The Fortunes of the Cawthras

W. A. CRAICK September 1 1914

The Fortunes of the Cawthras

W. A. CRAICK September 1 1914

The Fortunes of the Cawthras


IF one cared to trace the analogy in detail, there would doubtless be found many points of similarity between such families as the Cawthras of Toronto, and the Astors of New York. Both established themselves in the cities which were to be the scene of their future prosperity at a very early stage of their civic development. Both shared in the advantages which rapid growth and increased values produced. Both founded fortunes in much the same way and both have exhibited characteristics of reticence and reserve that show them to be of the same type of personality.

Necessarily the comparison should not be pushed too far, for the arena in which the fortunes of the Cawthras have been worked out, is so much smaller than that in which the Astors have triumphed that to class one with the other would be impossible. But at the same time it is illuminating to be able to describe the Cawthras as the Astors of Toronto, a family that has emerged from the early days of settlement with much wealth and social distinction.

The founder of the Canadian family of the Cawthras was a Yorkshireman by the name of Joseph Cawthra, a native of the town of Guiseley. The English Cawthras had been long engaged in the woollen industry and to them belongs the distinction of having operated the first steam-driven woollen mill in the Old Country. Joseph Cawthra followed the family trade and became a manufacturer of woollens, but he seems to have been of

a restless disposition and early became seized with a desire to visit the new world and perhaps settle there. Towards the close of the eighteenth century he crossed the Atlantic and looked into the prospect of making a living in New York. He did not remain long, returning after a short time to his native land. But he had tasted of the spirit of America, and was not content until he had again made the western voyage. This time he directed his course to Canada. Passing the more thickly populated settlements along the St. Lawrence, he pushed on as far as Port Credit on Lake Ontario where he took up land and settled down as a citizen of Upper Canada.

It is interesting to know that the original lots as bestowed on Joseph Cawthra by Crown patent, with the exception of those recently expropriated by the Government for military purposes, are still in the possession of the family and that the title deeds are the original patents from the Crown.

Presumably Joseph Cawthra did as the other settlers in the wilderness of Upper Canada were compelled to do, which was to clear the land and by dint of laborious cultivation derive sustenance from. the soil. What was to be in course of time the city of Toronto had as yet, the year being 1796, only a very uncert a i n existence. Governor Simcoe had only recently established the capital of the province there and the population was small. Conditions all around were exceedingly primitive. One man was just about as good as his neighbor, and there was little out-

EDITOR’S NOTE.—The “Astors of Toronto” is the title that Mr. CraicJc applies to the famous Cawthra family. It is an apt comparison although, of course, there is no basis of comparison in regard to the relative wealth of the two families. The Cawthras won to wealth in Toronto, however, on much the same basis as that which led to the building up of the great Astor fortune in New York. It is a story of absorbing interest and istold in Mr. Craick’s best style.

wardly to distinguish one from another.

At the opening of the century, York, as Toronto was then called, began tc take on a greater measure of importance. The number of its inhabitants showed a marked increase. The population along the shore of Lake Ontario grew larger and bit by bit it assumed the aspect of a rising city. All this the settler at Port Credit noted. Perhaps he had a prophetic vision of what was to come. At any rate he decided that he would move into the town and establish himself as a merchant. He took this step about the year 1806, for an issue of the Gazette and Oracle of June 21 in that year contains the announcement of the opening of his shop in premises opposite Stoyell’s Tavern. This was at the north-west corner of King and Sherbourne streets.


Later on Mr. Cawthra moved to the corner of Frederick and what was then Palace street, but is now Front street, and occupied a building, since totally destroyed by fire, which possessed a good deal of historical interest. According to Dr. Scadding in his “Toronto of Old,” it was the birthplace in 1804, of the Hon. Robert Baldwin, the famous reformer, while later on it figured as the scene of the printing operations of William Lyon Mackenzie, witnessing the memorable incident of the destruction of his press. Here Joseph Cawthra continued to reside and conduct his business until his death in 1845. He is spoken of as a public-spirited citizen, a strong Britisher, a firm supporter of St. J ames’ church from its establishment, a staunch liberal in politics, and a very successful business man. He undoubtedly laid the foundation of the Cawthra fortune through enterprise, careful management and thrift.

Though the father of quite a large fàmily, all Joseph Cawthra’s descendants trace their connection with him through his son, John, who appears to have been the only member of the family to leave children behind him. John Cawthra was, like his father, a merchant. He did not, however, engage in business in York. Instead he cast about for pastures new and in what is now the town of Newmarket, then an important point on the trade route between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay, thought that he had found an opportunity to build up a successful enterprise. The Welland Canal had not yet been built, and the chief line of communication with the settlements on the Bay was via Yonge street, the Holland River, Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching and thence overland to Penetanguishene. At Newmarket, flour mills had been established, and the settlement seemed to have in it the makings of an important center. At least so thought John Cawthra, as he hung up his sign and opened his general store in the village.

