OLDER SISTERS, YOUNGER BROTHER
Elsie Georgina Young was born in 1883. She is the second born child of James Mason Young and Georgina A. Young and sister of Kathleen, Alan Vernon, and James Vernon.
That year, William Van Horne was two years into the task of building the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway; George Stephen and Donald A. Smith had yet to realize how often they would be called upon to “save the railway” financially via bond issues and the use of their personal fortunes and the plains, prairies, Louis Riel, Gabriel Dumont, and Batoche were unknown to the eastern newspapers.
Born in 1883, Elsie Georgina also would see kings and queens rule the British Empire. In her lifetime, this country, Canada, would be lead by twelve different Prime Ministers, commencing with Sir John A. Macdonald and concluding with John G. Diefenbaker.
The Gaiety of the 1890s
The Crystal Palace
Another decade had passed. The Crystal Palace was thirty years old now.
In 1860, Edward, Prince of Wales opened the Crystal Palace to great fanfare as the young city of Hamilton began to establish itself as a mercantile centre. Men such as John Young (Elsie’s grandfather), Isaac Buchanan, Allan MacNab, and William Sanford and numerous others established firms and ventures which led the city forward.
Buchanan and MacNab saw the benefits which an exhibition grounds could provide for the city. They hoped to draw the Provincial Agricultural Fair (the predecessor of the C.N.E.) to Hamilton and were successful. The Central Fair became an annual event and one of the highlights
The Crystal Palace anchored the northwest corner of the city for 30 years. The aging complex displayed visible signs of wear and tear after years of music recitals, drama shows, industrial and trade expositions. The fields were well used for games of baseball. In 1887, large crowds attended the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. Eventually, the building was deemed unsafe. In 1891, the grounds were closed and the building was taken down.
Just a year before, on September 22nd, 1890, The Hamilton Herald proclaimed, “The Carnival of Venice, The Paris Exposition or the World’s Fair in Chicago will be nowhere when the Central Fair is opened at the Crystal Palace Grounds in the city.”
Elsie Georgina Young was 8 years of age when the Crystal Palace was demolished.
As she grew older, she, perhaps, learned to ride one of those bicycles, which the ladies all tried. In 1892, Harry Dacre penned the words to Daisy Bell which ended with the catchy “on a bicycle built for two.”
Her parents purchased a summer residence on Lake Muskoka in 1888, which they named Vernon Island. Throughout the years, the family embarked on a journey of a few days, taking the trains and boats to the Summer Residence.
The British Empire mourned. Queen Victoria passed away. Edward, Prince of Wales ascended to the Throne of England.
Within the social circles, the arenas of commerce and industry, and the halls and corridors of finance, change effected colleagues, business partners, neighbours and close friends of James and Georgina Young.
George E. Tuckett, who served as Mayor of Hamilton in 1896, passed away. The year before, while spending the summer on Lake Muskoka, William Sanford drowned near Windemere House.
The Bank of Hamilton continued to grow. It had branches downtown, including one at the corner of Locke and Herkimer Streets, and in small towns such as Dundas, Dunnville, and Hagersville.
Charles Mills opened a series of stores called Mills Hardware.
Hamilton was a city of opportunities. The railroads and waterfront, electric power distribution, and a growing population helped the city harness economic potential. Sawyer Massey set up shop near the waterfront as did International Harvester.
The family had moved to Oak Bank. In April of 1906, news of disaster on the west coast reached Hamilton quickly.
As a young woman, did she follow the Hamilton Spectator, Times, and Herald when they reported about the San Francisco earthquake? At Oak Bank, did the Young family read the columns which conveyed news about the safety of Hamiltonians in San Francisco? Did they know the Pecover family?
At this time, Wilfred J. Watson, son of Henry B. and Mary M. Watson resided at 176 Hughson Street, down the street from St. Johns Anglican Church.
Age of Discovery
It would be the decade of marriages and wedding ceremonies for James and Georgina Young and their family. In 1911, her brother, Alan married Edna Greening and her sister, Kathleen married Walter Lindsey.
