Interview with Mr. Samuel Ellis conducted on Thursday, 15 June 1978.
Mr. Ellis is a resident at the John Noble Home. He came to St. George in 1919 where he later had a shoe repair business. He resided in a house across from the mill and then he built a house on King William Street. Mr. Ellis has already celebrated his 90th birthday.
Interviewer: When did you come to St. George?
Mr. Ellis: 1919.
Interviewer: What were you doing when you came then?
Mr. Ellis: I had been taking a vocational course in Hamilton learning the shoe repairing business, through the Armed Services.
Interviewer: Did you then set up your own shop in St. George?
Mr. Ellis: No, I bought the business from a sailor that was taking the same course as I was in Hamilton, but unfortunately he bought it and he died within three weeks. I wont and bought the business from his widow, you see, I gave her just a little more than he had paid for it.
Interviewer: Where was that in the village?
Mr. Ellis: I took half the store, no I shouldn’t put it that way, I took part of Mr. Bannister, the harness-maker’s store, and I paid half of the rent for this store. I had a place for a bench, a place for my sewing machine, and so on. Everything I did was hand-forked, dear, perfectly hand-worked. His father, the old Mr. Bannister, he had it before I did. But he died around about the age of 38 or 39.
Interviewer: So that was your first store?
Mr. Ellis: Yes, actually I did business in Hamilton on Main Street while I was taking the course. I was energetic, I wanted to go ahead. I took this course, dear, and it was a six-month course, and I did it in three months. And then I was working for myself to get ahead. My grandfather in England, he had been a shoe maker, and I, as a child, I was interested in a shoe repair business. I had no trouble picking it up at all. Within three months, dear, I actually made a pair of shoes by hand, belts, everything.
Interviewer: What were the shoes like that you made?
Mr. Ellis: Well, everything was different, dear, but they sure had good shoes, and cheap shoes. I did get into selling shoes, because the shoe-making wasn’t enough in the winter. I wanted to get in where I could advance myself, then I moved, after fifteen years working with Mr. Bannister, I took a store by myself. It was next door to the present hotel, it’s polled down now. Then I started for myself and I bought shoes, not too much ladies shoes, mostly men’s working shoes, boys work shoes, and I was interested in anything that came along. Once I got the contract with the Brantford mail to provide them with the army boots. I was a co-getter, you see. I did all this by hand. Then I would, repair hoys pants where the tees wore out, I put leather knees in, elbows on the coats, leather seats in the pants and so on. I would repair baseballs, footballs, anything that would come along that I could make a dollar. There’s one other little thing that may interest you. At that time there were no hard-topped cars. They had curtains on the side. V/ell, I took the business over of putting celluloid in the curtains, they were called mica, but they weren’t mica, you can’t burn it with a celluloid welt. Well, I bought big sheets 22’ by 40’, and I used to cut then up and put them in these curtains, and on one occasion I made the whole curtain for this fellow; for his whole car, before they had the hard tops.
Interviewer: So you worked a lot with leather.
Mr. Ellis: Yes, that’s one thing that I really thoroughly understood, dear, was leather. And. I still do.
Interviewer: What were the tools like that you had to work with?
Mr. Ellis: Well, for instance, some of the ladies does, they had high tops with buttons on them, and I used to repair all those kinds of things, I’d repair any kind of a shoe that came along, it didn’t make any difference to me what it was. If it was a hard, heavy, thick-soled shoe with toe pelts and hob nose, I’d fix them, if it was riding shoes like I used to do for Clenland (?) down in Troy, they had a large place there where you used to train horses and jumpers. I used to do all their riding boots. All kinds of shoes. Whatever it was, I’d tackle it.
Interviewer: What do you remember about Main Street?
Mr. Ellis: Oh, yes, I can tell you a story about that. Main Street as a whole did not go through where it does now, straight ahead. It turned around to the left, dear, at Bank of Montreal. At that time, dear, when I went there, it wasn’t the Bank of Montreal. It was the old Merchants Bank. And the men from Bank of Montreal took it over. But anyway, you used to have to make a left hand turn to the right to go west, you see, so it was a different set-up altogether to what it is now.
Interviewer: That would have been because of the wagon factor?
Mr. Ellis: The Wagon -Works of Mr. Jackson, yes. The one who knows all about that, of course, is hose Patterson. It was her father.
Interviewer: That about the Merchant’s Bank? Did you know Mr. Lawrason?
Mr. Ellis: Oh, yes, he was the manager there, he was. Yes, I knew him very well. There’s so ne stories in relation to him and what happened afterwards through the Bank of Montreal headquarters in Toronto. It wouldn’t do for rue to put it on because people know these people, and when you’re in the rank business, you keep what you learn to yourself.
Interviewer: How did the bank run then, was it like it is today?
