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Tighsolas: House of Light, Part 2: A Long-Lost Relic Comes Home

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tighsolas.norm_.jpg(Continued from Tighsolas: House of Light, Part 1: An Intimate Glimpse into the World of a Turn-of-the-Century Townships Family)

Do you believe in magic? If only the magic of the Internet.

It’s been about a year since I discovered that treasure-trove of paper memorabilia once belonging to my husband’s ancestors, the Nicholsons of Richmond.

I’ve learned an amazing amount since I wrote that article for Townships Heritage WebMagazine back in February of 2004: a lot about the Scots of the Eastern Townships; a lot about teachers at the turn of the century; a lot about that very pivotal era in Canadian history, from 1896 to 1922, when Canada was “a nation in transition,” as one historian puts it.

medium_tigh.sussex.jpgA SERIES OF COINCIDENCES
And because of a magical series of coincidences, I have learned one more sweet fact, that the fancy sword Norman Nicholson is wearing in the picture from that article (reproduced at left) is not a militia sword, but a Masonic sword.

How did I find this out? Well, one Thursday evening a few weeks ago (as I returned from a visit with Esther Healey at the Richmond Historical Society) I found an email awaiting me. It was from Matthew Farfan, editor of Townships Heritage WebMagazine. A couple in the Okanagan Valley of BC, we’ll call them the C’s, had gotten in touch with Matthew, wanting to get in touch with me: They had Norman’s sword!

How come you have Norman’s sword? I asked in a return email. Because I took it as a kid from Mrs. Nicholson’s home, Mr. C answered. (How he loved that old house, he wrote, the steep basement stairs, the wondrous attic filled with fantastic things. He told me the barn in the back was ‘boy central’ in the era of Beatlemania and go go boots.

Right: The family papers show that old Norman Nicholson was a member in good standing of the Sussex Preceptory No. 9, Knights Templar, Sherbrooke.

Mr. C’s parents had rented the house from my husband’s great aunt, Edith Nicholson, in the late 50’s until the middle 60’s. Somehow the sword had been swept up in the bustle when the family moved out. Mr C assumes he took the sword, because he remembers playing with it, a lot, even “terrorizing” his sister with it. What boy wouldn’t play with a sword like that: a traditional ceremonial Mason sword, adorned with all kinds of mysterious symbols, a knight’s head and a Christian cross.

Phone my wife, Mr.C instructed. She’ll tell you about the sword. So I did – on the jump. At what a story Mrs. C. related! The sword has been hanging on the BC couple’s wall since the death of her in-laws. Prior to that it had traveled all over North America, as far as Ventura, California.

tigh.blairsword.jpgTERRORIZED BY THE SWORD
A few months ago, Mr. C’s sister, the little girl once ‘terrorized’ by the sword, visited them and happened to mention, out of the blue, that the ornate weapon on the wall had a name engraved on it. (All Mason swords do.) The name was ‘Norman Nicholson.”

A few months passed and Mrs. C, who has never been to Quebec, had the sudden impulse to return the heirloom to its rightful descendants.

She Googled ‘Norman Nicholson’, but no luck. Too many of them. She entered “Margaret Nicholson” into the search engine and presto, she up popped the web page with my article – with her sword staring her right in the face. Now, how did she know to enter the name ‘Margaret Nicholson’? Because Mr. C remembered that in his childhood stamp book, there’s an old letter addressed to a Margaret Nicholson of Richmond, along with a picture of an old man with handlebar moustache brandishing his sword in mock battle.

So it is likely that over forty years ago a curious little boy who was to grow up to be a BC geologist, plumbed the depths of that same Nicholson treasure chest full of letters and memorabilia; the one that later made its way to my mother-in-law’s house - the one I discovered just about a year ago - and taken that envelope and an appealing photograph of a swashbuckling septuagenarian. He may have cut stamps out of other envelopes, because many of mine are missing stamps (above left).

Still not convinced that magic has anything to do with it?

Norman ’s sword arrived by Purolator the Tuesday before Halloween. Pre-paid. I handed it to my son, Mark, (Norman’s great-great grandson, one of many) and later to Blair, his father, and he placed it on the living room mantle. That night, as we watched TV downstairs, we all heard a thump in the living room upstairs. My husband went up to find the album I keep on the coffee table, the one containing the best Nicholson memorabilia, even his death certificate on the floor. It had popped open and pages were strewn all over the carpet in front of the fireplace.

Of course, it was likely the dog, but I took no chances. I placed a portrait of Margaret taken in 1912 beside the sword…I’d like to think that’s what he was looking for.

*Dorothy Nixon is a Montreal-based writer who specializes in women's issues and education.
**Tighsolas means "House of Light" in Gaelic. The family homestead was filled with windows.