In part one, we started with the 1895 death of prominent Toronto tobacconist Joab Scales and located his name in the indexes produced by the York County Surrogate Court. When we were unable to decipher the illegible grant number, we consulted the court’s register to find it. We took the newly found grant number 11255 to the User’s guide, and found that the estate file identified by that grant number is located on microfilm number GS 1, reel 1051.
The estate files for York County have been filmed in numerical order by the grant number. The grant number is handwritten on the “jacket” or cover of the estate file, which is just about always filmed at the beginning of the file.
The estate file for Joab Scales contains 26 pages. A digitized version is included at the end of this article so you can read the full estate file. I’ll summarize the documents below and some of the information that can be gleaned—or inferred— from them.
Particularly interesting in this estate file are the changes in Joab’s family situation and how he responded to them with his will and codicils.
There are 16 documents in Joab’s estate file, some with multiple pages, adding up to the 26 images on the microfilm. I’ve listed them in the order in which they appear on the film—although it is not chronological.
1. The first document is the jacket of the estate file—where the contents of the file were summarized so the folded bundle of documents could be easily retrieved. It identifies: “Will and two codicils of Joab Scales” filed January 4, 1896. Note the grant number 11255 at the top and bottom of the page. The other number at the top of the page is the register number and page—you’ll find a picture of that page of the register in the first part of this article because we used it to find the grant number. The law firm Armour & Williams is noted at the bottom. The paragraph written vertically, states that this document is identified by “D” elsewhere in the estate file.
2. Memorandum of fees, January 7, 1896. This document is of no great genealogical value, but it does show some of the process. Note that the will had to be transcribed three times, one of those for the Surrogate Clerk. More about that later.
3. Listing of documents submitted to the court, January 7, 1896. Again of no genealogical significance, but it might identify any missing documents.
4. The Office of the Surrogate Clerk of Ontario was established when the court system was reformed in 1859. Its role was to ensure that only one grant of probate or administration was issued. Document 4 is certification from the Surrogate Clerk that no one else has applied for a grant of probate, nor has any caveat been lodged against the application. It is dated January 6, 1896.
5. This typewriter-written document is the petition for a grant of probate from John Woodford Scales and Charles William Peniston, dated December 1895, and signed by their solicitor. It doesn’t say who John and Charles were, in relation to Joab Scales, but we do learn that:
- both John and Charles are from Toronto
- Joab died 4 December 1895 in Toronto
- Joab lived in Toronto at the time of his death
- John and Charles are named as executors in the will
The document also lists the dates that the will and codicils were written and estimates the value of the property as “under Twenty one thousand” dollars
6. The next document is an affidavit stating Joab’s date of death and residence by John Woodford Scales. We also learn that John is a merchant and we get his signature.
7. The inventory of Joab’s real estate holdings at the time of his death lists six properties for a total value of $19,200:
- 90 Gould Street
- 20 St. Patrick Street
- four stores on Church Street (numbers 275, 277, 279, 281)
The four stores on Church Street, referred to as Scales Block, are circled in red on this detail from the 1890 insurance map of Toronto. The orange colour indicates brick or masonry construction. (image from Toronto Public Library)
8. Item 8 is another affidavit by John and Charles that the Inventory of real estate is true and complete, and under $21,000 dollars.
9. The next document is a brief inventory of “moveable” property, including an affidavit of its validity by John and Charles.
10. John pledges, in the next affidavit, dated January 2, 1896, that the will and codicils are authentic. (2 pages)
11. The next document is an affidavit by John and Charles that they will “faithfully administer” the estate. It is dated January 2, 1896.
12. Joab’s lawyer Edward Douglas Armour, QC, was one of the witnesses to the signing of his will and all three codicils. As part of proving the will to be authentic, he signed an affidavit on December 30, 1895, that he knew Joab Scales and witnessed the signing of his will and the codicils. (2 pages) Because of this apparent long-term business relationship between Joab and his lawyer, it might be worth investigating whether the papers of Edward Douglas Armour, or his firm Armour and Williams, are available at a local archives.
13. The next and biggest document in the file (seven pages) is the actual will. The last will and testament of Joab Scales was signed on August 18, 1888. The will is rich with family information, but noticeably absent is any mention of his wife. Since she would have considerable claim on the estate, it is reasonable to assume that she had died before Joab. The main provisions of the will are as follows.
- Joab’s son Christopher Columbus Scales got the store and premises at 249 1/2 Church Street; a gold-headed cane, portraits of Joab and his wife and their deceased daughter Laura.
- Joab’s daughter Mary Margaret Peniston got the proceeds from the rents and eventual sale of 20 St. Patrick Street. If sold, the money was to be invested to provide an income for Mary. After her death, $500 each would go to Mary’s sons Clifford L. Peniston and Harry Scales Peniston, and the rest to be divided between her other children and grandchildren.
- Mary Margaret Peniston was also to have the family bible, the piano, bedroom furniture, silverware, plated ware, chinaware, glassware and cutlery, as well as portraits of Joab and his wife, Mary and her husband, and her two boys. She also got the rosewood suite from the drawing room, a what-not cabinet, and a bronze figure of Mercury.
