How Family History Led to Exploring Canada’s National Parks


How Family History Led to Exploring Canada’s National Parks
By Glynn Burrows


On this episode of Big Blend Radio, Glynn Burrows, family history expert and owner of Norfolk Tours in England, shares how researching his family history led him to two visits to Canada, with this summer’s visit exploring Eastern Canada. 

Who says family history is boring and all about dusty old documents, Churches, cemeteries and staring at computers? This August, Diane and I visited Canada and that was all down to my interest in family history.

Way back in 1977, when the world was in black and white, and the only apples people knew about were the ones which grew on trees, I started to research my family history because of an exhibition in the local Church, where the Parish Registers were on display. That weekend, I found my great, great, great grandparents in the records and the next Friday, after a visit to the local Record Office, I had found my ancestors, back to 1698, in the village I was still living in.

Soon after that, I looked through the visitors’ book in our Church and a man had put that he was visiting the village where his ancestors had lived, and he left his address. His ancestor was one of my great, great, great uncles, so I wrote to him and started several years of correspondence. In one of his letters, he mentioned that he had relations in Canada and gave me their addresses. I wrote to the two ladies and we kept in touch over the years and in 1987, one of the Canadian cousins came over. I always said we would visit Canada but the years went by, and lack of money and excuses always got in the way until 2015 when another of the Canadian Cousins visited. This time, they wouldn’t take “No” for an answer and, before they left, we had made arrangements to visit them in 2016 for a tour out West. The year 2017 saw another Canadian Cousin visit to England and this year, we went over for a family tour out East. 

The family tour out East this year consisted of a mini-bus of twelve, driving from Toronto, through Ottawa, Montreal, Riviere du Loup, St. Andrew, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, Halifax, St. John, Quebec, Prescott and many other places en route. The trip took sixteen days and we saw the most breathtaking scenery, met some lovely people and encountered the most amazing wildlife.

Our journey took us through the National Park on Cape Breton Island and we were fortunate enough to stay at Dalvay by the Sea which is in the National Park on Prince Edward Island, but much of the route we took was through small towns and although we did use motorways, we were often getting off the freeways and journeying via country roads and tracks, to see places of interest.

Of course we needed to visit the big cities, as you can’t visit the area around the Capital of a country and not visit it, but Ottawa isn’t like many of the other capital cities I have visited. It was well-kept, clean, friendly and very pretty. The fireworks were amazing and the light show on the Parliament Buildings was inspirational and thought provoking. A trip along the river and a walk along the canal were a great way to spend the afternoon too.

Montreal was a city of two halves. Going in, the city shows how it is being regenerated but the old part of the city is a delight. I was especially pleased to see that my fellow Norfolk man is remembered there with the second oldest Nelson’s Column in the world.

Quebec is a very ancient city by North American standards, and it was brilliant for me to visit because, as I have lived in France, it combined two of my favourite places; France and Canada. I was able to speak French and we were made to feel very welcome. The old buildings and narrow streets were a joy to see and it made us feel that we were in Europe. If you have never been, it is a must! 

The views of the St. Lawrence and the surrounding countryside are amazing from the shore, as well as from the many boats which cruise up and down the river, and the sunset at Riviere du Loup has been recognised as one of the most beautiful in the world and I can see why. 

While in St. Andrews, we went out on a boat trip to see whales and dolphins and we were lucky enough to see several of these magnificent creatures, but the most exciting part of the trip was when we were taken to an island to shelter from a storm. It was one of the worst storms our skipper had seen and he was pleased to get us safe onshore. After the worst had passed, we set off in the dark, to get back to base and it was one of the most amazing boat trips I have been on. Lashing rain, thunder and lightning all around us most of the way back.

Our first views of Prince Edward Island were quite thrilling as we arrived over the Confederation Bridge, but the island itself is amazing too. We were staying on the North Coast and we were lucky enough to visit Covehead Harbour and sample some fantastic fresh lobsters. The National Park on the island is quite small but it is great to be able to stay there, knowing that the area is protected and will remain that way. Dalvay itself was originally the home of Alexander MacDonald, who was born in Scotland and, as with many of the stories regarding the rich and famous, the tale is not straightforward. Although he left his granddaughters a vast sum of money, one died destitute and the other had to work to keep her family. Although the house was lost to the family and the fortune left to the two girls was squandered away, some of the descendants of those two girls are now very well-known international names. All’s well that ends well.

After our time on PEI, we took the ferry to Nova Scotia and journeyed up to Port Hawkesbury, ready for our trip around the Cabot Trail which is named after the famous explorer, John Cabot, who is credited with landing on Newfoundland in 1497. The trail took us around the coast and through some of the most amazing countryside. Stopping at many of the view points, we were blown away by the sheer beauty of the area, and arrived at Baddeck for our overnight stay, quite late in the day.

The next morning we visited the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and I was amazed at how many things he invented. I thought it was just the telephone! How wrong I was. Mr. Bell was yet another Scot and makes Nova Scotia even more apposite!

Our next stop was Halifax and this was the main reason why I wanted to come to the East. Our family history research has been almost entirely in Norfolk, as all of my ancestors (so far discovered) lived within fifty miles of where I live today. I have had to go to Ipswich and London for some records but I have never had to go far to see where my ancestors lived. This was a bit unusual as I was not only out of Norfolk, I was out of England and out of Europe. I was on another continent and across an ocean.

John Bailey, my 4X great-grandfather, was born in Middleton, near King’s Lynn and baptised on September 27th 1790. He joined the army around 1813, and was serving with the 64th Regiment of Foot at Halifax in 1815 when he contracted Opthalmia and had to be discharged. He was a Corporal and was five feet, six and a half inches tall. He had brown hair, grey eyes and a pale complexion and his trade was cordwainer (shoemaker). He was at Plymouth Dock in England by February 1816 and was discharged on the 6th April 1816. He was allowed a pension and this can be seen on the census of 1851.

The Halifax Citadel was where the army were based but, research in the Halifax Archives, told me that the buildings we see today, were not what were there in 1815. The earlier fort, which fell into disrepair by 1825, was mainly timber and earth, the only buildings were a barracks, powder magazine and provisions store.

It was replaced with the current buildings, built between 1828 and 1856. The 64th Regiment were billeted in the North or South Barracks which were at the base of Citadel Hill and a little closer to the town but long since demolished.

I was able to walk around the Citadel Hill and know that John Bailey had been there. Standing, looking out over the water, knowing that he had sailed into that port all those years ago and to see a couple of the buildings which were there in 1815, made me wonder what that young man from Norfolk thought about being on the other side of the Atlantic. What sort of crossing did he have and, when he got home, did he “dine out” on his stories of life across the seas. Could he have even imagined that one of his descendants would fly across that same ocean to stand on the same spots as he was, two hundred years later?

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit


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Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit

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