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People > Scots of Windsor Today > Urquhart Family

People: Scots of Windsor Today

Urquhart Family:

"We did not see the Castle Craig so we started to drive along the Cromarty Firth. ... We thought we saw it, so we asked a farmer who was working at the side of the road and we asked him if that was Castle Craig and he said it was. We told him we were Urquharts from Canada and he said 'So you've come home, have ya?'"
~ Linda and Brian Urquhart's travelogue
Linda & Brian Urquhart
Linda & Brian Urquhart

Linda Urquhart, former Director of Registrarial Services at the University of Windsor, has been involved in genealogical research since her 2004 retirement. Together with her husband Brian and other family members, she has been working to uncover their extensive family history. Brian's cousin, Robert Jeffrey Urquhart, had already been involved in Urquhart family genealogy for some time, and chronicled it in his book Urquharts of North American, Volume IV: James Urquhart of the River Thames. Brian's cousin, Anne Reaume, has researched the French line of the family, and Linda's uncle, Al Allison, completed a great deal of research on the Murray and Davidson lines.

Linda and Brian have been working to make their family history more vivid by collecting pictures of their ancestors and the places they lived. During their 2005 tour of Great Britain, they were able to visit many of the villages that their ancestors had inhabited.

Laing Family History

Linda Urquhart's maiden name was Laing; her great-great-great grandfather, a farmer named Robert Laing, left Ancrum parish, Roxbourghshire, Scotland, around 1850 and settled in the Perth area of Upper Canada. Robert was born around 1796, and married Agnes Ovens in 1821. The daughter of Andrew Ovens and Agnes Fairbairn of Saint Boswells, Roxbourghshire, Agnes passed away at the age of forty-nine, five years before her husband left their native country. She had given Robert six children during their first thirteen years of marriage: Robert (1822), Andrew (1825), Agnes (1827), Margaret (1829), James (1831), and John (1834).

A year after the death of his first wife, Robert got remarried to Jean Douglas, who was one year shy of thirty. They were only married for four years (and had two children, Douglas and William, together) before they decided to seek better opportunities in Upper Canada. Robert and Jean settled in South Dumfries Township in Brant County. Jean gave birth to their first daughter, Jane, soon after they arrived in their new home, and bore their second daughter, Beatrice, before the year was over. The Laings had two more children together (George, born 1855, and Thomas, born 1857), who ventured out to Manitoba when they were grown. Their oldest son, Douglas, became a Baptist clergyman and moved to Kingston; William remained in Perth as a carpenter.

Robert Laing's four oldest children by his first wife were in their twenties and married when he and his second wife departed Scotland with their two young sons. His second youngest son by Agnes, James, was nineteen, too young to be married but old enough to stay behind. Only sixteen-year-old John accompanied his father and stepmother across the Atlantic.

Andrew Laing, second son of Robert and Agnes, joined his father in Canada ten years later, settling in Port Dover, Norfolk County. Andrew and his wife, an English woman from Northumberland named Jane Ellison, brought their son Joseph and their nephew William with them. William was the son of Andrew's sister, Agnes, and her husband, Thomas Mills. When Agnes passed away soon after giving birth to her child, Andrew and Jane took him into their home and raised him as their own. William adopted the Laing name and became quite successful in Canada as a grain merchant. In 1911 he was working seventy-hour weeks from his home and bringing in six hundred dollars a week.

Andrew Laing worked as a miller until retiring in 1871. After his wife passed away in 1890, he left Port Dover and settled in Woodhouse Township, South Norfolk County, where he died in 1898 of blood poisoning.

Joseph Laing, the son of Andrew and Jane, moved to Ridgetown, Ontario after marrying Mary Alice Martin, a Simcoe native. He worked as a tinsmith and died in 1921 of Bright's disease. Joseph and Mary had four children together, all of which were born in Ridgetown. Robert Douglas, the oldest, was born in 1877 but died at the age of five; Arthur Garfield, grandfather of Linda Urquhart (1881-1960); Joseph Percival (1885-1930); and Thomas Earl (1891-1918).