- Joab’s son John Woodford Scales got the store at 255 Church Street. When he died it went to his widow. When she died or remarried, the trustees were to sell the store and divide the proceeds amongst John’s children. John was also to get the portraits of himself and his wife, and portraits of his sister Rowena Tello and her husband “to do what he pleases with.”
- Clause 5 left the store at 253 Church Street in the hands of the trustees to earn income for the potential support of Joab’s daughter Rowena Lucinda Tello. They could sell it right away or rent it out. Apparently, Rowena was in an asylum for the insane at the expense of her husband. (The husband’s name is never mentioned, and you don’t have to read too carefully between the lines to understand that Joab did not approve of him.) The trustees could pay any arrears for her treatment, but they didn’t have to. When Rowena died, the trustees were to pay $500 each to any of her sons and daughters who were 21 years old, or who were married. If any of the Tello children entered a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, they were cut out of the will. The 253 Church Street property was also to produce enough income to pay $1000 to Charles Henry Scales and $500 to Robert Scales Peniston as well as $500 to each of his executors. If Rowena recovered, she was to be paid the income “for her sole and separate use.”
- Joab’s son Charles Henry Scales got a house and property at Dalhousie and Gould Streets. Charles also got a portrait of himself and his deceased brother Robert.
- The store at 251 Church Street was to be sold to provide $200 legacies for his granddaughters Carrie and Sally (daughters of Christopher Columbus Scales), granddaughters Maud, Laura, and Mary (daughters of Charles Henry Scales). Maud was the subject of an earlier article. Any residue from the sale of the store was to be divided between Joab’s four children Christopher Columbus, Mary Margaret, John Woodford, and Charles Henry.
- Joab’s diamond breast pin was left to Harry Scales Peniston. (No other bequest says as much about Joab’s social status, or his relationship with his grandson.)
- Joab’s three sons were also left his three bronzes. (Mary got Mercury, but the sons had to decide who got the other statues. Annoyingly, Joab doesn’t tell us what the were.)
- Joab appointed his son John Woodford Scales and his grandson Charles William Peniston as executors and trustees. (Additional research into the ages, locations, and occupations of these two might show why he gave them this responsibility. He also specified that he wanted two people to act, so if either John or Charles was unable or unwilling, another administrator would need to be appointed by the court.)
14. The final three documents are codicils to the will of Joab Scales. A codicil is a signed and witnessed document that adds to or changes the provisions in a will. The first codicil is dated June 27, 1889 (less than a year after the will was signed). The codicil is written after the signatures on the final page of the will and continued on an additional page. It replaced clause five, which provided potential support for Joab’s daughter Rowena. Rowena had evidently died between the 18 August 1888 when Joab’s will was signed and before the June 1889 date of this codicil. Other provisions of clause five remained the same, including the exclusion of any of Rowena’s children who joined a Roman Catholic order. The codicil indicates that 253 Church Street is now 279 Church Street.
15. A second codicil dated September 1890, changed the terms in which Christopher Columbus inherited 249 now 275 Church Street. The property would be held by the trustees to provide an income for Charles and his family until the youngest child was 21. After that Christopher would get the property outright. Similarly, Charles Henry Scales would not get the Gould and Dalhousie property until his children were all 21. He also lost his $1,000 legacy, which was to put towards house repairs and maintenance. Did this reveal Joab’s lack of trust in his sons’ business acumen?
16. A brief, third codicil dated 31 December 1891 revoked the legacies to Carrie and Sally Scales and directed that they should be paid to grandson Harry Scales Peniston. (Now, about this time, the lovely Carrie or Caroline had moved to New York and had taken to the stage. Read more about her in my post on her cousin Maude. Joab would have been unlikely to approve. I don’t know why Sally or Susan was denied.) Harry was to get anything left over after all the various legacies were paid.
Download an image of the complete Joab Scales estate file. Like all estate files, this one shows the progress of the estate through the court, but not how quickly or how well the assets were distributed. If the heirs or creditors were unhappy with the administration, they could take the matter back to the Surrogate Court. There is no record of that occurrence in the estate file, so it would seem that Joab chose his executors well.
For much more information about searching for Ontario estate files and other probate records, see my book, Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians.
Most Ontario counties have published indexes to estate files for the period 1859 to 1900, and some indexes go beyond those dates. But York County is an exception to the rule. It was the most populous county, containing the City of Toronto, and the prospect of creating a modern index was, and is, daunting. Those of us with ancestors in York must use the contemporary indexes created by the courts themselves. The indexes and estate files are on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and are available on interloan from both places.
The case we’ll follow is Joab Scales, the tobacconist grandfather of Maude Scales Darby that I wrote about last time.
Knowing the date of death makes the search much easier. Ontario civil registration records tell me that Joab Scales died of heart failure in Toronto on December 4, 1895, age 76. By law, no one could apply to administer his estate until at least seven days after his death—if there was no will, the wait was two weeks. So the search should start with mid December records and continue, if necessary, for up to five years.
The first step, if you’re at the Archives of Ontario, is to consult the printed User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm to find the index. This finding aid is divided by counties, and it is important to read the introduction on the first page of each county. The introduction for York County, in the picture below, tells us that for 1896, we need to look at the Original Index Volumes, and record the Grant number. Right below the introduction, we see the Original Index Volumes listed. The year 1896 will be on the first one: GS 2, reel 232.