Mr. Ellis: It wasn’t a full-time bank, dear, it was ran iron; the head branch in Brantford. This was a subsidiary, this was. And they used to send different managers from Brantford here. I could tell you a story from the early thirties, when I was there, in fact the second year i was in St. George, I was here in 1921, not only me, my wife too, Polly. She did all the polishing business, and I did the hard work. She did all the cleaning of the brass, the cleaning of the decks, she emptied all the garbage cans. From there, I would take them all below. I used to look after all the plumbing and lock after the furnace in the winter. I used to use twelve tons of coal in that place. Every winter I would, then I used to carry out all the ashes in the spring, through the back window. Privately I could tell a little story about Lloyd Wehrstein as a little chap, but I better keep that away from this.
Interviewer: What other stores were on Main Street?
Mr. Ellis: There was, a Mr. Benson, he had the grocery store, and I well remember going to the school. Mr. Benson was the kind of fellow who was known to indulge in everything, he bought this and that and the other, thing and sold it. Mr. Benson was known to some of the children at the school. What was the definition of a Jew was answered up at the school by one of the teachers, and one little put up his hand: “What was the definition of a Jew, ma'am, Mr. Benson.
Interviewer: Was he the man, who if your candy did not weigh up exactly right would cut a piece in half?
Mr. Ellis: Aye, he sure was. Then there was .Mr. Bannister, the harness-maker, he was a wonderful man for harnesses And Mr. Sivyer, he used to work for Mr. Bannister. he used to teach Sunday School, Mr. Sivyer did, on and off, for fifty years, dear. I was proud to be singing tenor along side of him for fourteen years. I’ll never forget Henry, he was a wonderful man. I visited his sister when I went over to England in 1934.
Interviewer: Did you go to the Baptist Church in St. George?
Mr. Ellis: Yes, dear, the reason I went there was because there was no Anglican Church. I was brought up as an Anglican. I used to go to Anglican School in England. Of course, I knew the Anglican Church service backwards forwards, and sideways, it was instilled in me as a youngster. And by the way, when Poll and I got married, the minister of the St. Celeste Church, Mr. Beckenham (?), he looked down at her. He was a tall man, about the size of Dr. Weldhen, six foot four he was. He looked down at Polly, because her and I went to Sunday School together, you see, and he said, “Are you little Polly Perth from Sunday School?” and she said, “Yes, sir, and we are getting married”.
Interviewer: Who took you to the Baptist Church?
Mr. Ellis: Well, I worked with Mr. Bannrster and Mr. Sivyer, and they were both Baptists. I also thought that our children should go to Sunday school, and I think, dear, that Sunday School is the main thing of all, I do, in relation to carrying on later in your life to do the right thing. I didn’t go to the Sunday School regularly, because I was all caught up in the choir work and other things in tae organization of the Baptist :Church. But my wife took my children to Sunday School and she never missed for thirteen years. We still got the- little gold medallions at home. Yes.
Interviewer: What organizations did you and your wife belong to?
Mr. Ellis: What organizations? I wasn’t tied up in too many. It wouldn’t do to tell you why I didn’t join the Lions’ Club, it wouldn’t be fair. I was mainly with the church. We both went to the fellowship group after I retired, but while I was working I had no time, except that I was a member of the Lawn Bowling team. One of the loveliest games I ever played.
Interviewer: Did you always live on King William Street?
Mr. Ellis: No, I lived right opposite where the mill is. I owned that house. I paid rent for this house one year, nine dollars a month, and the following year I bought it. I paid nine hundred dollars for it. Mr. Green said to me, “How much you can pay down, can you pay a hundred dollars down?” I said that I did not like paying interest, I love to collect it, but I don’t want to pay it. So I’ll pay you seven dollars down, it will be me and my wife, we were equal fifty-fifty. I don’t think this marriage business should be anybody should be a bows. I’ve said this to the ladies here, that a man doesn’t miss his wife until his lost her. We don’t realize how much work she did until she’s gone and you have to do it yourself. That makes a vast difference. Yes, I bought that house, and I promised my Mrs. that when we got on our feet I would built a cottage, the present one that I own them, and I still own it, it isn’t George’s yet, but I was going to have green shutters on it for her. “Oh”, she said, “I love green shutters”. Well, she got everything but her own shutters and the green shutters George put on there. It’s a lovely old house. And in relation to that we had the plans all drawn and when I saw them I said: “No, that kitchen had better be reversed from the north to the south, because the kitchen is my wife’s workshop, and I said that dinette in there she can see down the street and up the street, and I want lots of light”. My wife died in 1969, and I carried on in her place for three years, until I had a little setback, and I came to the John Noble Home. And I’ve never regretted coming. I was interviewed by Cheryl sweet, she’s an R. N. Nurse now, and she asked me what was the advantages. I said the advantages are marvelous, because being here, we don’t have to trim hedges and dig ditches and do the garden in general. To the stress is practically off a person when they come in here. I’ll never regret it, because I get a stable diet and they look after me. I don’t get the Royal York Fare, but we get along all right.
