The Davis Connection with Waterdown – Part III

The third and final part of Mr. Bob Lalonde’s research on the Davis Family who established a tanning business in Waterdown during the early years of the village’s industrial growth. A complete copy of Mr. Lalonde’s work on the Davis Family, all land transactions and references to the family has been placed in the Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society Archives, Waterdown Library, Special Collections, Hamilton Public Library and the Library of the Hamilton Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

On 19 November 1859, Andrew Davis bought 2/5 acre of land from Thomas Dyke and his wife Nancy for £45.0.0. This property was south on Main Street and on the south limit of the Wesleyan Methodist Parsonage lot (1 chain wide and the length of the parsonage lot). The Parsonage lot and house is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Brian Killins at 134 Main Street South. The property on the southeast corner of Leather and Mill Streets (the open land just south of Maplebank, the Clark home) was bought from Patrick and William Dornan on 18 April, 1864 to become part of the Davis holdings in Waterdown. It is not certain what Andrew was doing from 1864 to 1868, but he may have been a gentleman farmer on his wife’s 25 acres at the end of Leather Street. In 1867, he was listed as a gentleman, and he was certainly in the business of mortgages. John Graham came again for $490.00, on 3 lots on the south side of Dundas Street. These lots were on the block between Dundas and Barton Streets, and Main and Flamboro’ Streets, excepting the lot where the Royal Bank and Lord Byron Restaurant now are. In March 1869, Andrew Davis bought these 3 lots from John Graham for $620.00 (Graham’s mortgage was paid up in April of that year). Andrew Davis sold the land again in the same month to John Finnagin and his wife Ann, accepting a mortgage of $425.00 from him.

In 1865, Andrew Davis was involved in land transactions with Benjamin Reynolds, including a mortgage transfer from Thomas English, Junior, a carriage maker in Waterdown, for Village Lot 2 on the west side of Main Street (behind the Kirk House property, where the present-day Post Office is found). During this period the Davis family had grown to four children: Elihu James and Asahel Ghent born on Yonge Street, Lelia Ada born in 1855 at Waterdown, and Edward Pease born in 1860 at King. The children carried on with their education in the Waterdown public and grammar schools.

During 1868, Andrew’s brother-in-law, Edward Pease, bought a tannery in Aurora. Andrew left his family in Waterdown and returned to Kinghorn with his 17 year old son, Elihu James, to live in quarters on the tannery’s second floor. Visits were made to the United States to study new methods and machines, and these were incorporated as finances allowed. In 1871, Elizabeth Davis and the three children moved from Waterdown to King to become a complete family again. Their Waterdown home and property on Leather Street was sold for $5000 to Peter Creen on 5 November 1875. With the sale of their Waterdown properties, the Davises disappear from the Waterdown scene. Their last contact with the village seems to have been the sale of 2/5 acre of land, south of the Parsonage lot, to the Trustees of the Methodist Parsonage for the nominal fee of $1.00 on 30 October 1893. The Trustees sold both the Parsonage lot and the lot they had received from Andrew Davis to William Oscar Sealey in October of 1893.

The Kinghorn tannery started operations with Andrew, his son and a few hired workers, in a combined house and tannery building. Elihu James became a partner with his father under the name of Andrew Davis & Son. Before long, the stream no longer supplied an adequate amount of water, and a small steam power plant was put into use. By 1884, Andrew had decided to retire, and E.J. (Elihu James) became the sole owner of the entire business. Disaster struck, and the tannery was destroyed by fire in April 1884. It was rebuilt and production doubled. By 1903, the business employed 45 to 50 men, but disaster struck again, and fire destroyed the tannery again in that year.

It was decided not to rebuild at Kinghorn, and a new location was sought. First, a plant owned by Joseph Carrington at Kingston, Ontario was bought as it was a going concern near transportation and raw materials. Second, the Kingston operation was relocated on 46 acres of land at Newmarket, Ontario. The Kingston plant, A. Davis & Son Ltd., was operated by E.J.’s son, Elmer Davis, to produce vegetable tanned side leather, while E.J.’s other son, Aubrey Davis, looked after the production of chrome tanned calf leather at the Newmarket plant of Davis Leather Co. Ltd.

On 30 January, 1908, Andrew Davis passed away at his home in Newmarket, leaving the future development of the leather industry in the hands of his children and grand-children. Of Andrew’s children, only E.J. remained with the leather industry. Lelia Ada Davis, Andrew’s only daughter, born 30 April 1855 in Waterdown and went to school there, was the first woman to graduate in Medicine from the University of Toronto. She practised medicine in Toronto from 1891 to 1909, where she was in charge of the Histological Department of Women’s Medical College. She was also the first woman to have a place on the staff of a Toronto Medical College. In 1910, Lelia Ada went to India and taught for two years at a girls’ medical school in North India, returning to Canada in 1914.

Two of Andrew Davis’ sons became lawyers, Edward Pease Davis and Asahel Ghent Davis.

Andrew’s eldest son, E.J. was the only one to follow in his father’s trade. He was born 2 December 1851 on Yonge Street in York County, educated at Waterdown Public and Grammar schools, then at Hamilton Commercial College. Starting to learn the tannery business from his father as early as 1868, he became a partner of the Company of Andrew Davis & Son in 1872, and the sole proprietor in 1884, when Andrew retired. After the 1903 fire disaster, he rebuilt the business at Kingston and Newmarket. By 1915, the Newmarket plant employed 200 men and had branch warehouses in Québec and Boston, Massachusetts. E.J. held many political offices — councillor, deputy reeve, reeve, warden, and is especially known as an M.P.P. for North York from 1888 to 1904, when he retired due to ill-health. He was president of both A. Davis & Son Ltd., Kingston, and Davis Leather Co. Ltd., Newmarket — one of the biggest suppliers of leather products in the British Empire at that time. At the age of 85, E.J. died of a heart attack at Wellesley Hospital in Toronto on 14 June 1935.

Some of E.J.’s children were to carry on the leather company their grandfather Andrew had started. What might have happened in Waterdown if Andrew Davis had been able to resolve the water rights for his tanning factory? Would we now have, or have had, a sprawling mill complex in the south part of the Village, to make Smokey Hollow really live up to its name! Such is history and the story of those who participate in it. Andrew Davis chose his way in the tanning industry and went where he was able to build an expanding and profitable business. While doing so, he added another small chapter to our local Waterdown history.

Editor’s Note:
The Kirk House became The Royal Coachman in 1995.

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, November 1984.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1984, 2020

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