This week’s column features a daguerreotype held in Trinity College Archives. Taken in the early 1840s, it shows Mrs. Thomas Mercer Jones with one of her young sons. Mrs. Jones (1814-1857) is better remembered as Elizabeth Mary, greatly loved daughter of John and Ann Strachan. At a time when children had precarious and frequently brief lives, she was the only one of their several daughters to survive into adulthood.
John Strachan is famous in Ontario’s early history as a powerful cleric, educator and key player in the political maneuverings of the Family Compact. He eventually became the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, founding St. James Cathedral and Trinity College. He also fought hard for an established church (the Church of England, of course) and for control over the Clergy Reserves, Crown lands set for the preferential benefit of established clergy. He lost these two battles but remained a dominant figure until his death in his 90th year in 1867.
In 1832, 18-year-old Elizabeth Strachan married Thomas Mercer Jones, a commissioner of the Canada Company. This privately owned English company had a charter from the Crown to administer the sale of lands in a large portion of what is now known as Southwestern Ontario. Part of their territory was a block of one million acres called the Huron Tract. It stretched in a large wedge shape from the easterly limits of North and South Easthope in Perth County westward to Lake Huron.
When Jones arrived in Canada from England in 1829, the sale of property in the Huron Tract became his responsibility. He soon concluded these lands held great potential for profit, envisioning Goderich as a thriving lake port, a centre of culture and commerce. He moved his family from Toronto to Goderich in the late 1830s.
The arrival of the well-connected Joneses made a huge impact on the rough, isolated, settlement. In their entertaining 1896 book, In the Days of the Canada Company, Robina and Kathleen Lizars described the arrival of the family, their servants and 22 wagonloads of household goods to their Goderich residence: “…all sweetly governed and gently presided over by the most gracious lady who ever graced that wilderness of Huron. … Church, gaieties, dress all changed” once Mrs. Jones arrived.
In 1845, the Joneses visited our part of Blanshard Township, giving rise to the persistent story that from then onward, the small settlement on the Thames was to be identified as St. Marys, a name chosen to honour Mrs. Jones. It is an attractive story and undoubtedly the visit took place. But although her second name was Mary, Elizabeth was what Mrs. Jones’s family called her. Furthermore, records show that the name St. Marys had been assigned to this surveyed town as early as 1839.
The Joneses had another, verifiable connection to St. Marys. In 1851, Thomas Mercer Jones purchased an entire block of property bounded by Elgin Street to the south, Peel Street to the west, King Street to the east and Jones Street (named after the commissioner himself) to the north. This property was established as a trust for his wife, Elizabeth Mary Jones. But the charming Elizabeth died in 1857, age 43, and was greatly mourned. Subsequently, this block of property was acquired by George and James Carter to become the Carter family compound.