May 17 to June 3 1956

Immediately after finishing her last Air Form, Cyn started this letter to her mother, and then finished it 2 1/2 weeks later, in the middle of their road trip to Michigan for their holiday. But the complaints about the weather are completely in agreement with Mrs. Edmunds’ letters which have interrupted the Costain accounts! Events in the last 2 hectic weeks of May included Mother’s Day, with a card and a visit from Lila, when Linda got to wear her new yellow-and-white outfit just completed by her clever Mama.

Box 330. R.R.1
17th May. 1956

Dearest Mummy,
I just finished an A.L. to you but discover it isn’t very late yet, so I thought I would begin this now & it would encourage me to get on with it & get it done in good time to mail next week!
I told you that I’d give you more details of Jim & Lee’s house in this – actually their street & front entrance is not finished yet, so we came from another street & entered by the back so I feel a bit turned around, but I’ll try to draw you a vague plan! It is grey brick with black roof & has a nice lot with quite a few trees which will be lovely – they get the front landscaped for them, but have to do the back themselves. Lee’s sister Johnny (the nurse who lives in California now) is on holiday & staying with them for a month or so, which is very nice & a big help to Lee. She was away in Montreal when we were there, but we hope to see her when she gets back. Dougie is a big boy running around now, but still not talking – Charlie is quite taken with him! He is about 10 times as tough as Charlie as Barry treats him rough & knocks him about & he takes it all! Can you imagine my little plum blossom?!

I like the plan very much & it is all nicely arranged & finished, but the sitting room is small which is our only criticism. Of course with the dining room added on it makes it seem larger, but even so it isn’t very big.
On Sat. the Swiss Fellow, Kurt Dressler (the one who made the funny remark about enjoying himself much more than he thought he would!) is getting married. His bride has come from Switzerland & we all thought they would get married very quietly, but he has invited all the Spectroscopy Dept. & is having a reception in the Church Hall, so it is very exciting. The Church is over on the Drive way not far from Jim & Lee & when the latter offered to keep the children we accepted with delight as we had asked Mrs. Martin to come but they were most unenthusiastic! (Linda said she would play outside & Mrs. Martin must never come out!) Mrs. M. was quite pleased to get out of it as she is very busy, so we are all happy now! While we were over at Jim & Lee’s last Sat. we went to Simpson’s Sears new store & I got a new hat – white with a brim – flat – & a veil – quite pretty – & also a wedding present – a set of square plastic kitchen canisters – flour etc. (red & white) – you know. Of course with the weather I have quite a problem what to wear! So I have 3 outfits lined up
1) Beautiful warm sunny day. New greeny- yellow dress I made – new hat- white shoes gloves etc.
2) Mild but dull day. Harrod’s tussore dress (just washed & ironed it) new hat – white gloves – black shoes.
3) Cold lousy horrid day! Grey suit – new blouse I got for my birthday – new hat – white gloves – black shoes. Will let you know which one it turns out to be!

MacTavish [their ’46 Chrysler] is away this week getting his face lifted before we go back to his home town! Cec is having the engine overhauled before our trip & also having all the bumps fixed & having him painted (the same colour) so we are very excited to see him looking pretty & shiny again. Til & Lois will probably be utterly amazed to see we are still driving him, but we thought at least we could take him down looking his best.
There was such a terrible accident not far from here on Tuesday night. A jet plane crashed from 33,000 ft. down onto a Grey Nuns Convent used as a Rest Home. It is between here & Orleans, but not on the road we used to drive but on a side road off to the river. It happened at about 10:15 & of course the plane exploded & the building was immediately engulfed in flames. I went out to the kitchen at about 10:30 & glancing out of the window saw this huge blazing fire, but Cec & I couldn’t think where or what it was. It is so difficult to tell distances at night & it looked so big. It wasn’t till about 15 mins. later that all the fire engines began tearing past & the RCAF fire equipment & so on – there were all sorts of reports on the radio but at last they told what had happened. At first they reported as many as 50 killed, but next morning they announced 15 killed all together, including a priest & the 2 pilots. Seventeen of the nuns were saved, but seeing the terrible devastation of the building it is incredible that anyone got out at all. The dreadful thing is that there are fields all around the convent for miles.

