Though some of my grandmother’s family arrived in the part of Canada I live in now as empire loyalists, my maternal grandfather came here from Scotland (but was born in Northern Ireland, let’s get that out of the way now) as a young lad with his family about a week after the Titanic disaster. There’s an interesting story about how they tried to change their minds and get a refund on their tickets, but were told they couldn’t and, like old country folk of little means do, shrugged and came across anyway. The fourth Welland Canal connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie was to begin construction soon, and there was plenty of work to be found.
The Wedsworths settled in a small town near what is now The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canal Centre at Lock 3. It’s long since been swallowed up by the city it sat on the far outskirts of at the time but has managed to maintain its village charm despite that. Most of the streets are named for trees. The houses are small and each is unique. The town hall still stands, now a seniors community centre, and the cenotaph memorial for the local boys lost during the great war still stands guard out front. Across the road from it is what was once an actual Carnegie Library. It’s still a lovely little spot despite the city sprawl that’s developed around it, and when I bought my first house (the only one I’ve ever owned at this point) it was on Almond Street in Merritton, about a block away from where my grandparents had first begun raising their own family.
Niagara is not where I was born, and not where I was raised or spent the majority of my life despite very frequent visits. I never knew my great grandfather and only remember the occasional stories about him, but I do know that he was a working man who raised a large family with limited means, and still managed to be such a positive influence on his community that one of the few streets in this little town that isn’t named after a tree is named after him. I’m rather proud of that.
Childless at 53 (so far as I know, anyway), I will never have great grandchildren, and I’m okay with that. Still, if I did, I would want to be the kind of person that leaves a legacy (if not a street named in my honour) that would find them proud of me. What does that mean, though?
What it doesn’t mean is building a vast empire to pass down, though if you want to do that, you go right ahead. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with that ambition. Andrew Carnegie did it, but I would guess that it’s not the trust funds and private schools his descendants take pride in. He shared his good fortune, he paid it forward to small communities like Merritton in the form of those libraries to promote knowledge, literacy, and forward thinking, among other philanthropic ventures.
The novelist J. K. Rowling (if you’re not sure who she is, then nobody can help you) rose from poverty after the huge success of her books and has donated more than $160 million to community-oriented charities because, as she puts it:
“You have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently”
Her own philanthropy is actually responsible for knocking her off Forbes’ billionaires list. You go, girlfriend.
These are great examples of what I’m trying to say because they’re names almost everyone knows, and their stories are the stuff of legend. But nowhere is it written that to be the kind of person your great grandchildren will be proud of means having to give voluminous amounts of money away. They did because they had it, but it’s why they did it that’s important. They’re good people. They cared about their communities, about the others around them, and worked to make them better, just like my own great-grandfather did not so much with his money but his good spirit and time. There’s no scale or spectrum here; being a good person is simply being a good person.
So be a good person, and let the only reward for that be the wonderful feeling it gives you, and the stories your great grandchildren will hear about you, and tell, and be influenced by, long after you’ve become fertiliser.
An interesting sidenote for anyone familiar with this area: What is now Merritton was once called Welland, and what is now Welland was once named Merritsville. Observing Welland as it is now, I’m rather glad they changed it.