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Re-Connecting a Large Family

July 5, 2008

Ninety seven people  made their way to the front of a southern Ontario banquet hall.  With considerable good-natured pushing and shoving, and shouts of “You sit here,” and “You stand there,” they posed for the camera. 1

large crowd posing for pictures
Reunion guests pose for a photo
it’s all relative
Among them were housewives, police, musicians, lawyers, accountants, civil servants, labourers, and at least one member of the clergy (yours truly).  There were Jews, Pantheists, at least one Hindu, practitioners of Native Spirituality, a variety of Christians, and persons of no religion at all.  There were people whose ancestry included African, Ojibway, Indian, Japanese, Welsh, Irish and English.  Their ages ranged from six months to something over seventy (certain of the most senior are a bit coy about their age).

And all ninety-seven have one thing in common: they are related to one another.  Every last one is either descended from (or partnered to someone who is descended from) a single couple, Henry and Jenny Harwood-Jones, who came to Canada from the U.K. in 1909.

This was the first-ever Harwood-Jones Family Reunion. 2  It was held July 5, 2008 at the Carruther’s Creek Golf and Banquet Centre, in Ajax, Ontario.

Somehow, with considerable help from Heather, I was the one who organized it.

three cousins
Three Cousins, Orangeville, ON, August 2007
Robert Harwood-Jones, Tony Harwood-Jones, Frank Swain
could these guys be related?
Just over a year ago, through FaceBook I discovered a whole bunch of family I didn’t know I had, and, still in the heady stages of enjoying retirement, I took the time to connect with a great number of them online.  Then, simply because I would say, “Who are you, and how are you related?” I began to build a family tree, quickly going from being a comparative stranger to knowing more of them, and more about them, than anyone else!

In August last year, Heather and I went to Toronto to meet some of these people.  There was a small gathering in Scarborough one day, and the next day we met another bunch in Orangeville.  Some were cousins I had last seen in 1959, some I had never ever met.  But, when we got together it really felt like family.  I also realized that I liked them, a lot.

Although it was my sister, Dawn, living in Nova Scotia, who first suggested there might one day be a full-fledged Family Reunion, I was the one to put out feelers by email and Facebook, and by default became the primary organizer.  A young cousin (first cousin once removed, actually) found a suitable location for the banquet, and because she is related by marriage to a professional caterer, that part was soon taken care of as well.  I printed some tickets, gathered some money, paid a bunch of deposits, and started making a lot of noise by email.  Then, as the ticket orders began coming in, it became clear that there would be over twenty children in attendance, so Heather began planning activities for them.  In the first days of July we drove down to Toronto, moved into a motel near the banquet venue, and drew all the strings of planning together.

It was a marvellous success.  My only complaint is that, with my overall responsibility for the progress of the day, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to visit with my innumerable cousins and their descendents.  There is some talk of doing it again one day, and if that should happen, I hope someone else will take a turn at organizing so that I can happily mix and mingle with everyone.


1  The video for which they were posing has been put on YouTube.  If you choose to watch it, and have a fast connection, you should click on “Watch in High Quality.” 
Click here to get back to the narrative.

2  Some people are calling it the family “Union” rather than a “Reunion” since many had never actually met one another before.  “The next time we get together,” they argue, “it can be a re-union.”
Click here to get back to the narrative.

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