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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Wartime history comes ‘full circle’ for NOTL’s Gregg family
Bill McKinley, left, presented a letter written during the First World War by the grandfather of Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Steven Gregg. The letter was a thank-you letter sent to his family. Richard Hutton
A letter to the family of Cecil Dale by Montague Gregg during the First World War. Supplied
Montague J. Gregg, in the middle of the back row, with his family in 1947. Supplied

A letter written more than 100 years ago has brought two families together once again.

Bill McKinley of Oakville was leafing through a folder full of documents and letters he had inherited.

At the same time, Steven Gregg of Niagara-on-the-Lake had become more curious about his family’s history after he attended a presentation at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum about the Ontario Farmerettes program during the Second World War.

His mother Dorothy had been a Farmerette and at the same time, she met his father, Stanley.

For McKinley, the papers in his possession at one time had belonged to his grandparents and among the documents was a letter written on YMCA Canada stationery from a soldier named Montague J. Gregg.

It was written to the family of Cecil Dale, another member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which fought in the First World War. 

“I got the folder and I opened it up. I saw this letter written, presumably to Cecil’s mother,” McKinley said.

“And all it said was, ‘Dear madam, thank you for the package. My mom lives near your mom. I’ll have her give you a call.’ It was a nice letter.”

The letter was signed by Gregg and included the soldier’s regimental number. Cecil, meanwhile, had been killed in action while serving in France.

McKinley decided he wanted to find out more about the letter writer.

He searched for Montague J. Gregg on the Library and Archives Canada website where he found the soldier’s attestation papers.

He conducted a further a search on Ancestry.com and then Googled Montague’s name “just to see what comes up.”

That’s where Steven Gregg came into the picture.

“(I found) the obituary for Steven’s father (Stanley),” McKinley said, adding he learned Steven lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake through a separate Google search.

At the same time, McKinley came across the story in The Lake Report about the Farmerettes event presented by author Bonnie Sitter. Gregg was quoted in the story.

“The whole thing took less time than it is to tell you this,” McKinley said,

Emails were exchanged between the two men and Sitter, who had co-authored a book on the Farmerettes program that was initiated during the Second World War by the Ontario Farm Service Force.

The program encouraged girls ages 16 to 18 to work in the fields during the summer while many of the men went off to fight in the war.

One of the stories detailed in Sitter’s presentation was that of the budding romance between Steven’s parents. Seeing that story convinced McKinley that he had found a descendant of Montague Gregg.

The two men met this past Saturday – Remembrance Day – to exchange the letter at the museum.

“This whole thing has really come full circle just by happenstance, really,” Gregg said. “The great efforts of Bill to connect us and have the wherewithal to think that we would want to enjoy seeing this little bit of history.”

His grandfather, Gregg said, talked very little about his experiences during the war.

“I think that’s typical of a lot of wartime families, actually,” Gregg said. “We really knew nothing. To hear or to see that he was writing back to a grieving mother in Toronto was pretty amazing.”

When the war was over, Montague returned to his home in Toronto, Gregg said.

Then Monty got married, “had five sons, including my father (who died in 2019), and two daughters as well, all in Toronto.”

Gregg said the letter will be preserved by his family.

“I think certainly I would love to frame it, probably with the wartime medal of my grandfather’s.” 

He is thankful for McKinley’s curiosity and the fact that he took the time to reach out.

“Bill’s efforts have been great, but none of this would have happened if (Geoffrey and Lorraine Joyner) didn’t sponsor talks like this (on the Farmerettes),” Gregg said.

“It’s made all this searchable.”

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