Thomas Riley and his family
Thomas Riley was a true Victorian but he had the soul of a poet. He was very well educated in England and he wrote beautifully often showing a very soft and caring interior.
He was born Sept. 16, 1842 in Ilkeston, Derby, England, the son of William Riley and Maria Straw. His parents were also born in Ilkeston – William in 1814 and Maria Straw in 1816. The family consisted of 7 sons and 2 daughters. Thomas came to Canada in 1863 at the age or 21, travelling by sailing ship with his eldest brother Charles William. The rest of the family followed. Maria died in Kitchener in 1868 and William inLondon, Ont. in 1888.
Thomas married Georgiana Jane Hounsfield at St. Georges Church, Torontoon Aug. 17, 1863. Georgiana was born 11 Dec. 1843 in London. She was born in the 4th quarter of 1843 in Lambeth, Surrey. Her parents were William Henry Hounsfield and Elizabeth Russell ofWest Yorkshire.
Their first child William Henry Hounsfield Riley was born June 29th 1864 at Richmond Hill, Ontario. Between 1871 and 1881 he passed away. These three sons were born at Yorkville,Ontario: Ezra Hounsfield, June 5, 1866; Thomas Charles Walker, Jan 31 1868, and Frank Russell May 14, 1870.
Then the family moved to Montreal, Quebec where Alfred George Frederic was born March 5, 1872; Georgiana Clare Louise Nov. 29, 1873; Arthur Wulfston Edwyn Sept 14, 1875. InSt. Lambert, Quebec Harold William Hounsfield born Dec. 15, 1877 Edmunde John Jan 7, 1880; Maria Elizabeth, Dec. 12, 1880 and Emily Frances, June 11, 1883 were added to the family.
The family came west in 1888 although some reports say Thomas came in 1887 and the rest of the family followed when he had a dwelling ready for them. Originally he gave his occupation as merchant but he soon got into the ranching business acquiring land north of theBow River and west of the Morleyville Trail, from the river valley up over the crest of the hill, becoming one of the most prominent pioneer families.
According to the 1891 Southern Alberta census Thomas was a rancher, Ezra aged 25, Alfred aged 19, and Thomas Charles aged 23 were farm labourers; Frank aged 21 was a Clerk in a dry good shop; Arthur was 15, Harold was 13 and Edmund was 11. Interestingly, the whole family were listed as RC (Roman Catholic).
Males 18 or older and male or female heads of families that were British subjects by birth or naturalization could apply for a homestead. They had to live on the land for 3 years, clearing and farming some, making improvements. Even numbered sections were for homesteads and pre-emptions, odd numbered sections were sold. Homesteaders had the option to purchase land next to theirs as a pre-emption by paying market price of $2.00 per acre. The CPR were given 24 miles either side of rail line in return for building the rail line. Some of this land was available to buy too.
As the Riley boys were eligible they applied for homesteads and the family bought adjoining land and some available CPR land as well. They became the largest landowners in Calgary at one time eventually owning about 10,000 acres or 4050 hectares. In addition they leased land. They practised mixed farming raising horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys and growing wheat, oats and barley as well as a vegetable garden and flowers. In 1896 Thomas and four of the boys formed a ranching business known as Riley Bros. According to the 1900 brand book the cattle were branded with a bar over a T on the right rib and the horses with 66 on the right shoulder.
Thomas kept a comprehensive diary from the start of the farming season in April of 1889 to Jan 29, 1907 about 2 years before his death. The diary was continued by someone else from Jan. 29 to July 27, 1907 The diary is a record of personal family and business like. Weather was the prime concern when everyone was dependent on farming and ranching operations. His first 2 years of farming and ranching were marred by the great snowstorms of 1889 and 1890. On Wednesday, Sept. 9, 1889 he wrote: ”Rain of the early part of the night changed to snow which at daylight was fully 10 inches deep and still falling – during the forenoon it must have laid quite a foot deep on the level – in some places very much deeper.” “Can this district really be classed as a grain growing country?” The following year on Sept. 9, 1890 the entry reads: “First snow – anniversary of last year’s big storm – cloudy, cold, snow showers during the day.” And, on Sept. 10 Thomas wrote: Snow continues, gets heavier, commenced from S.E. now N.E. and at 3:00 pm fully 12 inches on the level. Last year’s storm was not exceptional.”
