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Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

I.B. York - A Man of Many Parts

Volume 8, page 2

Norma Geggie

Charlie had been sent on an errand to the Post Office, but for the past ten minutes he had been standing on the railway track that ran along the river's edge and was ‘skipping’ stones through the water to the floating logs. Suddenly the sound of carriage wheels drawn by a team of horses took his attention away from his game, and he watched in awe as the team pulled out of the driveway beside I. B. York's store and onto the roadway.

Automatically he pulled off his cap as he had seen his elders do, in respect, as the hearse passed; but it was the carriage itself which commanded his attention, with its interior fringe and a handsome plume on top. He knew it must be a Protestant funeral, as he'd seen the same carriage adorned by a Cross on the occasion of a Catholic funeral. He remembered his father remarking that Robert Earle had built Mr. York's funeral carriage; the black and shining vehicle was much admired, as was the team of handsome black horses. Just as impressive was the figure of I. B. York, as he sat in his cutaway coat and top hat, his Van Dyke beard neatly trimmed; he looked in every way the gentleman of the day. Charlie could not help but feel a little in awe of the impressive figure, although it was just last week that he had been the victim of Mr. York's teasing. The young boy had been delighted when his parents’ order from Eatons had arrived with a pair of new britches for him. They had been a little on the small side, but he was afraid that if they were returned he might miss out on the much prized garment, so he had struggled to get into them and insisted that they were just right’. He proudly wore them through the village as he made his regular errand to the Post Office. Mr. York, the Post Master, peered in an amused way over the half gate in the office, and with a customary twinkle in his eye remarked: “You must have greased your bottom and wiggled, to get into those, young man."

Today Charlie watched as the hearse disappeared north, then he crossed the road and went into the store. One of Mr. York's daughters was in attendance during her father's absence, and the boy stopped to look longingly at the licorice straps in the glass-topped ‘candy counter’, before attending to the reason for his visit, to enquire about a parcel in the mail.1

The year was 1919; Charlie Chamberlin was ten years old. The village of Wakefield was a thriving place, with several grocery stores and haberdashers, a tinsmith, a harness maker, a wagon-maker, blacksmith, tanner, a grist mill, hotel, three churches and a railway station.

As well as a funeral directorship, Mr. I. B, York ran a business selling farm machinery, dry goods, and for a time he had the Post Office. There was not a man, woman or child in the village, and in fact in the community, whose life had not been touched in some way by ‘I. B.’

Isaac Brown York was not a native of Wakefield. His grandfather, Henry York, had been born in Monemore, Ireland, and had come to Canada in 1826. Isaac's father, William, had farmed near Metcalfe, but when William died at the age of 48, his wife Mary (Brown) had sold the farm and assumed management of "Glasgow House and Victoria Hall", Metcalfe. Here she supervised meals and accommodation for travellers at this stopping place between Cornwall and Ottawa. But Mary York, the mother of four children, regarded the hotel atmosphere detrimental to a youth's upbringing, and she arranged for her only son, Isaac, to apprentice in blacksmithing with Robert Earle of Wakefield.2 The contribution that he was to make in the life of the community was tremendous. He went on to establish his own blacksmith shop, and later set up a grocery and hardware business, with an agency for machinery. The undertaking business and funeral directorship was added, and with a change of Government (to Conservative), he was appointed Post Master.

The I. B. York home was situated near the present site of Hamilton's Garage, Wakefield. The large machinery sheds adjoined the store, which in turn was one building south of the residence.

Three of the children of I. B. York and his wife, Emma Cates, grew to adulthood; Florence (Dolly), George, and Carrie. Both George and Carrie helped their father in his store; George later went to work for Garlands,3 and Carrie married Sam James, and later, John Pinchback. Dolly remained unmarried. She developed tuberculosis, and during her young adulthood, her father built her a small house of her own. This dwelling was to the rear of the family home, up against the hill, and had high ceilings and airy rooms as advised by her doctor, Dr. Hans Stevenson.4 Three other children of Isaac and Emma York died in infancy. The following headstones are to be found in Hall's Cemetery, Wakefield:

William James York, infant son of I. B. and Emma York, died 1881, age 3 years.
Cyrus and Mary York, twin children of I. B. and Emma York, died 1886, age 11 mos.

