Looking into a branch of the Mabee family led me to harness racing in Tillsonburg during the early decades of the 1900s. Three names stood out: Jack M. Climie, Charles Henry Mabee and Dudey Patch.
Jack M. Climie was everywhere – as a driver, race starter and caller at the harness racing track at the Tillsonburg Fair Grounds. A plaque in town honours his service to the Tri-County Agricultural Society, hosts of the annual fair. Then, in my search results, Dudey Patch in connection with J. M. Climie. What’s this about?
J. M. Climie drove five year old Dudey Patch in his first ever race, in Tillsonburg in 1936. Dudey Patch, I thought, must be related to Dan Patch, the American harness racing superstar of the early 1900s. Yes, a grandson. His sire was Gilbert Patch, Dan Patch’s son, and his dam unknown.
Jack Climie was married to Marie Ailene Mabee. She was a first cousin of Charles Henry Mabee. His father, George Henry, was the eldest of Oliver Pitt Mabee and Mary Laur’s ten children. Marie’s father, Frederick, was the youngest.
Their lineage intersects with my grandmother’s four generations back, with half brothers Frederick and Silas Mabee. Charles and Marie’s line comes from Frederick, son of Simon Mabee and his first wife Marie Landrin. My grandmother Murel Mabee Anger was the great-great granddaughter of Silas, son of Simon Mabee and his second wife.
Charles Henry Mabee’s five siblings all died in their teens or younger. He married Frances Elizabeth Bradburn and they had three children. He died at age 45, after an accident at the Tillsonburg track in May 1916.
I believe the man who was best known in Tillsonburg horse racing circles was Charlie Mabee. He was a former mayor of Tillsonburg, and he kept a string of horses. He drove all his own horses, too. I remember his boys and I went to school with one of them, Basil. One day Charlie was working a horse on the track when it stumbled or something. He was thrown over the sulky and fell onto the track, breaking his neck. He died right there on the race track. [1987:24]
Tillsonburg Race Track
Mr. Newman describes the Tillsonburg track and races at the time:
Right across from the grandstand was the judges’ stand, with the wire stretched across in front. All the judges would be in there – three or four of them. The starter would have a big megaphone in his hand and his duty was to get these horses off to an equal start. It was very difficult in those days because sometimes they’d come down to the wire all scattered out. Many times I saw the judge call them back. They would try again, sometimes three or four times…
In later years all the trouble with getting horses started was eliminated by the use of a starting gate. I believe Art Whitesell and Jack Climie had much to do with inventing a starting gate to use on the Tillsonburg track. [1987:23]
Googling a Lymburner ancestor recently, I noticed Red Lymburner in the search results. Bush pilot, Antarctica and Mount Lymburner. So I read more.
His full name was James Harold Lymburner, known as Harold or Red. And he’s my 4th cousin twice removed. His parents were George Malcolm Lymburner and Annie Josephine Christie. He was born April 24, 1904 in Caistor Township, Lincoln Co. ON.
Red Lymburner got his commercial pilot’s license in 1931 and worked as a bush pilot for Canadian Airways until 1939. Mainly he flew mining gear and explosives to northern Quebec mines. But one time, according to a 1964 Winnipeg Free Press article (quoted in RAMWC), two oxen needed to get to the mine. Author Edward R. Green wrote:
Well, Lymburner thought, freight was freight no matter what form it came in. He bundled one ox in a tarpaulin, dragged it into the plane and packed it in with bales of hay. The flight was uneventful, so he did the same thing with the other ox. The only difference was the second ox was airsick.
So if you can fly an airsick ox in a small plane, you can probably do anything. Red Lymburner went on to prove it. While at Canadian Airways, he worked as a test pilot for Fairchild Aviation as well.
Ellsworth Antactic Expedition 1935
Red Lymburner and fellow Canadian Airways pilot, Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, were chosen to fly on the 1935 Ellsworth Antarctic Expedition. Mount Lymburner, found during their trans-Antarctic flight in November 1935, is named after Red. In 1938, he went again with Lincoln Ellsworth to the Indian Ocean part of Antarctica. That time, he was lead pilot.
In 1935 the Royal Canadian Air Force made Red an honorary Group Captain in recognition of his flying skills. The Air Transport Association of Canada named him the ATAC Lifetime Honoree in 1979. He had retired by that time and, with his wife, had moved to Clearwater, Florida.
Jessie and Red Lymburner family lines
Red’s wife was Rachel Jessie Tice, daughter of Albert Edward Tice and Emma Jane Swick. She was born in December 1901 in Caistor Township. Her ancestry also goes back through two lines to Matthew Lymburner and Margaret Kaims.
Red and Jessie had one daughter Glenna Marie, born July 1927 in Caistor Township. Educated at McGill University, her career, like her father’s, was wide-ranging. From railway rebuilding in post-WWII Yugoslavia to Guyana to Toronto. There she was Head of Archives, established a public information office and served on the Federal Immigration Appeal Board. She married Keith Tisshaw (1928-2011) in 1950 and they had three children. Ms. Tisshaw died in April 2015.