Interviewer: When did you get married?
Mr. Ellis: I got married in 1905, and we were married in Celeste Anglican Church, which was out past the outpost of Croyden and Surrey(?).
Interviewer: Do you remember anything about the train wrecks?
Mr. Ellis: No, dear, that was long before I was there. They did have a train wreck when I was there, but not like the one you are referring to in 1889.
Interviewer: Were there a lot of fires in the village?
Mr. Ellis: Well, I was on the fire brigade for four years. But Mr. Goftun, he was chief of the fire brigade for twenty-five years. Don’t miss him. I remember very well than we first fought fires we had no pumper, no nothing like that. We had a little outfit that we used to pull with ropes. It was very crude. I am not definitely sure, it was either Willsonburg, or Ingersoll that we bought our first pumper from. We used that of course, in the Malcolm fire. That thing never stopped working, we had to call in Brantford, and worked alongside them there, but we never quit, wherever we went. We had quite a few fires in the 29 and 30, it was nothing to have two or three barn fires in those days.
Interviewer: How did people got from place to place?
Mr. Ellis: We had a bus that was run by Austin Drake that used to come up and down from the village to the station that was. It used to be all wooden sidewalks there, you know. Then there was a man, one of his sons, I think it was, organized a bus and then we used to go out to Brantford then, there was no way to get to Brantford, only by train once in a while. To get to Brantford, sometimes in March we had to go all the way around Paris. The mud was so thick. We drove until we got to one certain place then there was about four or six inches of sand, blowing around. That was about a couple of miles the other side of St. George highway, going towards St. George. It is difficult for me to explain these things. We used to have to go around green lane in Paris to get to Brantford.
Interviewer: Was that a horse-drawn bus, or a motor-powered bus?
Mr. Ellis: That was a motor car, oh yes. I don’t know weather it was an old Ford or what it was, but it used to get us there, anyways.
Interviewer: What do you remember about some of the industries that were in St. George?
Mr. Ellis: Well, the industries of course were few, dear. There was Malcolm, as it is now, and Freddy Uren, he had a little store, as you were a little factory, a milk factory, and that was located where Jo Harrott lives now. Down in the bottom there. And right opposite Jo, on the fire brigade, we had a tank there. Where the King William Street comes with Queen Street at the back there used to be a ditch. What used to run through this here ten by sixteen feet tank. What would fill up with mud. And we firemen, we never got paid a cent to do anything, we were tickled to death to be doing it, we used to go down there and have rubber boots and haul all the mud out, and got rid of it and got rid of the stream. And you know where Dr. Weldhen used to live, we had a big tank there. That was used to supply the East end. All up the swamp Angel street. Do you know where Swamp Angel Street is?
Interviewer: Oh, yes. Do you remember anything else about St. George that would be helpful?
Mr. Ellis: In relation to what, dear?
Interviewer: In relation to people that you knew, or things that happened?
Mr. Ellis: Next door to me there was dear old Mrs. Fin Patten. She died at ninety-nine years and nine months. I well remember when I got my place I had a telephone put in, the first one we had. Mrs. Fin Patten, when she was 97 or 98, she said to Polly, “Polly, will you phone Mrs. So-and-so for me on your telephone?” Polly said, “Me? Who, me. I couldn’t touch one of those things.” And Mrs. Patten says, “Why?” and she says, “Why I can’t see who I’m talking to.” She says, “Sam, she gabbers on there, but I don’t know, no I don’t know anything about those things. I don’t know why the devil he got it, I can’t use it”. Mrs. Patten says, “Well, don’t I use it Polly?” “Can you run one of them things she said. Why, sure. And she was 98 and she came in those and did her telephoning and Polly said to me after that if Mrs. Patten at 98 could use the telephone, so could she. And then she got talking and you would never get her cut off it. Floss Sturgis, she was the manager at the Well at that time. Anyone who had to know anything, they could ask loss. She’d tell us. She’d tell us. She had one leg, we made a collection and got her a wooden leg.
Poem Sam wrote to Polly and sang
Long days past, there were two lovers in a garden,
A girl named Poll, Sam with golden hair,
A neighbour had thought to ask their pardon,
On second thought, he watched a youthful pair,
Then Sam, ablushing gave Poll a loving kiss,
And tenderly he whispered this:
“I’ve been your sweetheart, and you’ve always been mine,
All my life, I’ve been your valentine.
Roses I’ve gathered, wake them and be true,
Now I’m a man, it’s been my plan,
Always to cherish you”.