Mark Gillies writes about families that built the Burlington we have today. Strawberries as a delicacy were made popular here.

Who Knew 100x100 2015By Mark Gillies

Originally published January 5, 2015


Burlington is using the month of August to celebrate local history. Sometime ago the Gazette published a series of articles by Mark Gillies, a lifelong Burlingtonian. It is appropriate to re-publish the stories about the people who built this city. The pictures are fascinating.


I chose Edith Hodge for my first venture into writing about Burlington’s fascinating historical roots.

Edith Hodge

Edith Hodge, 1829 – 1925, a true local pioneer.

Most Burlington residents have never heard of Edith Hodge, but by the end of this article, you will become much more familiar with this wonderful lady, and just how she has positively impacted Burlington.  Edith is the perfect example of how life changed for many people of this era, who for whatever reason, left their homeland, and ventured into the New World as a pioneer, rooted themselves to their new environment, and provided future generations with the foundations of progress for a new society.

Edith Hodge came to Burlington in 1843 when she was only 14 years old, on a sailing ship that set sail from England and arrived in Montreal, Quebec. The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean lasted 7 long weeks. What’s unique about this voyage was Edith actually recalled her travel experiences and had them documented when she was in her 95th year in 1923, when she related the story to Marion North Blodgett (1891 – 1966).

There are not many first hand recorded recollections of life on these ships from immigrants sailing from Europe and settling in the New World. To have such information available from one of Burlington’s earliest residences is indeed quite rare and should be cherished for its historical content.

Weymouth Harbour

Edith, her mother & father, brothers and sisters were born and raised in Weymouth, England. This illustration shows how the village of Weymouth looked around the time the Hodge family decided to leave and relocate in Upper Canada.

Martha Bartlett

Martha Bartlett was Edith Hodge’s mother. Martha and her daughters made all of the preparations for the long and dangerous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, then upon arrival in Montreal after a 7 week voyage made their way to Hamilton.

Edith was born in Weymouth, England in 1829.  With her mother Martha (1794 -1881), and 3 sisters Susan (1821- 1915), Mary (1825 -1899), & Emma (1834 – 1895) they travelled by themselves on this incredible journey.  Edith’s father William Hodge (1790 – 1870), and her 3 brothers William (1827 -1899), James (1828 – 1897) & John (1837 – 1891) had already travelled the treacherous Atlantic Ocean much earlier, in order to set up a home, find a job, send money back home, and do everything necessary to bring the rest of the family over to a more comfortable lifestyle. It was not uncommon for families to split up like this, in order to better establish themselves in their new homeland.

Edith recalls the sailing ship had 3 masts, and had bricks as ballast. Ships on their return voyage to Europe were basically void of passengers, but were changed into freight ships loaded with lumber and grain, usually wheat, destined for the European market.

Burlington Junction Station 1906

Historic Burlington Junction Station in 1906.

As a matter of local interest, the historic 1906 Freeman Grand Trunk Railway Station now under restoration on Fairview Street has ship’s ballast as decorative stone work on the outside of the building. These are called “Whinstones”, which were quarried in the Midlands area of Scotland. To raise funds for the restoration work, 1,000 Whinstones can be sponsored with a tax deductible receipt for $100.00 each. To find out about sponsoring a Whinstone, just go to the Friends of Freeman Station website

Travelling by ship in 1843 was not anything like a cruise ship of today. It was not “All Inclusive”. The whole trip was extremely uncomfortable and very dangerous. Sickness and death were rampant. The ships were often called “Coffin Ships”. Burials at sea were an almost daily event. If you arrived alive, it was miraculous.
To travel, passengers had to bring their own food. Edith recalls the preparations that she and her mother and sisters made for the voyage. “We lived near a baker who supplied loaves of bread, which we cut and toasted before starting; also Mother cooked hams and prepared preserved fruits.” This information is quite insightful, as most of us have absolutely no knowledge of how these new settlers sustained themselves on a trip like this which lasted about 2 months.

Pic 5 Cabin 1

This illustration and the one to the right, show some of the horrific living conditions endured by passengers aboard a sailing ship travelling across the Atlantic Ocean, often in perilous weather.

Pic 5 Cabin 3Another family from Weymouth, England were the Judds. They became the travelling companions of the Hodge family, and shared a compartment on the ship below deck. There was a low partition between the 2 families, and bunk beds for both. Edith recalls being mischievous on the long trip. “They used to call me down for everything.” Edith tells of the 2 families reading aloud to each other, often praying and singing.
During a huge Atlantic storm, when water was lashing over the bulwarks, passengers had to be fastened down below deck. The fierceness of the ocean tossed passengers violently on the ship. One of Edith’s sisters became so ill, that she removed her restraints and ventured onto the deck during this fierce storm. This was probably not the best of decisions, since sailing in oceanic storms can be very dangerous.

