Chapter 3 – Early Burlington Doctors
Block 9 of Greenwood Cemetery which is the first block on the east side of the old section, holds the memorial stones of 4 of Burlington’s early doctors. The earliest was Dr. William Richardson, and in the same plot, his son Dr. John Richardson, who predeceased him by 2 weeks. Nearby is Dr. Thomas Peart, a grandson of Wm. Richardson’s sister, and lastly, Dr. Austin H. Spears. A fifth, Dr. W. R. Watson is about half way down this section.
All but one of these men was the son of a farming family.
Dr. William Richardson was born in 1842, the 11th and last child of John Richardson and his wife Mary Fothergill, who, with a family of 8 children, had emigrated from Westmorlan
d, England about 5 years earlier and settled on a farm on the Guelph Line, just above Lowville. William was baptized by Rev. Green of St. Luke’s Anglican Church as John, very likely was John William, however, he always was known as William.
William went to public school in Lowville. He was later tutored by Rev. Dr. Greene of St. Luke’s Church in preparation for his medical course at the University of Toronto. He added to this degree by attending a medical school in Philadelphia.
William began his practice at Nelson Village, in the old corner store – his new wife, Margaret, running the business. Three children were born to them there – a daughter survived only a few days, while a son, Harry, died at age 19. John, the eldest son followed in his father’s footsteps and became a medical doctor.
In 1873, after about ten years at Nelson Village, William moved into the new “Village of Burlington”. His home and practice were at the corner of Brant and Ontario Streets, where the cenotaph now stands. William continued to practice at this location for about 30 more years.
Dr. William Richardson took civic participation seriously. He served as councillor, then Reeve for 7 years. He was Medical Health Officer at the time of his death. For many years he served on the Public School Board, the Library Board and was the treasurer of Greenwood Cemetery Company. William also served in various capacities at Knox Presbyterian Church and was an active member of Burlington Lodge, No. 165, A.F. & A.M. and Wellington Square Lodge, I.O.O.F., filling the various offices until he reached the highest gift of the Subordinate Lodge.
In 1901, at a Board of Health meeting regarding smallpox, Dr. Richardson was able to get passed the requirement for all students to be vaccinated in order to attend school.
Dr. William Richardson died in March of 1904, of chronic bronchitis, at the age of 62 years.
430 Brant Street “The White House”
Dr. John Christopher Richardson, eldest child of Dr. William and Margaret Richardson, was born at Nelson Village in 1865. He attended Burlington Public School, then the Collegiate Institute in Hamilton, before taking his medical course at Trinity University, Toronto, graduating in 1893. John was married that year to Lottie May Stewart, daughter of architect, William Stewart of Burlington, formerly of Hamilton, where he was the designer of many Hamilton buildings including schools, the Main Street Library and the Right House Building. John joined his father’s medical practice and lived around the corner on Locust Street.
Four young children, Harry, Stewart, Gerald and Margaret, aged 10 to 3 years, were left with the passing of Dr. J. C. Richardson from tuberculosis in February of 1904, just over 2 weeks before the death of his father. Dr. John Christopher Richardson was just 38 years old. A considerable void was left with the death of these two physicians.
Dr. Austin Hager Speers was born in 1867 on a farm in Trafalgar Township, graduated from Oakville High School in 1886 and entered Trinity College at Toronto, graduating in medicine in 1890. His obituary says he opened a practice in Burlington the next day. His home and office was on Elizabeth Street. The building, at a later date, became Burlington’s Public Library.
482 Elizabeth Street
Until he could afford a horse and buggy, Dr. Speers walked to visit his patients. In the year of 1904, when the two Dr. Richardsons died, he was the only physician in town and often travelled 60 miles in a day by horse and buggy.
Dr. Speers took an active part in our community. He served on council for 4 years and helped establish our waterworks and sewage systems. He was Medical Officer of Health in 1891 and continuously after 1912 until he retired in 1945. He had been School Medical Officer for the public schools for 25 years and the high school for 15. He was Past Master of Burlington Lodge 165 and a life member. Dr. Speers served as superintendent of the Sunday School of Trinity United Church for 32 years and sang in the choir for many years.
