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ColumnistsBy The Way with Bill ChapmanStories and folklore - Part 2

Stories and folklore – Part 2

by L.G. WIlliam Chapman B.A. LL.B.


I think you'll agree that Almonte is rather like one big family. As with any family, no history is complete without mentioning some of its stories and folklore. Gathered here are a collection of accounts (some factual, others clearly not) which I have plucked from my personal diaries. I hope that within these sometimes preposterous tales and otherwise plausible narratives there will be some historical enlightenment or at least a bit of news to enhance your knowledge of our Town.

Raymond A. Jamieson, Q.C.

I have a photograph in my office of the graduating class of 1921 from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. Mr. R. A. Jamieson was one of those graduates. Interestingly of the approximate 216 graduates only nine were women, all of whom are clustered together, not alphabetically as with the men.

When I came to Almonte in 1976 my employers were Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield whose offices were located at the southeast corner of Mill and Bridge Streets (where the Hub now is and where the Royal Bank used to be). Mr. Paul Virgin tells me that the building was the former one-screen cinema in Almonte; and that it had a balcony and concession stand to the left of the front door. The Saturday afternoon matinees apparently featured Buck Roger serials.

Because Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield had lately acquired the practice of retiring Raymond A. Jamieson, QC they installed me in the considerably less modern office of Mr. Jamieson at 74 Mill Street. The office was located on the second floor to which one ascended by a steep set of narrow stairs tightly squeezed between the buildings. Mr. Jamieson told me of the occasion he received a telephone call from an elderly woman who asked him if he could visit her at her home to draw her Will since she was unable to tackle the stairs to his office. Mr. Jamieson said, “I never did tell her that I would have crawled down those stairs for fifty dollars!”

The stairs had a small landing near the top, before turning right into the office. Mr. Jamieson related to me that Mr. Fred Larose had managed many years before to get a large black Goldie & McCulloch safe up those stairs, around the corner and into his office. I believe the undertaking took several days to accomplish, and I can only marvel at Mr. Larose's success since when I moved out of that office subsequently (and took the safe with me) the safe was taken out of the front window, using scaffolding, block-and-tackle and a large truck with a boom crane. That particular manoeuvre was skilfully handled by Messrs. David and Gilmour Drummond who in their usual jocular manner forecasted all sorts of doom which of course never transpired.

Mr. Jamieson was very knowledgeable about Almonte, though no one was ever able to extract from him all that he knew. I have heard stories about addresses he gave to local groups, among them an address at St. Paul’s Anglican Church regarding the events which had taken place within a hundred yard radius of the Church. Mr. Jamieson proclaimed himself a member of the “English Church” as he called it. Mr. Jamieson alleged that the assassination of D'Arcy McGee on April 7, 1868 had been plotted in the nearby “Doctor’s House” where the long line of Irish-born physicians had resided beginning with Dr. William Mostyn who built the house in 1867 and succeeding most recently to Dr. Francis Murphy. Dr. William Mostyn, the first Master of Mississippi Masonic Lodge No. 147 in Almonte, was an Anglican and an Elder of the Church. Apparently the conspirators who met to plan the murder of D'Arcy McGee rallied at the house near the Church. The “bad guy” was the renowned Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathizer and a Catholic. His grandfather, Joseph, came to Almonte.

It is further alleged that Dr. Mostyn hid the minutes of the D'Arcy McGee tyranny in the walls of the house. Whelan was of course arrested and later hanged before a public audience of 5,000. It was the last public hanging in Canada. It is common knowledge that there is some question of the guilt of Whelan, suggesting that he was a scapegoat for a Protestant plot. Coincidentally D’Arcy McGee is the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

An interesting legal story was an account of a case in which Mr. Jamieson was involved. He represented the Defendant. The opposing lawyer was another former Almonte lawyer, Mr. W. H. Stafford. Mr. Stafford who was reputed at the time to be the most expensive and most successful lawyer in Town. I understand he represented some rather important Clients including Toronto mining interests in the area (probably operating out of Darling Township). Stafford was portrayed by Mr. Jamieson as a stern man who did not like to lose. Mr. Jamieson began his story by saying that Stafford was an excellent lawyer, very learned. The Plaintiff held a promissory note executed by the Defendant, representing the sum paid (or rather, to be paid) for a cow which the Defendant had purchased from the Plaintiff. The Defendant had apparently paid part of the price after he had taken delivery of the cow, but later refused to pay the balance; and, hence, the Action. As Mr. Jamieson stated to me, on the face of it, the Defendant was doomed. He had signed a note for a sum certain, and he had not paid it (and of course there was no mention in the note of any cow, much less a calf).

