As of January 1, 2013 Eldon House embarked on the exciting, liberating adventure of becoming its own incorporated organization/heritage museum. Still owned by the City of London, Eldon House will now manage itself with the direction of a board of directors appointed by the city and with the help of a new interim manager.
The Eldon House board began its work in September 2012 in preparation for the heritage museum’s independence day. I was honoured to be one of five appointed members, serving as Vice-Chair. As we approached January 1, we had the opportunity to work with the staff and hear from stakeholders who help maintain Eldon House as a London treasure and oldest residence. The feedback from those partners was highly valued, helping us make the needed decisions for day-to-day operations as well as plan exciting programming for 2013.
We kicked-off this new chapter for Eldon House with the age-old annual tradition of throwing a New Year`s Day Levee. This no-charge event was a fun way for Eldon House to host a party, inviting the public to celebrate the continued success of this important heritage site. And wow, this house is a great place to host a party!!
Visitors were ceremoniously greeted and announced by London’s famous Town Crier Bill Paul upon entering the front door.Costumed staff welcomed everyone inside and gave guided tours and answered questions about the home, educating visitors about the history of the Harris family who lived in the home until 1960. Strains of music could be heard from inside the drawing-room, emanating from the violins of Harmony Five, who filled the house with their beautiful music and singing.
At 2pm everyone assembled in the Interpretive Centre, a renovated room attached to the old coach house at the back of the property, to hear board chair Maureen Spencer Golovchenko welcome guests with greetings and introductions. I presented staff with a book of artwork on Eldon House by talented London artist Angela Lorenzen to mark the occasion and show my appreciation for the work done by this incredible team.
Afterward, a cake cutting ceremony encouraged guests to partake in delicious refreshments, including, of course, tea in china cups. Mingling and the sharing of Eldon House stories continued until 4pm, at which time visitors reluctantly took their leave. It was energizing to see so many new faces at the party, folks who had never been to the house, or those who had always meant to stop in. It was heartwarming too, to see the return of many dear friends of Eldon House, loyal supporters who, over the years, have volunteered or regularly attended events in supporting this valued piece of London’s heritage.
As we set off, full-steam-ahead, into the rest of the year, Eldon House is ready for action and adventure with new events and workshops, and now includes the community for feedback and involvement.
On January 27, a community round table event was held to gather feedback on past events and input on ideas for the future. We covered several key topics and enjoyed some engaging discussions about what makes Eldon House so unique and why people love coming back again and again to share in a piece of London`s history.
If you didn’t have a chance to attend to express your thoughts for Eldon House’s future events, please complete the survey and share your ideas. You can email the completed survey to me at email@example.com.
In addition to the fantastic support that Eldon House has received from individuals in the community, the local media have also stepped up to the plate to help ensure that Eldon House is included as an important hub in London’s art and heritage scene. Many thanks for their support! Links to various media coverage are shared below.
As mentioned, Eldon House has some exciting, new events for 2013 as well as some of the annual events that Londoners have come to look forward to. Be sure to come visit the house this year and help Eldon House make history! See the growing 2013 program list below or visit the official website for more information and for updates on events! A print friendly version of the 2013 program is available here.
ELDON HOUSE 2013
Treasures from the Vault
January to March
Celebrate the latest chapter in the history of Eldon House by viewing artifacts recently returned to Eldon House from the storage vault at Museum London.
Admission by donation.
Sunday Afternoon Tours
February 17 and March 10, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 p.m.
Enjoy a 50-minute guided tour of Eldon House with a costumed historical interpreter who will provide an in-depth history of the house and the Harris family who lived there.
Admission by donation.
Drawing classes at Eldon
4 Saturdays, February 2 to 23
Join Fanshawe College Professor Paul Dreossi to discover the artistic details of Eldon House. Predominantly using the medium of pencil, this class will explore different perspectives of architectural space and still life subjects forum within the historic interior and furnishings of Eldon House. Ages 15+, familiarity with drawing an asset.
