Tag Archives: Tillsonburg

Christmas Song

Christmas piano photo D Stewart

Eighty years ago my grandfather, Charles Hercules Burwell, wrote this Christmas hymn. My mother said that, in November 1941, she spent the evening before her wedding getting her dad’s copy ready for the printer. So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and “may hearts rejoice in every clime.”

Christmas song C H Burwell d stewart pics


It’s Christmas time, and giving time,
May hearts rejoice in every clime,
Reminded of the Saviour’s birth –
God’s gift of gifts to all the earth.
Back to that ancient Christmas morn,
When Christ in Bethlehem was born,
Low in a manger He was laid,
The Son of God, a new-born babe.

His star did lead the wise men near,
They saw Him, gave Him gifts so dear;
Rejoicing all with one accord,
Did magnify and praise the Lord.
So, if we’re wise to His blest name,
We need not keep this day in vain.
Let Christ be all our theme of joy
In everything we now employ.

His mission here on earth was this –
To save us from the serpent’s hiss.
He bled and died for you and me,
And rose again to set us free.
May all who trust our risen Lord
Rejoice in Him and His own word;
And if we know the Saviour’s worth,
In truth we’ll celebrate His birth.

Words and Music by C. H. Burwell
Tillsonburg, Ont., Canada

Ada Scanlon photo d stewart pics
Christmas 1959 from my Aunt Ada’s photo album

Today is the 111th anniversary of my grandparents’ wedding. Charles H. Burwell and Minnie May Lymburner were married in Tillsonburg on December 14, 1910.

Here is more on Grandpa’s poetry and one of his books of poems in pdf format. (Tap the sheet of music to enlarge it for printing.)

Harness Racing Mabees

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 Tillsonburg track 1945-standardbredcanada.ca_news_8-14-10_sc-rewindthe 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?

Dudey Patch

Dudey-Patch-canadian-horse-racing-hall-of-fameJ. 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.

Dudey Patch moved on to Prince Edward Island and trainer Joe O’Brien. With Mr. O’Brien, he broke pacing records until he retired in 1941. He was named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1998.

dudey patch 1931 allbreedpedigree.com
Dudey Patch 1931 by Gilbert Patch out of unknown mare (allbreedpedigree.com)

Mabee cousins

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.

Chart showing Charles Henry Mabee and cousins – click/tap to enlarge

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.

Bert Newman, in More Reminiscences About Tillsonburg, writes:

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 Nov 24-2018-standardbred canada-rewind-starters-horn-photo-Gary-Foerstermegaphone 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]

My googling also turned up a recent book about Tillsonburg’s history. It’s Tillsonburg Album: A photographic history by Matthew Scholtz, available in Tillsonburg or on this website.

Visits to the Grandparents

Ruby age 15 in 1939 carrying guitar on Pine Street“Minnie and Charlie’s daughter must be visiting. I saw that strange girl of hers, and the dog’s gone.” Now, over forty years later, that’s what I imagine people on Pine Street said when I went with my parents to my grandparents’ house.

As soon as I’d said hello to grandma and grandpa, I’d be out the door and heading down toward the woods at the end of the street. Along the way, from three doors past their house, I’d start collecting dogs. I didn’t steal them or let them out of fenced yards.

No one had fenced yards then and dogs just laid around their front steps or in the yard. If they saw me, they’d come out to the sidewalk and come along with me. If I didn’t see one where I knew it lived, I might call “here doggiedoggie” or call its name if I knew it.

Walking with dogs

On a good day, I’d have seven or eight dogs with me by the time I reached the end of the two block street. At the end was a ravine, wooded with a trail going through it to the railroad tracks and also running parallel to the tracks along the creek. The dogs and I would walk through the woods on the creek path, staying away from the tracks and never going further than a couple blocks either direction from Pine Street.

I don’t remember what we did for the hours we spent there. I threw sticks for them maybe. When it was almost grandparents Charles and Minnie Burwell 1962dark, we’d walk back up Pine Street or sometimes Pearl Street. The dogs would all turn in to their respective homes. I’d get back to Grandma’s by myself just in time for supper. If we were staying overnight, next day I’d be back down the street collecting the dogs and we’d do the same thing. Before we left, I’d make a hurried trip down Pine Street to collect the dogs for a quick goodbye to them all on the street. They seemed to know I was leaving and just went back to their doorsteps.

I think there were other kids sometimes along with us too, but I can’t remember any of them clearly. Some of the dogs I knew by name, Bingo and Rex and Lady. I must have talked to some kids to know that. I don’t think I would have talked to any adults. And I don’t recall any adults asking why I was taking their dog.

