Rathbun Company


Joseph Thompson's top hatA new accession takes us back almost one hundred years, to a time when the Rathbun family were still the most influential people in Deseronto. After the death of the Rathbun Company’s driving force, Edward Wilkes Rathbun, in 1903, his eldest son, Edward Walter Rathbun (1865-1940), took over as head of the company. He was also active in provincial and local politics: between 1905 and 1908 E. Walter represented Hastings East in Ontario’s Legislative Assembly.

In the 1901 census the Rathbun household comprised E. Walter, his wife Aileen and his mother-in-law Emma C. C. Blair. Rathbun had married Aileen in Portsmouth, England, in 1893. The family had three servants living with them: a maid, a cook and a coachman. In 1901 the coachman’s name was William Wood, but in later years this position was held by Joseph Thompson. The top hat we’ve just received belonged to Joseph, who was the Rathbuns’ coachman at the beginning of the First World War.

By 1914 E. Walter Rathbun was the Mayor of Deseronto, as his father had been before him. He was also active in the local militia, holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. On February 1, 1915, he joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, at the age of 49. He arrived in England in March 1915, when his brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery was transformed into the Canadian Reserve Artillery. Rathbun was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps when it was established in 19161: presumably as a consequence of his experience in running the Rathbun Company’s lumbering business in Deseronto. The Forestry Corps was established to harness Canadian expertise in the lumber industry to supply the Western Front with the wood it desperately needed. It operated in England, Scotland and France.

E. Walter Rathbun died in Deseronto on September 6, 1940. His wife, Aileen, was living in Scotland at the time with her brother, Arthur Blair, and Rathbun’s body was transported to Toronto for cremation and his ashes were then shipped overseas. There is a memorial to the couple in the cemetery at Nairn in Scotland. It reads:

In memory of Col Edward Walter Rathbun, Royal Canadian Artillery died 6th Sep 1940 and his wife Aileen Blair who died 1944.

Appropriately enough, the Darnaway Forest near Nairn was the site of one of the Canadian Forestry Corps’ lumber camps during World War One: Nairn therefore seems a fitting location for this Deseronto lumberman’s body to be resting.


1 For a history of the Corps in the First World War, see The Canadian Forestry Corps, by C.W. Bird and J.B. Davies, published in 1919.

The arrival of the Royal Flying Corps in Deseronto in 1917 provided a new angle of perspective on the town: for the first time, photographs began to be taken from the air. Aerial photographs became increasingly important to the campaign on the Western Front in Europe as the First World War progressed and learning how to take good photographs from the air would have been a vital skill for the trainee pilots based in Camp Mohawk and Camp Rathbun.*

The  album of World War One photographs mentioned in our previous post includes this shot of the town from a pilot-training aircraft over the Bay of Quinte, looking north over Deseronto.

At the top left of the photograph is Rathbun Park and the Town Hall (at that time it was the Bank of Montreal), with Centre Street and the Post Office also visible. Between the waterfront and Main Street several railway cars can be seen, running along tracks where Water Street is today. The buildings next to the lake shore are the Rathbun Company’s cedar mill (on the right), which manufactured cedar railway ties, fence posts and shingles and the car works (on the left). The smoke from the cedar mill’s chimney shows that this was still in operation when the photograph was taken, although generally the Rathbun Company’s industries were winding down at this time, with many of their buildings being taken over for use by the Royal Flying Corps as administrative headquarters and repair shops for aircraft engines.

The picture below, from the same album, shows the interior of a typical engine workshop. Women as well as men were employed in mechanical work in these establishments (and, unusually for the time, at the same rates of pay). The person to the left of centre of this shot is a woman.

In the winter months, the Canadian training camps were relocated to a US Army base at Fort Worth, Texas. Several of the photographs in the album show scenes from the Texas camps, including this photograph of a First World War tank:

We end this post with another aerial view from the album. This one is labelled ‘Fort Worth, Texas’:

*For a timeline demonstrating the increasing significance of aerial photography on the Western Front in the First World War, see this useful blog post by Tim Slater.

