Tag: Peterborough Ontario

John Murray Smith and the Giant Bible

My great-grandfather John Murray Smith (1838-1894) hardly looks like a man of mystery. He was a banker with gentle eyes, mutton-chop whiskers and a mustache. But there is at least one mystery about him: how did he acquire that giant bible?

I adopted the bible from my cousin Benny, who had inherited it. It was so big (it weighs at least 10 pounds, or 4 kg,) that Benny was glad to get rid of it. There are no family records in its pages, but there is a plaque on the inside front cover that reads, “Presented to John Murray Smith, Esq. of the Bank of Toronto In grateful acknowledgement of services rendered In December, 1867. James Ross. William Coldwell. Toronto, February 1st 1868.”

What could a young banker have done that someone thanked him with such a present? I googled William Coldwell and discovered there was a journalist by that name working for the Toronto Globe newspaper in 1867.  Aha, I thought, perhaps Coldwell wrote an article in the Globe about whatever it was John had done, but a search brought no hits.

Actually, that bible may have been an appropriate gift for John, a devout Presbyterian. Later in life, he was a member of St. Paul’s Church (now St. Andrew’s and St. Paul’s) in Montreal, and president of the Presbyterian Sunday School Association of Montreal for eight years.1 He was also on the board of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) for fifteen years and served one term as president of that organization.2

John Murray Smith was born in 1838 in MacDuff,3 a town on the Firth of Moray, Scotland, where his father, James Avon Smith, was a teacher. His mother, Jane Tocher, died a few weeks after his birth,4 leaving his father with seven children to raise. His father remarried to a Mrs. Daly and Aunt Elizabeth Tocher helped to bring up the children.

According to an unpublished Smith family history, James Avon Smith left Scotland for America around 1846, eventually settling in Toronto, where he got a position teaching classics. Three of the children came over in 1848, and John and the other three followed in 1852.    After finishing his education, John began working for the Bank of Toronto. He worked in various bank branches in Ontario and, by 1871, was branch manager in Peterborough, a small city in eastern Ontario. While living there as a single man, he boarded at Caisse’s Hotel, said to be the finest hotel in Peterborough.5

He married Jane Mulholland of Montreal in 1871.6 She was the daughter of Henry Mulholland, an Irish-born hardware merchant, and Ann Workman, the only sister of several of the city’s prominent businessmen. In 1877, J. Murray Smith, as he was known to his business colleagues and customers, was transferred to Montreal, at that time Canada’s largest and most important city, as manager of the Bank of Toronto’s branch. 

John Murray Smith

Between 1873 and 1884, John and Jane had six children: Henry, Louise, May, Frederic (my future grandfather), Ella and Mabel. The two eldest were born in Peterborough, the others in Montreal.7

In 1881,the Murray Smith family moved to a two-story stone house on McGregor Street, a fashionable address on the slope of Mount Royal.8 From the front of the house, they would have looked toward the trees of Mount Royal Park and, from the back garden, they would have seen the St. Lawrence River in the distance.  

John also purchased real estate as an investment. In 1890, he acquired five adjoining building lots on Charles Borromée Street from Robert Stanley Bagg. The following spring, he purchased five more lots on the same street.9 He probably built brick or stone or row houses and sold or rented them.

According to family stories, John loved sailing. Around 1891, he bought a summer house in Beaurepaire (now part of suburban Beaconsfield) on Lake St. Louis, a broad section of the St. Lawrence River.10

John died of heart failure at age 57, in Beaurepaire, on July 25, 1894,11 and he was buried two days later at Mount Royal Cemetery. He had been a good businessman and the solid investments he left to his family meant that, although they sold the summer house, they were able to remain in their McGregor Street home for many years.

