Historical Plaque Properties


James Thomas - Grain Merchant
68 Shrewsbury Street
Stratford, ON

James Thomas was born about 1836 in Stirlingshire, Scotland. He was the youngest son of James Thomas, a farmer, and Janet Stevenson.
In 1863, at the age of 28, James emigrated from Scotland to Canada aboard the SS St. Andrew out of Glasgow. On the passenger list his occupation is noted as “farmer” and his final destination as Canada.
According to the 1871 Canada Census, James had become a grain dealer and was boarding at a house on Church Street in Stratford. There were a number of prominent grain merchants in the town at the time including the Pringle and Marshall families. The grain was shipped to many far away locations using the Grand Trunk Railway and also was ground into flour at local mills. Along the river, Adam Argo, a merchant from Fergus, had established a three storey flour and grist mill that was run by water and steam. The employees of the mill dressed and packed 240 bushels of flour each day.
In December, 1875 James, 39, married 31 year-old Georgina Houghton who was the daughter of George Houghton and Hephzibah Collins Brigham. The Houghton family history is documented in books on the early settlers of Massachusetts. Georgina’s family was enumerated in the 1860 United Sates census but by 1870 they had settled in Huron County. Her father, George Houghton, was the proprietor of Lloyd’s Hotel in Seaforth. The marriage was performed by the rector of St. Thomas Anglican Church. The church, which was built in 1863, still stands today on John Street in Seaforth.
The couple settled in Stratford in a house at 119 Waterloo Street. James, who was now referred to as a grain merchant, had a business in the Market building located in the main floor of Stratford’s original Town Hall.
Their first child, Frederick, was born in 1877. They had another son, James Norman, in 1880 and a daughter, Georgia, in 1882.
In 1881, James Thomas moved his growing family into the newly built two storey brick home on the corner of Shrewsbury and Cambria Streets. The house was built by William McGuigan, a well to do Stratford resident, who had bought the lot in 1876. Mary Bushfield was employed in the new house as a servant to help look after the family. After several years, James Thomas relocated his family to Douro Street.
The 1891 census shows there were three people boarding with the family: a law student, a milliner and a music teacher. In 1892 the Thomas family left Stratford and moved to Chicago. James died within the year but Georgina continued to live with her children, James and Georgia, until her death in 1927. James Thomas and Georgina Houghton Thomas are buried together in the Oakwood Cemetery in Chicago.