Mr. Stafford called Mr. Jamieson during the course of the action and told Mr. Jamieson that he noted that Mr. Jamieson had put in a Statement of Defence, and went on to say, “I’ll give you lots of law at the trial!” At the trial Mr. Jamieson introduced evidence that the cow had been sold to the Defendant with the assurance that it was in calf (which turned out not to be true, and it was for this reason that Mr. Jamieson’s client refused to pay the balance of the note, having satisfied himself that what he had in fact paid was sufficient for the cow itself). This “assurance” itself would probably not have been enough to have won the day for Mr. Jamieson and his client; however, Mr. Jamieson further produced an advertisement from a newspaper which stated that a cow in calf was for sale. Mr. Jamieson won. After the trial Mr. Jamieson saw Mr. Stafford on the street and asked him what he thought of the Divisional Court’s decision. Mr. Stafford stated that it was bad law. But the crunch of the story came when Mr. Jamieson told me that Mr. Stafford subsequently bought the mortgage (which was then in default) on the defendant’s house and foreclosed it!

Mr. Jamieson's son, John, told me that his father on at least one occasion made a trek by horse-drawn open sleigh to Carp for a court case. Apparently the affair took two days, beginning to end, much of which was consumed merely by the travel time.

One of the first truly “business” type of encounters I recall in my practice was meeting Mr. James R. McGregor, known to his friends as “Jimmy”. Jimmy, who was a native of Almonte, had most recently climbed his way out of the mines in Sudbury and decided he was never going back down. Instead he and his wife, Nancy, with children from his first and second marriage headed for Almonte to work for Albert Gale Real Estate. I met Jimmy in Mr. Jamieson’s old office. It was an encounter that I felt must have been based upon a template from the past for I had been told by Mr. Jamieson that he had acted for Mr. Albert Gale, the well known gentleman who had founded the company bearing his name.

Mr. Gale, like Jimmy, didn’t have a lot of education, but they were determined and clever. I understand that Mr. Gale began his working life as a farmer. Mr. Jamieson recounted the story that Mr. Gale, when standing in a potato field one day, saw a man in a large black Cadillac come up to the farmer in the neighbouring field, sign some papers on the hood of the car then drive away. When the stranger had gone Mr. Gale put down his hoe and went over to his neighbour to ask who the visitor in the large black Cadillac had been. The neighbour explained that the visitor was a real estate agent, and that he (the farmer) had just listed his property for sale for which the agent was to be paid a commission. Apparently Mr. Gale never picked up his hoe again. It was he who, Mr. Jamieson told me, used to ask him “…to do up the writin’s”, and of course it was upon the very desk at which Jimmy and I then sat, doing the paper work for his own real estate company in Almonte.

Mr. Jamieson was justifiably proud of his appointment as “One of Her Majesty’s Counsel Learned -in-the-Law” (what is more popularly known as Queen’s Counsel or QC). In spite of the revocation of the Queen's Counsel designation for Ontario lawyers by the Peterson Liberal government in Ontario, Mr. Jamieson still has his, since it was bestowed upon him by the Queen in right of the Government of Canada; that is, it was a federal appointment, not a provincial appointment. He said he would send it back if the Queen wants it.

Following are snippets of information which arose in various conversations with Mr. Jamieson:

1. The house formerly inhabited by Mr. Alaister Gale (the Ottawa architect) and his wife, Margaret, to the south of the church on the Mississippi River was built by Mr. Jamieson's grandfather, Joseph Jamieson. It was later inhabited by Messrs. A. M. Greig, Percy Greig (his son), Grant Campbell (of the Ontario Municipal Board), and Harold Jamieson (father of Mr. Jamieson) who died in the '40s of a stroke. They were all lawyers with the exception of Mr. Alaister Gale.