See also

Janice Hamilton, “James Avon Smith of MacDuff, Banffshire,” Writing Up the Ancestors,   https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/search/label/James%20Avon%20Smith

Janice Hamilton, “My Tocher Family” Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2015/02/my-tocher-family.html

Janice Hamilton, “The World of Mrs. Murray Smith,”   Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2016/02/the-small-world-of-mrs-murray-smith.html

Janice Hamilton, “Annie Louise Smith: One of the First Women to Graduate from McGill University” Writing Up the Ancestors, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2016/02/annie-louise-smith-one-of-first-women.html

Photo credits

The author’s collection
The author’s collection

Notes and Sources

  1. “Men of Canada: The Late John Murray Smith,” W. Cochrane, The Canadian Album, 1896, p. 131, https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=5882975107, accessed March 4, 2016.
  2. Montreal was home to the first YMCA in North America. When the Montreal YMCA was set up in 1851, it had strong connections to Protestant churches, but it became open to people from all churches. Its goal was to put religious teachings into practice and to lead by example. The Montreal YMCA began offering night classes to citizens and immigrants in the 1870s. In addition to reading rooms and lectures, the YMCA also made physical education programs available.  
  3. “Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950,” database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XY64-X52m, accessed 29 February 2016), John Murray Smith, 20 Jan 1838; citing reference FHL microfilm 990,994.)
  4. Jane Tocher died Feb. 28, 1838, aged 35, according to the gravestone inscription in Doune Kirkyard, MacDuff, Banffshire, Scotland.
  5. Ontario Directory, Peterborough, 1871, p. 696, http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/001075/f2/nlc008162.pdf
  6. “St. George’s Anglican Church, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec,” Quebec,Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 [database on-line] (www.Ancestry.ca, accessed March 1, 2016), entry for John Murray Smith, October 4, 1871, citing Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.
  7. 1891 Census of Canada, database. Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.ca: accessed March 2, 2016), entry for J. Murray Smith; Citation Year: 1891; Census Place: St Antoine Ward, Montréal Centre, Quebec; Roll: T-6407; Family No: 21, citing Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1891, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2009.www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1891/Pages/about-census.aspx. Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels: T-6290 to T-6427.
  8. Theo. Doucet, N.P. #105552, 29 April, 1881, Deed of sale. Author’s files.
  9. John Fair, N.P. 13 Jan. 1890, Deed of sale R. Stanley C. Bagg et al to John Murray Smith,and John Fair, N.P. 24 March 1891, # 28434, Deed of sale from Robert Stanley C. Bagg et al to John Murray Smith. Abner and Stanley Bagg Fonds, McCord Museum, Montreal.
  10. Robert L. Baird, Gisèle Hall, Beaconsfield and Beaurepaire, 1998. http://shbbhs.ca/index.php/en/the-bbhs/publications/160-livre-beaconsfield-et-beaurepaire This book notes that J. Murray Smith’s summer house was on Thomson Point. Two Toronto real estate brokers had purchased the Thomson farm in 1891 and subdivided it into lots. The point was described as “one of the most picturesque on the whole Island of Montreal.” I have not seen a photo of the Murray Smith cottage but, if it was like others in the area, it was likely a “massive fantasy in wood,” complete with turrets and balconies. Summer residents commuted from the city to their country houses on the lake by train, and the developers had entered into an agreement with the Grand Trunk Railway Company to build a station at Thomson Point.
  11. ” St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Montreal, Quebec, Quebec,” Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 [database on-line] (www.ancestry.ca, accessed March 2, 2016) entry for John Murray Smith, July 27, 1894; citing Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.

The World of Mrs. Murray Smith

My great-grandmother was born twenty years before Canada became a country, and she died on the eve of World War II. Over the ninety years of her life, society went through many great changes, but Mrs. Murray Smith lived in her own world.

Jane (Mulholland) Murray Smith

Born in 1847, Jane Mulholland was the daughter of Henry Mulholland, an Irish-born Montreal hardware merchant, and Ann Workman. She grew up with three brothers and a sister in a two-story house on Sherbrooke Street. Today, that location is in the heart of Montreal, the site of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, but when Jane was a child, she lived on the city’s outskirts, surrounded by fields, cows and horses. 

