County of Brant Public Library Digital Collections
Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Hero Tolhurst
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An interview conducted in June 1978 with Mr. and Mrs. Hero Tolhurst, of St. George. They discuss life in St. George as well as Mr. Tolhurst's involvement in the fire department and various industries around town. Scroll down to the Full Text section below to read the interview.
Contributed by South Dumfries Historical Society. This article originally appeared on the County of Brant wiki at It has been included in this collection for ease of research.
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St. George Interviews - Volume 02
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.244942172096 Longitude: -80.2533936349487
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County of Brant Public Library (Paris Branch)
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Full Text

Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Hero Tolhurst conducted on 7 June 1978.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Tolhurst were born in this area — Mr. Tolhurst was born right in St. George, while Mrs. Tolhurst was born in Bruce’s community. Mr. Tolhurst has been involved in the fire department and various industries around town.


Interviewer: When did you come to St. George?

Mr. Tolhurst: I was born here in 1901. Lived here all my life. I never lived anywhere else, only for a short time for a visit. This was always home. I don’t think that there is anyone around here who has lived here longer than I have.

Interviewer: Mrs. Tolhurst were you from the St. George area?

Mrs. Tolhurst: No, I was born north of Branchton. Then I lived in Bruce’s community. We were farmers and rented our farms. At one time I also lived up the river. Then we lived at Bruce’s. I went to school t there.

Interviewer: What was it like?

Mr. Tolhurst: Oh, wonderful! It gave us a wonderful training. It was a one room school, so all the grades were together in one room.

Interviewer: Where did you go to school, Mr. Tolhurst?

Mr. Tolhurst: I went up there where they have that museum now (old school). That’s the only one I ever went to.

Interviewer: Who were some of your teachers?

Mr. Tolhurst: Well now there was the first teacher I had was u woman by the name of Miss MeKenzie. The next one was Marcula Morris and the next one was Edwina White. Then I got mad and left. There was another one Miss Geeslin, we called her “goslin”. Then from there on A.E. Green was the principal. Joyce Lawrasin Wehrstein’s mother taught up stairs. One man teacher up there we used to call him “bald baby”. Those were the days.

Interviewer: Where did you work?

Mr. Tolhurst: Every time or most of the time? Well when I smarted out I was a cowboy, believe it of not. I looked after the cattle along the roads when there were no automobiles. I drove a team for Sam Russel for five year s and I drove a team for Howell’s Livery Stable for several years. I also worked at Jackson Wagon Works. I was the engineer and I was there for five years. I turned the wheels over for the last time when the highway went through. I worked at Malcolm’s for eighteen years as chief engineer. I was down here at the quarry for about one year and a half when they put No. 5 through. I was at Hussman’s twenty years.

Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit of what the Jackson Wagon Works was like?

Mr. Tolhurst: Well it was &s good a place to work as any. They made wagons and sleighs. They were horse drawn for the west and for Eaton’s. We also made boxes. Before the Jackson’s it was the Snowball’s. I don’t think there are any Snowball wagons around any more. I have u book showing all the parts of the wagon in it. Rose Patterson is old Dan Jackson's daughter. He was the president of the Jackson Wagon Co. If I was a good artist, I never could see art when I went to school, I could draw a complete St. George showing the Bell Foundry, Wagon Works, mill, cooper shop und everything else, because it is all in my head but I don’t get it down on paper.

Interviewer: What was Jackson like to work for?

Mr. Tolhurst: Well, I never worked for anyone any better.

Interviewer: And what did you do there?

Mr. Tolhurst: I was the engineer, which involved the running of the wheels and the making of the steam and the boiler and the drive kilns, the easy job.

Interviewer: Did you know Harry Freeman?

