After a long winter, any sign of spring is exciting. For St. Marys residents, the breakup of ice on the Thames River has always been one hopeful sign of a change to warmer weather. Local residents are drawn to watch, many bringing cameras to record the event.
One such photographer almost a century ago took this picture of young Fairbairn White standing on a giant block of ice at the water’s edge, downstream from the Park Street Bridge. The block is very large and thick and seems to be smoothly cut at the sides. It is probably a remnant of ice-harvesting operations, either on Trout Creek or Rice Lake above the dam.
The most obvious landmarks in the background of this photograph are the water tower that supplied the Canadian Pacific Railway steam engines and the white cottage, still standing on Park Street, currently home to the Irwin family. Several sheds and even a barn can be seen behind the homes along the west side of Water Street. Today these buildings are almost all gone.
Fairbairn White was born in 1901 and appears to be in his mid to late teens when the photograph was taken. He is clearly still growing — if his jacket cuffs and the length of his trousers are any indication. Both his parents were members of families long established in the St. Marys and Blanshard Township area. His mother, Janet Fairbairn, was the granddaughter of Jane Tracy and her first husband, Archibald Fairbairn. Her great-grandfather was George Tracy, an early settler who built the limestone house, now the St. Marys Museum. Fairbairn White’s father, James, was descended from James Brine, one of the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs.
Fairbairn White grew up in St. Marys. He never married but he was part of a close family of three boys and two girls. One brother, David C. White, was mayor of St. Marys throughout the years of World War II. Fairbairn played on a successful junior lacrosse team, was a member of the Fair Board, and a breeder of prize poultry. For a good portion of his adult life, he worked for the Public Utilities Commission and was still employed as a meter reader at the time of his death in December, 1967. At his funeral, his pallbearers and flower bearers were almost all colleagues from the PUC.