Sometimes the bald information in records of the past can conceal stories of human suffering and loss. But those bare bones of birth, death, marriage and census details can also be used to give structure and meaning to half-remembered family stories and newspaper reports from days gone by.

Deseronto’s Tribune  newspaper of August 31, 1888 reported the death of Philip Gaylord, a man who was working for the Rathbun Company, in the following (rather graphic) way:

Fatal Accident

On the afternoon of Saturday, 25th inst., Philip Gaylord, an employee of the Cedar Mill, was the victim of an unfortunate accident which was followed with fatal results. He was employed as a teamster and was engaged in hauling cars loaded with refuse from the mill to the yards. About the middle of the afternoon he left the mill with a loaded car and had almost reached its destination in the yard east of the Chemical works. It happened, however, that one of the pieces of stuff on the car projected too far from the load and as the car proceeded along the track between two piles of wood, this piece was caught and as the horses moved on it was swung about, throwing Gaylord from the load.  He fell on the rails, and the loaded car passed over him, the wheels mutilating him in a dreadful manner.

Railway tracks behind the cedar mill in 1907, with refuse burner chimneys in the distance (HMR1-06-79)

Mr. Donaldson, the foreman of the yard, witnessed the accident and ran immediately to his assistance.  He was conveyed at once to Dr. Newton’s surgery where it was found that his right arm was nearly cut off, the bones being shattered to the very shoulder, while the right leg was also fearfully mangled.  Dr. Newton immediately amputated the arm at the shoulder joint, and the leg above the knee; he also amputated the great toe of the left foot which had also been crushed.  The young man bore the operation well, but the terrible shock was too great and after midnight he began to sink rapidly and he expired at an early hour on Sunday morning.

The funeral took place on Sunday afternoon and was numerously attended.  The deceased, who was 21 years of age, was the son of Levi Gaylord, of the township of Arden.  He was a steady young man and had gained the good will and respect of his companions and fellow workmen.  His sudden cutting off is rendered more sad by the fact that he was to have been married in the course of two or three months.  His last words, somewhat indistinctly uttered, expressed a message which he wished to be conveyed to his betrothed.

The obituary was discovered on this blog by a researcher who was trying to find out about the parentage of a woman called Minnie May Penny who was born in January 1889. The family story had been that she was adopted by Charles and Emma Penny in Arden after one of her parents was killed in a railway accident that spooked some horses. Marriage and census records show us that Emma Penny’s father was Levi Gaylord and that she was therefore the sister of Philip, the man who died in Deseronto in August 1888.The similarity of the family story and the information from the obituary strongly suggests that the soon-to-be-wed Philip was Minnie’s father. Minnie’s date of birth was January 4, 1889 and in the 1891 census we find her living with the Pennys in Arden and carrying their surname, which bears out the family story that she was adopted by them. Now we know from the information in the newspaper story that the Pennys were her paternal aunt and uncle.

But who was Minnie’s mother?

We had a date of birth for the child, but no name for her mother apart from a family story that it might have been Haws or Boomhower. This time, it was the Ancestry website which was the best source of information. A search on Minnies born in Ontario on January 4, 1889 brought back a likely match: Minnie Hawes was born to Ida Hawes of Olden Township, Frontenac County (not far from Arden) on that day. No father’s name is given on her birth registration, but the matches between the family stories and the records mean that Philip Gaylord and Ida Hawes are highly likely to be Minnie’s parents and that Philip’s ‘indistinctly uttered’ last words had been meant for Ida, the woman he had planned to marry.

Mystery solved!

Ontario’s marriage records show us that Ida went on to marry a man called Stephen Dolan in August 1892, by which time Minnie was living in Arden with her aunt and uncle. Minnie herself married a man called Robert Loyst in 1905 and by 1911 the couple had three children and were living in Nipissing. We can hope this was a happy ending to a life which had such an unfortunate beginning.