Mr. Tolhurst: I guess so. He was the bookkeeper. Mildred Osborne, I guess she was the bookkeeper later. Karry Freeman was the paymaster. We used to say “here comes Harry with his nickels and dimes”. He didn’t like us to well. Oh, he used to raise cane in that office. Before I was engineer I worked in the Blacksmith’s shop there in the wagon factory when I was a young fellow. I shifted from there to the rack room and then to the paint shop. Then when I was engineer, they made wagons in the winter and sleighs in the sunmer. Then there was a changeover. Then I got everything done up in the boiler room and got everything ready to go again-then as a rule I went out in the other part of the plant, maybe in the paint shop painting, maybe in the rack room or some place else. Then in the fall when I’d get off work I would go out in the country on a thrashing outfit. That's how I spent my tine there. That was a really, nice place to work. I was transferred over there from Malcolm’s My Bad was engineer and the Malcolm plant burned down. Before it was Malcolm's it was a cheese factory. The Malcolm’s got it and then it burnt down. Well, Dad was the engineer there and when it burnt down Dad went to the Wagon Factory. I stayed there and got the boilers all ready to go and fired them up after the fire and I didn't have any papers to operate, so I did for a while and then they traded me to Jackson’s for Dad, to get him to come back. When I got down to Jackson’s then I went to Toronto to met my certificate. It’s quite a rigarmarole. There’s no baloney to that, that’s all gospel truth.

Interviewer: What happened when the Highway went through there?

Mr. Tolhurst: They tore the plant down. I turned the wheels over the last time That was: quite a big concern, that wagon factory. It was pretty internationally known. There was a big pond right back up to where Garnet Howe is. That was all pond, bush, and swamp.

Interviewer: Where the Shell station is, wasn't that the paint shop?

Mr. Tolhurst: The Shell station was> the paint shop. The building next to it “was the office (Paris Fence Co.) and it was moved from across the street where the Super test (BP.) is. When you went up Beverly street you couldn’t go straight through, you had to go down Main Street and then up High Street.

Interviewer: What do you remember about Main Street?

Mr. Tolhurst: The bank and the cleaners weren’t there. Shut lot used to be a bandstand. Right next to that there used to be a little fish store. The rest of the buildings down the street are just about the same. They took the bandstand and the fish store out and built the cleaners. The post office was further up the street from where it is now about where Mrs. Trevina’s is now. Where the hardware is was always the hardware store old Bob Hickocks used to have it. On down the street there was the groceries which have changed hands several times. The Shop on Main Street used to be the bank. On down towards the corner there was an e express office, where Wilburt Jackson used to be. When I drove teams for Howell’s I’d drive the express. That’s where I got my education was on the express wagon. I had to know then. We had a tinsmith shop in there. There have been so many changes, T-he old post office (now the library) used to be the hardware. Osborne Hewell had it first and the Joe Burke took over, he had been station agent and come up there and took over the hardware. Then it went on from there and it was the U.F.O. general store. There was u anpther store owned by Charles Maitland. He’s the guy who when you went in for 25 c. of candy and it didn’t weigh up right he would cut a candy in half. J drug store was down in there too. More bloody changes around here in ray time than you can shake a stick at.

Interviewer: What do you remember about working for the Bell Go.?

Mr. Tolhurst: Number please?

Interviewer: What kind of equipment did you have to work with?

Mrs. Tolhurst: We had earphones. We had to plug in our numbers and then pull a cord.

Mr. Tolhurst: I’ll tell you what she did. There was a great big keyboard. She still have them, and there was a big panel. There were all numbers in little blocks that came down and if one of the lights came on she’d ram it in the slot and say “Number please”. They’d give her the number and she’d start punching it in to connect it and they’d get the number and she'd hang up. If they phoned and just gave the name and not the numbers she’d get mad. They knew pretty well all the numbers. The old machine telephone, it was up the street where Frank Legere lives. The old machine telephone was in there. There were two switchboards in St. George.

Interviewer: Where was the original one?

Mr. Tolhurst: The Bell was in where the Maxwell’s live now. The machine was further up the street. Stupid old me, I had a girl at both of them and I operated both of them. I had u sister on tile machine telephone.

Interviewer: What was the pay like back then?

Mrs. Tolhurst: I forget what I did get. Twenty-five dollars a month, I think.