Cost: $100. Call to register.
March Break Program
March 11 – 15
Children learn about local history through play, games and crafting.
Call for registration and cost.
Children’s Easter Party
Sunday, March 24, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Children prepare for the Easter Bunny’s arrival by playing games, making crafts and treats. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Groups of 12 or more please call to register.
Cost: $3.00 per person.
Eldon House in the media
When I think of classic Christmas traditions, I picture things like: caroling, mistletoe, sleigh rides, garlands with red bows; and, of course greeting cards.
The first mass produced Christmas card designed by J.C. Horsley, and was sent by Henry Cole, who decided to send his many acquaintances something different from his usual Christmas letter. They sold for one shilling each, and only 2,050 copies were lithographed. It depicted two acts of charity on the right and the left: of clothing and feeding the poor; with the middle section depicting a well-to-do family toasting to Christmas and the year ahead. It proved to be a very popular idea. You can find lovely examples of early Christmas cards and postcards today which make an excellent heirloom decoration or collection.
For Santa, Santa Claus or Father Christmas, also sometimes referred to as St. Nicholas (who really was a saint), my preference would be Father Christmas…those pictured with the long robe and cap, often carrying a lantern or staff. The Dutch call him St. Nick, and in Germany he’s Kris Kringle. In ancient times, Norse and German peoples told stories of The Yule Elf who brought gifts during Solstice to those who left offerings of porridge.
The more modern traditions I am not so fond of: the slurping of eggnog, getting up early, or those stale fruitcakes from the department stores. However, apparently if you get one of those fruitcakes and don’t want to waste it, you can use the cake as a bottom layer when making fudge or chocolates. Interesting idea!!
Fruit cakes became popular in the 16th century when sugar from the American Colonies (and the discovery that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits) created an excess of candied fruit, making fruit cakes more affordable. Today, some fruit cakes have white icing while others include rum and other spirits.
Christmas greenery has always been a traditional decoration for many eras and cultural movements. The Victorians used mistletoe suspended from the ceiling. Those who met under it could claim a kiss. The number of kisses allowed under each plant depended on the number of berries. Each time a kiss was given, a berry was taken off. No more berries, no more kisses!
Today, you can still experience a Victorian Christmas by visiting heritage sites such as Eldon House and Fanshawe Pioneer Village here in London, Ontario, during December.
At Fanshawe Pioneer Village you can meet St. Nicholas, tour historic buildings that have been decorated with traditional greenery, learn how to make various holiday crafts and listen to the carolers who walk the grounds. Each year there is also a Dickens Dinner which includes a full Christmas meal, play and caroling. There is also a pancake breakfast for children which includes wagon or sleigh rides.
As you leave the property you can walk through a traditional style hedge maze, something that gained popularity after the 16th century.
Perhaps the most famous antique hedge maze that still exists today is the Hampton Court maze in Britain. Much like that maze, Fanshawe’s has high walls, far taller than visitors to make the maze more challenging. That said, this maze also has a straight, immediate path from the village to the parking lot for those who simply wish to take a short detour through the maze to their car. It’s actually a great way to escape the wind and rain or snow, although at Christmas a little mistletoe wouldn’t hurt!
Eldon House’s decorations feature plenty of mistletoe! (But no berry picking, please!) When you walk in the front door or come through the drawing room you pass under the kissing ball which is affixed in the house each year at Christmas.
The staircase is lovingly adorned with garland and pine cones, and throughout the house you’ll find various arrangements of aromatic pine and other seasonal greenery organized by the Garden Club of London.
Some of my favourite decorations in the house are the Victorian cards and postcards. I have started my own collection but they have some beauties!
Both the dining room and drawing room are set up for a party. The dining room with it’s elaborately set dinner table and silverware. Decanters hold brandy and other after dinner liqueurs.
The drawing room is a holiday masterpiece with traditional Christmas tree, gifts and a table full of sweets.
