The Tait Family of Orillia
This is the story of the Taits, as told by guest contributor William Leslie.
William Tait, his wife Mary and family, including their son Andrew, left Scotland in 1848 for Canada, travelling from Liverpool to New York City, up the Hudson River and the Erie Canal, finally crossing from Buffalo to Fort Erie, Upper Canada, in 1860. Andrew was 21 years old.
The Tait's started a lumber business, in Fort Erie and Ridgeway. In 1863, Andrew Tait married Aurilla Howse whose Loyalist family had a 200-acre land grant on the Niagara River. Andrew and Aurilla had three children, Albertha, Orland, and Alma Jane.
In 1867, when Orillia was incorporated as a town, the same year as Confederation, Andrew, Aurilla and their three children made Orillia their home. Two of their children, died in the Orillia Diphtheria Epidemic in 1871. Their four other children were born in Orillia.
Andrew and Aurilla started with a hand cranked shingle making machine in a shop on Andrew Street. Andrew cranked the machine and Aurilla tied the finished shingle bundles. They believed that this new town of Orillia was the place to make their way in the new country of Canada. Andrew was a pioneer businessman and a resourceful entrepreneur who built businesses, built houses, and created hundreds of jobs in lumbering, quarrying, and building.
In 1934 at age 95 he was still building, buying, and selling and one way or another giving employment to a small army of men. Tait bought the land on Couchiching Point and Cedar Island and developed lots for holiday homes.
Andrew Tait, age 91
The Orillia churches provided outlets for citizens to pursue their faiths, meet people, enjoy artistic presentations, fundraise for national causes, and assist one another. The Methodist Church presented plays to raise funds for soldiers in the South African War. Tait daughters, Alma and Clarisse were musical and artistic and actively participated in these presentations.
Aurilla Tait, 1885
Andrew Tait was a major donor of funds to build the new United Methodist Church, St Paul’s in 1870. Alma Jane became the organist and a member of the Choir and met Edward Wainwright the Choirmaster. They were married in 1892.
Clarisse married Sidney Carss whose family had a store on Mississaga Street. Sidney joined the Tait Lumber Company and took it over when Andrew Tait moved to the Huntsville Lumber Company.
During the lumber boom in Orillia, the 29 bars gave the town a reputation as a “log and grog” town and was a brawling rowdy place. Tait and other Methodists were active in the temperance movement, and The Canada Temperance Act of 1878 resulted in the closing of all the bars. In his mansion Glenorma in 1885, Andrew Tait built a roller-skating rink on the top floor for his daughters to entertain their friends so that they would not go to dances in town.
About 1886, he bought a 75-foot steam yacht, Gypsy, and built a boat house where he and some friends formed the Orillia Yacht and Canoe Club. This Club provided opportunities for healthy competition and socializing. Alberta, an expert canoeist, won a gold medal in ladies canoeing in 1900.
The Tait's were pioneers who had a tremendous impact on the early foundations of Orillia. In 1992, one of the Tait millworker’s houses, built in 1889, located at 52 Scott Street, was registered as a designated property under the Ontario Heritage Act. The two-story, red brick house was the only remaining example of a millworker’s house in its original condition on Scott Street.
OMAH is proud to have a number of Tait artifacts in the collection, and thanks contributor William Leslie for his work researching and documenting our local history for future generations, including this story about the Tait's.
These artifacts can be viewed on OMAH’s Online Collection database at orilliamuseum.pastperfectonline.com