Parker, Elma: Autobiography of Robert Alexander ELLIOTT (1859 - 1945)


presented by Elma Parker

Former Elliott Store in Roseneath c1900

Robert Alexander Elliott, better known as R.A., was born of Irish parents. His father came to Canada first, to earn enough money for the passage of his wife and children on a sailing vessel. His Mother and two sisters, Mary Ann and Elizabeth had a very rough 13-week crossing and didn't expected to see land again. R.A.'s parents settled into a new log house on a 7-acre heavily wooded lot 'north of Cobourg' where he and his three brothers, William, John and James and a sister Maggie were born. Later a frame house was built. Some years later, his father decided to rent a 150-acre farm from Robert Hewitt. This ended 13-year old R.A.'s school days for he could drive a team and do a man's work.The family used to walk 2 1/2 miles to church, then home, have lunch and R.A. and his sister would walk back to Sunday School, a total of 10 miles. This little Methodist Church was 1 mile north of No. 2 highway half way between Cobourg and Grafton and was known as Mallory Church. His Sunday School teacher was Maud Kelley.

R.A. related stories of being paid 20 cents for planting 2 acres of apple trees and 25 cents a day for picking potatoes from daylight to dark. His sister Maggie married Charles P. Alger in 1879 and went to live on a farm north of Colborne. R.A. married an Irish girl from Toronto named Minnie J. Mercer in 1881. Their baby, Clara May, was born a year later, followed by his wife's death only months later, quick consumption being the cause.

After remaining single for 4 years, R.A. married Jennie McCutcheon of Baltimore and moved to Toronto where he earned $12.50 a week, paid $15.00 a month rent for a 5-bedroom home, paid everything, lived well and even saved a wee bit.

He successfully applied for the mail contract running from Cobourg to Roseneath and became acquainted with people in the Roseneath area. One being George McGivern, who was retired and owned the Temperance Hotel (now Robin's Store) and also a vacant store on the opposite corner (now Joan's Hideaway). He suggested to R.A. that if he rented his store, he would build a 6-room house connected to the store for his use if he would take a 5-year lease at $60 per year. R.A. became the keeper of a general store.

It wasn't long until a larger brick store down the street, (now vacant, across the street from the United Church) with 2 acres of land, was for sale and he bought it for $600. He then built a house adjoining the store. Choice pine building materials was loaded on a scow and delivered to McCracken's Landing at $5. per thousand. The contractor, Ed Ellinor, built the house for $200 - complete. The store would be open from 6 a.m. 'til 11:30 pm. His sons Harold Alexander and Stewart McCutcheon, his daughters Hazel Elizabeth, Edna Minnie Louise and Mildred Evelyn were born with Dr. Lapp and Mrs. Jackson in attendance. Total cost through pregnancy to births was $10. each.

All the family sang. At the age of 10, R.A. lead the singing at the old Methodist Church and Sunday School and sang in choirs later on for 50 years. No matter how busy he was, he always took time to practice. The Roseneath choir was hard to beat, being composed of the Turner family, the Roberts family and the Elliott family. They were in great demand at concerts, church socials, often going to outlaying points to put on a concert or play.

n the meantime, R.A. opened a branch store in Centreton with his parents and sister-in-law in charge. He also dabbled in horse trading and buying horses to sell in England. A family friend, John T. Mulholland, wanted to swap his 240-acre farm with 2 beautiful houses for the Roseneath store. Offer accepted and R.A. also purchased all his stock and implements for $1,600. and R.A.'s brother was put in charge of the farm. It wasn't long until Mulholland wanted out of the store business so R.A. bought it back. Meantime, Fred Dawe learned of the aborted sale and in 10 days the Roseneath store was sold. Mulholland wanted his farm back and in 1905, he purchased the farm, stock and crop back for $16,000.

R.A. later purchased a Cobourg home, 139 Queen St. at Green. Some weeks later he sold the Centreton store to James Drinkwater and moved into real estate and insurance in Peterborough. It wasn't long until a property in East City, Peterborough, known as the Burnham estate, already subdivided, was for sale. The seller was shown the Queen St. house and on the way back on the train, a deal was worked out, - the Cobourg home and $1,600. cash for the seller's Peterborough home and lots as per survey. On this land, he built a number of houses on Engleburn Ave and Bolivar St. Selling the big home to Judge Hyke, he built one for themselves on the Ave. His daughter Clara trained as a nurse at Sick Children's Hospital. Daughter Hazel finished High School and decided to go into training there also.

In connection with his regular business, he attended to Sandstone Brick Co., also Peterborough Lubricators Co. (as a stock holder). In 1911, everything was at a standstill so when an opportunity for general store keeping arose again in Stirling he spent fifteen minutes looking over the store and stock sheets, and closed the deal. The store took in a whole block with three entrances off the main street. Not wanting to take the children out of school until the term was over, they continued to live in Peterborough for that time. He remodelled the whole interior of the store into different departments. With illuminating flashing lights and road signs to Elliott's Stirling, business grew from $20,000 a year to $90,000. Harold the eldest boy enlisted in World War 1 and was invalided home. Mildred, the youngest daughter, attended Peterborough Normal School to take teacher training and later married George W. Green. Edna stayed home to help her mother. R.A. disposed of the Stirling store and became the owner of Allegra Mansion in Toronto and later sold it to a man from Denver, Colorado, in exchange for 2,400 acres of land and $15,000 cash.

He purchased another brick store in Stirling, remodelled the whole interior as an ice cream parlour which drew such crowds, that the police had to take charge. It was only a short time until a buyer made an offer and it was sold. They moved back to Peterborough and soon after his wife Jennie died. R.A. then went to Toronto in 1928 and had a 40-suite apartment to keep him busy. Things went well until the 1929 slump. Caught in the Depression, he lost $75,000 but had money to tide him over. After 7 years as a widower, he married Catherine Booth. R.A. passed away in 1945 at age 87. His obituary stated that he was born in Baltimore, Ont. and was for some years proprietor of a general store in Roseneath and Stirling. A few years before, he was honoured by an Indian tribe which made him Chief in recognition of the kindly manner in which he had treated the native people who came to his store to trade.

Robert Alexander Elliott participated in many occupations and became an entrepreneur, buying and selling property and businesses quickly and successfully - his only snag being the Great Depression. He was an ambitious man with limited education and a good business sense. He married three times and was determined to educate all of his children, boys and girls alike. How remarkable that his story was recorded!

This story was condensed from The Heritage Gazette of the Trent Valley Volume 14 No.3 Nov. 2009 and presented at the 13 May 2010 meeting of the LGS by Elma Parker. The Heritage Gazette stated:

"The compelling autobiography of Robert Alexander Elliott was faithfully transcribed by members of the family, and the original remains with a family member. The text has been lightly edited.....

Thanks to Louis Taylor and His Worship, S. Dean Elliott, J.P. of Cobourg for making this manuscript available."