A collie

I remember the dogs. A beautiful collie who lived in a two-storey frame house on the corner of the lane that ran between Pine and Pearl. A bulldog, some little shaggy haired mutts, a couple big Shepherd crosses. They all got along, there was never a fight among them. None of them ever ran off from our pack. They never chased cats sitting hunched up or standing backs arched in driveways further down the road. They never came back to my grandparents’ house with me, and they never came on their own to visit me there. I don’t know if, when I wasn’t there, they rounded themselves up and went for walks in the ravine. I don’t think I wondered about that at the time; all I knew is that they were there for me when I came to visit.

I loved going to my grandparents. I liked seeing them, being in their house, looking in cupboards at treasures I’d seen before and finding new ones. But I especially loved my time with the dogs.

Pine Street woods aren’t there anymore

Now, when I go back and drive past my grandparents’ house, I want to park the car and walk down the street looking for dogs to walk with. grandparents' house on Pine Street TillsonburgThe houses on Pine Street look pretty unchanged from the 1960s. But the woods aren’t there anymore. The ravine is there, but the creek is gone. It’s been diverted, I guess, and the bed paved over. A new subdivision is on the other side, in what used to be the woods between the creek and the railroad tracks. Even if I found dogs sitting on doorsteps or laying in the yard, there’d be nowhere woodsy to walk with them.

So I stop in front of the house on the lane. It’s still got pale yellow siding with the same windows and front cement step. I say “hello Lassie” to the dog I see in my mind. Then I drive a few streets east, turn left and stop at the recreation field. There’s a ball diamond there and a soccer field. At the back of it, there’s woods with a trail going through to the railroad tracks. I get my dogs out of the car and we walk through the woods.

I didn’t know then, when I was eight or ten, that this would be a constant in my life: walking with dogs and remembering dogs. Like the kids that were part of Pine Street, many people have been in my life over the years. But it’s the dogs that stand out most vividly.

Originally posted in Stories on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on July 4, 2010. The photographs of my mother, grandparents and their house are from my mother’s photo albums. 


Poems by C. H. Burwell

Cover 3rd ed poems Charles H BurwellIt took a year but I have my grandfather’s poetry book in pdf format. If you would like to print it out, click here and download the file links on the page.

I don’t know when he began writing poetry but the 1st edition of his booklet was printed January 1946. The 2nd was printed in June 1958 and the 3rd, nine years after his death, in 1974. It is the 3rd one that I have scanned. There are some different poems in the first two and I will add those later.

He used poetry in two ways: one as a way to witness for his faith and the other to comment on life around him. The subtitle is “Poems photo from 3rd ed poems C H Burwellconcerning the things of today and poems confirming the Heavenward way” and that pretty much sums them up. If he were alive today, maybe he’d make his observations through Twitter. But I’m glad he chose the medium of rhyme. Again, his own words best describe that. In “The Poet’s ‘Must’”, he writes, “Yet must the poet keep his feet – And beat it down the line; – And make his feet the accent keep – Or lose the swing and rhyme.”

Poems were a part of life

What his poetry also did was to make the writing of poetry a part of life. It wasn’t something rarefied, that “ordinary” people couldn’t dream of doing. His children and grandchildren grew up with his poems and poetry books around. My mother said she’d see him at his desk in his cement shop, with a pencil stub and scrap of paper – working Poem by Ada May (Burwell) Scanlonout words and rhyme while they were in his mind.

His children naturally turned to putting their thoughts on paper too. While none of them wrote as prolifically as he did, they too wrote poems of their faith. And they didn’t just stick the final product in the back of a drawer as so many of us do; they had them printed and distributed. They had seen him do it so knew it could be done and there was an audience out there.

Perhaps too it was their church that helped them to know how to print and distribute and that there God's Way by Ruby (Burwell) Angerwas an audience out there. A church that always had a good supply of Gospel tracts, telling real life stories of conversion and discussing points of Scripture.

Whether it was the example of their church or my grandfather’s love of language and human observation, writing from life and belief came naturally to his children. They recognized his ability and treasured it.  I have a notebook in which my Aunt Ada carefully transcribed in longhand her father’s poems and gave to him as a gift.

Christmas Song by Charles H Burwell

My mother spent the evening before her wedding transcribing his Christmas song in words and music in preparation for printing. But maybe the greatest gift his children gave him was in their own writing. They  remembered the grammar their mother had taught them and also kept the “swing and rhyme” that he showed them.

(Click or tap poems for larger view)