The Fletcher Family

2008 Jun
Norman, Duncan & Donald Angus

Norman, Duncan & Donald Angus

The Fletchers are recorded as living in Glengarry as early as 1822. They were associated with the performance and promotion of Celtic Music and its tradition in Glengarry from this time to well into the sixties when the last of the family members, Norman, left the family farm in Dunvegan. Beyond that, the descendants have taken the Celtic tradition and promoted the name of Glengarry to many points in Canada and the US. They did this by (in their various new locations) joining pipe bands, choirs, playing various musical instruments for local functions and for a period they had a TV program called Be Our Guest out of London, Ontario.

The Fletchers, being early settlers in the area, brought with them the gift of music. They taught their family and promoted the Celtic tradition in the community one generation after another in order to provide music from their homeland to their eager listeners. Duncan alone had twelve children, all of whom were musically inclined.

The Fletchers gave freely of their time by performing at any gathering of the day as well as in their home from the early 1800s to the early 1960s. For over fifty years, both second and third generations formed bands that entertained and became a household names in Glengarry and beyond, including points in the US. They inspired and encouraged many a Glengarry youngster or family to try their hand at music.

The Fletchers are worthy of note because of the length of time they provided music and entertainment in the area (from the late 1800s to the early sixties), the heart and soul that they put into it, and the fact that they formed two bands that entertained in the area; they were a household name for over fifty years. Even though they left Glengarry, the descendants still kept the tradition alive in their respective communities, which includes the Hawksbury area.

 

The Elder Fletchers

Duncan Fletcher and Catherine MacGillivary

Duncan Fletcher and Catherine MacGillivary

The Fletchers were at one time a very well known and musically talented family in the area. The music tradition started when immigrant first generation Angus came from Lochabar Scotland on May 10, 1802. Violin in tow, he settled in Lochabar on the Ottawa River near Thurso Quebec. It is said that he walked from Montreal to Lochabar, about 75 miles, on trails and later on, when the trails were cleared for horse travel, the Fletchers were the first to own one. Angus’s oldest son Duncan, born in 1804, married Margaret MacLeod daughter of Malcolm Macleod of Glendale Isle of Skye. They are recorded as living in the Dunvegan area around 1822, Lochiel con 9 lot 36 in 1828, Kenyon in 1845 and Maccrimmon 1873 to 1879. Duncan’s eldest son, Angus Fletcher, was born in 1836 and married Margaret Sarah MacQuaig; they settled in the Baltic’s Corners, Kenyon Township area. They lived in various locations throughout Glengarry and finally settled at Dunvegan. After settling, Angus secured work at Bracebridge, Ontario with a logging firm, and a few years later, at a very young age, he met with an untimely death in an Ottawa River logging accident. Sarah was left to raise their six children on her own.

Duncan Fletcher, born in 1869 and his brother, Donald, born in 1866, were the most well known of the clan. Duncan married Catherine MacGillivary in 1893 and produced a family of twelve. Duncan and Donald had two brothers, John and Neil, and two sisters, Angie Jane and Mary Ann; all were musical.

Duncan and Donald carrying on the talent from their ancestors were instrumental in establishing the tradition of Scottish music, the Gaelic Song and language in the area. They informally taught many a youngster how to master the techniques of at least one of these. It was not unusual on many a cold winter’s evening to hear the sounds of violins coming from Donald’s tiny bachelor pad with him instructing in the old Scottish style. It was Donald that told the story of the firefly and how his Scottish ancestors had never seen them before and were so afraid and fascinated by them. At the turn of the 19th century it would be no surprise to arrive at a house party, concert or social and hear the sounds of the traditional Scottish music and Gaelic songs being rendered by these lads. When it came to music they were a household name throughout the area.

The brothers followed their fathers footsteps and sometime around 1890 while at a logging establishment in Rainy River Lake of the Woods, the head of the Steamship lines asked the Fletcher brothers if they would play for the Moonlight excursions. After thinking it over, they decided to give it a try. Their audition proved to be a great success; the audience loved them and they were hired for that year and several years to come. They were known as the young and handsome musical lads from Glengarry county Ontario and they did us proud. They each had a unique touch and style on the violin, one taking the high notes and one the low and their sweet Celtic music was not easily forgotten. They worked in the camp by day and entertained by night. Similar situations occurred in other logging locations including Ferne B.C. When at home in Glengarry they -by popular demand- played throughout the counties at halls, house parties, socials, weddings and various outings of the day. In later years the brothers recruited Duncan’s older children Donald Angus and Margaret (Fletcher) Bradley to accompany them on many of these excursions.

