Interview with Mrs. Reg Tolhurst conducted on 18 July 1978.
Although she was born in Toronto, Tolhurst has lived in St. George for most of her life. Mrs. Tolhurst should know about the business community because her father and his father before him were the local hotel keepers. She is also a very active member of the Holy Trinity Anglican Church and the “Old School” committee.
Interviewer: When did you come to St. George?
Mrs. Tolhurst: My mother and father, brother and I moved to St. George in the June of 1934. We had lived in Toronto previous to that. We lived in the hotel. My brother and I were both married in 1949 and we both had apartments in the hotel at that time. Later Jack and I bought this 3 acre lot from Bob Russell, and built our home here about 1955.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about your father's hotel business in St. George?
Mrs. Tolhurst: My Grandfather had the business before my father came. He bought the business in 1924. Then my father took over then in 1934.
When we first came to St. George all the rooms in the hotel were full of men from different work gangs. As the gangs stopped coming we took in more permanent boarders. We often had Bell Telephone men come on a Monday and stay all week. My mother and Uncle Tom would make big pots of homemade soup, bake pies and then they would have about ten men for meals. There were three or four harvest tables in the dining room and that's where we served the meals. My mother and father would work from six or seven o’clock in the morning until eleven o’clock when the hotel closed. After that they stayed and scrubbed the walls and painted until one or two o’clock in the morning. Then they were up at six o’clock the next morning. This was just after we took over. This went on for months. The hotel was open 7 days a week.
This was in 1934 when we first came and it was during the Depression. There used to be what were called “transients” who came through town all the time. The person I remember the most was Mr. German. He was what they called the town father at that time. Someone would come in to town with little or no money and he would bring that person over to the hotel and the council would pay fro there stay over night. It would cost 500 for their nights stay.
My mother would always ask them to take a bath because one time someone came and I guess they had lice so we had to burn the mattress and disinfect the room. After that we didn’t take transients anymore. They were taken into Brantford to the police station for the night.
I will always remember this one night. It was really cold and rainy. In the hotel there was a large register that heated both the upstairs and down. There was one huge bathroom upstairs and it was very cold up there in the winter. You really took your bath in a hurry. We were all standing over the grate this one very cold night and this young boy came in. I can still see him- He looked so forlorn and scared looking that my mother let him stay. I often thought what it must have been like to have no family and not to know anyone in a strange town at that age.
When we first came to St. George the bakers from Brantford would come to the hotel with the horse and wagon. There was a big barn directly through the alley way behind; the hotel. There were drive sheds to the right. He used to hitch his horse up. He would come in and he would bring his lunch. He ordered a cup of tea or coffee and then he would have a sleep on the couch in the kitchen. That was the extent of his purchase.
When we were 15 or 16 they would close the hotel for a day. That was the first. They got to the point where they wouldn’t open until noon on Sunday. They felt they could afford to take some time off. People would come to the back door and want ice cream for their Sunday dinner. There was no getting out of it.
During the war we closed the dining room because it was hard to get food because of the rations. It was hard to get girls also because they could get better jobs in the war factories. My mother always had one girl and I can remember Madelaine Buckborrough. Mary and Lillian Allison and Dorothy Card all worked there at one time or another.
Interviewer: Could you tell us what it was like to move to St. George from Toronto?
Mrs. Tolhurst: We hate d our life when we first came to St. George. We came from Toronto. I was eight and in Toronto my brother and I always played together, and we weren't allowed out of our backyard. When we came here it was unheard of for brothers and sisters to play together. We came when school was over so we didn't get to know anyone until September. When we first started to school we would walk hand in hand because that’s what we did in Toronto. There was a Mrs. Muligan who lived on the corner and she was thunderstruck at the way we did things. My brother had a two piece velvet suit. His first month at St. George school and he was through with me.
We were so lonely that summer and we would cry all the time about wanting to go back to Toronto. My Dad and my uncle had an argument one day and my Dad said that we were going back. It was just after school had started and I can remember going up to my teacher and telling her we were going back to Toronto and then I didn't want to go. We didn’t go back after all.
