Mary Byers McNabb grew up on Fenham Farm, in West Hawkesbury. She refers to the farm as an oasis where she used to play with her siblings, while her grandfather’s big golden collie, Sailor, watched over them.
Stories of adventure were family lore for the Byers children. As the descendants of Captain William Byers and his wife Mary Dudderidge, McNabb and her siblings grew up hearing stories of the Captain’s dreams to build Fenham in the Canadian wilderness.
McNabb shares these stories in her new book, “The Captain’s Mary: The Journey to Fenham Farm.”
The book is largely based on family letters that were found in a big box in the attic at Fenham. McNabb and her siblings read each of the letters, which she said provided a meaningful glimpse into the adventures and hardships their ancestors faced.
“One morning I woke up with the story in my head… The story just came. I wrote the entire book by hand, in cursive. It took five years to complete,” said McNabb.
McNabb describes Mary Dudderidge Byers as a strong woman who faced hardship, tragedy and loneliness with perseverance and faith. Byers grew up in London more than 200 years ago. She traveled with her sea captain husband, William Byers, to the shores of Canada. The living conditions in London were difficult then and Mary and William were hoping to start a new life that offered more opportunities for their children.
They left London aboard their ship, “The Success,” and traveled to Canada. The Captain and his wife landed in Quebec City in 1833 and came up the river to Montreal, where they settled on 600 acres of farmland, just north of Hawkesbury in the Laurentians. Two years after their arrival in Canada, Captain Dyers became ill with cholera and died – but Mary’s story continued. “It’s the story of how Mary Dudderidge Byers survived on the mountain. She got land in west Hawkesbury and started over at Fenham Farm,” said McNabb.
With her children by her side, Mary Dudderidge Byers survived on her own. Her faith in a mighty power gave her strength and she taught her children to persevere against the odds and to fight for their dreams, says McNabb.
You can purchase a copy of “The Captain’s Mary: The Journey to Fenham Farm,” at The Review, located at 76 Main Street, East, in Vankleek Hill. The book was released on November 3 and the print edition is available for $20.