London’s main Mom
For many, Mother’s day is celebrated to honour those who gave life, nurtured families and friends and sacrificed for others. That person can be a mother, or a grandmother, aunt, sister, wife or friend. The important part isn’t the label, it’s the role this person played in supporting people to have healthy, happy, fulfilling lives. Thanking them, and acknowledging their special place in our lives is a beautiful thing.
Historically, moms and nurturing individuals were responsible for managing a household, raising a family and being the important other-half of a couple. Today of course it is so much more, but when I think of the original matriarch of London, the maternal archetype, I think of Amelia Harris.
She not only survived the American raids during the War of 1812 (including the burning of her family home and business), but also ruled the roost and managed important dispatches to Britain while living in the Navigators House at Kingston where the initial charting of the Great Lakes took place in Upper Canada during the crucial years following 1812. She went on to build a life with her husband John Harris in Port Ryerse and then London, where the Harris family became one of the town’s original members of the Family Compact in London, seated at Eldon House. Amelia wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, she and her daughters made bullets at home during the 1837 Rebellion of Upper Canada when the family was under threat of attack.
Raising ten children, Amelia kept busy as the head of the house and also acted as an ambassador to many important and frequent visitors including Lord Talbot. She was also an employer managing a staff of sometimes at least 8 people, and helped her husband and sons develop important business relationships. When her husband died she took over the financial accounts for the home.
It’s said Amelia’s diary was an open book for all to read. Today it serves as a crucial part of our city’s history, shedding light on the early daily life of London. While Amelia later burned diary pages she didn’t want others to read, she guarded her tea even more. She was known for wearing the key to the Eldon House tea chest at all times (likely on a chatelaine) so that her staff wouldn’t waste or steal it. That frugality paid off, because the home is still standing today, preserved as a museum and a time capsule for Canadian history.
Thanks to the endurance of matriarchs like Amelia Harris, today we can appreciate how families lived in the earlier years and better understand the challenges they overcame to build lasting memories. It can remind us of the importance of celebrating family and friends who make those moments a treasure.
Here’s a look at Eldon House this spring.