It was common to exchange food amongst passengers. The captain had fresh meat tied to the mast and sometimes would give the Hodge and Judd families some. The Hodge family had brought salted meat, and this was a welcomed change.

The Hodge and Judd families were very religious and took exception to some passengers playing cards. Edith said, “We didn’t have anything to do with them.”

Aaron Dunham Emory

Aaron Dunham Emory was the man who loaned the money to the Hodge family which allowed them to purchase their farm in present day Burlington. According to Edith Hodge, Aaron Emory was “a real decent chap”.

When the ship arrived in Montreal, the passengers had to stay in quarantine for 4 days, and once they cleared inspection, they were allowed to proceed. The Hodge family then travelled on a small boat which was pulled by a team of horses along the shoreline whenever they encountered rapids on the St. Lawrence River.   Finally, this small boat made its way to Hamilton, and the Hodge women reunited with the Hodge men. William Hodge had already rented a home with a big garden. He began work as a gunsmith. The Hodge family stayed at this home for a short time, just long enough to figure out how to buy their own property. William and Edith then borrowed enough funds from Aaron Dunham Emory (1808 – 1892), to buy some farmland.

The Hodge’s had to remove tree stumps with oxen hitched to chains that were wrapped around the stumps. Edith stated, “You’d think it was a mountain coming up when the stumps gave way.” The cost to remove all of the tree stumps was $300.00, which was a huge amount of money in those days. The first crop planted was blackberries. The Hodge farm also had 2 cows. The family raised money by selling butter and blackberries at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market, which was used to pay off the interest on Aaron Emory’s loan. Edith recalled, “It was a great thing when we could pay off the borrowed money.” She called, Mr. Emory, “a real decent old chap”.

So how does Edith Hodge become more familiar to the rest of us in Burlington?

William Bell

William Bell married Edith Hodge around 1850 and they proceeded to have 10 children . They lived a very good life at their homestead in Burlington.

Around 1848, Edith met a man named William Bell (1826 – 1895) who she fancied very much, and the couple married around 1850.   William Bell was born in England, and made his way to present day Burlington as a young man, and he then became a local farmer. His father Robert Bell and two of his brothers were shoemakers in Hamilton, and William was not interested in pursuing that career. Together, William & Edith Bell had 10 children. They are: James (1851 – 1935), Frederick (1853 – 1939), Elizabeth (1855 – 1936), William (1856 – 1942), Martha (1857 – 1932), John (1861 – 1947), Mary (1863 – 1962), Rhoda (1866 – 1957), Edith (1868 – 1871) & Edith (1873 – 1924).

William & Edith built the Bell homestead, which is still standing in Burlington. Thankfully, it has not been demolished, as so many properties of local historical relevance have been.

Bell Homestead

This photo shows the original Bell homestead photographed about 100 years ago. It is still in existence. This is the home of Canada’s “Strawberry Social”.

What’s extremely important about the Bell homestead, is that William Bell introduced strawberries as a commercial agricultural product to Canada. Previously, people would usually have strawberries growing in a small container, maybe located on their verandah, and as people went by, they would pick one or two to eat.

Bellview House

The Bell homestead is now called Bellview House. Today it is a conference centre. Look for the house when you exit the Ikea & Fortinos parking lot. When you turn left on Plains Road heading towards Brant Street, just look right as soon as you turn.

It was William Bell, who had the vision of much more, and realized that this product could be grown in the fields, especially along Maple Avenue where the sandy soil was perfect for strawberry production, and then harvested, sold locally and also shipped to distant markets. William and Edith Bell were agricultural entrepreneurs who realized you could make a lot of money, just by growing strawberries.

Strawberry Social

Here’s the “Strawberry Social” in full swing in 1916. The three  ladies in front (L-R) are Mary, Martha and Rhoda Bell, three  daughters of Edith Hodge. If you look closely at the photograph you can see a young dashing Spencer Smith in the background.

The Bell family also were instrumental in using the “Strawberry Social”, as a very clever marketing tool to increase the sale of their strawberries.   It became very fashionable to eat strawberries in Burlington, and around the country, thanks to William & Edith Bell.

Some of the Bell children married into many early local pioneer families. James, the eldest son married Jennie Fonger, (David Fonger was one of Aldershot’s first residents), Elizabeth, the eldest daughter married William Arthur Emery, (the Emery/Emory family are United Empire Loyalists), William married Frances Alton, (the Alton name is well recognized in Burlington), and Edith, the youngest child married Spencer Smith, a name known by everyone in Burlington.

Elizabeth Bell

Another daughter of Edith Hodge was Elizabeth Bell. Elizabeth married William Arthur Emery, a successful market gardener in Aldershot.