Archives of Ontario. User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 157
The next image is from the Original Index Volumes on film GS 2, reel 232. The index is semi-alphabetical by surname—a page or several pages were designated for each letter of the alphabet. As an estate file came before the court, it was added to the appropriate page. For the more “popular” letters, the alphabetization was refined by designating pages for letter combinations. This detail is from a “Sca” page, and you can see that names have been added chronologically.
York County Surrogate Court Index, 1887-1919, detail of “Sca” page, RG 22-303 GS 2 reel 232, Archives of Ontario
Joab Scales’ name is listed fourth. The grant was of Letters Probate and issued on 7 January 1896. The York County introduction told us to record the Grant number, which is the first column.
Oh, dear: 112?? We’ve been thwarted by the clerk’s misguided attempt to fix his mistake.
We have a couple of choices. (Giving up is not an option.) We could look at all estate files that begin with 112—possibly 99 files averaging 20 pages each—or we could use the Register Book information shown on the right side of the index image. It tells us to look on page 586 of Register Book 26.
So, back to the User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, the York County section, for a listing of the Registers. In the time span that includes 1896, we see that volumes 25, 26, and 27 are all on film MS 583, reel 013.
Archives of Ontario. User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 158
On the film, we scroll through until we find Volume 26. (Remember there were three volumes on the film and therefore duplicate, even triplicate page numbering to be wary of.)
York County Surrogate Court register #26, cover page, RG 22-302, MS 583, reel 13, Archives of Ontario
Now, we’re looking for the page 586 that was listed in the filmed Index for Joab Scales. The Register Book recorded the essential information in brief: who died, that the will was proven, who was appointed to administer the estate, and that the administrators had sworn to do so diligently. Format varied over the years, but in 1896, the clerks filled in the blanks in a preprinted form with three names on a page.
York County Surrogate Court register #26, page 586, RG 22-302, MS 583, reel 13, Archives of Ontario
Here’s a detail shot showing the entry for Joab Scales in the middle of the page—lots of good genealogical information, including his date of death and the names, occupations and residences of his administrators, who may be relatives. The document also states that they were executors named by Joab in his will. This increases the probability that they’re related. But most importantly, for our purposes, it provides the final two digits in that illegible Grant number: 11255.
York County Surrogate Court register #26, page 586 (detail), RG 22-302, MS 583, reel 13, Archives of Ontario
Armed with the Grant number, we go back, once more, to the York County section of the User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm—this time to the list of Estate Files. We locate our Grant number 11255 in the right time period, 1895–1896, and the final column tells us it is on film GS 1, reel 1051.
Archives of Ontario. User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 177
So now we’re breathing down the neck of that illusive Joab Scales estate file. Stay tuned for the next episode!
For much more information about searching for Ontario estate files and other probate records, see my book, Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians.
 Ontario death registration #2847 for 1895, as viewed on Ancestry.ca, August 9, 2013. (Joab had been born in Kentucky. His doctor and informant was Dr. W.J. Hunter Emory. He was a Methodist.)
 It is unlikely, but not impossible, that you’d find an estate file more than five years after the death.
 Unfortunately, most of the Register Books microfilms are not available on interloan from the Archives of Ontario. However, most of the same Register Books were filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available for interloan from familysearch.org/search/catalog/24422
Sometimes you meet the most interesting people completely by accident. I met Maude Scales Darby in the April 1, 1914, edition of the Toronto World. Of course, I was looking for something entirely different when I stumbled upon her obituary.
Obituary for Maude Scales Darby from the Toronto World on 1 April 1914.
Maude died on March 31, 1914, at age 43, of Bright’s Disease or chronic nephritis. She was buried a few days later in St. James Cemetery in Toronto.
Maude had lived with her husband William Darby at 60 Briar Hill Avenue. William was circulation manager for the Mail and Empire newspaper. The couple were married in December 1905, both in their 30s. They had no children.
Maude’s obituary (reproduced here) is rich in family details—a genealogist’s dream.
It mentions Maude’s grandfather Joab Scales “the well-known tobacconist”. Joab had relocated to Toronto from Kentucky after the Civil War. Joab appears to have been quite the entrepreneur, building an addition to his factory on Palace Street in 1868, patenting a “tobacco machine” in 1872, and sending samples of his wares as part of a display of Ontario products at the Sydney International Exhibition in Australia in 1876.
Ad for Joab Scales’ business from “Ontario as it is”. See note 6, below.
Joab Scales also had the questionable (but perhaps lucrative) distinction of vouching for “Northrup & Lyman’s Vegetable Discovery” in the company’s newspaper ads.
When Joab died in 1895, it made the papers in Chicago and New York, likely because of his friendship with Jefferson Davis.
Maude had a beautiful cousin, another granddaughter of Joab—Caroline Scales. As a teenager, in about 1891, Caroline moved from Toronto to New York and took the stage name Miskel. She added the name Hoyt when she married playwright and politician Charles Hale Hoyt in 1894. Apparently a very talented actress, as well as a great beauty, Caroline Miskel Hoyt is known as the first “cover girl” appearing in the cover of Munsey’s Magazine in 1891.
It was a remarkable, but short career. Caroline died in New York in 1898 at age 25, probably as a result of complications during childbirth.
