Being the new Public Programmer here at the museum I couldn’t believe my luck when I was given the opportunity to work on the Guided Spirit Walk team. I was delighted because I have always enjoyed the unique way that the Guided Spirit Walks tell history. This year’s tour theme, “Before they were Famous,” provides a diverse cast of characters. My interest in heritage has always been in the stories that connect people of the present to people of the past and Spirit Walks provide a perfect opportunity to make that connection.
After I read the script and sat in on a rehearsal, I was captivated by the lives that the people profiled on this year’s tour had lived. It made me want to know more and to find out everything I could about their lives. Excitedly I started to read all the source material I could find on their stories and backgrounds. I discovered facts on these figures and how it played into the larger history of St. Catharines and the world beyond. These short biographies are intended to enhance your background knowledge so when you meet our characters on the Spirit Walk you are caught up on what they were up to before the moment we meet them.
I start with Mary Burgoyne because she provides the catalyst for this year’s tour. When we meet Mary on the tour, she is a professional woman working for the St. Catharines Standard in the 1950s. How did she get there? Mary was born in St Catharines in 1919 to the Burgoyne family who owned the St Catharines Standard. However, her career at the paper was never an assumed position. After attending private schools in Toronto and Barrie, Mary worked as a lab technician for a time before World War Two influenced her career, Mary served as a Red Cross Ambulance driver overseas.
On returning home to Canada in the 1950s she furthered her education in the medical field and received her certificate for Registered Nursing from Montreal General Hospital in 1950 or 1951. The natural progression in Mary’s experiences and education led me to believe that she would have pursued a career as a nurse then, however, in 1951 returned home to St. Catharines and began working for CKTB radio. Instead of doing what was expected she allowed her experiences to enhance her skill telling the stories that mattered. With a background like that, when Mary appears on the tour, we know that she will give us all the facts.
When the audience meets Abigail Phelps, she is ready to provide the inside scoop on her husband Oliver’s next great venture. Oliver was an innovator, always on the lookout to be involved in the process of innovation no matter what path that takes him down. Born in Connecticut in 1779, his parents moved the family to New York State in 1800. Oliver appears to have always been on the move from one thing to the next. During his time in New York State, he held positions as a farmer, a distiller, a stagecoach owner, a bridge engineer, and a steamboat builder. Taking his marine interests to the next level, he became involved in the construction of the Erie Canal. Many of the individuals involved in the construction of the Erie Canal relocated to Niagara after work completed. These workers came to Niagara to find work on the construction of the Welland Canal using skills that they had learned. Oliver was no exception, and his work experience provides an opportunity for the family to relocate to Canada. When the audience meets Abigail, she is working out what relocating to St. Catharines means for the Phelps’ family.
The Calvin Brown that is on the Guided Spirit Walk this year is working on a civic project in the 1870s. Brown appears in sources as a man deeply invested in the growth of St. Catharines and what it had the potential to become. Born in Niagara in 1839, he was raised locally, even attending Grantham Academy to receive his education. He took his education further after Grantham to pursue a career in law. Calvin became a lawyer in 1863 and worked at a St. Catharines-based law firm choosing to stay local. Along with his legal career, Brown also was director of the Security Loan and Savings Company, the City bank of Montreal and the St. Catharines Gas Light Company at various points of time. Brown turned his attention to local politics and decided to run for town council in 1867 and was elected consecutively from 1867-1870 (at this point town council was elected annually). Brown then ran for and served as deputy reeve of St. Catharines from 1871 to 1875. During his time as a politician Brown served on council committees and as a school board trustee. Brown’s time in office serving the people gave him visions of what St. Catharines had the potential to be. When the tour catches up with him, he is promoting his qualifications for what he believes is his next role in St. Catharines.
When the audience is introduced to Eleazer Stephenson one thing is made abundantly clear: he is an entrepreneur through and through. Stephenson was born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1798 and immigrated to St. Catharines in April of 1826. This is around the time that he married Clarissa Chapin of Buffalo, New York. Once settled in St. Catharines, Eleazer opened a Livery stable connected to a hotel run by Luther Dryer. A livery stable was a place where you could rent horses and or carriages or store your horse temporarily. Eleazer doesn’t let success halt him, instead he extends his business holdings and starts a stagecoach operation with four other businessmen from the Buffalo/ Niagara River area. Their enterprise ran a daily stagecoach that ran the Buffalo- Niagara route with extensions to Lockport, NY and St. Catharines. This business is successful enough that Stephenson was able to expand his offerings again within a year to include a stagecoach between Niagara and Windsor (which was known as Sandwich at this time). The new stagecoach route also made stops in St Catharines, Ancaster and Brantford. Eleazer doesn’t let the decline of stagecoach usage stop his enterprises, instead he expands his hospitality holdings and opens the Stephenson House Hotel. When we encounter this innovator on the tour, he is preparing to expand his business and is always willing to let you in on his newest secret.
