The Blyths from the Stewartry may have been the biggest family to ever immigrate to Canada.
Gardener Robert Blyth, his wife Annie and their 13 children, hopped aboard the Marburn to escape Britain’s post-war depression 88 years ago.
And it worked – with a businessman in the new world offering the family, jobs, houses, schooling and food on their arrival – the story even made the front page of the local press.
Their great-nephew Roy Blyth, of Wigan, told the News: “They ended up in Colborne, Ontario. It was a very brave decision and it fascinates me. It’s a fascinating story.”
Robert Blyth was head gardener at Barnbarroch Estate, having broken away from the family’s nursery business in Cotton Street, Castle Douglas in the late 1800s.
Once married to Annie, he set out on his own – gardening at Strathbane and Threave.
WW1 interrupted his career - he was too old to fight so was made a stretcher bearer.
Later the horticulturist caught Spanish Flu that killed millions, he survived but was still poorly and served his time out in army kitchens.
Their oldest son, Jimmy, was a dispatch rider who sadly died in Ireland during the war.
After the trouble Robert, who lived in Barnbarroch Cottage, (now Shennan Creek) Dalbeattie, set his mind on getting his family out of the country’s class society as the depression started to set in and he was worried about his large family’s opportunities in life.
However, he was adamant he would not go without every member of his family.
As a result, 23-year-old Emily broke off her engagement to Douglas McKinlay, himself planning a move down under, to move across the Atlantic with her family.
And move they did on July 24, 1924 – arriving in Brighton to great fanfare on August 2 on the Canadian Pacific liner Marburn.
A cablegram received during the crossing changed their futures forever. The sender was Sam Nesbitt, owner of Dominion Canners in Brighton. He had heard of the large family coming to Canada and had an offer they could not possibly refuse.
Jobs for all, schooling for the little ones and housing for everyone. Three bungalows were set aside for the troupe and were stocked with food to get them started.
Roy added: “It worked out very well for them. He offered them the run of three farms and I believe a couple of years later they were able to buy one of them off Mr Nesbitt and continued to run the other two.
“They were fruit and veg farms and from what I hear from Canada – they did quite well. Mr Nesbitt was good to them really and the family worked for them for many years.”
Bob the gardener and farmer was also Robert the poet and it is believed he may have started composing while courting Annie on the banks of Loch Lomond – the following is an example of his work in memory of son Vic, who died from a blow to the head while felling trees in Canada.
Tune up your pipes play soft my lad
And play a Scotch lament
Our Scottish hearts are feeling sad
Our heads in sorrow bent
For we have lost a loving son
His man hood just began
Strong, fearless, aye, fu o fun
A chieftain o his clan
Na mair he’ll call the merry dance
Or whistle at the ploo
Wi reverence to the great divine
The church will miss him too
He loved this Canada of ours
She loved her adopted son
He loved the birds he loved the flowers
A smile for everyone
In patience we’ll go along life’s way
As the sad lament is closing
And look forward to a better day
We know he’s just reposing