Portrait of Maude’s cousin Caroline Miskel-Hoyt on a cut plug tobacco insert card (Knowledge Bank at Ohio State University)
But the most intriguing episode in Maude’s life was the day she survived the “Iroquois Theatre fire” in Chicago, on December 30, 1903.
The Iroquois was a spectacular new theatre, in a bustling Chicago—the fastest growing city in the West. An imposing sixty-foot high entrance with twinned columns and a massive Greek pediment drew in patrons to a lobby with arched colonnades and graceful staircases. Claims that it was “absolutely fireproof” might have been closer to the truth if the owners hadn’t pushed to have the theatre open before the busy Christmas season—and if the city government and construction industry had not been corrupt.
But as it was, the theatre opened on November 23, 1903, equipped with fire extinguishers meant for household use, an untested fire curtain, an emergency venting system that was still wired shut for installation, balcony exits that were hidden by curtains and secured with difficult-to-open latches, and exterior doors that were locked. Even the metal fire escapes from the balconies were jammed or incomplete.
On the fateful afternoon, a standing-room-only crowd of 2,000—largely women and children on their school holidays—had gathered to see “Mr. Bluebeard” a musical comedy starring Eddie Foy.
Near the beginning of the second act, an arc light sparked and ignited a nearby muslin drapery.
The scene outside the Iroquois Theatre just after the fire (from Chicago’s Awful Theater Horror, see note 9)
A stagehand attempted to put it out with an ineffective fire extinguisher. The asbestos fire curtain, which should have limited the fire to the actual stage, got caught on rigging and could not be lowered. When stagehands opened large exterior door backstage, thick toxic fumes from the very flammable painted backdrops and draperies swept into the audience, rather than exhausting as they should through the emergency vents.
There were 602 people who perished that day—from asphyxiation, fire, and injuries acquired while attempting to escape the inferno. The location of Maude’s seat on the main floor was probably an important factor in her escape from the theatre and survival. Many of the victims were those trapped in the balconies.
Toronto papers carried extensive news of the Iroquois Theatre fire on December 31, and for weeks following as the inquest was held and additional victims were identified. Many were from Ontario or had family connections here.
Many survivors were also mentioned and sometimes quoted, but I haven’t found any mention of Maude Scales. As a nurse (as her obituary suggests) I wonder if she stepped in to treat the wounded and was never interviewed.
 Ontario death registration 2337 (1914), accessed on Ancestry.com 3 Aug 2013. This record and others show her full given name to be Ethel Maude.
 Section A-Parliament Street, First Grave South of Lot 16-D.
 The Commissioner of Patents Journal for 1872
, London, page 755.
 Sessional Papers, Vol IX, part III
, Second Session of the third Parliament of the Province of Ontario, Session 1877, Paper number 33, page 238The province of Ontario as it is, containing manufacturing, commercial, statistical and other valuable information, published by the Ontario exhibitors at the Exhibition at Sydney, New South Wales.
Toronto: Ontario Legislature, 1877, pages 7 and 26. http://archive.org/details/provinceofontar00onta
 For example, “Nothing Like It” in the Sarnia Observer, 20 Mar 1891, page 7.
Last fall, I wrote an article about the importance of city directories for Toronto family history research—really for all Toronto historical research. They are a way to see the development of the city and to stroll around the neighbourhood where your ancestor lived, worked, worshipped and shopped. A reader of that September 2 article has asked a question and has inspired this new post.
The question: Any idea which month the Toronto city directories were published?
Well, I don’t think there is any one answer. Directories were commercial ventures and I’m sure each publisher would work at a different pace. Speed was, as they say, of the essence, and a major selling point.
To be most useful, a directory had to be as current as possible. They were therefore compiled in a hurry. Some 19th century compilers boasted that their directories were compiled in 6 to 8 weeks, including door-to-door canvas, compilation, and binding. This of course, led to errors.
Up until 2000, Might’s directories produced a five volume set for Toronto. These recent Toronto directories were based on the phone book and took about an additional 2 months to produce after the phone book’s release.
A notice for the newly issued city directory in The Globe newspaper of Tuesday 30 January, 1883 (page 6, column 1)
But narrowing down the window when the directory information was collected could be crucial to pinning down the date when an ancestor arrived or left the city or moved within it—or died.
With a little perseverance you can probably establish that window using newspapers. Directory publishers needed to establish their credibility with both potential purchasers and the general public, and the best way to do this was with a prospectus for the upcoming publication in the newspaper. The newspaper notice would go a long way towards explaining that nosy parker at the door.
Once the directory was ready, or ready to go to press, it needed to be sold, and newspapers were one of the few ways of doing that. I found an announcement for the 1883 directory in The Globe on January 30, so presumably the book (more useful than “any hitherto published”) was compiled during the last couple of months of 1882. If your ancestor appears on the list “too late for regular insertion” that would narrow the window even more.
If this article inspires you to find the dates for a Toronto directory, I’d love to hear about it.
There’s a great article about searchable digitized Toronto newspapers available through the Toronto Public Library on its Local History and Genealogy blog.
Need a great excuse for a week of research in Toronto? Consider Genealogy Summer Camp offered by the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.
This will be the 17th Summer Camp. It is, by the way, a program for adults—no tents or campfires, and not many mosquitoes in downtown Toronto!
