Friday, October 7, 2016

Belfast Barman Missing in Canada

John Riddell was born on 8 August 1893 in Coatbridge, Scotland, to Oswald Dykes Riddell and Annie Cowie. He was their only son. At the time of his birth, his father worked as a coachman. In 1901 the entire family was missing from the census except a sister who was in service in Derberyshire, England, and another sister, who was a patient at the local fever hospital.

By 1911 his father, Oswald, had started a restaurant and all his children worked there as wait staff.

John married Mary Lothin Forsyth on 22 February 1916 in Dunfermline. At the time of his marriage, John served as a private in the 2/6 battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. He also sold spirits in Dunfermline. They had two sons, Oswald Dykes in 1916 and David Forsyth Riddell in 1921.

But then something odd happened to John's marriage and to that of his parents. In 1921 his mother, Annie, lived in Belfast, Ireland. Two years later, John immigrated to Canada. However, the passenger manifest listed his residence as 10 Parkend Street, Belfast, the home of his mother, and he was a bar tender. So some time soon after his youngest son was born, John abandoned his family.

At the time Annie and John lived in Belfast it was a rapidly growing city which offered lots of jobs. Social and cultural life in the city was a diverse as could be imagined. Many people still spent Sundays attending religious services but for many others, it was just another day to drink. Public drunkenness was a common sight on Belfast streets and the local pub was a focal point of working class communities. One local clergyman noted Belfast was a city "soaked in liquor."

John boarded the S/S Marburn on 7 April 1923 in Belfast and arrived in Quebec on 13 April. According to the same passenger manifest, he was headed to his sister's house at 746 De L'epee Avenue in Montreal. The next year, John's mother also immigrated to Canada. I have been unable to find a trace of either John or his mother after they arrived Canada.

John Riddell's Ocean Arrivals Form; courtesy of

His father, Oswald Dykes, died in 1935 in Scotland and his death registration said he was a widower at the time of this death. John's wife, Mary, died in 1970 in Scotland and never remarried.

What happened to these family groups is a mystery I keep picking at from time to time. How I wish the 1921 UK census were available!

Another Riddell Conundrum

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