Articles

LONDON’S RICH & RITZY

With several millionaires to the square mile Ontario’s London tips its cap to nobody. Even citizens who arent in the Four Hundred are calmly certain their town is, well, just a little superior

EVA-LIS WUORIO December 15 1950
Articles

LONDON’S RICH & RITZY

With several millionaires to the square mile Ontario’s London tips its cap to nobody. Even citizens who arent in the Four Hundred are calmly certain their town is, well, just a little superior

EVA-LIS WUORIO December 15 1950

LONDON’S RICH & RITZY

With several millionaires to the square mile Ontario’s London tips its cap to nobody. Even citizens who arent in the Four Hundred are calmly certain their town is, well, just a little superior

EVA-LIS WUORIO

FOR a hundred miles from any direction you pass through rich, gently rolling countryside of good farmland, wellpainted, prosperous–looking farmhouses and comfortable villages, on the way to London, in southwestern Ontario.

This is the most fertile agricultural land in North America. Hero, in a big triangle, live nearly half the people (excluding the city of Toronto) of the wealthy Ontario. That’s the reason why London, smack in the middle, the huh of this prosperity, is rich.

As you approach the city innumerable sturdy, well-kept factory buildings and warehouses heave to view. Here is the second reason Iyondon is rich. For while Windsor has its automobile industry, Ottawa lives off the Government as though that too was an industry, Kitchener and Waterloo have their furniture factories, and Hamilton its steel, London has a wide diversification which promises security and big returns. A recent survey lists 14 big industries in London, but not a single one is big enough to control, and therefore to shake, the city’s stability.

If in the summer you come in by way of Winery Hill (London is on this slight rise) the city Inflow is hidden in trees like a

mellow, elderly park. Only the tops of the Federal Building, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Victoria Hospital, the Huron and Erie Building and the red brick tower of the Normal School point up through the maples. London likes this camouflage of quiet.

London is prosperous, complacent, insular, self-sufficient, homeloving and home-owning—and let the stranger fall where he may. She is tidily, painstakingly if somewhat pretentiously, cultural. She is calm, matter of fact, and self-satisfied. She prefers the old but has handily adapted all the useful modernity. She doesn’t brag loudly, but her manner indicates it would be superfluous to brag. Surely it’s self-evident that there is no place like London— when you can see her for the trees.

The people of London rather proudly pattern themselves on their city. Or rather, obviously, the city is a definite result of the pattern the people have chosen to follow.

When five men sit down to dinner at the same table, as recently a Labatt, Leonard, Carling, Hyman and Cronyn did at a Canadian Club gathering, four of them knew their grandfathers had probably done the same thing. When Harrises and Blackburns meet on the quiet streets shadowed by maples and chestnuts, they know, if they bother to think of it, that their grandfathers probably paused just here, just so, to speak of the affairs of their day. This gives the Londoner a sense of continuity and sufficiency which has deservedly earned him a name for reserve toward the stranger. Sometimes he’s even called a snob.

This snobbery too has a legitimate claim to history.

In the late 1850s a lovely and somewhat mysterious Mrs. Wetherbee arrived to take up residence in London. By manner, means, and looks she obviously belonged among the Four Hundred. She dropped the information that she was the daughter of George IV of England by his morganatic marriage to the famous English beauty, Mrs.

Fitzherbert. London wouldn’t believe anything half that romantic and gossiped that her rubies and diamonds, supposed gifts from her royal papa, were really nothing but cairngorms and some such semi-precious stones.

She lived a lonely secluded life and only among the negroes who were her neighbors in the Clarence and Hill Street section was she known as “the Princess.”

In 1905 the marriage license of the lovely Mrs. Fitzherbert to the Prince Regent came to light, accompanied by highly controversial reports about a boy and girl born of the marriage. Briefly, briefly, London wondered whether 50 years ago the better familiess/iouZcZ, after all, have spoken to Amanda Wetherbee.

But it is in keeping with the tradition London prefers that a weather-worn slab in the city cemetery still bears the inscription;

“In memory of Lavinia Hermione Gertrude Amanda Guelph, daughter of King George IV and wife of Charles Wetherbee.”

