OPINION: Another compendium of curious stuff from Sarnia’s past

The Skilbeck House at 112 Maria St. is one of Sarnia’s oldest homes and in 1844 became the site of Sarnia’s first banking syndicate. Journal Photo

Randy Evans

BUSY GUY – After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in architecture, Chester Charles Woods (1890-1970) returned to his native Sarnia to ply his profession. By the time he was done, Woods had designed 12 Ontario hospitals, 10 movie houses (including one in Sarnia), London Road Public School (1920), Johnston Memorial Public School (1928), the Imperial Oil Office Building (1929), and Canon Davis Memorial Anglican Church.

PORK – Sarnia residents have always been reliant on the good work of Lambton County farmers. So city folk must have been pleased when the Inwood “Bacon Hog Club” formed in 1924. In an interview with The Observer, a spokesman said the Club’s goal was to ensure “higher quality performing boars are available.” Any owner producing less would be called up on the rug for an interview.

MACHO MEN – During an Oct. 4, 1901 meeting of Sarnia School trustees, Trustee A. Weir expressed his concern that “some of the elements that go to make up a strong, manly nature were lacking in some of our teachers.” Added Trustee R.C. Palmer “only those of the best moral standing should be employed.”

EXPENSIVE CREDIT – When Robert Skilbeck and others established Sarnia’s first banking syndicate in 1844 cash was very scarce locally. And very expensive. Money was lent to the highest bidder. The late historian Jean Elford reported one loan was made to hotel proprietor Samuel Hitchcock at 45% interest. Yikes!

NOT RECOMENDED – In a November 1887 article, The Observer lamented that “tramps“ were responsible for a recent rash of local house break-ins. It went on to favourably report, “A recent visit to the house of Mr. D. McDonald called out the trusty gun which brought forth a scene of prompt leg ball.” The intruder apparently escaped unharmed.

HEATHEN GAMBLERS: Looking for illegal booze, Sarnia Police raided the basement of downtown’s Belchamber Hotel in the spring of 1923. Saturday had just passed into Sunday. Instead of libations, they discovered a poker game in full swing with $30 on the table. Police would only say the participants were “well known Sarnians.” In commenting on the case, Crown Attorney F. W. Wilson reminded the press that, gambling charges aside, the miscreants were also in breach of The Lord’s Day Act.

“JUDGE, I’M REALLY SORRY” – There was no such thing as youth restorative justice in early Sarnia. Take the 1867 case of John Daniels, a 13-year-old abandoned youth who was convicted of stealing a silver watch. He was sentenced to five years in the Penetang Penitentiary.

In December of 1892, two cases were on Judge Mackenzie’s’ docket. The first involved one James Mackie, whose only misconduct was ”playing truant and generally (being) a bad boy beyond his mother’s control.” Judge MacKenzie thought two years a just disposition. The other case involved one Charles Heatley, a boy found guilty of stealing a lantern. He got three years in penitentiary. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Randy Evans is a Sarnia resident and regular contributor to The Journal