Mr. Tolhurst: You know what the pay was when I was young working in the sugar beet fields? Five cents a hour and you carried your dinner. That was when I first started to work. And that’s going along on yours hands and knees and pulling out the little ones and leaving big ones. I don’t know but I think that when I was at the wagon works, I was getting about thirty-five cents an hour.

Interviewer: How many hours a week did you week?

Mr. Tolhurst: We worked until Saturday noon. At the wagon factory it was all days. Eight hours a day. When I worked with Malcolm's, I worked whenever I was called, twenty-four hours a day. You didn’t know whether you were going to go up there in the middle of the night or get called away just before you were supposed to go away somewhere to be told that the ice cream is all melted, then away you’d have to go and get it all cleaned up.

Interviewer: When did the new Malcolm’s cone?

Mr. Tolhurst: The new factory I can’t tell you, because I was there all the time through it. It was a cheese factory, and then when Mulcolm’s came they turned it into a milk factory and a canning factory, and then it burnt and they built the present one. It’s changed thee times in my time. It changed from a cheese factory to a milk factory, well then it burnt and they don’t can milk there anymore. When it was a canning factory they made the barrel milk and evaporated milk. They also made a condensed coffee, where you added the hot water and it was like a syrup with the sugar and milk and coffee all in it. I got blood poisoning and my hand was quite swollen because I did all the capping, and we sat at a machine and the cans went by on an endless chain. We grab bed a bunch of caps and put them on the cans us they went by. I caught my hand there, and the next day, I knew it.

Interviewer: We heard you were the fire chief, what was involved r with that job?

Mr. Tolhurst: What was involved? Not quite as much as there is now, but I had all the responsibility of the fire hall and the trucks. I also hired the men.

Interviewer: What kind of equipment did you have to work with?

Mr. Tolhurst: When I was chief, we got two new trucks, we had a Graham Page which was a Dodge, which was about the laziest thing I ever saw on the road, and the other new one that we got is sitting up there now, it was a '27 Chev. Before that we had two Model T Fords. If one wouldn’t go we pushed it with the other and when the other one wouldn’t go we pushed it down Main Street to get it started. Before that I wasn’t on the fire brigade, but I drove horses for it. We had one big horse drawn engine, one of the old timers. The first man to get his team there got ten dollars or so, and I happened to be lucky two or three times. She was when I drove for Howell’s.

Interviewer: Were there a lot of fires?

Mr. Tolhurst: We went all over. I drove a team when I was not on the brigade, clean to Lynden. We went all around the surrounding area. Then when I was Fire Chief, I couldn't exactly point out the area that we had, but we went down to the South Dumfries, Beverly town lines. I went north to the Waterloo-Brant border, across this side of the Gait road, we didn’t cross the river. We went south to the Governor’s Road, which is # 99 now. We went up No. 5 to the first or second accession. We took in Glen Morris, but we didn’t cross the river. We did, but we weren’t supposed to. We had some of these town trustees, where we had our battles was they wanted to run it and I wanted to run it. When I took over the Chief’s job and they drew up the two contracts, the one I signed was the one I ran. They could come and inspect it once in a while but if they had anything to say they said it to me and not to the firemen.

Interviewer: How many firemen did you have working for you?

Mr. Tolhurst: There were about eight of us when I was chief, but when I was on the force we had eleven men.

Interviewer: Were these all hired full- time men?

Mr. Tolhurst: No, it was never full time. They had a salary, but it was volunteer. They got paid. When I was chief we set up the idea where the men got so much a year, regardless. That was my idea. If they didn't attend a fire or come to a meeting, they lost so much a meeting, a dollar, I think. That was so the buggars would all be there. If a truck went out to a fire at that time, they got five dollars a call. It didn’t matter if a machine was out five minutes or five hours, they got five dollars regardless. It could be in the middle of the night or the middle of the day. If the machine went out a dozen times in one day, they still got five dollars a call. I think that it is probably she still run that way. When I was first on, we had so much trouble, there were eleven of us. There was a big tower on the fire hall where we had to hang up the hoses to be dried. They had to dry so long. Then they had to be taken down and packed. Well the trucks had to be cleaned and the brass polished and the meetings were for that purpose. When it came to the meeting there would be three or four of us there out of eleven to do the work. If they didn’t feel like going to a fire they would go somewhere else. So much a year just the same. I didn’t like that idea because I was one of the guys that was there all the time doing all the work. When I became chief I changed that. Now if they need extra help for a fire they call a surrounding brigade and they come right away, and if we are called we go immediately. We don’t ask questions. I think it is a good idea. What used to get my goat sometimes was that they were so strict about boundary lines. For instance if there was a fire on the boundary, no way could I see not helping. If they were in trouble and called I was going, whether it was across the line or not. I got in many a little shumble battle over that. Les Osborne was the Reeve and I used to get into trouble for going out of my territory without asking him. If they phoned in for help I was supposed to phone line Reeve and get permission to help. Well the house could be burnt by t that time I was going.