Red Lymburner died in Clearwater, Florida in August 1990. Jessie died in October 1991 also in Florida. They are buried in Caistorville United Church Cemetery.
I first saw DNA tests at London Ont’s Pawlooza dog festival, in 2010 I think. They were tests to find out what breeds were in the genetic structure of any given dog. The process was explained by a contest. Guess the genetic make-up of a dog in a photo, then compare your guess to the actual test results.
DNA my dog
The dog was medium sized with short brown and white hair and floppy ears. I guessed some kind of terrier, hound and maybe Corgi. The results? Everything from Mastiff to Chihuahua with no single breed group predominant.
“Want to test your dogs?” the lady at the booth asked. I looked at them, and thought why? One clearly was a Standard Poodle. The other one? I had studied his personality and his looks. My guess was some kind of terrier and Shih Tzu. A DNA test might show everything from Mastiff to Chihuahua. Useful? Not really.
That’s my thoughts on human DNA testing as well. What does finding out that you’re 5% something and 10% something else actually tell you? It’s fun to know, sure. It lets you wonder who travelled across continents to wind up in your genetic map.
DNA tests were among the most popular gifts this past holiday season, Forbes reported last December. Quick, cheap and well-advertised, they address something fundamental: Who are we?
They answer that, to some extent. There’s a percentage breakdown of your geographical make-up. So you can see all the peoples and regions that went into making you. It can be a surprise.
Kiss me, I’m Irish
It was for my family. Our largest grouping? Irish. No German, nor anything we expected from documentary and family history. Does this matter? Yes, because it shows that our ancestors’ migration path was different than what we’ve thought. No, because documents and family history show another traceable geography. And, more significantly, tell the stories we grew up with.
DNA – ‘blood’ if you will – on its own does not define us. There have been systems of classification of people based on “blood”. But, before DNA tests, these could only rely on appearance and/or association. Guessing based on culture and history, not genetics.
But what do scientific DNA results actually do for us? Possibly give important medical information. Other than that, not much. New hobbies, new histories to learn. But do they make you someone else?
Am I now Irish? I could consider myself to be, I suppose. Stake a front row spot for myself in the Paddy’s Day parade. But would waving the DNA results help get me, say, a work permit in Ireland? “Oh, Ancestry says 41% of you is from the old sod! Well, come right in!” About as much chance as that dog in the photo convincing a Mastiff that they are brothers separated at birth.
Red Robbie, green Robbie. If you know what that means, you’re a Canadian. Or a connoisseur of screws and screwdrivers. The Robertson screw and screwdriver, with square socket heads, the best design there is. The screwdriver does not slip or strip the screw head.
The red and green refers to the size of the square in the screw head, larger and smaller. There’s also a black (largest) and yellow (smallest).
The Robertson screw was invented in 1908 by P. L. Robertson. He called his invention the Socket Head Screw, but we all call it a Robertson or just Robbie.
I now have even greater affection for the Robbie. P. L. Robertson is my cousin. What a thrill! I had no idea until I happened across his full name: Peter Lymburner Robertson. Lymburner? Start the googling. He’s the nephew by marriage of my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.
Robertson and Lymburner Families
His parents were John Robertson, born in Scotland, and Annie Brown, whose father was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Annie’s sister Janet married Peter Swick Lymburner. He was my grandmother’s grandfather’s 2nd cousin, and P. L. Robertson’s uncle.
So was Peter Lymburner Robertson named after his mother’s sister’s husband? Possible, I suppose. Lymburner is not a middle name one would give a child without there being some reason.
I wonder if there’s another Lymburner connection in there too. The families lived relatively near each other in Scotland and in Ontario. I can’t find the parents of John Robertson or the grandparents of Annie Brown. Could there also be a Lymburner among them?
P. L. Robertson was born in Haldimand County, Ontario in 1879. He worked as a salesman for a tool company and, while demonstrating a new screwdriver, it slipped out of the slot head screw and cut his hand. It’s happened to us all, but he went home and designed a better screw and better screwdriver.
Robertson Screw Company
He began producing them in Milton, Ontario. He went to the United States to market them. Henry Ford was interested, but wanted an exclusive licence for them in the US. Robertson would not agree, so no deal. Unlike Robertson, Henry Phillips did not quibble about rights, so Ford bought his star-shaped socket screw. That’s why the Phillips screw is ubiquitous even though it isn’t that much better than a slot screw.
Robertson returned to Milton and continued production for the Canadian and international markets. He died there in 1951. Robertson Inc. still has its headquarters in Milton although it is now owned by the US Marmon Group.
When I told my husband about my newly discovered cousin, he said “I’m jealous.” He said his dad, who was American, discovered Robertson screws on a visit to Ontario. Despite always buying American, he went straight to the hardware store and stocked up on Robertson screws and screwdrivers and took them home with him.
My grandmother wrote this short history of the Burwell family on Eden Line in Bayham Township, Elgin County, Ontario. My guess is she wrote it about 1966. I came across it on the Elgin County Archives site.