Long before keeping farm records was fashionable, Thomas’s diary served as a useful record of his farming practices and his success or failure in the methods attempted. A map showing where various crops were planted is followed by an outline of the crop season, including such facts as dates of seeding, weather conditions during the summer, date of harvest and yield obtained. He also kept track of cattle and horse sales.
In his diary,Thomas mentioned the old farm and the lodge farm, Matthias field, Westaway, Jubilee 8 and theDouglasfield. Unfortunately he doesn’t mention locations with the names. I think the old farm was Hillhurst and West Hillhurst, then later Briar Hill and Hounsfield Heights. I think the Ranche was the large area along the Morleyville Trail and the Nose Hill area.
Some of the boys worked their own land as well as the family land especially Harold and Ezra. Frank married Mildred Antoinette Ancrum July 18, 1896 in Yorkville and they had two sons; Harold Hounsfield born in 1897 and Frank Russell born in 1900. The family lived inSt. Lambert. March 2, 1897 Ezra married Harriet Waterhouse of Innisfail. By 1901 TCW had moved into town. He travelled quite a bit with his work. In Aug. of 1901 Frank and family visited from Montreal. When Frank left Sept 17 Thomas wrote “it is not likely the whole family will ever meet again on earth”. Thomas was very much of the Victorian Era and he was not happy with the family not being together, under his thumb almost. Even though he was living in Montreal in Jan of 1901, Frank sent a bank draft for investment in the Ranche. It took a large group to keep the operation functioning. Trips had to be made to town for coal, wood had to be cut, gardens tended (even one comment about Harold painting the kitchen). There was plowing, seeding, haying, reaping as well as tending the animals. They had to get timber permits, haying permits as well as renewing leases etc.
Thomas was very patriotic, he devoted an entire page in his diary to the death of Queen Victoria, made note of Dominion Day, the Queen’s birthday etc. He was also keenly interested in politics running unsuccessfully twice for the North-West Territories Legislature once against no other than R.B. Bennett.. In his diary on March 31, 1901 he said the world was waking up to business in every line in the first year of the new century. Later on April 23, 1901, he commented that the first year of the new century may bring some startling occurrences.
Thomas kept track of all the important family dates – birthdays, weddings, christenings, his wedding anniversary, correspondence with family still in England, the travels of TCW etc. The family were very sociable, he kept track of visits to and from neighbours and the families participation in community and church activities.
1901 seems to show the beginning of some difficulties in the family business. On April 30, Thomas wrote in his diary that he discussed farming with Alfred and Tom (TCW) which was not complimentary to him. He said “the magnet of my course is gone, or only points in vain. The shore to which my shattered sail shall ne’er be stretched again”. At the end of May, 1901 he wrote “this month of May has been to me full of worry, disappointed hopes and unhappiness generally as any month I can recall. It seems to be “the parting of the ways”.
When Frank’s wife and children left on Oct 24 Thomas wrote it seems strange not to have Millie and the children about but Hattie and the children prevent utter loneliness.
By 1906 the family are feeling pressure from the city. The population is growing. The city is annexing land including the old farm. Georgiana is unwell, the boys are restless. In April of 1906 Thomas notes the Trott land is now known as Grand Trunk and Bruce’s place is Canadian Northern addition. All are being sold in marked garden plots – “it is a great time entirely”. People were looking overUpper Hillhurst. On June 5, 1906 the Ranche lands and 400 cattle were sold to P. Burns & Co. The Herald announced the sale on June 23. The newspaper report said “An important deal involving 25 or 30 thousand dollars which has been underway for some weeks past is being completed by the transfer of a portion of the ranching interest of Riley & Sons to P. Burns & Co.
The splendid property on Nose Creek recently acquired is greatly enhanced in value being blocked into good shape for economic handling.
Riley & Sons retain all their recorded brands and their band of horses is not affected by this transaction. They will dispose of their grade cattle shortly, and give their attention to pure breeds and more extensive farming. They still own some 3000 acres of good land in the same vicinity.
This purchase makes the Burns Ranche about 7000 acres being 4200 acquired from the Calgary Cattle Co. and 1,280 from Riley & Sons.
Pressure from the fast expanding city continues. A Hillhurst postmastership was under consideration. Gradually the family began sub-dividing and selling their homestead. By July lots are being sold and in August they start to advertise most lots for sale.