2. James Rosamond, Sr. had three children, James, Jr., Bennett and William. They were all great politicians. Bennett Rosamond was an active Anglican.

3. The cornerstone of the Anglican Church was laid by the Carleton Place (St. John's) and Almonte Masonic Lodges. At the time, the Almonte Lodge was under special dispensation but was not yet legally constituted. Masonry, Mr. Jamieson explained, was an old trade union which began with the laying of the cornerstone of King Solomon's Temple. At the ceremony in Almonte, the Senior Warden (Anderson) turned up drunk. He was voted down as the Master of the Lodge; took his demit; got sick; applied to get back into the Lodge for a Masonic funeral, which he got.

4. St. Paul's Cemetery used to be between the rectory and the river.

5. The Clement house, located next to the Registry Office (near the Church) was the original Registry Office, but it got too small.

6. One Pidard was the Editor of the Almonte Times. He was of a distinct Tory persuasion. The Gazette used to be Liberal.

7. Mr. Jamieson's maternal grandmother was a Carss, after whose family the street is named (at the end of Union Street North in Almonte).

8. The beautiful stone house on the river, at the south end of Martin Street, was originally owned by Dr. McDonald.

9. The house currently owned by Mr. and Mrs. John Willard on Martin Street South was built by John Drynan who owned a steam boat which operated on the River, docking just outside the house.

10. There were two fords across the River within the town precincts, one (before the Bridge) towards the Town Hall; the other, towards the Fair Grounds where the Agricultural Hall is. The Bridge was named after McCallum, a Warden of the County of Lanark, and a soap manufacturer in Almonte. He was the same fellow who dedicated the land to the Lawn Bowling Club pursuant to a deed drawn by Mr. Jamieson. The Bridge is called the McLan Bridge (McCallum – Lanark).

11. There are a couple of streets in Almonte which have become known by names other than the names given to them originally on Wilkie's General Plan No. 6262 of the Town; namely, Christian Street (Hwy. 29) is really Christina Street; and, Princess Street is really Prince's Street. There are also two High Streets in Almonte, one in “Irishtown”, the other behind the Almonte Hotel, being the street on which the library is located.

There were other tid-bits of information which Mr. Jamieson shared with me – like the fact that his family was the first in town to have a chauffeur driven automobile and a grand piano; and, a penny farthing (that old fashioned high bicycle having one large and one small wheel). On the subject of the penny farthing, Mr. Jamieson stopped and corrected himself since he remembered that in fact there was someone else who already had one. He told me of a gentleman who apparently lived in the Almonte Hotel on Bridge Street and who owned such a bicycle. The story goes that there were gentlemen drinking in the pub quarters on the main floor of the Hotel and someone challenged the owner of the penny farthing to a bet; viz., that he could not successfully career the bicycle from the top of the main stairs on the second floor, down the stairs, through the front hall, down the front steps and across the street, all without falling off. Well, to anyone with the least sense of engineering, this was no challenge whatsoever, for after all the large front wheel would simply flow over the various bumps without so much as a hint of obstruction.

And so, bets were posted with an independent stakeholder, and our hero headed off on his penny farthing from the top of the stairs. He had no trouble at all getting down the main staircase, nor of course through the hallway, nor even down the front steps. But, alas! he had forgotten that the street was being dug up for some kind of repair or whatever (it hardly mattered at that point), and he plunged into the hole, just short of his destination – the other side of the street. Needless to say, he lost the bet.

Mr. Jamieson lived to the ripe age of ninety-seven years. He died on Friday, February 28, 1992. I think it was only in the last six months of his life that he was hospitalized and had any real problems, comparatively speaking. From time to time I visited him at the hospital. It was on one of these visits that I told him, in response to his usual question “So what's new?”, that Mr. John H. Kerry was building a chapel onto his funeral home on Elgin Street. When he asked me what it was like, I told him that it was very nice to which he responded, “I'm looking forward to going there!”. And he did!

