In 1926, Elsie Buchanan sold her family estate Auchmar, to A.V. Young, a wealthy and successful businessman whose family history and interests are part of the fabric of the city. Its’ descendants continue to impact the City of Hamilton significantly almost a century later.
The industrial growth of Hamilton during the latter part of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th was attributed in part to manufacturing. In this milieu, the business which would eventually establish and secure wealth for the family was founded.
James Mason Young was the eldest son in a merchant family. After working at the Dundas Cotton Mills which his father John Young had an interest, James struck out on his own. He established the Hamilton Cotton Company in 1880 and twenty years later, in 1900, became president of the newly formed Imperial Cotton Mills Limited.
At this time, the textile and cotton industry was cutthroat. Canada Coloured Cottons of Montreal, a syndicate formed of the larger mill owners went about buying up the smaller mills. Dundas Cotton Mills was offered for sale in 1891. There was no interest in the mill. A year later, it was vacant and would remain a memory, to many, as a good place to work.
Alan Vernon Young was born in 1886. He is one of four children born to James Mason Young and Georgina Ann Vernon. His siblings are James Vernon, Anne Kathleen, and Elsie Georgina.
His family put stock in a good education and his father believed firmly that a military education would develop and bring out qualities young men would need. Alan V. attended Highfield, a boys’ preparatory school and the predecessor to what has become Hillfield Strathallan College. Alan also went to Royal Military College in Kingston as did his brother, James. In 1911, James would go on to M.I.T.
With his years at Royal Military College behind him, Alan entered the family business. In their social circles, there was talk about war in Europe, musings and grumblings more than anything else.
In 1911, on November 29th, Alan Vernon Young married Edna Muriel Greening whose family owned the B. Greening Wire Company. Harry B. Greening became his brother-in-law. This man had started tinkering with power boats on Lake Muskoka seven years earlier and had an active career racing speed boats.
It had been a difficult summer for the Greenings. Their father Samuel Owen had passed away on August 31st. Harry who had joined the business in 1897 and worked at every level from the floor to the office suite, became president of his father’s company in September. In the autumn with the leaves on the ground, he did what his father wasn’t able to do, celebrate Edna:s wedding.
The Great War
Wilfred Laurier had lost the 1911 election to Robert Borden In Europe, the talk of war would not cease despite the efforts of many envoys and emissaries on behalf of various governments. Tensions continued to build. Finally, the shot in Sarajevo which echoed across the continent, drew Great Britain into battle.
Alan’s brother James was at M.I.T. when Canada went to war. He returned home and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in which he served from 1914-1916. After training, he shipped over to the battlefields of Europe.
1915 proved to be a pivotal year for many of the Young family.
James was in the 3rd Artillery Brigade. The unit was deployed and provided artillery fire during the Battle of Ypres. In March, he was wounded in battle and taken to the rear. The next day, the German Army launched their first attack with chlorine gas.
In receipt of the official telegram, informing them of James’ injuries, his parents James and Georgina make a decision. They book passage on the Lusitania, Ticket No. 866, Cabin B 53, to visit their son overseas. On May 7, the Lusitania, enroute from New York to Liverpool, was torpedoed by a German U Boat. Neither James M. Young or his wife Georgina survived nor were their bodies found and recovered.
Another official telegram arrived at the Young residence. Amidst the shared grief and loss, Alan became president of the family business.
In 1916, Alan’s brother James Vernon returns home from the battlefields of Europe. He enters the family business (the Hamilton Cotton Company) in the office and role of vice president.
Three children are born to Alan and Edna Young They are James Mason, Gwyneth Owen, and Suzanne Vernon. Their residence is Edgecliffe on the mountain near the top of Queen Street and close to the Buchanan Estate.
THE ROARING 20’s
The decades between the Great War and WWII were good to the Young family. By 1924, Alan’s business interests are flourishing, There is a merger among the business interests he is involved with. Imperial Cotton Mills merges with another mill to become Cosmos Imperial Cotton Company.
A.V. Young purchased the Auchmar Estate from Elsie Buchanan in 1926 and settled in. The manor and the grounds of the estate would be well used.
The Hamilton Cotton Company was taken public in 1928. Shares were proscribed and sold. Confidence in the market and the industry was robust. Few anticipated that this roaring ride would come to an end and even fewer would be prepared.
October 1929 witnessed the stock markets swings and false rallies. The Great Crash loomed. October 24h would be known as Black Thursday, the following Tuesday the 29th, Black Tuesday. It was gone. Wealth evaporated. Security vanished. The Great Depression was ushered in.
Harry Houdini passed away in 1926, almost three years to the day of the crash. There would be no miraculous Houdini like escape from the “Dirty Thirties”.
The Great Depression of the 1930s impacted everyone to different degrees. Fortunes were lost overnight, companies closed, men, women and children lost their jobs.
The Young family, through Alan’s diverse business interests which included directorships on various boards such B. Greening Wire Company, United Gas and Fuel Co. of Hamilton Ltd., and a position with the Landed Banking and Loan Co. fared better than most.