Linda's grandfather, Arthur Garfield Laing, married Lulu Mary Parsons, a Simcoe County native, in 1902. In the 1910s the Laings moved to Detroit with their young son, Joseph Garfield, so that Arthur could take a position in an automotive factory. Arthur and Lulu had five more sons while in Detroit. Linda's father, Harold Clayton, was the youngest, born in 1918.

Linda's Motherís Birthplace
Linda's Motherís Birthplace

Lulu died at the young age of forty-five in 1926. Arthur got remarried to Katherine Dunn of Anderdon Township three years later and returned to Amherstburg with his new wife and younger children. Harold Clayton married Margaret ("Peggy") Charlotte Murray in November 1940 in her home on Caron Avenue in Windsor. The twenty-two year old was a native of Duns, Berwickshire, and had immigrated to Windsor with her parents during the inter-war years. The Laings spent all their lives in Windsor; Harold passed away in 1991, and Peggy lived until 2006. They had two children, Gerald "Jerry" Arthur, who was born in March 1943, and Linda, born January 1946.

"We just toured grounds [of Scone Palace] ... and visited the abbey ruins with the old graves - they were all Murrays who were the lords of this area. According to a man who worked there, Murray is a Scottish name and no matter where they were born, they descended from Scots."
~ Linda and Brian Urquhart's travelogue

Linda, a sixth-generation Scots-Canadian, married Brian Larry Urquhart in May 1971 in Assumption Church in Windsor. Brian, a Chatham native, comes from a long line of Urquharts, the first of which appeared in Sandwich in the 1780s.

Urquhart Family History

Ruins of Castle Urquhart
Ruins of Castle Urquhart

The Urquhart name is quite prevalent in the Black Isle area of Scotland in the Cromarty district. Chiefs of the Clan Urquhart were Barons and hereditary Sheriffs of the county since the Wars of Scottish Independence, and claim that their line was founded in the time of Saint Columba. The name Urquhart is of ancient Gaelic origin, believed to be derived from either Airchartdan or Urchard, the name of the land in the sixth century. This has been variously translated as "upon a rowan wood", as copses of rowan trees are common in Glen Urquhart, and "fort on the knoll," an allusion, perhaps, to Castle Urquhart and/or the Neolithic forts upon which the castle was built. The name was first recorded in the thirteenth century in a Royal charter by which King Robert I granted William de Urchard of Cromarty, one of his most loyal supporters, permission to build Cromarty Castle.

According to legend, Conachar Mor founded the Clan Urquhart "in the days when wild boar, wolves, and bears still roamed the Scottish Highlands." The mighty warrior ruled over the swathe of land near Inverness on the northwest shore of Loch Ness. A scion of the Royal House of Ulster, Conachar became a local folk hero after he and his faithful hound, An Cu Mor, "slew a ferocious wild boar that had long terrorised the Great Glen." 1 The heraldic achievement of the Chief of Clan Urquhart reflects Conachar's feat of valor with an image of a boar's head.James Urquhart was born around 1746 in Scotland. Thus far, Brian and Linda have not determined his parentage or place of birth, but suppose he hailed from the Cromarty area where the Urquhart name is rampant. As aforementioned, James first appeared in documentation as a merchant in the 1780s. In 1786 he married Genevieve Drouillard, daughter of a prominent French pioneer family, despite their religious differences (he belonged to the Free Kirk of Scotland, while she was Roman Catholic). James and Genevieve lost three boys in their infancies before their family began to grow. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Urqhuarts moved to Dover Township with their five young sons and one daughter - all of whom had been baptized at Assumption Church - and had three more daughters after that.