This small house on First Street in Deseronto looks to have an idyllic location nowadays: no immediate neighbours and a pleasant view of open fields behind it.

House on First Street (from Google Street View)

But over one hundred years ago, its location was considerably less ideal. You can see it at the bottom left of the photograph below. Immediately behind the house was the vast site of the Rathbun Company’s brick and terra cotta works, busy with railway cars transporting raw materials to the factory from the Rathbun Company’s sawmills (sawdust was a key ingredient in the production of terra cotta):

Brick and Terra Cotta works

The works was in operation from 1887 until 1898, when it was destroyed by fire. As the house was so close to the buildings of the terra cotta works, it was fortunate to survive the blaze itself.

From a Hastings County directory of 1868-1869, this map shows the street plan of the village of Mill Point, later to become the town of Deseronto.

Mill Point in 1869

It is interesting to see how few streets were laid out at that time: Thomas Street, which now runs the entire length of the town, was only two blocks wide in 1869. Centre and Prince Streets were yet to be established and there were no roads north of Dundas. In 1869 the village did have a Third Street, however, which is more than the town can boast today! Compare this plan with the appearance of the town in 1962:

Deseronto lots, 1962

In 1869 the industrial core of the village was firmly in the southwest corner, where the steam saw mill, wharf, post office and ship yard can be seen. The H. B. Rathbun and Son advertisement from the 1869 directory neatly summarizes the firm’s interests at this date:

1869 advertisement for H. B. Rathbun and Son

The 1869 map also shows the location of Deseronto’s first church, at the top of [St.] George Street, close to the current location of the Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer. The Union Church had been built in 1868 as a shared place of worship: the Anglicans had a service there in the morning, the Presbyterians in the afternoon, and the Methodists in the evening.

Only one residence is marked on the earlier map: presumably that of the Rathbun family. At this period, Edward Wilkes Rathbun (1842-1903) had taken over the day-to-day running of H. B. Rathbun and Son, due to his father’s ill health. E. W. Rathbun built the Deseronto firm into a hugely successful business, becoming a millionaire in the process. While other family members built houses on Dundas Street, away from the busy industries of the waterfront, E. W. Rathbun liked to be close to his concerns. His Main Street home was a substantial property, as this photograph shows:

E. W. Rathbun's house on Main Street, Deseronto

This house no longer exists. To the front, it looked out on Central Park (now the Rathbun Memorial Park), which was laid out at E. W. Rathbun’s expense. He brought in A. J. Hopkins, a landscape gardener from Oswego, New York, to do the work.  The back of the house would have afforded good views of the Rathbuns’ industrial empire along the waterfront of the Bay of Quinte: Edward Wilkes Rathbun was clearly a man who liked to keep a close eye on his business!

Did you miss the chance to explore Deseronto’s Doors Open sites on May 28, 2011? Or perhaps you weren’t able to visit all of them?

Fear not! We’ve made all the Deseronto site brochures available here for you to look at. Just click on the images below to get a large version that you can print off or read online.

Deseronto Cemetery [site 22]
Camp Rathbun [site 23]
St. Mark’s Hall [site 24]
Grace United Church [site 25]
Public Works Garage: former aircraft hangar [site 26]
Naylor’s Theatre [site 27]
Deseronto Post Office [site 28]
Deseronto Town Hall [site 29]
Rathbun Memorial Park [site 30]
McGlade Funeral Home [site 31]
Foresters’ Island [site 32]
Former industrial sites [site 33]
Church of the Redeemer [site 34]
St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church [site 35]
Founding of Deseronto [site 36]

In the days when logs were floated down rivers to be processed, it was important for the lumber companies to reliably identify whose logs were whose. The Timber Marking Act was passed in 1870 and required logging firms in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to register a unique identifying mark and then to stamp the cut trees with that symbol. Between 1870 and 1990, some 2,200 timber marks were registered.1 Failure to register and use a timber mark incurred a fine of $50, while wrongly applying a mark to someone else’s logs was also an offence, with a fine of up to $100.