We travel to a different archives or library each day, and after a tutorial, you’ll have lots of time for hands-on research with guidance from your “camp counsellors”.
For details of this year’s camp and the online application, visit the Summer Camp pages. To avoid disappointment, please get your application in as soon as possible.
Very pleased to find a box from Dundurn Press at my door last week—the first copies of my new book Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians.
The book covers wills and related records from 1763 (well before “Ontario” existed) up to current records. For novices and researchers new to Ontario records, I’ve explained the structure and value of estate records. Experienced researchers will appreciate the descriptions of records beyond the estate files we typically use. The book covers records at the Archives of Ontario as well as those available on interloan and through FamilySearch.org around the world.
Researchers with roots before 1793 will be particularly interested in Chapter 2: Early Records of Inheritance, where I’ve extracted the names of all parties involved in hearings before the District Prerogative courts. Not just the deceased, but administrators, heirs, guardians, friends, relatives, and creditors—a rich resource for the period.
Thank you to the archivists and librarians in Toronto, Ottawa, London, Prince Edward County, Detroit, and Salt Lake City, as well as friends and fellow researchers in most of those places—for your help and insight and support. (Now I’ll have to find something else to pester you about!)
For more details, please visit the Inheritance in Ontario page.
This is the third and final episode, in which I speculate wildly on the reasons for the animosity between Toronto bookseller Magnus Shewan and his niece Margaret Fraser. If you’re new to the story, it will all make more sense if you read Part 1 and Part 2 first.
In the last episode, we read the wishes of Magnus Shewan in his will:
I more particularly direct that under no circumstances shall the wife or daughter Margaret of my brother have any share or portion of my Estate in consequence of their misconduct towards him.
The brother in question was Christopher Shewan, a few years younger than Magnus. Christopher died about six months before his brother in September 1883, in Guelph, Ontario, where he appears to have moved somewhere between about 1855 and 1861. Christopher appears in the 1856 Toronto city directory (likely compiled in 1855.) The 1861 census shows the family in Guelph—Christopher aged 49, Jane aged 42, and Margaret aged 22.
For most of the more than 25 years that Christopher lived in Guelph, he was a merchant.
But while he lived in Toronto, presumably from about 1841 like his brother Magnus, Christopher worked mainly as a carpenter and builder, maybe with a little land speculation thrown in. In the 1843 city directory, he’s running a boarding house (listed as Christopher Shawan) on Scotch Street. In the 1850 directory, Scotch has become Scott Street and Christopher, now a carpenter, lives at the head of it.
By 1853, the assessment rolls show that Christopher owned three unfinished houses on the east side of today’s Jarvis Street between King and Queen streets, and he lived on the south side of Queen Street. The 1850s were a time of rapid development in Toronto and the transformation of substantial town lots with enough property to have at least a kitchen garden and stable, into much smaller lots for rows of residential and commercial buildings.
A man with some means, like Christopher, grabbed a piece of the action, if he could.
In 1854, Christopher Shewan got into some hot water about a land transaction that ended up in the Court of Chancery. One of the stirrers of the stew pot was Christopher’s wife Jane. In a time when a married women had few property rights, she could protect her eventual inheritance of her husband’s property by refusing to bar her dower. (Dower rights ensured that a widow got at least one third of her husband’s land.) This refusal could effectively stop a sale or mortgage of a property.
Here’s where the wild speculation comes in. I don’t know why Jane prevented the sale—or how Christopher reacted. But I bet he wasn’t pleased.
The parties involved were Christopher Shewan, William Kendrew, Robert Walker, and Thomas Hutchison, and brothers Samuel and Marcus Rossin. Walker and Hutchison were major dry goods merchants; the Rossins ran several businesses. The property involved is not clearly identified in the paperwork—in fact, Judge Esten makes that point in his bench book—but I’m quite sure it was the small parcel at the head of Scott Street.
Plans of Town Lots 1, 3, and 4 from City of Toronto abstract index vol. 17. Christopher Shewan owned part of Block 3 on the lower plan (see note 5)
Scott Street stopped at Colborne Street in 1854, so the property was on the north side of Colborne, part of Block 3 within Town Lot 3. It was about 30 feet deep and backed onto much deeper lots on the south side of King Street. Christopher acquired the east half of the lot in December 1841, and the west half in June 1845. The original one-acre Town Lot 3 had been purchased in 1824 by the Honorable James Baby, and Christopher Shewan’s property was known as Baby Place (pronounced Bawbee).
Today, Scott Street veers to the west at Colborne to continue as Victoria Street. Part of Block 3 was expropriated for Victoria Street. The rest is now occupied by the King Edward Hotel.
But back to the story.
Let me see if I can explain what happened in 1854. William Kendrew approached Christopher Shewan about selling the property for £287 and change. Kendrew did not disclose that he was acting as an agent for Robert Walker who owned the adjacent property on King Street.
Christopher consulted with another neighbour, Thomas Hutchison, who told him it was a “large” price. Now Hutchison and Walker were business partners, and if Christopher had been aware the Walker was behind Kendrew’s offer—he certainly wouldn’t have gone to Hutchison for advice. (Turns out that contrary to wanting a better deal for his business partner, Hutchinson actually was more interested buying the land to resell to Walker at a profit. That partnership didn’t last long!)