The Burwell Family (Contributed by Mrs. Chas. Burwell, Tillsonburg, Ont.)
Among the pioneers of Eden district was Joseph Norton. He was born in Boston Mass. and came as a young man, after the death of his parents, to these parts and lived with the Dobie’s for some time. From them, he bought land which he cleared and built up into the old homestead on which his great-grandson Wilford Burwell now resides, west of Eden about 2 miles.
He married a young Highland Scottish maiden named Mary Younglove who was at Simcoe. He, taking among other provisions for the journey, bread baked by Mrs. Dobie and going by ox-team and sled down the Talbot road which had been surveyed out by Col. Thomas Talbot and Col. Mahlon Burwell. He brought his bride back to this farm home and farmed successfully for many years. He died in 1895, at the age of 90 being pre-deceased by his wife in 1888.
The couple had two daughters, Melissa Jane and Ada Ann. Melissa married William David Stilwell. To this union were born four children, Joseph Norton Stilwell, Mary Helen, Agnes and Rachel. The first two died very young. Agnes married Charles Moore and Rachael died suddenly and was buried on her 18th birthday.
Across the road from the Norton’s lived Mr. and Mrs. Howard Johnston the latter nee – Maria Burwell whose brother Hercules while visiting them, became acquainted with Ada Ann Norton. And in course of time, the two married, he being the son of Lewis Mahlon Burwell and Levonia Williams, sister of the Thomas Williams who founded the Thomas Williams Home in St. Thomas. Lewis Mahlon was first cousin to the above mentioned Col. Mahlon Burwell.
To Hercules and Ada were born James Silas, Ada Larreau, Levonia (Mrs. Chancy Clark), Lewis Mahlon, Charles Hercules, Merritt Lee, Frederick William (Wilford’s father), Wilson Garfield, Peter Dwight and a baby not named. Ada Larreau, Lewis Mahlon and the baby died very young.
Their parents settled on a farm about a mile west of Eden, in fact next farm west of the Fred Chandler place. They cleared it and built buildings and set out fruit trees, making it into a nice, comfortable home. Then when the great epidemic of influenza swept the country in 1890 he died on Pneumonia on Feb. 14th at the age of 41 leaving his wife with five young children to raise alone. This she faithfully did, and when the boys were grown they decided to move the buildings out to the front of the place. They had been back on the side-road before, and the place never looked so homey afterward. Their mother died from Diabetes in July 1912, in her 64th year. This family of 8 children are now all passed on.
Mr. and Mrs. Howard Johnston lived many years on the farm across from the Norton’s or where Grover Ketchabaw lives now. They sold it to Silas Burwell, who was then a young man. They moved to Fingal where Mr. Johnston died. Then Mrs. Johnston came back to Eden again and lived with her daughter Mrs. Charles Allemand, south of Eden, until her death in her 103rd year.
My grandfather wrote about the farm on the Big Otter Creek where he grew up in his poem My Old Valley Home (see more poems)
Here is what it looks like today, from Google satellite. Looks like the old house has been torn down and a new one built. Wilford Burwell lived in the original house until his death in 2004. It was sold after his wife Madge died in 2009. So, nearly 200 years after Joseph Norton cleared the land, the property is no longer in the hands of his descendants.
Silas Burwell bought his Aunt Maria’s farm across the road and rebuilt the house about 1915. His wife was Alice Kennedy, whose siblings were Joseph, Clara and Ida May.
Joseph Kennedy was friends with the Burwell brothers ( more photos here). Clara and Ida May Kennedy married Chandler brothers Edward John and Alexander. Fred Chandler was their brother, so brother-in-law by marriage to Silas.
Burwell, Kennedy and Chandler – Eden Line
After Silas and Alice Burwell died, Grover Ketchabaw bought their farm. Silas and Alice had no children but still their house managed to keep connected to his family. One of Grover’s sons married Wilford Burwell’s sister. The son of Grover’s daughter now owns Silas’ farm.
A mile west of Eden
The mystery for me in Grandma’s story is in the second last paragraph. “They” moved to a farm about a mile west of Eden, just west of Fred Chandler’s farm. Who moved? It sounds like Hercules and Ada Ann, whose dates of death match those Grandma gives in that same paragraph. But their son Fred, who took over their farm beside the Big Otter, didn’t marry until 1916, which was after the death of both his parents. I never knew that the family lived anywhere on the Eden Line other than in that house.
Two stories about the Chandler family are also in the Elgin County Archives. They start on the fourth page of the pdf. Here is my grandmother’s story and more on the Chandlers.
The History of the County of Welland, Ontario: Its past and present 1887
James E. Anger, publisher and proprietor of the Niagara Falls Review, and Rev. William H. Anger, principal and originator the St. Catherines Business College, are members of one of the oldest families in the county of Welland.
Two brothers named Anger, (or Ahinger) came from Germany at an early date and settled at a place called Clobrock, N.Y. Both fought for the British Crown during the revolutionary war, and when General Washington finally triumphed, they, with the Nears, (German, Neher) Hoffmans and other Loyalists, came to Canada, bringing with them what they could with ox teams.