A Long, Long Time Later
June 3. On Our Trip.

Road Trip!

Dearest Mummy – Didn’t I get lost off with this letter? The last 2 weeks before we left were so hectic that I just didn’t seem to have a minute even to finish it, so finally I brought it along with me & I am writing this in a Motel in Chatham (half way between Toronto & Windsor.) I got your nice long letter just before I left & hope you won’t worry when you don’t hear from me for a little while but expect you will know I was busy getting ready for the trip.
It has been such cold rainy weather that we are all wearing sweaters & coats & although I have our bags full of summer dresses I don’t know whether we’ll ever wear them! It rained all day today & I can hear the cars swishing by on the highway outside. We set out at 9 a.m. yesterday morning – a gray cool day – & drove to Peterborough (about 200 miles) to see the Haywoods who live there now. The children slept part of the way, but after they woke the road was quite bumpy for a bit & although I had Charlie in the front he said he felt funny & suddenly turned pale green & began to cry! We stopped & got out hastily & it did the trick – he had a little walk in the fresh air & a cookie & we went on in about 10 mins. time & he has been fine since, although of course we handle him with care!

We had lunch on the way & got to the Haywoods about 3:15 & had tea & a chat & stayed about 1 1/2 hrs. They like it there very much & all look well & happy. We then drove on to Toronto & got to a Motel not far from A. Lillie & U. Milton’s at about 7:30. We had dinner then & settled down for the night – rather a restless one! We had a big room with 2 double beds & one end as a sitting room, but of course the children were excited at all the strangeness. We tried to get them asleep & let us sit & read on the sofa, but of course they weren’t used to the light, so in the end we went to bed too, but I was up a dozen times I’m sure! They kicked each other & Charlie scratched his legs & Linda kicked him etc. etc.!!! This morning after breakfast we went to Auntie & Uncle’s & stayed & had an early lunch but both children were very tired & subdued! We set off again at noon & this time retraced our famous drive of Linda’s babyhood, but I can’t say I recalled any of the places!

We stopped here quite early – about 5:30 – as it was so rainy & miserable – & this time we have 2 adjoining rooms, which I hope will be better. We had dinner & put the children to bed & as this is a bigger bed we put pillows down the middle & they seem to be sound asleep now. I only hope they don’t call in the middle of the night or I have to dash out of one door & in at the other in the rain in my nightie!! We have only about 100 miles to do tomorrow so will get to Ann Arbour in the afternoon & will stay there till Thursday when we go to Toledo.


I spent the last week or so making Linda & me the dresses out of the material I got last year that you asked about. It is white with a little yellow dot & I have made us yellow jackets to go with them. Everyone thinks they look nice & I think so too, but this weather! It was cold for the wedding I told you about of course & I wore my grey (remodelled) suit, which I’m wearing now with a sweater & pleased to have it on!
I must stop now & go to bed – hoping it will be a quiet night! I’ll write again on the trip & tell you how we are doing.
Lots & lots of love from us all – Cyn.

MacTavish’s Travel Papers

April 9 2021

Today I think the post has to address the current events of April 9 2021, because the lives of both Carol and Cyn were touched by them in the 20th century, and they would care about what happened in this one.

Ash cloud from the volcanic eruption on St. Vincent- CNN


First, La Soufrière, the volcano in St Vincent, erupted today, as it did in 1902 when Carol was a child, and again in 1979 when I was teaching in Nigeria, and getting world news far away from my family, Carol then living with Cyn and Cec in Ottawa. Thankfully, the world has better systems in place now, scientists- and earthquakes- warned of the increased volcanic activity, and St. Vincent’s emergency plan was put into action by the Prime Minister so people in possible danger were warned and are being evacuated now. But it is a time of uncertainty in pandemic times, and we are concerned about the people of St.Vincent.


