Museum returns 1945 treasures to descendants of Joseph Howe

·4 min read

SHEET HARBOUR – As president of the Sheet Harbour Heritage Society, Wendy MacKenzie, possesses a natural curiosity and a love for treasured artifacts. Give her a mystery and she gets to work.

At MacPhee House Museum, MacKenzie was presented with a small Yardley soap box and the treasures inside, dated 1945, incited her curiosity as to who the rightful owner of the objects may be. She was surprised to discover they were descendants of Joseph Howe, the renown Nova Scotian journalist and premier for the colony of Nova Scotia from 1860 to1863.

The first item inside was a smaller box containing a WWII King George VI war medal presented to citizens of the British and Canadian Commonwealth who served full time in the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy 1939-1945. The medal had a ribbon attached in the colours of the Union Jack and the note included read Carl A. Crowell.

The second item, loose in the larger box, was a mosaic broach. Folded beside the broach was a handwritten note – “Mosaic broach given to Lillian Crowell by her mother’s cousin - Dorothy Howe Wilson, Weymouth, England in 1945.” There was an antique appraisal for $65 – which MacKenzie surmised may have been for insurance purposes.

The investigator got to work by googling Carl A. Crowell and then looking for him under Nova Scotia historical vital statistics, but found nothing. She turned her attention to Lillian Crowell and when finding her obituary Mackenzie says, “…she was my link and was listed as Alice Lillian Crowell – who went by Lillian.”

Lillian, MacKenzie discovered, was the daughter of Elizabeth Howe and great-great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Howe.

This extraordinary lineage made the find even more interesting and intriguing for the president of the heritage society. The connection with Howe … “made me even more curious and determined to return the items to who I felt were the proper owners.”

Through Lillian’s obituary, MacKenzie found Carl’s middle initial should have been an ‘E’ for Ensley – not Ainsley as written in the note with the medal. The medal owner was Carl Ensley McLaughlin Crowell. His parents, Ensley and Sara (who was from Scotland), had met in London during WWI and after the war they married and returned to his hometown of Ellershouse, Nova Scotia.

Carl served during the Second World War and earned the medal.

“Lillian’s obituary stated she was survived by a brother, Lloyd. I Googled his name and got a phone number. I called and left a message about the broach and the medal and mentioned Carl Crowell and Lillian Crowell and asked if Lloyd was related. An hour and a half later Lloyd’s wife, Pat, returned my call,” MacKenzie says. “I knew I had them then! Pat explained that Lloyd was Lillian’s only surviving sibling out of eight children.”

MacKenzie related the story of the mosaic broach and the note and offered it to Lloyd and Pat as she felt they were the rightful owners. “They were grateful to accept it. I asked them if they knew of Lillian and Carl’s children as I’d like to return Carl’s medal.”

Pat momentarily left the phone and returned with a civic address for Earl Crowell – Lillian and Carl’s son. “He lives on the 224,” Pat said.

Mackenzie, taken aback, replied that she too lived on the 224. As Pat had provided the address, MacKenzie visited Earl Crowell – his father’s war medal in hand.

“Earl was both pleased and astounded to see the medal and broach,” MacKenzie said. “During our conversation I told him I had found the Howe connection and he said to me, ‘Oh, yes, I am the great-great-great-great grandson of Joseph Howe.’

“He offered the medal to our Sheet Harbour Heritage Museum but together we decided it was more appropriate to donate it to the legion in Windsor where Carl E. Crowell and his wife, Lillian, had lived in nearby Ellershouse,” MacKenzie said.

“I contacted Carrie, the manager of the Hantz County Branch # 9 Windsor Legion and Earl and I offered it to them for display.” The legion was pleased to accept this piece of history connected to one of their veterans.

The next day the medal was sent for permanent public display and the mosaic broach was sent by courier to the descendants of the original owners.

Pieces of history are written by those who take the time to ask the questions and find and record the answers.

Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal