Young-Bolen's knitting research leads to trove of family history
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
On March 25, the Huron County Museum will host a special virtual knitting workshop with Sharlene Young-Bolen of Blyth, but at the heart of the seminar is the history of a local family.
On her blog, Stitch Revival Studio, Young-Bolen begins the story like this: “The story of the creation of the Huron Wristers (fingerless gloves that cover the wrist up to the forearm) is a story of connections: the connection from past to present, of generation to generation.”
In 1972, Pearl Wheeler donated a pair of knitted gloves, once her husband Herbert’s, to the Huron County Museum. According to Young-Bolen, the museum’s records indicated that the gloves were thought to date back to 1870 and made special note that they were knitted by a man.
Herbert was a carpenter and a barber who lived in Belgrave with Pearl. His parents were Charles Wheeler and Mary Ann Wilkinson and he had four brothers and three sisters.
Young-Bolen began her journey with the gloves on a trip to the museum on a quest to research women’s head coverings (she had hoped to recreate a head scarf that belonged to one of her ancestors) when she stumbled upon a picture of the gloves.
“There was something very intriguing about the gloves,” Young-Bolen wrote in her blog post. “First, the colours – the pink is very bold and the contrast between the pink and black is quite striking. Secondly, the colourwork pattern – it seems familiar, but yet different somehow. It looks Fair Isle-inspired, but there’s something else there. And the fringe of the cuff, so interesting.”
Young-Bolen said that while there is no record of who exactly made the gloves, she hopes to continue her research and find out. She hopes to recreate them in a historically-accurate fashion this fall with the help of Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston of the Fashion Arts and Creative Textiles Studio (FACTS) in Blyth and Marg Steele of Steele Wool Farm near Auburn.
“Herbert’s gloves were knit in the round using the stranded colourwork technique, working two colours of yarn in the same row, carrying the unused yard across the inside of the work. The eight-stitch motif repeating pattern is similar to both the Shetland Fair Isle knitting pattern, ‘Little Flowers’, as well as an Estonian pattern called, ‘Cat’s Paw’,” Young-Bolen wrote on her blog.
“The gloves featured a knitted fringe on a short ribbed cuff. Fringing has been used on both Latvian mittens and Estonian gloves, historical and modern versions, and not so much in the Fair Isle tradition. The fringe appears to have been done using a loop technique, which is done during the construction of the glove. The colourwork may seem close to the Sanquhar tradition, but it’s not a match....”
Young-Bolen has since connected with a number of knitters from around the world via the Knitting History Forum who have all offered their two cents and guidance as to where these gloves may have come from and what their story might be.
However, it was on Instagram that Young-Bolen would connect with a woman named Sarah Anderson, who, it turned out, is the daughter of Richard Anderson, the great-nephew of Herbert Wheeler. Richard then provided Young-Bolen a bit of history on the family, which she then published on her blog.
“Charles Wheeler Sr. was born in Dorsetshire, England and came to Canada in 1846, locating in Tecumseh Township, where he bought 300 acres, which would be the [north half] of Lots 10, 11 and 12, Concession 5, more commonly known as the 4th Line,” the history reads. “He married Caroline Lawrence and they raised a family of five sons: Charles, John and Lawrence of Morris Township, William of Alma and Frank of Belgrave, and a daughter, Mrs. Ann Hughes of Escanaba, Michigan.”
From there, Charles Wheeler married Mary Ann Wilkinson and they raised eight children: five sons and three daughters.
• Carrie married Andrew Taylor. They lived in Wingham.
• Herbert married Pearl Procter. They lived in Belgrave and raised three children: Goldie, who married Winnie Lane and lived in London; Velma, who married Wilfred Pickell and lived in Vancouver and Ken, who married Mabel Coultes and farmed in East Wawanosh before retiring to Belgrave.
• Ernest married Verna Elkington and they lived in western Canada. They raised two girls: Verna Wheeler, who lived in Vancouver, and Ila, who lived in Alberta.
• Lennie married Jennie Jordan and they lived in Vancouver. They had one son, Howard, and one daughter, Gladys, who both stayed in British Columbia.
• Jesse married Hazel Campbell and later Ethel Willock.