Oak Bank was decorated festively for Christmas 1912. Miss Elsie Georgina Young married Mr. Wilfred J. Watson on Wednesday, December 4, 1912 with all families and friends in attendance.
Elsie and Wilfred had three children; Joan Douglas, Henry Michael James born in 1921 and who was known as Mike, and Susan Elsie who was their first born in 1913.
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia was the centre of the textile industry on the east coast with shorter travel to the European markets and those located on the northeastern seaboard such as Boston. Like the industry in Ontario, it was undergoing change.
Walter S. Burrill started in the industry and worked his way into the executive suite of the Yarmouth Duck and Yarn Company, which later became Dominion Textiles. The Yarmouth Duck and Yarn Co. and the Hamilton Cotton Company would forge a business relationship which spanned decades.
The Dominion of Canada was at war in 1914. Elsie’s brother, James enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as did many other Hamiltonians. Amidst the battles which consumed generations of men in France and Belgium, The Newfoundland Regiment was decimated on July 1, 1916 at Beaumont Hamel.
The Battle of the Somme would send thousands after thousands after thousands to their graves. And thousands more fell in the trenches.
In Hamilton, were the letters sent home by James from the front and England read more often and held a little tighter when news was published the Spectator, Herald, and Times?
1916 was another pivotal year in many ways.
James, who was recuperating from battle injuries in England, returned home.
Charles Best was accepted and enrolled at the University of Toronto. James B. Collip was distinguishing himself on campus. Frederick Grant Banting and others of the Class of 1917 graduated from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine in December 1916.
Across the ocean, in Romania, Professor Nicolea Paulescu drew upon the pioneering work of Eugene Opie. Opie’s 1901 research discovered that the Islets of Langerhans produced insulin and also the destruction of cells which caused diabetes.
In 1916, Paulescu developed an extract of the pancreas which lowered blood sugar in animals.
The war in Europe consumed many interests and resources. His research and results languished and remained unpublished until 1921, long after the signatories signed the Treaty of Versailles and returned home.
The Interwar Years
The Roaring 20s
Mr. Walter S. Burrill married Miss Beatrice “Betty” Skinner Chapman. They had several children. Among them were Wm. Chapman known as Bill, Hope and Walter S. Burrill Jr. known as Scott.
By 40 years of age, and established in the textile industry, Walter moved the family to Hamilton. The Burrill family purchased a home in the Kirkendall South neighbourhood at 38 Mapleside Avenue.
He joined the executive suites of the Hamilton Cotton Company as Secretary-Treasurer of the Imperial Cotton Company in 1922. As a Director of Imperial Cotton, he was instrumental in the mid 1920s merger of the Cosmos Imperial Cotton Co. and The Imperial Cotton Co. into Cosmos Imperial Cotton Mills Limited which is located at 270 Sherman Avenue North in Hamilton, Ontario.
The Young families and the Burrill family became closely connected. They both, supported The Hamilton Sanatorium, and the burgeoning schools of Strathallan and Hillfied among other causes.
At the University of Toronto, J.J. Macleod provided the laboratory, while Best, Banting and Collip worked throughout 1921, removing pancreases, sectioning tissue samples and in the process extracting insulin.
By 1922, confident about their work and convinced that they were of the verge of discovery and treatment, they commissioned a human trial.
Leonard Thompson was 14 years of age in 1922. He had Type 1 Diabetes. In April, he received the first medical injection of insulin but the treatment did not lower his blood sugar. A second injection, purified by James. B. Collip, was successful. Leonard Thompson’s diabetes was managed and his name would be inscribed in the history books.
Of the four men, Banting’s name was the most recognizable. The Nobel Peace Prize for Medicine and the discovery of insulin made him a sought after speaker.
Did the Watson, Young, and Burrill families discuss this discovery over dinner at the Tamahaac Club or within the walls of the Hamilton Club?
It was a decade of change, filled with new styles of fashion, exuberance and high living. Flapper dresses and fascinators, grand automobiles such the Packard, Auburn, Cord and the occasional Pierce-Arrow were to be seen at the finest hotels. They danced the Charleston. Jazz music superseded Ragtime and the Art Nouveau gave way to Art Deco influences.