The library is a perfect reflection of a snug winter’s eve where the Harris family would have gathered for stories, music and camaraderie.
So, as you snuggle in with your family for a quiet night together or a party with friends, think of all the generations before you who have participated in the celebration of family and friendship at this time of the year. The traditions of the past still influence the present and I think it is a beautiful thing that so many positive parts of history remain at Christmastide.
Great pictures of fleeing ghosts of course! Or, at least a few shots of shadows or “orbs”.
Previously, we’ve held lectures at Eldon House about the Wenman Wynniatt ghost story; this year we wanted to do something a little more… interactive. Given the popularity of paranormal “research” television programmes, we thought it would be fun to try out an event with a ghost hunt theme.
The result: a lot of fun for all ages. Patrons who toured the house were greeted by a historical interpreter dressed in period costume. A “ghost map” showed all the paranormal hot-spots inside the house and described an eerie story that went along with each location. Visitors were encouraged to snap non-flash photos throughout the house and then share them via email or Facebook, particularly if they thought they caught something spectral on camera!
During the afternoon there were several reports of would-be Wenman Wynniatt sightings, provided by a sharply dressed volunteer, Mark Tovey! A few people even had the rare chance to catch him on film.
Dressed as Sarah Harris for the day, I received guests in Eldon House’s interpretive centre, where a short presentation about the ghost story could be watched; and, we also sported a display about our on-going research about Wenman Wynniatt and Sarah Harris. For some of the younger ghostbusters in attendance, we had some fun distractions for kids which included coloring and dressing up in the replica officer’s uniform.
Did you attend the event? Let me know what you thought by commenting below.
Do you want to know more about Eldon House’s oldest ghost story? Click here!
You can also visit MisstoricalFiction on YouTube.
Here are some more photos from the event. Thanks to everyone who came out and had a spooktackular time! (rolls-eyes) What a way to kick-off Hallowe’en!
You know those old haunts that you take for granted, that you think will always be there… the ones you pass by on your way to work, or whilst out on your lunch hour. The kind that seem like they’ve always been there, and always will be? A place you visited after school, on a vacation, or that you’d go to find that something special? Well, recently one of those haunts closed its doors… Forever. This post will be longer than usual; but, with so many years of local and personal history, I hope you’ll come along for the walk down memory lane.
When I really start thinking about the closing of this particular haunt, I get pretty teary, given that I won’t be able to walk in there whenever I feel the urge, nor hear the jingle of the bells over the door when I enter. Whether it was to look for something specific or to shoot the breeze with the proprietor, I’m a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t make more time to go in as often as I may have liked.
But there it is. The owner of the shop is well deserving of a rest and has certainly earned his retirement. I’m happy for Bud. Yes that’s right, Bud. Bud Gowan. Antiques dealer and founder of Bud Gowan Formal wear. He really did retire this time, after more than 60years in business. At 85 years young Bud is ready to officially retire. “It’s time…” Bud said, “I’ve enjoyed going to work every day for almost 65 years. You get to meet new people and hear so many interesting stories.”
Bud’s story as an entrepreneur is pretty interesting itself. As one of London’s most unique and well-known shops, Bud Gowan Antiques opened its doors at the Clarence Street location in 1990. But long before that, Bud was an active member of London’s retail community with his first business venture as a men’s clothier in April of 1952. His first shop was located on Dundas Street, the current location of the Ontario Superior Court. He quickly developed a Canada-wide reputation as a retailer of fine quality menswear, superior customer service, style, and a special eye for detail. Owning or renting a Bud Gowan suit soon became a London tradition. During his time at the original Dundas Street location, Bud also opened an antiques store nearby on the same street. When the city appropriated both properties in 1970, he focused more on his antiques business and began exporting from the United Kingdom.