For a generation after this event, the fortunes of the main branch of the Cawthra family may be said to belong to Newmarket, and had the place grown as John Cawthra thought it might, his family would doubtless have continued to reside there. He himself enjoyed a full measure of the Cawthra success in his business ventures, and also had what was more unusual, some distinction in public af-

fairs. H e was elected as representative in the Legislative Assembly o f the then Province of Canada for the district of South Simcoe, a constituency that embraced parts of the counties of Simc o e and York. This h e represented for a term in the Liberal interest.

John Cawthra died in 1852, leavi n g four children all of whom subsequent1 y passed away. The eldest son,

Joseph, SUCceeded to

the Newmarket business. He carried it on for some time with continued success and then disposed of it in order to accept the position of local manager of the Royal Canadian Bank. His connection with this institution lasted until it was merged with the City Bank, when he retired and shortly after removed to Toronto. His wife was the daughter of the late Dr. John J. Bentley, in his lifetime a leading medical practitioner in Newmarket, and they had four children, all of whom are still living.

The eldest daughter in Joseph Cawthra’s family is Mrs. Drayton, wife of H. L. Drayton, K.C., who married the present chairman of the Dominion Board of Railway Commissioners in 1892. The second daughter is now Mrs. Campbell Renton, wife of Robert Campbell Renton, Esq., of Mordington, Berwickshire, Scotland, while the third daughter, Miss Florence Cawthra is unmarried, and continues to reside with her brother, John J. Cawthra, in the family mansion on Elm avenue, Toronto.

John J. Cawthra, who is now head of the family, spent his childhood and youth in England, and is a master of arts of Cambridge University. He is an athlete of considerable renown and during his college course stood high in sports, being particularly prominent as a runner. He also did much to promote the playing of lacrosse and other Canadian games in the old country, and his residence in Toronto is filled with trophies and prizes which he won on many fields of sport both in England and on the continent. He spends most of his time at present in travel, being like the other members of the family

exceedingly fond of touring all accessible parts of the globe.

The second branch of the family consists of the children of John Cawthra, the second son of John Cawthra of Newmarket. Like his father and grandfather, he followed a mercantile career and for some years conducted a business in Toronto in premises on King street east, located where the Murray-Kay Company’s store now stands. His death occurred many years ago, but his widow still survives, as well as two of his children. These are W. H. Cawthra and Mrs. Agar Adamson, both residents of Toronto. The former, who by the way, married a daughter of the late W. H. Beatty, President of the Bank of Toronto, travels a great deal, but otherwise finds in the management of the large property to which he has fallen heir, plenty to occupy his attention without taking up any business or profession. The latter is a woman of more than ordinary ability, and in her sphere of existence is doing much for the promotion of the artistic interests of the country. Her career illustrates the prominent part which the women of this particular family have played in the family fortunes.


Mrs. Adamson was born at Lucerne in Switzerland during one of the continental trips of her parents, and to all intents and purposes was brought up in England.

As a child and a young woman she traveled extensively and became acquainted with the larger part of the inhabited portion of the globe. Her bent was towards art and she trained herself for the life of an artist, studying paintings, architecture and applied art wherever she went and imbibing a great deal of valuable information. In 1899 she married, her husband being at the time in the civil service at Ottawa. Then she fell in with Mr. Thornton-Smith, the English decorator, who was contemplating the establishment of a branch of his business in Canada. It was suggested that she should become a sort of advisory manager of the agency.

Being the kind of work that appealed to her, she agreed, and ever

since she has been, as one writer aptly expressed, “The Lady of the Decoration” in Toronto.

Her work is by no means local in character. She has undertaken the designing of decorative effects for public buildings, churches, hotels and residences all over Canada and has personally superintended the details. She has no foolish notions about the conventions and does not consider that her position in society or her wealth should debar her from engaging in business, or taking a hand when she feels like it, in actual manual labor.

Apart from this her commercial pursuits do not monopolize all her thoughts. She finds time for much philanthropic work. She has been president since fts foundation ten years ago of the Canadian Society of Applied Art, an organization that that owes its inception to her desire to assist in the development of Canada’s artistic life. She is also president, and a most active and helpful president, of the Helicon Club, a society composed of women who are engaged in art, literature, music and kindred purlie of suits. She loves riding, is a keen follower of the hounds, and at her suburban home at Port Credit, enjoys all manner of out-door pastimes. Altogether, Mrs. Adamson is a type of woman who takes a very sensible view of life, and has devised an interesting scheme of existence.

