John Waldie “The Father of Burlington” paid for the library and created the Greenwood cemetery.

Who Knew 100x100 2015By Mark Gillies

March 2, 2015


Part oneof a four part feature.

John Waldie was born in Scotland in 1833 to James and Jessie Waldie. The family immigrated to Upper Canada in 1842 when John was nine years old. The family settled in Wellington Square, a village of about 400 residents. Nearby Port Nelson located at the foot of Guelph Line had about 60 residents.

Gillies - Waldie John Waldie, Father of Burlington

John Waldie was an incredible businessman and philanthropist. He was “The Father of Burlington” & “The Father of the Burlington Library”.

James Waldie was a tailor,  one of four tailors working in Wellington Square until 1852. In that same year James, Jessie and their young daughter Agnes moved to Huron County and purchased 100 acres of farmland. Their son John, then 19 decided to stay in Wellington Square. Little did John Waldie know in 1852; that one day he would amass a great fortune and his decisions would affect so many people.

Gillies - Waldie John Waldie's General Store in colour

John Waldie’s general store located on the northeast corner of Lakeshore Road and John Street was the place to shop in Burlington for clothing and home furnishings. The store employed 12 clerks, and everyone was kept busy serving a large clientele.

John had been employed as a store clerk for one year at the dry goods store of local businessman William Bunton. John was adept at business, and at 22 years of age in 1855, he purchased the business from Mr. Bunton. Not long after, John Waldie built a new store at the northeast corner of Lakeshore Road and John Street. The building is still there, with most of the historic features not visible to most.

Gillies - Waldie Azov 4

The “Azov” was a freight sailing ship that transported both wheat and timber. The vessel was owned by John Waldie and William Bunton.

Gillies - Waldie Sweepstakes 3

In 1885, John Waldie’s sailing ship “Sweepstakes” sank in Big Tub Harbour at Tobermory. Today, this is Canada’s most famous dive site for ship wrecks.

William Bunton and John Waldie continued working together in other business partnerships. Both men entered into the shipping business and owned two sailing vessels. They were called the “Azov” and the “Sweepstakes”. Bunton already owned one of the three wharves located at the foot of Brant Street, and these two ships transported local timber and wheat. The name “Sweepstakes” may be familiar to diving enthusiasts.

The ship was built at Wellington Square in 1867 and sank in Big Tub Harbour at Tobermory around September 3,1885. Today the ship is the most visited dive wreck in Canada.

Gillies - Waldie - William Kerns

John Waldie and William Kerns were good friends, business partners and political foes. John was a Liberal, and William was a Liberal-Conservative. Both represented Halton County at different times.

From 1866 to 1885 John had been in partnership with William Kerns. The store was sold to Kerns when John Waldie moved to Toronto and began the Victoria Harbour Lumber Company. In 1887 Waldie decided to enter federal politics as a Liberal candidate, and represent Halton County. The riding was held by William McCraney, a Liberal, and a wealthy lumber merchant, who won the seat in 1882 when Sir William McDougall, a Father of Confederation, decided to run in another riding. When McCraney decided not to run for a second term, his friend John Waldie decided to run for office in the 1887 election.

Waldie’s Conservative opponent was local merchant David Henderson. The vote was close, Waldie 2,222 votes; Henderson 2,213 votes. Up to this election, John Waldie had been very active in the local community.

For two years, John had been the Reeve of Nelson Township and was elected to become the first Reeve of the Village of Burlington in 1873

Burlington was the name selected to replace the names Wellington Square and Port Nelson.

It was John Waldie who was the “architect” for combining the two communities together. In 1877, it was reported, “Whether for good or evil, the fact of incorporation is due to Mr. Waldie”. I think it is quite fair to say, John Waldie is the “Father of Burlington”. In 1877 John Waldie then moved on politically and became the Warden of Halton County for two years, a forerunner of today’s Regional Chairman.

Gillies - Waldie David Henderson

David Henderson and John Waldie had a mutual respect for each other. Both men battled for the same federal riding of Halton County several times.

John Waldie represented Halton County federally several times. His 1887 win was short lived, lasting only one year. Amidst allegations of bribery, a by-election was called, and David Henderson, a Conservative in 1888 won Halton County. John Waldie did not contest the seat. But Henderson also faced similar allegations of corruption, and another by-election was held, just six months into office.

This time Waldie and Henderson faced off for a second time. The election was close. Waldie 2,042 votes; Henderson 2,018 votes. The next election was in 1891, and the two were at it again. The vote was close, Henderson 2,441 votes; Waldie, 2,337 votes. Another by-election was called in 1892 and David Henderson was acclaimed. In the 1896 election, the two men squared off for the last time. The election was close, Henderson 2,460 votes; Waldie 2,376 votes.

Gillies - Waladie  Sir Wilfred Laurier

John Waldie while serving in Ottawa as the Liberal representative from Halton County, developed a close friendship with Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier. This friendship helped Waldie after he left office. John Waldie was also President of the powerful Lumbermen’s Association, and he lobbied on behalf of the lumber industry, fighting against unfair trading practices by the Americans.

John Waldie’s political career had come to its conclusion. While in Ottawa, he did manage to make some great connections. One of his closest friends was Sir Wilfred Laurier.

