Chapter 1


The Charter-Hemphill Story


Chapter 1

This is Grandma Charter's house. The photo was taken by Loy Charter in 1960 when its sale was imminent. Built in the Craftsamn style by Henry Charter in 1917, it was a popular style of that period.

This project began at least two and a half years ago when I started researching Henry and Mary Charter’s homesteading in Canada. Henry and Mary Hemphill Charter are my paternal grandparents, Loy’s parents. I read just about every book I could find about the homesteading experience. I also found access to the archives of the newspaper The Lethbridge Herald. It ran several stories in every edition regarding the homesteaders. Henry Charter was mentioned quite a few times; usually just a sentence or two.

I was frustrated knowing so little about Grandma Charter’s ancestry. But bit by bit I was able to trace her ancestry as far back as her grandparents, who were all immigrants. I wanted to know about their circumstances in the Old Country. I dug enough to write a book length story chasing her grandfather down to Ulster, Ireland, as Northern Ireland was then called, and then to Scotland.

I didn’t hesitate to borrow verbatim from books I found illuminating. I am largely finished except for translating the MSWord story into www language, or html, which takes considerable effort. I have written thirty-seven chapters and over 96,000 words with an average of fifteen pages per chapter, some longer, some shorter or 2,606 words per chapter on average. For comparison, a New Yorker article tends to run in the range of 2500-4000 words and in some cases over 6,000 words.

This is the only chapter that is written largely in the first-person. If I did want to add something personal, I put it in italics.

So, let's begin.

Grandma climbed the ladder and stepped onto the roof. Was her back hunched even then, as I remember her? She was, after all, in her middle seventies, and had no business climbing onto a roof. Somehow, I had gotten myself stuck in the chimney to see how Santa Claus got down. Linda, the Svengali, who put me up to this, climbed down to get Grandma. I must have been less than three years old before we moved to the Hague. Or maybe it was after on one of our visits. I have no memory of it, but Linda does. She loves to tell this story.

Mary Charter aka "Grandma Charter" 1880-1971. Do you see a resemblance to Loy?

We lived with Grandma at her house, or more accurately, we lived at her house and she lived in an outbuilding behind the house. I never saw the inside of where she lived. We moved in, to my mother’s dismay, sometime after Gail’s birth in Long Beach in 1947 and before Linda’s birth in Van Nuys in 1949. My mother’s discontent was probably something like Big Grandma’s disgruntlement at having to move from Pasadena to Van Nuys after her husband’s death. Big Mama was my Great Grandma Gibson, my Grandpa Gibson’s mother who was married to the one-term sheriff, prospector, and promoter. She moved to Van Nuys to live next door to her son. Van Nuys was a much less prestigious town than Pasadena, and she never let her son forget it. Patti remembers receiving a scolding from Big Grandma for cutting flowers off her gardenia bush. She was quite proud of her old New England linage. She thought my sisters would never have to worry about money because of that pedigree. They only wish!

Grandma Charter, on the other hand, was a more earthy type. She preferred plum trees to gardenias. She did have her moments of glory. The Van Nuys News wrote, “Last Monday evening members of the Royal Neighbors of America with their families enjoyed their regular monthly meeting at the home of Mrs. Henry Charter on N. Sherman Way. And she could justifiably take pride in her first two daughters who were highly esteemed and honored.’ I remember she liked to do the crossword puzzles in the Los Angeles Times.

The back of the house and related outbuildings.

I don’t think Grandma Charter left that outbuilding even after we left for Bakersfield. That was about 1955. I remember, on return visits, an awful smell somewhere in the back yard, a smell I now know as an outhouse smell. I never asked about it, but Gail confirmed that there was an outhouse somewhere.

What I remember best is sitting on the wood floor near a furnace floor grate between the dining room and the foyer with a little portable record player listening to the story of Peter and the Wolf, over and over. Hear it.

Peter and the Wolf with Basil Rathbone (as narrator) and Leopold Stokowski (as conductor). Composed by Sergei Prokofiev.

I remember a large brick column with a concrete top outside the high north facing windows of the sunken living room. Somehow, we got up there and slid down the iron pole that was a lightning rod. Those windows were facing Titus St. One year we came back to visit and there was a new building across Titus, a gold domed savings and loan, very space age. Now it is a furniture store and no longer is gold. There is a high-rise office building, now loft apartments, where her house was.