My Grandad raised pigeons and we had chicken coops. You can imagine coming from Toronto where the backyard was-as big as this kitchen to where we had a barn of our own. We would get baby pigeons out of their nests in the barn and teach them how to fly. We had rabbits too.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about the schools in St. George?
Mrs. Tolhurst: Well I had finished grade 1 in Toronto. I had also gone to kindergarten there so when I came to St. George I was put ahead before I started. Miss Patrick, Miss Campbell and Miss Burt were my teachers in Public School. Only 3 of the 4 classrooms were used. The kids that didn’t have to write exams got to clean out the teachers room and the spare room. We used to think it was great. You’d get to take home posters of “Toothy Toothbrush”, that weren’t wanted.
I went to the Continuation School. Mr. McDowell was the Principal. There was also Mr. Wood and another teacher. Mr. McDowell left the next year and Mr. Saw came in. He had had diptheria as a young boy and he had no hair. He wore a red wig. It used to cause some problems. It would get twisted etc.
I went to high school during the first year of the war. The big thing I remember was that we would sell war saving stamps and they would send pictures of airmen, sailors or soldiers. The three rooms would compete and it would take so many stamps to buy a hat or shoes. Each class competed to dress the person first.
We had initiation when we went into grade nine. It was usually held around Halloween. You were blindfolded and were taken to the basement down the back stairs. They would cover the stairs with planked so you couldn’t tell where you were. You’d get down there and then you had to crawl on your hands and knees under saw horses. They would hang the volleyball nets around with wooden dumbbells hanging through them so you would hit your head on them. Then there was the usual thing of putting your hands in peeled grapes. It was so much fun. There would be a party after with cider and doughnuts and Bob Nixon always recited “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”.
You had to take your grade thirteen in two years so it took six years then to get through high school. We used to have gardens where the new school is now. Grade nine and ten all had gardens. We had to grow vegetables in grade nine and flowers in grade ten. The big occupation was to ride your bike up after dinner and stamp the onions. At least that's the excuse we used.
In grade ten we had a real incubator and we all brought eggs. Mine were Rhode Island Reds. They hatched and they got to be family pets. They got big and something had to be done about them but none of us would eat them. We traded them with another man.
Interviewer: Were you involved with any of the churches in St. George?
Mrs. Tolhurst: I went to the Baptist Church. I went to Sunday School there. We had this new minister and his wife was our teacher. The first thing that she wanted us to do was to sign the pledge. I refused to sign it just to be rebellious I guess. The next thing she did was she gave us this thing to read about your first step on the dance floor was your first step to hell.
I still went. I was in the choir. We had Sunday School Picnics in Soper Park in Galt. I was married in St. Judes. I had gone to the Anglican Church in Toronto and that's where I wanted to be married. The Anglican church started in St. George not too long after that. They had meetings and my mother was put on the board of management. When she found out that she had to go to meetings she wanted to resign. I had to take her resignation to the meeting and they immediately appointed me to the board.
Interviewer: What did you do for recreation and entertainment in St. George?
Mrs. Tolhurst: We used to go down to Jordie Patten’s swimming hole down by Munroes. They would dam up the creek. There would be mud slides into it and there were bloodsuckers. The boys wouldn’t wear their swimming suits and unless you took your mother with you they wouldn’t put them on. Once in a long time I’d get my mother to come and when you got about one half a mile away from the swimming hole you would start yelling. We’re coming and I’m bringing my mother. Put your bathing suits on. In the summer we would put plays on in the barn. We would devise games such as Going Across the Border, where we would pretend we were smugglers. We mad e a lot more games than kids today.
We roller skated on main Street. It was a lot of fun. There were posts down in front of the post office and you’d go down the street and swing around the post.
I belonged to the Baptist’s Young People when I was in my teens. At the hotel we had a jar on the counter. People would put their pennies in it. After B.Y.P.U. we used to put the money in the juke box and dance. Before that they used to dance over where the Paris Fence Co. is now. We used to hear terrible things about what went on there. After the dining room closed we danced back there. There were booths and my mother served hamburgers and milkshakes etc.
Sometimes we would go to the show in Brantford and there were often house parties a± somebody's house, we used to have a lot of fun.
Interviewer: Thank you, Mrs. Tolhurst.