Londoners rather pride themselves on this reserve. Even the ones who aren’t take personal kudos from the “old families.” Those who are of the inner circle stick to it with quiet good manners which provide a better barrier than a battlement of steel for the presumptuous.

They regret the passing of the good old days, good old shops, such as Smallman and Ingram (now the site of the Robert Simpson Co.) where one always used to shop, never needed to pay bills. They were thrown into a furore when the newly established Simpson’s had the incredible manners “to check up on credit!”

“No proper respect,” said a London matron.

“Why,” a pleasant young woman of an old London family related, “None of those salespeople even know you.” The old era tarries, though, at such establishments as Fred Kingsmill’s store, across the street from Simpson’s. “When you shop there it’s like going to a soiree,” said the above young woman admiringly.

An attractive Montreal girl, wife of a successful young businessman, isn’t quite so genial about, the city’s reserve. He likes the place tremendously as most businessmen do. But she has a couple of points to make. One, they have yet to be asked to homes of any but her husband’s business acquaintances; two, their application to the exclusive (and only) country club, London Hunt and Country Club, is still, eight months later, unanswered.

Merle Tingley (cartoonist “Ting” of the London Free Press) spent his first Saturday night in London at the dance at the London Arena. He hoped to make some friends, but he almost didn’t dance, he got

such a steady barrage of “no’s.” Finally corralling a blonde he told her his problems.

“Six girls,” he enlarged, “I’ve asked. I was beginning to think all London girls were snobs.”

His partner laughed. “I’m not a London girl,” she said. “I just got here last week from New Brunswick.”

As proud of their millionaires as of their old families—the two often being synonymous—Londoners claim they have anywhere from 24 to 34. The millionaires help to make London for its size (11th largest at 8.15 sq. miles) Canada’s richest city.

Among the rich and envied certain names repeatedly recur. There’s John Labatt, almost twin in looks to Mackenzie King, whose 118year-old brewery paid almost $10 millions in provincial, federal and municipal taxes in 1948, and his brother Hugh. Others include: H. J. McManus, who made his fortune out of a trucking business and service stations; R. G. Ivey, K.C., director of the Bank of Montreal; Walter Blackburn, fourth generation of his family publishing the London Free Press; D. B. Weldon, financier and hotelman; John E. Smallman, director of the London Life Insurance Company; J. J. McHale, of Scott-McHale Shoes; G. E. Silverwood, president of Silverwood Dairies; J, Gordon Thompson, president of the Supertest Petroleum Company. There is always much relish to the old, old names like the Cronyns (actor Hume Cronyn is a scion of this dynasty) and the Leonards, who have been about London since London began. And, of course, there is the Canadian boy millionaire, John Leonard Smallman, who at 14, in 1948, inherited the bulk of a $2,800,000 estate. And Ontario’s Lieut.-Governor Ray Lawson, also a London millionaire though he no longer lives there.

But it isn’t only the millionaires who make London rich. Last year the city stood seventh among 11 Canadian cities listed as paying more than $1 million a week in wages and salaries. Its average weekly wage, $43.95, places between seventh-to-tenth in recent comparative lists of 20 Canadian cities. There’s also a lot of “quiet money, as among the well-to-do farmers who have retired into London from their rich, outlying acres.

Rich, small London stacks fifth as a Canadian financial centre. In the city are 22 bank branches, five loan and trust companies, and of the city’s 23 life insurance firms, four are head offices. On basis of population London should account for only .6787% of Canada’s business, actually it does 1.0832%

George Morrison, from Putney, London, England, remarks “It seems to me we had pubs at every corner. Here it’s banks.”

Seventy-four per cent of Londoners own their own homes and, oddly enough, considering the dramatically varied scale of wealth' live in a curiously similar manner. John Labatt’s town house, for example, is a modest brick building bang-up against its neighbors, facing the green and verdant Victoria Park. I bet no one else on that

street has a million—even one. Labatt remembers walking with his nurse in that park, watching soldiers drilling for the Riel Rebellion.

