Joseph Thomas and Margaret Mildred MacMillan

An old photo taken from the North end of Sydney looking south. Margaret lived on the right near the water and Joe lived near the top left area.  

The MacMillan family lived here at 495 Charlotte St. This is as it appears today. In 1900 this was probably a house without the shops below.

An old photo of Kings Road taken in 1901. The Mac Millan family lived only a few blocks from here on the right.  

Old Sydney Hotel on the left where Joe T. sold newspapers. Later this was replaced by the Isle Royal Hotel.  

Shops along Charlotte St. where Joe T. first worked and learned his trade.

St. Patricks Church/Museum. Margaret grew up playing the organ in this church. It was only a few doors away from her home pictured below.

Margaret grew up in a home that stood on this site on the Esplenade in Sydney just next door to St. Patrick's Church. As a young girl she played the organ in the church and often spoke of how much she loved to do it although she much preferred the piano.  

Holy Angels Convent where Margaret attended school.

Sacred Heart Church as it is today. Marg and Joe attended services here many years ago. 

Lyceum Theater on George St. Marg played the piano here many times. Before the era of radio and television, plays and recitals and operettas were staged and each was heavily patronized.  

Mike, Teresa and Joe circa 1914 

I will separate their lives before they were married for the sake of clarity.

Joseph Thomas MacMillan

Thomas Joseph MacMillan was born to Rod and Agnes MacMillan on the 23 day of April, 1905 in Sydney, NS.

For some reason or other he changed his name back to Joseph Thomas and further on he used, and continued to be known as, Joe T.

The MacMillan family lived at 495 Charlotte St. in Sydney. This was located on the corner of Townsend St. and this photo on the left is what the building looks like today. It is possible that this was a house at that time.

Joe was an industrious young fellow. He delivered and sold papers around the down town of Sydney. He told me how he would get up early in the morning and run all the way to the Cape Breton Post building to get his papers. He would try to get to the Old Sydney Hotel pictured on the left before any of his competition.

Joe T. and his Love for Family

Dad loved his family, a trait he carried with him throughout his life. He was especially close to his brother Mike who is with him on the left of the photo along with his sister Teresa. Mike was very ambitious and operated a diner called The Dew Drop In and loved to work and play hard. Unfortunately he came down with Tuberculosis. He died from the ramifications of this disease while in the Kentville, NS TB hospital around 1925. 

A devout catholic, he served mass as a young altar boy at Sacred Heart Church. I don’t recall him telling me anything about his school days.

His oldest brother John got in a fight one night. He got the best of the guy and feared that he had killed him. He came home, gathered some things in a bag and said good by and left. The person didn’t die so no charges were laid.

For some 60 or 70 years nobody heard from him. It wasn’t until he contacted his sister Teresa in Boston did they make contact. Dad traveled to California in the USA to spend a couple of weeks with him. I believe he was about 80 years old when he died.

The Career is Launched

At the age of 15 Joe was hired as an apprentice jeweler at Bezanzon Jewelers on charlotte St.  He not only cleaned the store, washed the windows and opened the huge barrels of china that were shipped from England, but he was taught his jewelry and watch making trades by Hector MacMillan who was the chief watchmaker.

Hector was a skinny little guy with the persona of a big man. He was very kind to we children in later years. He could be very officious and highly skilled at his trade. He was not related, having come from Prince Edward Island with his wife Winnie.

Hector was a volunteer fireman. He always wore a suit, shirt and tie. He had a little moustache and kept his hair cut short.

The Case of the Poached Partridge

One Sunday, Hec and Winnie had dinner with Joe and Marg. After dinner the two men left the house for a drive and a couple of drinks. They drove out of town, stopping at several brooks of course. While driving along the country road they spotted a fellow walking across a field with a potato bag and a shotgun. Dad stopped the car. Hec jumped out and ran towards the hunter hollering “stop in the name of the law” and flipping the lapel of his suit coat, under which his volunteer fireman badge was pinned.

“What’s the idea of hunting on Sunday?  “I will have to confiscate that bag as evidence and the law will be contacting you tomorrow“.  Taking the bag he walked back to the car and left the guy standing there wondering about how lucky he was to have escaped being charged”. Of course he never was charged and never did get to enjoy the bag of partridge he had worked so hard to shoot.

Master Craftsman

Dad was a fantastic watchmaker and a skilled jeweler. He entered the business when the smallest watch was really quite large. Over the years he accepted the tiniest watch and carried out repairs to them with the utmost skill. I spent countless hours watching him and always marveled at his skill and dexterity. He was simply the perfect craftsman.

When he learned his trade, any broken part had to be made by hand. Years later the repairman simply ordered the part from a supplier. Dad had to make his own tools, again these were simply ordered from suppliers. He was a master craftsman who learned the hard way.

