Alexander Bell Finnie

Mary Finnie’s older brother.  My mom’s uncle.  We called him Uncle Alex too.  What a character!

Born July 7, 1894 in Broxburn, Uphall, Scotland.  Died Nov 23, 1975, Victoria, B.C., age 81.  He did not marry until later in life and had no children we know of.

Alex Finnie circa 1936

 My earliest recollection of him was his gnarled hands making it difficult and perhaps painful for him to shake your hand.  He also coughed a lot.  Once he stayed over at our house in a spare bed in my bedroom, probably 1961-62.  I was kept awake all night by his coughing. He also had a rather loud, raspy and commanding voice.  He was very interesting nevertheless and lived in that far off city Halifax.

He had difficult times in his life it seems.  Starting with his dad William dieing when Alex was 14 or 15 and continuing with bouts of unemployment.  Mom told me how Uncle Alex was forced to move in with his sister Mary and brother-in-law Sydney during the depression years.  He would head out and pound the payment looking for work every day and return in the evening empty handed – for several years it seems.  This must have been very humbling and demoralizing.

There are also some comments on file in a letter from his brother Bill to Mom saying how Alex used to ‘browbeat’ Grandma Finnie (Elizabeth, his mother), his sister Mary, Helen (wife), Elizabeth (sister), Pauline (not sure who this is?) and eventually Mom.  ‘Browbeat’ to me means ‘to seek to get his own way.’  He was a forceful yet gentle character.

Balancing this trait is a letter from his boss at Gilmore, German and Milne (see below) saying what a great employee he had been and that he would be greatly missed after retiring.

I have a copy his Second Class Engineer of a Motor-Driven Ship Certificate No. 521 dated  March 29, 1939. (Canada Minister of Transport).  I also have his Continuous Certificate of Discharge for Seamen No. 13138 issued by the Canadian Dept. of  Marine and Fisheries.  In there it says he was born in 1899 (not correct) in Broxburn, Scotland.  As a Junior Engineer on the International Petroleum Company’s Calgaroble and Trontolite ships between Montreal, Columbia and Peru starting in Sept 1936.  In May 1939 he was promoted to 3rd Engineer and then to 2nd Engineer in July 1940.

Other ships listed are the Canadolite and the Petrolite.  Note these ships were owned by Imperial Oil.  The Canadolite was captured by the Germans in 1941 (1 year after Alex was aboard), taken to Bordeaux, FR, converted to a blockade runner called the Sudenteland and eventually sunk by the RAF.  The Trontolite survived the war and was sold for scrap in 1946.  Presumably these ships were transporting crude oil or fuels from South America to Canada.  Each trip to S.A. and back lasted about a month. Staring in 1941 the voyage would be described as “Foreign” or “Home Trade” presumably for security reasons.  This booklet lists a total of 33 separate voyages ending Jan 1, 1943.  All reports of character were stamped “Very Good”.

Photo of the Trontolite:Photobucket:

After the war years he worked until 1961 for Gilmore, German and Milne, Naval Architects and Marine Surveyors in Halifax, NS.  A letter on file says they appreciated all his services and he responded that he had really enjoyed working for them.

After returning to Montreal to live, he married Helen Gleason Hebert in 1962.  Helen had been previously married and widowed.  She had been advised strongly not to tie the knot with Alex by the family according to Mom. They went on a honeymoon to Los Angeles while younger brother Bill was living there.

They moved to Victoria B.C, in 1964. They rented (or owned) a superb apartment on Dallas Road overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains in the distance.  He became a member of the James Bay United Church, Victoria, B.C., on Sept 26, 1965.  Seems they were very happy.  Unfortunately, Helen had a massive stroke and passed away suddenly in 1973.  It must have been devastating for him. In a wonderful gentle letter he wrote to Mom in 1974 he thanks her for her letter and gives her some news.  He even included a few poems he found in a magazine he liked which are reproduced below.  All this was typed up nice and neat.

Obituary: Finnie on Nov 23, 1975 at the Victoria General Hospital, Alexander Bell Finnie, a resident of Victoria for 11 years.  Predeceased by his wife Helen in 1973, he is survived by one sister, Mary Ward of Montreal; one brother Bill of Nelson, B.C. and several nieces and nephews.  He was a member of the Masonic Order.  Funeral service in McCall Bros. Chapel, Johnson and Vancouver Streets on Tuesday Nov 25 at 1:30 p.m. with the Rev. R. H. Dobson and the Rev. H. T. Allen officiating.

In the lead up to his passing, he asked Mom to come out and help him move into a retirement or nursing home.  I was living in Vancouver at the time and came over with my van.  We managed to move his things and get him settled but it was a difficult transition for him.  He was OK for awhile and would call me up wanting to chat.  He soon wanted me (and Mom in Ottawa) to come back and visit him as he was ill.  We were not able to come on short notice and he was upset.  We learned later that he rewrote his will writing Mom out of it!  She did manage to come out before he died and they reconciled.  Eventually things were settled and Mom was written back in posthumously.  I felt bad about my shortcomings in this, but such is life.

I am sure you have some Uncle Alex stories to share.  To his credit, most of us remember him and will never forget him.

Uncle Alex outside his Victoria, BC apartment

Top: Alex and Helen in their Montreal apartment I think
Middle: Helen on the balcony of their Montreal apartment circa 1963
Bottom: Alex gazing at the Empress Hotel in Victoria

Alex and Helen in their Victoria apartment circa 1970

 The monument to the end of the Trans Canada Highway is in the park right across the street.

At airport when you could smoke! (I have the bag he is carrying.)
With Helen
With Laurie Plaunt Morgan, me and Mom, Victoria 1974

Passport Photo 1969


Mystery Photo marked 1935 on back

Could be Finnies or Wards.  If it’s Finnies might be Alex with brothers George and Bill and someone else.  If it’s Wards it looks like Sydney, Sam or Charles but who is that old guy in the middle and the guy with the pipe?

The 1974 poems Alex sent to my mom:


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