The posh north-end residential section isn’t, on second look, so posh at all. Next to a house furnished with Victorian relics and valuable pieces from family homes in England, where the door is opened by the traditional butler and tablecloths are still damask, there is almost always a small new bungalow, or an old shack no one ever thought to pull down. There are, of course, in the gentle hills on the city’s outskirts, or along the shallow Thames River valley, a number of magnificent estates, but it is just as possible to find a small cottage, or a farm next to these.

Canada’s 95,000 Londoners are 88.18% British.

Appropriately, the young, obviously rookie, policeman stationed at Covent Garden market the other day answered a stranger’s question in thick English accents. A representative of the old guard gave voice to prevalent feeling in London when he remarked, “The town’s changing. Why, the other day I even heard some foreign tongue in the street.” There are some brisk go-getting American businessmen who have come with the opening of branches of their firms. Over a tea-urn one recent afternoon a hostess touched on London’s reaction to this. “Shiny shops, shiny wives, shiny houses— all show and high blood pressure,” she said.

On Saturday nights the Four Hundred meet at the Country Club dance; on week days they dine there or play golf on the course that flows over to

the University of Western Ontario campus. The majority of Londoners are keen on bowling, wrestling and innumerable other clubs. Those who can afford it, and they are many, have cottages-toestates within an hour’s drive; others week-end at the public parks at Port Stanley, Grand Bend and Ipperwash Beach.

If you ask where Londoners would go for a really big night out, hard mind searching brings out the name of one roadhouse, or Toronto, Buffalo, or Detroit. “But really,” the general murmur goes, “we prefer to see our friends at home.”

Londoners are inveterate culture seekers. Anybody who will get up to lecture can be assured of a capacity audience if he’s sponsored by an organization which sells season tickets. Ten service clubs are active and well - attended and innumerable community groups and private lecture groups supplement this sort of neighborly entertainment.

The London Little Theatre can serve as an example for the whole country as a successful drama club. Membership in this group takes in a good 10% of the population. Holders of a hook of season tickets can pick up their reservations for each current attraction at the box office, first come first served. The group plays nine nights to accommodate its 10,500 members, for the Grand Theatre seats only 1,200. Only members admitted. Under Ken Baskette’s direction quality of performance is unusually high, though the company retains its amateur standing and sometimes presents plays written by members. The actors include lawyer Alec Richmond, insurance salesman Marton Conner, cafeteria worker Nellie Webb, housewife Mary Campbell, and John Long who works as clerk at the Empire Brass Co.

Mostly the performances are sellouts. This did not happen when Hume Cronyn, home-town boy in the big time, brought his “Now 1 Lay Me Down to Sleep” to London for its première. It wasn’t on the season ticket.

This urge to drama is as traditional to London as the reserve of the citizens. They had their first taste of theatre in the 1830’s when members of Her Majesty’s 32nd Regiment of Foot, then stationed in London, put on a show in a Dundas Street barn. Henry Irving played the town in 1884, Lily Langtry came in “School for Scandal” and “She Stoops to Conquer,” and, in later years, Maurice Barrymore, father of the famous three.

No wonder the town’s produced such sterling Broadway and Hollywood lights as Hume Cronyn, Alexander Knox and Gene Lockhart. The latest starlet in this tradition is Olga Landiak, young hank clerk, who won honors for her title performance of “St. Joan” and is now studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the other London, on a LLT scholarship.

London, today a cathedral city in duplicate, the seat of both the Anglican Diocese of Huron (St. Paul’s Cathedral; Bishop G. N. Luxtom and the Catholic See of London (St. Peter's Basilica; Mishop John Cody) and a city of 87 churches of other denominations, is a far cry from the London which held its first church in a jail and greeted a Salvation Army preacher with a barrage of rotten eggs. Nlt; w the sabbath quiet is maintained so punctiliously that even buses stop running at 11 p.m.