William Emery

William Arthur Emery who married Elizabeth Bell was the son of Aaron Dunham Emory. Aaron Dunham Emory was born in New Jersey and came to the area as a United Empire Loyalist.

Marion North Blodgett (1)

Marion North Blodgett was the lady responsible for documenting the recollections in 1923 of Edith Hodge and her experiences travelling across the Atlantic Ocean in 1843. This was not an easy task as Edith Hodge died of senility shortly thereafter. Today we know this as dementia.

Ethel Victoria Emery

Ethel Victoria Emery is the daughter of Victor and Marion Emery. Today, we know her better as Vicki Gudgeon, a local historian and past President of the Burlington Historical Society.

Elizabeth Bell and William Arthur Emery had 5 children.   One son was Victor Harold Emery (1883 – 1966).   Victor married Marion North Blodgett.   One of their daughters is Ethel Victoria Emery.   Many will better recognize this lady as Vicki Gudgeon, a former past President of The Burlington Historical Society, and a noted local historian.

Who knew?

My next article will be on Monday January 12, 2015. It will be on Spencer Smith, the son-in-law of Elizabeth Hodge.  We all recognize the man who has his name attached to Spencer Smith Park, a park used and enjoyed by thousands of residents, but very few of us know anything about this very special man. Spencer Smith had an extraordinary life. Find out next week.

Mark Gillies is a lifelong resident of Burlington,  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 Who Knew?,  about colourful local history introducing Burlingtonians to the people that made this city what it is today.


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12 comments to Mark Gillies writes about families that built the Burlington we have today. Strawberries as a delicacy were made popular here.

  • Phillip Wooster

    Mark, thank-you for this article on Burlington’s early days and especially about these early residents. A fascinating read–one of the more interesting that I’ve read recently.

  • Mark Gillies

    Hello Lori,

    Thank you for your kind words on the Edith Hodge article.

    I hope you liked Part 1 of the story on Spencer Smith which appeared on Monday January 12, 2015. His time as a “British Home Child”, including the plight of the other thousands of children that faced a wide variety of treatment in Canada and Australia, was a real eye opener for me.

    Part 2 of the Spencer Smith story will be published on Wednesday January 14, 2015. This will explain more about life as a “British Home Child” in Canada.



  • Mark Gillies

    Hello Tenni,

    Nice to hear from you. There is so much local history to tell, it is difficult to keep it concise.

    Now that you know about the “Strawberry Social”, you will be able to tell others just how it all came about, having this fun event with its origins right here in Burlington.


  • Mark Gillies

    Hello Jack,

    Thanks for your kind words on my article. It’s very much appreciated.

    It’s nice to know that you are working on your family’s genealogy. Keep at it. You will continue to discover things that will absolutely astonish you.


  • Mark Gillies

    Hello Lyn,

    Thank you for your feedback.

    Keep up the great work.


  • Mark Gillies

    Hello Glenda,

    I’m glad you appreciate what I wrote about the Bell family. They are a fantastic local family that has given Burlington so much.

    You’re absolutely correct when you say people in Burlington should be more aware of our very interesting past, and especially the people back in the day. These folks made it all happen. We get to benefit from their efforts, and today, all of us enjoy this beautiful city, yet we don’t know who they were.


  • Excellent article about a very interesting family. Looking forward to the Spencer Smith article next week!

  • lyn holton

    How curious that ‘local history’ is raising in stature … I JUST completed a portrait of Chief Joseph Brant, (and provided background info about this intriguing Burlington character). As most know, Brant Street and Joseph Brant Hospital are named after him. More here:

  • jack fernihough

    Excellent article. I was surprised to read that an Atlantic crossing could take two months. Wow.
    I’ve been able to track my own great-grandmother arriving in Quebec City on May 5, 1881 aboard the Mississippi sailing from Liverpool. (with 5 kids) Your description of the voyage highlights to me the incredible hardship this journey must have been.

  • Glenda Dodd

    Hopefully there will be a lot more articles like this one… people who now live in Burlington should be made aware of it’s past and the people who made Burlington such a beautiful city. (Soon to be overrun by high rise condo’s)

  • Dave and Anne Marsden

    Love it…. keep them coming in. Can’t wait to hear about Spencer Smith it makes the places in Burlington even more interesting and enjoyable. D & A M

  • tenni

    Thank you for writing this article Mark Gilles. There is a lot of information in the article and helpful in understanding some historical cultural points about Burlington. However, there may be too many historical figures in one article and attempts to interconnect their historical relationship and lineage becomes confusing to me. Some editing for clarity would be helpful. It does have fascinating gems such as the strawberry social significance and struggle of cross Atlantic travel. Each could have been an article on their own.

    I look forward to reading about Spencer Smith and his connection to the history of Burlington.