Rathbun Company timber mark stamping hammer

This week, the archives heard from Peter Haughton of Bristol, Quebec, who has come into possession of a timber mark stamping hammer with a Deseronto connection. The hammer’s mark (a six-pointed star) was registered by Deseronto’s H. B. Rathbun & Son on July 18, 1870. Mr Haughton has been kind enough to share photographs of the hammer and also of the relevant page of The Lumberman’s Timber Mark Guide, which lists all the marks that the lumber companies had registered.

Timber marks registered in July 1870

The page shows that the Rathbun Company had registered four different marks in 1870: perhaps a reflection of the scale of the timber limits that were being exploited by this firm. By 1890 The New York Times described the Rathbun Company as “the most valuable lumber manufacturing concern in Canada”.2 It also (slightly less accurately) located Deseronto “a few miles east of Toronto”.

1The Timber Marking Act is likely to be repealed, as logs are no longer transported down rivers in this way. A consultation on the proposal to repeal the Act is available from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
2The New York Times, November 4, 1890 ‘A big syndicate deal

On this day in 1892 a concert was held at the Deseronto Opera House[1] by the Edith Ross Scottish Concert Company, who were invited to perform by the St. Andrew’s Society which had recently been formed in the town. According to the Tribune which was published on the next day:

The following lines, composed by Mr. A. D. McIntyre, the talented secretary of St. Andrew’s Society, as a welcome to the Edith Ross Scottish Concert Company, were read by him with great effect at their entertainment in the opera house last night:

Miss Edith Ross and Company,
We kindly welcome you,
And hope our hearts you will engross
With song and music too;
We trust that ye will feel at ease,
Just as you would at home,
And may our toes and fingers freeze
If we give cause to blame.

We hope that you will soon again
Revisit our good town,
Which surely in a year or so
Will be a city grown;
For we have here the energy
And everything beside
To make Deseronto go ahead
At ebb or flood of tide.

I’m sure if you took twa’ three days
To look our works around,
That you would wonder where on earth
Their likes could e’er be found;
With basswood, pine and oaken logs
Your brain would sure be tossed,
And round great piles of every kind
Of lumber you’d get lost.

You’d see the logs a rolling up
The runway from the dam,
Sliced into lumber instantly;
I tell you it is gran’
To see the slabs thrown, lightning speed,
From sound and healthy pine,
And in the finer part that’s left
Behold a nine by nine.

The Factory you’d visit too,
Where they make sash and door,
And ship them to Australia
And other countless shores;
Then you would ramble to the wharf,
Where ends the B. of Q,[2]
Its rails and solid bed stops short
When Jamie Stokes[3] they view.

And now you jump upon the train,
No trouble in the least,
And step off on the platform
At Deseronto East;
Blacksmith, Machine and Loco Shops
Are now left far behind
With Car Works and the Shipyard, full
Of crafts of every kind.

The Cedar Mill you’ve also passed,
Where ties are made and shipped,
And where the Shipyard’s sturdy oak
Is often sawn and ripped;
Another mill you have sped by,
Where shingles are the ware,
And now from off this platform,
Behold the Grist Mill there!

Here you can buy the purest flour
That ever yet was made,
And Oh! you’d open wide your eyes
Surprised at Richard’s[4] trade;
The wheat is brought by great shiploads
And by the Railway too;
But come a little farther down,
The Burners we will view.

Here’s where the refuse is all burned,
The sawdust and the dross
To wondrous chemicals are turned
That nothing go to loss;
And if you look away beyond
The Refuse Docks appear,
Which, in the summer, are filled up
For winter work and cheer.

And still a little farther down
The Secret Works you see,
Where one of Scotland’s honored sons[5]
Practises chemistry;
And right behind, encircled neat,
The Gas Works you espy,
From whence our streets and ilka house
Receive their light supply.

And yet a wee bit farther on
Red Terra Cotta stands
In its artistic excellence
Pourtrayed by Hynes’[6] hand,
Who pounds and moulds it with his fist
This and the other way,
And then brings forth a matchless bust
In Terra Cotta clay.

