Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Travel Tuesday ~ The Canadian Pacific & Grand Trunk Railroad OR How My Great Grandfather Became a British Subject





The early years of my great grandfather Mark Leighton's life seem to have been turbulent at best. The 1900 Portland, Maine, Census lists him, at 14 years old, living at home on Sherwood Street, in East Deering, but also lists his 16 year old cousin Alice Lovell at the same address. Five years later, he was marrying Alice, in order to give my grandmother's birth, in January 1906, legitimacy.

A more thorough investigation into Mark's life turned up a curious chapter, and one which I could not let go of.

Amongst all the birth, death, marriage, and census records, I found the following on Ancestry.com:


National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Indexes to Naturalization Records of Federal Courts, Portland, Maine, 1851-1955 (M2083); Microfilm Serial: M2083; Microfilm Roll: 2.


I knew this was my great grandfather, by the address, but why would he have to apply for citizenship? All indications were that he was born in Massachusetts in 1885. My next step was to contact the regional office of NARA to get the full record. Unfortunately, the "full record' contained simply his Declaration of Intent from 1916, which only added another layer to the story.

Mark Samuel Leighton declaration of intention (1916), naturalization file no. 1470, District of Maine.

Buried in the handwriting on Mark Leighton's first papers was the following:


"I emigrated to the United States of America from Bow Island, Province of Alberta, on the Canadian Pacific & Grand Trunk Railroad, na [sic] Montreal, P.Q.; my last foreign residence was Bow Island, Province of Alberta, Canada.
Petitioner was naturalized and became a British subject in the District Court, District of Letherbridge, Province of Alberta, Canada, Dec 31, 1912."

To further substantiate this information, I returned to the 1910 Portland City Directory, on Ancestry.com, and, sure enough, he had, in fact, left for Canada:


The Canadian Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad was in expansion mode in the early 1910's, endeavoring to extend their lines to the Pacific Ocean. Construction had begun in the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the same year the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were established. However, the GTPR never realized the traffic potential its developers had hoped, and it became obvious by 1919 that it was not paying its way. It eventually defaulted on repayment of all of its construction loans, was nationalized, and taken over by the Canadian government.1

So perhaps my great grandfather was taking advantage of an offer of steady employment far away from home and the troubles he wanted to leave behind. It was probably quite an adventure for a young man in his mid-20's, from Portland, Maine, to work on the railroad in the Canadian wilderness.



There is no evidence to suggest that Mark Leighton ever followed through with his application to become, again, a United States citizen, although he did serve in the United States Navy during World War I.  But that's a blogpost for another day.


Bottom photo credit: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL via photopin cc

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