From nails to automobiles

The Story of the Taylors in Almonte & Carleton Place

by Lyle Dillabough


Alongside the beautiful castle-like structure that is the Carleton Place Town Hall sits another impressive building known as the “Taylor Block.”

Both buildings were constructed around the same time period (late 1880’s) and both speak to the promise, prosperity and newness of that era. They are more than structures and could be better described as masterpieces in architecture.

The story behind the building of the Town Hall has been well documented and preserved throughout history, while the story behind the construction of the Taylor Block has faded into time. The very question itself of just who were the Taylor’s and whatever became of them was no longer even asked anymore.

Until earlier this year when I became curious about this matter.

So therefore an investigation of sorts was undertaken and several local people became intrigued also, and the digging began. A piece entitled THE MYSTERIOUS TAYLOR FAMILY was published and appeared online. Genealogy searches were made and some success was achieved through them.

But there are no longer any direct descendants of the Taylor Family living in the area and most who would have remembered them had passed on themselves, as it is all so long ago.

However, some details did emerge as did photographs from the late 1880’s. Problem was that written accounts were almost nil as it appeared that this family’s story was being avoided or left out on purpose. And this fact only added to the mystery.

And then..

With today’s world being the way it is and the age of the internet being in full force, things do have a way of getting around. And so it was with the “MYSTERIOUS TAYLOR” story.

Donald Taylor Jr. (who resides in the Toronto area) recently contacted me and i had the opportunity to interview him. He is a walking “wealth of knowledge” about his family and he put the story together. He is the great grandson of John (“Jack”) Taylor who operated the hardware business (along with his brother Frank) and the great-great grandson of William Taylor Sr. who built the “Taylor Block.” (completed in 1888)

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Taylor Block on Google Street View

And here is how the story goes…

William Taylor was an orphan who came over to Canada from Scotland in the 1850’s. He married Barbara Donald (from Dalhousie Township) shortly thereafter and began establishing himself as a businessman in Lanark County. An “advertisement” in a edition of The CARLETON PLACE HERALD of that time period requests; wool, cowhides, tin and other items for which Mr. Taylor was offering to purchase.

He slowly built up his business but what made him rich was his forsight to purchase as much iron metal as he could during this time period. This was mainly in the form of nails as he correctly anticipated that the United States of America would be in severe short supply of them after the Civil War had ended. America needed to rebuild but most of their iron had gone towards the making of weaponry.

Mr. Taylor had bought nails from areas all over eastern Canada and the US. When the call came from the States he was prepared to answer. By this time he was operating his tinsmith and wares business in Carleton Place and it was with this new found wealth that he had the where-with-all to build himself a magnificent structure.

And thus the Taylor Block was built.

William Taylor operated his business along with all of his sons until he turned the operation over to sons John and Frank. The other brothers moved on to different places throughout the country. For example Alexander moved to Winnipeg along with his new wife Marion Brown who was the aunt of WWI flying ace Captain Roy Brown.

During the late 1800’s the Taylor Family along with other families such as the Browns, Gillises & Findlays were the creme’ de le creme’ of high society in the town. There was a rich level of culture, privilege, recreation and art that was very much alive and well in Carleton Place at that time. These families not only socialized but inter-married with one another.

So What Happened To The Taylors?

John and Frank ran successful hardware businesses in both Almonte and Carleton Place until the depression occured in 1929. By then they had gotten into the automobile industry and had extended credit to many of their customers and members of both communities. As the depression dragged on these dedts were never paid and by the late 1930’s the brothers could hang on no longer. The Taylor Block in Carleton Place was eventually sold in 1945.

The family moved on and the lives of both themselves and their descendants is both amazing and colorful. A book could be written about those stories alone. Locally it’s the story of the late Reverand Gordon Taylor that resonates. His body is buried here at Carleton Place (passed away in the late 70’s) and it is he that is best remembered. But not only that, this man was a spy who could speak Chinese, Russian and several other languages. He worked intelligence for the British Secret Service during WW2 and went on to work for the CIA. (Central Intelligence Agency) He used to give speeches on the topics of; China, the former Soviet Union and on world affairs throughout the country. Articles in 1950 editions of the Carleton Place CANADIAN describe him speaking on such matters locally.

Donald Taylor Jr. will be sending me extensive details and accounts of his family. This I will turn over to the Carleton Place & District Museum. The Taylor Block has recently been purchased by an Ottawa based development company. Their plan is to restore the building. When it is completed it is my own personal hope that a plaque (or some other form of recognition/honour) is dedicated and installed to recognize the existence and contribution of this Family to this community.