In 1971, Bud opened his menswear business at a new location on Clarence Street, where it grew to be so successful that he retired, for the first time, in 1985. His son Paul carried on the business, strengthening the reputation for quality and style, running the menswear division while also growing the formal wear side of the business. The formal wear division expanded in 1981, moving to 184 York Street. In 2005, Paul sold both businesses and the successful Bud Gowan formal wear brand lives on today in London.
Despite his retirement from menswear, Bud decided to re-open his antiques business in 1990 at 387 Clarence Street. And, what a perfect location. The building was built in the late 1890s as an extension to the Reid blank book and stationary factory to house the Featherbone Company which made corsets. The original Reid building, established in the late 1880s burned down in 1923, so the building that Bud Gowan bought for his clothing shop, and later antiques shop, was itself an antique with its own story. In addition to housing the corset factory until the 1920s, the building was later used as a warehouse for The London Shoe Company in the 1940s and 50s.
When Bud Gowan moved onto the premises and set up shop to sell and collect antiques, he filled it with treasures purchased from local estates and imported from around the world; what was a passionate hobby ultimately became a thriving business.
Part of his success was his great memory for each piece in his shop, meaning one would also get a story with each purchase. Many items in the shop are personal, having a Bud Gowan history of their own, such as the stained glass window and menu from Seven Dwarfs restaurant where he and his wife Gwen met in 1950. This must be why sometimes Bud appeared reluctant to let pieces go and drove a hard bargain. His many signs around the shop made one well aware that he meant business!
My first memory of Bud Gowan began with a chance meeting downtown when I was barely a teenager. I was hanging-out, as we say, in front of the old Ace Arcade and pool hall, two doors down from his antique shop. I was waiting for the arcade to open. Wearing one of my usual eccentric outfits (Doc Martins and a tuxedo jacket with tails and striped black and white tights), I paced back and forth in boredom. It should happen that a man passed me once, and then again some 15-20 minutes later. He stopped. He looked at me, chuckled and said, “It looks like the changing of the guard!!”. I did something cheeky, such as a salute or a theatrical bow. I then smiled and laughed with him before he continued on to his antique shop. What a nice man, I thought.
The second memory I have of Bud was through my brother Anthony Lutz’s business, who despite the challenges of muscular dystrophy, was a successful pop artist, sporting a studio in the business offices of the Galleria Mall in the early 1990s. I often worked with him as an art assistant and model, always had fun thinking up new ideas for inspiration. Being the creative individual that he was, he was inspired to do an old-fashioned style shoot. So, who should he approach for props, but Bud Gowan. The antique dealer was willing to help and generously loaned out a top hat, fountain pen and an old camera, complete with black draping and a wooden stand. Upon doing the photo shoot, I was in awe at the opportunity of being entrusted with such “historic” pieces. This was one of our most authentic photo shoots and a memory I cherish, as my brother passed away about two years later.
But before he died, my brother found one more opportunity to include Bud Gowan in his artwork. He created a piece of installation art for one of the first showings at the London Arts Council Gallery. The piece was called “Posterity” and featured prominent members of the business community in the shape of plaster cast hand prints and video footage of interviews done during the creation of the impressions. He drew parallels to the hand prints of movie stars and icons on Hollywood Boulevard. For his London Ontario version, he included Bud Gowan as one of those icons. The show featuring this install was well attended and particularly popular, drawing attention from the local media.
Naturally, after these memorable moments, to whom should I go to for an engagement gift for my fiancée, but the well-known antiques dealer, Bud Gowan? He showed me a few pieces on the main floor and then took me up to his office on the second, where he had some very special pieces from England. I was able to find an intricate pocket watch fob which Bud promptly cleaned, and he referred me to a jeweler so I could have it engraved. The fob was worn on our wedding day in Scotland, perhaps not all that far from where it originated.