Duncan farmed east of Dunvegan and was a bit of an entrepreneur for his time dabbling in logging, Maple Sugar Camps, a small gravel pit and the like. Even though providing for his wife and family of twelve kept him busy, he always made sure the children were provided with the musical instrument required to carry on the tradition. Their home and generations before and after was always filed with joy and music.

Donald was an expert masonry worker and some of his chimneys and other works can still be seen standing in various places throughout the area and Quebec. Donald lived to the ripe old age of a hundred and one years. Donald was an astute and unforgettable character. A lot of times he would stay where he worked until the job was done and entertain at the local house parties. The family has post cards in their possession inviting him to parties or wanting to know why he hadn’t come. One suspects that he may have avoided some of these events; after all he was an eligible bachelor and there were many female suitors.

 

The Twelve Fletcher Children and the Fletcher Orchestra

The Fletchers

The Fletchers

Grandfather Duncan had 12 children all of whom possessed a talent for and a love of music. There were eight sons (Neil, Donald Angus, Duncan, Roderick, Gillivary, John, Norman, and Ernest) and four daughters (Margaret, Catherine, Gladys and Grace). In the late 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, four of the brothers formed the “The Fletcher Orchestra” and played in the area, into Quebec and the some areas in New York, near the border, such as Lake Placid. This was quite an accomplishment for the time. Their music style was diverse; they could switch from the big band sound, to a lively square dance, to a string of lovely Scottish airs, reels, and strathspeys. Ernest (one of the eight brothers) studied piano under the direction of Prof. Milhern. The professor came from Montreal to Alexandria to teach a few of the locals, and Ernest was a natural. As the story was rendered by Norman (one of the younger brothers), many a night the model T was abandoned due to inclement weather. He and his brothers would hitch up the team and load their instruments, drums included, into the sleigh as not to disappoint their patrons; the gig must go on. The four brothers who formed the original orchestra were Norman, lead singer and violin, Ernest on the piano, Johnny Mac on the saxophone and Duncan on the drums. They became so popular that they ended up playing five nights a week and patrons would follow them to the various locations at which they played. The Fletcher Bros got so many bookings that the rest of the Fletcher family were called upon to join in, and in addition they had to hire three musicians from Cornwall, namely Leonard Terrance, James MacGregor, Mr. Bully, and on occasion Mr. Bradley from the flats.

In the early years Norman, Duncan Bradley and Grace Fletcher entertained on radio at the Cornwall radio station. In the ’30s Norman and Ernest were approached by an American band to join their group and they declined; one can only wonder what that might have lead to.

The Fletcher Boys

The war, depression, and death caused the Fletcher Orchestra to disband and the remaining family members relocated to various locations in Canada and the US. Norman remained on the family farm east of Dunvegan and continued to entertain in the area. In the sixties Norman was the last to leave the family farm for Oakville Ontario.

Throughout the following years the family, in their respective locations, continued to put their talents to work and put Glengarry on the map by providing entertainment and using their musical ability to bring cheer and happiness to many a gathering. At the time of writing this, July 2005, all of the twelve children have passed on.

John, Donald Angus & Norman

John, Donald Angus & Norman

Donald Angus Fletcher was a barber by profession and lived in London, Ontario with his wife Lena and children Bill, Donna, Harold, and Neil. D.A. was a master at the bagpipes and violin He served in WW1 and WW2 and was in the Air Force and London, Ontario pipe bands. He and his family had a musical show called Be our Guest on a London TV network for a few years. In 1983 he spontaneously went into the Glengarry old time fiddling contest at the Glengarry highland games and won. D.A was a mason and active in the community.

Neil Donald Fletcher resided in the Detroit, Michigan area with his wife Ruth and had three children, Neil, Catherine and Carol. Neil enjoyed the piano, flute, and violin. He was employed with the Chrysler for many years.

Margaret Fletcher (Bradley) resided in Oakville, Ontario with her husband James and four children George, Catherine, Duncan and Bill. She was a very accomplished piano player and soloist. She played the church organ and sang in the choir both in Dunvegan and Oakville. In later life, she tackled the violin. She also loved being an artist and did that as a hobby. In her youth she enjoyed a career as a nurse.