Edna Greening Young may have had cause for concern. Her brother-in-law, Norman Braden was rising through the executive offices of Canadian Westinghouse as was George Kerr who was a vice president of the company.
In 1920, Prohibition was enacted across the border. In Ontario, it was prohibited to buy booze but legal to make it and export it. George Kerr’s brother Ben had seized upon a very lucrative source of income. He tempted fate and played the odds every time he “ran rum” across Lake Ontario in those fast boats with Liberty engines. Did Norman and George talk about Ben’s side business?
Emily Carr had painted up and down the coast line of British Columbia. Previously in Vancouver, small exhibitions of her 200 works garnered little public interest. During an Exhibition in Ottawa in 1927, she met several members of the Group of Seven. Lawren Harris was so impressed with the style and subject matter of her work, that after viewing it he remarked to Emily, “You are one of us.”
1927. After graduating from high school, Eileen Vollick went to work at the Hamilton Cotton Company as a textile analyst and assistant designer. The family had moved from Wiarton when Eileen was a young girl. Her mother was strong willed and encouraged Eileen to pursue her dream.
From her home, on Van Wagner’s Road, Eileen could see the new Aerodrome at Ghent’s Crossing. Eileen followed her dream. After receiving instruction at Jack Elliott’s Air Service, Eileen flew her first flight on June 9, 1927 in a Curtiss JN-4 biplane.
“When Alan V. Young, President of the Hamilton Cotton Company, gave me leave of absence to try my examination tests, the time had been well earned.”
With the decade closing out, the Hamilton Cotton Company had gone public. The stock issue was oversubscribed and very successful. Ben Kerr continued to “run rum” until the odds went against him in the winter of ’29. He disappeared on the waters of Lake Ontario.
Phillip Reginald Morris was a prominent lawyer in Hamilton and an investor in the stock market of the 1920s. During 1921-1922, he began construction of Edgewater Manor on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. From his home, he could easily see the McNichol Estate across the water in Burlington.
The exterior of Edgewater was constructed of pieces or entire sections of old buildings which had be torn down in Hamilton.
His success was fleeting and Edgewater remained unfinished. The Stock Market Crash of October 1929 wiped out his many investments in the market. Phillip Reginald Morris had no option except to file for bankruptcy.
Edgewater Manor became a portent of the next decade, the exterior of the manor house masked an unfinished inside and the faded dream of the Roaring 20s. It was a harbinger of the hardships to come and a repository of wild tales which included a visit from Al Capone.
The Hard Decade and Art Deco
Depending upon the opinions and whom one listened to, this jobless time was temporary, a few months, maybe a year or two at the most. Work was there if you went looking for it. Maybe in 1930, but certainly not the grips of the dirty thirties.
Emily Carr painted Vanquished, a painting about mortuary and totem poles. This decade would see her produce what would become the best known works of her long career. Still on the west coast, she painted the culture of the Haida who resided on the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii).
Hamilton embraced the Art Deco influence in the city’s architecture of the 1930s. The influence spanned across industrial, commercial, and residential buildings. The new sub division of Westdale had a few Art Deco homes.
Railway buildings, utilities, and steel plants all boasted Art Deco. The National Steel Car Co. office, the Hydro Building at the corner of John St and Rebecca, the water filtration plant on Woodward and the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway terminal are prominent examples.
Elsie Georgina and Wilfred’s children attended Hillfield and Strathallan schools as did their nieces and nephews. The 1933 and 1934 editions of the Priboch and Boar and the others that followed are filled with their contributions and achievements. Walter and Betty Burrill also enrolled their children at these schools as did the Bull family and the Braden family.
Lord and Lady Bessborough visited Hamilton in 1933. The 1934 Editions of the Priboch and The Boar, the respective yearbooks of Strathallan and Hillfield, each gave a lengthy passage to the visit of Lady Bessborough who visited Strathallan and Lord Bessborough who visited Hillfield on October 26,1933.
