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Professional success is worth celebrating

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Submitted Photo
Jim Sandham stumped his fellow Lakeshore Genealogical Society members at Mystery Ancestry Night with the story of Charles Luther Burton (1912-1998), born to a small-town merchant, rising to president of the Simpson's chain in 1929 and chairman in 1948.

Submitted Photo Jim Sandham stumped his fellow Lakeshore Genealogical Society members at Mystery Ancestry Night with the story of Charles Luther Burton (1912-1998), born to a small-town merchant, rising to president of the Simpson's chain in 1929 and chairman in 1948.


Professional success is always worth boasting about, and several members of the Lakeshore Genealogical Society took the opportunity to do so, on behalf of their forebears, at their annual Mystery Ancestor Night in January.

Jim Sandham told the story of first cousin twice removed Charles Luther Burton, born in 1876 in the Pickering Township village of Green River. His father kept the general store. His mother Eliza Barclay Burton shared the job, a whole-hearted homemaker who kept house in the back of and above the store — and also provided the sense of order and cleanliness up front that kept the store from descending into chaos during those days when barter brought as much produce into the store as customers took out.

The family moved to Toronto when Charlie was 11, and he entered what is now Jarvis Collegiate. He had to leave school at age 14, because his family could no longer support him, so he got a job with an attorney's firm.

Dissatisfied with only slow prospects of advancement, he joined prominent wholesaler H.H. Fudger in 1891. It proved to be an excellent move.

In 1897, Robert Simpson Company founder Robert Simpson died, and his business was sold to a syndicate of three Toronto businessmen (including Fudger).

This made Charlie an employee of the Robert Simpson Company, and his advancement came swiftly. He was assistant general manager by 1912, president by 1929 and chairman of the board by 1948 — years during which he built up a great Canadian retailing organization that had few equals.

Tom Holden's English grandfather William Cudworth took to the rails after witnessing the first run of the world's first passenger railway, the Stockton & Darlington, in 1825. He was just a 10-year-old boy at the time.

He had a detour, when he apprenticed in ship building, was briefly a sailor, then started his own shipbuilding business. But he gave it up to be a civil engineer for the Stockton & Darlington in 1840.

He was engineer to the Kendal and Windermere Railway, which opened in 1847 against opposition for its intrusion in the Lake District landscape (opponents included poet William Wordsworth).

In the 1850s, he was engineer for the construction of the Middlesborough and Guisborough Railway, serving the developing Cleveland iron-mining district. He also oversaw the construction of the Hownes Gill Viaduct on the Stockton & Darlington Railway, which is still standing (unlike a certain bridge over Rice Lake from the same era).

Given his early years in ship building, he would have particularly enjoyed enlarging the Middlesborough Docks while carrying out large groups of marshalling sidings at Shildon and Newport and other new stations.

A member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, he presented two papers: on the Hownes Gill Viaduct in 1862 and on sorting railway trains by gravitation in 1875.

He retired in 1883, shortly after wife's death.

A Quaker, life-long teetotaller and ardent peace advocate, he was active on the hospital and other committees.

He was also a scholar. He translated and privately published Greek and Latin works like Euripides's The Alcestis and The Iphigenia of Aulis and Homer's The Odyssey. And he learned Italian in his 80s in order to read original versions of Dante, as well as being one of the first teachers in the Friends' Adult School in Darlington from age 52 through his 80s.

His son William John Cudworth (1849-1909) followed him into engineering. Grandson William Oswald Cudworth (1885-1954) studied engineering in Manchester, emigrated to Canada and rose in the ranks of the CPR.

He was great-great-grandfather to three more engineers, though none was involved with railroads other than as passengers or modellers.

Bernice Makepeace told the story of the other side of the coin: the cousin who ran a produce store under an assumed name and was the black sheep of the family.

It was her Uncle Gilbert Nelson's oldest son Everett. Uncle Gilbert owned and operated the butcher shop in Warkworth, but moved the family to Toronto in 1924, when their mother died.

In due course, Everett married and started his own family. When his son Everett Jr. and daughter Lenore were just toddlers, he walked out of the house one morning and never returned.

Everett Jr. grew up to marry and become the father of three sons, who were never allowed to ask questions about their grandfather. The middle son, Mike, would later unravel the mystery.

During his research, Mike contacted Makepeace. They pooled information, and Mike made the trip to Florida to locate his Aunt Marguerite. She proved to be another rich source of family lore.

Aunt Marguerite told him that, when his grandfather walked out on his family, he went to Brantford and changed his name. Over the years, she and her brothers had visited him there.

She gave Mike a picture of his father and his Aunt Lenore as small children that had come to her from Everett's second wife Mae, who said he had always carried the photo in his wallet.

Marguerite had no idea why Everett had left. She could only say he was a very unhappy man. She was able to tell Mike his grandfather had died on Halloween and what year it was. Armed with this information, he sleuthed out the cemetery where he was buried under the name of George Allan and the original death notice.

From there, he found a home address that he visited just to see if anyone there knew anything about George Allan. No, they said, but they referred him to the long-time residents next door.

The woman who answered that knock remembered George Allan well. She said he was a very grumpy person, but his wife Mae was a very pleasant woman. He'd run a produce store downtown.

Mike mentioned that he knew his grandfather was a lover of spirits. The woman said that this was what had eventually killed him.

George and Mae had no children, she added, and Mae died a few years after her husband passed away.

Mike's information filled in the blanks about Everett Nelson, Makepeace said, but the conclusion is inescapable: a man who walks out on his wife and children and changes his name must be considered the black sheep of the family.


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