1931 Packard 833 (MIAS '10)

I remember a large stack of empty See’s Candy boxes against a wall in the mud room between the kitchen and the back door. One of her daughters worked at either one of the candy stores or the main factory in Glendale; she never could have afforded to buy all that See’s chocolate. About that stack of candy boxes I remember Dad yelling at her about the junk she was hoarding. Funny, he had her old hen houses filled his building materials or hardware store supplies.

My father built a teeter-totter behind the house. What I remember about that is if someone got off you would come crashing down hard on the ground. Farther back there was a cropping of bamboo that seemed like a jungle to a three-year old.

Henry Charter, 1872-1940 Date of photo is unknown.

I have fond memories of Grandma Charter's. Sometimes the smell of California dust brings back memories of the place. One memory is the old gasoline pump on the north beside the house that I wish had been saved and a pit to work on the underside of cars. It was dug in the dirt, like a grave in a cemetery by one of my much older cousins, Mervyn or Gordy, born 1925 and 1926, one of whom used to buy and repair old Packards, a now defunct luxury automobile. I was always told not to go around it, for fear of it caving in on me.

Mervyn and his brother, Gordy, were raised by Grandma after their mother and Grandma’s third child Edna died at twenty-two years of age during childbirth.

Another tragedy was the death of their second child Rose, who was my father’s favorite sister. She died in childbirth at 33 in 1939. Her death was particularly painful to her father, Henry. He had delivered all six of his children himself at home in rural Minnesota and Alberta. She was delivering in a modern hospital in the city of Los Angeles. It was incomprehensible and it filled him with bitterness.

Rose Charter

It was also a crushing blow to her brother, my father, Loy. She had largely raised him while grandma worked outdoors on the farm. Rose was the family’s first college graduate, attending Oregon State University. She taught home economics at Van Nuys High School where my mother had been a student of hers. The story of my father riding the rails to Detroit during the depression to pick up a Model A Ford was due to her generosity; she had bought his first car for him!

While we were living at Grandma’s, I broke one of my mother’s heirloom China cups. Grandma glued it back together so she wouldn’t know. Of course, she discovered the mended cup and that’s how I know the story of my Grandma’s attempted fix. She was so kind to me. She taught me how to tie the ends of two pieces of string together; while not a sophisticated knot, it is simple and holds, and I still use it today. I remember her showing me how to start a fire in the fireplace, putting the match to more than one piece of newspaper. I have fond memories of her and sadness that I can’t talk to her now. She was the grandmother who was the warmest and the one I think I knew the best.

Grandma Charter held on to that property long after others sold out to commercial interests. I think her daughters wanted her to sell, as like anybody, they could use the money, but she didn’t, quite possibly at my father's recomendation. Also she didn’t want to move. Finally, some developers made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, or couldn’t withstand the pressure from her children to sell. The developers built the Panorama Tower, high rise office building where she used to raise chickens and grow corn. It appears it was the right time to sell because today it is a low-income area of pawn shops and Goodwill stores.

Click here to see it on Google Street View.
Loy Charter, happy Ford owner

She found another house north of Van Nuys that had a yard with fruit trees she could tend to, but it must have been a heart-breaking experience to leave her home that Henry built after forty or fifty years of living there.

Grandma Charter’s family history has been the hardest to ferret out though, despite her ancestors being among the most recent immigrants in our family. Grandma Charter was born in Ontario, Canada in 1880. Her Grandfather, who was the primary focus of my inquiry, was Scots-Irish, or the term I prefer now after my research: Ulster-Scot.

Her husband, Henry D. Charter, the grandfather I never I knew, was born in Redwood Falls, Minnesota in 1867. He died of an infection in 1940 at the age of 72. The antibiotic penicillin that would have saved his life was not in production and thus not available yet. Its mass production was available four years later in time for the invasion of Normandy.

This is another from the series of photos taken by Loy Charter in 1960 in anticipation of its demolition. Photo was taken from across Van Nuys Blvd. The house can be seen behind the car.