James' and Genevieve's children remained in the Western District and married other Roman Catholic Highlanders or French settlers. (Their daughter Frances Agatha joined the prominent Baby family by marrying Edmond Baby, son of Francois Baby and Frances Abbot, in Assumption Church in 1824.) The second generation of Canadian-born Urquhart descendents, however, began to spread into the United States; today, eight generations of Urquharts are scattered across North America. Brian Urquhart's direct ancestors, however, remained in the Western District to farm the rich soil of Kent County. Alexander C. Urquhart (1798-1860), son of James and Genevieve, married Tilbury native Gene Desloges in 1822 and had seven children with her, the first of whom was Alex Urquhart, Brian's great-great-grandfather. Alex (1823-1900) married Natalie Goudreau around 1850, and had eight children between 1851 and 1871. The fifth child, Frederick Edward Urquhart (1863-1936) wed Mary David in 1884. In 1890 they had Henry "Harry" James Urquhart, who married Olive Marie Yott in 1911. Brian's father, Edward Charles Anthony Urquhart (1921-1989) was the ninth of fifteen children they had over the course of their twenty-year marriage.

Ed grew up on the Urquhart farm in Dover Township on 8th Concession off Prince Albert Road. Tragedy threatened the large family, however, in August 1932 when Olive passed away, leaving her husband to care for their fifteen children that ranged in age from twenty to two. Of those fifteen, only their oldest daughter, Margaret, was married and living on her own. The children were separated by economic necessity, with twelve-year-old Ed being sent to live with relatives in Dresden. At the age of eighteen he went to work in the city of Chatham at Beaver Lumber, where he learned the ins and outs of the lumber industry.

In Chatham, Ed met Mary Reaume, daughter of city councilman and businessman Martin Alphonse Reaume. They were married in 1942; he was twenty-one and she was nineteen. They spent their early married years in an apartment on King Street before building their first home on Warwick Drive in Orchard Heights. Ed continued to work at Beaver Lumber and spent his leisure time with the local baseball and curling teams. The young Urquharts passed many summers at Mitchell Bay on their boat, Lady Luck, where Ed enjoyed hunting and fishing while the children explored the landscape. The family of seven moved to Wallaceburg in the early 1950s, where Ed managed the new Beaver Lumber Yard until the middle of the decade. In 1957, the family (which had an additional two members), moved to Windsor, where Ed worked at Matthews Lumber Yard. The Urquharts settled on Chilver Road across from Willistead Park in Walkerville, and made their last addition to the family in 1963 with their eighth child.

Ed became the regional sales representative for Dashwood Windows and continued at Matthews until his 1986 retirement. Unfortunately, he was not able to enjoy much of his new life, and needed open heart surgery in 1987. He passed away two years later.

Brian Urquhart was the first child born to Ed and Mary. He met his wife in 1968 as a student at the University of Windsor, where Linda was working in the Registrar's Office. One of Linda's friends was dating Brian's roommate at the time, and introduced the two to each other at the Bridge House, a popular university hang-out. Although Brian had a busy schedule (he was financing his education with a part-time job at Chrysler and keeping in shape with the rugby club), he made plenty of time for Linda. The pair was engaged a year later, and got married on 8 May 1971 at Assumption Church. "It is so appropriate that we started our married life at Assumption Church where Brian's ancestor, James Urquhart, had his first children baptized [in the 1780s and 90s]," Linda said. Neither she nor her husband were aware of this piece of history when they said their vows, however, only having been involved with genealogical research since their retirement.

Visit with Davidson Cousins
Visit with Davidson Cousins

Linda and Brian have reconnected with many long-lost family members since beginning their pursuit of their family history. Linda's maternal grandmother, "Dee Dee," left many relatives in Duns when she and her husband immigrated to Canada, for instance. The Davidsons still live in that city, and Linda and Brian visited some of their extended family when they traveled to Scotland in 2005.

Their travelogue from that vacation can be viewed on Linda's website at the University of Windsor
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Davidson Family History

Linda's mother's family hailed from Duns, Berwickshire. The Davidsons can trace their ancestry back ten generations to Whittingham, Northumberland, where William Davidson was born around the turn of the eighteenth century. The Davidsons continued to reside in Northumberland; Linda's great-grandfather, James Davidson, was born in Norham, Northumberland in 1849, and migrated to Duns as a young man to find work. There he met Margaret Mack, daughter of Robert Mack and Mary Cowe, and married her in 1878. James and Margaret's daughter, Mary "Dee Dee" Cowe Davidson (1891-1966) married Roy O'Neill Murray in Edinburgh in 1915 before he went overseas with the British Army.

