Extracts from the Minutes of the annual Smith-McWilliam picnics (1907-1945)

(actualisé le ) by Ray

The first Smith-McWilliam family picnic in Embro in 1907, which brought together 73 the descendants of the McWilliam and Smith pioneers who had emigrated to the West Zorra township in Ontario from Scotland between 1846 and 1853 [1], was such a success that it became a yearly event.

The photo and identification of the people present at this first gathering can be seen => below.

Remarkably, these annual family picnic-gatherings – known as Smith-McWilliam family picnics until the 1980s, and as Maisley McWillam family picnics since then – have continued right up to the present day, with the exception of the war years 1917-1919.

And what is even more remarkable is that detailed records of these extended family gatherings were maintained throughout the years by dedicated family chroniclers [2], who have not only documented the joyous annual proceedings, but also the attendees at each of the yearly picnics (since 1934) and (since 1936) the births, marriages, deaths and main events of local interest - and sometimes national and international interest - since the previous picnic.

These records from 1907 until 1995 were grouped into a 236-page comprehensive document, the Green Book, the colour of the covers of the original supplements to the Family History Book, and published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Maisley McWilliam couple in Canada (Margaret McWilliam and David Innes, in 1846) by Nancy Conn, who has graciously granted us permission to post the [really quite fascinating as you will see] extracts below for the period 1909-1945 [3].

The book concludes with a 2-page biography of one of the leading spirits of the family reunions throughout the years, our Dad’s uncle Dr. David Smith (1873-1976), that can be seen in the Appendix below.


- The first and many succeeding picnics were held in Embro at the home of James Smith and his daughters, Jean, Nellie, Annie and Margaret. In late years it was held at the Wm. McCorquodale (1912) and the George Smith (1914) homes. As the years passed, the work involved became too great for any private home, so other plans were made. With the exception of one year in Stratford Park and one at Bimini Park, Brooksdale, the picnics have been held in Southside Park, Woodstock. So far the interest has been well maintained.

- During the years 1917-18-19 no picnic was held because of the stress and strain of the Great War.

- We are greatly indebted to the Smith Aunties [4] for the preservation of the Press accounts of the early picnics. These are now included in this record. The first clipping records the names of all those who attended the first picnic in 1907. Many of our family homes treasure pictures and snapshots taken at different picnics.

- Our pioneer ancestors instilled into the hearts of their children a deep appreciation of the material advantages of Canada, the land of their adoption, but back of it all lay a great love for Scotland, the land of their birth.


First Picnic


- At ten o’clock in the morning, a fishing party tried their skill at Mr D.R. Ross’s pond. Numerous wonderful accounts of success were returned but the big bass had to go back into the pond.

- At 12 o’clock a luncheon, consisting of sandwiches, cake and ice cream, bananas, homemade candy, tea and lemonade was served by the ladies.

- In the afternoon a splendid program of sports was carried out under the supervision of Messrs. James McWilliam, D.I. Rose, A. Hamilton and Dr. Smith with Mr Wm. McCorquodale as paymaster for the prize-winners. Some of the competitors would do credit to any athletic association. The most popular events with the spectators were the juvenile race and the married men’s race.


- During the morning the men indulged in baseball and football on the Embro diamond. Some of those engaged in the game had not played baseball for some years, but no thoughts of future discomfort marred their pleasure of present enjoyment.

- At 10 o’clock lunch was served. To this part of the day’s doings old and young did ample justice. There was abundance and variety of good things, all of the best quality, to satisfy every one.

- After lunch there was a short program carried out, with Dr. McWilliam of London, as chairman. There was vocal music by the Misses Smith and Messrs. Peter Smith and James Kearney, with Miss J. Kennedy as accompanist. Instrumental music on the organ and mouth organ was furnished by Misses Helen Rose and Maggie Smith and Mr J. McDonald and Master Innes Rose. Recitations were given by Miss Helen Rose and Master George Hart.

- Interspersed in the above mentioned program were numerous speeches by both ladies and gentlemen. The most noticeable characteristics of the speeches were their sincerity and brevity.