Henry and Mary moved to Van Nuys, California in 1917 where he built their Craftsman style house. They had been lucky and did well growing wheat in the years when the rain fell. My Dad said he had a steam tractor. When WWI began, wheat prices went through the roof and they prospered. Their luck didn’t last or maybe I should say rains didn’t last. That story is told in more detail in a later chapter. I have been curious about that episode ever since I heard about their being homesteaders. I learned that quite by accident, when my father told someone he was born in Alberta, near Calgary.

Homesteaders? the man asked.

Yes, he answered.

Homesteaders! How had I never heard this? This revelation was quite late in my life. We were at the Hardwood Lumber Mill on Haley St. in Santa Barbara. Come to think about it, I had never heard much of anything about my grandfather, Henry Charter. I do remember asking my father something and he said he got a whipping every day, whether he deserved or not. I never knew if he was joking or not, but it could explain why he never talked about him.

I once asked him if his father drank alcohol, since my father didn’t, I was curious.

“No,” something like his father was all hell and brimstone. His heritage was Scottish too. Henry’s Great-Grandfather, John Charter, immigrated from Scotland about the time of the American Revolution. What I now know about Scottish Presbyterianism, that all makes sense. John Knox, who brought Presbyterianism to Scotland, was a disciple of John ”Fire and brimstone!” Calvin.

My Grandparents lived on just under ten acres on Van Nuys Boulevard. My mother said it was referred to as a “farmette’, but I have not come across that term in researching the San Fernando Valley and its development. My sisters and I would receive half pint milk cartons filled with dirt from that farmette as Christmas presents, representing the land Grandma Charter would leave us. My mother later said that was my father’s idea.

I regard Grandma Charter as something was a pioneer now. Born in Perth County, Ontario, Canada in 1880, she moved across the U.S. Canadian border to Redwood Falls, Minnesota where she met and married Henry Charter.

I saw a photo taken in the early days. The tall palms were short, about two or three feet high. There were tracks on Van Nuys Boulevard in front of her house. I remember steam powered locomotives which I imagined ran in front of their house but subsequent research revealed the Southern Pacific tracks only crossed Van Nuys Boulevard one-half mile south of Grandma Charter's. The engineers waved to us was we watched it go by while we waited at the crossing on Van Nuys. If asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered an engineer. The tracks in the photo I saw were for the electric street cars, popularly called the Red Cars. My favorite restaurant, a café on Van Nuys Boulevard, had a toy train and track running on the oval lunch counter. Your order was placed on a flat car which left the kitchen and stopped in front of your seat at the counter, you removed your plate from the flat car.

Grandma Charter loved to work outside on her fruit trees: apricots, plums, etc. and disdained housework, leaving that to her six daughters. My father’s favorite was Rose, cared for him most.

She was twelve years old when she immigrated to Minnesota with her parents and little brother in 1892. She married in 1900 at the age of twenty.

Grandma Charter was born Mary Ann Hemphill, though she thought her name was Mary Ella, which she used at least since her marriage and probably all her life. Her birth record states her name as Mary Ann.

As can be seen above, sometime betwenn her birth and death, her middle name changed from Ann to Ella. There is no known explaination. Notice her occupation is the clerk she was in the general or hardware store in Alberta, not poultry or real estate investor.

Grandma Charter was valedictorian of her high school class (of seven!). She had an astounding vocabulary, according to Irving Charter. Irving also said that she was a lot of fun and liked to do crazy things.

I love you, Grandma. Rest in Peace.


  • Grandma Charter’s mother, my great-grandmother (GGM), Isabella Bryden Terry, born in Uxbridge, Ontario in 1857. She also was a domestic servant, at age thirteen according to 1861 Canadian Census she was living as a servant in the household of Jacob and Catherine Stakely and their three children. Where the Bryden comes from is still a mystery and there are tantalizing hints but no obvious answers.
  • Grandma Charter’s father, my GGF, was James Hemphill, born about 1856 in Beauharnois, Quebec, Canada. Of their eight children, Grandma Charter was their first born. Their marriage is recorded in May 5, 1880 in the Elma township, North Perth, Ontario Canada (townships are the basic land-survey division of land used in Canada).