The other Mary that you will meet on this year’s tour is Mary Helen McKean Malcolmson. A philanthropist, Mary is working on the project that she will become most associated with when the tour meets up with her. Mary was born in Ireland in 1864 and as a child immigrated to Ontario, eventually settling near Ottawa. Mary came to Hamilton for a job as a Kindergarten teacher before marrying Captain Alec Malcolmson in 1892. After her marriage, she moved to St. Catharines where her husband Alec was living. He was a ship captain on the Great Lakes and also co-owner of the Welland House Hotel.
Once in St. Catharines, Mary became very involved in aiding the community and improving the quality of life of those around her, particularly with women’s and children’s welfare. Notably, she was a part of the St. Catharines Women’s Canadian Club, Victoria Order of Nurses, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Women’s Institute, St. Catharines Horticultural Society as well as the Child Welfare Committee, the Well-Baby Clinic and Knox Presbyterian Church. With all the associations that she was a part of it will be interesting to find out exactly which one landed her in the history books.
Hiram Leavenworth, like many of the other persons on the tour, was an immigrant to Upper Canada. Born in New York State in 1797, little is known about his childhood. The information that survives chronicles the beginning of his printing career in 1817, at the age of 20. In 1824 he entered a contract with William Lyon Mackenzie to, “bring his establishment of press, types and printing materials from Rochester to Queenston.” Prior to this six-month agreement with Mackenzie, Leavenworth had been an established printer in Waterloo, New York where he had been producing and distributing the Waterloo Gazette. Leavenworth joined Mackenzie in Queenston in August of 1824 and by the time of the printing of the October edition, the equipment that he had brought with him was being used to print Mackenzie’s Colonial Advocate entirely in Queenston. In November of 1824 the paper had announced Mackenzie’s intention to relocate the operations to York. Mackenzie made Leavenworth foreman of the Colonial Advocate and printing on the press Leavenworth supplied continued in York until June of 1825. When the Spirit Walk meets up with Hiram, we find him contemplating his future in printing.
Marine industry visionary Melancthon Simpson is working on his next big innovation when the tour catches up to him. Born in 1827 near Belleville, in a small settlement called Ox Point, his parents were a British Army Surgeon and his American wife. Growing up on Lake Ontario, it is likely that his childhood included learning how to sail. His early adult years saw him settled in Oakville where he was learning the shipbuilding trade under his Uncle John Potter. Between 1846 and1862 Oakville was where Simpson and his brother, John Simpson, worked out of building ships. By the 1860s, however, the railway had reduced the necessity of smaller ports like Oakville to move things one place to another. With the commercial activity growing on the Welland Canal the Simpson decided to relocate operations to Port Dalhousie in 1863. Upon originally relocating he worked as a foreman in the Donaldson and Andrews drydock before setting up his own shipyard near Lock Five. Belief was that his intent to compete with the Shickluna Shipyard. The first vessel to come out of this new yard was a canaler named the Jessie Drummond which was launched with nearly 1,000 people in attendance. One advantage Simpson had over competitors was his versatility. Never one to rest on his laurels, he tried new and different ships with every ship that came out of his yard. We will find out if Simpson has hit on the project that will see him overshadow his rivals.
Marion Nelson Hooker:
The last profile that is featured on this year’s tour is Marion Nelson Hooker. Marion was born Marion Hope Nelson in Richmond Virginia in 1866. Her family moved to St. Catharines in 1868 where she showed an aptitude for artistic skills at a young age. Marion started taking formal lessons in 1879 with a local instructor, Charles Millner. Looking for a way to support herself with art, Marion received certification as an art teacher in 1884, from the Ontario School of Art. She discovered that she would rather be painting then teaching. She continued her training abroad and brought her talent back to St. Catharines. Marion’s works featured heavily on her surroundings and adapted to suit the needs of the subject matter. She diversified her skills reaching across several different mediums developing a range of fine art skills. When Marion appears on the tour, she is contemplating her life and the choices that she has made.
One thing that is made abundantly clear when studying the featured profiles of this year’s Spirit Walk; they did not let obstacles stand in their way. Changing of technologies and defying of public perception did not stop these individuals. Instead, they kept up their work and made changes when necessary to continue their work. I believe that this is what allowed them to find success and make the history books. The Spirit Walk is an opportunity to investigate their lives prior to their historical deeds and presents the opportunity to see them as real humans. We gain an understanding of the struggles and triumphs it took to get them ‘fame.’ In this sense we get to reflect on our own contributions to community history and ponder if someday we too will find ourselves worthy of representation on a Spirt Walk.
Abbey Stansfield is a Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.