AN AFTERNOON WITH KEN PRENTICE
Editor: Andrew Fuyarchuk | Photography: Kenny Wang
Off to Canada
My mother’s side of the family is somewhat more straightforward from England. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, left right after their wedding in England, Great Barford, Bedfordshire, north east of London. After their wedding ceremony, immediately after whatever type of reception they had, her mother was so upset she couldn’t go to the Church because my grandmother, after getting married was immediately getting on a train and going to south Hampton to get on a boat to come to Canada. So they’re going off to this wild place. You can hear mother saying, “I can’t bear to see this girl go off.” So immediately after the wedding the newly-wed couple returned back to the family home quickly to show off her gown, wish them well, and good-bye. My grandfather & grandmother caught the train near the station and headed to Southhampton to board the boat to come to Canada in 1890.
My mother’s side of the family settled near Thornhill. My grandfather got a job putting track down for a railway. This was a well-known railway (like a street car) that used to run from Toronto Union Station above ground on Yonge Street all the way up to Lake Simcoe area. That was his first job. From Thornhill they moved to Dollar (Hwy 7 & Leslie) and the kids were born as they moved up and they settled on their farm on 19th Avenue at Kennedy Rd. in the area of Melville United Church and the little community of Almira and that’s where they grew up. There were nine kids and eight survived in my mother’s family.
My father’s side of the family goes back longer. They originally came over from Ireland, settled in the U.S., in New York. They came to Canada at the time of the US political unrest pre-US revolution. I can’t say they were United Empire Loyalists, but they were Loyalists to some degree. They did have strong political views. The Prentice’s first settled in the area of Bathurst and 16th Avenue, south side of 16th near Carville Church. They were there in 1837.
There is a story that my father related to me that took place while they were living on the farm at Carville. My great grandfather told my father that when he was a small boy, one night he woke up because of a noise, clutter and clatter that was going on and sounds of dragging and wheels and hollering and this and that in the distance. And there was a river that ran through their farm … I think one of the tributaries of the Don River. The noise was William Lyon McKenzie’s rebels retreating from the British soldiers from their failed rebellion attempt in 1837. The British stationed in Yok had chased these rebels back up Yonge Street. This group of rebels (disgruntled farmers) had started drinking at the Hog Hollow Hotel (Duffy’s Tavern) while plotting their strategy ….the British got word of this so they came up with their soldiers. And the rebels retreated with their guns and cannons. There was a bit of an altercation….the rebels retreated up Yonge Street and got up as far as crossing this river on the prentice farm near 16th Avenue & Bathurst … they travelled east along the present 16th Avenue (then a bush trail).
Now, when I got to university I heard another part of the story that William Lyon McKenzie after that rebellion stayed overnight, one night in Canada before he escaped to the U.S. the next day. I remember the local Markham folklore that William Lyon McKenzie stayed overnight, one night, in a house (that was still standing until recently– I believe), if they haven’t smashed it down. The house was located at the rear of the Eckhart Cemetery on the property of the former Beckett Farm at Kennedy and 16th Avenue – a photo of the log cabin can be found in the Unionville CIBC.
The Family Business
My grandfather was George Prentice …. He was an entrepreneur who ran the Genera Store & Post Office at Milliken (old Kennedy Road & Steeles), he was also the agent for Massey Harris farm equipment, and operated the local telephone service employing telephone operations.
My father was Clarke Prentice who carries on the farm equipment business and also together with his older brother Ken carries on a family business of auctioneering (started in in 1891 by their uncle John prentice, in Unionville).
My father Clarke and my uncle Ken relocated the auction business, farm equipment and insurance business to the Franklin House Hotel, Main Street Markham in 1946. The Franklin House was located on the south west corner of Robinson & Main Street, Markham.
The auction business thrived as farmers from East York and Scarborough were forced to move north with Toronto’s northward expansion. Everything would be sold by auction: livestock, farm equipment furniture, dishes etc. and often the prices were much higher than some items sell for now.
An interesting note concerning the local economy during the years 1900 through to mid-1950s … several of the known farm customers paid for their auction purchases with ‘promissory notes.’ These were like “IOUs” … as cash was in short supply particularly during the great depression days of the 1930s. These promissory notes were tendered for payment for items purchased at Auction … then our family would take these to a local bank and received a discounted amount of cash in exchange for these notes. Say a farmer bought something for $20.00. My father & uncle would receive perhaps $18 cash for the note and the bank became the entitled to payment from the farmer … BUT if the farmer fell down on payment … then my father was obligated to make the bank whole…. So the Bank never lost …. Funny how some things never change!