Dr. Speers served three generations of some families and delivered over 2000 children, some, great-grandchildren of his original patients.
Dr. Speers died in 1947 in his 80th year. His wife, Mary Kentner (Minnie) whom he married in 1899, predeceased him in 1933. Dr. and Mrs. Speers had one daughter, Marjorie.
Dr. Thomas Wellesley Peart was born on the Peart homestead on Guelph Line in 1866. He was the eldest of five children of Arthur W. and Helen Peart. Thomas attended Fisher’s Corner public school, then Victoria Avenue high school in Hamilton where he matriculated in 1906. He graduated in medicine from the University of Toronto in 1910 and his “medical council” at Hamilton General Hospital.
In 1911, following the death of Mrs. Dr. William Richardson, he purchased and set up his practice in the Richardson home on the corner of Brant and Ontario streets. Dr. Richardson was a great uncle. At the end of December 1910 he was married to Florence Lydia Dingle, daughter of Richard W. and Emma Dingle. Thomas and Florence had one daughter, Helen.
Thomas served patients during the flu epidemics in 1918 – 1920 often out night and day. His interest in town affairs led him to serve several years on council and a short time as mayor in 1919. He was an avid supporter of amateur sports, and had been a member of the successful Strathcona Football Club. He held the office of president of the hockey club for many years and was president of the Burlington Skating Rink Company until it was taken over by the town.
Strathcona Football Club 1908
T.W. Peart is not in this photo
In 1929 Dr. Peart sold his practice in Burlington to Dr. W. A. Weaver, and opened an office in the Medical Arts Building in Hamilton.
Dr. Thomas W. Peart died in 1937 at the age of 51, following an illness of only one week. That same month his daughter, Helen, was the recipient of a special award at McMaster for special standing in Special English and Special History. She and her mother later went to Montreal where Florence, her mother, became a librarian and Helen did further studies, becoming a librarian as well.
Dr. William Robert Watson – the memorial stone for the Watson family is in Block 27, which is about half way down the centre roadway towards the island in the middle of what is known as the Old Section of Greenwood Cemetery.
Dr. Watson was born in 1860 on his parents’ farm in Nelson Township, located on the 1st Concession, north of Dundas Street, on what we know as Cedar Springs Road. He was one of nine children. Two brothers also became medical doctors, one practicing in South Africa.
Dr. Watson graduated from the University of Toronto in 1876. His obituary says he practiced for 16 years at Burgessville, prior to coming to Burlington, and his last 9 years at Elmira. Those numbers allow for several years elsewhere.
Dr. Watson’s “business card” in the Burlington newspaper credits him with an L.R.C.P. degree from London, England.
Dr. Watson came to Burlington in March of 1904 and set up his office on Water Street, now Lakeshore Road, in a building just east of the bank at the Brant Street corner. By the end of the month he was appointed Assistant Coroner for Halton County and appointed Medical Officer of Health for the remainder of the year. Dr. Richardson, who had held this office, had just died.
Dr. Watson’s sister, Mrs. J. W. Bridgman, a resident of Burlington may have informed her brother of the health situation of the Drs. Richardson.
After ten years in Burlington, in April of 1914, Dr. Watson moved to Waterdown and opened a practice there. He sold his medical practice in Burlington to Dr. W. A. Bodkin who was House Surgeon at the Hamilton City Hospital, with the provision that Dr. Watson reserved the right to meet any of his patients in consultation with Dr. Bodkin. At this time, we know that Dr. & Mrs. Watson still had a son attending school. The Burlington Gazette newspaper, in July, reported that son, Fred, had been successful in passing recent exams in Waterdown, “heading the list for the County of Wentworth”. The Watsons raised two daughters and three sons, one of whom was a doctor practicing in Kitchener in 1927, at the time of Dr. Watson’s death at the age of 66 years.
Burlington Gazette microfilm
Peart Family History
Diseases and Doctors: Medical Practice in Burlington, Ontario 1791-1961
By Dr. G. Patrick Sweeny & Dr. Edward Smith
Dr. Pat Sweeny is a BHS member. The book “Diseases and Doctors: Medical Practice in Burlington, Ontario 1791-1961” is available at the Burlington Public Library.