8th Canadian Mounted Rifles, Barracks Jamaica, Christiana Jamaica, Coleyville Jamaica, David Philip Steers, Dr H Bramwell, Dulmen Germany, Ernest Percival Steers, family search, George Philip Steers, Ida Louise Foreman, Jean Mann, Jean Steers, Legacy Voices Project, Lila Rosa Crawford, Mabel Jean Thompson, Manchester Jamaica, my family tree, Savoy Hotel Jamaica, Shooter's Hill, Vivian Edward Steers, William Herman Steers, WWI POW
My grandma’s sister Mabel Jean Thompson married Vivian Edward Steers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 21 Jul 1928.
Great Uncle Viv was the first ‘coloured’ person I’d ever met. When I was young, I remember meeting him at Grandma’s house. He was a sweet man with a lovely smile who always had silver dollars to hand out to his great nieces and nephews. Beyond those few long ago occasions, I didn’t know much about Viv until I began researching his family.
He was born 7 May 1894 in Barracks, Manchester Parish, Jamaica to parents George Philip Steers and Lila Rosa Crawford.
According to Viv & Mabel’s marriage registration (and Viv’s death certificate), George Steers was born in Scotland but I haven’t yet been able to verify that information. Viv was the sixth of an eventual 14 children born to George and Lila.
Based on information found on the childrens’ birth registrations and license granting listings in the 1891 Jamaica Gazette, George Steers was a shopkeeper (and then planter) in the Manchester Parish settlements of Shooter’s Hill, Barracks, Christiana and Coleyville between 1888 and 1907.
On 17 May 1912, the Royal Mail Steamer SS Oratova sailed from Jamaica, landing at New York on 23 May. On board was Viv’s oldest brother, 24 year old David Philip Steers, the first of the Steers children to leave the island. On the ship’s passenger list, David gives his intended destination as Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Hot on his heels, brother William arrived in New York 26 May 1913. In September that year, their younger brother Ernest Percival also joined the Steers boys in Toronto. On 13 Feb 1915, Percival, aged 18 years 10 months, enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces during WWI.
Siblings Vivian and Nellie left Jamaica in 1914. They landed at New York and headed to Toronto where their brother David was living at 174 Duke Street.
On 5 Apr 1915, Private Ernest Percival Steers of the 8th Canadian Mounted Rifles died at Toronto General Hospital. Cause of death was given as cerebro spinal meningitis. He was buried at St John’s Norway Cemetery on Kingston Rd in Toronto in an unmarked grave #C1306.
Mere weeks after his brother’s death, Uncle Viv also signed up with the Canadian Forces. He was a member of the WWI Canadian Expeditionary Force firstly with the 9th Horse Brigade and was then transferred to the 8th Canadian Mounted Rifles, the same regiment with whom Percival had served.
On 2 Jun 1916, Viv was reported missing.
A PRISONER OF WAR
MEMBER OF THE CANADIAN MOUNTED RIFLES
Mr. Vivian Steers of Christiana, Manchester … left Jamaica some time ago for Canada. During his stay there, he enlisted in the Eighth Mounted Rifles (Cavalry) and was sent to the front in Belgium. He was reported as being missing from June 2nd, but his mother has received a cablegram from headquarters saying that he has been located and is now a prisoner of war in the hands of the Germans at Dulmen.
Mrs. Steers had another son, Percival, who also enlisted in the army in Canada. He unfortunately took ill and died in a military hospital in the Dominion.
Much sympathy is felt for Mrs. Steers in the fate which has overtaken her second son.
– from the Kingston Gleaner, pg 19, 28 Jul 1916
With help from the Legacy Voices Project (the only national project dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Black Canadian military history) formed and run by Kathy Grant, I am attempting to secure a copy of Viv’s war records which should shed some light on his POW experiences.
Viv returned to Canada from Europe on board the ship Saturnia which arrived at Montreal on 22 May 1919. After marrying Mabel in 1928, they had one daughter, Jean Elizabeth Steers, who was born in Toronto about 1930. They returned to Jamaica in 1933.