Reformed Presbyterian Church

In the late summer of 1998, I had occasion to act as Solicitor for the “Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America” in regard to the sale of its manse on the Bay Hill (across the street from the Church itself). The Purchaser’s conveyancer (Mr. David Wentzell of the Perley-Robertson firm) who attended at the Registry Office in Almonte to close the transaction commented to my erstwhile Legal Assistant (Mrs. Hazel C. Anderson) that the title search was the easiest he had ever done. This was because there had only been one deed in the last one hundred years. In fact, the deed had been registered in 1892. Like most early charities and other social and fraternal associations (including, for example, the Mississippi Masonic Lodge and St. Paul’s Anglican Church), the original deed was a conveyance to a number of trustees (in this case, five) for the benefit of the Church. The more recent development of incorporation (for the liability protection of directors) had not yet become fashionable.

As a matter of mere historical record the more antique custom of entitling trustees was desirable because the registered title disclosed not merely a faceless corporation but rather the very names of the parties representing the church at that time. In the case of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, what was interesting to me (especially as I met with each of the current trustees to sign the various conveyancing papers) was that almost without exception the names of the current trustees matched very closely the names of the church trustees over one hundred years ago; viz., names like Burns, Waddell and Thompson; and where the names did not match, Mr. John L. Morton confirmed that his mother had been a Waddell; and Mr. Roderick Bowes advised that his family was related to the Burns. The Reformed Presbyterian Church probably enjoys no more fascinating history than any other religious organization in Town yet nonetheless there are probably few such churches which can boast such an enviable record of continuity of family names and connections. Though in fairness I am bound to observe that Mrs. Mary Hugessen and Mr. Alex Hughes, both related to the Rosamonds who had so much to do with the building of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Almonte in about 1864, are still very much a part of the Church and its government to this day.

Jean Steele

Sometime after I moved into my current office at 77 Little Bridge Street (that is, when I began renting the office from Messrs. Jack Levi and Billy Guthrie), an addition was put on the back of the building (I think the purpose was to house part of the medical practice of a young doctor). In any event, the addition was appropriately enough built of red brick, in fact old red brick, which I thought made a nice match with the rest of the building. What I did not know was that the old brick had actually come from the burned wreckage of the Women's Institute and Museum in Appleton. It appears that the fellow who was doing the construction of the addition had decided that there was little harm in removing the debris from the site following the recent unfortunate blaze, and in defence he may even have been correct in that observation under other circumstances. However, in this case he was wrong. Very wrong.

One of the motivating forces behind the Museum was Miss Jean Steel from Blakeney. Miss Steele had a tough veneer to match her equally tough approach to most matters (though frankly I think that she was probably a lot less tough than she appeared at times to be). Yet she was a determined force and not one to be dealt with lightly. As it turned out on this particular day that I was gazing out my office window, looking at the rear of the new (now virtually completed) addition, I could see Miss Steele in what appeared to be a very heated debate (or, more exactly, attack) upon this witless contractor. She was giving new meaning to the metaphor of walking up one side and down the other of this poor fellow! The contractor was visibly distressed, and even though he was clearly a powerful man, you could tell the thought of his personal safety was not totally remote. Of course, in spite of all her rants and raves, it was too late to do much about the matter, barring a court action and other such unpleasant undertakings.

The problem, I later learned in conversation with Jean, was that the Museum had hoped to sell each of the bricks for a small sum in order to raise money for the new structure (which happily was installed by Drummond Bros. House Movers). I ended up buying one of the bricks, complete with some sort of certificate of authenticity. My mother subsequently made a needle-point cover for the brick (and the certificate), and I use it as a door stop in my home.

  As a post scriptum, I chanced to speak about this incident (after I had recorded it) with Miss Steel's long-time friend, Mrs. Dawn Leduc. Mrs. Leduc informed me that the contractor had in fact subsequently offered an apology to Miss Steel, who replied, “No apology needed – just $450!” for which I understand he proceeded to write a cheque. Mrs. Leduc commented that this was the “first donation” which they received to rebuild the Museum. As a further aside, but interestingly connected with this matter of the bricks, Mrs. Leduc pointed out to me that the bricks which were used to build the original Museum (and which of course now form part of my own office building) were made on the property formerly belonging to Jas. Metcalf, and is so indicated on a replica I have at my office of an ancient Township of Ramsay map, identified by the symbol “B.Y.”, meaning “Brick Yard” located on the East Half Lot 14, Con. 8 at the corner of what is now Hwy. 29 (15) and Perth Street on the edge of Almonte.




From the Archives