• Cecil married Edna Scandrett and they raised three girls: Nora, who married Bernard Crellin and lived in London; Ruth, who married Laurence Davis and lived in Brampton and Mary, who married Bert Turned and lived in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Cecil would remarry after Scandrett’s death to Laura Robinson, who has also since passed away.
• Lena married Nelson Higgins and they farmed in Morris Township. They had six children: Dorothy, Charles and Norman never married. Ferrol married Carman Farrier, Carrie married Tom Pletch and Ross married Wilma Johnston.
• Myrtle married Jack Anderson and they lived in Belgrave. They had four children: Ross, who married Barbara Michie and lived in Belgrave; Marie, who passed away at the age of two; Lloyd, who married Eleanor Litt and lived in London and Donna, who married Les Shaw and lives in Goderich.
According to the history provided to Young-Bolen, the only descendants of the Wheeler family to continue farming in Morris Township were Lena’s son Ross Higgins and his son Bruce.
On her blog, Young-Bolen says that while she’s discovered plenty of interesting history, she is no closer to learning the origin of the gloves.
“In conclusion, there really isn’t a conclusion... but what I can say is that taking the time to explore knitting traditions and a local family’s history has been a fascinating, rewarding experience,” Young-Bolen wrote in her blog. “I’m so grateful for Herbert’s relatives who have answered my questions and sent so many wonderful images to be shared here with everyone. They went to a lot of work to compile the info and family photographs and I can’t thank them enough for all their time and effort.”
Young-Bolen has her own thoughts on the inspiration behind the gloves and she’s planning her own reproduction plan.
“I’ve come to think that the original knitter may have incorporated features that he liked into these gloves, perhaps not following one certain pattern, but rather combining different elements into one,” Young-Bolen wrote on her blog. “A full recreation of the gloves is planned for late fall, 2021 and right now I’m testing a local wool I may be using for the reproductions.”
For more information, or to register for the workshop, visit the Huron County Museum’s website at huroncountymuseum.ca.
The following poem written about Herbert Wheeler by a family member definitely gives a wonderful, lasting impression of just who Herbert was and his occupation as a talented woodworker, carpenter and barber. It would have been great to experience just what this writer did so long ago.
Herb Wheeler’s Carpentry Shop & Hair Cutting CIRCA 1932-1945
Whenever Herb was in his shop, I’d like to go and look,
He might be cutting some one’s hair, or be reading some big book,
There were jigs galore hanging all around, some maybe for a sleigh,
There were shavings bright upon the floor, they would soon be swept away.
Herb never left a job undone, if he could finish it that day,
Except of course a larger job, he would maybe stop and say,
“Tomorrow is another day, I’ll hope to get it done,”
“But if I don’t the job will keep, it’s not hurting any one. ”
Sometimes just after Supper, Herb again would be around,
He’d pump up a gas lantern, light it up and settle down.
For Herb, doubled as a barber, he’d cut hair two weekday nights,
Herb, never used power clippers, he did not charge enough by rights.
Somehow, Two bits is what I think, was all a haircut cost,
I really can’t remember, it’s something I have lost.
Herb did not pull your hair at all, as hand clippers often do,
He’d sometimes talk as the clippers clicked, and he’d ask, “does this suit you”?
Herb was skilled at doing woodwork, he could make most anything,
He made a bobsled for the kids, it nearly did take wing
The fastest sled around those parts, down the Ninth Line hill it flew.
Ken would try to give us all a ride, or sometimes maybe two.
I expect that Goldie, used the sled, and likely Velma too,
It needed someone that could steer, and knew just what to do.
I’ve seen the times, when snow was hard, and a fast start at the top,
You’d have to turn the corner, at the highway, to get stopped.
Herb made Ken skis, that were Black Ash wood, what a lovely pair,
The skis would take you down a hill, like you were cushioned on some air.
When the skis were waxed and shone and dried, no one ever saw the like,
They would make a run ahead of all, they would go clean out of sight
There were other things of super class, that emerged from that shop door.
A set of kitchen cupboards, like you’d never seen before.
Herb had a little saying, and he practised it always
“If you measure twice before you cut, it eliminates delays”!
I have seen him make a set of shafts, the wood he’d have to steam
To make a bend for the horse to fit into the cutter’s beam.
Herb had the kind of patience, that a lot of people lack,
That is what made him extra special, with an extra special knack.