Augustus Anger settled near Dunnville; John Charles Anger in Bertie, and had three sons, Augustus, John Charles and Frederick. The last named died a bachelor. Augustus married and has many descendants now living in the county. John Charles married Abigail Near in Bertie in 1787 – just one hundred years ago.
In 1812, both John Charles and his eldest son took up arms in support of the British Government, and participated in the battle of Chippawa. The son, named Frederick, who had located in Wisconsin, came to Canada to battle for the land and flag of his fathers, returning after the war to Wisconsin.
The old homestead was the farm now owned by John Miller, Bertie, on the Ridge road. Of the sons of J. C. Anger, all went west except William C. and Henry C. The former resided near Ridgeway, the latter, who was born in 1801, remained on the old homestead, willed him by his father, until his death in 1877. Of H. C. Anger’s descendants, two sons and two daughters yet survive, James E. and William H., whose names head this sketch, and Mrs. E. Augustine, of Humberstone, and Mrs. W. J. Brown, of Port Robinson.
James E. Anger started the Niagara Falls Review in 1879, and has succeeded in establishing a permanent and paying business. His wife is Martha, daughter of Thomas Spedding of Bertie.
William H. Anger, after being associated with his brother in the publishing business at Niagara Falls for some years, started the Niagara Falls Business College, removing it to St. Catherines in 1885, and changing the name to suit the new location. The institution is rapidly winning a wide reputation for success and efficiency in fitting the young for the practical business of life. It is fitted with telegraphic, banking and other facilities. Mr. Anger is well qualified for the work he has undertaken, being a B. A. of Albert College. His wife is Hattie A., daughter of James S. Dell, Esq., of Willoughby.
So, according to this writer in 1887, John Charles Anger’s son Frederick never married and had no children. He moved to the USA, returned to fight on Canada’s side in the War of 1812, then went back to Wisconsin.
But other sources say John Charles Anger’s son Frederick (1791-1857) married Elizabeth Thompson (1820-1850). They had maybe six children: Phoebe, Robert, Margaret, Silby, Catherine and Elizabeth. Parents and children were born in Ontario. All children but one died in Ontario. No mention of Wisconsin.
This source is 130 years closer to the people and events than we are. So I believe the author. However, grave information and land records suggest that Frederick Anger, son of John Charles Anger and Abigail Near, lived his life in Ontario with wife and children.
Two different Fredericks? Confusion of generations of John Charles Angers? If anyone can explain this, please do! Thanks, Jim Flock, for pointing out this inconsistency.
(The Biographical Sketches of History of Welland County is in ‘Biographies 1887’ below.)
My grandmother’s parents, Matthias and Emily Lymburner, lived for a few years in Goderich, Ontario. These are postcards sent from their early days there in 1911. (click images for larger view)
General View of Goderich Harbour, looking East
Mr. Charles H. Burwell, Tillsonburg, Ont. Goderich, Jan 9th, 1911.
Dear Boy, Charlie:- This card shows the mills and cooperage – the cooper shop, I have marked with an X on the gable-end. It looks small on account of the flour mill being so large. I am feeling fine, and I think I will like it well, here, haven’t seen much of the town yet, it’s nice, though, what I have seen of it. I will write frequently, and will be glad to hear from you all. Yours, M. E. Lymburner.
Look slightly right of middle. See a small yellow triangle at left of large brown building – that’s the X. Matthias was a cooper so that’s where he would have worked.
Central Park, Goderich, Ont. Canada
Mrs C H Burwell
This is for Minnie. It is the city hall, and central park. It is the very centre of the town. I will write again when I get time.
I think this is Mary Emily’s writing. She must have been sent it to her daughter Minnie in Tillsonburg with someone. The courthouse and park is the hub of an octagon of streets that comprises the town centre. The town layout was planned from the very beginning. The Town of Goderich website describes it.
On the Maitland River, Goderich, Ont. Canada
Mrs Minnie Burwell, Tillsonburg PO, Ont.
Goderich Feb 24 1911 Dear Minnie – Just a line to tell I was down town yesterday and came near losing our way home. There are so many streets and they look so much alike. Well good bye. From Mother
The 1911 Canadian Census has Matthias and Emily, two sons and two youngest daughters living on Britannia Road. It runs west to east across the south side of town. The spokes of the streets mean that if you take the wrong one leaving the square, you can end up a long way from where you intended. The Maitland River skirts the east side of town, with its mouth at the harbour.
Court House – Goderich Canada
Mrs Chas Burwell, Tillsonburg Ont.
Dear Sister, Just a card to let you [know] we are alive and will answer your letter soon but have been very busy trying to get straightened up. Then I am so lame that it keeps me a long while. John is working at the furniture factory here. I am nearly settled all but washing my curtains and quilts. Evellyn
Evellyn was Minnie’s older sister. John Hewson was her husband. This sounds as if they too had just moved to Goderich. But I cannot find them in the 1911 census.
