First Published in the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society Newsletter - Toronto Tree - January/February 2017.
Joseph Henry Down (1889 – 1915) – The Poppy Trail
My grandfather Joseph Henry Down died at the 2nd Battle of Ypres, Belgium on April 24, 1915. His body was not recovered, and there is no grave, but he is listed on the Menin Gate Memorial, along with over 55,000 other soldiers who lost their lives in the battle.
In order to commemorate Joseph’s death my husband John and I decided to plan a trip to Ypres in April 2015. As part of the planning, we researched Joseph from cradle to grave. The family had always lived in the east end of Toronto and I didn’t realize how many places they had lived in while still maintaining to be “East-Enders”.
Our plan was to find as much information about Joseph as possible analysing all the data I had collected in my genealogy research, plus additional information from any military records. My husband also contacted the Legion and received a bag of poppies. Our intent was to leave a poppy at every location where Joseph lived and we visited. So before we made the journey to Ypres, we started in Toronto.
I haven’t located Joseph’s birth certificate, but the family attended St. John’s the Baptist Norway Church. I made an appointment at the Diocese of Toronto Anglican Archives on Adelaide Street in Toronto. The Archives are open 2 days a week and while you don’t need an appointment, it’s recommended to call ahead to ensure the records you need are available. http://www.toronto.anglican.ca/parish-administration/archives/ It was my first time at the archives and I was surprised when I was given the actual parish records to research. So I donned my cotton gloves and very carefully turned the pages and I was rewarded.
Joseph Henry Down was born on September 23, 1889, in the village of Norway, now a part of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the son of Charles Walter Down and Alice Maude Crew. He was baptized at St. John’s Norway Church on September 5, 1890 and his parents are listed as living in Norway, and his father is listed as a Milk Dealer.
The Toronto Directories were invaluable in our research. Joseph’s family lived mostly in the east end of Toronto. Jane McNamara has listed all the directories on her blog which was very handy for this research. http://wherethestorytakesme.ca/toronto-city-directories/ These directories can also be accessed through the Toronto Public Library website, but I found Jane’s list more convenient as all the directories are listed on one page.
In 1893, the family is listed as living on Woodbine Avenue, Norway and his father also lists a business under Grocer and Fruit and Fishes etc. on 692 Queen Street East, near Broadview Avenue. By 1899 the Grocery store was 668 Queen Street East, whether a new location or simply a re-numbering of the street is not known.
The 1912 Directory lists Joseph’s father Charles with an additional Cartage Business , listed as C. W. Down & Son at 81 Hamilton Street, around the corner from the Grocery store.
Joseph attended Queen Alexandra Public School on Hamilton Street, near Broadview and Dundas Streets. A search on the Toronto branch King and County page lists 4 Down surnames. All belong to my grandfather’s line. Joseph and his brothers William, Charles and R.E. (Richard Edward) Down are listed on the plaque. Of the 4 brothers only Richard survived and returned to Toronto. The King and Country page also a wonderful sidebar on the main page with links to military websites. http://torontofamilyhistory.org/kingandcountry/
Sometime between 1908 and 1913 the Joseph’s family also acquired property where they built a house on Bellefair Avenue in the east end of Toronto. In 1911 Joseph married Bertha Snider (nee Busby). Bertha was 10 years older and she was a widow with 2 daughters, Mildred Agnes Ellen and Marjory Maxine Snider. Bertha and Joe had 3 children, Charles William “Charlie”, Geraldine Dorothy “Dolly” and Joseph Henry Kitchener “Joe”.
|20 Bellefair Avenue, Toronto, Joseph Down on the steps at the back. Picture taken circa 1913|
|20 Bellefair Avenue, Toronto, circa 2015|
Using the birth registrations for Joseph and Bertha’s children together with the directories gave us more address to check out. Thankfully the addresses still remained in the east end of Toronto: 50 Enderby Road, 290 Woodbine Avenue, 210 Hamilton Street, 534 Kingston Road and 582 Woodbine Avenue.
So off we went, armed with a list of locations, a bag of poppies and a camera. We found all the locations on our list. I was familiar with some of the addresses as my grandmother and my great grandmother lived in the same houses until their deaths. Some of the street numbers changed on the streets, but using the street directory, was an enormous help. The street directory portion of the directory lists all the streets in alphabetical order and by house number. It also lists the intersections, so you can get an idea of the vicinity of the house you are researching. I was able to pinpoint the general area of the house number by using the cross streets as reference. For instance in 1914 , 290 Woodbine Avenue is located at the crossroad of Kingston Road and Woodbine Avenue. That is not the case today. 290 Woodbine is a long block south of Kingston Road and I imagine the new 290 is a much more substantial house. Some of the houses had disappeared completely replaced by an apartment block in one instance. We did our best and photographed the houses we found and left a poppy as near to the location as possible.
My great grandfather’s Grocery store on Queen Street East is still there and is now a Hemp Store. Around the corner on Munroe Street, the stables are gone and there are apartments. My great grandmother’s house on Bellfair Avenue looks almost unchanged, except for a few cosmetic enhancements. At “582” (as it was known in my family, no need to add Woodbine Avenue), it too appeared much the same as I remembered and I was left to wonder how my grandmother raised 5 children in the house.
Our last stop was St. John’s Norway Cemetery on Woodbine Avenue. While Joseph isn’t buried there his name along with his brothers is inscribed on the Down family gravestone and we left our last poppy on the grave.
The Toronto part of our journey was complete. Poppies were left at every location and now we were ready for our European excursion to continue our poppy trail through England, France and Belgium. I wonder what the homeowners thought when they found a poppy fastened unobtrusively to their shrubbery?