After the death of his first wife in 1897, I. B.’s mother came to live in Wakefield to keep house for her son and his family, and here she died in 1898 at the age of 69.5 Mr. York's second wife was Margaret Jackson, and they had two daughters, Gertrude and May. These girls, too, took their turn in helping in the family business. May married Wilfred McNair, who carried on the funeral business in Wakefield; Gertrude married Leonard Cooke and lives in Saskatoon.

As a young man I. B. had a clear ruddy complexion, reddish hair, a trim reddish beard, and was slight in build. He was a Presbyterian, and served the Church in many capacities. His familiar signature appears in clerical and municipal documents from 1893 to 1925. An example is the registration, in 1895, of the Deed for property sold to the Presbyterian Church by James and John Maclaren in 1872.6 At the time of the disastrous fire which swept through the village in 1904, I. B. York, in his role of Clerk of the Session of the Presbyterian Church, was interviewed by a journalist and quoted as saying that the congregation would move immediately to rebuild, and would meet the following day to formulate pIans.7 A record remains of the meeting of the Kirk Session in 1904 at the York residence, to receive Florence Mabel York as a Member of the Church, and to celebrate Communion.8 Dolly, in her invalid state, was unable to attend services. She died that same year at the age of 22 years. At the time of Church Union in 1925, l. B. York continued as an Elder of the United Church of Canada in the charges of Wakefield, Cascades and Farm Point.9 His allegiance also lay with the Orange Lodge in Wakefield, and he served as Worshipful Master of the Orange Lodge, County of Ottawa, in 1893.10 As Secretary of the Municipal Council of Wakefield Village, Mr. York presided over elections, such as that of 13th Jan., 1896, in Earle's Hall.11

I.B. York Store, Wakefield
Margaret Jackson York, Isaac Brown York and his daughter, Florence, in front of the I.B. York Store, Wakefield, circa 1909, at a time when the Gatineau River had overflowed its banks. Photo courtesy of Miss Frances Iverson. Reproduced by Wilfred J. Kearns.

Miss A. B. Robb, writing of Wakefield at the turn of the century, describes I. B. York as — "secretary of this and that, auctioneer, hardware merchant, justice of the peace, seller of oil and supplier of coffins to those in need of such service."12

There was little doubt of this man's ability to involve himself in so many things. He drew up wills, and impressed the young people of the day as "auctioneer" at box socials, a popular event when refreshments brought by those in attendance were disposed of to the benefit of the sponsoring organization. As well, he served on the School Board, and was Captain in the 43rd Regiment in Hull, which later became the Garrison Regiment of Ottawa.13

Isaac Brown York died in 1930 at the age of 75.14 Three years later, a fire destroyed the York residence and store. May and her husband Wilfred McNair continued in the funeral directorship, relocating on Burnside Avenue, Wakefield.

Many people to this day recall Mr. York's keen sense of humour, his quick repartee, his interest in, and concern for, people. Most refer to him simply as “I. B."

History reveals Isaac Brown York as a caring man, concerned for young and old, and above all, a man who served his community to a remarkable degree.

Footnotes

  1. Conversation with Charles Chamberlin, Wakefield, 1980.
  2. Information from Miss Frances lverson, Ottawa, (niece of I. B. York.)
  3. Garlands Wholesale Hardware, Ottawa.
  4. Miss Frances lverson.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The present site of St. Andrew's United Church, Wakefield
  7. “0ttawa Evening News", 1904
  8. “Unto the Hills", N. & S. Geggie, 1976.
  9. Ibid.
  10. The Orange Order played an important part in the lives of the early settlers.
  11. "Lapêche", N. & S. Geggie, 1974.
  12. "A History of Wakefield Village", A. B. Robb, 1956.
  13. Miss F. Iverson.
  14. The following headstones are to be found in Hall's Cemetery, Wakefield:
    Isaac Brown York.. 1855 — 1930.
    Margaret Jackson.. 1870 — 1958.
    Emma Cates York.. died 1897 ..age 39 years.

This article by Mrs. Stuart (Norma) Geggie of Wakefield, Quebec was granted one of the two principal awards in the tenth annual Essay Contest sponsored by The Historical Society of the Gatineau — 1981


List of articles - Volume 8