Catherine Fletcher (deceased at an early age) enjoyed singing.

Duncan Fletcher Jr. resided in Toronto with his wife Anne. They had three children, Duncan Jr., Betty and Glen. Duncan’s first love was the drums. He and his wife Ann sang in the church choir at All Peoples Church Toronto for many years and could be seen on Sunday TV. He served in WWII and was employed with Drummond and Reeves.

Roddie Fletcher resided in Flint, Michigan with his wife Rose and son Donald. He liked the banjo and was a bit of a poet. He was employed with Chrysler.

Gillivery Fletcher resided in Saginaw, Michigan with his wife Agnes; they had two children, Pat and Ron. He had a love for singing Gaelic songs, calling squares, piano and public speaking. He ran Fletcher Heating & Air Conditioning plant with his brother, John. Gillivery sat on many local boards and was instrumental in getting the first Seniors’ Center constructed in Saginaw, Michigan. He had a street named Fletcher Ave to honour his accomplishments. He was also active in local politics and ran for state representative.

John Fletcher resided in Saginaw, Michigan with his wife Bertie and sons, Jack and Wayne. John was an accomplished saxophone and violin player. Sometimes he could be quite the comedian and could do a great Charlie Weaver impression. He was the other partner with Gill in the Fletcher Heating, Air Conditioning and Fitting plant. John was also active in the community, church, Masons and Shriners.

 Donald Angus and Norman

Playing in Angus Grey Hall, Highland Games weekend

Norman Fletcher resided in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Beatrice; they had one daughter, Faye. Norman was a lead soloist, and sang in the church choir in Dunvegan and Oakville He was an outstanding violinist, and also mastered the banjo and drums. In their home and various locations in Oakville, Ontario he and Beatrice entertained on many occasions. Among his venues was providing music for one of Canada’s youngest and famous generals, Chris Vokes, and Eleanor McMurray (McRae) the granddaughter of one of the founders of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Norman was active in the church, and masons. He and his wife Beatrice managed a building complex in Oakville, Ontario. Norman was also one of the few violinists that “Little Jack” MacDonald loved to play a duet with.

Ernest Fletcher resided at Dunvegan with his wife Beatrice; they had six children, Shirley, Duncan, Warner, James and two sons that died in infancy. Ernest died young and Beatrice and her four children moved to the family farm at Dunvegan. Six years later she remarried Ernest’s brother, Norman. Ernest was such an accomplished pianist and even though he left us many years ago he is still not forgotten. He is still remembered in Glengarry for making the keys sing. He had a very merry deposition and was a hit wherever he went. He was employed with Hydro in Lachute Quebec and farmed at Dunvegan.

Grace Fletcher resided in Fort Myers, Florida with her husband, Jim and they had no children. She had an aptitude for piano and singing and sang in many groups in the US throughout her life. Grace was employed with the Ford Motor Co and at one point, served as executive secretary to Henry Ford Jr.

Gladys Fletcher resided in Detroit, Michigan. She loved to laugh, play the piano and sing. She was a delicate person and died relatively young. Gladys worked at Sun life in Montreal.

As one can see, the Fletchers from 1802 to the late sixties carried on the tradition of Celtic music in the area and its surroundings. They encouraged and touched many hearts with their talent. One can just imagine the memories they must have stirred in their fellow settlers that longed for their homeland, its traditions and people left behind. Many of the Fletcher children, grandchildren and great-grand children still carry on the tradition of Celtic music in some form or other be it instrumental, voice or dance. The music continues to run through their veins and Glengarry will never be forgotten.

 

Information collected and provided by Faye Fletcher-Zsadany, Beatrice Fletcher, Grace and Jean Fletcher-Historians Montreal, James Fletcher, Angus H MacDonald, Glengarry news, and other members of the Fletcher family.

Tags: ,

One Response to “The Fletcher Family”

  1. Mitzi January 22, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

    Absolutely love this! What a legacy. So blessed to be a Fletcher (now Hall)! & have the love of music instilled in us. We were born with music inside of us. I am so honoured to play piano (not so much Celtic music) & one day would lover to learn violin or the bagpipes. ♡ So proud of the legacy left by Great Grandpa Duncan & Great Grandma Catherine, & Grandpa Donald Angus & Grandma Lena! ♡ Now the legacy continues… with God by our side nothing is impossible! Thanks to family for submitting info and to Glengarry Celtic Music for posting. ♡

Leave a Reply