Friday, May 13, 2011

Dr. Forbes Godfrey – First Ontario Minister of Health

Godfrey House - 49 Stanley Avenue
© Michael Harrison 2010

Godfrey House 1913
detail from 1913 Goad's Fire Insurance Plan - Town of Mimico

Forbes Elliott Godfrey, son of the Rev. Robert Godfrey, a Methodist Minister and Mrs. Mary Godfrey was born in 1867 in York Township but grew up in Owen Sound.   After attending the local primary school he attended Owen Sound Collegiate and then went on to the University of Toronto to study medicine.  After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1889 he went to Scotland for post graduate studies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

He was married to Mary Melissa Carson in Logan County, Ohio in 1894.  They moved to Mimico shortly thereafter and lived in a home on Southampton Avenue (present day Cavell Avenue) out of which he operated his medical practice.  Their first and only child Constance was born there in 1900.  In 1908 he commissioned Ellis and Connery, Architects to design a large home and office further south on a property located at the south west corner of Stanley and Albert Avenues

Dr. Godfrey's political career began in 1907 when he entered provincial politics as a Conservative and was elected in a by-election in the York West riding.  He took his seat in the Provincial Legislature as a back bencher in the government of James Whitney.

Dr. Godfrey felt strongly that the government should take the lead in combating tuberculosis, a disease that was taking a terrible toll on the citizens of Ontario – especially the young.  He was instrumental in the formation of a government commission to create a provincial plan for its prevention and cure, the end result being the construction of a system of government supported tuberculosis hospitals.  A big supporter of preventative medicine, he was a champion of inoculation against infectious diseases.

When Whitney died following the 1914 election he served as a backbencher in the government of William Hearst, and then in Opposition when the government of E.C. Drury was in power from 1919 to 1923.

In the general election of 1923 the Conservatives returned to power and G. Howard Ferguson became Premier.  Godfrey was invited into Cabinet and became the Minister of Labour; and then in 1924 was also made the first Minister of Health.

As the first Minister of Health in Ontario, Godfrey was responsible for organizing the department from the ground up, and began tackling many of the preventative health initiatives that needed to be addressed.  He brought in measures to protect miners from silicosis; instituted industrial health programs; created public health clinics in remote areas of Ontario and offered free immunization programs for Ontario school children.

On February 14, 1925 his daughter, Constance Godfrey was married to Warren Snyder.  They were both students at the University of Toronto at the time of their marriage.  Snyder was a football player and rower.   His greatest athletic achievement was in 1924 when he won a sliver medal as part of the eight rowing team at the Olympic Games in Paris, France.  After graduating with his medical degree he became Godfrey’s partner working from the large Godfrey home on the corner of Stanley and Albert Avenues.

Godfrey remained in Cabinet until September 1930 when he was forced to resign by ill health though he remained the MPP for York West.  Suffering from pernicious anaemia his health continued to deteriorate until he died on January 6, 1932.

courtesy of The Story of Mimico:  Home of the Wild Pigeon

In the 1960s the home would be purchased by a developer who built apartment buildings on the large grounds and divided the Godfrey House into apartments.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Slessor Family of Mimico

I recently acquired a number of photographs of the Slessor family who lived at 46 Albert Avenue in Mimico from the early 1920s to the late 1950s.

Peter Slessor was born in Aberdeen Scotland on December 18, 1877.   He was the son of Robert Slessor a Mason and Builder, and Henrietta Slessor.  In his 20s he became an architect.  The online Dictionary of Scottish Architects includes references to the 14 houses that he designed in Aberdeen between 1898 and 1901.

On June 19 1901, Peter Slessor married Jessie Gordon, daughter of Alexander Gordon, a veterinary surgeon, and Marion Gordon.  At the time Peter was living at 28 Salisbury Terrace, Aberdeen and Jessie was living at 30 Hoborn Street, Aberdeen.

Jessie Gordon as a young woman

They had 2 children together.  Ivy was born in 1903 and Errol in 1907.  I am not sure why but Peter decided to immigrate to Canada.  He boarded the Mongolian in Glasgow in May 1907 and landed in Montreal on the 31st.   His wife and children stayed behind in Scotland.

In 1911 he is found in the census living in a rooming house in Montreal.  He listed his occupation as a foreman working for a builder with an annual salary in 1910 of $1050.

It looks like Jessie and the children visited their father in Canada in 1912, and again in 1913 when the children came for a visit with their aunt Gertrude Stone.  I have not been able to find a record of their entry into Canada in 1912 but in 1913 they arrived on September 15 on board the Cassandra.

When World War I began in August 1914 Peter was one of the first to enlist.  He travelled to Valcartier, Quebec and enlisted there on September 23, 1914.  He listed his next of kin as his wife Jessie Gordon living on 2 Bruce Crescent, Ayr, Scotland.  He also indicated that he had 13 years of previous military experience with the Royal Engineers, another 7 with the 91st Canadian Highlanders, as well as 1 year as a Private.  On his attestation papers he is described as 5 feet, 9 inches tall with brown eyes, black hair and a dark complexion.

Jessie and the children finally immigrated to Canada on the Athenia, landing in Quebec City on August 5, 1916.  Jessie listed their destination as Bridgeburgh, Ontario.  It is noted in the passenger manifest that her husband was a prisoner of war and that her Canadian residence was “undecided”.

Upon his release in 1918 he received a personal handwritten letter from King George V welcoming him back to the United Kingdom.

They seem to have arrived in Mimico about 1921. He listed himself as an architect in the Mimico section of the Toronto City directory for 1922 (living on the east side of Victor Avenue) but I have not found any reference to any buildings that he designed, and he does not appear in the online Biographical Dictionary of Architects In Canada.  He most probably continued in the building trade which may have been more lucrative than working as an architect.

In 1924 a small article appeared on page 3 of the Toronto Star seeking contact with him.  It stated that the Toronto headquarters of the Great War Veterans Association was seeking information on his whereabouts as his sister Margaret was hopelessly ill in St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco.

It seems that the Slessor family lived quietly in Mimico from the 1920s to the late 1950s, originally living on Victor Avenue but moving to Albert Avenue sometime later.

 Slessor Family
l-r Ivy Slessor (in chair), Jessie Gordon, Peter Slessor, unknown women
circa 1930s - Mimico?

Jessie Gordon on the porch of their home at 46 Albert Avenue, Mimico
circa 1930s - The house across the street is 41 Albert Avenue

Peter Slessor died in the Christie Street (Military) Hospital on August 11, 1938.  His obituary indicates that he was a member of the 13th Black Watch Battalion and that his residence was at 46 Albert Avenue, Mimico.  He was buried in the Veterans Plot in Prospect Cemetery.

Jessie Gordon died in Toronto on October 12, 1957 and was cremated.

Their son Errol continued to live in Toronto.  He worked for Simpson-Sears and died on November 9, 1984 in his 79th year.  He was married with one child.

Their daughter Ivy was a school teacher in northern Ontario.   She was listed in her mother’s obituary in 1957 as living in Foyelet, Ontario and in her brother’s obituary in 1984 as living in Blind River, Ontario.

Ivy Slessor Fall 1932
Foleyet, Ontario?

The photographs that I acquired were found in an old home in Blind River, Ontario a few years ago.  It must have been Ivy’s home. 

Fortunately I was able to acquire them to add to my collection of Mimico photographs and preserve them for the future.  

The house at 46 Albert Avenue is gone, replaced by a small apartment building as happened on many of the large lots in Mimico in the 1950s and 1960s, actively aided and abetted by the municipal government and its officials.