machine and Tool.

New Memories

Rob with Ruairidh MacLennan
Rob with Ruairidh MacLennan

Amid the Christmases, birthdays, vacations, graduations, deaths, births, weddings, and more that took place over the years, Rob and Adele never forgot the long histories that tied together to make their present story. In 1998, they made their first trek to the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games, which has since become an annual event for them. At the 2000 games, Clan MacLennan was one of the honoured clans, and Clan Chief Ruairidh "Rury" Donald George MacLennan journeyed from Scotland for the event (he returned in 2005).

Rob and Adele decided to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary with a three-week holiday in Great Britain. After spending some time in England, they crossed the border into Scotland to visit the homes of their grandparents and ancestors. Their first stop was Old St. Paul's Church in Edinburgh, where Adele's grandparent's had been married nine decades earlier. In honour of the history that had come before them, Rob and Adele renewed their wedding vows in that church.

"It was a memorable week, driving around Scotland," Adele said, "and Rob and I knew that this would not be our last visit." Fifteen months later, they returned for a two-week stay. The highlight of the trip for Adele was spotting Sean Connery at the Edinburgh airport, while Rob was thrilled to visit the Old Links Golf Course at St. Andrew's. The excitement of their holiday came to an end, however, with the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11. "We felt numb after that, and it seemed for the most part that we just went through the motions till our flight home."

After Adele was fortunate enough to get an early retirement from the University of Windsor in March 2004, she and Rob celebrated with a return trip to Scotland. While their second visit to their ancestral homeland had been marred by tragedy, their third vacation was a true getaway. They visited a fourth time in September 2007, this time with their daughter Rachel in tow. "It was a special time to have Rachel with us while showing her a bit of Scotland, where some of her ancestry originated," Adele reflected. Not that the McLennan family's appetite for the Auld Country has been satiated with four trips; they look forward to returning to Scotland for the fifth time in the near future. And after that, there will hopefully be a sixth visit, and a seventh....

"Each time we travel there, we experience the same things as so many others who travel to Scotland. We stand on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, look out over the city and we both cry - we know we're "home".  It doesn't matter where we go in the country, we love everything about it and return over and over to various favourite locations: Edinburgh, Skye, Loch Ness, Glencoe, Culloden.  Knowing that our ancestors walked through this land, lived and died here makes it all the more special for us," Adele wrote about her and her husband's love for the country. "Our hearts are there, and we always feel like we are coming home."

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