Alan Bowker Dennis Pitt
"We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there too." Anonymous
Dennis Pitt is a bookworm. He admits it. As a student, he annoyed his teachers by reading books in class. But Dr. J. A. Milliken, a Queen’s medical professor who was his prime role model for entering the field of medicine, was also an avid reader who had a library in his home. This was not a trait widely shared among busy physicians. As a practising surgeon and professor at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Pitt was appalled to find that most of the books in the library of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons appeared never to have been opened. He believes books are not just for show. They are to be read, they should have worn bindings, the pages should be dog-eared and pencil-marked. And if they are lent and never returned, so much the better, because it means they are being read by more people.
Since 2014 I have been chronicling the lives of the men from MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh who fell in World War I. In all 140 men and one nursing sister from MacKay Presbyterian answered the call, and nineteen gave their lives. But telling the stories of the nineteen quickly morphed into a broader study of a church and a community at war, and it became increasingly apparent that the story was really about families – families that watched and waited, that bore the hardship of war, that experienced grief and loss, that sought to retain their faith that the war was a battle for freedom and civilization and their hope that victory would usher in a better world.
This article tells the story of one such family, the Ryans of New Edinburgh. Its centrepiece is John Henry “Jack” Ryan, one of the greatest athletes of his day, who deserves to be better known. But it is also a story of the other members of the family, including the oldest brother who helped raise his younger siblings and then also perished in the war. Finally, it is a reminder that tragedy in this era did not only come from war, and that even from the darkest days can come new life and new hope.
Dr. Alan Bowker
This is the fourth and final article in a series that explores how the Great War impacted the lives of a single family belonging to the MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh. See also Part I, Part II, and Part III of the series.
By Dr. Alan Bowker
This is the third in a series of articles exploring how the Great War impacted the lives of a single family belonging to the MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh. See also Part I and Part II of the series.
George Frederick Stalker was the older brother of Robert A. Stalker. He was born in London, England, on January 18, 1877, the eldest of nine children of his namesake, eminent architect George Frederick Stalker and his wife Clarinda, who came to Ottawa in 1883. When George Sr. died suddenly in 1895 Clarinda was left with nine children. All four daughters died young of TB or respiratory disease. Clarinda was a member of MacKay Presbyterian Church and very active in its Ladies’ Aid.
The MacKay Fallen, Part II: Robert Alexander Stalker
by Dr. Alan Bowker
Robert Stalker c. 1914: From an image provided by a descendant
Robert Stalker was born in London, England, on February 22, 1879, the second son of George Frederick Stalker, an eminent Scottish architect who had come to Ottawa in 1883, and his wife Clarinda (1849-1930). In all the couple had nine children, the youngest an infant, when George died suddenly in 1895. He appears to have left enough money for his widow and family to live in an attached house at 37 Charles Street in New Edinburgh (shown below as it is today). Clarinda Stalker joined MacKay Presbyterian church in 1909 along with three of her sons. She was a stalwart in the Ladies’ Aid and was one of the church’s Visitors to the Protestant Hospital. But tragedy continued to dog the family. None of the four daughters survived past early adulthood: three died of TB and the infant died at age 4 of pneumonia.
This is the first in a series of articles exploring how the Great War impacted the lives of a single family belonging to the MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh.
After the Remembrance Day service at MacKay United Church in Ottawa in 2014, in which the names of those who had fallen in two world wars were read out as they are every year, Tim Cook suggested to me that as we were now marking the 100th anniversary of this terrible conflict it might be more meaningful to provide some more detailed information on the lives of these soldiers, since their service records and other information like the Circumstances of Death Registers were now available online. It would not only be a more fitting tribute to the men, but would bring to life the ordeal of those sitting in the same pews a century before, as they waited for news and prayed for deliverance.