Skip to the main content

The Power of the Handwritten Word

The holiday season during a pandemic is unchartered territory. We find ourselves asking, “what will it look like?” Will our traditions need to evolve? How can we bridge the distance between ourselves and our loved-ones? 2020 has forged numerous new paths on how to stay connected (Zoom, Netflix Watch Parties, online games and classrooms). We’ve relied heavily on technology throughout this year and continue to look towards the future for more innovation. However, what if, instead of looking to the future, we began to look to the past for a form of connection? Our collections contain a treasure trove of powerful handwritten letters; letters between War Bride and husband (longing to be reunited), letters from servicemen and women to family, and letters of welcome to immigrants coming to a new community. Unlike texts, emails, Tweets, posts, and emojis (which can be composed, drafted and sent in a matter of seconds), writing a letter takes time and focus; emotion becomes embedded into penmanship. In the below letter, Leo Devost, in Quebec, writes to his wife Stella Devost in England (December 5, 1945). He writes that 1200 War Brides are being brought to Canada for Christmas and of his hopes that Stella will be one of them ... ...

“To my dearest wife Stella, hello honey a few lines my sweet hoping this letter will find you very well . . . it would be so lovely if we were together . . . I can understand that this month there is about 1200 wifes coming for Christmas and I do hope you’ll be one of them honey because I miss you so very much my Darling we would be so happy to get to see that Xmas is coming . . I’ve had my lesson when were far apart like that we don’t find happyness I need you . . . don’t you ever doubt that I’m going with some other woman no honey I’m to proud of you to double cross you like that . . Darling give a big kiss to our precious baby for me see you both soon . . . yours Leo”

Click each image to see the full size photo.

The above letters (between Stella and Leo) are part of a series of eight that were discovered by Ellen and Thaddeus Wolosinski at a garage sale in Northern Vermont. It’s interesting to note how artifacts are often lost with the passing of time, but letters continue to survive (generation after generation) due to the power of words.

Letters were, often, the only way to connect to a loved one; each time a letter is re-read, the sense of connection becomes renewed. In the below letter, we see a glimpse into the bridging of family from Egypt to England. A black and white Christmas card (depicting a Santa figure riding a camel and leaping over some pyramids) was sent to Maureen Martin (née Bicknell) from her father, Victor, while he was stationed in Egypt (November 16, 1941).

The card contains a quick note from Victor stating that he’s alright and not to worry. He wishes his family a happy Christmas and a hope that the new year will bring them together again.

Click image to see the full size photo.

(The above card comes from Immigration Story S2019.178.1: "Victor was a Lance Sergeant in the 74 Field Regt., Royal Artillery and was killed in action on June 28th, 1942, while serving with the Middle-East Forces. He was killed in Mersa Matruh, Egypt during the retreat from Tobruk, Libya).

Another favourite from our collection, the letter below, gives a window into the life of another War Bride. It demonstrates how connections can be forged (and kindness spread) to those feeling alone in their first holiday away from the familiar. The letter is addressed to Joan Wilson from Huntley Women’s Institute President, Gladys Gamble. It offers support and understanding in coming to a strange new country (written in Carp, Ottawa, Ontario on December 11, 1946).

Click each image to see the full size photo.

“Dear Mrs. Wilson . . . Seven years ago the war clouds broke in fury over England and our native sons offered their services to the Homeland in defence of Home and Country. Soon they were sent to the British Isles where, in the course of time, they met, wooed, and married you, our British brides which we gladly welcome here today . . . When peace was declared your husbands returned to Canada and you, with your little ones, followed to build a home in Canada . . . We realize life in Canada may seem strange to you who were brought up in England or Scotland. For a time you may feel lonely but we do want you to feel at home with us this Christmas season and as a tangible token of our welcome we, the members of Huntley Women’s Institute, ask you to accept this gift . . We hope you become happy Canadian citizens and we stand ready to help in every endeavour . . . Glady’s Gamble – Pres.”

Joan Wilson (née Farrell) was born in England and met Gerald Wilson (her husband) at a canteen in Scotland in 1942. She was a wireless operator with the British Royal Air Force. Gerald belonged to the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She married him and took the Queen Mary to Halifax with their 16-month old daughter. They settled in Ottawa in 1946.

Remember when getting mail was fun? The joy of having a pen pal in grade school? Now mail consists of, mostly, bills and flyers. With inspiration from the letters above, we encourage you to participate in the old-fashioned art of putting pen to paper and writing a letter, note or card to your loved ones. Fill their mailbox (not their inbox) and create a connection between yourself your and loved ones (wherever they are) this holiday season.