Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years is a long time and when you think about it the changes have been nothing short of amazing. I often hear people criticize the decisions and the actions of people in the past often by using the moral values of today. Yet our ancestors were the ones who built this country. I find that pursuing genealogical research is also a look into our own history. Perhaps also with a better understanding of how they thought.

London, Ontario, is situated roughly half way between Detroit and Toronto. John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of the new province of Upper Canada(which became Ontario) held back the land that would become central London as a possible capital of the new province. As a result, London is a fairly new city. It was not until 1826 that the site for a city was confirmed and the city laid out. It became incorporated in 1855. London was central to both branches of my family. My mother’s branch settled around and in London. My father’s family were on land about 40 miles to the west. By 1909 London had a population of somewhere between 50-55,000 people. Today it has a population of 457,000.

Three items held the interest of Londoners in September of 1909. Dr. Frederick Cook’s conquest of the North Pole, a fire that burned down two livery stables and a good part of a city block, and whether or not to increase the 10 cent fare on the Street Railway Company’s route to a favourite weekend picnic spot (Springbank Park) 3 or 4 miles away (The London Free Press, September 1&2, 1909). Sadly the railway no longer exists. It was sacrificed to the automobile after the Second World War, although I remember the tracks when I was a boy.

None of my grandparents were married in 1909. My maternal grandparents lived and worked in London. They were married in 1918. My great grandfather was a shoemaker in the village of Thorndale just north of London. The other great grandfather had died in 1892.

My paternal grandparents also had yet to marry. My grandfather was a farm labourer both in Ontario and during the threshing season in Manitoba. He was saving for a farm of his own. My grandmother was living with her parents in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was a blacksmith who work for the railroads. My other great grandparents farmed the land that my great great grandfather had pioneered in 1859 in Aldborough Township, Elgin County. My grandfather’s mother’s father was a Mennonite preacher in Elgin County. Bit unusual in a township full of hard shell Baptists- Eh!! Not movers and shakers but solid second and third generation working people.

The photos are from the London Free Press September 1&2, 1909. London has never been to this day the Paris of South-western Ontario fashion wise, and I am not so sure that that is not such a bad thing.

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