When I heard that Bud Gowan was officially retiring and closing the antiques shop in 2012, I knew that I would have to go reminisce with him and wish him well. According to the family, many pieces had already been sold to collectors and dealers around the country. With the last few months being busy as they sorted through years of memories and five floors of furniture, paintings, clocks and London memorabilia, Bud, his son Paul, daughter-in-law Sue and the rest of his family were glad to have so many people visit the store and purchase items, which would hopefully lighten the packing job of the now defunct establishment. The building on Clarence was sold to new owners John and Nancy Fyfe-Millar, who plan to renovate and turn the majority of the building into apartments with the hope of preserving as much of the history as possible.
As he greeted old friends who came to visit during the sale, one can see that he enjoyed the thrill of the hunt in acquiring all the treasures in his shop; also, he deeply enjoyed being a salesperson and talking with people. “You really should buy something you know…”, he would tell them with that familiar twinkle in his eye, “last chance”.
When I first stopped in during these last days, he approached me and asked “What are you after?” and I said, “Just a visit and a piece of history”. I chatted with Bud for a spell, purchasing a few small items – a farthing, an old Humane Society pin and 1867 copy of Lord Lytton’s Gothic novel A Strange Story.
But I felt the occasion of Bud Gowan’s retirement warranted some additional celebration. I visited him on his final day of business, Wednesday, September 26, 2012, MisstoricalFiction style, in full Victorian-inspired costume, complete with top hat, to congratulate Bud and wish him well. What do you get a man who’s had five floors of collectibles for upward of a quarter century? I gave him a hardcover copy of Fragments of the Forks, the London and Middlesex Historical Society’s most recent and complete book outlining significant dates and events in London’s history. Why? Because a Mr. Bud Gowan himself is mentioned on page 261. How else do you thank such a good friend to downtown London than by showing him written history’s nod to the mark he made on our city and on our hearts. He spent many years collecting, preserving, and sharing London’s history along with encouraging interest in history overall. London’s Bud will not soon be forgotten.
So here’s to Bud Gowan. Congratulations on a monumental, iconic career and all the best for your retirement and whatever adventures come your way. Au revoir et bon chance.
More photos from the final days of Bud Gowan’s antique shop
I hunt it, find it, buy it, research it;
I wash it, haul it, paint it, fix it;
I pay taxes on it, load it
& I pay rent on it…
…How can I take any less?
– Bud Gowan, President, Bud Gowan Antiques, British Antique Importers
It is unknown if Londoners in Canada, at the time, knew that there was a connection to the Harris family, Eldon House and to the sinking of this ship. Now, it wasn’t a conventional connection: no one from the family was on board. Although, it must be added that the Harris family saw their share of sea fairing tragedy, one of them being a shipwreck in the mid 1800s. But the Titanic connection here is related to the Eldon House Ghost story.
When W.T. Stead published the tale entitled ‘A ghost in the ballroom’ in 1891 in The Review of Reviews, anonymously featuring Sarah Harris and Wenman Wynniatt, he forever etched himself to Eldon House’s history. The Harris family appeared to be aware of the published tale. If not the local citizens of London, I imagine at least a few Harrises may have been affected by the news of W.T. Stead’s Titanic connection once it was confirmed that he had been aboard the ship on his way Chicago.
His fate sealed with his passage on the doomed ship, Stead’s publishing of the tragedy of the British officer who drowned here in London in early May of 1841 is eerily charged with new meaning in that Stead too drowned in the early months of spring. It is haunting to read how he also published two other stories that could be interpreted as a warning of his watery demise.
Years earlier, on March 22, 1886 Stead published an article entitled ‘How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor’. In it, an unnamed steamer collides with another ship; due to a lack of lifeboats there is a significant loss of life. About this article, Stead wrote, “This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats.”
A year after he published the ghost story connected to Eldon House, Stead also published in the 1892 Review of Reviews, a fictional story about an accident involving a White Star Line vessel, the Magestic. In the story – entitled ‘From the Old World to the New’ – the Majestic carried a clairvoyant who senses a looming disaster to another ship that collided with an iceberg. The survivors were rescued and the Majestic managed to avoid the ice.
