Bernard Augustus Steele was born in Chepstow, Prince Edward Island (PEI) on August 16, 1902. He was one of eleven children of Roderick and Josephine (MacAulay) Steele. Bernard was the third oldest. My grandmother Margaret was the second youngest. Their other siblings included Mary Loretta (“Laura”), Philip Francis (“Phil”), Michael “Joseph”, Mary Anne, Robert (Bob), Cyrene, Pius & Leo (twins), and Sadie.
Growing up, I heard my grandmother tell many stories about her siblings. Stories of Bernard and Joseph seemed to go hand in hand. They were close in age (2 years apart) and both went to the United States at an early age to work. Tragically, they only returned to PEI to be buried. Both boys died tragically young. Joseph was electrocuted at age 26. Bernard was killed in a car accident five years later on July 7, 1934, at age 32.. Both brothers were buried alongside their parents in the St. Mary’s Cemetery in Souris, PEI.
Bernard (left) and Joseph (right).
The only thing I really knew about Bernard was that he trained as a boxer. I was also told that he had professional bouts, which is reinforced by the fact that studio photographs exist of him in his boxer stance. One of these images was included in my first run of Five Blue Buttons cards.
At the time of his death, Bernard was engaged to be married. His fiancée sent home to my grandmother a few of Bernard’s belongings. When discussing this with my Mother recently, she recalled that they had a gramophone growing up that belonged to Bernard. She was surprised to learn of a few other items, which I now possess. The first being a lovely old cast iron frying pan. The second being a large religious statue that for as long as any of us recall, stood at the top of the stairs in my grandmother’s home. What many of us didn’t realize is that it belonged to Bernard.
Two years ago my cousin Cheryl from Massachusetts (granddaughter of Bernard’s sister Laura) brought Steele family photos to PEI to share with us. These photographs are a treasure. The images offer a glimpse into the lives of my grandmother’s siblings that none of us had really seen before. Six of my grandmother's siblings moved from PEI to the United States. Included in these photos were images of Bernard, Joseph, Laura, Phil, and Cyrene. And what really struck me, and still stays with me, is the fact that they were all together. I never had a sense of them being away and together like this before seeing these photos. It really struck a chord with me and filled my heart with joy to see these images. Perhaps because I too now live away, but don’t have any siblings living close by. To know that they were together, even some of the time warmed my heart.
Bernard (left), Laura (center) and Joseph (right).
In one particular set of images, the family members had obviously attended an occasion worthy of dressing up. What I also noticed, was Bernard holding a woman’s hand. I can only assume this may have been his fiancée.
Left to right: Laura and her husband Raymond, Joseph Steele, Phil Steele, Bernard’s fiancée (?), and Bernard.
It is always of course important to remember those who came before us - to remember their names, lives, and their stories. Bernard, unfortunately, didn’t leave behind any direct descendants. I wish I know more of his story. Perhaps this is the reason I was driven to include him in my cards.
Bernard (back and middle).
One of the images I choose for this first run of Five Blue Buttons Christmas cards is an image of an older couple in a traditional horse and sleigh being pulled by two strong horses. On the back of the photo is written “Mom and Dad & Jerry and Frank, Manitoba”.
This evening I spoke with my Mom and she told me of the memories that came flooding back to her after looking at this image. My maternal Mahar grandparents brought up their family in a small community in eastern PEI called Souris West. My grandfather’s parents lived nearby in another small community called Rollo Bay, which was also the location of the Catholic Church my Mom’s family attended.
There was a rough country road through the woods connecting my grandfather’s farm in Souris West with his parent’s homestead in Rollo Bay. In the winter especially, this road was often used by my grandparents to traverse to and fro both church and the Mahar homestead in Rollo Bay via horse and sleigh.
When Mom looked at my image entitled “Jerry and Frank” she saw her Gammie and Gampa Mahar. They too had a buffalo rug they used in the sleigh and bells attached to their horses. My Mom recalled how they would anticipate their grandparent’s arrival on Christmas Day: “They wouldn’t have presents for us; we were just excited to see them and have them with us on Christmas”. My Mother also recalls her father opening the back door and asking the kids “Do you hear the bells?” signaling their imminent arrival.
It was a simpler time. It was a time when my Mom as a child would be excited to get to go all the way to neighbouring Rollo Bay to visit her grandparents. This evening I am glued to the television watching news of the terrorist attacks in Paris. My friend Beth is in Paris with her mother, staying blocks away from where the hostages were being held. The world increasingly has become a much smaller place. I am increasingly left wondering if this is a good thing?
It has left me being nostalgic for a time when a trip to Rollo Bay was a big event.
Here is a small hooked rug piece I did last year - before establishing Five Blue Buttons. I suppose doing this piece is what ultimately led me to choosing the name.
I know - the circles look more like hexagons. Circles are hard to make on burlap!
Title of Piece: Five Blue Buttons.
Wool yarn on burlap.
(Wool yarn from PEI's MacAusland's Woolen Milsl)
Five Blue Buttons.
Not four. Not six. Five. Blue. Buttons.
How did this all come about? Well, that’s why I decided to start a blog to accompany my website.
Returning from Japan in the fall of 1999, I landed a contract to write a history of my hometown on Prince Edward Island. In doing so, I accumulated many photographs from community members that were included in the book. This is the first time that I recall looking at vintage images and thinking it would be a good idea to make them into greeting cards.
I didn’t have the money or the confidence for such an undertaking at that time. Fast forward fifteen years and I decided to give it a go. Now settled into my professional career, I have the money and time needed to devote to a small business. I put the wheels in motion during my Easter vacation on PEI earlier this year. A small business advisor at Scotiabank was my first stop and she proved helpful. Her first question was “Do you have a business plan?. Me: “Ah, nope”. Step No. 1 = a business plan and I was pleasantly surprised that it proved to be a helpful exercise.
I will admit that manuvering my way through the registration of the business, setting up the wesbite, and all the varyiing licenses was all completely foreign territory for me – and I enjoyed every minute. It was a challenge I obviously needed. To do all this and find the first thirty images to be used with the cards took me approximately six months. It could have done more quickly if I didn’t have a 9 to 5er day job getting in the way.
For now I am focusing on greeting cards, but have some ideas about other things I’d let to try and encompass in FBB.