On the Move: The Cook Family in the 20s and 30s

After arriving in Canada in 1910, Ernest Cook’s younger brother, Ronald Philip Cook, had been gaining experience with military groups in Regina and Moose Jaw. Then the Great War was declared in Europe.   Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier believed that when Britain is at war, Canada is at war. Like many formerly British Canadians who had been in Canada only a short time,  Ronald Cook was volunteering to return to Europe with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force.  He filled in his Attestation form on September 11th, 1915, the day before he turned 22. He was 5 feet six inches tall, brown-eyed, dark-haired, and fair-faced. Probably Ronald did some training at Camp Hughes in Manitoba right after his enlistment.  Postcard pictures of Camp Hughes and other sites from World War 1 are shown in the collection of the Toronto Postcard Club. 

On October 23rd, 1915, Ronald Cook departed with the 46th Battalion from Halifax on the S.S. Lapland, disembarking at Devonport, England on October 30th. Training continued in England at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire. There are many stories told about the difficulties of that training time with too much rain and missing supplies and poor equipment

While Ronald Phillip Cook was preparing for the realities of war in Europe, Ernest and Louise Cook were preparing for the arrival of their first child back in Moose Jaw.  What could be more appropriate than naming their little son who was born on April 30th, 1916 “Ronald”?  When little Ronald was three and half months old, Uncle Ronald finished his training in England. 

Louise Cook is with son Ronald George at 1161 First NE, their first son in their first house.
Ernest and Louise Cook with Ronald George Cook. Pictures courtesy of the baby’s granddaughter.

On 11 August 1916,  Ronald (the uncle) and his battalion disembarked in France,  ready to work with the 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.  It is likely that Private Cook was assigned duties relating to his skills as a clerk, or some other supportive role because it was discovered in a Medical Examination at Bramshott Camp that he had a vision deficit that had gone undetected in Canada.  

Next of Kin in England : Review 

When Ronald Cook signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he listed his mother in England as his next of kin.  His father, George Frederick Bristow Cook had died in September of  1899 at the age of 46 leaving Harriett Cook a widow at age 40 with a houseful of children.  By the 1901 census, Harriett had relocated her family to Hastings, once again by the seaside as she had grown up on the east shore of England.  The family had moved into limited space, and Ernest George had left for Canada. Because young Ronald is not listed with the family for the 1901 census, I think he was at school. Readers, you may remember that Mrs. Cook probably needed some furniture and that I surmised that she also needed more space.  By 1904, she had married Stewart Spencer, a house furnisher, a widower with three nearly grown daughters, and by 1911 she was living with five children (three adults and two teenagers) from her first marriage plus a 6-year-old daughter from her second marriage.  Cecil had been her only son to marry by 1911, and the census documents show that his marriage had met a tragic end, having lasted less than a year with both his wife and newborn child dying.

It was Harriett Spencer’s house at 19 Edmund Road, Hastings, UK that Ronald Cook lists as the address for his next of kin while he is on active duty during the Great War.  It is here where he might spend some leave, and here where he took his discharge at the end of April in 1919 after serving with the CEF for several months after the armistice in 1918.

The home of Stewart and Harriett Spencer during the Great War. 19 Edmund Road, Hastings, Sussex

After battling with Regina over the privilege, Moose Jaw has celebrated the end of the war and the return of the 46th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  Ronald Philip Cook had missed the big parade in Moose Jaw because he had taken his discharge in England and had assumed responsibility for his own travel back to Canada. He would be spending time with family in Hastings before returning to family in Moose Jaw.

Apparently, the Cook family in Moose Jaw didn’t want to wait for Uncle Ronald to return home and decided to take a voyage to England.  Now that the war is over, there are lots of soldiers needing travel bookings back to North America.  Many waited weeks and weeks for passage to be available.  I am wondering if the ships that brought returning Canadians and American soldiers then put the return to Britain tickets on sale.  Here’s why.  On October 9th, 1919,  Ernest, Louise and Little Ronald arrived in England.  The war had been over for eleven months.  The three Cooks are listed on the Canadian Steam Ship “Melita” as having come from Montreal

Their destination is given as 19 Edmund Road, Hastings, Sussex, so it appears to be time for a family reunion.  Ernest and his family remained abroad for 5 months.   

