OPINION: New bench recognizes lumber family’s contributions to city

Members of the Belton family surround a new waterfront bench dedicated to the community and its support. Seated on the bench are, from left, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, Rosalie Belton Starkey and her brother Tom Belton. Phil Egan

Phil Egan

To the strains of a highland piper on a glorious fall day, Tom Belton led a procession down Lochiel Street to the waterfront.

More than 60 family, friends, and former employees of Belton Lumber had converged on Sarnia on Oct. 21 to dedicate a bench to the community. They came from across Ontario and as far as Golden, B.C. to remember a family company and its long association with the city.

“Sarnia has been good to the Beltons,” Tom Belton told the small crowd, which included names from its past, including Belton, Kenny, Gurd, Cowan and Pardee.

By the time the Second World War broke out, Belton Lumber had more than 100 employees in the city.

The Laidlaw-Belton Lumber Company was founded in London by partners Robert Laidlaw and James H. Belton in 1874. Twenty years later, James’ son George H. Belton joined the business.

In 1898, the Belton family established a company in Sarnia. As forests in Northern Ontario were felled, massive rafts of logs were floated down Lake Huron to Sarnia Bay.

In 1901, Chester H. Belton arrived in Sarnia to run the operation. Mills along the Great Lakes shipped lumber by sailing vessels to Sarnia.

The company moved to the foot of Devine Street in 1911, and the Laidlaw-Belton Lumber Company flourished. In 1926, Thomas D. Belton, the grandfather of bench dedication organizer Tom Belton, became the third generation to run the lumber business.

The company expanded throughout Canada in the 1930s, and in 1946, while embarking on a busy period of postwar construction, the Belton’s bought out the Laidlaw interests and the firm became the Belton Lumber Company Limited. It continued operating until 1984.

The Belton family’s mark on Sarnia went far beyond the company’s 86 years of success. Family members were associated with Lambton Loan and Investment Company, the Sarnia Chamber of Commerce, the Sarnia Cemetery Board, Sarnia Humane Society, the Sarnia Golf Club, Sarnia Riding Club, the All-Ontario Sarnia Juvenile Hockey team (1971-72), the All-Ontario Champion Sarnia Knight Junior ORFU Football team, the SMAA and the Sarnia Sports Hall of Fame.

The stately old Belton family home at 312 London Road still stands; recalling a time when the family “did business with a handshake.”

The Belton Lumber Company may be gone and the Belton family disbursed across the country, but they gathered again this day to remember a company and one family’s imprint on the city.