RHODES: When Hugh Malcolmson prospered, he built himself a big house


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Chatham has many outstanding neighborhoods that were built 100 to 150 years ago and remain as attractive today as when they were new.

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Examples would be Wellington Street West, particularly between First and Second Streets. Another beautiful area is the one around the intersection of rue Lacroix and rue King Ouest.

There is another but small conclave of stately homes on the north side of Grand Avenue East, between Grant and Thames streets.

I have to say my favorite neighborhood would be Victoria Avenue between Forest and McNaughton.

This street, the southern part of which was started by wealthy merchants and lawyers in the early to mid-1870s.

Among the first to build on Victoria Avenue was grocer Hugh Malcolmson. He built a large and attractive residence near the northeast corner of Victoria Avenue and Forest Street.

His house was located at a considerable distance from the street. This arrangement became common among the houses that were erected along this thoroughfare.

I first told you about Hugh Malcolmson in the December 6, 2006 issue of Chatham This Week, but I’ve since learned more about his unique and highly successful life.

Hugh was born on September 1, 1835 in the Orkney Islands in Scotland and came to Canada in 1857.

He first settled in Hamilton where he worked in the grocery store, but I don’t know if he learned that trade there or in the old country.

City directories show he was not in Chatham in 1864, but was here in 1869.

By this point, he had purchased the grocery store from AG Mess, known as New York House.

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Located on the north side of King Street West in the upper bend, the New York House was the city’s first grocery store and had been around since the early 1840s.

Many people will remember the New York House as the home of Artistic Ladies Wear. It has since been removed to make way for a condo project.

From this location, Hugh sold groceries, merchandise items, and whiskey; the latter item being readily available in just about any store.

Malcolmson did very well when he started trading in grain, and did even better when he bought the Kent Pickling Works on the east side of St. George Street, just north of the railway lines of the Grand Trunk (Via). Part of this complex is still there.

The new wealth he created enabled him to build his dream mansion on Victoria, just before 1875.

Malcolmson, knowing he was well regarded as an individual, entered local politics and served several terms on city council, including a stint as mayor in the late 1880s.

Although life in general is going well for Malcolmson, there is also sadness.

He was married twice. His first wife was Alexia Malcolmson; she was born in 1839 and married Hugh in 1861.

I believe they had two children, but Alexia was only 29 when she died. She died March 22, 1868 and is buried in Maple Leaf Cemetery, Old Ward A.

Since the date of his death is slightly before the establishment of the Maple Leaf Cemetery, I believe that Malcolmson had his remains moved from Old St. Paul’s Cemetery to the Maple Leaf Cemetery when the road to iron E&H announced that it would run its tracks through the middle of the cemetery.

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Malcolmson later married Emily Lavinia Wood. She was born in Dowdswell, in the district of Costwold, in Glouchestershire, England, on August 30, 1855.

Malcolmson was succeeded by his son, Bert, and then settled down to a comfortable retirement.

One day, while he was walking in front of his beautiful house, he fell and died from a heart attack.

He rests in Crypt No. 125, Mausoleum of the Maple Leaf.

Emily stayed at the Victoria Avenue house for a short time and then moved to Hamilton. This is where she died on December 5, 1937 and rests in a crypt next to her husband.

After his departure, the Malcolmson House became the parsonage of Blessed Sacrament Church.

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