THE COTTON BUSINESS
The Hamilton Spectator, August 16, 1902 commented on the burgeoning cotton and textile industry. The following is excerpted from that publication.
“… There are three large cotton mills (in Hamilton) and two knitting factories which send their products to all parts of the civilized world.
The Ontario Mill on James Street North covers a whole block and gives employment to the largest number of hands.”
“The Hamilton Cotton Company is close second in number of operatives employed, its product cottonades, denims, yards and webbing, all which finds a market within the Dominion. The Imperial Mill, for the manufacture of duck and twines, which is in the east end of the city, and has only been in operation for about one year, gives employment to as many operatives as the other mills.”
“…What army of men, women and boys are dependent upon the success and prosperity of these three cotton mills?”…
“…The three mills are run at their full capacity at all times and have to do overtime to fill their orders.”
The Hamilton Cotton Company was located at 304 Mary Street North, and occupied the lands behind the Malcolm and Souter Furniture Factory. Records show that the company property was extensive and bordering Elgin Street to the East. Charles Mills, one the architects who designed many of the homes in Hamilton still standing today, was commissioned by the company to design a weaving mill in 1898. He later received two more commissions from the firm – in 1902 to design a major addition and expansion of the company buildings and in 1909 for a building on Main Street East.
Through the years, the company expanded its holdings to include plants in Marysville, New Brunswick, Montreal, Quebec, Trenton and Woodbridge in Ontario.
The Imperial Cotton Mills located on Sherman Avenue North, with James M Young as president, developed a workforce and environment which was progressive. Upon his death in 1915, the operations of the company continued to be guided by the Young family.
The buildings of Imperial were designed and constructed to “make it a better place to work”. The complex covered 3 acres and included plenty of large windows for natural light to illuminate the plant floors, a tall smokestack and a turret.
Imperial drew its workforce from the adjacent north end neighbourhoods. Many women were employed by Imperial over the years and stayed on. It became a tight knit group of employees, treated well in comparison to other industries. The company had built a 126 seat cafeteria. The company lunchrooms had electric refrigerators and provisions to warm up a hot meal if one chose to.
Between 1920 -1926, the employees published an in-house newsletter entitled “The Fabricator” on a quarterly basis.
On the shop floors and the order rooms it was business. The orders came in from around the world by telegraph, letter, or telegram. To manage this, an internal telegraphic code book was developed. There would be codes assigned to the types of products such as i) once and sail ii) haverst & hydraulic iii) tennis, hose & bootleg and iv) filter and press. This arcane code translated into the products such as heavy fabrics, heavy duck cotton and sailcloth.
The cotton arrived by rail from the American South. Products would be made and then transported to various other parts of the plant in adjacent buildings for sorting, painting, finishing, waterproofing, and shipping or storage.
The shipbuilders in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia had toiled long and hard. The ship was ready. She looked long, sleek and fleet. In 1921, Captain Angus J. Waters had the helm. For 16 years until 1937, she would race against the best of America on the open sea, her sails full out. The sailcloth for the Bluenose came first from the Imperial Cotton Mills and continued to do so.
If Alan V. Young chose to, he could have rode with Edna, through the estate grounds to the brow. There would be a view of the harbour, the downtown financial district, and further to the north, the industry his family had built.
LIFE IN THE MANOR
Gwyneth Young, one of Alan and Edna’s children, recounted some of her childhood memories of Auchmar to writer Paul Wilson a few years ago.
She spoke of music throughout the house, orchestras playing, and ladies in long gowns.
There was laughter in the kitchen when Nellie Ewan the cook, prepared the meals. There are memories of Nellie singing along to Harry Lauder’s music as the record played on a stand up Victrola in Nellie’s sitting room.
There was Mr. Scott who was the gardener and placed a ladder in the apple trees.
There was the Embleton family, Harry and Mary and the children who lived in the Gatehouse. Harry was the stable master and kept the horses in top shape. The stables and carriage house was home to the horses, Atlas, Gypsy, Mac, Larkspur and Highlight.
An avid rider, a passion which she got from her mother, Gwyn’ s favourite horse was Gypsy.
Her interests were similar to her mothers’ yet different as well.
Frank Panabaker gave Gwyneth lessons in art and painting. There is a photograph of landscape painting of the manor house and part of the grounds which she accomplished herself.
Auchmar and Claremont Park, the estate if you will, was ideal for riding. Though Gwyn rode Gypsy to who knows where, the grounds proved more than satisfactory for Edna’s passion. There was abundant space for steeplechase riding, show jumping, and fox hunting.
The horses of Auchmar were of such a high pedigree, that at least one year, Larkspur showed at the Royal Winter Fair. There are also pictures of Larkspur show jumping on the grounds of Auchmar.
Like all families, there were birthdays, schooling and Christmas. One can image when Auchmar was filled with the Youngs, James, Edna, Alan, Elsie, and Kathleen, their families and children. Then add the aunts and uncles by marriage Harry, Hattie and Mabel and their kin.
