Historical Plaque Properties

 

William Mowat - Banker
27 Grange Street
1881

William Mowat, the man responsible for building the house at 27 Grange Street, holds a prominent place among the community builders Stratford has seen over the years. He was a banker, businessman, justice of the peace, insurance agent, land developer, founding member of the Oddfellows Hall and the first editor of the Stratford Beacon newspaper.

He was born in Wick, Caithness, Scotland around 1830 to George Mowat and Annie McKay. He was educated there, partly at the parish school, and partly at a private school. Mr. Mowat came to Canada with his parents in 1845 and he apprenticed as a printer in Toronto, later gaining editorial experience first in the Herald office, and then in the Globe office. During his apprenticeship, he attended evening classes at the Toronto Mechanics' Institute, and took lessons in mathematics under Sandford Fleming, who by then had gained worldwide fame as a railway engineer.

In the spring of 1852, Mr. Mowat became the editor and printer of the Backwoodsman, a small weekly paper published in the village of Elora. There  he met Jane Fowlie and they  married on June 7, 1852. The next year he worked in the law office of his friend, the Hon. Oliver Mowat, who would soon become the third Premier of Ontario and shortly afterwards Lieutenant-Governor of the province.

William and Jane’s eldest son William George was born around 1853 just before the family would move to Stratford. Three daughters would soon follow, Helen Jane in 1856, Annie in 1857 and Christina in 1859. Sadly all three daughters would die within weeks of each other in the summer of 1860. A son Alfred Coulson was born in 1862 and another son Oliver was born in 1864. Rounding out the family was a daughter, Amelia, born in 1865.

When the family relocated  to Stratford in 1855, William Mowat became the first editor for the Stratford Beacon newspaper, eventually becoming its second proprietor in 1856. A highlight of his tenure at the Beacon was when he was part of a  committee of prominent Stratford citizens who were asked to draft an address for presentation to His Royal Highness , the Prince of Wales, soon to be King Edward VII when he visited Stratford on September 12, 1860.

He sold the newspaper in 1863 to William Buckingham and established W. Mowat and Son, a private bank at 1 Wellington Street, at the intersection with Downie. Besides providing banking and loans for farmers and traders which charter banks were prohibited from, the firm had another money-making business: issuing marriage licenses for $2 each.

William Mowat became a substantial property owner with properties all over Stratford. He built the family home at 27 Grange Street, as a rental property in 1881, part of his growing real estate portfolio. That year, however, he suffered an important reversal when one of his businesses, the Stratford Flour Milling Company, located on York Street, burned to the ground on November 11, 1881. Today, a millstone, memorializing Stratford’s milling history, stands near the spot where the mill would have stood.

William Mowat and his family lived in a mansion at the corner of Douglas and Avondale. That house included accommodation for a few servants, a testament to Mowat’s prosperity. During the 1890s, however, William Mowat would watch his children disperse, with William Jr. moving to Buffalo in 1892, where he became a certified general accountant. Alfred would settle in Chicago in 1900 and Oliver became a mechanical engineer and eventually settled in California. The youngest child, Amelia, married and moved to Toronto in 1892.

Toward the end of the century, William Mowat Sr.’s fortunes began to decline. Eventually the bank failed and the mansion was left empty. He moved to a small cottage at 84 St. George Street (now Mornington) where he died, penniless and brokenhearted it has been said, on February 10, 1905. After his death, Jane moved to Chicago to live with their son Alfred. She died there on September 6, 1908.

William, his wife Jane, his parents and his three young daughters who died in the terrible summer of 1860 are all buried together in a family plot in Avondale Cemetery.