Approximate locations of the above plans: red box is Town Lots 1 and 4; Block 3 was on the lower edge of the blue box.
Christopher Shewan agreed to sell the land to Kendrew. Here’s where the chronology gets a little hazy, and the motives become questionable.
The Rossin brothers got wind of the agreement, and “expostulated” with Christopher for not giving them an opportunity of buying it at the same price.
Kendrew, in a effort to complete the deal, requested the deed but was informed that Jane Shewan had refused to bar her dower. I’ll admit that the legal technicalities are a little beyond me, but Christopher and Kendrew did have some options to keep the deal alive, and Kendrew certainly tried.
Sometime later (apparently not late enough to avoid a lawsuit), Christopher made a deal with the Rossin brothers for £300, and Jane Shewan’s dower was duly barred. William Kendrew filed a suit against Christopher Shewan, Marcus Rossin and Samuel Rossin to enforce the original contract.
Judge Esten was not pleased that Kendrew had been put forward as the plaintiff—or had misrepresented himself as the purchaser. Esten felt that Christopher had been deceived, but didn’t believe that Hutchison and Walker were in cahoots. (Not sure I buy that.)
Although he doesn’t exactly say there was anything underhanded going on with Christopher Shewan and his lawyer, Esten notes that the deal should have been handled differently. In the end, despite deception from almost everyone involved, he was of the opinion that the plaintiff, Kendrew, should get the land at the original price.
Those are the facts. Now for some wild speculating.
Why did Jane Shewan refuse to bar her dower? Did Christopher ask her to so he could accept the better offer? Or did Jane find out about the questionable deal—or the better offer—from the neighbours? Was 16-year-old Margaret Shewan involved in the discovery? Seems to me a bustling dry goods store would be a hard place to keep a secret, particularly when all parties lived but a stone’s throw away.
Was Christopher angry at being hoodwinked by Walker, or embarrassed by his own naiveté? How did his wife react to the news? Did Christopher accept that he’d given his word and the deal should go through, only to be thwarted by Jane’s dower rights?
We’ll likely never know. But I can’t help thinking that the family’s departure from Toronto a year or so later may have been precipitated by these events. If that’s so, would Christopher’s brother Magnus Shewan been upset about losing his brother to faraway Guelph? Upset enough to voice his opinion in his will, written just a few years later in 1858?
Did Magnus really hold a grudge against Jane and Margaret for nearly 30 years?
The only thing we know for sure, was that like too many of us, Magnus was guilty of not updating his will!
This is the third in a series of articles about wills and other records of inheritance to support my new book Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians (Dundurn Press, April 2013).
I had some wonderful help with this article from researchers in Shetland. Thank you to Janice Halcrow for her transcriptions of Shetland newspapers at www.jghalcrow.co.uk, and for putting me in touch with Tony Gott who has compiled a marvelous database of names at www.bayanne.info/Shetland.
The records of the Toronto Necropolis Cemetery were also essential, both the transcription of gravestones by the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, and the index to its burial registers at FamilySearch.org.
 Both Ancestry and FamilySearch have hidden the Shewans under the name Sherman. The blessed ability to search either index without a surname—and the unusual forename “Christopher” allowed me to find them.
 Toronto in the 1850s: A transcription of the 1853 Tax Assessment Rolls and Guide to Family History Research. (Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, 2005)
 Archives of Ontario, Benchbooks of Justice James C.P. Esten / RG 22-390-10 / May 1853 – July 1854 / Box 62 / p 11 and 12.
 City of Toronto abstract index vol. 17, spine title: “T.L. 1 N. Wellington & 3 & 4 E. Old Toronto”, on microfilm GSU 197315 at the Archives of Ontario. Plan at beginning of volume. Block 3 starts on page 201.
Yesterday morning I spoke at Richmond Hill Public Library as part of its series on “Women in 19th Century Ontario”. I highly recommend the rest of the lectures in this series: Janice Nickerson on March 30 on Women in the Upper Canadian Criminal Justice System; Guylaine Petrin on April 27 on Treason, Bigamy and Adultery in Riverdale; and Cameron Knight on May 25 on Poor Nancy Malone. See the library’s website for details.
The following is a brief summary of yesterday’s presentation.
Ma Owned the Farm: Women as Land Owners in Ontario
In early Ontario, most land was owned by men and the law limited the rights of women to own (or control) their property. However, some did, and the records associated with that ownership and a woman’s rights to her husband’s and parents’ properties are some of our richest genealogical treasures.
Laws governing women’s land ownership
Under English Common Law, a single woman or a widow could buy and sell land and enter into contracts like mortgages with more or less the same rights as a man, but when a woman married, the situation changed altogether. The “Doctrine of Marital Unity” from English Common Law meant that “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law.”
- Upon marriage, a woman lost her right to manage her own personal and real property, although she didn’t lose ownership of her real estate
- All rents and profits derived from her property went directly to her husband.
- Married women could not contract, sue or be sued.
- Married women could not operate a business without her husband’s consent.
- All personal property including a wife’s wages, belonged to her husband.
- Marriage contracts and other trusts could protect a woman’s property from her husband, but were used only by the rich, and rarely.
