October 30, 1997

Dear Sis,

My children and I would like to welcome you into our family. We are pleased to learn we have another sister and aunt.

I am 67 years old, 5’11” and I weigh 200 pounds. I have blue eyes and dark blonde hair. Fortunately, my ripe old age has brought very few gray hairs. Although the fact I now have very little may have something to do with that.

I’m personally very pleased we have the opportunity of establishing a bond. Sadly, it’s a bit late in life, but being Ormistons, we always seem to do things the hard way.

Sybil was born in Gabarus, Nova Scotia on March 21,1909. She was the love child of a teen affair between my grandfather and his first cousin, Eva Blanche Ormiston.

The scandal had my grandfather riding the rods, working his way across the country during harvest to his brother Herb, a Skipper for the CPR in BC.

Eva’s parents moved to Glace Bay and raised Sybil as their own.

Sybil went to visit her ‘sister’ in the states when she was 14 and a couple years later, she moved to Wethersfield, CT to live with her.

I never got to know Dad until after he retired as he was at sea for long periods of time. Nevertheless, I have a couple stories you might enjoy.

It was Halloween and Dad brought home a ship’s rocket. It was the biggest rocket we’d ever seen. He fastened a two inch pipe to the back fence, forced the rocket stem into the pipe, lit the fuse and we all stood back and watched. It flamed and burned but it didn’t move. We ran for cover before it exploded, as it was stuck in the pipe. Then, the rocket slowly started to rise, fence and all. At three feet, it broke free and soared into the sky and exploded, leaving a flattened back fence. Dad turned to a neighbour and said,

–       Do you know where I can get some fence posts, John?

When Sybil entered Dad’s life, I was living at the farm and going to college. Illegible handwriting and a broken typewriter, I became Dad’s secretary and typed all the letters he wrote to her on my computer.

After eight years in Alberta, Kristin and her family had moved to the farm. For the first time, I was able to establish a bond with my sister too.

I came in one morning and Mom was sitting at the table beside herself. She said,

–       Sandy, he’s driving me crazy. I can’t get anything done with all this commotion.

I went down to the basement and as I passed Dad, I said,

–       Harry, would you mind coming into the office? I’d like to talk to you.

Now, I had never called him ‘Harry’ in my life. He looked at me, then followed. I said,

–       Sit down Harry. I’d like to explain something to you. I know you were Master of the C.G.S Estevan for many years and were waited on hand and foot by Matthew, the Second Steward, but around here you’re just one of the bloody crew. You’re driving Mom nuts. Get off her back.

He exploded with laughter, went upstairs, got dressed and took the bus down to the dock. He applied for a job as night watchman at Island Tug and worked full-time until he retired again at seventy-six.

Eva Blanche Ormiston rode a motorcycle and liked to fish.

She moved to Halifax and married a soldier. He went ahead to find a job and apartment in the states but when she went to surprise him, she found him in bed with another woman.

Eva stayed in America and worked as a housekeeper and cook for a Jewish lawyer, who got her a divorce.

Many years later, she met and married Noble. They moved to Connecticut.

The kids, grandkids and dogs are doing well. The dogs stay out of trouble and don’t bite, but you have to keep an eye on the youngest grandson. We’re not sure about him.

Your brother,


Sybil’s uncle and “brother,” George, encouraged her interest in music and gave her a piano in Glace Bay.

Sybil sang in the Hartford Oratorio on the radio in the 30s and early 40s.  She taught voice lessons at home and was the soloist for the local Catholic Church for more than twenty-five years.

She sang at almost all of the weddings and funerals during that time.

She was doing a solo on the radio and had just finished when the network cut off all programs to announce the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

Sybil married Francis John McCarthy from Hartford, CT when they were seventeen. They had 3 children.

In her later years, Frank bought her an organ and she took up jazz.

November 18, 1999

Dear Sis,

Growing up in Prince Rupert during the depression, most of our relatives and friends from lighthouses, small villages and canneries on the Skeena River stayed at our place when they came to town.

For many years, our brother Tom and I thought all the women were big until we realized we only saw them when they were in the last stages of pregnancy, as they came to have their babies and then returned home.

One day, Mom looked out the window and saw the taxi pull up. She let out a cry,

–       Oh my God! The Wheeas are here!

It was the Haida Chief in a bowler hat and stovepipe suit, his wife with bracelets made of silver 50cent pieces up and down her arms and their daughter, Maudy. Dad forgot to tell Mom they were coming.

All hell broke loose. Helen’s bed was stripped and remade, her clothes moved in with Grandma. Tom’s bed was stripped and remade, clothes moved in with Dick and me, and rooms vacuumed.

Mom was at the front door to greet the Wheeas as if she’d been expecting them for a week. I don’t know what she said to Dad later, but leave it to your imagination.

Sybil and Dad wrote to each other for years. Though they never met in person, Dad did meet her daughter Sybil Eve at Uncle Tom’s house. I was there.

When we moved to Victoria and Dad took command of a Light Tender vessel, the Master before him, Harry Hughes, had been ill for years and was Master in name only. First Officer, Art Davidson, ran the deck crew and Red Smith was Chief Engineer. When Dad took over, he insisted that Mr. Davidson be transferred off the ship.

Many years later, one of my men and I stopped at the Army and Navy Club for a couple glasses of _______. I was introduced to a very large, graying, wild, redheaded man. After the introduction, he asked if I was related to Captain H.A. Ormiston. I told him I was his son and he blared out,

–       Do you know what that old B did to me?

I started looking for an escape as Alec and I together couldn’t handle him.

He said he was in his cabin when the Steward told him the Captain wished to see him. He went to Dad’s room, the old man poured him a drink of Hudson Bay Rye and they sat talking about the ship.

Then Dad poured him another drink and said,

–       Chief, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Harry Alexander Ormiston and I am the Master of the C.G.S Esteven and if we cannot establish that fact in the time it takes you to finish your drink, I will invite you out on the deck and settle this with my hands. If I fail with my hands, I will try a Marlin spike, and if that fails, I have a Parker 12 hanging above my bed. One way or another, we are going to settle this matter for good.

The man told me he looked at this fat, old B and said,

–       Is it alright if I have another drink, Harry?

He was sure he meant what he said and they became fast friends and good shipmates.

My Aunt Sybil died on March 12, 2011, nine days shy of her 103rd birthday.

Things around here have quieted down as the last of my Jersey cows passed on recently. It’s hard to believe but I really miss them. I find myself looking for them down in the fields. They were real pets. They followed me around as I worked or picked blackberries.

We’re down to five chickens between coons and old age. I may have to put Aspirin in the feed for their arthritis and start lifting them onto the perch.

Even my youngest grandson is starting to mellow, but not that much.

Your brother,












About Morbid Optimist

My name is Katryna Mary Brooke Ormiston. I am 35 years old and after living in Vancouver for a decade, I am returning home to my 81 year old father’s hobby farm on Vancouver Island to care for him in the final stages of his life. This blog is to document my journey, process my experiences along the way and hopefully share and feel connected to a community beyond the three and a half acres I find myself on. A message in a bottle in the cyber-sea.
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5 Responses to Sybil

  1. Jennifer says:

    How poignant and happy and weepy all at the same time. I will have to send this along to a few people who knew Blanche and Sybil. Love the stories that your Dad wrote to Sybil about Harry – classic! 🙂

  2. symadill says:

    I enjoyed your story about your family. Sara (Philippson) Ormistom was my great Aunt. Her brother Olafur (Oliver ) Philippson was my grandfather. Not sure what that makes us

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