Long Distance Love in the 1940s: A Tale of Devotion from My Grandparents’ Love Letters

By Alicia Bertrand, M.A.

Those of you who are in modern day long-distance relationship may have the technology to see and communicate with your partner from afar. Couples can use Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp, etc. to chat at a moments notice and find their partner to be more responsive by these face-to-face remote communication applications.[1] Those in love in the past however, were unable to communicate in a quick and easy manner. Handwritten paper letters were one of the only ways in which long-distance couples could keep in touch with what their partner experienced and chose to write about. They were at the mercy of the postal services’ work ethic and the physical letter not being lost along the way. In the 2004 movie, The Notebook, Noah was angered by Allie having ignored the 365 letters that he wrote her, which had been secretly intercepted by her mother.[2] Love letters are an important way that we connect not only with each other, but with our ancestors from the past.

From 1945-46, 40-year-old David William “Morley” Bertrand (Morley from here on), wrote letters frequently to his fiancée, 29-year-old Violet Bertrand (from here on Violet).[3] Morley lived in Detroit, Michigan, USA, while Violet lived in Belleville, Ontario, Canada. They spent the months prior to their wedding writing to each other to keep the love alive and get excited for their upcoming nuptials.

Geography of Love

Morley was born to James Albert Bertrand and Mary Emma (née Gallagher) in the Toronto Junction of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Violet was born to Augustus Edward Bertrand and Kathleen Margaret (née Carroll) in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada. It is possible that the families met via their grandfathers’ families’ events in 1921 when James, Mary, and Morley moved to Trenton, while Augustus, Kathleen, and Violet were in Seymour Township. There is one photo in my family’s collection which “aunt Emma” who is mentioned in their love letters, is in a photo with Morley in Campbellford, Ontario in 1929. Perhaps “aunt Emma” was their matchmaker? However, neither Morley, nor Violet, ever discussed with their children how or when they met.

Campbellford, 1927. Copyright Alicia Bertrand

On January 30, 1924, James, Mary, and Morley moved to Detroit, Michigan, USA.[4] At first, James and Morley worked at the Henry Ford automobile plant, since this was when the Model T was on the assembly line and it was a great employment opportunity.[5] After working at the Ford plant for some time, James, who already had experience as an engineer, led Morley into the railway industry via the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1928, Morley was a fireman for the Grand Trunk Railway and by 1940, he was promoted to engineer.

Ford plant, Detroit, 1929. Copyright Alicia Bertrand

In 1932, Violet moved to Belleville to work at the American estates along Lake Ontario, and then worked at Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf.

Love Letters

Sample of paper letters written by Morley Bertrand to Violet Bertrand. Copyright Alicia Bertrand.

The collection of Morley’s love letters to Violet were kept by my grandmother for decades. The letters that Violet wrote to Morley are not in my family’s possession (women are more likely to keep these letters than men). The first letter in the collection begins with an apology from Morley. He forgot to send the letter he began to write the week prior. He had looked for a place to stay in Port Huron, Michigan and was unsuccessful. He told Violet that he had a surprise for her when he got to Belleville. We, the present reader, are not privy to what the surprise was.

The letters show that for a man who travelled on trains for a living, he was willing to travel 545kms to see his partner. He ends the first letter with “I’ll be whispering in your ear soon. M.” In another letter written after November 15th, Morley asks “for a snap [picture] I’ll keep it close to me all the time. It’s 20 minutes to 10 now and my ear is burning. I believe your thinking of me. Your ear ought to burn near all the time Violet cause I’m thinking of you every minute.” [Grammar and punctuation not corrected by author]

A letter from an “aunt Emma” on January 31, 1946 notes that she worries about the expenses and poor diet Morley is incurring with the travel he was doing going back and forth between Belleville and Port Huron. In February, Violet must have taken what aunt Emma said about his travel and mentioned it as being “tiring”, as Morley wrote, “Violet I love you dearly, and as for tiring. That will never be. We will be married April 10th and will always be happy together.”[6]

[Source: Map of counties Southern Ontario, Atlas of America, online at: https://us-atlas.com/southern-ontario-map.html%5D

On February 27th, he wrote about how bad the weather had been for numerous days due to the snow. He wrote about their wedding day that soon approached and that “We’ll always be sweethearts…and enjoying life together. I love you Violet and always will.” He continued:

“We’ll plan those little trips around and what we’ll do and be together. How I’d love to hold you in my arms right this minute and tell you again “I love you Violet” and I want you to love me and we’ll just live for each other…There’s an old saying Violet about “absence makes the heart grow fonder” It surely does in my case for I miss you more every day and am just as lonesome and yearning to see you as I can be.”

Page 2 of a letter from Morley Bertrand to Violet Bertrand from which the quote above is sampled. Copyright Alicia Bertrand.