A husband was, in turn, obligated to provide for his wife and children. But when the marriage broke down, or the husband was absent for some other reason, the woman’s situation and that of her children could become desperate very quickly.
Beginning in 1837 with the establishment of the Court of Chancery, a number of pieces of legislation were passed to deal with the inequities, but it took almost 50 years before the Married Women’s Property Act of 1884 stated unequivocally that a married woman could “acquire and dispose of any real or personal property as her separate property as if she was a feme sole.” She could contract, sue and be sued.
There were many further refinements, but that 1884 Act and certainly by the turn of the century, we had more or less the same situation we have today.
Land Records for Researching Women
There were many records created to document the acquisition and ownership of land in Ontario and most apply equally to men and women. I’ll concentrate on those records that tend to provide richer details about women and their families.
UPPER CANADA LAND PETITIONS
A petition was the first step in acquiring land from the Crown. The petition explained why the petitioner felt he or she deserved the grant. In the case of women, it usually included the name of her husband and/or father, and sometimes other siblings. The main collection of Upper Canada Land Petitions is at Library and Archives Canada, digitized on the LAC website and on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario. There is an online index.
TOWNSHIP PAPERS (RG 1-58)
This is a collection of miscellaneous documents from the surveyor-general’s office that were pulled from their files for some particular reason—usually a question of ownership. Rather than refile them, it was decided to create new files, by township, concession and lot. They are now on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario and available on interloan. This filing arrangement makes them easy to access. Not every lot has a file, but many do and it is well worth a look. Film listing.
HEIR AND DEVISEE COMMISSIONS
Many recipients of grants of Crown land did not take the steps that would finalize the transfer of ownership. In some cases the grantee had died or transferred ownership to family members or others. To clarify titles and settle disputes, the government set up two “Heir and Devisee Commissions”. The Commissions held hearings, where the proof of ownership was presented.
The records of the Second Heir and Devisee Commission (1805–1896) are at the Archives of Ontario. A file of supporting documentation was created for each of the more than 5,000 cases that came before the Commission (RG 40-5). These are indexed in the Second Heir and Devisee Commission Database.
LAND REGISTRY OFFICE RECORDS
By the 1830s, most land in Southern Ontario had been granted by the Crown and was in private hands. Any transfer of ownership fell under the auspices of the Land Registry Office. Land records in Ontario are organized by parcel. An “Abstract Index to Deeds” for each parcel of land was created in 1865. The Abstract Indexes attempted to list transactions retroactively back to the Patent from the Crown, and provide the “instrument number” for each subsequent sale, etc. These instrument numbers lead to the actual documents (or copies of the documents). Many Abstract Indexes and copybooks of deeds have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and are also available at the Archives of Ontario. Depending on the area and time period, you may need to visit the local Land Registry Office.
CHANCERY COURT RECORDS
From 1837 to 1881, the Court of Chancery had jurisdiction over many matters concerning land, including trusts, the partition of estates, mortgages, dower and alimony. Many records have survived and are at the Archives of Ontario. (These records will answer many of the questions raised in Abstract Indexes.) Equity civil suits case files (RG 22-409) which start in 1869, are a particularly rich source within the Chancery records, and they are listed by surname in the Archives Descriptive Database.
For more information about land records research, the Archives of Ontario’s Research Guides and Tools page is a good place to start. Look for guides 205, 215, 225 and 231.
In the last episode, we learned about Toronto bookseller Magnus Shewan’s death in 1884 and that his niece Mrs. Fraser was surprised when she tried to claim her inheritance—at least according to the Toronto Daily News.
The Globe published a death notice on February 5, 1884:
DIED/ Suddenly, on Monday morning, Feb 4th, Magnus Shewan, age 75 years, a native of Dunrossness, Shetland, and a resident of Toronto since 1841. Funeral on Wednesday afternoon at two o’clock, from his late residence, 21 Dalhousie-st. Friends and acquaintances will please accept this invitation. Shetland papers please copy.
And they did. On March 1, 1884, a similar notice appeared in the Shetland Times.
Now back to the fate of Mrs. Fraser, who I’m now almost certain was the former Margaret Shewan, daughter of Magnus’ brother Christopher Shewan.
Magnus Shewan’s will was written, as the newspaper stated, 26 years before his demise—in 1858. I’ve transcribed it, and the original is also reproduced below.
This is the last will and testament of Magnus Shewan of the City of Toronto in the Province of Canada Bookseller.
I give devise and bequeath all the property real and personal of which I may die possessed to my cousin Magnus Shewan upon trust to sell and dispose of the same as soon after my decease as possible without sacrificing the same but no forced sale within two years which I allow for winding up of my Estate, and to divide the proceeds thereof in manner following:-
One fifth to my mother Agnes Shewan
One fifth to my brother Christopher Shewan
One fifth to my cousin Magnus Shewan to be retained for his own use and benefit
One tenth to my servant Charles Backus
One tenth to my cousin John Harper in Shetland, Scotland, one half of that for himself and the residue to be given by him to such of my relatives as he may consider most in need of it.
One fifth to Magnus, the son of my cousin Magnus.
I’ll interject a little more, here, about the cast of characters. Mother Agnes died in 1865 (7 years after the will was written but 19 years before our Magnus died) and is buried in the Toronto Necropolis in plot L 124S. The nearly illegible gravestone says she was the wife of the late James Shewan and mother of Magnus and Christopher. The plot was owned by Magnus.
