Historical Plaque Properties


George Johnson - Butcher
81 Nile Street
Stratford, ON

In August 1852 George Lovey Johnson, newly arrived from Scotland, and his wife, Elizabeth Hill, born in England, were living in York Township, an area which would later become part of Toronto, now Canada’s largest city. There they welcomed their first son, also named George. The young family moved north to Georgina on the shores of Lake Simcoe and a few years later travelled west to settle in Stratford. George Sr. died there in 1880 leaving Elizabeth with their family which had increased to include three daughters and two more sons, Thomas Benjamin and Alfred.

George Jr., age 28, had become a butcher and was in business with his brother Benjamin in the Market House, which faced on to Market Square and was part of Stratford’s first town hall, built in 1857 on the site of the present City Hall. The three-storey building featuring a domed clock tower also housed the council chambers, municipal offices, a large concert hall, and the Stratford Reading Room Association that pre-dated the public library and where, in 1866 when the Fenian Raids were anticipated, the third floor became a barracks to accommodate a battalion of the Queen’s Own Regiment called in from Toronto. Other businesses located there included a flour and feed store where the proprietor sold fresh fish from Lake Huron and a dry goods store. The butchers (the 1880-81 Stratford City Directory lists five) complained about the lack of heat so two wood-burning stoves were purchased for their area. When other building tenants objected to messy animal hides being dragged through the corridors the town constable was directed to get the practice stopped.

In February 1883 George Johnson and Mary Ellen Edith Dunsmore, who grew up in the hamlet of Harmony, in the Gore of Downie just outside Stratford, were married, and took up residence on Erie Street. Their family of three included a son George and daughters Zeta May and Ellen Edith, another son, Elgin Dunsmore was born in 1900. After the disastrous fire in 1897 that destroyed the town hall, George, with his brothers Benjamin and Alfred, opened a meat market at 88 Downie Street. (Although the street numbers are different the location of their meat market was about where Hudsons and the Local Market adjoin.) The family became connected to Stratford’s railway history when Zeta married Robert Hayhow, a machinist whose father Frederick, according to the 1881 census, was a conductor.

Mary Ellen died in 1915 at age 49. In 1918 George became the owner of the new house at 81 Nile Street but his stay there was brief. He was in failing health and moved to the Church Street residence of his daughter Zeta Hayhow where he lived until his death on August 26, 1922. He is buried with Mary Ellen in Avondale Cemetery.