The McGregor Family of Nelson Township and Waterdown

Among the Waterdown doctors listed in the past Heritage Paper was Dr. John Owen McGregor of Main Street North, Waterdown, who is still fondly remembered by many residents of the village and surrounding area. In this Heritage Paper, the story of the McGregor family of Nelson Township and Waterdown.

Among the early settlers of Nelson Township was Captain Peter McGregor, and his wife Ann Urquhart1, who located their family on Lot 8, Concession 4. Captain McGregor of the 4th Royal Veteran Battalion was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 9 October 1763, while his father, Captain Duncan McGregor2 was stationed in the colony. Both father and son came to Canada c.1809-1810 and served under the British flag during the War of 1812 – both were stationed in Québec, responsible for the transportation of soldiers and supplies. Following the War of 1812, Peter McGregor returned to Scotland for his discharge. He was a soldier of considerable fame, having previously served with the famous Black Watch Regiment during the Peninsular War. In recognition of his service to England, and the bravery he had displayed saving the life of the Prince Regent, later King William IV, he was granted a large amount of property, 500 acres in Nelson Township.

Captain McGregor died 9 April 1827, aged 64 years, and was buried in St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Cemetery on Highway #5, Nelson Township. In his will, McGregor left instructions regarding his funeral, which was “not to be extravagant, but decent and becoming my rank”3. The 500 acres of his prosperous farm was divided between his wife and four sons, Lachlan, John, Duncan, and Donald.

John Charles James McGregor4, Captain Peter’s second son, purchased Lot 8, Concession 5 Nelson Township in 1846, and built a fine stone house, that became known as ‘Limestone Hall’, and is still standing today. He was a very successful farmer, with a range of grains and livestock being produced on his 307 acres of land, and with his wife Phoebe Zimmerman5 raised a large family of eleven children.

Dr. John Owen McGregor, born 19 December 1850, was the second youngest of John and Phoebe’s children. He began his career as a general practitioner in Dundas, and came to Waterdown in 1884. His practice spanned the days of the horse and buggy to those of the motor car, and his obituary notice recorded that for more than fifty years he was a “much loved physician of the old school tradition”6, operating out of his home on Main Street North, Waterdown. He was very active in the Waterdown Masonic Lodge; represented the Village on County Council, and served as a Director of the Union Cemetery for 31 years.

His reputation as a dedicated doctor is best illustrated by a small paragraph that appeared in the Spectator on 16 January 1892:

As a sample of the extent to which the grip has spread in the country, it is stated that Dr. McGregor of Waterdown has ninety-one patients sick with him. He drives nearly 100 miles a day between 7a.m. and 9p.m., using up two teams of horses. Some nights he does not get to bed at all.

He was also a very kind man, always willing to assist a good friend who was in need. In 1888, he gave George Baker7 money to take his wife and children to Chicago to join the American Rolling Mills Steel Company after the rake, cradle and agricultural implement factory in which he was a part-owner was destroyed by fire. George Baker often returned to Waterdown to visit his mother and to go fishing with Dr. McGregor – the two families were eventually united by the marriage of Muriel, daughter of Dr. McGregor, and Orrin Hugh, son of George Baker.

On 12 November 1879 John Owen McGregor married Eliza Mary Mackenzie8. Their family of eight children all grew up in Waterdown. Two of their sons, Kenneth9, and Douglas10 entered medicine, Archie, the third son died 29 March 1895 aged 4 years and 2 days, and Charles Walker (6 November 1884 – 19 January 1949) remained in Waterdown with his mother until her death in 1939. The McGregor’s four daughters all married into prominent local and Hamilton families11.

Dr. McGregor purchased property in Waterdown from the Trustees of Knox Presbyterian Church, and in 1900 had a house that became known as the Clunes built. During the early years of the twentieth century, the family opened McGregor’s Drugstore on the south side of Dundas Street. Above the store, on the second floor, was McGregor Hall, used for various village meetings and activities. Unfortunately the great Waterdown fire of 1922 destroyed this building along with the other nearby stores.