About this beautiful Court House, the Goderich website (link above) says, “The octagonal-shaped park at the centre was occupied for nearly 100 years by the original Huron County Courthouse, an Italianate brick building of imposing scale, massing and elegance. It was replaced in 1954 by the present building.”
Concrete Elevator, Goderich, Canada
Mrs Charles Burwell, Tillsonburg PO, Ontario.
Goderich Aug 3, 1911. Dear Minnie – We arrived home just at twelve. Pa was home for dinner, he is well. It is raining hard here this afternoon. Bye Bye from Ma.
Maybe Emily had just got back from visiting her daughter? I don’t know but the message sounds like a check-in. This photo is a close-up of the elevator that you can see in the background of the first postcard. From the Goderich Port Authority website: “The first grain elevator at the Port was built in 1866 but was later destroyed by fire. The current elevators, constructed in the 1920s, are still in operation today.”
Point Farm Hotel, Goderich, Ont., Canada
Mr. C. H. Burwell, Tillsonburg, Ont.
Goderich, Sept. 1 1911. My Dear Charlie; Arrived here O.K. in time for dinner. Found the folks all well. The baby was real good coming up. I hope you found enough to eat. Am having a dandy time. Will I give your best respects to Miss Bell? Bye Bye, Minnie (write soon)
Minnie and Charley had no children at this time. But Minnie’s sister Evellyn had a daughter Mary Julia Hewson in July 1911. Maybe they travelled to Goderich together. My mother told me who Miss Bell was, but unfortunately I can’t remember. The Point Farm Hotel, also unfortunately, is gone. The area is now a Provincial Park. The hotel’s history is told by David Yates in the 2016/17 Goderich Visitors’ Guide (pp 57-58).
…at Tillsonburg and thinking much of you
Mrs C H Burwell, Goderich, Ont. [postmarked Sep 2 1911]
My Dear Minnie – I rec’d your card and feel a lot better to know you are all right. I am getting along all right keeping bach with John. Yes, give my best respects to Miss Bell and the rest of the folks. Bye Bye, Charley xxxx X1 for Miss Bell
John, I think, was a friend of Grandpa’s. I gather, from this exchange of postcards, that Grandma left them to fend for themselves when she went away. But it seems that he and John had “found enough to eat.” Ha!
And that’s our tour of Goderich from 1911. See my Goderich, Prettiest Town for my memories of the town and Bluewater Beach from several decades later. I wrote it right after a devastating tornado hit the town in August 2011.
Aunt Maria (pronounced Mariah) Burwell Johnson was my grandfather’s aunt. Born near Fingal and died near Eden, she homesteaded in Michigan during the Civil War and later had a fruit tree farm in Essex Co. Ont.
On her 100th birthday in June 1935, two newspaper articles told her story. Here are the clippings and transcribed copy. Click the images for larger views.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Woman To Mark 100th Milestone
Mrs. Marie Johnson, Bayham, 100 on Wednesday
Looks after garden – Birthday Dinner Held At Daughter’s Home
Belmont, June 23 – Surrounded by her immediate family and relatives, numbering 22, Mrs. Maria Burwell Johnson, this afternoon was tendered a birthday dinner at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Charles Allemand, Bayham Township, the occasion marking her 100th birthday anniversary.
Although Mrs. Johnson does not attain that age until Wednesday, the party was held today, that her family might be present for the function.
In speaking to the press by telephone late this afternoon the celebrant carried on a brief, but sprightly conversation. Before calling her mother to the phone, Mrs. Allemand told the reporter her mother was as active “as a 16-year-old girl.”
The centenarian devotes much of her time to the household duties of the home. She has her daily walk, helps with the weekly churning, cares for the garden, and in winter, knits and reads extensively. Although her hearing is slightly impaired she is able to read without the aid of glasses. Today she received a telegram from her cousin, Mrs. Lydia Bage, of Burtland, Ore., who is also 100 years old, having attained that age on February 6th last.
She takes a keen interest in current events and in her telephone conversation mentioned that she “voted for Hepburn,” in last year’s provincial election. On Wednesday the Ladies’ Aid of the Bayham circuit, are tendering her a reception and birthday dinner. A three-storey birthday cake, with 100 candles, will be featured, at the event which has become an annual affair in the last few years.
Maria Johnson has been a life-long resident of Elgin County, having been born one mile west of Fingal village, Southwold Township, June 26th, 1835, a daughter of the late Lewis Burwell and Levina Williams. She is a first cousin [2nd, 1 remove] of the late Col. Burwell. For 20 years she has resided with her daughter, Mrs. Allemand, Eden R.R. No. 1. Her family are Charles Johnson, Detroit; Mrs. Edward Parker, Kingsville; and Mrs. Allemand; also 12 grandchildren.
… Johnson was just “taking it easy.” But it appeared to be no great effort for her to “tidy up” and come and have her picture taken. She walked along on the arm of her daughter because, Mrs. Johnson explained, “I’m getting pretty staggery.”