Passing now to the third branch of the family, one finds that Henry, the third son of John Cawthra of Newmarket, varied the family tradition by adopting

the legal profession as his calling. He was for a time associated with the late Edward and S. H. Blake in their law business in Toronto, the firm being known as Blake, Cawthra & Blake. However, he did not remain in practice very long, retiring at a fairly early age and living quietly until his death. His widow still survives. She occupies the spacious old family residence at the corner of College and Beverley streets in Toronto. Of his children four are living. The eldest is Mrs. Brock, wife of Lieut.-Col. Henry Brock, son of W. R. Brock, one of Toronto’s merchant princes. The second married Major James Burnham, of the Canadian Permanent Force, a member of an old Port Hope family. The third, Victor Cawthra, is engaged in the management of a financial business in Toronto, while the fourth, Miss Beatrice Cawthra, is unmarried, and resides with her mother.

In addition to his three sons, John Cawthra, of Newmarket, had one daughter, Mary, who forms the connecting link between the Cawthra family and another prominent Canadian family, viz., the Mulocks. The circumstance that a considerable portion of the original Cawthra property has passed to a member of the Mulock family makes some account of this connection essential to the narrative.

Mary Cawthra became the bride of Dr. Thomas Homan Mulock, an Irishman and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, who was practising medicine in the village of Bondhead at the time. He was a man of ability and of strong personality, a fitting mate for such a woman as Miss Cawthra, who combined in her person all those striking characteristics which have made the women of the family so conspicuous. Dr. Mulock died in 1848, at a comparatively early age, leaving five children. His widow thereupon returned to Newmarket, where she brought up her family.

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Mrs. Mulock is recalled as a woman of wide sympathies. Throughout her whole Newmarket life she took a prominent part in conducting charitable works for the benefit of those in need. This work she began during the cholera period, when this disease was brought to Toronto and thence to Newmarket by immigrants. It left many widows and orphans, and these were the objects of her constant care. She died in 1882 in Los Angeles, California, whither she had gone to spend the winter with her youngest daughter and her brother, Joseph.


Of her five children, the eldest, John, a lad of great promise, was carried off at an untimely age by an attack of scarlet fever. William, the second son, is well-known throughout the length and breadth of Canada as Sir William Mulock, former Postmaster-General of the Dominion and now Chief Justice of the Exchequer Division of the High Court of Justice of Ontario. He was born in 1843, became a lawyer in Toronto, and soon stepped into a foremost place among the legal practitioners of the city. His political career is familiar to most people. For many years he represented North York in the House of Commons and, following the Liberal victory in 1896, was called on to assume the portfolio of Postmaster-General. In this capacity he instituted reforms that characterized his regime as probably the most progressive in the history of the department. For his services in securing penny postage he was accorded a knight-

Apart from politics, Sir William has probably bestowed most attention on university affairs. He was elected to the Senate of the University in 1875, and five years later became vice-chancellor, an office which he filled for twenty years or

until his duties at Ottawa prevented the further satisfactory discharge of its duties. During this time he personally did a great deal to advance the cause of university federation, and undoubtedly the bringing of such institutions as Knox College, Wycliffe College, St. Michael’s College, Victoria University, the Ontario Agricultural College, the Toronto School of Medicine, etc., into alliance with the University was largely the result of his efforts. Thus education, as well as philanthropy, owes much to him.

The other surviving children of Mary Cawthra are Mrs. Boultbee, the widow of William Boultbee, who served the Imperial Government for many years as engineerin-charge of railway construction in India, and Mrs. Monk, wife of G. W. Monk, formerly representative of the County of Carleton in the Legislature and now vicepresident of the Canada Permanent Loan & Savings Co. A third daughter, Sarah Mulock, since deceased, married George W. Lount, of Barrie, brother of the late Mr. Justice Lount, of Toronto. Both Mrs. Boultbee and Mrs. Monk inherit their mother’s kindly disposition. Mrs. Boultbee has taken a deep interest in the work of the Infants’ Home, of which she is president, whilst her sister is on the directorate of the Home, as well as on the board of the Western Hospital.


Up to this point, the investigation into the genealogy of the Cawthra family has been limited to the descent through the person of John Cawthra, of Newmarket. The founder of the family had other sons, however, two of whom played their part in the early history of Toronto. These were Jonathan and William. The former died at a fairly early age and unmarried. The latter succeeded to the bulk of his father’s property, and by virtue of diligence and saving accumulated a large fortune. He it was who, about the year 1855, acquired the property at the north-east corner of King and Bay streets, and there erected what was at the time the finest residence in Toronto. The building, which still stands and is now the head office of the Sterling Bank, is a dignified and solid piece of architecture, being conspicuous among those more modern neighboringbuildings in which the utilitarian has almost eclipsed the aesthetic.

