Lee Smith struggles to deal with the death of his wife and the economic depression the country was in.

Who Knew 100x100 2015By Mark Gillies

January 20, 2015


Part two of a four part feature.

Pic 1 Lee Smith

Chief Lee Joseph Smith, (1885 – 1973).

Pic 6A Smith Home on Locust

Lee and Alma Smith’s historic home is located on the southeast corner of Locust Street and Ontario Street.

Lee and Alma’s home
Lee and Alma Smith moved into a beautiful 2 storey red brick house at the southeast corner of Ontario Street and Locust Street around 1920 – 1922. This historic building is still there. It was built around 1885 for young Elwood Peart Atkinson and his new bride Catherine Burns, but it is doubtful if they ever moved into the house, as Elwood died at 24 years of age in 1886.

The Smith’s rented this house for $20.00 a month. The property backs on to the Cenotaph grounds at City Hall, formerly where Dr. Weaver’s historic home was located and demolished by the Town to make room for the construction of the new Town Hall in the late 1960s. The Town Council at the time, believed the Town Hall should have a better sight line from Brant Street when travelling south towards Lake Ontario. This piece of beautiful local history then became expendable, just for the sake of Town Council’s vanity.

What noise?
Dr. Dingle, a prominent family physician, and the brother of Lloyd Dingle, Burlington’s 11th Mayor lived across the street on the north side of Ontario Street. This was a nice quiet upscale neighbourhood, and Lee and Alma loved living there. Just when they had nicely settled into their home, something continually happened to their life of peace and quiet on the pristine corner of Locust and Ontario Streets.

Apparently, it was the regular practice of Dr. Dingle to race out of his house on emergency calls, any time of day or night, jump into his automobile, rev the motor, squeal the tires, and speed down the street to see that his patient didn’t die before he arrived there. For a law and order, no nonsense, tough as nails police officer like Lee Smith, and living right across the street from Dr. Dingle, he probably had to pretend he didn’t see or hear anything unusual, and the Chief just forced himself to look the other way, shaking his head in disbelief the whole time, hoping the good doctor had the sense to never cause an accident.

The mighty Chief weakens, as he faces personal tragedy
Chief Smith’s world abruptly changed in 1929 when his beloved Alma became seriously ill. Lee suddenly realized that soon he would have to carry on alone. The couple never had children, and facing Alma’s imminent death was challenging, and painfully heartbreaking. Alma had developed terminal breast cancer and died on Tuesday afternoon September 3, 1929. The funeral was held later in the week, on Friday afternoon from the Smith residence on Locust Street.

Pic 6 Alma Smith Obituary

Alma Smith’s obituary, as reported by Elgin Harris, publisher of the Burlington Gazette, and close friend of Lee and Alma Smith describes how saddened the town was by Alma’s death.

It was one of the largest funerals ever witnessed in Burlington.   Alma had been incredibly active in Burlington and had many friends in town. Before her illness Alma had acted in many local amateur theatrical productions, and all money raised was donated to charity. This young lady was very athletic and played for years on Burlington’s only girl’s hockey team. She played left wing, and she was a goal scorer like no other. The team was made up of Kate Pilkey, Nellie Homer, Mary Mortimer, Barbara Simpson, Annie Jarvis, and Annie Ogg. These talented young ladies played teams from around the Halton and Wentworth area. Alma was an active member of the Lakeview Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, a worldwide charitable organization, and was an enthusiastic participant in most local charitable events. Both Lee and Alma were very active members of St. Luke’s Anglican Church, and both of them would help out with food donations to those families in need.

Pic 7 Directory

Lee temporarily lived with Spencer and Lillie Smith at their home located at 40 Locust Street, while he was mourning the loss of his wife Alma.

After the passing of Alma, Chief Smith couldn’t bear to stay alone in his home any longer, so he moved in temporarily with his good neighbour and personal friend Spencer Smith, who kindly offered the mourning Chief much needed compassion and a shoulder to cry on, as both Spencer and his wife Lillie did their utmost best to console this poor grieving man who was so deeply hurting.  As big and strong, and imposing as Chief Smith was, his emotional wounds were far more painful than the physical wounds he endured from those bullets he absorbed into his body while on duty out west.

Lee stayed with Spencer and Lillie just long enough to stabilize his life, and then it was time to get his world back on track. Not long after, the Great Depression hit; the Chief had no choice but to give this new problematic “demon” his full undivided attention and he began focusing on new hurdles never before experienced.