After all of the lovely words, he discussed how he wished for a better position at work so that after they were married, he would be home every evening. He spent 11-14 hours per day on a train for work. He noted that he wished for a “yard job in Durand”.

He mentioned life and labour in the Durand home he lived in with his mother. Mary received damage to her eye from a bad case of shingles, and needed Morley to help with many chores around the house. It may seem mundane to readers, or interesting to some, to read how similar life was 76 years ago. He wrote that, “Last Sunday I shook out the mats and wiped off all of the floors used the vacuum cleaner on the old rug in the sitting room and had everything pretty well fixed. It hurts moms eye to do too much.” Every detail written in these letters is a look into the past. He may also have written about cleaning duties and responsibilities that he performed to lessen any stress Violet may have had about her eventual life as a housewife and caretaker of her future mother-in-law.

Along with chatter about work, and loving words, Morley also included a funny story that he did not have to tell. Maybe today we would text a friend about an embarrassing moment, but not write it down and mail it later on. On March 4, 1946, Morley wrote “I had to get a pair of trousers today. I was wearing an old pair of the blue serge and they broke out in the seat and one knee. I got a cotton pair for $2.04. I thought I had better, I might be going down the street and the whole seat fall out and that would be a mess.” Perhaps he wanted to make her laugh. People like humour in a relationship.

In the same letter, he wrote:

“Its 33 days now Violet [until the wedding]. I miss you very much and would sure like to be in Belleville right now. But as you say the time will soon slip by and we’ll be together. It will be like starting life anew like you said. Your a very swell girl Violet and I love you dearly and I don’t want to do anything to make you unhappy…If you were here I’d say pinch me to see if I’m dreaming.” [Bracket text added by author]

As the wedding drew near, Morley described the rings he purchased from Payne’s jewellery in Durand. He added, “I never realized I could feel so lonely being away from anyone as I am now away from you”. Ten days before he arrived in Belleville, Morley suggested that after the wedding they could go see movies and some sights in the area. Maybe they saw The Blue Dahlia, released on April 16, 1946 by Paramount Pictures starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and William Bendix.

Movie poster of The Blue Dahlia, 1946. Source: Wikipedia.

Morley and Violet married in their best outfits in a home in Stirling, Ontario.

Morley and Violet Bertrand, 1946. Copyright Alicia Bertrand.

They had three sons in Durand, Michigan. Jim, David (my dad), and Bob.

From Left to Right: Violet, Bob, Jim, and David Bertrand. Copyright Alicia Bertrand

The last photo I believe I have in the collection of Morley and Violet together, is from June 1967.

Violet and Morley Bertrand, June 1967. Copyright Alicia Bertrand.

After overcoming a long-distance romance, getting married, and rearing a family, Morley and Violet moved with their sons back to Ontario, Canada. On April 19, 1974, Morley passed away. Violet was widowed until her passing on July 29, 2006. For 32-years she was without her love once again, and I hope that after all that time, somewhere in the universe they were able to meet again.

This Valentine’s Day, take a moment to write a handwritten note or card to a loved one: a parent, partner, child, friend, neighbour, regardless of who it is, let them know you love them without technology. Take a timeout from of your digital life to put pen to paper again, and think that someone 80 years from could use it to bring joy to their life, and the lives of others by remembering love. Love is the greatest gift of all.


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[1] See Susan Holtzman, Kostadin Kushlev, Alisha Wozny, and Rebecca Godard, “Long-distance texting: Text messaging is linked with higher relationship satisfaction in long-distance relationships,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Volume: 38 issue: 12, page(s): 3543-3565, Article first published online: November 14, 2021; Issue published: December 1, 2021.

[2] https://www.birdsfan.com/how-many-letters-did-noah-write-to-allie-in-the-notebook/

[3] Violet and Morley’s grandfathers were brothers; therefore, they were second cousins. That is why Violet’s maiden name is the same as her married name. They did not grow up with each other, as they lived in Toronto and Picton in their childhoods. So, it’s not that weird.

[4] National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Port Huron, Michigan, February 1902-December 1954; Record Group: 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; Microfilm Serial: A3441; Microfilm Roll: 23

[5] Source: David Bertrand oral recollection, 2022.

[6] Grammar not fixed for authenticity.

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Published by AncestryByAlicia

After obtaining my Master of Arts degree in History, and working on my genealogy for over 13 years, I decided to write about interesting historical matters from not only my family, but other interesting tidbits as well. I also research and present free walking tours in my city, including "Haunted Oshawa" and "Murder and Mayhem in Oshawa." I am currently writing two books. One is a historical account of small-town murders in Ontario. The other is a historical novel about the Royal African Company's James Fort on the Gambia River, 1715-1740.

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