William Cawthra married a sister of the late James Crowther, of Toronto, thus forming a link with another of the moneyed families of the olden times. He had no children to inherit his rapidly-expanding wealth, and on his death in 1879 he bequeathed all his property to his widow. Mrs. Cawthra later on married W. A. Murray, the dry goods merchant, but retained control of her resources, which under her careful management continued to grow in value. She outlived her second husband by a few years, herself passing away in 1897.


The death of Mrs. Cawthra-Murray now left the bulk of the Cawthra fortune, derived direct from the founder of the family, subject to the direction of her will. There were certainly not lacking grandnephews and grand-nieces enough on whom to bestow the money, but the old lady had already centred her affections on one of the grandsons of her former Tiusband’s niece, Mary Cawthra Mulock. This was the second son of Sir William Mulock, named Cawthra after his grandmother, and at the time a lad of thirteen. Something about him had evidently impressed Mrs. Cawthra-Murray, for she bequeathed to him unconditionally the hulk of her property, valued then at about four million dollars.


As possessor of the bulk of the Cawthra fortune, Cawthra Mulock is entitled to more than a passing reference in any article dealing with the Cawthra family. That he has not become one of the idle rich, dissipating in profitless pursuits the wealth which fortune thrust upon him, is much to his credit. Toronto’s youngest millionaire is a worker, who has already made a name for himself as a successful promoter and an astute financier. He possesses much of his father’s sane conception of the obligations of wealth, and he has shown himself to be generous and open-handed in assisting worthy causes. Altogether, at thirty years of age, he has made a very favorable impression, and is to be regarded as one of the influential financiers of the day in Canada.

Considered as a family, the Cawthras may be said to be characterized by a notable reserve. They live very quietly, their names rarely figure in the social columns, they do not court the notoriety which so generally accompanies the possession of unusual wealth. They themselves disclaim any extraordinary talents or capacities, merely maintaining that such wealth as they have has not come to them because of any special aptitudes, but because of the natural increment in value of their property. This desire not to parade their possessions assuredly merits respect.

It has been mentioned that only one member of the family has so far gone in for public life, and that only for a limited period. Some reference, however, should be made to the military achievements of the family. When the War of 1812 broke out, at least two of Joseph Cawthra’s sons volunteered in the defence of their country. These were John and Jonathan. In the attack on Fort Detroit John assisted in conveying the heavy guns across the river, while at the Battle of Queenston Heights he had at least two hair-breadth escapes from death. In one instance, being ordered from the rear to the front of his company, he had barely stepped out of his place when the comrade who replaced him was shot in the leg. In another he had only just cautioned Colonel Macdonnell against rashly exposing himself, as he seemed to be doing, when he was called on to assist in carrying that officer to the rear, mortally wounded.

There is a natural, and one must admit, an entirely pardonable curiosity on the part of the public to know just how various wealthy people have made their money. In the case of the Cawthras, two agencies have been at work rolling up the value of their possessions. The first of these has been the natural increment in real estate values in Toronto. This is not to say that the family have been speculators in the sense of having bought either land or buildings with a view to making substantial profits over a period of years. They were rather investors and, having money on hand, their favorite way of salting it down was to put it into real estate, not so much vacant land, as land and houses. In process of time they and one or two other families were said to own Toronto, their landed possessions in the city being very extensive.

There could be only one result. As the city grew and real estate prices advanced with ever-increasing momentum, the Cawthras’ property rapidly expanded in value. They had been early on the scene, and their holdings were in the very centre of the city. Almost before they knew it, they had passed into the millionaire class. The younger generation began to realize on the investments of the older generation, and the profits were immense. It is said that the family own comparatively little real estate at the present time, but there can be little doubt that the Cawthra fortune is largely the outcome of the immense increment in land values in Toronto during the past century.

There was another cause contributory to the accumulation of their wealth, and it is just possible that it should have been mentioned first, as after all it stands at the basis of the whole financial fabric. This was the saving habit. The Cawthras have always been savers, even down to the present generation. The habit was certainly marked in the case of the founder of the family and his sons. Had they not saved, there would have been no capital for investment, and without capital, no amount of natural increment would have availed.

The Cawthras have always been eminently fair in their financial operations. They were never extortionate in their demands for rent. They undoubtedly did not exact the interest charges on money loaned on mortgage that they might have done. They were content to lay dollar on dollar, fairly, slowly and surely.

So, to the industry and frugality of the founder of the family, to the continued care and thrift of his sons and his sons' sons, the present generation owes the accumulation of a fortune that places them in the front rank of the moneyed families of Canada.