Makepeace, Bernice: William Herbert Nelson


By Bee Makepeace

William Herbert Nelson December 14, 1875 – January 30, 1942 was the oldest son of Stephen Nelson and Annie Powell Nelson. Herb as he was always called was born December 14, 1875 in Otonabee Township, Peterborough County. Herb was later joined by Wilbert Stephen, (b. Aug. 27, 1877), Thomas Wilkinson, known as Wilkie (b. July 30, 1879), Robert Bruce, known as Bert (b. January 15, 1882), Florence Elizabeth May (b. March 24, 1884), Percy Gilbert (b. August 30, 1886), Melville John (b. September 18, 1897). All of the boys in the family were given the name of one of their father’s brothers. Florence’s second name was after her mother’s mother, Elizabeth Driver Powell.

Herb was a farmer all of his life. He married Mary Louisa Inglis on December 27, 1905 in Norham Ontario. For a short time they lived in Seymour Township on the Sullivan farm. It was here their first child was born: Earl Raymond, born December 10, 1906.

Nelson Family

A couple of years later after his marriage, Herb was talking to his Uncle John, (oldest brother of his father) and learned that Uncle John was planning on leaving the farm. John’s wife Alice passed, away in 1906. Herb’s mother Anne had gone to live with John Nelson and his wife Alice, following the death of Anne’s husband, in 1902. An arrangement between Herb and his uncle was reached. Herb’s mother Anne continued to live on the Nelson homestead until her death May 28, 1915. His Uncle John went to live with Herb’s brother Wilbert Nelson.

In 1909, January 17, Herb’s second child was born – Ella Mildred. Other children soon followed;

Luella Alberta (Lulu) born April 7, 1910, William George (Geordie) born September 19, 1911, Gordon Stephen born April 19, 1914, Edna Louise born August 14, 1915, Lillian Prudence born July 7, 1918, Mary Margaret born July 4, 1922 and last to arrive Milton Elliot born January 28, 1926. Unfortunately Margaret passed away in March 22, 1924 due to a heart condition.

Although Herb was a quiet man, he was a very busy man. Not only did he run the farm but he became very involved in school, public affairs and other businesses. I have no idea as to the education Herb and his siblings received but all of them were extremely good in math. It is said that Herb could add three rows of numbers at the same time. He was Secretary-Treasurer of the Warkworth Cheese Co. for numerous years. As well he was the Secretary –Treasurer of the School Board of SS#10 and a school trustee. Herb was President of Northumberland Cheese Association and for years he was a director of the Agricultural Society and served as the president in 1941. For nineteen years Herb served on Percy Township Council in various positions such as Reeve, Deputy Reeve and was elected Warden of the United Counties (Northumberland and Durham) in 1930.

Over the years the family had many ups and downs, but always Herb and Mary met each one calmly. One event was when one of their daughter's took ill. The doctor back in those days would make house calls. When the doctor saw the patient, he diagnosed the problem as appendicitis and felt that the girl should not be moved, as the appendix might burst. Dr. Stobie, a surgeon from Belleville arrived and performed the operation on the kitchen table. The appendix had ruptured and the registered nurse with Dr. Stobie had to stay for a few days to care for the infection. Cost of the operation was $150.00. Herb felt the doctor was well paid as he was there for only an hour. (Can you imagine something like that happening now!!!)

Another time the family was quarantined due to scarlet fever and Herb was the only one allowed to go out in public. Of course those ill were kept away from Herb.

Taking a glimpse at each of Herb’s family’s personalities, you would have to say the girls took after their mother. You could not find a jollier person than Mary Nelson. She always had a smile on her face, a hearty laugh and lots of patience as well. Needless to say with a large family including Mary’s father, George Inglis, Mary was a terrific cook. Mary’s father died in 1939, when he was almost 91 years old.

Herb, Geordie, Gordon and Milton seemed to be more on the quiet side and were not great talkers. Earl was a bit more outgoing than his Dad and brothers. This was good as he made his living by delivering mail, running a grocery store and in later years served on the Percy Township Council, like his dad had before him. Earl was also involved with the Percy Agricultural Society and was Secretary-treasurer of the Cemetery Board. You could say, “He was a chip off the old block”.

Herb in all his years had never had a car. He drove his horses everywhere. One day a car salesman drove into his driveway and tried to sell him a car. After some time Herb bought the car but never drove it. His son Geordie drove it and would take his parents where they wanted to go.

Mary, Herb’s wife, died on February 6, 1941 from cancer of the bowel. Usually people who died in the winter were not buried in Warkworth Cemetery until spring. Such was not the case for Mary. Her family knew that she didn’t want to be placed in the vault. There was a terrific snow storm at the time of her death but neighbours and family worked and even dug the grave so Mary could be buried as she wanted to be.

The following year on January 30, 1942, Herb died. According to the newspaper, he was buried from St. Paul’s United Church in Warkworth. Here the church overflowed as Herb was so well known and respected. Again like his wife the year before, Herb was buried in the family plot alongside his wife Mary, and with his daughter Margaret, as well as his parents Stephen and Anne Nelson. No vault for him either.

The early 40’s were war years and two of Herb’s sons served in the armed forces. Geordie signed up for the Heavy Artillery Unit. After basic training he went overseas and returned in 1946.

Milton the youngest son joined in 1943 and served in the navy. He, too, served overseas and was discharged in 1946.

I am sure Herb and Mary would have been very proud of their sons. As well Herb would have been very proud of his oldest son Earl who also served as Warden of Northumberland County in 1960. Herb’s grandson, Clifford White, (youngest son of daughter, Edna and Roy White) also served as Warden of the Northumberland County in 1983. Not many families can boast that three generations have served as Warden of Northumberland County.

Herb Nelson was my uncle and as a young child I spent many days at their place. Yes, I even spent one Christmas there. They were really wonderful to our family and because of them I have great memories. Their home was the only home in which I ever saw a dumbwaiter. It looked like a closet door but when you opened it you could place food on shelves and by using a pulley, either pull it up or let it down into the basement to keep butter, milk or other foods cool. No icebox or refrigerator in the good old days.

Uncle Herb spent some of his spare time writing poetry. Some of it was given to me by his daughter, Lillian, at the time of our Nelson Reunion back in 1996. These I treasure.

As Bob Hope used to say, “Thanks for the memories” Uncle Herb and Aunt Mary.