If you click on the line about the “Melita” above, you find a video viewing of the interior details of the ship that the Cooks sailed on to England after the war.  The music that is playing however is not from 1919 but from 1925 when it was the number 1 song. On Mar 2, 1920, Ernest and Mary Louise returned home from England with their son Ronald who was 3 years, 8 months now.  They were accompanied by Hettie Cook, Ernest’s sister who would stay with them for a while in Canada.  They are described on the ship’s manifest as follows:

Ernest is 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall with a dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes. He has a scar on his forehead.  The same colouring describes Mary Louise who is only 5 feet 1/2 inch tall.  Hettie is 5 foot 4, dark complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. She is 30 years old and would have been 12 years old when Ernest left for Canada.  They are all heading to 1161 1st Ave. NE Moose Jaw. 

April 20th, 1920:   A few weeks later, another sister, Norah Cook, arrives on the Metagama.  Ernest, her brother has paid for her passage, and she plans to be living with him on 1st Ave. E. in Moose Jaw. Norah is 25 years old and would have been only 7 when Ernest came to Canada.  She says her intention is to remain permanently in Canada.  

The Henderson Directory of 1921  shows Ernest Cook to be the president of his own general Insurance Company with offices at 103 Main St. N.  This is now (in 2021)  the NE corner of Main and River where the Major and Maxwell Art gallery is located.  The home at 1161 1st NE  has both Hettie and Norah living with the family.  Hettie is working as a Steno at the company with Ernest.  Norah is not showing employment outside the home. Ronald Philip works as a bookkeeper at his brother’s company but has resumed his residence at the YMCA. In 1923, both Hettie and Norah are working as stenographers:  Hettie still with Ernest’s company, and Norah with the law firm of Schull and Marquis.  

The 1920s seemed to be good times for the  Cooks in Moose  Jaw.  In addition to the support provided by the Cook sisters, Louise Cook and Ella Brodie had their mother, a widow in Ontario since 1914, join them in Moose Jaw sometime before the census of 1921. Francis Littlejohn Davidson lived with her elder daughter, Ella, and her husband Harry Brodie. The Brodie house on  Main Street was also home to a young son, Stuart, who turned 10 in 1920. Stuart was 4 years older than his cousin, Ronald. Both boys enjoyed the years when three generations of family members could gather together in one or the other of their nearby homes.

The Moose Jaw 1920s roared on, and in 1924 a brother arrived for 8-year-old Ronald Cook. William Henry Cook was born on September 18th.  Although His Aunt Hettie still works for Ernest’s business, she now lives at 821 First Ave. NW, in a house looking west to Central Collegiate.  Aunt Norah is also living at the house with Hettie, and she is working as a steno as well in a law office. 

Louise Cook on front steps of 1161 1st Ave. NE. The 1920s were good years for business and family. Louise was 43 years old when her second son was born, but she appears healthy, strong and very glad to introduce her young son to spring on the veranda.
During the 1920s Mr. Cook’s agency claims in Henderson advertising to be the largest insurance agency in Saskatchewan.

In 1927 his office moved to the Walter Scott building.  At one point he was on the Ground Floor, and then later he was on the top floor.  I am not sure which would have been the more prestigious location in the 1920s.

