In 1889, Frederick Hussey emigrated from Belfast, Ireland, and settled
in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, with his wife, Louisa, and their family of
three boys and a girl. Manitoba, with its harsh winters and hot summers, was
a challenge after the softer climate of Ireland and Frederick's job as a
teamster kept him out in all weathers. (In fact, Winnipeg still has the
coldest winters of any city of over 500,000 population in the Western
Hemisphere.) Frederick lived only eight years longer,
leaving his widow to keep a boarding house to make ends meet. Their eldest
son, Frederick, 20, working as a teamster as his father had, helped support the family as
did Flora, 17, and Percy, 16. The youngest, Waldron, was only 10 years old
when his father died.
Flora was born in 1879 (1911 census) or 1880 (1901 census). The 1930 US
Census states that Flora was 44 years old when she was actually 50. The 1930
census also states that Flora was first married at 16 years of age. There is
also the probability of error on the part of the census taker because she
married Harry in 1906 under her own name, Flora Elizabeth Hussey.
Four years after their father's death, young Frederick's annual income was
$400, Flora, working as a domestic, made a total of $170, and Percy, a
carpenter, made $250 to add to the family coffers. Times were tough and
living was hard. Very hard.
In 1904, Flora was working as a stenographer and still living with her
mother and brothers at 323 Lizzie, Winnipeg. Two years later, on January 1,
1906, she married a personable young tailor from New Brunswick,
Nobles, who had come "out west to seek his fortune". Harry had a beaming
smile, a splendid physique and a cheerful outlook on life while Flora was
inclined to be more realistic in her views. She was, after all, three years
older than her young husband. To begin with, everything went well. Harry had
a partnership in his own business and their first son was born on April 13,
1908, followed by a second son,
Michael Earle, in 1911.
But the partnership in the tailor business failed. Flora had given up her
job when she married and Harry's little tailor shop was generating barely enough
meet the family's needs. Harry decided arbitrarily that the only answer was
to move west again, as far west as possible this time, and in 1912, while
Earle was still a baby, they packed up and moved to Vancouver. But so much
for streets paved with gold in Vancouver. Harry was forced once more to take
a job as a tailor in a dry cleaning establishment and things were tougher
than ever. To make it worse, Flora was homesick for her family and Harry was
restless, trapped in a meager-paying job with no prospects in view. He had
always dreamed of adventure and that dream was receding rapidly.
Who knows why the decision was made to break up the little family, or even
who left whom, but by 1915 they were back in Winnipeg, separated. Harry left
the country and his family for the United States and adventure under a new
name, Nolan. Flora took a job with Manitoba Government Telephones, a job she
kept for nine years.
So now Flora was the sole support of her two little boys. Her mother was
gone and all the responsibility rested on her shoulders. To make matters
worse, the labour situation in Winnipeg was deteriorating and building up to the
general strike of 1918-9. How she managed to support the two little boys as
long as she did when it was Manitoba Government Telephone policy
that a mother with children could not work for them, is amazing but she did
manage it for a full year. Finally, finding it increasingly difficult to
keep enough food on the table or even keep track of two lively sons, she sought help from her
estranged husband's family in Hatfield Point, New Brunswick.
Charles and Ella Jane Nobles, Harry's parents, homesteaded near the original
land that Ella's forefathers were granted in 1783 when, as United Empire
Loyalists, they were forced to leave New York for what was then Nova Scotia.
Charles and Ella Jane worked terribly hard on their homestead but never
lacked for food because they raised their own, and fish was plentiful in
Belleisle Bay. Their youngest son, Charlie, was still at home with them.
During the summer of 1916, Flora arranged for time off and took her boys by
train to Hatfield Point for what, she believed, would be a
temporary stay until she could find a better position for herself and a
secure home for her little family. When she reluctantly left them with their
grandparents that day, she did not dream she would never see her eldest son
again or that Clarence would forever feel she had abandoned him.
While she knew that Harry's family blamed her for the separation and took
the boys because they were "family", Flora was unaware that they would carry
their bitterness to the extremes that they did. They did not make any
attempt to explain to the little boys the reason for the separation of their
parents or why they were now living with their grandparents. Worse than
that, they did not deliver Flora's letters to her sons or speak of her at
all. Her name was absolutely forbidden in the home and soon Earle forgot
her. Clarence didn't. Nor did he forgive her.
In the summer of 1919, Flora finally felt able to provide a home for her
boys and she wrote Charles and Ella Jane that she was coming for them. They
immediately sent word to Harry in Tucson where he was recuperating from the
effects of the flu which had permanently damaged his lungs. Harry contacted his sister,
Fannie McCoy, and asked her to quickly go to Hatfield Point, take the
boys back to Boston with her and keep them until he was well again. He
instructed her to tell the officials at the border that their surname was
Nolan. Fannie, fully in sympathy with her brother, arrived suddenly one
summer day and told the boys they were going to live with her. They left the
next day. Because of the name change, Flora
was never able to find them.
Unhappily, she had no recourse in law. Harry was legally well within his
rights under Manitoba law at this time. Custody of the children was always
given to the husband. The wife had no rights and, indeed, was not even
legally considered a "person".
Flora eventually remarried and in 1924, as the wife of Herbert W. Hayes, she
moved to Portland, Oregon, where they lived the rest of her life. Her second
somehow found her there and contacted her three years later. He was sixteen
years old at the time and he kept in touch with her for the last eleven
years of her life, sharing his life as a boxer and football star with her.
Earle told his own daughter much later that his mother attended some of his
boxing matches and was an enthusiastic fan of his.
Bob Nolan made no effort to find his mother and seemed to have blocked her
out of his memory completely. He was eight years old when he last saw her,
old enough to remember her clearly if he had wanted to. When questioned
about his mother later in life, he thought her name might have been Florence
but he could not recall anything else about her.
Nolan and his mother, Flora Hayes. Photo courtesy of Jean Nolan Krygelski.
Much can be read between the lines of this sketchy biography of the grief
Flora endured when her boys disappeared, of the joy she felt when Earle
contacted her as a teenager, of her sadness when she realized that she would
see her eldest son only on the silver screen, read of him in the newspapers
and hear his voice on the radio. And bewilderment when she understood,
finally, that he had no intention of contacting her again.
Flora died suddenly of bronchial pneumonia on February 27, 1938, and is
buried in an unmarked grave in Rose City Cemetery, Portland, Oregon. She was
58 years old.
Flora's unmarked grave, courtesy of Suzette
No. 4, Lot
No. W 1/2 302 Section N
The song in the background of this
page ("Why, Tell Me, Why?" by Bob Nolan) is sung here by Dave
Thanks to Jean Nolan Krygelski,
Suzette Spencer Marshall, Elsie Boyd, Government archivists and public librarians in
Kamloops, Vancouver & Victoria, British Columbia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; St.
John, New Brunswick and Portland, Oregon, for filling in the details of
the life of Flora Elizabeth Nobles, Bob Nolan's mother.
Bob Nolan's Family
Nolan Petty (half sister)
Roberta Nolan Mileusnich