When reading over the news stories from 1912 involving Stead’s fate during this monumental disaster, I wonder how Sarah Harris (at that point known as Sarah Dalzell), was affected by the news. For it was her story that W.T. Stead then pared down and removed surnames before publishing in The Review of Reviews in 1891. Her tale of mystery, tragedy and romance was brought to life by the famous journalist himself. I’d be surprised if she hadn’t taken notice and been affected in some way. It would be perfectly understandable for her to reflect on the ghost story and the sad coincidence of Stead and Wynniatt sharing a similar fate.
In some ways it is a fitting end for Stead, a man so involved in metaphysical research and tales of the supernatural. Once he realized that the ship itself was doomed, maybe he concluded that the stories he had published were in a very real sense foreshadowing his untimely end. Perhaps he took full responsibility for the risks in living his life to the utmost, or at least resigned himself to the hands of fate, because the stories told of his final moments aboard the HMS Titanic are not those of a panicked or fearful soul. Perhaps though, his calm demeanor was due to his belief in the words of a clairvoyant that his expected end was to die by assault in the streets of London England, and not by drowning.
Whatever his mental state at the time, it does seem he had the attitude of a survivor. Sometime between 11:40 PM when the ship struck an iceberg and 2:20 AM when the ship sank, it is said that Stead helped several women and children into the lifeboats, in an act “typical of his generosity, courage, and humanity“. After all the boats had gone, as he predicted could happen in such a type of disaster, he is said to have went into the First Class Smoking Room, where he was last seen by some survivors, sitting in a leather chair and reading a book. The report of Stead in the smoking room has been questioned, but given his disposition and eccentricities I don’t think this is a stretch, especially if what awaited him above deck was chaos amongst the remaining passengers. I think I too would just rather curl up with a good book and enjoy an aromatic cigar or pipe.
An account of his last moments by Phillip Mock (a survivor) indicated that, “Many men were hanging on to rafts in the sea. William T. Stead, the author, and Col. John Jacob Astor clung to a raft. Their feet became frozen and they were compelled to release their hold. Both were drowned.”
Despite his calmness and ability to help others during the disaster, Stead, like any other individual, may have put his final thoughts to his wife and children whom he loved dearly and appeared to have some regrets over his divided loyalties between his professional work and his home life. In particular, this diary entry from January 1879 moved me:
“And yet looking at the misery I have occasioned my wife, it would seem blasphemous to attribute anything to the Lord, for it seems wicked almost to have permitted me to live. I have had some terrible moments, when death, but for the poor children, seemed the only solution…Sometimes, I felt as if I had done Emma a cruel wrong by persuading her to marry me. I have seen no woman who would have been acceptable as a wife but her, but she might have found many a more suitable husband. More like herself, I mean, living on the same plane, and not absorbed by work with a passion for seclusion. I have treated her cruelly, not willfully, but because my whole soul was charged, to the exclusion of everything else, with political subjects with which she sympathised but languidly, and at the crisis of these three years I had not time nor patience nor strength to interest her…How dark the future looks. This new year must see a change. Either it restores my wife to me, or it consummates the shipwreck of what I had fondly, passionately hoped would be a Christian home.”
W.T. Stead and his wife Emma appear to have made an effort to work on their marriage and succeeded in having another child only a few years after this was written. When Stead died he left his estate to his wife, and his papers and writings to his daughter Estelle, who would later republish some of his works as a tribute, called ‘Borderlands’.
While William Thomas Stead’s body was never recovered, his death affected many and it was said that he was due to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later in 1912. As a consequence of dying aboard the Titanic, he has become immortalized on a scale larger than he had likely ever imagined. He’ll be forever remembered as a pioneer journalist, futurist, and ghost hunter. And by those interested in the Eldon House ghost story, he’ll be remembered as the man who published the first version of the story, leaving researchers like MisstoricalFiction to follow the breadcrumbs of a historical mystery and inspire me to write passionately in his stead.