This conservative city has nine times elected mayor a man who entered the city 50 years ago riding a bicycle backward. He’s George Wenige dubbed “the Ninth.” Wenige has no truck with the millionaires (“Why should I care? They’ve only 24 votes!”) nor they with him. The first thing any Londoner will tell you about Wenige is that he turned up among the dignitaries in silk bats and striped pants, at Sir Adam Beck’s funeral in 1925, in a straw hat worn at a rakish angle. Couldn’t find any other hat big enough, he claimed, but gossip says this was his final revenge on his old enemy Beck. (The animosity started, according to tradition, at a public meeting where Wenige took umbrage at Beck calling him a pinhead. Sir Adam got up with dignity. “I was misquoted,” he declared, “what I said was, your brain isn’t big enough to cover the head of a pin.”)

Wenige has a list of

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election promises hung up in his office and as he fulfills one he checks it off. This might account for his repeated re-elections. He is astute and indefatigable. Once a year for 37 years he’s held his own birthdayparty for all the city’s children—a movie and a picnic treat.

Only once his thick crust cracked. When Governor-General Alexander and Lady Alexander visited London they invited Wenige to their private car on a railway siding. Their easy friendliness deeply touched the mayor, who’s battled for everything he’s got. “All I can say,” he fumbled for words, “is that you’re real folks.”

Hangings, Cholera, Rebellion

The Londoner, whether he’s making beer, bread, plastics, shoes, chewing gum, or biscuits, still sends a glance at the past, holds fast to the tradition. It comes out in the street names reminiscent of the other London—Oxford, Piccadilly, Cheapside, Chelsea, Covent Gardens, Hyde Park, Pall Mall. It’s certainly evident during every royal visit London’s ever had. King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 drew a welcome committee of 300,000. Princess Margaret would do no less.

London, Ont., took its time about growing, went through brawling lusty

periods of taverns, hangings, garrison squabbles; provided homes for the United Empire Loyalists and sheltered the Negroes emerging into Canada through the underground railway; survived a cholera scare in 1832; got ready to take sides in the 1837 Rebellion; and saw its biggest fire—200 buildings destroyed—in 1844.

In 1854 London became a city and E. Leonard and Sons began to manufacture cars for the London and Port Stanley Railway. Two years later, just about the only depression London’s ever known hit the town, touched off by the bank-closing panic in United States. After this Londoners put their faith on cash, and only cash.

Corral of the Mustangs

A few disasters rocked London’s steady progress. Yet somehow, even these have a Victorian quality, such as the Victoria Day (1881) accident to the river steamer, Victoria, which pitched on its side dumping 600 passengers into the Thames and drowning 200. In 1898 the city hall auditorium caved in on the night of the municipal elections and sent hundreds of citizens head first into the basement. Eight were killed.

Gradually and surely the sober aspects of the stolid citizenry were leaving their mark in churches, colleges, libraries, as well as in roads and railways, industries and civic services. As good an example as you can find of the united, forward-looking interests of the Londoner and his neighbor in the rural areas around is the university of

Western Ontario, owned by the city of London and the western Ontario counties. Now the seventh largest Canadian university, it’s still growing fast. Here Sir Frederick Banting stumbled on a clue which sent him eagerly on the road to insulin. Dr. J. B. Collip, now dean of the medical college, is credited with discovery ol another wonder drug, ACTH.

And. of course, there are the Mustangs, Western's senior intercollegiate football team, which brought home the laurels in 1947 and 1949, and never fails to throw a Western grad into patriotic frenzy.

So the Londoner lives in his insular prosperity, borrows paintings from his handsome Art Gallery as easily as other people in other cities borrow books, takes his kids to Springbank Park for Sunday outings, and perhaps half remembers a spring night there, when the wife was just the best girl-friend.

If You Live Long Enough

To a stranger London takes a lot of knowing. There is one story which has survived the years possibly because of the element of truth which spices it. It’s told with much relish by the newcomer and the established citizen, and relates how a London matron (every time the story’s told she has a new and authentic name) met a neighbor of 20 years—i.e., a newcomer — down-town.

“My dear,” she said. “How are you getting along? Are you meeting anybody yet? Don’t worry, you will.” if