Loving it in the Bush. Fred Bidgood and Tillie
By Patti Desjardins
In 1852 Susanna Moodie authored an account of the trials and
tribulations of frontier life in Ontario. Whether Tillie Lingstrum of Westmeath
read Roughing it in the Bush is unknown but she took a similar path when she
married a man who loved the woods.
When Tillie met Fred Bidgood
she was a slim teenager with long, brown hair, cornflower blue eyes, and a
turned-up nose. He was eight years older with the tanned, lean frame of an
outdoorsman. Fred had already seen something of the world since arriving in
Canada from Bristol, England. Tillie, on the other hand, was the daughter of
protective parents. William and Hannah Lingstrum lost one son on their voyage
from Sweden and another in the mighty Ottawa River in the spring of 1895. They
cherished their remaining children: five daughters and a son.
Nevertheless, Fred won both
Tillies heart and her parents approval and the young couple wed
September 17, 1902. The fact that they did not marry in St. Marys
Anglican Church, built just three years earlier by the brides father who
was a stone mason and member of the congregation, suggests that the approval
may have had limitations.
Fred described his occupation as cowboy on the
marriage license. Perhaps he read accounts of the Wild West as a boy and
fancied himself in that role, or more likely, he came to the Westmeath area as
a cattle drover. Back then, successors of the Frasers, Westmeath
Townships premier lumber barons, were still involved in lumbering
ventures in western Quebec. Cattle on hoof were driven down (todays)
River Road to Spotwoods Ferry, and once across the river, out to the
far-flung lumbering camps.
However, cattle were to play no part in Fred and
Tillies future. The newlyweds embarked on a career of prospecting. The
Klondike gold rush is a famous part of Canadian history, but many men also
chased the golden dream in the wilds of Ontario and Quebec. Fred Bidgood looked
for gold in quartz veins. He found fame and fortune, and like many others,
squandered as much as he found. What he never lost was his love of life in the
Tillies role as a wife and mother was circumscribed by
the mores of a century ago. In the early years, she spent time in bush camps,
living out of tents, shacks, and cabins. She yearned for female companionship
and maintained a regular correspondence with her mother and sisters in
Westmeath. When the first two of her children, Blanche and Nelson, reached
school age, they were sent back to her birthplace. These school days, and many
summer vacations thereafter, lead to a lifelong attachment for the Bidgood
youngsters with Westmeath.
As more children were born, Tillie left her life in the bush
and took up residence in Haileybury. Letters back to her kin indicate that her
separation from her husband was cause for worry. For example, on June 3, 1909
she wrote, I am anxious about Fred. He was to be here on Tuesday but no
Tillies own safety and that of her children was jeopardized
by the Great Fire of October 4, 1922. Strong winds swept flames through the
forests around Haileybury and left 3,500 people homeless. A local history of
the event describes Mrs. Bidgood, her children, and their neighbours as
spending a traumatic night in the waters of Lake Timiskaming while the town
burnt before them.
Apart from the fire, life was good for Tillie and Fred and
their family of eight children. Photographs show they entertained guests,
provided their children with nutritious food such as grapefruit, and afforded
indulgences like store-bought dolls and sleds. Their homes Persian
carpets, wicker lawn furniture, and perennial borders reflected their new found
wealth. All of this was shattered on September 22, 1926.
The story of Tillies death has been passed down
through the generations as a parable about the pitfalls of vanity. According to
family lore, Fred gave Tillie a luxurious chinchilla coat. One day she got
caught in a downpour, turned the coat over her arm, and walked home. Soon
afterwards she fell ill with pneumonia, fought for her life without the benefit
of todays life-saving antibiotics, and lost. Fred was in a northern
mining district and returned for her funeral. He had to explain to his
children, including the youngest four-year old twins called Stanley and Audrey,
that their loving mother was gone.
Tillies family in Westmeath was devastated by the news
of her untimely death. They filed away her letters and postcards as keepsakes
and put her family photographs in an album. Although she died over eighty years
ago, she has remained a known relative to her Westmeath connections.
Tillie and Fred didnt get to grow old together.
Instead, their golden years were spent amongst stands of pine and spruce, with
the sounds of their children playing hide-and-seek in giant ferns mingling with
the chink of a rock hammer.
Tillie Lingstrum Bidgood was my great aunt.