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.

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