The Henry Harold Harrison Family

Henry Harold Harrison

Henry Harold Harrison (1886–1973)

Parents:
Henry Harrison
(1860–1937)
Alice Barton
(1863–1897)
Half-siblings:
Margaret Harrison
(1902–?)
Nellie Harrison
(1904–1940)
Joseph Harrison
(1906–?)
Gladys Harrison
(1909–1909)
Annie Harrison
(1910–?)
Thomas Harrison
(1912–?)
Elizabeth Harrison
(1918–1998)
Edward Harrison
Married:
Agnes Durie
(1885–1971)
Children:
Henry Harold (Hank) Harrison
(1911–1974)
John Durie Harrison
(1913–1986)
Gordon Harrison
(1914–2005)
Douglas Harrison
(1919–1994)

A picture of Henry Harold Harrison in Edmonton, 1948

More photos of Harold and his family


Biography

Henry Harold Harrison (Harold) was born in Poolstock, Wigan, Lancaster on 18 May 1886 to Henry Harrison, an engine winder, and his wife Alice Barton. He was their first and only child. The family lived at 20 Walmer Street, an address in the Poolstock neighbourhood that has since disappeared. Sometime between 1886 and 1891 Harold’s father became the proprietor of the nearby Honeysuckle Inn located at 75 Pool Street. The Honeysuckle became the family residence in which Harold grew up, and where he worked in support of the family business.

In addition to his parents, other relatives and inn staff also resided at the Honeysuckle from time to time. For example, according to the 1891 census his mother’s sisters, Ellen Barton and Annie Barton were living, and most likely working, at the Honeysuckle. In addition his grandparents and many aunts and uncles lived nearby.

Harold recalled working at the Honeysuckle from an early age. He told his daughter of having to stand on a beer keg in order to draw and serve ale at the bar.

Harold’s mother Alice died in 1897 when Harold was 11 years old. He was her only child. We understand that for a period of time Harold was then cared for by two of his aunts, Nellie Harrison and Elizabeth Harrison, both younger sisters of his father. His father remarried Elizabeth Donahue, a local Poolstock resident, in 1900.

At the time of the 1901 census (3 March 1901) Harold was 14 years old living with his father, stepmother and his father’s cousin, John Harrison, at the Honeysuckle Inn. Harold and John both worked as “bar men” in the pub. Two teenage girls also lived and worked as domestic servants at the Honeysuckle, suggesting that business was brisk.

On 13 May 1901 just before his 15th birthday, Harold took up a six-year apprenticeship with a local joiner and builder named Robert George Dawson who was a local resident and family friend. The terms and conditions of the apprenticeship were spelled out in an indenture, which is still in the family’s hands today. Under it, Harold received a small wage of 5 shillings per week, increasing over the six-year period to 12 shillings. His first project as an apprentice joiner was to make a coffin. At the outset of his apprenticeship Harold continued to reside with his father and stepmother, who were beginning to have children together.

(Robert George Dawson is recorded in the 1901 census as a 30-year-old “joiner and builder for his own account” from Pemberton. He was married with two children. He resided at 18 Poolstock, an address a few blocks from the Honeysuckle Inn. His business is listed in directories of the time on Station Road, which is near the centre of Wigan.)

We understand from Harold’s daughter that Harold did not get on well with his father, who was a heavy drinker and may have been abusive. To escape the home environment he moved out of the Honeysuckle when he was about 16 years old and lived for a time with his grandfather, Joseph Harrison, who worked as an engineer at the Standish Pumping Station at Boar’s Head. At that time two of Joseph’s unmarried daughters (Ellen and Margaret) were still in the home and it is likely that several of Harold’s cousins (Edward and Martha’s orphaned children) also lived there.

When he completed his apprenticeship on his 21st birthday in 1907, Harold emigrated to Canada. We believe his grandfather, Joseph, paid the passage. He brought to Canada a joiner’s tool chest made of balsa wood and his carpentry tools, some of which are still in the family’s possession. He took up work at mining camps in northern Ontario and Quebec. Between 1907 and 1910 he worked as a carpenter at Porcupine and Cobalt building houses for miners. Harold sent money home regularly from the time he began working in Canada to help support his half-siblings in Wigan. He continued this practice until 1914 when he had a wife and three children of his own to support.

The Harold & Agnes Harrison Family

Sometime in 1907 or 1908 Harold met Agnes Durie, perhaps on the passage to Canada or perhaps after arriving in Montreal. The two were married at Grace Church in Point St. Charles, Montreal on 28 July 1910, as enshrined in their marriage certificate. After the wedding they moved to Haileybury, Ontario, where Harold continued to work building miner’s houses. It is likely that he was working in the Pearl Lake / Porcupine area on 11 July 1911 during the great fire, which he (and many others) survived by standing in the lake.

Their first son, Henry Harold (Hank) Harrison Jr., was born in 1911 in Haileybury. The birth was assisted by a First Nations midwife. Sometime thereafter Agnes visited the family in the UK with Hank, as was customary when the first child was born. Harold and Agnes subsequently moved to Toronto where they lived in a house on Hamilton Street. Sons John and Gord were born in 1913 and 1914 in Toronto.