During the Fall of 1927, Dr. McGregor was struck by an automobile and hospitalised. A small paragraph in the Waterdown Review of sixty years ago recalled the sad event. On 23 April 1928, Dr. J. O. McGregor died at the Hamilton General Hospital from complications that developed as a result of the injury he had suffered from the previous year. He was buried in the Union Cemetery, Waterdown, where his epitaph reads, “administered to the sick in this district for 48 years”.

  1. Ann Urquhart was the second wife of Captain Peter McGregor. Born 11 November 1774, Parish of Calder, Scotland, died 25 April 1853, aged 78 years, 5 months, buried St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Nelson Township.
  2. Captain Duncan McGregor, 42nd Highlanders Regiment fought for Britain at the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 during the American Revolution.
  3. Byers, Mary; McBurney, Margaret “The Governor’s Road”, University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1982.
  4. John Charles James McGregor. Born 24 July 1810, Fort George, New Brunswick. Died 28 November 1879. Buried St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Nelson Township.
  5. Phoebe Zimmerman died 30 August 1890, aged 78 years. Buried St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Nelson Township.
  6. Obituary Notice Pg. 3 Hamilton Herald, 23 April 1928.
  7. George Baker (1849 – ?) Part owner of Brown & Baker Agricultural Implement Factory, Mill Street South. He went to Chicago where he became a salesman, rising through the company to the position of President. The company eventually became known as U.S. Steel.
  8. Eliza Mary Mackenzie (15 June 1852 – 12 November 1939). Born in Scotland, the name of her birthplace, Clunes, was adopted for her Waterdown home. Mrs. McGregor was a Charter member of the Waterdown Women’s Institure, and as a tribute for 35 years of active service in the organization, she was made a life member in April 1934.
  9. Dr. James Kenneth McGregor (7 January 1881 – 25 January 1946) Surgeon, graduated from the University of Toronto Medical School in 1905, studied in London, Edinburgh, Berlin and at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. He practised for a year in Brantford and another year in Waterdown with his father. In 1922, with Dr. Fred Mowbray, he founded the McGregor – Mowbray Clinic at 250 Main Street East, Hamilton. 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, Barton Street, Hamilton, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, American College of Surgeons and the Canadian and Ontario Medical Associations. During his illustrious career, he was regarded as one of the ten foremost authorities in goitre and thyroid disease and surgery in North America. His colleagues recalled his untiring energy and decvotion to his profession, and one prominent Hamilton doctor called him “one of Hamilton’s truly great humanitarians”.
  10. Dr. Douglas U. McGregor (1895 – 1953) Surgeon, like his brother he was educated at Waterdown and Hamilton schools. He graduated from McGill University, following a distinguished career as a pilot during World War I. Like his close friend William “Bill” Peace of Barton Township, he served with the Royal Flying Corps and was decorated, earning the Military Cross. Regarded as a “Flying Ace”, he was credited with downing 11 enemy planes. 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.
  11. Muriel (November 1887 – ) married Orrin Hugh Baker (10 June 1885 – 13 July 1949); Hazel Kate (12 January 1893 – 3 July 1976) married Oswald D. Peat K. C.; Flora (? – 9 October 1987) married Herbert Frid, and Jessie Winnifred (27 May 1886 – 20 January 1970) married Frank C. O’Brien.
References:

McBurney, Blair; Historical Report on the McGregor Property, Main Street North, Waterdown. Waterdown, 1987.

Byers, Mary; McBurney, Margaret; The Governor’s Road. University of Toronto Press. Toronto, 1982.

Hamilton News Scrapbooks, Volume 01: Obituaries Page 32, Special Collections, Hamilton Public Library.

Hamilton Spectator, 16 January 1892.
Waterdown Review, October 1927.
Hamilton Herald, page 3, 23 April 1928.
Waterdown Review, 7 March 1929.
Hamilton Spectator, 13 November 1939.
Hamilton Spectator, 27 January 1946.

Reminiscences of Dr. G. C. Wray, Hamilton.

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, November 1987.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1987, 2021.

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