I don’t know how Jane met her future husband. At the time, he lived in Peterborough, a small city in eastern Ontario, where he worked for the Bank of Toronto. It would not have been proper for her to pursue him herself so, according to a family story, her nanny wrote to tell him he had an admirer in Montreal. Jane married 33-year-old John Murray Smith at St. George’s Anglican Church in Saint Anne de Bellevue, at the western end of Montreal Island, in 1871. 

Their first two children were born in Peterborough: Henry in 1873 and Louise in 1875. May (born 1877), Fred (1879), Ella (1881) and Mabel (1884) were born in Montreal after John was promoted to manager of the Bank of Toronto’s branch there. In 1881, the family bought a house on McGregor Street, high on the slope of Mount Royal. At that time the mountain was being developed as a newly fashionable part of the city.  

Many years later, my mother described her grandmother’s two-storey stone house with its big back garden. She recalled black leather furniture in the study, a roll-top desk and a stuffed owl under glass. The living room had red velvet curtains, walls covered with gilt-framed, gloomy paintings and an elaborately carved “what-not,” its mirrors reflecting dangling china cupids.

In 1891, seventeen-year-old Henry died of appendicitis. John died of a heart attack three years later. After just 23 years of marriage, Jane was a widow, but she was not alone. Daughter Louise lived at home until she married in 1906. Fred (my grandfather) moved out when he married in 1916, but he continued to advise his mother on investment decisions. The three younger daughters did not marry. Kate, the Scottish-born live-in cook, kept the Murray Smith family well fed for many years.

My mother recalled childhood visits in the 1920s: “Granny was a tiny old lady dressed in black; presumably she was forever in mourning for her husband. She always wore a black velvet ribbon pinned around her neck.”

Jane is buried with her husband, John Murray Smith, and all but one of her six children.

Despite her attire, Jane does not seem to have been unhappy. Her grandchildren often came to tea in the garden or to go tobogganing. My mother wrote, “I think of Granny at Christmas parties, surrounded by five noisy grandchildren, plus numerous older relatives, a passive spectator at the games we played, but always joining in with her laughter and making us feel she was one of us.”

For the last ten years of her life, Jane was bedridden, felled by a stroke or dementia, and May, Ella and Mabel looked after her. My mother recalled, “She lay shriveled in the huge bed with its ugly high carved wooden headboard, pink bows in her hair, her three daughters hovered over her. Each time she babbled incoherently, one of the aunts bent over solicitously, took her hand and said ‘What is it, dear?’” When Jane’s eldest daughter, Louise, succumbed to cancer in 1935, Jane did not even understand that she had died.

Jane died in August 1938, age 91, and is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery with her husband and five of her six children.

Photo credits:

Mrs. J. Murray Smith, photo courtesy Benny Beattie
Murray Smith gravestone, by Janice Hamilton


My mother was very fond of her father’s three spinster sisters and, in the late 1970s, she wrote an article called “Three Sisters: a Memoir.” It was published in a community newspaper called The Townships Sun, however, the quotes I have used come from her typed manuscript.  

Because Smith was such a common name, the family used Murray Smith as if it was a hyphenated last name. Directory listings are under Smith. I used Lovell’s Directory of Montreal to find the family’s location in Montreal.  Jane is difficult to find in the census of Canada. I think she identified herself as Mrs. J. Murray Smith, but Ancestry.ca transcribed that as Wilhelmine. It is easier to look up the family under the names of her daughters, May, Ella or Mabel Smith.

I have not yet found Jane’s baptismal record online. Her date of birth, 18 June 1847, and her date of death, 18 Aug. 1938, are on her gravestone in Mount Royal Cemetery. Her marriage on 4 Oct. 1871 is included in the Drouin Collection records on Ancestry.ca.  

After the family home at 1522 McGregor Street was sold in the 1950s, it was torn down and a highrise apartment building was built on the site.