Rathbun family


Edward Walter Rathbun's signature

Edward Walter Rathbun enlisted on this day in 1915. He was born in Deseronto on December 28th, 1865, the eldest son of Edward Wilkes Rathbun and his first wife, Elizabeth How Burt. After the death of his father in 1903, E. Walter Rathbun took over the running of the Rathbun Company. He was mayor of Deseronto, like his father before him, in 1914 and 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 Blair in Portsmouth, England, in 1893.

Rathbun was active in the local militia, holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when he enlisted at the age of 49. Belleville’s paper, The Intelligencer, reported his departure in the following way on February 15th, 1915:

Farewell to Colonel Rathbun
At Deseronto, on Saturday night the opera house was filled with an enthusiastic audience of well-wishers to Col. Rathbun and his gallant comrades, who are going to the front with the guns of the 6th Brigade. An address was presented by those associated with him from boyhood, and patriotic music by local talent, led by Mr. Hercher [Herchimer] Aylesworth—a host in himself—stirred all present.

Colonel Ponton, of Belleville, carried the greetings of the Bay of Quinte District and comrades-in-arms west of Deseronto, and congratulated both the gallant Colonel and the Town on having the honor of furnishing a commander of a Brigade, which General Lessard has pronounced one of the best ever inspected in the whole Dominion in organization, spirit and efficiency.

A bountiful supper was served at the close and another of Canada’s soldier sons left for the post of duty.1

He arrived in England in March 1915, when his brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery was transformed into the Canadian Reserve Artillery. Rathbun himself was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps when it was established in 19162: 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. This image of it is from the Scottish War Graves Project‘s site. It reads:

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


1 Our thanks to the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County for this information
2 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.

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.

Harold McMurrich Rathbun took this photograph of Portage Avenue in Winnipeg in the summer of 1907:

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to Winnipeg to talk about our work at Deseronto Archives and so today I had the chance of standing in the same spot to try to recreate the photograph.

Actually I couldn’t stand in exactly the same spot, as it looks like Harold was standing in the road, which isn’t something I’d recommend on a weekday morning in the rush hour in today’s Winnipeg.

The only structure which is still recognizable from Harold’s photo is the Somerset Building, 294 Portage Avenue, which you can see on the left of the shot. The Eaton’s store has gone, replaced by the MTS Centre and there are now some trees softening the lines of  the road and buildings.

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 had a new house built on the site of this 1869 residence in 1892. It was designed by Toronto architects Langley and Burke and was a substantial property, as this photograph shows:

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

This house no longer exists, although the architects’ plans for it survive, held at the Archives of Ontario. 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!

…then the Archives’ Flickr account is now worth a cool one million!

Today we uploaded our one thousandth photograph to Flickr. This milestone means that nearly every photograph held in our small collection is now available to view by anyone with access to the Internet. This is a huge step forward for us, as physical access to our resources is limited to our public opening times of six hours a week. Now they are available every day of the week!

One of the most exciting parts about our Flickr experiment has been the willingness of other people to share their historic photographs and objects through this medium. A fair proportion of the items in our Flickr pages are held outside of the archives. We are very grateful to the owners of those materials for their permission to share them with a wider audience.

Sharing our photographs on Flickr has been beneficial in other ways. Often, Flickr users have been able to add valuable information which has improved our knowledge of the items within our collection. Just yesterday, we received a helpful comment on this image:

HMR1-09-36: 'Tin Can Cathedral' Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Winnipeg

The only information we had about the church originally was a caption written by Harold McMurrich Rathbun, the photographer, which read “Old Greek Church, Winnipeg”. A Flickr user recognised the church as the ‘Tin Can Cathedral’, a Ukrainian Orthodox church which was situated at the junction of King Street and Stella Avenue in Winnipeg. This was North America’s first independent Ukrainian church. Another view of this church can be seen in the collection of the Glenbow Museum. That photograph shows a cupola on the roof of the church, which was missing by 1907 when Rathbun took his photograph.

This is just one example of the power of sharing our images on the Internet. With the help of other people our descriptions become more accurate and more people become aware of the interesting things we hold. Things that would once have required a determined effort (and a trip to Deseronto) to find out about. A million thanks!

Canadian Bank of Commerce, Gowganda, 1909 (HMR2-09-61a)

In an earlier post we described Harold McMurrich Rathbun’s trip by steamship and railway across the prairies to Edmonton. Two years after this excursion, the 31 year-old made took a 41-day camping journey into the wilderness of north-eastern Ontario (what is now Timiskaming District). In 1909 the area was busy with prospectors and miners as silver deposits had been discovered in Cobalt in 1903.

By 1908 silver was also being mined in Gowganda.1 Rathbun’s photograph above was therefore taken in the very early stages of the settlement of this town. It shows the Canadian Bank of Commerce’s Gowganda branch which was of sturdy log construction, in contrast to the other, more insubstantial structures depicted here. The building behind the bank has the words SILVER and THEATRE on it, suggesting that the prospectors and miners were not short of entertainment in those early years. Rathbun also took a photograph of Baxter’s Hotel, which appears to have been very newly-constructed. There were no Baxters listed as living in the area in the 1911 census, so perhaps this was only a short-lived enterprise.

Baxter's Hotel, Gowganda, 1909 (HMR2-09-61b)


1 Petruk, W. et al, ‘History of the Cobalt and Gowganda area’, The Canadian Mineralogist, December 1971; v. 11; no. 1; p. 1-11 (scanned copy available from the University of Arizona [PDF format])

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.

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