John Waldie and his family moved from Burlington to Toronto in 1885, however they still regarded Burlington as home. It’s not that they wanted to move away; they had to move in order to properly develop his new Victoria Harbour Lumber Company.

Gillies - Waladie - Knox Presbyterian Church Burlington

Historic Knox Presbyterian Church on Elizabeth Street was the recipient of custom made imported stained glass windows; a gift from philanthropist, John Waldie.

John Waldie was a Presbyterian, and a member of historic Knox Presbyterian Church on Elizabeth Street. When you drive by the church, have a look at the beautiful stained glass windows. John Waldie had them manufactured in Scotland and brought them over as a gift for Knox Presbyterian Church.

John Waldie believed in reading as the best means to develop your learning capacity. In the very early 1900s, the Village of Burlington was having difficulty with establishing any kind of a library system. At the time, various residents would keep a small selection of books in their own homes, and area residents would drop by and borrow one or two books. The system was not working  and in danger of closing. On hearing of this situation, John Waldie proposed a solution.

Gillies - Waldie Burlington Library

The new Burlington Public Library opened its doors in 1906. The building and books were donated by philanthropist, John Waldie. The Public Library was located on Brant Street, where the City Hall is today.

If the Village of Burlington could find some land,  Waldie would build the library building, and donate it to the village. When the new facility opened in 1906, Mr. Waldie also stocked it with a donation of 6,000 books. I think it would also be accurate to call John Waldie, “The Father of the Burlington Library”.

By a deed dated 30 September 1888, The Greenwood Cemetery Company of Burlington purchased eight acres for $2,000. The Greenwood Cemetery Company was owned by John Waldie and they purchased the land from local market gardener James C. Filman for the purpose of establishing a cemetery. Block 50, a large block near the centre of the cemetery was purchased by John Waldie on 2 December 1889.  Waldie’s parents, both Presbyterians, died in 1864 and 1868 and were buried in St. Luke’s Anglican Cemetery. Knox Presbyterian Church did not have a cemetery. These two burials motivated John Waldie into creating the Greenwood Cemetery Company.

Gillies - Waldie Sarah Ann Jarvis

Sarah Ann Jarvis was just 29 years old when she married the widower John Waldie, who was 52 years of age. Sarah was to become a stepmother, since John was the father of 13 motherless children.

On September 18, 1885, John Waldie, a widower married for a second time. The new bride was Sarah Ann Jarvis, who at 29 years of age was 23 years younger than John.   Waldie’s wedding gift to his new wife, Sarah was a home located at 3265 Mayfair Place in Burlington.

Gillies Waldie - Erin Residence

John Waldie purchased 3265 Mayfair Place as a wedding present in 1885 for his new bride Sarah Ann Jarvis. The residence was called “Erin” and the home still retains this name today.

It was called “Erin”. Originally built in 1845 by Henry Sovereign, a United Empire Loyalist descendent, owned later by Moses Wilkins, then owned by John Waldie, this historic home has undergone several cosmetic alterations. The residence is located behind the Water Treatment plant on Lakeshore Road, but at one time the home sitting on a small hilltop commanded a beautiful view of Lake Ontario. The Henry Sovereign residence “Erin” is very similar to “Sovereign House” in Bronte; another historic home that was built in stages by fellow relative Charles Sovereign between 1825 and 1846. Today, the home is operated by the Bronte Historical Society and is used as a museum.

John Waldie died at 3:00 PM, June 12, 1907 at his residence “Glenhurst” located in the prestigious Rosedale area of Toronto. A week prior to his death Waldie suffered from bouts of violent coughing. Waldie, already in ill health, had a weakened heart and was unable to survive.

The funeral procession for John Waldie originated in Toronto. The Grand Trunk Railway with a special funeral train transported the mourners and coffin from Toronto to Burlington’s historic Freeman Train Station. The coffin was removed and transferred to a hearse provided by the Edgar Williamson Funeral Home on Brant Street.

Gilliies Waldie - Edgar Williamson Funeral Hearse

Edgar Williamson operated the local funeral home in Burlington. Today, we know it as Smith’s Funeral Homes. Mr. Williamson provided the horse-drawn hearse to carry the late Mr. Waldie from the Freeman Train Station to his final resting place in Greenwood Cemetery.

The procession slowly made its way to Greenwood Cemetery traveling south on Brant Street, and turning right on to Water Street. Brant Street was lined with mourners as they paid  their final respects to a favourite son. It wasn’t a state funeral, but it was visually overwhelming.  At Mr. Waldie’s funeral, one of the many in attendance to pay respects to this great man was David Henderson, John Waldie’s political adversary. John Waldie, a self-made man, had returned home to his beloved Burlington for the last time.

My next article will be about John Waldie’s Victoria Harbour Lumber Company. This company made John Waldie one of Canada’s wealthiest men, and the second most powerful lumber baron in Canada.

Mark Gillies is a lifelong resident of Burlington, who grew up in Aldershot and developed as a local historian, researcher, master genealogist and writer who has a passionate interest and extensive knowledge of the many early pioneer families.
Mark will write a regular column about colourful local history introducing Burlingtonians to the people that made this city what it is today.

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