Secondly, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died today. When Cyn stood in the London crowd in 1947, with her radio broadcasting the royal wedding service to her friends and the people around her, I’m sure they all wished the royal couple a long and happy marriage, but I doubt they visualized it lasting 73 years. Both Carol and Cynthia, confirmed royalists, would want us to acknowledge Prince Philip’s constant service to the UK and Commonwealth and support for the Queen, and join in expressing sympathy for his family and the people who knew him.

The Queen and Prince Philip in Ottawa, the year of my birth.

Christmas 1955

This Christmas the family was healthy and happy and had invited two of their favourite ‘singles’ from the Lab- Lila, and Santiago, a Fellow from Spain- to come for dinner. Both of them were good with the children who were happy to show their loot off! I had the ironing board I had apparently been wanting, and a doll’s bed and linens made by Cec and Cyn, I think. The doll was hard plastic and she walked, and Charlie had a selection of mechanical vehicles including a train.

Cyn made lists, of course, so thank yous could be written, and Carol properly informed.

The neighbours were not on Cyn’s Present List but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d received jars of Cyn’s festive mincemeat!

December 1955

This month is such a busy one for Cyn that her mother doesn’t get to hear all the juicy details about the celebrations until the New Year. In her two previous letters Cyn writes about her preparations for Christmas – in fact, her packing of parcels to send outside of Canada happened in November to make sure they got to their destinations in time- but there is no doubt she enjoyed ordering the children’s toys from catalogues, and making her Christmas cakes and pudding, more than writing the 80 Christmas cards they sent!

Cyn’s List of Parcels Packed!

Before Christmas, of course, there was a family celebration to be held: Charlie turned three!

Grannie sent a card and present, they had a cake for tea with the gifts, and now the children are old enough, they went out to dinner, a thing the cook always appreciated!

Charlie’ birthday was always the start of the holiday season for the children, with a big share-able present- in this case a wagon – wheels they could drive/ride around the unfinished basement with the tricycle when it was too cold to go out!

Others’ Children in the Summer

It is likely that Cyn got photos of her friends’ children with their Christmas cards, but she put them in her scrapbook in amongst her fall events, although they have a summer vibe. No doubt she sent pictures of Linda and Charlie looking one year older as well!

First, however, her friend Anne sent pictures of the previous spring and summer, before her husband’s tragic death in Cambridge.

The summer of 1955, they seem to have gone to the beach! Cyn, enjoying her new sewing machine, was busy making mother-and-daughter skirts for Anne and Janita for Christmas.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, the Sheedy boys were getting older too.

And Nan and Dick Heslop were obviously proud of their daughter!

Back in Canada, after their working summer, Merle and Dix sent a picture of their boys, John, Lorne and Bruce.

These would be the cousins we were closest to, but it would be a few years before we met them.

Science in September 1955

While the Spectroscopy Section was busy at the NRC, their friends in Chalk River were gaining international recognition. Canadian atomic research was to result in the development of medical isotopes in the 50s, CANDU nuclear power reactors in the 60s, and Ray Appleyard’s continuing visits to New York, to the UN.

Meanwhile at home, Cyn got some modern technology that she’d been wishing for for years!

Out in Saskatchewan, another Costain scientist, Cec’s youngest brother, Carman, completed his Master’s and, following in his brother’s footsteps, was headed for Cambridge to work on his PhD in the field of radio astronomy. During the summer of 1953 when Carman had stayed with them in Ottawa, they had gotten to know him and Cyn’s knowledge of rooms, landladies, and houses in Cambridge was now put to use on his behalf. And he was not going alone!

Carman and Leona were visiting Ottawa before sailing to England, the family would get to meet the bride, and Carol would get to meet yet another of Cec’s family.

September 1955

The National Research Council where Cec worked had permanent staff members: Dr Herzberg, the head of the Physics Division, with Alec Douglas, Boris Stoicheff, Don Ramsay, Cec and others; and also Fellows who came from all over the world for 2 years and then usually returned to jobs at home. This meant that an unspoken part of the staffers job was being helpful to the newcomers and making sure their families were getting on well.

Dr. Herzberg and ladies.

For Cyn and Cec, that meant entertaining, and once the summer holidays were over, they held an evening for their friends (possibly wanting Carol to enjoy the people she’d been reading about in Cyn’s letters for the past 4 years, as well as the outfit- Cyn’s skirt was her gift!)