But what’s the use in trying thus
Our industries to name,
For it would take a week or more
To numerate the same:
Imagination needs must fly
Far North, South, East and West,
In town and city, bush and plain,
You see the Rathbuns’ Crest.

Again, a welcome please accept
From old St. Andrew’s boys,
Who wish ye “Merry Christmas”
And many earthly joys;
And as you travel through this world
Do not forget, we pray,
The thriving town and leal hearts
On Quinte’s famous bay.

This poem is a wonderful snapshot of the industries along the Deseronto waterfront in 1892. According to the 1901 census, Archibald Duncan Macintyre was an accountant who was born in Scotland on 3 March 1859. We can surmise from the contents of his poem that he worked for the Rathbun Company. He came to Canada in 1876. In an account of the first annual St. Andrew’s Day dinner (November 30th, 1892), the Tribune described Macintyre as “a true and loyal Highlander” and a man of “poetic genius”. A few years later, he had become the Chief of the Sons of Scotland and the Archives holds this photograph of him:

Photograph of Archibald D. Macintyre, c.1902

Photograph of A. D. Macintyre, c.1902

Macintyre died in William Street, Trenton, on December 13th, 1921. His occupation was given as “Filing Clerk, C.N.Ry [Canadian National Railway] Stores”. He had been living at that address for three years before his death. He was, however, buried in Deseronto’s cemetery: an event that also took place, coincidentally, on December the 15th.


[1] At this date the Opera House was on the upper floor of the Baker Block on Main Street
[2] The Bay of Quinte Railway
[3] James Stokes was listed in the 1891 census for Deseronto as ‘wharfinger’: the man in charge of the day-to-day business of the wharf. He was 42 at the time of the census. He died in Toronto on April 4, 1913, aged 64.
[4] This was presumably Richard Rayburn, the flour mill manager, according to the 1891 census.
[5] The 1891 census lists 41 year-old William D. McRae as “Superintendent, Gas and Chemical Works”. McRae was born in Scotland.
[6] Michael J. Hynes, artist and manager of the Terra Cotta works

In the summer of 1907 Harold McMurrich Rathburn took a trip across Canada from Deseronto to Edmonton. He took his camera with him and Deseronto Archives holds the negatives that Harold made. Luckily, the negatives were kept in two albums which were indexed by their owner, giving us useful information about the subjects of each shot. His journey took him first by steamer from Owen Sound to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay). Below is the view of the American Soo Canal that he shot from the deck of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steamship Alberta near Sault Ste. Marie.

"Entering American Soo Canal"

"Entering American Soo Canal"

Harold and his companion, Harry Jones, seem to have made some business-related visits while in Port Arthur. The picture below shows them standing with another man in front of an elevator which belonged to the Canadian Northern Railway. At this time, the Rathbun Company ran the Bay of Quinte Railway in Deseronto and surrounding areas, so this visit might have been related to the company’s railway interests.

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. [Canadian Northern Railway] Elevator"

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. Elevator"


The two men continued their journey on the Canadian Northern Railway which had reached Edmonton two years previously. Harold took photographs of a number of buildings in Winnipeg and Edmonton and also several snapshots at Warman Junction in Saskatchewan, including this charming photograph of a group of men watching a boy with a gopher.

"Boy with gophir"

"Boy with gophir at Warman Jct."

We are gradually digitizing all of the Harold M. Rathbun negatives and many of them are now available on our Flickr pages.

In the early twentieth century the Rathbun Company had numerous industrial interests in the town of Deseronto which developed from the firm’s lumbering business in the late 1800s. Two of the Rathbun’s (perhaps) less well-known ventures were the experimental farm and gardens either side of Boundary Road at the eastern edge of the town. This newspaper advertisement, taken from the edition of The Tribune published on this day in 1903, shows some of the range of plants available for purchase from the Company’s gardener (the aptly named Mr Potter).

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