- After this there were some races on the lawn, which were thoroughly enjoyed by all. Perhaps the most interesting race was the pie race by the men. It was not difficult to get competitors in that race; some openly admitted that they entered solely for the sake of the pie. Needless to say these were not the winners.

- About 5.30 supper was served. After supper some time was spent in social chat. Then came the time to depart for home, and each one present, in bidding good-bye expressed the opinion that the picnic of 1913 was the best yet.


- The program consisted of community singing conducted by Mr Peter Smith, speeches by Mr Wm. Smith [5], Dr. McWilliam, Mr Wm. McCorquodale, Mr Geo. Smith, Mrs D.I. Rose, Mr Geo. Glendinning, interspersed with music on the violin, ably rendered by Innes Rose, instrumentals by Effie Smith and Jessie McWilliam, a solo by Mr Peter Smith.

- A very amusing item on the programme was a recitation most efficiently given by Alex. Glendinning, entitled How they licked the teacher, and a most interesting item was Dr. McWilliam’s speech in which he referred to the history of the ancestors telling from what shires they came in the old land and the dates of their coming to Canada.

- All then enjoyed a short programme of keenly contested races prepared by Douglas Hart and Will McCorquodale, of which the most amusing race was probably the pie race, the winner being Mrs George McWilliam. The rest of the afternoon was spent in playing baseball much enjoyed by the younger members. The time seemed all too short when the call for supper came.


After a long time spent in doing justice to the contents of baskets and boxes, the youngsters scattered and indulged in many old time games, while the older ones whose ranks are thinning every year, sat in cosy places and talked of times old and new, especially the war, which has already claimed several of our young men and is soon to take another in Dr. Smith who leaves for training in the course of a few days.


- Mr Jas. Smith and the Misses Smith welcomed their guests upon their arrival at the entrance of the lawn from a cozy corner, arranged with seats and decorated with flags and bunting. The morning was spent by the older ones in social chat, recalling the smiles and tears of boyhood’s years, and by the younger ones in playful sport as children do when just out of school.

- At noon the ladies served a lunch which consisted of unmentionable good things. A varied program of games, races, speeches and music made a very enjoyable afternoon for all. Supper was served at 4.30.


- June 3rd, the King’s birthday, was the happy choice for the gathering of the Smith-McWilliam families for their picnic, the first to be held since 1916, on account of the war. The Misses Smith of Embro gave their home for the day, and did everything possible to make it a pleasant one for all, so that ideal weather, pleasant surroundings and jolly people made the day a happy one.

- In the afternoon a program of races was keenly contested, and then while the older ones gathered in groups and chatted of times new and old, the younger set journeyed to the park and entered heartily into a real game of baseball, which no doubt accounted for the rapid disappearance of so many goodies at the supper hour, but fortunately the supply was greater than the demand.


Southside Park, Oxford’s favourite picnic grounds, was the Mecca for the Smiths and McWilliams on Saturday, June 9th, when the members of these families to the number of eighty, gathered for their annual reunion. At one o’clock a sumptuous lunch was served in true picnic style. Throughout the afternoon the spirit of good fellowship prevailed and auld acquaintance renewed.


- Speeches were given during a short program by Dr. David Smith, Stratford, J. McWilliam, Nissouri; Alex. Smith, Embro; George Hart, West Zorra; George Smith, Embro and W.J. Smith. Committees were chosen for [next] year’s reunion and it was unanimously moved that the event be made an annual affair.

- The oldest member on the grounds was Miss Jean Smith of Embro, who is in her 80th year. The youngest was Master Frank Smith, five months of age.


Gordon Smith of Innerkip was President for the 25th annual picnic held in Southside park. At the committee meeting held at the home of the President, it was decided to keep a yearly record not only of the picnics, but also interesting family news of the years as they come and go.


- A happy discovery was made when we learned that this family possesses a real live young bag-piper, Gordon Morris of Harrington, who gave several selections on the pipes, and his young sister Madeleine danced in the kilts.

- Some of our members have met with accidents during the year. Allen McWilliam had the rear end of his oil truck removed by a fast train at the Beachville crossing. Fortunately it was the rear and not the front of the truck, Allen.

