Category: Stobo

My First World War Ancestors: Stobo

In this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, I would like to pay tribute to some members of my extended family who served in that horrific conflict. There may be others, but these are the ones I know about. Here is the first in a series of four articles.

Robert Edgar Stobo was a private in the 16th Battalion, Manitoba Regiment of Canadian Infantry. He signed up with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Nov. 9, 1914, and died at Ypres on June 13, 1916, age 36. 

Born in 1880 in Scarborough, Ontario, Robert was doubly related to me. His father, farmer Isaac Stobo, was the nephew of my two-times great-grandmother Elizabeth (Stobo) Hamilton; his mother, Jane (Glendenning) Stobo, was the sister of my great-grandmother Isabella (Glendenning) Hamilton.

The first members of the Stobo family immigrated to Scarborough from Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1824, and they prospered as timber merchants and farmers. By Robert’s generation, the young men were beginning to move west. Robert was listed as a boarder in Kamloops, B.C., in the 1911 Census of Canada, and when he enlisted, he gave his occupation as stationary engineer. 

Robert’s cousin Isaac Albert Stobo also died in the war. Born in 1883, he was the son of Margaret (Secor) Stobo and Robert Hamilton Stobo. Isaac was a farmer, unmarried, living in Edmonton, Alberta when he signed up in June, 1916. A private with the 49th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, he also died at Ypres, on Oct. 30, 1917, age 34. 

Robert’s younger brother Isaac Archibald Stobo was an electrician living in Toronto when he signed up in September, 1914. He served with the 9th Battery and survived the war, returning to Canada in May, 1919, but he may have continued to suffer from his experiences. Census and voting records show he never married, but lived with his sister Frances for many years and worked as a caretaker. He died in 1948, age 63.

In late summer or early autumn, 1915, Susan Glendenning Gibson wrote to John Stobo Hamilton, passing along snippets of news from the front:

“… Isaac Stobo…seems to be in good spirits. He says he gets plenty to eat and plenty of clothing. He came through the battle of Langemark without being injured. He is in Belgium now. He says very little about the war as his letters are all censored. He gives a good description of the country and there old fashioned ways of working. It seems the women do the most of the Agriculture work. Edgar was in France when he wrote last. Isaac had not seen since he left his home in Scarboro. When he had a few spare days he went to the trenches and found him.  He had seen some hard fighting, He was well. We expect word from him before long again.

Jane is well but feeling very anxious, there has been so many of our young Canadian men killed in action. She does not know what hour a message of bad news will come but we hope to see them home again. Isaac always speaks of when he comes home. …”

Robert Edgar Stobo and Isaac Albert Stobo were buried in Belgium. Robert’s name is also on the monument that marks his parents’ grave at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough.

Research notes:

I found the attestation papers, or enlistment records, of members of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website The first page indicates the name, date of birth, address, occupation and next of kin and the second page includes a brief physical description of the individual. LAC has begun to digitize all Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel files. The service files of some 650,000 Canadian soldiers of the First World War should be available for free download by the end of 2015. Until they are available digitally, you can order them by mail, but I did not do that.

If your ancestor died in either the First or Second World War, go to, the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This organization cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries and looks after the graves and memorials of almost 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in the two world wars. These include the graves of more than 935,000 identified casualties and almost 212,000 unidentified individuals. The names of almost 760,000 people can be found on memorials to the missing. You can search for your ancestor’s record on this website.

There is additional information on the database of Canadian Commonwealth War Graves Registers, First World War, at

Settling in Scarborough

The Scottish settlers of Scarborough were known as heavy drinkers, but not so Robert Hamilton. My great-great grandfather, who settled in this Upper Canadian farming community in 1830, was a “pioneer total abstinence advocate,” and his opposition to alcohol almost prevented his barn from being built.

Between 1796 and 1826, the government granted land in Scarborough to Loyalists, military officers and a few other settlers. Most were absentee landowners, however, and the population only began to grow after 1815, with the end of the Napoleonic wars. The height of immigration occurred in the 1820s and early 1830s, with a huge influx of settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland.

Most of the Scarborough’s Scots came from lowland counties such as Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire. Many had friends or relatives who had already settled in the area and encouraged others to follow. Robert was no exception: he was a weaver from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, and his in-laws, the Stobo family, were said to have been the first Lanarkshire settlers in Scarborough in 1824.

Robert and his wife, Elizabeth Stobo, and their six children stayed with the Stobo family when they first arrived. Soon they found a farm of their own, lot 25, concession III, and started to clear the trees so they could plant crops. 

Felling trees wasn’t as easy as it looked, however, as the Hamiltons learned. In 1832, three weeks after arriving in Scarborough, Robert Rae, Robert Hamilton’s brother-in-law, was helping clear the Hamilton farm when he was killed by a falling tree. The widowed Agnes Hamilton Rae brought up four children alone and eventually managed to purchase thirty acres of her own.

One of the traditions the settlers brought from Scotland was the custom of holding “bees,” in which neighbours helped each other with major projects, such as barn raisings. The person whose barn was being erected normally provided whisky to the volunteers, so when abstainer Robert Hamilton refused to serve any alcohol, the volunteers refused to help with the barn. The deadlock was broken when Robert gave the head carpenter the authority to oversee the barn-raising as he saw fit, and the carpenter approved the whisky.

Eventually, alcohol was no longer so central to the social lives of Scarborough’s Scots. Rev. James George, of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, founded the first recorded temperance society in the community in 1834 and, by the turn of the 20thcentury, no liquor was allowed at barn raisings.

Research notes: When I started to research this post, I just wanted to find out more about my ancestors’ lives, and I was excited to find references to Robert Hamilton on the website of The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society, This website gives an account of Robert Rae’s fatal accident. I wanted to learn more, so I ordered a couple of the booklets published by the society. When I read the footnotes, I realized that the McCowans are descendants of Robert and Agnes Hamilton Rae – and therefore distant cousins of mine!

Another excellent resource for the early history of Scarborough is The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896, edited by David Boyle, Toronto, 1896, available online at Written to celebrate Scarborough’s first centennial, this is the source of the story of the barn-raising.

Scarborough produced another book to celebrate its second centennial anniversary. The People of Scarborough: A History, by Barbara Myrvold, published by the City of Scarborough Public Library Board, 1997, gives a comprehensive overview of the community’s history. It is also available as an online PDF at

Finally, I discovered that Robert Hamilton took part in a curling match between Scarborough and Toronto on a frozen Toronto Bay in 1836. This little anecdote didn’t fit into my article, but I wanted to mention it anyway because it led me to a charming painting of Toronto Bay (now called Toronto Harbour) in winter:

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