WW1 Nursing Sisters of Old Durham County

WW1 Nursing Sisters of Old Durham County

My name is Sher Leetooze and I live at Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. I write history books for a living.

This is Day #1 of my blog. Where do I start? I had thought of starting with the book I published in 2014, WW1 Nursing Sisters of Old Durham County, and telling you something about how that book came to be, and what I’ve managed to do with the information since the book was published. And the more I think about it, the more I think that’s exactly what I’ll do.

It was early in 2013, the previous book, Churches of Old Durham County, was almost ready to go to the printer and I was wondering what to do for my next project.  There was a lot of talk, at that time, about the upcoming centennial of the beginning of W.W. 1, but I knew I had nothing to contribute about the war.  It had been done a dozen times over, and all were far better accounts than I could muster.  But then it dawned on me…. when my husband and I and another member of our local Legion Branch had written Service in Three Centuries in 2008, I had drawn the straw marked First World War.  This book was about the military service of our local men and women here in Bowmanville, from the time of the Napoleonics to present day peace keepers, etc.  In that book I had found a core of four WW1 nurses from Bowmanville, and I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be that hard, surely, to go and find the rest from the old county.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I do go through life wearing rose-coloured glasses. Phfffft! That’s easy, I say, before I’ve even gone to see if it will be. But …after a year and a half of hard slogging – the usual 12 hours a day at the computer…and a lot of tears, swearing (yes I do when required) and hair pulling, I finally had 38 local women who had served both overseas and here in Canada during that awful conflict.

They had trained all over the country, mostly in Toronto, but a few trained at Kingston, some in other parts of the province or in Quebec, and a surprising number trained out west at Winnipeg or Edmonton. All had one thing in common, however, and that was they all had a connection to the former Durham County. Some were born here, some moved here as children, but they all made a footprint in Old Durham County one way or another.

I wanted to find out what each of them did after the war… we only had one death overseas among our nurses from Durham …. so there were 37 women to find at a time when records are still closed to us – no census, no marriage records – how do you find a woman with nothing to go on?

Thankfully, the 1921 census had recently been opened to us, after a long and nasty battle in the House of Commons about it.  So I was able to locate quite a few of my women that way. You see, most never married.  They came home from the war, and got on with their lives.  They had become fiercely independent and felt they didn’t need a man around, I guess.  Most just lost themselves in the big cities.  I found a few burials in the big city cemeteries and so was able to go to the Toronto Public Library and search newspapers for any sign of them during their working years.  Editors all across the country were getting e-mails from me daily asking about this one or that one.  Some just didn’t want to be bothered.  They didn’t know my middle name is BullDog!  I bit their ankles until they hollered Uncle and gave in and found me the material I wanted and needed!

And so, in time for a launch on August 1, 2014, WW1 Nursing Sisters of Old Durham County was born. I immediately began booking speaking engagements for this book and so, with all the information still fresh in my mind, I once again hit cyberspace looking for photos of some of the hospitals where our women had served.  By the end of the month I had developed a powerpoint presentation about the places our nurses had served, and some of the events that had occurred in their lives.  The presentation takes the audience through France and Belgium, to Malta and Egypt and into Greece during the Galipolli Campaign.  I talk about the hospitals starting out as tent cities, then the transfer to wooden huts both stationary and moveable.

I delve a wee bit into the end of the war when the American Nurses entered the picture and the upheaval it caused.  You see, the Americans called themselves ‘Nurses’, while the Canadians and British called themselves ‘Nursing Sisters’.  To the British, a nurse was someone who had not yet graduated into the sisterhood, and so looked down on the Americans as lesser beings.  Noses were bloodied on many occasions!  Yes, women fisticuffs!!  It makes a great story, really!

I talk about the hospital ships and I talk about the convalescent hospitals back in England, and I talk about the Nursing Sisters coming home.

Everyone seems to enjoy the presentation – no one has gone to sleep during it, anyway!<grin>.  So if you think your group or organization would like to see my presentation, please be in touch.  E-mail me at:

November 21, 2017.




November 21, 2017.

          Well, I’m back at the
keyboard to tell you about the next book I wrote.  It took me about 2
years to research this book, which is titled, Identifying Heritage Apples Across Ontario.  
          Wow!  That’s a little different from what you normally do, I hear people say, when they hear about the book.
Well, not really – it’s still history. Only this time its part of our
agricultural heritage, and Ontario was founded on agricultural pursuits,
and in many  parts of the province, agriculture is still the main
employer and main source of income for many folks.
          Have you ever found an abandon apple tree and tasted the fruit, and wondered why apples don’t taste like that anymore?
you ever listened to a senior wax poetic about a Wolf River, or a
Tolman Sweet, or the pies their mother used to make from Northern Spy?  I
have to tell you, those old apples were delicious!
why aren’t they around anymore?  Unfortunately, technology hadn’t caught
up with our heritage apples.  In their day (pre WW2) the storage
facilities were poor, and the packing techniques had not yet been
refined.  Most apples were dropped down into barrels for storage – the
barrels being rolled into place (yikes!  instant bruising!).  Apples
that are bruised when they reach their destination are no good to
anyone.  Apples that are not kept cold enough go all soft and dry out
becoming quite spongey.  So between the two foes of apples, it was
necessary to develop apple varieties that would ship better, and store
          Too late we learned to make better storage and packaging.
Along came the children and grand-children of the MacIntosh. 
Interbred, these apples stood up against bad practices.  There are about
13 varieties of apples in our stores these days – all but two or three
are descendants of the Mac.  And they all taste like a Mac too – not the
best tasting apple in the world, but people today don’t know the
difference.  AND a Mac can be used for multiple purposes – eating out of
hand, baking, drying, sauce – it is actually a very versatile apple, as
are its descendants.
           I go out foraging every fall for
apples.  I have a few favourite places to look, but I try to add one new
place each year, just in case I find something extraordinary.  In the
fall of 2015, as I wandered the byways of Darlington Township, I decided
I’d like to know what variety of apple I was eating (I always eat at
least one of each apple variety I find on forage day).  And that was the
moment my ‘Apple’ book was born.
          By the time I had
finished putting it together I was exhausted!  Again, no one wanted to
know about Heritage Apples.  They were dead and gone – have you tried a
Mac lately??  No one wanted to talk about them either.  One man I phoned
(a member of the Ontario Fruit Growers Association) wanted to know if I
was trying to start trouble, or something!  Dah, no, I just want some
information about heritage apples!  Needless to say, I got no help from
          I even sent an e-mail to EVERY councillor across
Ontario – Regional, Township, Municipal and County councillors – no one
escaped my research!  About 4% responded.  Sad!
despite everyone’s refusal to help out, I managed to produce a
manuscript and have it ready for our first spring Home Show on March 4th
of 2017.  It was my first 150th Birthday Project.  I will tell you about the 2nd project on my next post.
        It is laid out county by county, west to east.  Within each
county it is laid out by the old townships – even those counties that
are now Regions with no townships – the old apples grew in specific
townships and that is how they are listed.  They are  listed by season –
Summer, Fall and Winter apples.
        I know I missed a lot of varieties, but I HAVE featured 75 of
them (didn’t miss too many, really).  In the back of the book you will
find full colour photos and/or drawings of each one and as full a
description as I could find about each one and when you should find it
ready to pick, depending on what county you are in – each area of
Ontario has its own particular eco-climate and each variety of apple
grows differently in each climate.

          If anyone out there reads this and would like to purchase a copy of the book, please visit my website at:  <http://lm-jassociates.webs.com>   Go to the ‘Orders’ page to see how to order a book.