- Donald Hart had a disagreeable encounter with a car on his way home from school one night recently.

- Coming events cast their shadows before them and we distinctly hear wedding bells in at least two directions.


- The sport field provided the real fun of the day. Alex Jr and W. David Smith were captains for a ball game when our oldest visitor, Mr Geo. Hart Sr. showed some of the younger men how to really hit the ball — and run too.

- Races for every age had been arranged by Norma, Alex and David Smith and old & young scrambled for peanuts. At 4.30 cake and ice cream were served and another successful picnic was over.


- After a keen contest for the honor of being the oldest present Mr George Hart Sr. won from Alex Smith Sr. by a small margin and received the prize. Other gifts went to Billy Glendinning of Plattsville as the youngest and to Jack McWilliam of Windsor as having come the farthest.

- Then away went the crowd to the ball diamond where Alex and Geo. Glendinning were captains in the conflict. Mr Geo. Hart Sr. showed his usual form and is happy when the game is keen. When the smoke of battle had cleared away, Alex said his side had won with the interesting score of 12-11. George was not so sure of the result.

- Last year we told you Geo. M Hart was «heartwhole and fancy free». We think now we must have been mistaken for Jan. 1, 1939, he married Mary Allison FitzRandolph B.A. of Bridgetown, Nova Scotia and these events require some preparation. George and his bride spent their honey-moon on a motor trip from Nova Scotia to Florida. The year 1939 will pass into history as the year the King and Queen visited Canada & Geo. Hart was married.


- After the dishes had been disposed of, some of the ladies had an interesting discussion and demonstration on «Present day styles for Women».

- Early after dinner the crowd gathered on and around the baseball diamond where a free-for-all game of ball was played. Many of our older members played their yearly game while some of the younger generations displayed evidence of daily practice at the sport.

- Many of us, especially the farmers near Woodstock, remember the confusion caused by daylight saving time. This little story will remind you how befuddled we were at times.

The passenger on a streamlined train hailed the porter. “What time do we get to New York?” The porter replied thoughtfully: “We is due in New York at one-fifteen, unless you has set your watch by Eastern time, which would make it two-fifteen. Then of course if you is goin’ by daylight savings time, it would be three-fifteen, unless we is an hour an’ fifty minutes late — which we is.”


Dr. David Smith read a very fine address of appreciation to Mrs Burton for the most capable and untiring way she had guided our Family History [6] into successful publication. Rev.W.T. Hamilton and Wilbert Smith presented her with a beautiful tri-lite floor lamp as a token of our appreciation and thanks.


- We cannot look on the beauty of our Canadian springtime and our comfortable Can. homes without being truly thankful for our wonderful Can. heritage. Not long ago we read an article on Progress in the last century. I give you its closing. "Don’t altogether forget the pioneers. Don’t forget their lonely graves along the frontier, where they cleared their few acres and made possible your affluence. They may seem, at times, simple and rough to the more sensitive ears of your later era. But there must have been courage in their hearts and greatness in their souls, otherwise the little they did would never have been done".

- The awful clouds of war over-shadow the entire world today and it takes a lot of hope and courage to be even optimistic. The people of the Motherland have given us a big challenge in courageous endurance. As our King said in his Christmas message, «This time we are all in the front line». Some day these clouds will roll away and life must be and will be easier and happier.

- The closing number was the Maisley Story by our Historian, Mrs Burton. She too paid tribute to the traditions we have accepted from our pioneer forefathers, and as she enumerated the joys and sorrows, the comings and goings of the Maisley McWilliams, touching Canada, United States, England, Scotland, Australia and back around the world to Canada again, we were all deeply touched by the thought of that invisible, silken cord of affection that binds as a family, close, over the greater part of the earth, at a time when practically the whole world is shaken to its depths by the tragic octopus of war and devastation.


- So far as Canada is concerned, the war really arrived here May 11/42 when 2 ships were torpedoed and sunk in the St. Lawrence River.

- Mr Churchill gave the Canadians & Americans a great boost in morale when he came to America for conferences and spent Christmas and the New Year on this side of the Atlantic. However we were all relieved when we knew he was safely back in England, with his strong hand guiding the affairs of the Commonwealth of Nations.