After Roy returned from the war in 1918, Mary "Dee Dee" Cowe became pregnant with their first child, Margaret "Peggy" Charlotte Murray. But as the years wore on, Scotland's economic climate worsened. When Mary became pregnant with their second child in May 1924, there were no signs of improvement. Lowland industry was collapsing; unemployment was becoming rampant; the cities were gripped with labour disputes. The family examined its options and decided that emigration was the best choice.

Roy left Scotland in August to find work in North America, taking a job with Ford in Detroit as an auto mechanic. In early October 1925, Mary arrived at port in Quebec City with six-year-old Peggy and ten-month-old Mary Alice in tow. Mary, however, wasn't able to immigrate to the United States, so Roy eventually quit his job at Ford and began working at Wilkinson's shoe store across the river in Windsor, where the family had settled into its new home on Caron Avenue.

As poor as things had been in Scotland, the situation in Canada wasn't much better. The family of four expanded to a family of six with the arrival of Patricia in 1929 and Geraldine Elizabeth in 1931, forcing the Murrays to stretch their scarce dollars even further. The family struggled through the Great Depression, and, like many other families, had to resort to government assistance.

The depression was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Being an avid military man, Roy had enlisted with the Essex Scottish during peacetime in the 1930s and volunteered for active duty once Canada entered the war in 1939. He dreamed of returning to Britain, but it was not to be: he suffered a heart attack at the training facility in Ipperwash, Lambton County, and had to spend the remainder of the war in Canada as a training officer. "It broke his heart not to get overseas," Peggy remembered. "He just wanted to get back to his homeland." Heart problems continued to plague Roy thereafter; while dancing at a Christmas Party in 1949, he suffered a heart attack and died on the spot at the young age of fifty-six. Dee Dee, lacking the resources to continue living on her own, moved in with her oldest daughter in 1956.

Harold with his Children
Harold with his Children

Peggy was married and had two children, Jerry and Linda, when her mother came to live with the family in their three-bedroom, one-bathroom Ellrose Avenue home. Her father-in-law, Arthur Laing, was already living with them. Peggy and her husband, Harry, took the main bedroom, while Arthur shared with Jerry and Dee Dee shared with Linda. Far from resenting the additional people in their house, however, Peggy and Harry were delighted to have family to help them care for their children. Now that Peggy's mother was living with her, Peggy was able to return to work full-time. Armed with a second income, Harry and Peggy were able to afford luxuries that had previously been out-of-reach, such as annual vacations and special toys for the children. Dee Dee was happy to do most of the cooking for the family; Linda remembers that her brother and she were spoiled by their grandmother, who made "them separate meals that they preferred instead of making them eat what the rest of the family was eating." 2 Dee Dee also ensured that her grandchildren stayed warm during the cold winter months, showering them with hand-knitted socks, gloves, and scarves every Christmas.

Dee Dee was finally able to return to Scotland in the 1950s to visit her sister who was ill after being away for over two decades. Although she had settled into her new life in Canada, it was always difficult for her to be away from her family and her country. Linda remembers that her grandmother missed Scotland very much, and that she "kept all the Scottish traditions alive in our families." The closely-knit family that she had reared ensured that her memory survived long after she passed away from stomach cancer in 1966.

Peggy had begun her studies at the Kennedy Collegiate Institute in Windsor in 1931. She continued on to W. D. Lowe Technical Institute, where she completed Commercial training in two and a half years. She worked part-time at Bartlet, MacDonald & Gow as an elevator operator while in high school, and began a full-time job at the hydroelectric company after graduating.

Peggy met Harry Laing at a dance at the local YMCA. She was immediately attracted to his cleanliness, his "rosy cheeks," and his blonde hair. "As she got to know him better she liked his honesty and naiveté and that he liked her," Linda reported on her parents' courtship. "She liked the fact that he was athletic like her. They went to church together on Sundays and then he would stay for supper. He helped in the kitchen and the sisters liked him because he could reach the high cupboards. They liked to go to shows, bowling and dancing."