Cec’s camera came out, showing drinks and hors d’oeuvres,

friends and Carol dressed up,

Phyl Douglas and Carol (Grannie to us, Mummy to Cyn.)
Alec Douglas, Joan Stoicheff, and a wife…

ladies smoking elegantly,

physicists chatting happily,

Mrs. Herzberg and Alec, plus a Fellow?
Charlie saying Good Night to his godfather, Boris Stoicheff.

and the children in pyjamas insisting on saying goodnight as part of the entertainment.

Costains: Hosts and entertainment!

August Birthday 1955

After the holiday at the cottage, the next exciting event was Linda’s birthday. Grannie had been in Ann Arbour for the actual birth, but never for a birthday celebration, so that made it special, and so did the prospect of a party. The November before, Janek’s 3rd birthday party had overwhelmed the children at their first party with 16 guests, but Cyn had told her mother that she thought they would try something smaller and get the two children used to such celebrations.

They sent invitations to the Ramsay girls, Barry, Janek, and Joanne Tomlinson who lived in the area, none of whom really knew each other at that point although Linda, Joanne and Janek would be in the same class from Kindergarten through to Grade 13!

So besides the birthday girl, there were 3 girls and 3 boys and they posed in party clothes on a nice August day.

Front Row: in shadow Wendy Ramsay, Janek Blachut, Shirley Ramsay. Standing: Joanne, Cyn holding Charlie, the birthday girl Linda, and Barry Gander.

I am sorry that there is no letter telling what happened at the party, but there were cards, probably little presents, and a very girly cake!

Since Cyn recorded all this in her scrapbook, I assume it was successful as all her well-planned events were. However, the family celebration was probably more fun for Linda and Charlie. Since Linda had a summer birthday and Charlie a winter one, they usually got a big present that both could enjoy- such as a sandbox or a sleigh.

The big present. Since they already had a tiny tricycle, and a wagon, they had lots of wheels!

August 1955

In August, Cec and Cyn rented a cottage so that Grannie could enjoy the Canadian cottage experience- primitive facilities, ancient stoves and fridges, bedrooms with walls that stopped before the roof so that noise and mosquitoes could circulate, but outside peace and quiet with lovely views, sand, shallow to deep water, August heat, and a dock jutting into a big lake.

Linda liked the water.
Water Play!
Grannie must have found the Canadian lake a bit chillier than the Carribbean!
Budding scientist.
These toys were made of tin, which worked well in a sheltered sandbox, but rusted at the cottage. Can’t think why.
My nicest swimsuit.

Everyone enjoyed the cottage, but it was never much of a holiday for Cyn who had to cook under difficult circumstances, so we only did it every 3 years or so.

July 1955

In July, Carol Ewing arrived in Ottawa, three years after her last trip, to visit her daughter Cyn, Cec, Linda, and meet her grandson for the first time. But hers was not the only visit. Cec got his camera out to record the meeting of the in-laws: his Aunt Lily came up from Toronto- she hadn’t seen them since Linda was 6 weeks old- and Cec’s sister Merle and her husband Dix came from Port Arthur, and they met Carol and the children for the first time. As they were all lovely people, they got on well!

Charlie and Uncle Dix

Carol Ewing is standing, with Lily Costain seated, at the back of the house on Montreal Road.

Lea, Cec’s second sister, had been staying with Merle and Dix with her son because of her health, but has returned to her husband Wendell who was working in Ottawa. So in these family photographs the only one missing is Cec, who is behind the camera.

Adults: Wendell & Lea Atchison, Dixon & Merle Moor, Cyn, Aunt Lily, and Grannie! Children: Daryl, Charlie and Linda.

Both Merle and Dix had university degrees, but at some point decided to get teacher’s qualifications by going to Teacher’s College in the summer in Toronto for a couple of summers. I assume their three sons went to their grandparents in Saskatoon while their parents took courses. We would meet those cousins a few years later. Meanwhile, Cyn took the camera.

Costain Siblings- Cec and his sisters and us.
Family Visit!