Historical Plaque Properties


James Wilson - Builder & Hotel Keeper
192 Brunswick Street
Stratford, ON

This Gothic Revival story-and-a-half house boasts polychromatic (red and yellow) brickwork and a generous verandah. It was constructed in 1876 by James Wilson.

James Wilson was born in Lanark County in January 1842, the son of James Wilson and Elizabeth (Dunbar) Wilson.  The Wilsons were of Irish (Ulster) origin and had emigrated to Canada about 1830. In the mid-1840s the Wilson family moved west to Downie Township in Perth County, making them early settlers in this area.

As a young man James Wilson left the family farm and came to Stratford where he learned the bricklaying trade.

In March 1869, at age 26, James married Jane Elzear, the daughter of John and Jane Elzear, in Stratford. They had three children — Clara Jane, Thomas and Agnes — before Jane Wilson died in late 1872 at the age of just 24. A few years later, in March 1875, James married a second time in Stratford. The bride was Margaret Frame, the daughter of Alexander and Margaret Frame of Wellesley Township, Waterloo County. With Margaret, James had four more children — Margaret, Frederick James, Jane and Hazel.

At the time of his second marriage James’s occupation is recorded as “builder.’’ He built the house at 192 Brunswick Street the following year for his new wife and family. The 1877 property assessment rolls for the new house note his original trade of “mason” and that there are six people living there.

It appears that by the mid-1870s James had become a partner in the building firm of Cruickshank, Edmund and White, which was responsible for constructing many prominent buildings in Stratford including St. James, Central Methodist (now???) and part of St. Joseph’s churches, several of the ward schools and a number of dwellings.

About 1880, however, James entered into a new line of business as a hotel keeper. He first took charge of the Albion Hotel, then the Central Hotel (where Bradshaws is today). From there he went to the Victoria House, at the corner of Downie and George streets. In 1906-07 James built the 50-room Empire Hotel (now converted to condominiums) at the corner of Downie and St. Patrick streets. He managed the Empire until his death.

The Wilsons soon left the Brunswick Street house for living accommodation in their hotels. 192 Brunswick was first rented out, then sold about 1902 to J. S. Square.

When he died in November 1913 at age 71 James’s obituary made the front page of both the Daily Beacon and the Daily Herald. The Beacon said: “The splendid manner in which he conducted his hotel gained for him the respect of all with whom he came in contact.” The Herald said: “Mr. Wilson was a man of genial temperament and kindly heart.”

Margaret carried on the hotel business through the war years after James’s death, retiring about 1926. She died in April 1934 at age 81. Her obituary in the Beacon Herald noted: “Mrs. Wilson was a friend of the needy and her death will be mourned by many whom she had aided in times of difficulty.” She is buried with James in Avondale Cemetery in Stratford.