Henry Harold Harrison Jr. was born on 27 June 1911 in Coleman, Ontario in the county of Nipissing, according to his birth certificate. Family reports he was born in Haileybury, Ontario. Both locations are in the same area—the northeastern part of Ontario, south of Temiskaming. Henry was the first child of Henry Harold Harrison Sr, a carpenter, and his wife Agnes Durie who had immigrated to Canada from Scotland and England several years earlier. Henry’s father was working building homes for the miners when their first son was born. A First Nations midwife assisted his mother, Agnes, during the birth. Coleman at the time consisted of mud roads and wooden sidewalks.
Henry’s mother always referred to her son as Henry but friends and other family members knew him as Hank or Harry.
At approximately age 2, Hank and his parents moved to Hamilton Street in Toronto located behind St. James Cemetery; they resided for about two years. His father bought property, a fruit farm at 113 Gledhill Avenue, where he built the foundation of their home and finished it sufficiently so the family could live there while he went to work in the United States. Eventually the house was completed by Hank’s father, and it remained the family home for many years.
There was a Mennonite Church down the street from 113 Gledhill, and Henry, along with his Brothers, attended this church.
After being bullied several times by Charlie Bomber, Henry was taken down in the basement by his father to learn the techniques of boxing. His father was skilled at this sport and taught him well. Shortly afterwards, Charlie Bomber was put in his place by young Henry. When Charlie’s parents came to Henry’s home to complain that Henry had beaten poor Charlie, Henry’s father’s response was a proud, “Well, it’s about time!”
The hat industry always profited well from Henry. From the time he was three, all hats for young Henry had to be made-to-measure to accommodate his large head size! Jokes were always made by family, friends and young Henry himself over the size of his head.
Hank attended Danforth Park public school located in Toronto at Gledhill and Lumsden. He was an excellent student and graduated from grade eight. Being the oldest child combined with the fact that times were very difficult, young Hank was not able to continue his schooling but went out to work to help the family financially. Initially, Hank did odd office jobs and was a runner for different companies.
Hank’s father had wanted to start a construction company and wished to encourage his sons to take up the trades. Hank was designated to be the plumber, received his papers as a certified plumber, but unfortunately despised the work. His noted accomplishments as a plumber were his work on the Bank of Commerce on King Street, Toronto and the Park Plaza Hotel in Toronto.
Walter Warrington, a lifelong friend, convinced Hank to join him in the mortgage/real estate business. One of the distressing sides to this job was the many foreclosures that had to be conducted. Hank was unable to continue in this business as found he could not foreclose on families.
Hank next began an offtrack betting business from the family home on Gledhill. His father and mother gave him permission to use the premises.
In 1939, he purchased the Wilkies Cigar Store at the corner of Wineva and Queen Street in Toronto. He rented the store, but owned the business. He hired a man named Phil to run the store. Phil was an extraordinary employee who worked long hours and was a very dedicated worker. The offtrack business was transferred from Gledhill Avenue to the back of the store, and it became a popular place where elderly men could be seen at the back of the store studying the racing forms. Mr. Briton was the lookout man! Henry was very good at mathematics which proved beneficial in setting the odds and doing business.
Through his connections with Walter Warrington, Henry met Agnes May Gilbert, and they were married 7 January 1938 in Jacksonville, Florida. Agnes May Gilbert had been married to John Moor Brewis and had a son from this marriage, who was legally adopted by Henry. Agnes was better known as Brownie.
Initially, Hank and Brownie resided on Vaughan Road in Toronto for a short period of time and subsequently moved to 460 Merton Street, Toronto. Hank and Brownie’s son was born on 2 September 1940 while living on Merton Street.
Around 1940, Hank and Brownie purchased a fourplex at 40–42 Scarboro Beach Blvd, Toronto, located in the beaches area. Hank, Brownie, and their sons resided in one of the lower units (#40) of the fourplex, renting the other three apartments.
Hank continued to own the store as well as purchasing a car business, Floyd Motors, on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. This business was in partnership with his closest friend Earl McCann. Friends and acquaintances admired Hank’s keen business acumen.
In the early forties, Hank and Brownie looked at purchasing a cottage at Presqu’ile Point on Lake Ontario. Hank was fond of cottage life but Brownie was not. Reluctantly, Brownie agreed to the purchase of the cottage only if Hank agreed to selling it once she had had enough of it. Hank was a man of his word and without argument sold the cottage around 1952. Hank’s parents stayed at the cottage frequently and other family members visited. Hank’s love of fishing was partly fulfilled at the cottage; his sons along with his father joined him on regular fishing excursions from the cottage.
A baby girl was born to Hank and Brownie on 8 September 1944. The home at 40 Scarboro Beach Blvd had only two bedrooms, so Hank announced they would have to move to accommodate two boys and a girl. Seven years later, Hank moved Brownie and their three children to a single family home at 75 Rykert Crescent, Toronto, located in the north Leaside area.
