Mystery Solved!

Mystery Solved!

I'd like to thank the QCT for posting the Chalmers-Wesley "mystery photo" in the November 4 issue. Today I received a phone call from a former resident of Quebec City, 90-year-old Mrs. Bernice Simons, now living in Baie d'Urfé. When she received her copy, she was "flabbergasted" to see our mystery photo. It was taken, she said, in the living room of her parents' home about 1914. She still has an original copy of that photo.

Mrs. Simons is the daughter of Ethel (Holtby) and Thomas B. O'Neill. The house where they lived when she was a little girl was situated at 50 rue d'Aiguillon, just next to the former Église presbytérienne Saint-Jean. From 1919 to 1924 that church, then renamed Saint John's Hall, served as a home away from home for English-speaking Protestant children studying in Quebec City. During the 1950s and 1960s the building was used as the church hall for the nearby St. Matthew's Anglican Church, on rue Saint-Jean.

Anyway, I digress. Having worked on the history of Chalmers-Wesley (Remember All the Way), I was excited to learn that the people in this photo were in fact a group of Methodists who were having a choir party in the O'Neill home. Mr. and Mrs. O'Neill were prominent members of the former Wesleyan Methodist Church, now the Institut canadien, located at the corner of rue Dauphin and Saint-Stanislas just opposite the Morrin Centre. Mrs. Simons was baptized there by the Rev. W.H. Stevens, the last minister of that church before the congregation merged with nearby Chalmers United Church (following the creation of the United Church of Canada in 1925).

The O'Neill family attended the re-named Chalmers-Wesley United Church and, as a young woman, Bernice taught Sunday School there. Later she was married at Chalmers but her husband Reginald was an Anglican so they then attended Trinity Church. Reginald Simons was instrumental in having the new Trinity Church built on Quatre-Bourgeois in 1960. He was the son of John Simons, founder of La Maison Simons. Due to ill health following his experience as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong during the Second World War, Reginald was unable to continue in the family business.




Mrs. Simons was able to identify several people in the photo. The baby in the centre of the front row is her older brother Lionel, born in 1912 (Mrs. Simons was born in 1919). Their mother, Ethel, wears a large white collar and is seated immediately to the baby's left. Their father, Thomas, is second from the right end of the middle row. The man at the extreme right with his hand on the lady's shoulder is the choir director, Charles H. Thorn. His sons Alan, Bert and Frank, also sang in the choir but Mrs. Simons is unable to identify who they were in the photo.

We had a lovely chat on the phone and she was pleased to help identify the people she remembered in the photo. When I asked whether she objected if I reported our conversation in the QCT, she said she'd be delighted to share this story with the readers of the QCT.