But she said it with a chuckle and marched stalwartly along. She carries a walking stick, but it’s mostly “to keep the peace.”
A characteristic of Mrs. Johnson that has always been hers has been her joviality. Though she is a little hard of hearing, she sees perfectly well and when others around her Wednesday afternoon were laughing about something she had missed, she spoke up and said: “Come now, what are you all laughing about. If there’s anything going on, I’d like to have a hand in it.”
Born Before Rebellion
It seems hard to realize, but Mrs. Johnson was born before the rebellion of Upper Canada. Her birthday was June 26, 1835, and was born the oldest of the family of Lewis and Levina Burwell, whose farm was broken in the woods between Fingal and Watson’s Corners in Southwold township. She is a second cousin of Colonel Mahlon Burwell, associate of Colonel Talbot, who surveyed much of this district and who was, with Colonel Talbot, one of Elgin county’s settlement promoters. She did a bit of pioneering herself during the early days of her married life when she lived near the village of Pontiac, Mich., and she and her husband cleared a farm in the bush out in Gratiot county.
But Mrs. Johnson’s home has been practically all her life in Elgin county. The oldest of a family of seven children, all have predeceased her with the exception of her sister, Mrs. Jane Elams [Helms], of South Haven, Mich., who was the third of the seven children in the Lewis Burwell family and who is herself in her 90’s. One of her brothers, Richard, died only a short time ago at his home in South Haven. The family has been noted for its longevity, but Mrs. Johnson is establishing a record. The names of her brothers and sisters, in order of their age, were John, Jane, Richard, Hercules, Samuel and Amy.
Lived on Talbot Estate
Mrs. Johnson lived with her parents near Fingal and on the Talbot estate until her twenty-third year. She had no schooling other than what she was able to learn herself. She reads and writes which, to say the least, was an achievement for one who, in her early days, had no end of hard work on her father’s farm, and who, when she married, brought up a family and helped hew down bush to clear more land. She does little writing now, nor does she read, because the strain of the latter is too telling.
When she was 23, she married Howard Johnson, who came to Southern Ontario from Nova Scotia. The marriage took place in Pontiac, Mich., and there they built their home, a little log cabin some miles out of the settlement. For some time directly after the wedding, the young couple resided at Waterford, where their oldest son, Charles, now of Detroit, was born. But they returned to Pontiac and resided there until after the American Civil War, for service in which Howard Johnson was drafted. When he went away to war, he had to leave Mrs. Johnson and two young children to fend for themselves on the little farm in the woods. Home from the war, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson moved from Pontiac back to Ontario and began farming near Fingal.
It was no easy matter for the couple to break up their home in Gratiot county. It had stood for a good deal to both Mrs. Johnson and her husband. But conditions in the States at the close of the Civil War were far from settled and neither cared to take the risk of going through another war. Mrs. Johnson says to this day that, of all the home in which she had lived, that little log cabin in the woods was far the best.
Husband Lived Till 84
For many years, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson lived not far from the Lewis Burwell homestead west of Fingal. But they later acquired a farm in Bayham township near Eden and resided there until going to the district around the town of Essex where, until his death, Mr. Johnson was a fruit farmer. He passed away in 1912 at the age of 84, and Mrs. Johnson returned to Bayham township to make her home with her daughter, with whom she is still living.
Mrs. Johnson’s three children are all living. They are Charles Johnson, of Detroit; Mrs. E. L. Parker, of Kingsville; and Mrs. Kitchen [Allemand], of Eden. She has twelve grandchildren living. In Charles Johnson’s family there are Carl Johnson, Detroit; Mrs. (May) Williams, residing in California; Mrs. (Ruby) Blain, Mrs. (Gladys) Anderson, Mrs. (Dorothy) Brian, and Mrs. (Nellie) Kirkland, all of Detroit. Mrs. Parker’s children are Gordon Parker, Detroit, and Cecil Parker, Kingsville. Mrs. Kitchen’s children are Mrs. Fred Stark, Toronto; Mrs. Arol Bowes, New Liskeard; Mrs. Clarence Williams, Lapeer, Mich., and Arthur Allemand, Eden. There are twenty-seven great-grandchildren. The Burwells having been a large family of Elgin county pioneers, Mrs. Johnson is related in one way or another to a very large number of descendants of the original Burwell family, many of whom still reside in this district.
The Elgin County Council and the Council of the township of Bayham will likely recognize Mrs. Johnson’s 102nd [100th?] birthday. Certainly she will have the felicitations and best wishes of a host of old friends.
No Recipe for Longevity
Mrs. Johnson offered no suggestion on how to attain old age. But she had always been a great worker, her labors carrying on into the evening hours, commencing early in the morning. It is still no hardship for her to stay up until eleven or twelve in the evening and rise again at five along with the others on the farm. She eats three hearty meals a day and is by no means as frail as one might expect of a person who has reached her age.
Recently a radio was acquired at the Kitchen home and Mrs. Johnson enjoys its programs. She particularly enjoyed the Coronation broadcasts, and in this regard it is of interest to note that she has lived during the reign of King George IV, Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIIII, and now King George VI.