In the early to mid 1960s, Hank sold the store and car business but still retained the fourplex: he wanted to retire. Bill Taylor, a friend who inhabited one of the fourplex units at one time, wanted to start a business. Taylor borrowed money from Hank to build Wm. E. Taylor Limited, food brokers, and convincing Hank to join the business that became located in Thorncliffe Park, Toronto. Henry was Executive Vice- President of the company until his death.
Hank and Brownie’s sons were married by then, and Brownie had been ill with heart problems for several years. The house became too much for Brownie and they and their daughter, moved to 49 Thorncliffe Park Drive, Apartment 1120, Toronto in January 1968.
Brownie was already in Sunnybrook Hospital on the day Hank suffered a serious stroke at the office. He was admitted to intensive care at Sunnybrook Hospital, where he remained in a coma for about three days. Hank died 13 November 1974. He was cremated and buried at St. James Cemetery at 645 Parliament Street in Toronto. Hank and Brownie had seven grandchildren at the time of Hank’s death. Hank predeceased the birth of his eighth grandchild.
Life and Leisure
Hank’s life was filled with many activities. He was an avid card player and was skilled at everything from poker to bridge to hearts. Family gatherings always ended with a card game. He liked to gamble at his poker clubs and at Scarboro Golf and Country Club with success on many occasions.
Hank was a very active fisherman—a sport he learned at an early age from his father. He fished at Presqu’ile Point from the cottage, Rice Lake, Lake Nipissing, Madoc (at a lumber camp) and Temiskaming.
Hank was a member of the Scarboro Rod and Gun Club and took several holidays hunting pheasant, duck, geese, and deer. He frequented the Madoc lumber camp for these activities and took other trips to Algonquin Park, James Bay, and Manitoba. Hank had a collection of duck decoys he made, some of which are fondly possessed by some family members to this day.
To enhance his sporting success, Hank bought a Weimaraner dog named Danko Von Heidaoff. He was very proud of this dog, but unfortunately Danko didn’t live up to the retrieving expertise Hank had hoped he possessed; his dog didn’t like the cold. Hank enjoyed taking Danko to training and dog shows, but the training didn’t succeed in making him a proficient hunting partner. Danko Von Heidaoff did win “Best of Breed”’at a show, but Hank would laughingly add “Danko was the only participant.”
Hank joined the Scarboro Golf and Country Club where he did some golfing but became more passionate about curling, participating weekly and entering bonspiels.
Friends and Family
Hank’s time with male friends was very important to him. Before he and Brownie were married, they agreed to Hank being free to go out and “play” Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. Brownie agreed without hesitation, as the other half of the agreement was he would take her out Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On the downside, if they were to entertain friends, it had to be booked on Brownie’s evenings. This verbal contract worked for both Hank and Brownie. Hank loved to socialize and was a nighthawk. Brownie never complained about his many fishing and hunting expeditions. Quite a pace for Hank to live!
Henry was a good and generous provider for his family. Education for his children was of utmost importance, and he supported all three of them in attaining their educations. Family holidays were at the Presqu’ile Point cottage in the early years. After the cottage was sold, the family took trips together to Florida, New York City, and Waltonian Inn on Lake Nipissing. Of course, Hank enjoyed fishing with his sons on Lake Nipissing.
Hank was very thoughtful, generous, and loyal to his parents, traits he carried over into his circle of friends and other family members. He was a very reliable, honest man who was as good as his word. In the early years on Gledhill, when the family was going to lose the house, Hank bought the house back for his parents when he had enough money. In later years, he provided a home for his parents at the fourplex. Stories are told of his frequent visits to his parents’s home, always arriving bearing furnishings and bags of groceries.
Hank had good friends and kept them all his life. If family or friends needed something, Hank would provide it, if at all possible. His godson lost his father at a young age, and Hank provided money and support for his education. When his best friend, Earl McCann, died, leaving a wife and three daughters, Henry was again a very good friend and took an active part in the daughters’ lives. Driving across the Bloor viaduct one day, a man was about to jump. Hank stopped his car and rescued the man from his suicide. At Presqu’le Point during a violent storm, Hank, a friend, and his son John went out in his boat and retrieved a stranded man and his wife, bringing them back to the cottage to recuperate.
Hank loved to entertain people with stories! His sense of humour was revealed in these situations. An example was his hilarious speech made at John (his brother) and Norma’s anniversary party. He recalled all sorts of moments from their courtship and wedding, having everyone in gales of laughter. He loved family gatherings, big or small, and his family joined together with his brother Doug and his family for many Christmas celebrations, always including a game of charades at the end of the evening.
His sense of humour had to be called upon the morning he made tea in Brownie’s silver teapot and put it on the stovetop. Returning after dressing for work, to his dismay, he discovered only the handle of the pot resting on the burner!
Hank’s life was short, dying suddenly at the age of sixty-three. Up until his death, Henry had good health with the exception of a back problem that was corrected successfully with surgery. In his relatively short duration, he lived a very full life able to enjoy all his interests and sports as well as getting great pleasure from family life, celebrations, and interactions with friends and acquaintances.
Details and Facts
7 Feb 1944
40 Scarborough Beach Blvd
Per Douglas Harrison’s military next of kin record.