After 5 years, when he was 20 years old he and his entire family pooled their resources and purchased train tickets for Boston.

Once there, he and his siblings found work. Dad entered a large store that not only sold jewelry and watches but musical instruments. They had a large service department. Dad applied for a job as a watchmaker. He had to sit at a   bench and make a balance staff for a watch. A balance staff is similar to an axle onto which a tiny wheel is fitted as well as 3 other parts. The staff has to be perfectly sized as the other parts are fitted by friction only. Each end of the staff must fit perfectly inside of the jeweled bearing where it will ride. The end of the staff, called the pivot, is not much thicker than a human hair. It must be polished to a mirror finish.

Dad completed his test project, which was proclaimed to be perfect, and was hired.

He was hired and spent a few years working there. The owner was Jewish and would not come near the store from sometime Friday until Passover. Dad was made manager after awhile and the store sales volume increased substantially. One Friday night the store was destroyed by fire. The owner could not come in so dad had to handle things.

I don’t know when his mother and father returned to Sydney but after the fire dad decided to return as well. When he arrived home he discovered that his mother, Agnes had just passed away from the affects of diabetes. Insulin had been discovered in 1922 but whether she was using it or not I do not know.

Somehow dad met Margaret MacGillivary who was working as a stenographer for Burchell Agencies in Sydney. They had good friends Dave and Emily Bagnell. They sometimes dated together. They also were friends with Remi LeBlanc and his wife as well as Leo and Peggy Cook.

I have never heard anything about their courtship from them so until some intimate details happen to come my way I will assume that their romance was normal. Who introduced them to each other is unknown at this time.

Joe and Margaret were married in Sacred Heart Church on September 16, 1930.

Margaret MacGillivary

William Francis Mac Gillivary and Isabel MacDonald were married in Sydney on April, 22, 1903.

William used the name Frank and his parents were Dan and Jane MacGillivary of North Side East Bay. Jane was a school teacher and Dan a farmer.

Isabel Mac Donald was born in Inverness County, possibly at Blackstone, to Angus and Catherine MacDonald. Angus was a butcher.

Frank was a carpenter and also worked at the Sydney steel plant. They lived in the house shown here on the left next door to St. Patrick’s Church on the Esplanade in Sydney.

On August 13, 1906 little Margaret Mildred MacGillivary entered the world. She eventually had 4 brothers, William, Sinclair, Arthur and Charles.

I don’t know if William ever married although he had a woman whom he lived with. He worked at the Sydney Steel Plant. His younger brother Charles served in the Canadian Army during World War 11. He suffered a wound while serving in Belgium and returned home a shaken man. He loved to play the guitar and had a great singing voice. Unfortunately, the trauma of war led him to the point where he lived by washing windows along Charlotte St. to make a few dollars to feed his lust for booze. He was cared for by his brother William as best he could. I knew Charlie fairly well and could not help but feel that the trauma of war had ruined a good mind who could have made a great mark in our world.

Sinclair was married in the United States where he served in the Air Force. He never returned to Sydney and died in the USA some years ago.

Arthur married Bridget and they lived their entire lives in Ashby. They had 2 children, Frank and Marilyn. Frank was killed in 1966 in an auto accident. Marilyn lives in the USA. Art worked at the Sydney Steel Plant for all of his working years. Art and Bridget were the salts of the earth and provided well for their family. Mom and dad and we children enjoyed a great many wonderful visits with them.

Early Education and Piano Lessons

Margaret attended Holy Angels Convent. At a very young age she learned to play the piano and delighted everyone who heard her play with renditions spanning many music genres from Chopsticks, Pop, Jazz and Classical and everything in between.

Her first public recitals took place within the hallowed walls of St. Patricks Church next door. As news of her skills spread she was tutored by a Professor MacKinnon. She would have played at the Lyceum (shown in photo on the left) as it was a stage for many talented people of Cape Breton for many years.

For some time she was the featured pianist for the Emilio Pace Orchestra in Sydney.

Sadly, both of her parents died quite young. Frank died when he was just 45 years of age. Her mother, Agnes, was putting on her over shoes in preparation for a shopping trip to the downtown with Margaret when she sat on the edge of the bed, laid back and died instantly. Margaret was 13 years old at the time.

It must have been a sad household, but now being the lady of the house she carried on.

She attended the Cape Breton Business College and began her career as a stenographer with Burchell Agencies in Sydney. Margaret and Joe T. were a couple before Joe had moved to Boston. They corresponded often and it must have been the lure that possessed Joe to return to Sydney eventually. 

She held her position with the Agency for years until she married Joe T. finally relinquishing it to raise her family.   

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