Brother Christopher Shewan died less than six months before Magnus on September 12, 1883, in Guelph, Ontario, and was buried the next day in plot L 125 in the Toronto Necropolis. This plot was also owned by Magnus.
Cousin Magnus, as we saw last time, did outlive our Magnus Shewan, and served as administrator of the estate.
Servant Charles Backus has eluded me, and I haven’t identified John Harper of Shetland.
Young cousin-once-removed Magnus (son of cousin Magnus) also survived to inherit.
Now back to the will.
I give my wearing apparel to my brother Christopher.
I will and direct that my mother’s share shall be first paid and that she shall from time to time immediately after my decease have such sums of money out of her share of my Estate as she shall require.
I will and direct that all my just debts and funeral expenses shall be in the first place paid out of my Estate and Effects and before payment of any of the shares or legacies above given except such sums as my mother may require for her support and maintenance.
In the event of the death of any of the legatees above mentioned before me, I will and direct that his or her share shall be divided amongst the others in the proportion of their respective shares of my Estate, and I more particularly direct that under no circumstances shall the wife or daughter Margaret of my brother have any share or portion of my Estate in consequence of their misconduct towards him.
Ah, so it is true. It doesn’t pay to upset Uncle Magnus.
I hereby appoint my said cousin Magnus the Executor of this my will, and I hereby bind myself not to alter this in any way whereby his position or share may be diminished or affected nor to make any other will or codicil without his knowledge or consent while any portion of my present or any future debt to him remains undischarged.
Signed Sealed Published and declared by the said Magnus Shewan the testator as and for his last will and testament this fourth day of December AD 1858… M. Shewan
So, what did Margaret Fraser and her mother do to Christopher Shewan? Were their misdeeds really serious enough for him to hold a grudge from 1858 to 1884?
Well, I have some theories, but you’ll need to wait till next time.
This is the second in a series of articles about wills and other records of inheritance to support my new book Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians (Dundurn Press, April 2013).
Will of Magnus Shewan, from estate file 5193 (1884), RG 22-305, Archives of Ontario
Page 2 of the will. Click images to enlarge.
Sometimes it is what is left out of a will—intentionally or not—that provides the intriguing story.
Magnus Shewan was a Toronto bookseller who operated a shop in the arcade of St. Lawrence Market from about 1845, and from about 1862, on King Street. At the time of his death on February 4, 1884, the bookstore was at 150 King Street East at the corner of Jarvis. The building still stands, one of the few surviving examples of the scale and type of architecture that lined both sides of King Street when it was Toronto’s main thoroughfare.
This article from the Toronto Daily News, 8 Feb 1884, introduced me to Magnus Shewan.
Mr. Shewan first came to my attention in this article from the Toronto Daily News of February 8, 1884. Please take a minute to read the sensational account of poor Mrs. Frazer who presumed she was in the will—and presumed incorrectly. Maybe a little bossy, too, was poor Mrs. Frazer.
This niece of Magnus Shewan was likely the wife of George Fraser (rather than Frazer), listed in the 1884 city directory as an engraver for Masters and McPhail, moulding and frame makers. The Frasers lived at 24 Widmer Street.
Now to consult the estate file, to see if the newspaper got the story right.
Beginning in 1859, estates in Ontario were handled by county surrogate courts. Family members or friends or other parties would apply to the court to be appointed to administer the estate. If the deceased left a will, it would usually be the person(s) named as executors. The court would decide if the applicant was suitable, and after having them fill out the appropriate paperwork, pay the fees, post a bond and swear to do a good job, a grant of probate or administration would be issued.
Magnus Shewan died in Toronto, so his estate was proven in the York County Surrogate Court. The records (and nearly all Ontario estate records) are at the Archives of Ontario. Most are on microfilm and available on interloan from the Archives of Ontario, or through FamilySearch.org.
The first step is to consult a semi-alphabetical index that shows name, residence, type and date of grant, and a grant number. Semi-alphabetical means all the “S” names are listed together, but not sorted beyond that. However, they are recorded chronologically, and since we know Magnus died in February 1884, we can start looking for “Shewan” shortly after that.
In 1884, Magnus Shewan’s bookstore was on the corner of King and Jarvis in this yellow brick building dating from the late 1840s. ©Jane E. MacNamara
For York County, the estate files are arranged on the microfilm numerically by the grant number in the index.
Magnus Shewan’s estate file, grant number 5193, contains the following documents:
- application to administer the estate from the deceased’s cousin, also named Magnus Shewan
- certificate from the Surrogate Clerk’s office ensuring that no one else has applied
- oath of the executor (cousin Magnus) that he will “faithfully administer”
- the will, written in 1858 and witnessed by Hector Cameron and Adam Crooks, naming cousin Magnus as executor
- affidavit stating the date of death by cousin Magnus
- affidavit that the will is genuine by witness Hector Cameron
- affidavit of the value of property ($3,689 personal effects and $5,200 in real estate)
- inventory of the estate
What about poor Mrs. Fraser? Is she in the will or out of luck? Stay tuned till next time!
This is the first in a series of articles about wills and other records of inheritance to support my new book Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians (Dundurn Press, April 2013).