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Rachel Schwan-McKay - In Memoriam August 11, 2010


RACHEL SCHWAN MCKAY, one of the few remaining of the Ballinafad pioneer community, died on August 11, 2010,just hours after celebrating her 93rd birthday with her immediate family and her best friend and caregiver, Marg. Her children, Brenda (Owen Sound), Linda (Peterborough) and Frankie(Missassauga) and their children and grandchildren had been all present at her celebration. Aunt Rachel had said to her daughter Brenda that she would "stick around until her birthday". She than left us on her own conditions. Discretely and silently in the night, without bothering anyone. According to her wishes, there was no service and she was buried intimately, her family attending on August 17. Rachel is now in Greenwood Cemetary, Owen Sound, next to her husband Clete and her parents.

Aunt Rachel was the sister of my father and the granddaughter of Donald Mckay, the patriarch of Fallbrook who built the farmhouse,1879, over the McClure log-cabin,1856. Her father, David Mckay was a skilled carpenter who had moved from Ballinafad to Owen Sound. Her mother, Bessie Sinclair, daughter of Gilbert Sinclair, another Ballinafad farm pioneer, died prematurlely in 1921. In her early teens, she was taken out of school to take care of the men. She fulfilled that role with her own family, husband Clete Schwan, for the the next 60 years. After the death of her husband, Aunt Rachel made a life of her own, becoming one of the best bridge players in Owen Sound. Suffering from back pain all her adult life, she travelled little. But she had visited Ballinafad every summer until her late teens and was present at the funeral of Donald Mckay and his burial at Providence cemetary in Ballinafad in 1931.

RACHEL SCHWAN-MCKAY, DURING HER INTERVIEW WITH ALAN AND NANCY SINCLAIR, AUGUST, 2009. ON THE LEFT OF THE MARRIAGE PICTURE, HER FATHER AND MY GRANDFATHER DAVID, BORN AT FALLBROOK, WITH HER MOTHER BESSIE SINCLAIR. BROTHER WILLIAM MCKAY AND SISTER JESSIE SINCLAIR ALSO MARRIED.

 

In the famous picture of the Silver Creek bridge, known by the pioneers as Buttermilk Falls, taken in 1921, we see Aunt Rachel holding the railing beside her grandfather, Donald. We can see behind her my father Alec with his summer brush cut. Sandy McKay drives the buggy and it appears to be another child sitting beside him. We also see Aunt Rachel circa 1923 under the tree in front of the original home. The tree still stands and ,thanks to Rachel, we can estimate its age at over 100 years. This dress was made by her aunt, Nel McKay. Rachel saw this picture for the first time this spring. After her mother died, Aunt Nel came to Owen Sound to care for the family for 3 years .Losing her mother, a wonderful person, so early in her life was a tragedy which Rachel bore silently. When she first heard about the campaign in 2007 to preserve the McClure-McKay homestead Rachel said to me, "Life was tough in those days, especially for the women. You did what you had to do. It was the same for everyone."

Above, we see Aunt Rachel in the arm of her mother circa 1917. Her niece, Mary McKay, showed her this picture in spring of 2010. She saw it for the first time and was very moved. Her mother died tragically 2 years later the picture was taken. Aunt Rachel proudly affirmed that her mother made all their clothes, including the dresses they are wearing. Above right, she sits on the steps of the farmhouse with one of her many friends in Ballinafad. At right, she stands with cousins while her brothers are at the far right. Or so we surmise.

In the lower picture, Nancy Sinclair as well as her husband Alan, hors plan, exchange memories of the Fad back in the good old days. That interview was taped and will be made available on our web when appropriately edited.

Pictures were discovered and meticulously preserved by Nancy Sinclair.

Reproduction with permission only. NHCHS/S.Mc.

For it is the pioneer women who are the unsung heroes of as they left desparate existences in Scotland and Ireland to forge new lives in the Canadian wilderness where only the native peoples has passed before them. On the McKay homestead, as on all the farms, Rachel's aunts were up at 4 a.m. to herd in the cows, do the milking, haul never ending pails of water from the stream too low for a hand pump. Than collecting wood to fire the stove, preparing the breakfast of salted porridge and going to bed only when all others were asleep. In the last years of his life, Donald was very sick and his daughters took turns keeping watch at his door all night. Of the many generations of the McClure-McKay/Fallbrook homestead, of the original pioneer families, only three remain. Of the farm manager families, only four or five remain. They are all women! Ironically, Rachel remembers wonderful holidays in the Fad where her task was doing errands for her grandfather, especially combing his long white hair and beard, staying at the Kirkwood store or going to activities at the church. At the left, we see Donald under the same tree as Rachel where he spent all his last summers. On the right, Sandy and wife Kate at their home at Silver Creek in front of the Baker garage .This is where I knew Kate and Sandy, after whom I received my nickname. They loved children and assured them happy times.

Above, the steps of the creek "which froze your feet when you walked up them." Below, we see the tombstone of the patriarch Donald and his daughter Ellen at Providence Cemetary in Ballinafad. The last resting place of Rachel's grandfather and her beloved aunt. It is Anne Mc Intyre-Shortill who first introduced me to this heritage on a blistery, freezing day in February of 2008. On the left is Brenda Schwan beside the family plot in Greenwood cemetary in Owen Sound.( a slip of the tongue has Brenda with the name of her sister Linda in update 18-sorry). Aunt Rachel is now resting here next to her husband Clete and her parents David McKay and Bessie Sinclair.

Rachel Schwan-McKay continues her travels as she lived, discretely and with a savoir vivre and determination typical of the pioneer women. She will be quite happy to find a good table of bridge and intelligent conversation. For the McKay clan and the Fallbrook campaigners, we express our deepest respect and gratitude for a life well lived and her very significant contribution. Sandy McKay NHCHS/Fallbrook Farm Heritage Site.


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