Maria’s son Charles Johnson of Detroit. He married Nellie Havens Gray of Eden. Charles’ sisters were Amy Jane (married F. L. Sweet, Edmond Parker) and Fanny Jeannette (married Charles Allemand, R. Kitchen). See Burwell Family Tree, nos. 59-60 for their families.
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Mrs. Maria Johnson of Eden Feted on 100th Birthday (June 27, 1935)
Col. Thomas Talbot was a good old fellow but pretended he wasn’t, Mrs. Maria Johnson of Eden told The News this week as she recalled incidents of her childhood days spent near Port Talbot. She was 100 years old yesterday. Mrs. Johnson lives with her daughter, Mrs. R. Kitchen, formerly Mrs. Charles Allemand. Her birthday was marked with two parties, one on Sunday for the relatives who could not be present yesterday when the whole community was invited. The Ladies’ Aid Society of the Eden Baptist church arranged the dinner and reception yesterday afternoon in her honor.
Mrs. Johnson likes to read and can do so without the aid of glasses. She crochets, too. In her own words she says she is able to walk a mile. Her daughter remarked that she had churned on Tuesday of last week. Mrs. Johnson possesses unusual faculties for one who has seen a century go by. Her only impairment is a slight difficulty in hearing. She laughs as she recalls the fun of childhood and holds the listener’s interest with her well-told anecdotes.
Mrs. Johnson was born one mile west of Fingal. Her father, Lewis Burwell, was a mason and did a great deal of Col. Talbot’s masonry work. He was a cousin of Col. Mahlon Burwell. Her mother was Lavina Williams, a sister of Thomas Williams – patron of the Thomas Williams Home for indigents at St. Thomas.
“Col. Talbot was good to us young ones if we were good to him. He was not very cranky, pretending a lot which he didn’t mean.” Mrs. Johnson remembers that the boys bowed and the girls curtseyed in those days. Sometimes she failed to curtsey to Col. Talbot, and then he would say to his retainer Jeffry Hunter, “Hit that girl a good slash, Jeffry”; but he didn’t do it.”
“Oh, my, but that is a long time ago,” she would remark occasionally.
Mrs. Johnson’s husband first saw her when she was driving sheep along the road. Right away he said to himself that she would be his wife. His family went to Michigan. Mrs. Johnson followed and on Sept. 12, 1858, became the bride of Howard Johnson at Pontiac. Her husband fought in the American Revolutionary War [Civil War], in which her brother, John R. Burwell, was killed.
Mrs. Johnson is the oldest in a family of seven. She has a brother and a sister living, Richard Burwell of Grass Lake, Mich., and Mrs. Jane Helms of South Haven, Mich. A first cousin, Mrs. Lydia Bage of Burtland, Ore., was 100 years old on February 6th last, and has sent a letter on congratulations on also becoming a centenarian.
While living on a fruit farm at Essex Centre in 1912 Mr. Johnson passed away, ending 54 years of married life. Mrs. Johnson has since lived with Mrs. Kitchen and another daughter, Mrs. Edmond Parker of Kingsville. A son, Charles Johnson, resides in Detroit. Mrs. Johnson has 12 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson lived in Pontiac, Waterford, and Gratiot during their stay in Michigan. “When we moved to Gratiot we saw hard times,” she recalled. “It was a new country, and we had to build our own little log house. It was the best little home we ever had. Then the war broke out and Howard had to go, leaving me with two children five years and five months old. The roads were bad and we had a team of oxen. There were lots of bears about. It was a great change for me after living on the Talbot Road on Col. Talbot’s place.
“That was where father died and mother was left with a large family. John and I being the oldest, we were great chums. We made sugar, braided hats, picked limestone out of the creek, and husked the corn. When it was awful cold Bill Welch came and helped us.
“We had good days as well as sad days,” she paused to say.
“For music, a fiddle did it all – for logging bees, barn-raisings, dancing, and it was played in the church, too. Those were good times, but I enjoy life yet,” Mrs. Johnson said with a happy smile.
On Sunday 25 relatives gathered for dinner at the home of Mrs. Kitchen to honor Mrs. Johnson. They came from Toronto, Lapeer, Mich., Detroit, New Liskeard, and Kingsville. A large birthday cake centred the table. Some of the guests remained for the big party Wednesday.
Yesterday afternoon the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Eden Baptist church and many people of the district celebrated Mrs. Johnson’s 100th birthday. There was a beautiful four-story cake made for the occasion by Mrs. D. D. Healy of Eden, who is 80 years old. It was trimmed with white icing and silver berries. The figures “1835-1935” were on it in silver icing and the top story held up a silver horseshoe. All the community was invited to come with their lunches and enjoy a piece of the fruit cake. A program of speeches and music was prepared the the members of the Ladies’ Aid Society. Mrs. William White is the president and Mrs. W. Stilwell the secretary. Solos and duets were sung by Mr. N. O. Stilwell and Miss Olive Stilwell. Mr. [Edward] Sivyer of Eden, who is 93 years old, was an honored guest.