In about 1918 Harold began constructing a house at 113 Gledhill Avenue in East York, which became the family home for the next 20-plus years. Before building the upper floors of the house Harold built a three-room residence in the basement, which became the family’s home while he was completing the upper floors. Son Doug was born in 1919 while the house was still under construction. Their daughter was born in 1922 after the house was completed. Harold was an accomplished cabinet-maker and made much of the furniture for the family home including two dressers which he signed and which were in the family’s possession as of 2005.

In the mid-1920s there was a construction boom in Florida and Harold went there to work for two years. According to his daughter, Harold and his friend Alec Bruce rowed across the Detroit River and entered the US illegally, then hitchhiked to Florida. Harold would write home regularly, corresponding with Agnes and sending money to support the family.

As was the custom at the time, Agnes was a stay-at-home mother raising her family of five children. She was a fastidious housekeeper who would not tolerate a speck of dust anywhere in her home. Every Saturday two of the boys were made to wash and wax the hardwood floors in the house. The other two boys were assigned to wash and dry the dishes after dinner every night that week. The children attended Danforth Park public school and East York Collegiate. They all lived at home at 113 Gledhill Avenue until they were married, or in Doug’s case, joined the army.

By the late 1920s, perhaps with money he had saved in Florida, Harold had become a developer / builder, buying land and constructing homes on with the intention of selling them. He bought land and built houses on Cranbrook Street and Gledhill Avenue. Unfortunately the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression wiped him out financially and he went back to his old trade, getting jobs where he could.

Harold worked as a joiner on many of the major construction projects in Toronto in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He worked on the construction of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, which was built between 1928 and 1929. At 28 stories the Royal York was the largest hotel and the tallest building in the British empire when it was built. He also worked on the Bank of Commerce Building, which was constructed in 1929–30. At 32 stories this surpassed the Royal York Hotel in height and became the tallest building in the British empire for the next 30 years! You can find some photos and a little quaint history of these buildings at http://www.lostrivers.ca/points/RY&BofC.htm. Harold later worked on the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens, which was built in 1930–31. The owners of the Gardens ran out of cash during the project and paid the workers in shares, which they had to hawk at bargain basement prices to pay the rent.

When the full impact of the Great Depression hit Toronto it became impossible to find work. To make ends meet Harold would make wooden jigsaw puzzles in wooden boxes and sell them to shops on the Danforth. Harold became unable to keep up the mortgage payments on 113 Gledhill Avenue, and lost the property to the mortgage holder, a woman named Nellie Lapp. Nellie refused to evict the family and instead rented them the house for $30 per month. Eventually son Hank saved enough money to buy the house back.

Harold eventually found steady work (probably in the late 1930s) with Johns Mansville, a tile manufacturer, where he developed a specialization in building sound-proof rooms for radio and television studios. This job required him to travel to the cities where the projects were located and he worked in Sackville, Winnipeg and Edmonton on these projects and probably the United States as well.

During the 1930s the family would rent a cottage every summer on Rice Lake. Agnes and her daughter would go up for the summer. Harold would come up on weekends and the sons would also come up on weekends with their girlfriends.

Harold, or “Pops” as he was known to his family, was a working class man and a socialist through and through. He believed it was unconscionable for some people to be excessively wealthy while others struggled to make ends meet. His one vice was “the ponies” and he and Agnes frequented Greenwood Racetrack, Thorncliffe Racetrack and later the new Woodbine track north of Toronto.

By 1956 Harold had retired. Harold and Agnes took a trip to England and Scotland by ocean liner to visit relatives – the first time they had been back to the “old country” in many decades. In the mid-1950s they sold the house at 113 Gledhill Avenue and moved first to Mortimer Avenue and later to 40 Scarborough Beach Boulevard, to a home owned by son Hank.

On Tuesday 28 July 1970 Henry and Agnes celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Son John and his wife Norma organized and hosted the event at their home at 40 Wilgar Road in Toronto. About 50 family members participated including Henry’s sister, “Aunt Maggie”, from Wigan who brought the cake and his cousin, Doris Darbyshire, from Blackpool, and Nan Reekie, Agnes’s niece from Bonnyrigg, Scotland. The event was covered in the local press. Henry and Agnes received congratulations from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and a plaque from the Government of Ontario to commemorate the occasion. Here is a photograph of Harold, Agnes and their five children taken during the festivities.

Harold and Agnes lived quietly on Scarborough Beach Boulevard until Agnes died in 1971 after a stroke and a brief stay in the Bluebird nursing home. Harold subsequently moved to the Providence Villa nursing home in East York where he died in 1973. Harold and Agnes were both cremated. Their ashes are interred at St. James Cemetery in Toronto.


Research Note

The information contained in this biography is based on first-hand and second-hand knowledge of the author as well as discussions with family members who knew Harold personally, including his daughter. It is supplemented by documents handed down by the family as well as UK census records for 1891 and 1901 and civil registration certificates.


Footnotes

A joiner is a woodworker who makes and installs architectural woodwork, mainly in the UK, including things that are called “finish carpentry” and “millwork” in North America. Joiners fabricate and install building components such as doors, windows, stairs, wooden panelling, mouldings, shop cabinets, kitchen cabinets, and other wooden fittings. The skills of a joiner are somewhat intermediate between a carpenter and a cabinet maker.

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Adjusted for inflation five shillings in 1901 would equate to about £18.00 today, or about $CD 36.00. Assuming Harold worked 60 hours per week as an apprentice his starting wage, in today’s terms, was about 30 pence/hr and his ending wage was about 72 pence/hr.

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