Mr. and Mrs. Vivian Steers and their charming little daughter Miss Jean, arrived from the States last Saturday.
– from the Kingston Gleaner, pg 32, Sat Feb 11 1933
In April 1934, Viv and his brother David were injured in a car accident.
Hurt in Motor Car Crash at Christiana
A serious motor car accident occurred at Walderston, a district four miles from here, yesterday morning.
Mr. D. P. Steers, proprietor of the Savoy Hotel, accompanied by Mr. Vivian Steers, Dr. H. Bramwell and Mr. G. Challiner, were proceeding to Kingston to attend the races, when on reaching Walderston a motor car which had been taking gasoline at the petrol station suddenly reversed, it is said, into the passing car, causing a great impact in which both cars were much damaged. The occupants of Mr. Steers’ car received injuries.
Mr. D.P. Steers, who was at the wheel, received a nasty cut on his face, while his brother got only a finger hurt. Dr. Bramwell was a little shaken but had no visible injuries but Mr. Challiner was badly bounced and will be confined to his residence for some time.
– from the Kingston Gleaner, pg 18, Wed Apr 4 1934
That ‘little shaken’ Dr. Bramwell, obviously a friend to the Steers brothers in 1934, would eventually become very shaken when he was named as co-respondent in a nasty divorce case between David Steers and his wife Ida Louise (nee Foreman). Extensive media coverage exists in the Kingston Gleaner from Jun 1935 through Mar 1936 of the original case and several subsequent appeals launched by David’s ex-wife. Uncle Viv and his wife Mabel testified as witnesses in the case. The media storm must have been horrific. Mabel and daughter Jean were sent back to Canada before it even ended. A full page article on pg 8 in the Gleaner 27 Jun 1935 announced the case’s outcome with the headline “Jury Finds 6 to One for Mr David Steers”.
Viv rejoined his family in Canada in May 1936.
Mr. Vivian Steers Feted at Christiana
Mr. Vivian Steers was the recipient of hearty felicitations and expressions of high regard at the Savoy Hotel last night when many of his friends gave a “Dutch Farewell Dinner” in honour of him on the eve of his departure to Canada.
That Mr. Steers enjoys an outstanding popularity could be easily seen from the attendance and there were many apologies for absence from other prominent citizens who found it impossible to attend.
Mr. Steers is a mechanical engineer of outstanding ability and has had much experience in the making of motor cars and aeroplanes. His sojourn in his home town has been a blessing to the community and his services have been much in demand by the Public Works Department and the Parochial board of the parish. Through his skill the heavy waste at the Christiana reservoir, caused by leakage, has been checked, and the public sanitary conveniences that are being erected in the town at present under his supervision will be a monument to his ability.
Dinner was served at 8 o’clock following which the guest of honour was deluged with complimentary remarks touching his character and usefulness.
Mr. J. Stephen Miller referred to the parentage of Mr. Steers and said that he knew the latter from his infancy and from his knowledge of Mr. Steers’ parents and his early training, he did not expect less of him. Mr. Steers’ parents were cornerstones in Christiana in their day. He next made reference to Mr. Steers’ war service and his activities since his return to Jamaica three years ago and said the community would be poorer from his departure. He wished Mr. Steers a happy reunion with his wife. Mr. Steers was going to a land of possibilities. He was sure he would do well. He wished him success and hoped he would return to Christiana in the near future.
– extract from the Kingston Gleaner, pg 13, Tue May 12 1936
Viv, Mabel and Jean settled in Vancouver, British Columbia where Viv continued his work as an engineer. On 19 Jan 1968, Mabel died of ovarian cancer. Viv had a heart attack and passed away 22 Jul 1981. Their daughter Jean, who had married William Mann, died of breast cancer 4 Sep 1987. Our family was made richer by their presence and I am continuing to research the lives of Viv’s ancestors and siblings in Jamaica.