Pic 8 Burlington second station

Transients would jump off the boxcars at these railway stations and wander into the core area of town looking for something to eat from local citizens’ homes. Burlington at one time had 4 very busy historic Grand Trunk Railway stations. The main station was in Freeman, “Burlington Junction”, (now a City owned building, with heritage protection, currently under restoration financed through private funding). In the photograph is the 2nd historic station identified by the GTR as “Burlington” (now demolished), which was located in the vicinity of the Brock Street parking lot, the 3rd was the “Aldershot” station identified at first as “Waterdown” (now demolished), and the 4th was the “Tansley” station (now demolished).

The Great Depression affects Burlington
Chief Smith during the Great Depression, acting on orders from Town Council had to constantly round up transient men who had jumped off freight trains that stopped, either at the Burlington Junction Station in Freeman, or at Burlington’s second train station located in the area of the Brock Street parking lot.   These men were not criminals. They were unemployed, homeless, and starving. These hobos or bums were common words to describe these poor fellows, and often times they would be quite bold and go up to residents’ houses, knock on the door, or talk through an open window begging for something to eat.

Pic 9 Dorothy Angus

Dorothy Angus was one of Burlington’s most outstanding citizens and this phenomenal lady was properly recognized and awarded “Citizen of the Year” in 1957.

Future “Citizen of the year” questions the Chief
One lady with a genuine heart of gold, who never failed to feed these desperate men was Dorothy Angus, the town’s librarian, a young widow and mother, and a resident of 1418 Ontario Street. You may recall in last week’s article that it was Dorothy who supplied the willow tree cuttings from trees on her property and gave them to Spencer Smith for replanting in his lakeside park, beautiful trees which are still in the park to this day. But, Dorothy as kind as she was, and just barely making ends meet on a meager income, was becoming a little concerned that the amount of men knocking at her door was unusually far greater than what her neighbours were receiving, so she confronted Chief Smith about this, and he told Dorothy, “It’s written on the lockup walls that your home is a good place to get a meal.” What could Dorothy do? She couldn’t help it if she was a great cook.

Dorothy’s record of community accomplishments grew over the years. This lady was an outstanding citizen of Burlington and one day, in the late 1950s, Dorothy became the first woman awarded “Citizen of the Year”. In 1959 Dorothy along with some close friends helped re-generate a faltering Burlington Historical Society, and this superb organization of volunteers continue to do wonderful work doing their best to preserve Burlington’s rich historical past. Sadly, Dorothy passed away in 1974.

Pic 10A Police & Pig

The Chief and his men would roundup runaway pigs that broke loose from their owners’ homes in Burlington during the Depression.

Town Council approves their own idea to combat the Great Depression
The Depression brought in some unique ideas to help residents cope through difficult times. Town Council came up with one all by themselves, when they suggested it would be okay for its citizens to raise pigs in their houses, as an alternative food source, so Chief Smith’s department was assigned to patrol these homes to ensure that these pigs were not creating too much of a nuisance in the neighbourhood. It was not uncommon for the Chief and his men to chase after pigs that escaped from someone’s yard. Residents sitting on their verandahs watched the Chief and his officers constantly run around town trying their best to catch these little guys. They just couldn’t stop laughing. You didn’t need television in those days. There was great entertainment happening right outside your front door. Poor Chief Smith, he must have been scratching his head over this idea.

Pic 10 Annie Babcock Farmhouse

The Annie Babcock historic cottage was purchased by Chief Smith to prevent its demolition by Town Council which is shown in this whimsical interpretation.

Chief Smith was one of our first historical preservationists
Chief Smith understood the value of local heritage, and in particular, the preservation of historical houses, especially those located in the downtown core area of Burlington. An historic cottage owned by Annie Babcock on Ferguson’s Curve, where the Hamilton Radial Line train tracks ran from Maple Avenue east on to Elgin Street, one day became quite controversial. The historic structure located at the far end of a soon to be constructed Elgin Street intersection right at 28 Maple Avenue was the very same location as Annie’s deceased parents’ historic cottage.

This beautiful historical little cottage was to be demolished on the orders of the Town Council, because it was in the way of the town’s planned progress to extend Elgin Street. When everything looked totally hopeless for Annie, Chief Smith stepped in to save the day. He purchased the historic cottage from a distraught Annie with the understanding that he would have her parents’ cottage moved to a new site in Freelton. Lee Smith was well regarded as an honourable and trustworthy man, who always kept his word. The cottage, just as the Chief promised, was saved and relocated to Freelton. Annie Babcock greatly appreciated the Chief’s concern and involvement in saving her cherished parent’s home, something that had been a thorn in the side of Town Council.

Part 1 of a 4 part feature.

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