Interviewer: What kind of organizations have you belonged to?

Mr. Tolhurst: Me? None. I belonged to the Ancient Order of Forresters once, but I don’t any mere. I also am a Baptist, but they never got around to dunking me, because I could get enough dunkings without.

Mrs. Tolhurst: I’ve always belonged to the Women's Institute. It is a wonderful organization, that’s all I have to say. One of the best. I have a little broach that I wear on my coat for my service. Anybody that doesn’t belong to the Women's Institute doesn't know what their missing.

Mr. Tolhurst: Well you were in the Horticultural Society for years.

Mrs. Tolhurst: Yes? I was President of the Horticultural Society for years.

Interviewer: How did you develop your love for wood?

Mr. Tolhurst: Well, I’ll tell you. When I was engineer in the wagon factory the engine room was next to a fireproof door and next to that was a wood lathe. Well, I decided one day when everything was running smoothly, I was monkeying with the lathe. From the lathe I could make sure everything was running smoothly, the steam and water gages. I decided to steel some of the old man’s cherry wood and I made an electric lamp, Jean has one yet. So I made that lamp, it was all right, I could run any machine I wanted to, it went on, and I think I made every buggar in that shop a lamp, then the guy that did the turning got sick, and went home and he died. They didn’t have anyone to make the neck yokes, so they came out and asked me if I thought I could make them, so I said I didn't know why I couldn't. I could see everything in the boiler room for the lathe. These were easier, because there were patterns. So they offered me so much a neck yoke. So that was on top of my regular wages. I turned all the neck yokes and the next thing I knew I was doing all the turning. So that’s how I got interested in working a lathe and I eventually got a small one of my own. Then one day a man came to me and asked me if I could use one that he was going to throw to the scrap pile, arid he asked ne if I knew what it was or had any use for it and I got that one. Then I got my steel lathe and that is how I put in my spare time. (He showed us many of the items he has beautifully made.)

Interviewer: Do you remember anything else about St. George?

Mr. Tolhurst: People used to rent horses from the Howells. They had three teams that did the teaming for Malcolm’s. Everything was hauled by horse to the train, all the products. Same with Bell's Foundry. They had three teams of their own. Sometimes I hauled in there, all the scrap and pig iron. Bell Foundry made turnip pulpers, cultivators and other farm implements. Something the same as Massey Ferguson. It was a large foundry which went from Lyons house along Beverly Street to the corner of Reid und Beverly. It was shaped like a big E.

Interviewer: Have you always lived in this house?

Mr. Tolhurst: I was born in that house where Elmer Robb lives over on Lorrimer Street. I lived in many houses after that .When we: moved down to where Dorothy Card lives, I bought, that place after I started to work so they would not have to move around. I was working in the Wagon Factory then.

Then when we started out, we lived in an apartment over Wilbur Jackson’s store over Main Street. Then we went to the corner where Fred and Rhoda Main live for a short time then we finally took advantage of the situation and after many moves we bought this house on Reid Street. We’ve been here close to fifty years, and will be here.

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Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Hero Tolhurst

An interview conducted in June 1978 with Mr. and Mrs. Hero Tolhurst, of St. George. They discuss life in St. George as well as Mr. Tolhurst's involvement in the fire department and various industries around town. Scroll down to the Full Text section below to read the interview.