Making A Difference – The McGregor Family & WWI

This vignette focuses briefly on the contributions of one local family to the Great War and to Waterdown. There is much more material on the McGregor family in the Archives, as well as vertical files, photographs and histories of numerous other local families.

During the “Great War”, over 600,000 men and women enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) between 1914-1918 as soldiers, airmen, nurses and chaplains. The families left behind could only wait, and experience the love, excitement, apprehension, fear, hope and sorrow that are the emotions triggered by war.

Flora, (Charles) Walker and Doug McGregor

As in the rest of Canada, many local families had more than one family member involved in some capacity. While it was not unusual to have two children, usually sons, serving overseas, the McGregor family of Waterdown was unique: four of their seven living children served during W.W. 1. Against all odds, all of them survived and came home.

  • Charles Walker McGregor (1883-1949) was assigned to the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, 164th Battalion.
  • Elizabeth Muriel McGregor (1888-1987) was a nurse, assigned to the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, Canadian Army Medical Corps.
  • Flora McGregor Frid (1889-1987) was also a nurse . Since the Canadian government did not allow married women to serve overseas, she joined the American Red Cross in London. She served at the American Hospital, St. Katherine’s Lodge, Regent’s Park.
  • Douglas Urquhart McGregor (1895-1953) served in the Royal Air Corps, rising to the rank of Captain. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in leading patrols against hostile formations.

Their father, Dr. John Owen McGregor (1850-1928) was born in Nelson Township and practiced medicine in the Waterdown area from 1884 to 1927. In 1878 he married Eliza MacKenzie who had come from Scotland as a young child, and they had eight children, seven surviving to adulthood. Two became notable surgeons in the Hamilton area and three became nurses. “Dr. McGregor was very active in the political life in Waterdown. He was elected Reeve of Waterdown in 1895, served on the Village of Waterdown Council for 16 consecutive years and was Warden of the County of Wentworth for two years beginning in 1897” (WEFHS Heritage Paper # 149, Fall 2000)

The Clunes” c. 1910 (photo # 970)
Entrance to “The Clunes” (photo # 490)
The grounds of “The Clunes”, (Postcard # 20)
Dr. McGregor purchased the Scotch Church Grant on Main Street North in Waterdown and built his home “The Clunes”, named after the Scottish home his wife was born in. The extensive grounds contained summer cottages for his children and many garden parties were held there. In 1927 Dr. McGregor was struck by a car and forced to end his medical career. He died in April 1928 from complications resulting from this accident.

Dr. and Mrs. McGregor, 1927 (photo # 795)

Mrs. Eliza McGregor “was very active in the Knox Presbyterian Church and in the King’s Daughters. She was a pioneer in the organization of the Women’s Institute locally and throughout the Province,” and rarely missed a meeting in 36 years. (Vertical File – McGregor Family) She was also instrumental in the formation of the local Red Cross Chapter starting in 1915 when “This organization meets every Tuesday afternoon from two to five o’clock to make hospital supplies and garments for our brave Canadian boys at the front” (Waterdown Review May 16, 1918) The day before she died on November 12 1939, she was concerned “because she realized she would be unable to place on the Waterdown Cenotaph the wreath which was the tribute of the Women’s Institute” (Hamilton Spectator November 1939)

Waterdown Memorial Hall Archives Photo # 1079 .

Of particular interest is the involvement of the Women’s Institute in the Memorial Hall, built on Dundas Street in 1922. The W.I. and other church groups gathered funds for a new community hall. Most communities built cenotaphs or small memorials. In Waterdown “It was decided upon by the citizens of Waterdown as a memorial to the great souls who went overseas and fought and bled for our liberty. It will benefit those who returned and their loving friends, and will stand as a memorial to future generations for the patriotism of those in whose memory it was raised” (Waterdown Review January 25, 1923)

A son, Dr. James Kenneth McGregor, became a surgeon and in 1922 formed the McGregor-Mowbray Clinic in Hamilton with Dr. Fred Mowbray. Following Dr. Mowbray’s death in 1931, the name of the clinic was changed to the McGregor Clinic. Dr. McGregor was Head of Surgery at the Hamilton General Hospital and was regarded as one of the ten foremost authorities in goitre and thyroid disease and surgery in North America.

The youngest son, Dr. Douglas McGregor had the most illustrious life. He graduated from McGill University followed by a distinguished career as a pilot in World War 1. Regarded as a “Flying Ace”, he was credited with downing 11 enemy planes. He loved to fly.

“Coming from Hamilton way and flying low with the familiar buzz was the first warning and then the cry ‘Doug McGregor’. For a considerable time the monster plane continued to circle around, performing many feats of airmanship, until all parts of the village was visited, including a look in every window of his father’s house. After a half hour’s amusement for the spectators and possibly himself, he turned towards the Fair Grounds, where he descended to mother earth and was soon surrounded by a large crowd of admiring friends who made good use of the opportunity to inspect a modern aeroplane” (Waterdown Review 1918)

“After the war, Douglas McGregor was involved in the R.C.A.F. recruitment and in 1935 was named to command Hamilton’s First Air Force Establishment, No. 119 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron. During his lifetime he held posts as Chief of the Surgical Division at the Hamilton General Hospital, honorary consultant at that hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Mountain Sanatorium. Interested in sports, he was regarded as one of the great centres in Canadian Football while at McGill. He was associated with the Hamilton Wildcats Football Club, of which he was President in 1946. He was also instrumental in organizing the Hamilton Rotary Club’s plan for helping crippled children, and served in numerous local civic and community groups” (WEFHS Heritage Paper # 57). In June 1953 he suffered a fatal heart attack while attending a wrestling match.

The McGregor Family c.1914 ( photo # 1167).

All of the McGregor children went on to become very involved in the communities of Waterdown and Hamilton. We owe them a great debt.

They made a difference.


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