Ernest Cook had leisure time enough to become a golfer and served a term as president of the Moose Jaw Golf Club. His brother-in-law, Harry Brodie, was also a golfer and a curler; he served a term as president of the local curling club.  Yes, the 1920s were good times for the Cook family.  According to Ken Bradley in Out of Bounds: A Century of Golf in Moose Jaw, “Locally, the first recorded President’s Cup emblematic of the Men’s club championship was played between F.C Grant and Ernie Cook.  Mr. Grant won.” (p.17)

October of 1929

Little William Henry Cook would have just turned 5 years old a month before the Stock Market events in October of 1929 brought big changes for the Cook family. According to Ernest Cook’s great-granddaughter, Ernest suffered great losses in his insurance business at that time. The Roaring Twenties which had seen businesses thriving and optimism flourishing through the city and its leadership came to a crashing end. The family seems to have been able to hold on to the house on First North East for a while.  The Cook family would be left looking for less expensive housing and employment opportunities as Mr. Cook’s business was no longer able to support the family.  

Although the family was struggling, William Cook started his education at Ross School. The Cook family continue in their original home until 1932 when they moved into rental accommodations. In 1933 when Ronald G. would be 16 and William Henry would be 9, the family is shown at 368 Stadacona  W.  This house would be north of what is now The Bentley and facing at that time Alexandra School. William continued his education at Alexandra School.

The 1935 Henderson Directory shows Ernest Cook at 1062 First Ave. N.W.  His son Ronald is also there and is employed at the Savoy Theatre. The house would usually be occupied by Dr.  and Mrs. John Orr who were travelling to England to spend a few months. Dr. Orr also was involved with Queen’s University, and so the home at 1062 First  Northwest later became the home of Albert E Peacock, the principal of the new Technical High School and Superintendent of Education in Moose Jaw.  

Then in 1935 or 1936 Ernest and Louise Cook move with their boys into 1037 Clifton Avenue.  The house is bigger than the others they have lived in. However, it seems that they will not have just their own four family members living here.   In 1935,  Ronald George would have been 19 years old, and his younger brother, William Henry would have been 11 years old.  The previous owners of the Clifton house have returned to the United States, and the house, as a result of the troubled economy, had been taken over by the city.  There are several adults living in the house very soon, but it is not clear what their living arrangements were.

The Clifton house is fairly large (six bedrooms and two dens on three floors above the basement. Whereas the previous family, the Thomases, filled the house with 3 or four generations of the same extended family, the Cooks shared the house either like a boarding house or a rooming house. In a boarding house, the host family would have most of the space, but other single working people or married couples would have rooms and would eat (board) with the family in the dining room. The second arrangement, a rooming house, would have un-related folks renting rooms, but not eating with the family. There would be some sort of food storage and preparation facilities in the bedrooms where renters would prepare light meals for themselves.  Over the next few years, there are many names on the Voters lists for 1037 Clifton.  Most of the people stayed for only a short term, but some stayed for years.  




A Wedding (1935) and a Funeral (1939)

I think it was likely a happy time for the family when Uncle Ronald Philip Cook married Jean Colbourne. I imagine the wedding was a simple affair, perhaps in the bride’s home or maybe at St John’s Anglican Church. I have found no detailed record of it. The bride was 28 and the groom was 42.  In  1935 the #1 song on the pop charts was “Cheek to Cheek” by Fred Astaire. I hope they danced to that song at Temple Gardens or in their living room. 

On September 10, 1939, Canada entered the war against Germany. Three months later, the Times-Herald reported that  Ronald P. Cook had taken ill on Wednesday and died in a  local hospital on Thursday, Dec. 14, 1939. The obituary honoured Ronald both for his work for the city of Moose Jaw and for his service during the previous war. He was buried in the Soldiers’ section at Rosedale Cemetery.   

Ronald’s grave in Rosedale Cemetery

Before long, both Ernest and Louisa Cook’s boys will face decisions about involvement in the military for the conflict in Europe.  Bill Cook has continued for 1939-40 term as a student in grade 8 at Alexandra School. He heads off to Central Collegiate in the fall of 1940. Ronald has stopped out of school and is working to help the family.  Bill has a hobby of building model airplanes and enjoys going to summer camps run by Mr. Zimmer who also has a clothing store where Bill works part-time. In April of 1942, the family gathers on the front steps for a picture.  The rest of 1942 must wait for another post.