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Two Norman Morrisons emigrate

Two Norman Morrisons emigrate

Norman Morrison (Mac Tharmoid Domhnaill, or Martain) of 13 Reef in Uig and his first cousin Norman Morrison (Mac 'an Bhan) from Keith Street in Stornoway left the Isle of Lewis on the emigrant ship the Metagama in 1923.

Norman Morrison from 13 Reef was aged about 24 when he emigrated. He eventually got work in Detroit and served his time as a carpenter. Norman worked hard and in his leisure time learned to play the pipes. Some years later he returned home to Lewis and spent time in the sanatorium in Willowglen, Stornoway recovering from tuberculosis.

Norman soon returned to 13 Reef and his skills as a carpenter are legendary. He steamed the planks to build and repair boats, made large wooden windows for Baile Na Cille church and made very distinctive meal chests. Norman had seen meal chests in America and began to produce customised chests for Uig households. One section of the chest held a boll of oatmeal and the other a boll of flour. This was before the days of freezers and fresh bread in the shops every day. At this time the woman of the house made her own bread, scones and oatcakes every day.

The top section of the chest opened and had a shelf for cream of tartar and bicarbonate. The middle of the top section had three small drawers with brass handles. There was a section which slid out which was a kneading board. Norman 's modification of the meal chests ensured everything the housewives needed was to hand.

The other Norman Morrison also worked hard in his new adopted country. Iain Morrison from Toronto contacted Hebridean Connections with his father's story.

My father Norman Morrison originally of 54 (or 44?) Keith Street, a cottage no longer there, came to Canada on his own in 1920 when he was seventeen. He worked here for a year or so and then returned to Stornoway.

His father John had sold his fishing boat to assist with Norman's payment of the necessary ocean passage.

Arriving at the old Union Station in Toronto and keen to get employment he went to the newsstand to buy a newspaper to see the "Jobs Available" ads. Returning to where he had put down his only suitcase in the station hall he realized that someone had lifted it. This left him in a strange city with just the clothes he was wearing, his Sunday best, and no other belongings. Fortunately he had kept all his money in his pocket during his travels.

Seeing a "wanted" ad for a construction labourer he rode the street car out to the west end of Toronto and found a queue of applicants forming at the job site. The job was manually excavating for a foundation for concrete supports for a railway bridge. Some of the applicants looked at the work being done which was pick-and-shovel work, decided not to apply and left the queue immediately. Soon Norman was at the head of the line. An earlier candidate was already down in one of the pits was digging away steadily. After a while the man started to ease up, to take a rest and he was informed by the foreman that he would not qualify for the job. By then there was a small line of determined men awaiting their opportunity.

The foreman then waved Norman, still attired in his best clothes, to get in the pit and to start digging and shoveling the dirt out over the now quite high parapet. He knew that if he once lifted his head for any reason that the foreman would call him off the job. It had been clear from the start, that seeing Norman's smaller 5'6" stature, the foreman did not expect him to go for very long and there were plenty of others eager to have a go at the job. It was hard to maintain a firm footing with his "good" shoes in the now somewhat muddy pit and of course his good suit was now covered with wet mud and clay. However the end of the normal shift finally came and he was still going steadily. He was told to report for work the next day!

My father returned to Lewis and after learning the blacksmithing trade there he came back to Canada on the Metagama in 1924. Apart from a period of WWII Armed Service duty he spent the rest of his life here in Canada.


- Maggie Smith

(Norman mac 'An Bhan evidently gave his age as 19 when he emigrated on the Metagama in 1924 - perhaps an error.)



Title: Two Norman Morrisons emigrate
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Newspaper Article
Record Maintained By: CEU
Subject Id: 8670