Aug 16, 1906 Thomas writes he has given final corrections and instructions to Mr. Wilson about the plans for the new house. The architects estimate was $4,700.00. By the end of the month tenders were let. Ezra had arranged with Benson and Houlton to build his house. On Sept. 3, Thomas and Arthur marked out a 5 acre lot. On the 7th Benson got plans from Wilson, the architect to figure out a tender and Fred Lowes visited. By the middle of Sept. the house plans are complete in every respect but there is little chance of the house being built in 1906.
Georgiana’s health problems continued and Dr. Rouleau made many calls to see her. Through the year she had rallied at times but continued to be unwell. She ate her Christmas dinner in her room and the doctor made one of many calls to see her. On Jan 4/07 Thomas wrote “the beloved Mother of my sons and daughters died nestled in my arms. The Strife is o’er, The Battle won Georgie. ‘ On Jan 10 the Albertan wrote that Mrs. Riley at 10am on Jan 4 at Hounsfield Lodge. Her funeral was at St. Barnabas and by special dispensation of the Lord Bishop she was buried in St. Barnabas churchyard.
Thomas didn’t write in his diary again until Jan 16 when he wrote …”a lifetime of grief seems to have been endured since my last entry. Yet all the beautiful, sad services have been attended to and now the beauty of it all forces itself on us, whilst the sadness seems easier to meet and overcome.
Jan. 20/07 I have sat down to continue this diary several times, but it almost seems as if it is finished and yet I realize that there remains work still to be done. Although I love to live over the 82 hours she was with me this year since I kissed her a happy New Year on the last stroke of the midnight which ushered it in I must bury my sorrow and live my remaining days as may best show thankfulness for the “Fathers” manifold and great mercies to us through the whole of our lives… I still hear the voice that is still, I still feel the touch of the vanished hand, Let me dream my dreams…
On Jan 24/07 Ned (Edmund) opened Riley’s Real Estate Offices to sell properties in Hillhurst andUpper Hillhurst. A number of properties had already been sold.
On the 28th Thomas wrote “Finishing up thing to leave for Montreal tomorrow, Sad and painful work for me yet I think Georgie would want it so.”
On Jan 29/07 Thomas wrote “Everything has been done I can think of… I leave the home I built for her and the home I was building for her and herself I am to leave. Good Bye everybody.
Thomas does not write in his diary again- he travelled to Montreal with Frank, Louise, Maria and Emily and then on to Halifax where they sailed on March 16 on the “Virginian” bound for England.
The family continues their life and someone continues the diary in the same way – keeping track of the comings and goings of the family, the farm work, the social life, even Willie’s birthday. By Feb. work has started on the new house again and the boys are keeping the ‘family firm’ going. They send the first butter to market for instance. In April one entry said washerwoman didn’t come so all had to buckle down and do it ourselves.
On the 26th of March Frank and his family left Montreal to set up house in Calgary arriving on April 6th at midnight. Their household goods came in a railway car. Before long they began building a house and by June 17 they moved into it. One address given for the house was 2006 –7 Ave N. W.
In July TCW went to England to join Thomas and the girls in Horwich. They left Liverpool July 19 again aboard the SS Virginian headed for Montreal and then home on the TransCanada train. The diary ends here.
Georgiana never lived in her new home and I don’t know if Thomas did either. He died Jan 13, 1909 after a 2 year illness according to the paper. His obituary said he died at Hounsfield Lodge at the age of 68. Since the new home had the same name as the old one it is impossible to tell exactly where he died. Pallbearers at his funeral included Judge Stuart, Peter Prince, Colonel Walker, H. Neilson, William Roper Hull and A.S. MacKay.
When Georgiana died, she left the property in Hounsfield Heights to her sons and they laid out a subdivision. Thomas was the executor and he registered a 10 acre parcel where the new home was being built as well as the Villa lots 14 – 26 to himself. He also agreed to sell 4 of the villa lots to the Campbells for a greenhouse. When Thomas died the 3 girls were the executors and they inherited his estate valued at almost $200,000. They had the use of Hounsfield Lodge until they married. When they married they forfeited the use of the house. When all married it belonged to all three to absolutely share and share alike. By the end of 1912 they were all married. At some point Frank moved into the house so obviously it wasn’t sold except maybe to him. His family lived in the house until 1946 when it was sold to the Bethany Care Society. In the words of the society lawyer, the lovely old home, with its 4.75 acres of land and an unsurpassed view of the mountains and of the city which can never be obstructed was ideal for the society requirements. The selling price was $10,000.00. In June of 1946, it became a home for the aged.
There were 6 or 7 Riley homes in the area but today only 2 are still standing and occupied by families.