James Hemphill, his wife Isabella and their daughter Mary Ann (or Ella as she called herself) immigrated to Redwood Falls, Minnesota in 1892 where James and Isabella had another child, Louis in 1897. Mary Ann, then met Henry Defoyster Charter. There is a quite an adventure for those two and I won’t try to tell now . Isabella and her son, Richard, Grandma Charter’s brother, went along as well.


  • Isabella’s mother was Jane Ferguson, born 1810 in Dumfriesshires, Scotland. Dumfriesshires main town is Dumfries which has the distinction of being where Robert the Bruce stabbed and killed his rival to the Scottish throne John Comyn for double crossing him. It’s also near Lockerbie, where wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 landed following a terrorist bomb attack aboard the flight.
  • Isabella’s father, John Terry, born 1813 in Hampshire, England and the only non-Scot among Grandma Charter’s ancestors, immigrated to Quebec, possibly in 1830. There are many records for a John Terry with no way to know if it is our John Terry or not. The 1851 Canadian Census records John and Jane as a family with eight children aged fifteen to two. They had two more children with Isabella being the last child. Sadly, her mother died when she was only two. Her father remarried a woman named Sarah Stacey from Ireland. No record of his death has been found.
  • James Hemphill’s father was Andrew Hemphill, believed to be born in 1817 in the barony of Coleraine, County Londonderry, Ulster, Ireland, now Northern Ireland, an area known for the quality of its linen. Andrew left Ulster for Canada, arriving in 1850, at the tail end of the Irish Potato Famine and after the typhus epidemic of 1847 at Gross Isle, Quebec.
  • James’s mother, Ann Leggett, born 1817, was born in Ireland according to census records, and was also from Ulster, surmised by her religious affiliation with the Church of Scotland on census records and their marriage in a Presbyterian Church. They settled in Elma, Perth County, Ontario with their two boys, James and William.


  • Jane’s mother and father, Mary Graham, born 1781, and William Ferguson, born 1779 were also both born in Dumfries, Scotland. Married in 1806 in their hometown. There is a record of a William Ferguson arriving in America in 1837, and an 1851 Canadian Census shows a William and Mary Ferguson from Scotland in Uxbridge, Ontario.
  • John Terry’s mother and father were named James and Sarah Terry. No other records of any confidence have been found.
  • Ann Leggett’s mother and father, James Leggatt, 1771-1851, and Ann Todd, born about 1778, were likely Scots-Irish from Ulster, often referred to as Ulster-Scots. There is a record of a James Legged arriving in Quebec in 1827 in a compilation of Scottish immigrants to Canada book. There is also a church record of James Leggett’s interment in 1851 in Ormstown, Quebec.

Note: John and Phebe Charter arrived in Quebec from Edinburgh, Scotland, and soon after immigrated to the U.S. in 1776, so the paternal line of the Charters is of Scottish ancestry


Superscripts indicate married couples. M or P indicate maternal or pateranl ancestor. GGF is great grandfather, GGM is great grandmonther; 3GGF indicates great great great grandfather, etc.

Name Year of Birth Place of Birth Date of Death Place of Death Relationship
John McKinley1 1740 Cork, Ireland 1782 Ohio M 4GGF
Wm McMurry2 1725 Antrim, Ireland 1798 Virginia M 5GGF
John Leeper3 1706 Donegal, Ireland 1782 Pennsylvania M 6GGF
Mary Ulrey2 1730 Monaghan, Ireland 1772 Virginia M 5GGM
Kim Fuselier3 1780 Ireland 1742 Pennsylvania M 6GGM


Name Year of Birth Place of Birth Date of Death Place of Death Relationship
John Charter4 unknown Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland 1813 Ontario County, NY P 3GGF
Phebe Charter4 unknown Scotland unknown U.S.A. P 3GGM
Robert Leeper 1680 Scotland 1748 Pennsylvania M 7GGF


Name Year of Birth Place of Birth Date of Death Place of Death Relationship
Mary O'Connell1 1722 Cork, Ireland 1771 South Carolina M 4GGM
Thomas Chavis 1607 Dublin, Ireland 1664 Virginia M 8GGF
Elizabeth Chavis 1648 Dublin, Ireland 1681 Virginia M 7GGM