Mrs. Johnson has received many gifts, flowers, cards and letters of congratulation for her birthday celebration. On June 16th her granddaughter and husband from Lapeer, Mich., took her for the first automobile ride she has had this year which she enjoyed greatly. She was a Methodist, but the church was closed at Eden and for several years now the Baptist Ladies’ Aid has gathered with her on her birthday.
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The Thomas Williams Home, I learned from St. Thomas residents on Facebook, is at 57 Walnut Street right beside the old St. Thomas Anglican Church.
Maria’s brother John Rice Burwell died 16 June 1862 in the Battle of Secessionville, James Island, South Carolina at the age of 24. He may have been a Private in Company C, 8th Michigan Infantry, Union Army. There is a record that matches in all details except names of parents and siblings.
One article says that Maria’s brother Richard is alive and the other says he recently died. I have his date of death as Feb. 27, 1937 in Jackson, Michigan.
The birthday cakes got their own write-up in June 27’s paper. With the effort put into them, they deserved it. An 80 year old Mrs. Healy made one and the other came all the way from Detroit.
In this gallery are newspaper clippings from my mother’s scrapbooks. Their dates are from the 1940s on. They are about family and our towns as well as random people and events that struck her. And, of the many clippings in her scrapbooks, these are the ones that also particularly struck me.
Hover over an image to see its caption. To see a particular article, click or tap it. After doing that, you can click the small magnifying glass under the image title for a larger view. I will add more as I scan them, so check back.
Belmont Clubs, late 1940s
Oddfellows photo with my dad George Anger, granddad Austin Anger and uncle Wallace Jackson. The Mary Hastings’ Bluebirds (below) with my mother Ruby Anger.
Belmont Arena 1949
The parents of Jake Bradburn (top photo, left) were Flo and Wes Bradburn. A few years later, when my parents moved to the big old house at the corner of Main and Odell, Flo and Wes lived in the front apartment.
Uncle Floyd, horseradish king of Tillsonburg, was my mother’s uncle. He married Marguerite Lymburner, sister of Minnie Lymburner Burwell. They lived near Tillsonburg with their eight children.
The top clipping is from 1950 and tells the story of a young Port Burwell teacher, Mary Anne MacMath, a century earlier. The next is about the 1960 historical plaque for Col. Mahlon Burwell. Below that are stories about a faith healer in Port Burwell in 1951. I can’t find any information on the Rev. Orland Bailey but I found Harvey Vaughan’s 2013 obituary.
My mother was quick to send off a letter to the editor if need be.
Obituary for Mom’s uncle Eddie Lymburner, 1948
Miscellaneous Newspaper Clippings
In this 1951 story of Woodstock cat Herkimer, the writer mentions “the wealthy” Rhubarb. Googling told me that Rhubarb is a 1951 movie about a stray cat who hits the jackpot when he is given a home. It is based on a 1946 novel by H. Allen Smith. You can watch it on YouTube (for a fee).
My brother asked if there were pictures of Dad’s tow truck in Mom’s photo albums. We only found one, with Bing the service station dog inside.
It was an International pickup, 1941 I think, blue. He rebuilt it to take the wrecker.
It had a 3 speed transmission. He put in a 4th speed. He mounted dual wheels on it. The fenders had to be extended. The strips welded in them never got painted. It wasn’t welded too good either. I can still see the holes, but it worked.
Dual exhaust coming out up behind the cab. The smoke would stream out of there. An orange flashing light on top. He put a switch for that under the dash.
For the wrecker, he started with a gearbox affair – small gear going to a bigger to a bigger, about 4 sets of gears in there. Then he welded all the angle iron to put the cable on, the crank, all that stuff.
The cradle for hooking up cars was his own invention. It changed over time. First, it was a hand crank he welded on the side. You’d stand there and crank and crank and crank. The cars weren’t that heavy, it just took a lot. Eventually you’d get her up.
Then a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine took the place of the crank. But that was a pain in the ass too. It had a pull start. Awkward and hard to start, but it was better than cranking.
The last one was a power take-off on the side of the transmission. That drove the gears that lifted the vehicle. It was the best deal. You could shove the lever forward and back and up she went.
He built a snowplow for her. The plow was made out of an old culvert. He hooked it up to a vacuum system. He got that off a transport truck.
There’s a drum with a vacuum system to lift it. The engine creates a vacuum in the cylinder. The cylinder would lift the plow and gravity would lower it. The cold air hitting the hot valves would cause engine problems down the road. But it worked good. She barked though, loud!
I’ve never heard of anybody else ever doing that. I remember Dad and Jack talking about it, and the next thing I knew it was done. But I never saw them working on the truck. I don’t know how it got done. I likely saw, it just didn’t register.
She was a thing of beauty. If I had any idea where she was, maybe parked someplace, I’d have her back home and I’d be working on it.
Dad would be 99 today. Happy birthday, Georgie.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.