- One day last winter Bill & Jessie McCorquodale were merrily wending their way on a slippery road east of Cody’s Corner when the car suddenly plunged through a water-filled ditch and after several other silly stunts came peacefully to rest beside the fence, but facing Vancouver instead of Halifax. Have never been able to find out who was at the wheel.

- But to Wilbert Smith, Maisley Farm goes the honour for escaping serious injury in car accidents. Nov. 13/41 Wilbert and his car, for no good reason, unless that 13 means something, turned upside down at the 3rd line corner; neither sustained severe injury.

- Later in the winter Wilbert and his car were rammed by another car whose driver was temporarily blinded by snow from a snow-plow. Again Wilbert and his car escaped serous damage which is more than can be said for the other car. So far as Wilbert is concerned «It might easily have been worse».

- One cold day last winter, Don McCorquodale had a long walk as he tailed his runaway team along the road through gates and fields, over fences thro’ farm after farm to the home barn. It all happened because Don released his hold on the reins to play Good Samaritan to a stranded preacher. Does that story carry a moral? or does it?

- One night in the spring a certain car load of men was hurrying home from Military drill in Woodstock when the driver spied a wild animal disappearing into the grass & gloom of the road side. He stopped the car, grabbed the only available weapon, the car crank and took up the chase against the advice of his companions on the danger of following some animals without a gas mask. However after a wonderful exhibition of speed, fence or no fence, rubbers or no rubbers, our hero proved that speed plus a car crank could substitute for the gun that happened to be at home.


- A whole year of day-light saving has gone by and still we do not like it. Many times in the winter the children were getting to school before daylight.

- Our restrictions have been steadily increasing and are recorded here for future reference and not that we are in anyway complaining for this war just must be won.


- On every front the feeling is tense because of the expected, planned invasion of Europe. When and where that will be is the great military secret today.

- By the way, we hear one of our farmerettes is «really agin the gov’t» for not ordering cushioned seats as standard equipment on all tractors. At the end of a long hot day a tractor seat can be very hard and very hot. With an election in the offing the Gov’t might be persuaded to take some action, girls!

- Some, especially farmers, are finding it hard to do even necessary driving on their reduced gas ration; while city friends are rejoicing since meat rationing has been suspended.


- In the midst of the joy of Victory, sincere regret was expressed that one of the Big Three, F.D. Roosevelt did not live to really see the result of so great an effort. Never was Canada so concerned about a U.S. election as on Nov. 7/44 when F.D. Roosevelt was elected for his 4th term as Pres. of the U.S. The whole world was thankful. On Apr. 12/45 when word came that Pres. Roosevelt was dead, it seemed a loss not only to the U.S. but to the whole world in its need of leaders like Pres. Roosevelt. Canadians were very sincere in their sympathy and many felt a personal loss for a man they
had not seen but greatly admired.

- F.O. Angus McWilliam went overseas in ’43 and earned his commission as "Bomber Command". In the course of duty Angus had some real thrills. On New Years Eve’g he, as the boys say, “Hit the silk” and here is his story:

I was attacked on New Years Eve by an enemy fighter which set my tanks on fire. I was forced to bale out over Belgium on a return trip from Germany. It seemed to me it took an hour to get down. It was awfully cold and there were other things against me, but I finally came down through the limbs of a tree, which cut my face and mouth and landed near American troops. I walked towards them and they gave me a very impressive reception in more ways than one, but when they found out my identity they did everything they could to help me. I spent a few days on the continent and one night in Brussels. Most of the time I was with the American troops. Am in doubt whether the experience was an asset or a liability now. Have lost half my crew but hope they will turn up O.K.