Alan and Edna Young were private people. Alan had numerous business adventures and Edna pursed her interests. Then, there was Harry.
Harry B. Greening, who vacationed on Lake Muskoka, built the World Class Rainbow Series of “Gentleman’s Racer” boats, and set a non-stop endurance record on the Lake Rousseau course, was nearing the end of a very public career of racing speedboats in 1930.
In 1930 R. B. Bennett became Prime Minister. In 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression, the Liberal Government of MacKenzie King was elected to office. In 1938, Alan Young issued a bond and debenture offering as President of Hamilton Cotton Company. There was light at the end of the tunnel. People had gotten through the Dirty Thirties.
Across the ocean, in Europe, clouds of war threatened once again. By September of 1939, another generation would stand up when called and blood would once again soak the landscapes, seascapes, and beaches of Europe.
THE WAR YEARS
Marriage and Lake Muskoka
Against this backdrop of world events, the Canadian Government went about retooling to support the soldiers and divisions, ordnance and artillery, aircraft and ships which would see battle. In Hamilton, men and women answered the call. In Hamilton, heavy industries picked up after the Depression years.
Several businesses and industries in the area shifted their normal operations to the production of items related to the war such as aircraft, munitions or weapons such as the Bren Gun.
In June of 1940, Gwyneth Owen Young married Roderick Dalley Douglas. The ceremony was held at Auchmar. An announcement of this marriage was in the Trinity College School Report for the year 1940-1941.
The Young family had many acquaintances and friends who summered on Lake Muskoka. The war was never far away. Alan’s brother, James, received a civilian appointment and was stationed in Ottawa, working for Victor Sifton. Two of his nephews, Doug and Bill, were overseas as was his own son, James. Doug would become a casualty in the D. Day landing and fall on the beaches of Normandy.
The Young cottage was near Beaumaris on Lake Muskoka. In the summer of 43, the Youngs visited with Francis Farwell and his family on Milford Bay. In 1942, the Francis Farwell had leased his compound to the R.C.A.F. to be used as a convalescent hospital for airmen. The Youngs were impressed immensely.
In the near future, the Youngs arranged with the R.C.A.F for the use of their home Auchmar and Claremont Park as a convalescent hospital. It would become the second of eleven such convalescent facilities in Ontario during the war.
Auchmar would become known officially as R.C.A.F. Convalescent Hospital No. 2, Young Division for the duration of the war.
In September of 1945, with the war over, the R.C.A.F. wound up the convalescent hospitals and began to return the estates to their owners.
The Youngs intended to return to Auchmar after the war when the R.C.A.F. had left. Their own thorough inspection of the manor house and grounds, lead them to change this view. Among the factors, which influenced this change of view were the general shabbiness, wear and tear on the building, and damage caused by linoleum to most of the hardwood floors.
The decision by A. V. Young to leave Auchmar and put it on the market would impact partially the future of how this part of the mountain developed during the post war years.
In November of 1945, Auchmar Estate was sold to the Hungarian Sisters of Service for $32,500. The Sisters of Service would go on to have a 53 year run of ownership and activity at Auchmar.
The family continued to prosper. Alan and James continued to run the family business, Hamilton Cotton Company. The company would change its name in 1970 to the Hamilton Group Limited.
Alan added to his business portfolio with an ownership position in the Hamilton Street Railway in 1946. He along with Francis Farwell and W. D. Black comprised the syndicate. They purchased it for $1,400,000 and in 1959 sold it to the City of Hamilton for $3,250,000, a substantial return on capital.
Dundas Cotton Mills. Part 2.
During the war, Alan and James purchased the vacant Dundas Cotton Mills to be used as a storage warehouse. After the war, they intended to open it as a cotton mill and factory. In 1948, the two tall chimneys which had stood for well over fifty years were taken down. For the next decade (1948-1958), the cotton factory thrived again and then ceased operations.
Alan and James, like their father James Mason, and their grandfather John Young, became the third generation to invest time and labour into the Dundas mill.
In August of 1973, the Dundas Cotton Mill complex was demolished. Alan V. Young passed away the same year.
Education and service were highly valued by the Young family and especially Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston and locally McMaster University and Hillfield Strathallan College.
Alan Young gave of his resources to the development of Hillfield Strathallan College. He was accorded the highest recognition and honour which the college can bestow upon an individual– that of patron.
The Young family name is sprinkled across these three institutions in various ways.
The generations succeeding Alan and James have taken the mantle of leadership and service to community in their own fashion.
The generational changing of the guard occurs as naturally as the seasons of the years. James V. Young passed away in 1961. Brother-in-law Harry B. Greening passed away the previous year. Alan Vernon Young passed away at age 87 in 1973. Edna Greening Young lived to the age of 91 before joining her husband in 1981.
Gwyneth Owen Young was still enjoying whiskey at cocktail hour well into her 92nd year when he spoke with Paul Wilson in 2011.