Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Condensed Look at the Whyte Family?

This summary is written as part of a present to Andrew Braden Whyte and Francesca Valentine George on the occasion of their wedding. January 11, 2006

The story begins in the Central Highlands of Scotland, in the hills around Loch Katrine, in the early 1600’s. The area was the home to the Clan Gregor.  Anyone born to the Clan could use the surname MacGregor (son of a Gregor).  The Clansmen were a fearless and ferocious lot.  Having had their lands taken by others in a series of failed alliances, the McGregors seemed to spend an inordinate amount of their time stealing other people’s cattle and sheep.  If they were wronged, they would lash out with all their force, sometimes nearly decimating another Clan.  Such a battle occurred at Glenfruin in 1603 (the Valley of Sorrow) when the Clan Colquhoun was massacred by the MacGregors.  The event led the King to deal out his severest punishment.  He proscribed that the surname MacGregor could no longer be used, a punishment that lasted until 1784.  As a result, some of the fiercest MacGregors took aliases (nineteen aliases have been documented).  Among the names were three of the colours of the MacGregor tartan; Red (which in Scottish is Roy); Whyte (spelled both White and Whyte); and Black.

In 1603, King James The First, ascended the throne of England and Scotland.  He was Scottish, from the House of Stuart.  Famous for supporting the colonization of America with the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, King James also supported the Ulster Plantation, a mass settlement of northern Ireland by his Scottish supporters.  In an attempt to dampen the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland, thousands of Presbyterian Scots moved to northern Ireland, amassing in counties like County Cavan and County Tyrone.  These Ulster Scots, or the Scot-Irish, lived in Ireland for almost 150 years until the potato famines of the 1840’s saw many of their descendants begin to emigrate to Canada, the United States and Australia.

This brings us to my Great Grandmother, Margaret Noble.  Born in 1838, in County Cavan, Ireland, she married a gentleman whose ancestors most likely came for the Loch Katrine area of Scotland during the Ulster migration.  His name was Park Scott (Sir Walter Scott came from the Loch Katrine area of Scotland and it was his writings that made Rob Roy (MacGregor) famous).  Park and Margaret ran a farm in County Cavan.  They had seven children.  Suddenly, in 1871, Park died and Margaret struggled for three years to keep the farm going.  Fortunately Park had hired a young lad whose ancestors had also come from the Loch Katrine area.  His name was William Whyte.  William was a confident, assertive young man, standing over six feet in height.  He had worked his way to be the Manager of the Scott farmstead.  In 1874, at the mature age of twenty-four, William proposed to Margaret, nine years his senior, that he would marry her and adopt her seven children.  Within a fortnight of their marriage he had the family on a train to Belfast, and then a ship (the S.S. Dominion) to Canada.  The family settled in Toronto, where William became a Sergeant on the Toronto Police Force (it was in Toronto that William changed the spelling of his name from White to Whyte, perhaps to more reflect his Scottish roots).  He lived to the ripe old age of Ninety-Five.  (d. September 25, 1942). I personally identify with William Whyte, as there has been no calendar year for 158 years, that he or I have not been on this earth.

In Toronto, William Whyte and Margaret Noble Scott Whyte had three children of their own; two boys and a girl.  One of the boys was my grandfather; John Alexander Whyte. (b.1878).  John Alexander had many of the optimistic attributes of his father.  He was fascinated with Thomas Edison’s invention of electricity and in his early 20’s he invented an electronic signal system that could be activated from a train locomotive.  What I remember as “wig-wags” which acted like a double pendulum, would alert automotive or horse traffic to an oncoming train at a railroad crossing.  John Alexander gave up a good job with the federal government, and at age twenty-four, started the Whyte Railway Signal Company.  For years the company did quite well.  The family had a chauffeur driven car and their back yard had a miniature railroad where John Alexander could test his inventions.  With the advent of World War in 1914, all government contracts were cancelled.  The company hit the skids, and John Alexander enlisted in what was to be the Royal Regiment of Canada.  He did not stop his inventing.  In Europe he invented the submarine nets that were used to detect German U-Boats from coming up the English Channel to the Thames River.  He even received a congratulatory letter from Lloyd George.  He was hospitalized in France for over a year and while there managed to win a European Chess Championship.  Upon returning to Canada after the war he spent much of his spare time in the 1920’s trying to design an electrical tabulating machine (an early calculator-computer) that could be used to display the odds at the horse race tracks.  Although he did not develop the system that was finally adapted, he patented dozens of alternatives.

John Alexander’s sister, Letitia Jane Bothwell Whyte, was a concert pianist and often accompanied her baritone soloist husband in concerts throughout North America.  John Alexander’s brother, Frederick George Whyte moved to Guelph, Ontario, and was to have a war hero as a son. (more later)

In 1902, John Alexander Whyte married Minnie Evelyn Braden.  Minnie was a twin (John Alexander was a twin as well, but his twin brother, Benjamin, died at birth).  Minnie’s twin sister, Maude Albina Braden had married John Alexander’s half brother, Noble Park Scott, five years earlier.

The Bradens were another Ulster Scot family, who had migrated from County Tyrone a generation earlier than the Whytes.  Minnie’s grandfather had migrated in 1840 with his wife, six children (they eventually had nine), his two brothers and their families, his wife’s father and brothers, and their families.  While their ship was anchored in Toronto harbour, awaiting debarkation, Minnie’s father, Matthew Braden, was born.  The extended families wintered in Toronto, and then set off by wagon train to settle the area known as Braden’s Corners, near Cookstown, (Cookstown was the main city of County Tyrone) about 50 miles to the north of Toronto.  While most of the family were farmers, Minnie’s father, Matthew, was a cabinet maker.

