Watch Don's Story Mon. Sept. 17th at 8:30 PM!
Don Cherry is as famous for his outspoken hockey commentary as he is for his unique fashion sense. He has been hosting CBC's Coach's Corner on Hockey Night in Canada for over twenty-four years. A former player and long-time coach, Don made a name for himself as the feisty champion of some of the scrappiest hockey players in the sport. He is also a fierce supporter of Canada's military troops. Don begins his journey into his ancestry wondering if his support of the military just might run in his blood.
Don starts his exploration into his family's history in Kingston, Ontario, where he was born and raised. Looking at photographs of Don's father, Delmar (Del) Cherry, it is clear where Don inherited his sense of fashion. Del was a snappy dresser. But the family never spoke about Del's father, John (Jack) T. Cherry, so Don knows very little about him and doesn't even know what he looked like, since no photos of the man exist. Don does know, however, that Jack was a Great Lakes steamer Captain.
Don heads to the Kingston Central Library, where librarian Jo Stanbridge has found Jack Cherry's obituary in the Daily British Whig (10 April 1920). It states that Jack died of a stroke in the spring of 1920, three days before heading out for another season on the Great Lakes. Jack is described as one of the best-known mariners in the district, who throughout his marine career, never had a wreck, collision or lost a vessel (Kingston Frontenac Public Library). Don is surprised and fascinated to also learn that, as a young man, Jack had been a member of the North West Mounted Police.
To find out more about Jack Cherry's earlier life in the North West Mounted Police, Don visits Glen Wright from the RCMP Historical Section, in Kingston. He discovers that Jack Cherry was not just a Mountie, but one of the very first Mounties and one of 275 men who took part in the famous March West of 1874. On this mission, the Mounties traveled from Dufferin, Manitoba, across 800 miles of unsettled prairie to what is now southern Alberta to disassemble the notorious Fort Whoop-up where American whiskey traders were selling liquor to the native peoples (The Origins of the RCMP). In Jack's North West Mounted Police file, Don sees a glimpse of his grandfather's personality-the file lists the numerous fines Jack was required to pay for disobeying orders during his service. Jack was clearly a man with a rebellious streak much like Don himself.
Don next decides to investigate his mother's side of the family, specifically his maternal grandfather Richard Palamountain. At the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Don visits the museum curator, Ross McKenzie. Ross tells Don that his family's connection to the college is even stronger than Don knew, spanning three generations - from his great great grandfather to his mother and father - over eight decades. Richard Palamountain worked as a "head class servant" at the RMC until 1916, when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during World War I. He returned to the RMC after the war, and worked there until shortly before his death in 1934.
Richard's attestation papers for the CEF in World War I state that he was born in Gloucester, England (Soldiers of the First World War - CEF Search). Don flies to Gloucester to find out how long Richard lived there and his reason for leaving.
In Gloucester, Don meets local historian, Michael Walsh, who tells him his great grandfather, Richard Palamountain, Sr., was originally a tin miner from Cornwall. After the decline of tin mining, Richard Sr. moved to Gloucester where he worked first as an engine driver, and later as a printer. He married Bessie Hayward in 1880, and in 1881, Don's grandfather, Richard Jr., was born (FreeBMD). Disaster struck the family in 1889, when Richard Sr. died of tubercular meningitis at age 28. Bessie was left with three young children: two girls and Richard Jr., Don's grandfather.
At the Gloucestershire Archives, Don discovers that Bessie Palamountain made a heart-rending decision. Left destitute after her husband's death, she gave Richard to an orphanage in Headingley, Leeds, nearly 200 miles away. He was 7 years old, and would never see his mother again. Don is deeply moved by his grandfather's misfortune and wonders how a poor boy from an orphanage ended up in Canada.
Don meets historian Karen Fletcher who tells Don that Richard was one of more than 100,000 poor English children shipped to Canada to work as servants or farm labourers. Some were orphans, some were sent without the knowledge or consent of their parents. They are known to history as the "home children" (Young Immigrants to Canada, Home Children (1869-1930),
Karen shows Don Richard Palamountain's file from the Liverpool Sheltering Home (email), the organization that sent him to Canada. The file states that Richard's mother Bessie died in Gloucester in 1890. While Richard's sisters were sent to live with their grandmother, he was shipped to Canada. Richard arrived in Quebec's Eastern Townships in 1895 and spent time in two or three different homes before enlisting at Kingston's Military School in 1900.
Don picks up Richard's story with his service in World War I. Family legend puts Richard at the famous battle of Vimy Ridge, considered by historians to be a key turning point in Canadian history. On the morning of April 9, 1917, Canadian soldiers were able to take - and hold - the German stronghold at Vimy Ridge, France, a feat that had earlier defied both French and British forces. It was a military triumph that has gone down as an important event in Canada's road to nationhood (The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917).
Don's journey ends at the beautiful Vimy Memorial in France. He reflects with pride and admiration on his grandfather's choices. He wishes everyone could know their ancestors' stories. In his heart Don always knew that his fierce loyalty to the troops was in his blood.