In Memorium, the Priboch recognized the contributions of two of the founding patronesses, Mrs. Hendrie who passed away in 1933, and Lady Gibson who passed away in January of 1934.
School life had its own orbits; academics and sports, competitions against other schools, a social calendar and recognition of achievements. It is within the is milieu among others, that Mike, Joan, and Susan Elsie and their cousins Suzanne, Bill, David, Ben and “Babs” made their marks, forged friendships and prepared for the future.
Mrs. H. B. Greening opened the grounds of Reigate, the family estate on the mountain, to the school for the 2nd Strathallan Sports Day on May 23, 1933. The annual Strathallan Dance of 1934 was enjoyed by all at the Brant Inn.
Mike, Joan and Susan Elsie’s uncle, James judged the Boxing Tournament at Hillfield in 1939.
“Old Boys” and “Old Girls” gave back to both schools. Russell T. Kelley, R.W. Frost (Henry’s son) and St.Clair Balfour served on the Hillfield Board in 1939. There was always news about who would attend which schools next year.
Hamilton was not immune to the hardships of the Great Depression. The Watson family, the Burrills, the Bell family and the Young families along with the Dalley families fared better than most. The Hamilton of 1939 was not the Hamilton of 1930.
The War Years
War in Europe was almost a certainty. The diplomatic channels echoed the concern throughout embassies abroad as ambassadors sought a peaceful resolution. The country prepared for war footing as it had in 1914. School uniforms had been exchanged for university attire. Within the next five years, the university attire would be exchanged for military uniforms.
From the Watson and Young families and their extended families, (Greening, Braden, Bull, Holton, Burrill), Mike, James M., Bill, William H., John D., Owen, Harcourt, and Babs would don military uniforms. Betty Burrill wore the Red Cross Auxilliary. J.P. Bell made his home on Chedoke Avenue available for fundraisers.
Others, such as Francis Farwell, would become “dollar a year” men on the civilian side of the war effort.
James Vernon Young would achieve rank of Major General and relocate to Ottawa.
Alan and Edna Young would move back to Edgecliffe in the autumn of 1943, while Auchmar was used by the R.C.A.F. as a convalescent hospital.
Coming Home (1945-1950)
Lieutenant Michael J. Watson served overseas in the Royal Canadian Navy. Like many of his cousins, he was fortunate and came home safe.
Elsie Georgina lost her husband and Mike, Joan and Susan Elsie lost their father when Wilfred passed away at age 69 in 1948.
Susan Elsie Watson married W. Scott Burrill. W.S. Burrill, Hillfield Class of ’34 would give tirelessly for the good of the school. He is recognized and honoured by the school as a Builder.
The Grand Homes
The Grand Homes of the families are by and large, gone from the streetscapes of Hamilton, taken down in the name of progress and renewal. Ironically, these are the very words which generated the enterprises, commercial services, and industries to create wealth and build the grand homes and estates.
They are consigned to family photograph collections, the library archives and the family stories told over and over again at the dinner table or on the deck of the cottage.
Those that remain, recall an lost era as the present day reaches for the future.
Reigate: The mountain estate of Harry and Gladys Greening is gone. It was located in the Chedoke Enclave. Currently, the neighbourhood is known as Westcliffe East.
Edgecliffe: The home of Alan Vernon Young sat in the Chedoke Enclave where the Queen Street hill (Beckett Drive) meets Garth Street.
Edgewater Manor, built by Phillip R. Morris remains, overlooking Lake Ontario and the shoreline at Fruitland Road as does the McNichol Estate in Burlington.
176 Hughson Street South, Wilfred J. Watson’s familial home is gone, replaced by an apartment tower.
The Burrill residence, 38 Mapleside still commands the corner at Glenfern in the Kirkendall neighbourhood.
Strathallan School: The Strathallan School of the 1930s which was located on Robinson Street is gone. A highrise apartment tower stands on the site.
Elsie Georgina Young Watson and Wilfred J. Watson are interred in the family plot in Hamilton Cemetery.
Susan Elsie Watson Burrill is interred in the Young family plot in Hamilton Cemetery.