- Raymond McLeod, Harrington gives us most interesting family news. He has spent most of the past year near London and never misses a chance of going to the Munro home; but all his long leaves are spent in Scotland. Flora says Raymond lost his heart to Scotland on his very first visit. In Scotland he visits Ada’s brother Harold Sinclair and his wife in Aberdeen. On one leave last fall, he really visited Maisley Farm and here is his story:

Yesterday the Sinclairs and I visited Keith which is quite far north and west of Aberdeen and directly west of Peterhead on the coast. We went by bus leaving early in the morning, arriving at Keith about eleven. We walked the 2 ½ miles out to Maisley and on the way a truck passed us with the name McWilliam on the side. This is a farming district, rather poor in my estimation. Maisley Farm is well known but I must say it is not a very impressive sight. Mr Sinclair knows the place well as he spent his childhood thereabouts, but had not been there in the last 40 years.
The sky was heavily overcast and it began to snow shortly after we got there. The farm is situated high on a hill. It is now owned by strangers who bought it from Mr Sinclair’s brother who retired near here and died a few years ago. Part of the original house and garden wall are still there but a large cement house has been built on to it. At the gate are the 2 chestnut trees mentioned in the Tree Book. The inmates of the house must have thought we had our nerve as we walked right up to the house and all around it. The Sinclairs were pointing to different parts of the house and I had my camera out taking pictures. We should have asked permission but Mr Sinclair did not think it necessary. Am afraid the pictures will not be good as a real Canadian snow storm was on and we scurried back to Keith. A strange expedience for me. I could not help thinking of the people who so long ago left this very farm and set out for the strange uncharted land of Canada.
We had dinner at an hotel in Keith, perhaps the very hotel where our ancestors used to gather in the evening. Then we waited in the lounge for the 4.30 bus. In the meantime I visited the shopping section where I felt rather conspicuous. I could hear people on every side whispering “Canadian”. I felt as if I were on a concert platform. In fact I feel that anywhere in Scotland. Guess it is unusual for Canadians to get as far north as Keith but they do seem to be well thought of.

- Raymond was lucky enough to have a 48 hr leave and arrived at the Munro’s the eve of VE Day and here is his story written VE Day:

I arrived at the Munros last night. During the night about 12 o’clock a violent
thunderstorm occurred, apparently the same heavenly disturbance occurred over London the 1st night of the war.
I got up early on a beautiful day and went into London with Mrs Munro. What a place London is to-day! I shall remember this day forever. The streets were crowded beyond imagination, everywhere. Only with difficulty could one walk to a desired location. The streets were all gloriously decorated with flags, paper streamers and thousands of gaily dressed people all more or less feeling high and with expressions of happy relief that they no longer need cower and run for shelter as planes roared overhead. I found my way up the Mall to Buckingham Palace by 12 o’clock. Judging by the crowd and the presence of the BBC sound apparatus, I figured things were likely to happen. So I got a firm hold on the railings in front of the Palace and at 2 o’clock Mr Churchill drove up in his open car — got a very good view of him. Then at 3 o’clock over a loud speaker system we heard his speech. Shortly after which the King and Queen and two Princesses came out on the balcony and stayed about 5 min. I was about 4 rods from them. The Queen was dressed in a lovely blue outfit, Princess Elizabeth in A.T.S. uniform. So it was all worth waiting hours for.
Tonight at midnight there is to be a search light display and AA [anti-aircraft] fire but this time they won’t be aiming at buzz bombs.



the names of the children of James Smith and Helen McWilliam present at the picnic, and of James Smith Senior, are highlighted in the above list.


Dr. David Smith


[11846: Margaret McWilliam and her husband David Innes, with their 6-year-old daughter Annie Innes;
- 1850: James Smith and his wife Helen McWilliam;
- 1853: John McWilliam and his wife Jessie Smith, sister of James Smith;
- 1853 (autumn): the father George McWilliam with son James, daughter Ann and James’s wife wife Betty, née Shearer.

[2in particular Helen Hossack (née Rose), Helen Piett (née Smith), Ellie Burton (née McCorquodale), Helen Glenney (née Smith) and Nancy Conn.

[3copies of the full book can be found in the library at Woodstock, Ontario and in the Family History Library of Salt Lake City, Utah.

[4Jean, Helen ("Nellie"), Annie, and Margaret ("Maggie") Smith.

[5William Smith (1856-1922), second son of James Smith and Helen McWilliam, father of Macdonald Smith.

[6This precious document, The Maisley McWilliams in Canada Family History Book 1846-1939, can be viewed here.