In April 1907, a group of investors in a proposed railway from Woodstock to St. Marys had a ceremonial sod-turning marking the start of the line’s construction. This photograph of the occasion shows in the background, a Grand Trunk Railway engine with freight cars approaching St. Marys from London. The St. Marys and Western Ontario Railway Company was formed to compete with what these businessmen believed were excessive freight rates charged by Grand Trunk.
At the centre holding the shovel is Henry Lincoln Rice, president of the Carter Milling Company. This was a positive period in his life. His daughter, Kathleen, had graduated from university and was teaching, her life as a prospector still some years ahead. Rice had overcome serious setbacks in his business and it was expanding. He was respected and influential.
Born in 1857 in Hamilton into a prominent Methodist family, Rice graduated in 1878 from Victoria College (then in Cobourg). He dabbled in journalism, studied law for a while and taught school. In 1880, he married Charlotte Carter whom he had met when she came to Cobourg to visit a classmate from Whitby Ladies College. Charlotte, age 18, was educated, attractive, stylish and the daughter of wealthy grain merchant George Carter. After his marriage, Rice entered his father-in-law’s business. Thus at 23, he traded a modest life as a junior schoolmaster or law clerk for immediate rewards of material comfort and community status.
Did he ever regret this change in his life’s direction? Perhaps, but he threw himself into the business. George Carter died in 1889 and by 1905, following some untimely family deaths, Rice was the sole surviving partner in the Carter milling enterprise.
He took on this challenge, setting out to upgrade and expand operations. The new rail line meant that grain, purchased in the west, could be brought directly to his mills. He built new elevators to store any surplus. The company owned rights to the Thames River from Queen Street to beyond the Sarnia Bridge. In 1908, Rice built the weir, or dam, creating a lake beside the Flats to control water power to his mill.
Rice staunchly supported the St. Marys Methodist Church, serving as a trustee, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday School. He was on the library board during the construction of the Carnegie building in 1904-5 and served on other local boards and committees.
But his was a volatile business and his good fortune did not last.
(See next week’s column for Part Two of H.L. Rice’s story.)