After they married in 1940, they moved into an upper-level flat on Hall Avenue. As a married woman, Peggy had to quit her job at the hydro company since she would now be supported by her husband, who worked at a furniture store in Detroit. Later that year, they bought a lot on Watson Street for seventy-five dollars with plans to build a home. However, Peggy suffered a ruptured appendix several months later. Without hospitalization insurance, the Laings lost all their savings and had to sell the lot.

In 1942, Harry was called to volunteer for the war. Although his American citizenship prevented the Canadian government from drafting him, he and his wife knew that he would likely be drafted soon by the United States Army. To be closer to home, Harry enlisted with the Canadian Army; he left for the Ipperwash training facility three weeks after the birth of their first child. The camp's Lambton County location allowed Harry to return to Windsor every weekend to visit his wife and newborn son.

With her husband and father both at war, Peggy moved back into her mother's house. With her three teenaged sisters still living at home, Peggy had a lot of help with her baby and enjoyed the time she spent with her family. She also enjoyed a good deal of support from the sorority she had joined while working at the hydro company.

Harry went to England in December 1942, where he was assigned to the Lincoln and Welland Regiment. In July 1944, the men were sent to fight in the Battle of Normandy on the French front. Harry endured two months with the infantry before bits of shrapnel critically wounded him in the stomach and leg. He spent the rest of the year in the hospital in England, and was returned to Canada in December 1944.

Peggy's father took her to the train station in London to meet him. He was brought off the train on a stretcher and taken directly to Veteran's Hospital for more operations. During that time, the Laings rented a house on Felix Avenue on Windsor's west end with plans to settle in Detroit where Harry's brothers lived.

The war had cost Harry more than his health; in joining the Canadian army, he had lost his American citizenship. Although he and his wife fought to restore it, they lost their appeal. Unable to cross the border, Harry lost his job in Detroit and had to forfeit his plans to settle on the other side of the border. He took up work in Windsor as a bread deliveryman for Wonderbread, making his first deliveries in a horse and cart until the company introduced trucks. After Harry's occupation became obsolete, he drove a delivery truck for Windsor Automotive, and remained with that company until his retirement.

Not long after the Laings welcomed their second child, Linda, in 1946, they also opened their home to their parents. Harry's father, Arthur, came to live with them at the end of the decade, and Linda's mother moved in after her husband died. Although having two parents and two young children living in the house put some strain on the Laings, they were satisfied with the new arrangement. "You do not have the freedom of your own home," Peggy explained. "The resentment was there sometimes but no bitterness. You had no choice."

Peggy had returned to work in 1951 when both of her children entered school. She began part-time with a morning shift at State Vacuum and moved to a full-time position at Gray's department store on Ottawa Street the following year. Although she enjoyed the extra income, juggling work and family proved to be a heavy burden. Dee Dee's arrival lightened her daughter's load considerably. Peggy then moved to Beaver Oil, where she worked as office supervisor until the company left Windsor in 1976. At fifty-eight years old, Peggy decided to retire early, and filled her schedule with Meals on Wheels charity work, golf, and bowling.

Chief of Clan Urquhart
Chief of Clan Urquhart

After Harry joined his wife in retirement in 1984, the couple spent the remainder of the decade traveling. Although they passed many pleasant days in northern Ontario's cottage country, their highlight trip was their journey to Great Britain. Two of Peggy's sisters and their husbands joined them as they visited the places they each spent their early childhoods. They also visited Rachel Smith Davidson, the Murray girls' first cousin on their mother's side and their closest living relative in Scotland.

Harry passed away in 1991 from skin cancer. Although his wife and children mourned him dearly, he had passed along a strong Scottish tradition that has been proudly maintained in descending generations. The families on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are still connected; the branch in Canada knows where it came from, and the branch in Scotland knows where it's been.

  1. Powell, Sarah, interview with Kenneth Trist Urquhart, 26th Clan Chief, "Old World and New," Burke's Peerage and Gentry. http://www.burkes-peerage.net/articles/fsjan02.aspx
  2. Linda Urquhart. http://web4.uwindsor.ca/users/u/urquhar/main.nsf/inToc/3F9B7932237379FF852570D60009241D
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