For more on W.T. Stead visit this amazing resource site
For more on Titanic survivors visit here
For more on the Titanic visit here
In 2011 Eldon House celebrated its 50th year anniversary as a museum. Among several events throughout the year was a seasonal photo contest. Participants were invited to submit entries for Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. I looked forward to participating because it allowed me to mix two of my passions: photography and local history (more specifically Eldon House).
While they didn’t make the Winter category, I caught some rare images of Eldon House after the snowfall we had at the end of March. Everything was coated in a light dusting of snow which was quite enchanting.
So when I finally did get in some submissions I was excited when the judges chose my photos as the winners for the Spring and then the Fall portion of the contest.
Spring was a fun photo to take because the lush green lawn and blooming garden against the white contrast of the house portrayed the fresh feel that only springtime has. The flags on the front of the house flap in the gentle breeze and one can imagine the scent of grass and perfume of the garden.
Fall presented more of a challenge because I wanted a photo that captured the dark mood of October and the ghost stories connected to Eldon House. I laid down on the lawn to take several snaps. I ventured into the ravine at the edge of the property, nearly sliding down the muddy hill to get a different angle of the house. But it was a tree at the front of the property near the end of the gravel walk that I got the picture I wanted.
With the contest at an end only one final thing was to be decided, would either of my submissions be chosen as the overall winner and if so which one? The winning photograph would be framed and there may also be the opportunity to have the photo appear on upcoming Eldon House postcards.
Well, the judges made their choice and they chose my Spring entry! I was very honored to be chosen and excited to receive a beautifully framed copy of the photo from Wilda Thomas of ‘Creative Art and Frame’. Many thanks to Tara Wittmann for keeping me informed and sharing the good news! For more information on the Eldon House photo contest visit their website.
One could argue that early Londoners were very lucky to have the British military deploy several regiments in Canada during and after the 1837 rebellion. Lucky, because the town benefited from the security, commerce, and “high society” that well educated officers brought with them.
During its time in London, the British military was responsible for clearing trees and stumps to create better roadways, protecting the local population from the rebellion’s skirmishes, as well as aiding in civic emergencies such as fires and floods. At this time, the local militia was primarily volunteer, so the presence of the British military not only provided a very practical helping hand but also provided the militia with educational and organizational opportunities.
The British officers were a welcome customer to farmers and local business owners (read: tavern, wink wink). We also know that they were a relief to London’s upper class who longed for the company of “refined” guests for discussions regarding literature, music, politics, and news of England; this is apparent from the stories about balls and soirées where British officers were hailed as honored guests. Young ladies also were enamored and fell victim to “Scarlet Fever” – the excitement of having an influx of available, well-dressed suitors who offered an opportunity to leave London.
Further to this, the arrival of the military enriched London’s artistic culture. British officers were responsible for significant works of Canadian artwork. They also brought the theater: putting on plays and musical productions so regularly that a performance hall was eventually built for which tickets were sold and reviews were written in the London Gazette.
Mark Tovey’s presentation, made at a Jane Austen Society meeting in November 2011, provides an excellent background and detailed history on this subject, as well as some fun comparisons to Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice.
Watch the presentation here:
During the summer of 2011 Mark Tovey produced a highly acclaimed (at least by me) re-creation of a play performed by British officers. You can read my review here.
Interested in more on the British military’s involvement in London, Upper Canada?
See these previous posts:
For nearly the past two years I’ve become obsessed with a local ghost story. Right up the hill from my little house sits the home of one of our town’s founding families. It’s now a museum called Eldon House, but was once the hub for the socialites of our town, including the British officers when they were garrisoned here in the 1840’s.
As a result of my obsession, my fiance and I have spent countless hours researching and investigating a ghost story connected to the home. The attached article is our first published work on the subject.
Click on the photo of the officer to read the article.
This story is far from over, stay tuned!