John Alexander Whyte and Minnie Braden Whyte had five children; four boys and a girl. The second oldest son was my father, Herbert Braden Whyte.  Herb was an outgoing salesman with a good sense of humour.  He worked for the Canada Glue Company all of his adult life, but loved drawing cartoons which he would liven up with coloured pencils.  He illustrated a few books, and his cartoons were featured in the local newspaper until his mid 80’s.  During the Second World War he was a member of the Toronto Scottish Regiment and cherished the honour, in 1939, to have presented the Regimental colours to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen mum, who was Colonel-In Chief, and patroness of the Regiment.  Herb taught marksmanship during the war and was assigned to the Secret Service.  At one period, he was stationed in Ajax, just east of Toronto, where a Secret Service officer named Ian Fleming was being trained.  Ian Fleming went on the write about the Secret Service in a series of novels starring James Bond.

Three of John Alexander’s boys were in the service, but it was John Alexander’s brother, Frederick George Whyte, who had the war hero son; William “Billy” Whyte.  Early after fighting started, Billy went to England and enlisted in the R.A.F.  He saw action in the Battle of Britain, but it was a mission in May of 1943 that made notoriety.  On May 16, 1943, twelve Lancaster bombers set out from England, carrying one 4000 pound bomb each.  With a daring night maneuver they flew 60’ feet above the reservoirs of three German dams along the Ruhr Valley.  When the bombs hit the water they were designed to skip along the surface (like throwing a flat stone in a pond) striking the dams.  These famous “Dam Busters’ managed to destroy two of the three dams that night.  But of the twelve Lancasters, each with 7 airmen aboard, only 4 returned; 28 men survived, 56 were lost.

Billy went on to make more than 20 raids into Germany.  By 1945, he was the Leader of a Mosquito Squadron.  Less than eight weeks before VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) Billy was killed in action.  His mission that day was to drop 4000-pound bombs almost horizontally into tunnels along the main railway line in western Germany.  Most remarkably, and perhaps with most sadness, Billy was still only 21 years old.

Herbert Braden Whyte married Violetta Mary Saywell on July 10, 1935.  Vi’s father, Arthur Saywell, like his father and brother, were harness makers in Toronto and Oshawa.  Arthur’s father, Stephen George Saywell was born in Buckinghamshire, England in 1850; his wife, Fanny Lunetta Tongue, in Birmingham, England, that same year.  Vi’s mother, Mary Rowney, was born in Dundee, Scotland on July 19, 1878.  She lived to the age of 95.

Herbert Braden Whyte and Violetta Mary Saywell Whyte had two boys; John Arthur Whyte (John: named after Herb’s father, and Arthur; after Vi’s father (or Herb’s younger brother).  I also thought that it was appropriate because with the initials “JAW”, Jack could inherit all of the monogrammed items that belonged to his grandfather, John Alexander Whyte; and George Herbert Whyte (George; named after Herb’s uncle, Frederick George Whyte, or Vi’s grandfather; Stephen George Saywell; and Herbert after his father).  Jack lives on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario and has become a well-known artist, doing pictures in oils, acrylics, and an unusual form of collage.

George has had a varied career, from playing hockey in Europe to teaching, politics, and running a company that specialized in land development and construction.

On June 10, 1967, George Herbert Whyte married Helen Phelps Martin.  Helen was born in New Jersey, just outside New York City.  Helen’s father was a City Editor on the New York Times newspaper.  His parents had come from England.  Helen’s mother was from Belgian stock.  Her mother, Katherine Elizabeth Kiehl had grown up in New York City where her father founded the now famous Kiehl Pharmacy on 3rd Avenue.  Her grandmother, Matilda M. Gylson was from Antwerp, Belgium.  Helen has spent most of her professional adult life as a Town Planner.

George Herbert Whyte and Helen Phelps Martin Whyte had two boys; Andrew Braden Whyte (November 25, 1976) and Charles Martin Whyte (February 27, 1981).  The boys were educated in Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.  Like their great, great grandfather, William Whyte, they had traveled greatly by their early 20’s.


Permit me to make three observations about the Whyte men.  Firstly, they are bold, confident, risk takers, and appear to accomplish much in their early life: witness William Whyte proposing to a lady nine years his elder with seven children, and within weeks of their marriage, sailing across the ocean to a new life; or John Alexander Whyte, leaving a good job at 24 years of age and starting a company based on the merits of his own invention; or George Herbert Whyte taking off to hitchhike around the world with Helen at age 25.  (Helen was 23 years of age) on a budget that averaged 30 cents a day; or Andrew Braden Whyte and Charles Martin Whyte taking off to Europe and South America to hitchhike in their mid teens.

A second observation is that there seems to be a gene for longevity in the family mix.  Andrew and Martin’s great great grandfather, William Whyte, lived to be 95 years of age.
Their maternal great grandmother, Mary Rowney Saywell also lived to see 95 years.  And their grandparents; Herbert Braden Whyte and Violetta Mary Saywell Whyte both lived to their 90th year.  Many others lived well into their 80’s.  So if you eat properly, do not drink or smoke, and exercise well, you could have a very long life.

And finally, let me say that after reading and contemplating my uncle’s 253 page 1989 book entitled; “The Genealogical Story of the Scott-Noble-Whyte Family”, I think that whatever you do in life, you probably have a gene somewhere, that will make the task easier.  As I look over the history of the extended family, I see people from all walks of life; farmers, cabinet makers, harness makers, inventors, salesmen, secret service personnel, musicians, artists, businessmen, teachers, air force pilots, newspaper editors, pharmacists, and policemen.  Whatever path you take, someone from the Clan Gregor, or their mates, has probably gone before…….Best Wishes

George Herbert Whyte, January, 2006

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